Someone Still Loves You

by brokenimage321

First published

After realizing her dream of earning her cutie mark—in the company of her best friends, no less—Scootaloo’s life should have been on an upward course. Instead, she sees herself on yet another crusade.

After realizing her dream of earning her cutie mark—in the company of her best friends, no less—Scootaloo’s life should have been on an upward course. Instead, she sees herself on yet another crusade, one which will lead her to question her friends, her family, and what it means to love, and be loved. — Takes place immediately after "Crusaders of the Lost Mark" (S05E18).

New to the story? Start with the Recap Chapter!

Chapters 1-36 written by jowijo. Chapters 37+ written by myself. Information here.

(Need more? Scrapped chapters)

Dreams of Ponies (21-36)
Level Dasher (36)
brokenimage321 (1-23;31)
Eruantalon (21 & 22)
JackRipper (26, 29, 31)

I Thought I Was Toast (31-37)
TheGreatEater (1-24)
Krack-fic Kai (37)
jowijo (37)

1. Discourtesy

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Rainbow Dash didn't like needles. Nor did she enjoy being in a hospital bed.

Yet here she was, and two of her least favorite things had become almost commonplace. At her bedside, was a pegasus nurse, an earth-pony anesthesiologist, and another pegasus, a yellow mare with a pink mane; a close friend. Moral support. Today was to be the end of the needles, sickness, and complications. Today, the foal was to be born.

All Dash could hear beyond the beeps and blips of various monitors was the conversation of the trio beside her, which drifted between polite conversation about the weather, and some trivial gossip--all in an attempt to avoid discussing the obvious. As the anesthetics began to take their toll, She looked around, and for one last moment, fixated on her bloated stomach. it had grown considerably over the last year, and Rainbow was more than ready for this to be done and over with.

She thought about that foal for a moment. She hadn’t the slightest of whether it was a filly, or a colt. This was intentional of course, part of this whole adoption thing was to have as little maternal attachment as possible.

In other words, it would make giving it up easier.

While the uncertainty of it all was killing her, it was what she had wanted, after all. She wanted to be a Wonderbolt. That’s what years of blood, sweat, and tears at the best flight school in Cloudsdale were supposed to ensure. She wasn’t about to let the consequences of her sleeping around interfere.

Without warning, she was slammed with a sudden wave of pain and nausea. The tempo of the mechanical beeps increased, the muted conversation became inaudible coordination and barked commands. Dash’s breaths became closer and closer together She saw Fluttershy through her bleary eyes, a soft smile on her face.

And, just like that, like that, everything around her began to fade away.

Everything would be alright…

Rainbow’s eyes shot open. The vision faded, retreating into the abyss with a whimper. Even in her warm sleeping bag in the company of her friends, for a brief moment, she felt cold and alone.

Rainbow Dash thought of chasing after her dream, as if catching it would finally reveal what happened next. The only thing she remembered it all fading to black.

Despite it being well after midnight, she had hit the sack not too long ago. The slumber party which Twilight had arranged had gone well into the night, with stories, gossip, and snacks, courtesy of Spike. Everypony was tuckered out, and Dash secretly hoped she was the only one awake.

“Um...Rainbow Dash?” As timid as the voice was, Rainbow jumped anyway. “Are you okay?”

“Y-Yeah.” Rainbow answered, “I’m fine. Just that nightmare again about… y’know...”

“Oh.” Fluttershy answered.

Rainbow stared up at the ceiling. Silence ruled for a short while.

Finally, Rainbow spoke again, in a whisper. “How long has it been?”

“Since… then?”


Fluttershy knew the answer without thinking. “Awhile,” she said. “I think it's this week, in fact,” she added. Rainbow’s face played host to confusion, surprise, worry, and finally, curiosity.

“Do you ever wonder about what happened?” Rainbow’s gaze fell on her hoof that was nervously swirling upon her blanket. “Do you think… they’re okay?”

Fluttershy turned to look at her--and suddenly, she was back in the hospital. Back in the maternity ward. Back in the painfully-white room that smelled of sweat and blood. Rainbow, still barely a mare, lay on her back, unconscious, IVs dangling from her arm. Fluttershy wanted to wake her--have her be here for this--but the nurse stepped in front of her and handed her a squirming bundle. Fluttershy took it, then, peeled back the blankets to see—

She squeezed her eyes shut and swallowed, hard. She bit her lip until she tasted copper. And slowly, the vision faded. Slowly, she came back to the Friendship Palace. And slowly, she realized Rainbow was still waiting for an answer.

Fluttershy swallowed. She could never tell, when Rainbow got in one of these moods, if this time she wanted a real answer, or if she was just thinking out loud again. In either case, Fluttershy said the same thing she always did:

“I’m sure,” she said carefully, “whoever they are, t-that they have lots of friends. Probably doing alright in school, too.” She turned to face Rainbow, and saw her looking back at her, eyes wide and hopeful. Fluttershy smiled a little, then took Rainbow’s hoof in hers. “If they’re anything like you,” she added, “they’re going to do amazing things. I just know it.”

Dash smiled, and let out a long, contented sigh.

“Yeah, I bet you’re right,” she said. “...Thanks, ‘Shy.”

The two were alerted by Twilight, who rustled her sleeping bag as she stirred awake, grunting slightly as she awoke. One last look at one another, and Rainbow Dash slowly tucked back into her sleeping bag. The night was still young, and she had a busy day ahead of her.

Cake, confetti; compliments and congratulations.

It seemed to the three fillies, the Cutie Mark Crusaders, the day they had been conspiring and crusading for, had finally arrived. No longer were they ‘blank flanks’, they had their cutie marks. While the fact the three fillies got theirs at the same time for the same reason was certainly remarkable, the research and ramifications could wait.

It was time to party.

And party they did: Pinkie Pie, the party-planning extraordinaire had somehow out-done herself once again. The buffet was stocked with food and fancies of all kinds from every end of Equestria, the music was curated by the beloved Vinyl Scratch, and everypony they could possibly know was there.

“So, do ya like it?” Pinkie asked the Crusaders as they sat in the middle of it all.

“Are you kiddin’ me?” Apple Bloom’s mouth was agape, “This is amazing!”

“Yeah, this is incredible, Pinkie Pie!” Sweetie Belle added, a sparkle in her eye.

“I can’t believe it girls,” Scootaloo beamed, “We finally got our cutie marks!”

Sweetie Belle nodded in agreement, looking at her flank dreamily.

“Just look at all the Apples here, girls! Why, Ah haven’t seem some of them since our last reunion!”

Apple Bloom suddenly let out a gasp. “Babs?”

“Apple Bloom!” Bloom’s cousin came galloping towards the trio.

“Wow, you did get your cutie mark! It’s amazing!”

“Not jus’ me, neither. Girls?”

On cue, the three crusaders turned to show their flanks.

“Whoa!” Babs was awe-struck. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of ponies getting the same cutie marks, at the same time!”

“Twilight says it's a, uh… an anatomy!” Apple Bloom stated.

“I think she said, anomaly.” Sweetie Belle corrected.

“There’s a difference?” Apple Bloom retorted.

“I think so. Right, Scootaloo?”

Sweetie Belle looked around. “Scootaloo?” Though it appeared the pegasus had wandered off.

Scootaloo stealthily snuck back into the kitchen of Sugarcube Corner. Hiding behind a standing cabinet, her eyes went wide, and her mouth was agape, captivated by the grandeur and detail of it all.

It was a massive tiered ice cream cake, each of the three tiers featuring a color scheme that matched each of the crusaders. The base tier featured Magenta trim, with a orange frosting. The middle tier: Red trim, with cream-colored frosting, the topmost layer: lilac icing along the trim, with white frosting. Each tier had in the center, frosting piped in the shape of their cutie marks. As Scootaloo’s eyes traveled to the top of the colossal confection, she saw a chocolate topper: the Cutie Mark Crusader shield, held aloft by a thicket of pocky sticks.

To say she was in absolute awe, would be an understatement. To say she nearly had a heart attack when a certain pink party pony popped into view, would be fairly accurate.

“Pretty neat, huh?” Pinkie beamed. “Gonna have to wait though, I gotta finish some cupcakes and special cookies. You’re gonna love them!”

With that, the party pony was back through the swinging doors to the kitchen, leaving Scootaloo alone, who only now noticed she was drooling. WIping her muzzle, she headed back out into the main room, and went looking for her friends. It didn’t take long to find them, or, at least, where they were. A large crowd had gathered on one end of the room. Pushing past a few ponies, she spotted wrapping paper all over the floor. Looking up, she saw a table, adorned with presents.

Pinkie watched Scootaloo over her shoulder as she trotted towards the presents--and so, she almost ran into Fluttershy, waiting for her in the kitchen. Pinkie yelped and jumped a little.

Fluttershy’s only reaction was to toss her head a little, getting a strand of mane out of her face. “Pinkie,” she said, “I think we have a bit of a problem.”

“Problem?” Pinkie asked, cocking her head.

Fluttershy nodded out the swinging door at the presents. “Notice anything?”

Pinkie shook her head slowly. “Nooooo...” she began. “I mean, we got everything squared away hours ago for Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle, and…”

And then, the penny dropped.

“Oh, horseapples,” Pinkie breathed.

Back in the party room, Apple Bloom, holding an opened cardboard box on her lap, could hardly speak, “Is that a… no way!!” It was a stetson hat, just like her sister’s, a badge of her cutie mark drawn on the front. It was on her head instantly. Her once-cherished bow, tossed aside.

“Thank you so much, Applejack!” Apple Bloom ran over and squeezed her sister in a tight hug.

“Ya earned it, Apple Bloom.” Applejack grinned, fitting the discarded bow onto her sister’s hat, “Big Mac an’ Ah are awful proud of you.”

Meanwhile, Sweetie Belle was over the moon with what Rarity had brought from Trottingham: a complete set of the Junior Unicorn’s Guide to Intermediate Magic. It was hardly cheap, and very hard to find. Certainly some strings had to have been pulled for that one.

Rarity trotted over to her little sister who was practically shaking with excitement.

“Ever since you were a foal, I knew you had a special gift for singing. I just know that if you put your heart into it, and give it your all, that your name will be in lights--underlined, even! But,” she added, the slightest squeal of excitement creeping into her voice, “to get there, you’ll need lessons from a true professional…”

Sweetie Belle’s jaw dropped, as several surprised gasps and squeals erupted around the room. No sooner than that did none other than Countess Coloratura round into view.

“Sweetie Belle,” Countess smiled, “Rarity’s told me a lot about you. You think you’ve got what it takes?”

Sweetie Belle was speechless, her only response was a delighted squeal.

“I think she intends to accept your offer.” Rarity smiled.

Scootaloo kept watching. One by one, the wrapped boxes were opened, Thanks and hugs were given, and the mess was cleared. Scootaloo realized that there was nothing for her.

Certainly this was the part where Rainbow Dash would swoop in with the Coolest Gift Ever™.

...Any minute now….

“Uh, is that really everything, Rares?” Applejack cast a concerned glance to the mare.

It took a few moments to register.

“W-No, it shouldn’t be…” Rarity trot around frantically, turning over loose wads and blankets of wrapping paper, praying to Celestia something was underneath.

Applejack face hoofed, “Don’t tell me we left all that with Rainbow…”

“She was supposed to have brought her a gift,” Rarity sighed, “She said she would.”

Pinkie pie appeared between them “Girls? We have a CODE RED, I REPEAT, WE HAVE A CODE RED!!”

“Lemmie guess,” Applejack frowned, “Scootaloo, right?”

“What are we gonna do? It isn’t a cutecenera without presents!”

“It isn’t that she doesn’t have any…” Rarity winced, “It’s just she’s getting them tomorrow. Rainbow Dash was supposed to have gotten her VIP tickets to the upcoming Wonderbolts Centennial Spectacular…”

“But, Rainbow Dash is a no-show,” Applejack finished, “So, as far as poor lil’ Scoots is concerned…”

Pinkie frowned, “She has nothing.”

Rarity looked in the direction of the Crusaders. “This isn’t good, girls. We have to do something.”

“The whole town is here, Rares.” Applejack sighed, “Ah reckon’ there won’t be nowhere to get her anythin’.”

Pinkie suddenly grinned. “Well, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything here. just a sec!”

With hair-raising speed, the party pony dashed from the end of the party room, through the kitchen, and up the stairs to a storage closet. Inside was a large box with an assortment of old foals’ toys from decades past.

Inside were dolls, toy trains and stagecoaches, figurines depicting famous faces of the past. Sifting through the wood, plastic, and stuffed toys, she finally found something that just might work. With a wide smile, she triumphantly bounced back downstairs.

“Hey Scootaloo!” Sweetie Belle zipped over to her friend’s side, horn glowing. “Watch this!”

Scootaloo turned to watch. . Hovering above Sweetie’s head was a cupcake on a dessert platter. It soared up, around, finally diving down to a hove in front of Scootaloo’s muzzle. The pegasus didn’t hesitate to take a huge bite She chewed, then smiled broadly at how proud Sweetie was..

“Hey Sweetie, Scoots, check this out!” Apple Bloom lead the girls over a giant crate. A look inside revealed a series of beakers, cauldrons, and a thick, weathered, exoctic-looking book. “Zecora gave me these cool beakers and potion recipes, an’ stuff!” she cried.

“Cool!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed, skimming a few pages of the dusty tome.

Apple Bloom turned to Scootaloo. “So, what’d you get, Scoots?”

Scootaloo’s eyes darted around, as she stammered a bit. “I… uh…”

“Scootaloo?” Sweetie Belle frowned, the concern on her face growing more pronounced.

“I… I got…” Scootaloo looked for anything she could shoehorn as a gift, desperately hoping this was the cue her ‘big sister’ needed to make a grand entrance, and save the day.

Her friends knew her well enough to know something was up, and felt a little guilty for showing off,

Sweetie Belle opened her mouth to speak, but suddenly, Pinkie burst through the swinging doors of the kitchen.

They watched as Pinkie said something to Applejack, Rarity, and Twilight, whose faces went from attentive, to relieved in short order. She was holding something wrapped, and it didn’t appear to have a tag on it.

Apple Bloom was immediately curious. “Ah wonder what that is…”

“Me too,” Sweetie Belle added, “I thought we opened all of our presents.”

Pinkie practically skipped over to Scootaloo. “Didn’t think we were gonna leave you out of the fun, did we?”

Scootaloo’s grin was massive, as she took the wrapped present with trembling hooves and tore it open, her smile fading fast.

“A… really old stuffed dragon?”

Pinkie frowned at the filly’s displeasure. “You don’t like it?”

Scootaloo looked up to see the other Elements watching her, faces mixed between nervous, and uneasy.

Scootaloo forced the best smile she could.

You went into your attic, and brought me some crusty baby toy?

Rarity struggled to come up with some kind of explanation, “Well, you see… it’s…”

“Fine. It’s fine. I love it.” Scootaloo found it difficult to keep up the act, her forced, toothy grin was starting to hurt. “Thanks.”

For a moment, nopony said much of anything, as Scootaloo kept her gaze to the pitiful present, nudging it with her hoof.

Pinkie Pie bit her lip. She glanced around for something to break the tension, and and saw the Cakes emerge from the kitchen, presumably looking for her. A smile flashed across her face.

“Speaking of surprises…” Pinkie’s smile widened as she hopped over to an empty table, Pinkie announced with glee, “Time for some CAKE!” Pinkie bounced over to a long table which now hosted a giant cake, waving a hoof towards the Crusaders as an opening was made for the trio to go up front. Pinkie hopped down in front of them, brandishing a slicer, and a small plate.

“Who wants to go first?”

Sweetie and Apple Bloom immediately nudged Scootaloo forward. A brief glance back saw an encouraging wink from the unicorn, and a nod from the earth pony. A smile on her face, Scootaloo gingerly cut a generous slice of the bottom tier, making sure to get a chunk of cutie mark on it. Within moments, she had taken an enormous bite.

All sorts of delicious flavors washed through as she swallowed the dessert. The cake itself was spongy vanilla base, and the icing was almost pure sugar. The frosting had an interesting, white chocolate taste to it. Scootaloo sported the widest, most sincere grin she’d had since the party began.

“So?” Pinkie was face to face with Scootaloo. “Whaddya think?”

“It’s awesome, Pinkie Pie. Thank you!” Scootaloo beamed.

“No problemo!” Pinkie now hopped in front of Sweetie Belle. “Your turn!”

Sweetie was determined to show off her magic skills, and thus took the cake slicer by magic and attempted to position it over the cake, sticking out her tongue in concentration. Her aim was to cut it with grace and elegance. Instead, the slicer jerkily shot downward, then swung to the side, sending ponies diving for cover before it bit deep into a wooden pillar, then stuck.

Sweetie could only muster a nervous laugh as her ears dropped with embarrassment.

A blue aura overpowered her own, and wrenched the slicer from the pillar. “No worries, dear,” Rarity murmured as she sliced her a generous piece from the top tier.

Apple Bloom didn’t try anything funny, she simply asked for a slice from the middle, and got one, much to the relief of everypony else.

The three went to a table set just for them, and sat around with their cake. Apple Bloom didn’t hesitate gorging herself, frosting smattered all around her muzzle. Sweetie Belle slowly, deliberately, levitated a fork (plastic, at Rarity’s insistence), and gingerly ate. Scootaloo took a look around the room. So many ponies were there: parents, siblings, neighbors; None of which were there for her sake. After growing bored of this panorama, she danced a distracted hoof along a now-empty plate.

“You okay, Scootaloo?” Sweetie asked, concerned. “You look a little down.”

“Yeah, you didn’t get any presents?” Apple Bloom shot a curious glance back towards where the presents had been stacked. She didn't recall anything with Scootaloo’s name on it.

“It’s okay girls, really. I mean, I did get a present...” Scootaloo waved a dismissive hoof. “I’m sure Rainbow Dash has something awesome waiting for me: like flying lessons, or--o-or a camping trip! Just the two of us!”

Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle shared a confused glance, but Scootaloo seemed determined. Rainbow Dash was going to show up and set things right. No way she was going to miss her number-one fan’s biggest day.

Everything was going to be alright.

The rest of the night should have been fun: there was ‘pin the tail on the alicorn’, dancing, a singing contest (which Sweetie won), not to mention some tearful speeches on the part of Applejack and Rarity. For all intents and purposes, the party should have been the most fun Scootaloo ever had. She finally got her cutie mark at long last, and there was a grand celebration to mark the occasion.

But Rainbow Dash was nowhere to be found. With her absent, it was more or less a party just for Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle. Scootaloo’s ticket in was simply the fact that she got her cutie mark, too.

Bitter and tired, Scootaloo marched out of Sugarcube Corner. She had no interest in staying behind for parting words or congratulations. A light drizzle began to fall just as she entered the perimeter of Sweet Apple Acres. She wanted to be alone. She wanted to be away from the fun she couldn’t have. She wanted to be in the old Crusader’s clubhouse. No one would find her up there.

She hated being angry. Today was supposed to be such a great day. Her flank was no longer blank and Diamond Tiara, a former bully, nuisance, cause of many tears and tantrums, was reformed and befriended. There was even a giant cake, with the biggest tier in her colors, with her cutie mark, and her name on it…

Not even the so-called Element of Loyalty, the one who promised to take her under her wing and treat her like a little sister. Last Scootaloo checked, Rarity and Applejack were there for their little sisters--they showered them in gifts, praise, and compliments. What had Scootaloo done that she didn’t deserve the same?


Scootaloo stopped, her head dropped as Sweetie Belle tiptoed up beside her.

“Feeling any better, Scootaloo?”

“I’m fine, Sweetie Belle.” Scootaloo hissed through her clenched teeth.

Sweetie grimaced. "What's the matter, Scootaloo?"

She wasn’t about to be blunt. "My cutie mark," she lied.

"Huh?" Sweetie arched an eyebrow. "What about it?”

"I don't like it." Scootaloo pouted. "It's stupid."

"What?" Sweetie was taken aback, "W-Why not? Our cutie marks are special! We have a mission, don't you see? We have to help other fillies and colts. Help them find their special--"

"What about me?" Scootaloo snarled, "What about me, huh?" Her voice raising, her hoof stamping a patch in the grass "What about my family? What about my stupid wings? Why doesn't somepony help me? It's not fair!"

"Scootaloo..." Sweetie began hesitantly, , but Scootaloo reversed course, and began her homebound trot, fuming.

Sweetie Belle didn’t bother following. She knew that Scootaloo was sensitive--as, truth be told, she had a right to be. Still, it stung to watch her friend sour and solemn on what was supposed to be the happiest day of a filly's life. Part of her very much wanted to find that rainbow-maned pegasus, and give her a piece of her mind.

“Hey girls!” Apple Bloom greeted. Babs and some other Apple fillies by her side. As she saw Sweetie Belle, alone, her face fell.“Where’s Scootaloo?”

“She went home.” Sweetie Belle said flatly.

“Oh…” Apple Bloom’s ears fell slightly. “No sign of her, huh?”

“Nope.” Sweetie Belle sighed.

“Well…” Apple Bloom pawed the ground nervously before perking up again, “Are you comin’, at least?”

“To what?”

“The party.” A smile returned to the farm filly as she glanced at her cousins beside her.

“I thought we already had a party?” Sweetie Belle asked, confused.

“Yeah, but this one’s an Apple Family Cutecenera!” Apple Bloom grinned. “There’s cider, games, music; all sorts a cool stuff, c’mon!”

With nothing better to do, Sweetie Belle followed Apple Bloom and company past the clubhouse, and towards the orchards. No sooner had they rounded the thick grove of trees that separated the clubhouse from the farmland, than they were almost knocked off their hooves by a massive wave of smells: cider, pie, and other sweet things. Sounds of blues rock, laughter, and even some rowdy stallions playing a game of horseshoes echoed through the trees.

The whole orchard was dressed with fairy lights, with tiki torches lining the entrance, exit, and buffet tables. It seemed there were more ponies here than at the Cutiecenera. It wasn’t just Apples either, it seemed most of Ponyville was going to be here soon enough.

“Whoa…” Sweetie gawked at the sight. “This is amazing! When did they do all this?”

Apple Bloom couldn’t help her smug expression. “Well, we kinda got it all set up earlier this evenin’. Big Mac, Granny, an’ some of the Apple boys stayed behind an’ got the food ready. Yer sister helped with the lights an’ such.”

“Ah, Sweetie Belle, there you are!” Rarity greeted as she emerged from the homestead. “You ran off, and I was worried you headed back to the Boutique.”

“I almost did.” Sweetie Belle said, “But then Apple Bloom saw me, and brought me down here.”

Rarity glanced over the little crowd of fillies. “No Scootaloo?” she asked.

“No.” Sweetie’s frown returned. “She went home. She’s pretty upset about everything.”

Sweetie noticed a flash of disgust on her sister’s face before it returned to a weak smile. “Apple Bloom, I do believe your grandmother could use you for a moment in the kitchen.”

“Ah bet it’s the pies, girls! C’mon, Sweetie Belle!” Apple Bloom beamed as she and her cousins dashed towards the house, Sweetie Belle not too far behind.

2. Day

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Rainbow Dash didn’t like mashed potatoes. Nor did she especially like being paid for and pampered.

Yet here she was: at the finest restaurant in Cloudsdale, soon to enjoy a beautiful hay-loin, with a side of mashed potatoes, asparagus with sea salt and cracked pepper. Seated across from her, was her date, the one-and-only Soarin’.

He was a sight, especially in the tempered glow of candlelight. Both looked a tad scruffy, having just come from an exciting night in the company of close friends.

Part of them didn’t like being so secretive about their relationship, though they certainly had their reasons. Dash wasn’t about to have the people of Ponyville judge her for schtupping the first piece of fine horseflesh that came along, nor was Soarin’ entirely comfortable with the possibility of reprimand for conduct unbecoming with a member of the reserves. Nevertheless, the two enjoyed one another very much. Sex and shenanigans aside, the two shared common interests, got along surprisingly well.

After some avoiding eye contact and idle fidgeting and pony-watching, Soarin cleared his throat.“So, uh... you have any plans this weekend?”

“Not that I can think of, no.” Rainbow answered quickly.

“Well, the girls and I are having a barbecue at Spitfire’s place. You wanna come? They’d love to have you.”

Rainbow smiled. They’d love to have me…

“Yeah. I can probably make that,” she said, feigning nonchalance. They’d love to have me… Suddenly, she frowned. “Would, uh…” she swallowed. “...would we be going as a couple, or would we be going as friends?”

Soarin’ took a nervous sip of his water. ”I guess…” he said slowly, “...if you’re comfortable with that, that is. I’m just worried that the higher-ups wouldn’t like it.” He sighed. ”You know what they did to that captain of the Cloudsdale Thunder Squadron...”

Rainbow nodded nervously. Said captain had done the deed with a junior cadet--and got her pregnant to boot. Cloudsdale officials were appalled. Watching him break down crying during his drumming-out had been one of the most awkward experiences of her life.

“But, uh... he was kind of a jerk-off anyway, right?” Rainbow asked nervously.. “It’s not like we didn’t know each other before I was a cadet--I mean…”

They went quiet, each taking a bite or two of their food.

A look up from his plate at his date seemed to compel Soarin’ to try a more topical branch of conversation.

“So, I read about those three fillies in Ponyville.” He began, “They got their cutie marks at the same time, huh?”

“Yeah, it was kinda wild.” Rainbow Dash said with a nod, “I guess they still don’t understand how that could even happen. Not even Twilight has a clue.”

The thought of Scootaloo made her frown slightly, though she quickly recovered. Whatever it was, couldn’t be too important.

“Speaking of Ponyville,” Soarin’ added, smiling “For all the times we’ve crashed at my place, you’ve never returned the favor.” He paused as he watched Rainbow’s face burn red.

“W-what are you gettin’ at?” Rainbow stammered.

“Well, y’know,” Soarin’s grin expanded, “One of these weekend’s, I’m gonna have to come check out Little Cloudsdale. I also have never really stayed over in Ponyville, anyway. Is it as nice as people say it is?”

Rainbow’s response was impaired by her tongue tying itself in a knot at the prospect of having Soarin’ at her place, some quality time alone where they could… “get to know each other”.

“Y--yeah, it’s nice.” Dash started, “Kinda has its own charm, you know? It’s also a great napping spot--not much noise, not much going on.” She sighed. Speaking of going, the moon had risen above the cloud horizon--which meant it was getting late. Getting time for her to return to head home herself. She’d be back, of course; Soarin’ had paid this time, and threw in a generous tip, if only for the benefit of the waitstaff swooning over his “generosity”. Rainbow was amused by it, at least--but she’s have a chance to pay his way soon enough.

Cloudsdale was quite the spectacle at night. What with its seemingly endless array of colorful lights and neon signs; the leisurely pace of the pegasi that trot and flew through the downtown thoroughfares, it was vibrant, yet calm; busy, yet relaxed.

As Rainbow Dash and Soarin’ made their way out of the five-star restaurant, they joined nonchalant procession of the evening pedestrians. Side by side, the two couldn’t help smiling.The night had gone well by all accounts: they caught a movie with friends on the west side of town, then snuck into a discrete inn within the central business district for some well-deserved private time.

They’d known each other from flight camp, not to mention by reputation----with Rainbow as a bearer of the Element of Loyalty, and Soarin’ captain of the renowned and revered Wonderbolts--but with every conversation, every outing like this, it seemed to two were getting to know one another on a completely different level.

Some minutes of slow trot and small talk later, they reached a desolate jut of cloud that hung out over the darkened valley below. Well below here, was the expanse of the Unicorn Range. Southeast of this, was Canterlot, and Ponyville--exactly where Rainbow Dash was headed. As much as she wished that wasn’t the case.

Rainbow sighed. “Soarin’, I--I just wanted... t-to thank you,” she said softly. She turned away and grimaced. What the hell is wrong with you, Dash, get it together! “Tonight was amazing. I mean,” she added hurriedly, “not that the last time wasn’t amazing-or…”

“So, we’ll be doing this again soon?” Soarin’ smiled. She was cute when she got flustered.

“Y-yeah. For sure.” Rainbow nodded vigorously.

Minutes passed as the two looked everywhere but at each other. Finally, Soarin’ leaned over and gave Rainbow a quick peck on the cheek, making her squeal in surprise. She grinned, then returned the favor, making him blush an adorable shade of red.

“S-see ya,” he stammered. He couldn’t tear his eyes off her, even as she sighed and stepped away.

“Yeah. See ya.” Rainbow replied timidly. Meeting his eyes one last time, she took off from the edge, and began her descent towards Ponyville, her heartbeat loud in her ears as she tore through the clouds.

Scootaloo rounded onto her street in the west end of Ponyville, the steady stream of tears having dried up, and the weight of her sorrow beginning to burden her.

Hope had turned to realization, then to hatred in fairly short order. Her mind so muddled with confusion and contempt for Rainbow Dash, that she startled herself with how hard she had banged on the front door. She recoiled; that had almost been enough to wake the dead, let alone the other foals.

Despite that, the kind old face of her foster mother, Mrs. Safe Harbour, with her cream-colored coat and rose mane, looked no less welcoming and warm that it ever had. Behind her, three timid foals gazed at Scootaloo with wide eyes. Scootaloo couldn’t help but be slightly surprised, their parents must’ve been at the Apple’s orchard.

Between her mother’s embrace, and the foals adoration, being sour was not an option. As terrible as her day had been, she was still happy to be home after the crazy day. Not to mention the warmth that came with being missed, admired, and attended.

Mrs. Harbour had a heart of gold, and was nothing like the wicked and shallow step-parents in fairy tales. Harbour was the kind of mare you didn’t want to disappoint--not because she responded with anger and aggression, in fact, it was the exact opposite. She treated each of her fillies and colts as equals. She didn’t talk down to them, nor did she make fun of their ambitions. Scootaloo had the utmost love and respect for her, and while she always held the hope that someday she would have a home of her own, she would always have a soft spot for Mrs. Harbour.

Scootaloo walked up to her own room--a private one, just like the other two long-term residents. She promptly tossed the tattered dragon toy into her bin, and then flopped, face-down, onto her bed, and snuggled deep into her pillow. She could feel blood pulsing through her veins, and her heart thumping softly against the bed. The now-distant sound of the commotion was almost a comforting ambiance. Coupled with the smell of homemade pasta, Scootaloo couldn’t help but sink into her blankets.

He heard her door open behind her. “I figured you would’ve had something to eat at the party.” Mrs. Harbour said softly. “If you’re hungry, though, there’s some pasta on the stove... fettuccine alfredo.”

Scootaloo’s grinned into the sheets. “Thanks Mrs. Harbour, but I had some cake and stuff. I’ll probably eat it later, though.”

“Well then, I’ll just keep it under wraps for you then. Have at it whenever you want, dear.”

It sounded like she said what she had to say, but she did not leave. Instead, she stood in the door for a moment, then, slowly, stepped forward, and pulled Scootaloo into an embrace.

“Everything shipshape, dear Scootsie?“ she said, hugging her a little tighter. “Seems like something’s bothering you.”

Scootaloo hesitated. She had vented her anger earlier, and now all she really had left was a dark, empty pit where her heart had been. All she really wanted was to be alone.

“I’m okay.” Scootaloo lied. “I’m just really tired, and want to lie down for a little bit.”

For a moment, Harbour did not move. Finally, she leaned in and kissed Scootaloo on the forehead, then pulled her arms from around her and stood. “Alright, then,” she said. “Goodnight, dear--and please, let me know how I can help.” She walked to the door and opened it, walked through, and slowly, gently, closed it behind her.

Scootaloo sighed deeply into her pillow. It was nice to be alone. So nice to be alone.

Part of her knew this wasn’t right. Today, of all days, she could be in the company of her friends, not to mention what passed for family. But another part of her knew that she might still run into her. Once upon a time, that was the only thing she’d ever wanted--to spend some quality time with Rainbow Dash. But, if she couldn’t be bothered even to show up on this, the most important day of her life--to give her the only thing she’d ever asked for--well, screw her. Her, and the horse she rode in on.

She chuckled darkly. Her past self would be horrified to see her now, thinking of Rainbow Dash as anything other than a saint. But, she was starting to realize, saints only lived in storybooks--flesh-and-blood ponies were much better at disappointing you.

Yet another part of her wished that her naiveté was still intact--that she could still believe that Dash had gotten hung up in traffic, or gotten sick, or broken a wing, or something. Something about tonight had done more than just strike a nerve: it pinched it, twisted it, threatened to break it. Tonight had been different. It wasn’t that she had been stood up, yet again; it wasn’t that she had been passed over by too-kind adults, yet again; it was the contrast. She knew she shouldn’t be jealous, but to be there, among her friends, with all the gifts and praise in the world heaped upon their heads, in the midst of friends and family--

--and she, little old Scootaloo, with very nearly literally nothing. No friends. No family. No high-fives, not even a “congratulations.” And, though living in a modest home with a modest mare had taught her to not expect much, her only gift had been that goddamn stuffed dragon, still dusty, with an ear missing, and spit-up stains all down its front. A gift that somepony had pulled out of their ass at the literal last second. Not because they cared for her, oh no. Because they felt sorry for her.

And that was what she hated most of all.

Well, almost. There was one thing that could have saved the evening--one face that she had still wanted to see. Even a wink, a nudge, and a “Good job, Sport,” might have salvaged the wreckage of her evening. But, once again, she had been denied all that.

It happened often enough, over the course of her short, painful life, that she had almost lost her right to be surprised anymore.

She rolled over and glanced up at her wall--up at one of the innumerable crayon drawings of Rainbow Dash pinned to the wall. SCooTaLOo, AGe 4, the clumsy caption read. Anger flared up inside her, and she almost leapt from the bed to tear it down--but then apathy washed over her, even harder, and she fell back, motionless onto the bed.

Is this what growing up feels like? she wondered. Realizing that all your heroes are fakes and liars? That promises only matter on paper? That friendship is just a checklist?

She stared up at the ceiling for several moments, sinking deeper and deeper into her darkness, until a sudden realization arced through her like a bolt of lightning. She grimaced, then groaned aloud.

To top it all off, tomorrow was her birthday. The big one-oh. And it was a Saturday, too--she didn’t even have school to distract her. Which meant that, as much as she hated her right now--as much as she didn’t want to see her at all--she knew she was still going to spend most of the day hoping she’d show up.

She rolled over again. The thought made her want to cry all over again--but she had already spent her tears.

She lay awake for a long time, trying to ignore the muffled cries of happy children outside her door.

Scootaloo let out a commanding yawn as she stretched her hooves to the ceiling. Looking to her small bedside calendar, today was indeed her birthday; her decennial to be precise. While she wasn’t aware of any plans she herself had made for the occasion; hell, she had practically forgotten about it until now, she knew that her friends were sure to have something in store for her.

That, and the smell of a breakfast scramble and pancakes, brought a smile to her face, and a growl to her stomach, which seemed more eager than she did to pile out of bed, and begin her birthday.

Wandering downstairs, it was still early enough, that the foals had not been dropped off. It was just her, Poptart, and of course, Mrs. Harbour.

“Are you sure she’ll like this, dear?”

Rarity had asked this exact question at least ten times now. Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes. Her answer was unchanged.

Sweetie Belle trotted ahead. “I guarantee she will, sis. Her old helmet's getting kind of beat up, anyway.”

Sweetie’s tired voice wasn’t born of displeasure or dislike--far from it. In fact, She was excited to celebrate with her best friend. All last night she, Rarity, Applejack and company had used Scootaloo’s absence to plan for the surprise party that was to take place at Twilight’s Castle.

Pinkie, of course, would provide the catering and decorations, with Applejack and Rarity getting some extra last-minute presents. After what transpired last night, they wanted to make sure Scootaloo had no excuse to feel unloved and unconsidered. Rarity took her sweet time as their hunt for the “perfect present” was continually delayed by Rarity insisting on window-shopping at every fashion boutique and fabric store, Sweetie’s protests be dammed.

Rarity opted to buy a helmet and a saddlebag. The helmet was black, with white stripes, and she had managed to get a monochrome decal of Scoot’s cutie mark printed on the face. The strap was custom-made by a connection of hers, who was able to make a flexible, comfortable chin strap. The saddle bag was a dark gray with red trim along the pocket covers, and bag flap. Once again, her brand-new cutie mark was printed on the front, with her name stitched in sleek, angular white font below it.

“Well,” Rarity huffed as they made their way to the train back to Ponyville, “If she so much as frowns when she sees them, this was your idea.”

“Don’t think we’ll be worrying about that.” Sweetie Belle smiled. “Especially when she sees what Applejack and Twilight got her.”

Sweetie Belle looked over the helmet and bag and grinned. While Scootaloo wasn't one for finesse or fashion, she did have style, and these accessories fit that style just fine.

Something else was on her mind, though.

"You think Rainbow Dash will show? Fluttershy did say that she got home last night."

"I certainly wouldn't count on it, Sweetie Belle," Rarity muttered. "To be honest, I can't imagine Scootaloo would want her there, anyway. Would you?"

Now that Sweetie thought about it, Scootaloo had taken her absence rather badly, and was probably still bitter... Maybe it would be for the best if the Element of Loyalty didn't show, after all.

"Either way, I wouldn't worry about it, dear." Rarity placed a reassuring hoof on her sister's shoulder. "Once we get these presents home, I want you to fetch Scootaloo, and go to your usual Twilight Time. AJ, Fluttershy, and I will ensure the gifts are wrapped and ready for the party."

"Are you sure you don't want my help?" Sweetie asked.

"I think there's a certain birthday filly who needs you more than I do at the moment." Rarity winked. With a playful nudge, they gathered up the presents and made their way to the boutique. Soon enough, Sweetie had gotten washed up, and had started off for Scootaloo's house.

All in all, Scootaloo’s birthday morning had gone smoothly. She got to enjoy a hearty breakfast to herself, courtesy of Mrs. Harbour, who, it seemed, could do no wrong when it came to food. Being among the oldest in the house, she was treated to praise and drawings courtesy of the foals. While Scootaloo couldn’t make heads or tails of most of them, she was sure to tell the artist how nice they looked.

Now, she was back under her covers again, catching up on her Daring Do. Ever since The Mare Who Will Not Be Named had introduced her to the series, Scootaloo herself found she couldn’t put the books down..

A light tap on her bedroom door got her attention.

“Come in!” Scootaloo called, folding down a corner of her page. She looked up as the door opened, and smiled.

“Happy Birthday, Scootaloo!” Sweetie Belle said with a smile, pulling her in for a hug.“How’s your morning been?”

“Pretty good.” Scootaloo answered, putting her book away. “Mrs. Habour made me a killer scramble, and I got a bunch of doodles from the other kids.”

“Neat!” Sweetie beamed. “Well, you can still make it to Twilight Time, right?”

“Of course I can!” Scootaloo replied. “Let me just brush my teeth, and we’ll blow this joint.”

Soon enough, they were out the door, headed for the Friendship Castle. Along the way, the townsfolk who knew Scootaloo waved and wished her a happy birthday, Scootaloo nodding or waving in return. Needless to say, the decade-old filly had a little more spring in her step as they trotted through town.

“How does it feel, Scootaloo?” Sweetie asked.

“Well, I mean, not really different. I mean, we have our cutie marks now. I guess you could say that was an early birthday present.”

“Oh yeah, huh?” Sweetie replied. The two were quiet for a stretch, save for the occasional bystander wishing Scootaloo well. Sweetie Belle slowly turned to Scootaloo and swallowed.

“You seem to be feeling better,” she said carefully.

“Yeah, I am.” Scootaloo answered. Her smile faded, just a bit. “I’m still really bummed about… y’know.”

“I can’t blame you, Scoots.” Sweetie Belle answered.

Scootaloo gritted her teeth--but nodded vigorously. “It doesn’t matter now, though.” She smiled, “I get to spend my birthday hanging out with my best friends. That’s more than enough for me.”

Just you wait, Sweetie Belle thought as a grin returned to her face.

As they approached the castle, Sweetie Belle used her magic to open the door for Scootaloo, who trotted in ahead of her. They caught Spike just leaving the main hall.

“Hey Scootaloo!” The dragon greeted cheerfully, “Happy Birthday!”

“Thanks, Spike.” Scootaloo smiled. She noticed he had an envelope in his hand. “What’s that?”

“What envelope?” Spike grinned mischievously as he quickly swiped the envelope behind his back. “You’ll find out a little later.” With a devious laugh, he went into the dining hall.

The two fillies approached the throne room doors. Sweetie Belle lit her horn again, but the doors much have been heavier, for they ground slowly open. As they swung wide, Scootaloo stared in wonder: slowly but surely, she saw the throne room, decorated with balloons, streamers, and a large banner string several feet above, which read in candy-colored letters: HAPPY BIRTHDAY SCOOTALOO.

Scootaloo’s nearly screamed as a blast of confetti blasted her, courtesy of a cannon mounted by a familiar pink pony.

Pinkie’s grin was brimming, “Happy, happy birthday, Scootaloo!”

“Ya made it!” Apple Bloom trotted up to them, with Applejack, Rarity, Twilight, and Pinkie Pie rounding into their view as well.

“Happy birthday!” cried Fluttershy, leaning in and giving her a quick hug.

“Happy birthday, Scootaloo,” Twilight greeted the filly who was awestruck by the display. “While there isn’t any Twilight Time today, I figured you’d prefer a party instead.”

Scootaloo could only grin at the spectacle.

“Sweetie dear, why don't you show her the dining hall?” Rarity winked as she walked beside them.

Sweetie Belle ooohed, and ran for the big double-doors at the end of the room, followed, in short order, by the others. Well, most of the others; Fluttershy turned to follow, but, instead, hesitated. She scanned the crowd, then froze, stock-still. She stood there for a moment before letting out a low growl, then turning and striding out the front door.

Meanwhile, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle followed Rarity back down the hallway and into the dining room. Streamers and balloons hung above a long table. A large glass centerpiece sat in the middle--and, on the very top, sat a large ceramic rendition of Scootaloo’s cutie mark.

Scootaloo gazed in wonder over the scene--but her eyes were drawn to a crate in the corner, wrapped with giant ribbon, and topped with an equally enormous bow. It stood just a few inches shorter than Scootaloo, her eyes just barely high enough to glance over the top of it. Immediately, she ran for it and poked it gently.

"Not so fast, birthday girl." Rarity teased, as she tapped Scootaloo from behind. "You'll need to open this one first."

Rarity made her sit down in a big, plush chair they’d pulled into the center of the room, then handed her a box. Everypony gathered around to watch as the tore the wrapping paper off, then studied the box to see how to open it. A moment later, she shrugged, and simply ripped the panels off. As the cardboard parted and the packing tissue fell away, her eyes went wide. In her lap sat a shiny helmet and brand-new set of saddlebags.

Scootaloo gasped. "These are... awesome!"

"You really like them?" Rarity smiled, "Because, if you don't, I am more than happy to excha--" Scootaloo wrapped her hooves around her, cutting her off.

"I love these!" Scootaloo beamed, hooves trembling with glee. "The colors, the cutie mark! How did you even get this?"

"Oh, well, connections in the fashion industry can come in handy," Rarity murmured demurely. "Just a favor from a few friends, that's all."

Scootaloo glanced back down at her presents--then frowned slightly.The black helmet and bag with their stark red trim--while super cool--didn’t match the blue of her scooter.. She glanced towards Sweetie Belle, and saw her with that grin--that one she had when she was either really excited, or incredibly nervous.

And, suddenly, it dawned on her. Scootaloo’s eyes went wide, and she began to tremble.

"No way..." Scootaloo breathed. She turned back to the crate, tapped it again with her hoof. It rang with a hollow sound. "This has gotta be some kind of joke..." She hesitated , then began to try and pry open the crate with her bare hooves.

"Easy there, kiddo." Applejack chuckled, as stepped forward with a crowbar. She wedged it in under the lid, and, tongue between her teeth, began to work the bar up and down. Finally, with a light squeal, the face of the crate came free.

Then she saw it. Her mouth fell open, and she stared.

It was a brand new, custom-built scooter.

The deck was a brilliant crimson, with a white stripe decal, the handlebars dark orange, thick and heavy.. t was more compact than what she was used to, but It was the nicest piece of equipment she had ever seen--nicer, even, than what she had ever dared dream of.

Scootaloo stared, eyes glistening, slowly runnig her gaze over the entire thing from the wheels, to the handlebars, and back again--and once more, just for good measure. By the time she turned away, tears were streaming down her face.

"You guys..." Scootaloo choked out. "Y-you didn't have to do this."

"Oh darling, don't say such a thing," Rarity said with a grin. "It's the least we could do."

"We felt just awful not gettin' you nothin' fer yer cutecenera, sugarcube." Applejack added, "Why, we woulda got ya somethin' fer yer big day, anyhow."

"Thank you,” Scootaloo said with a sniffle. “So much!"

She went around the circle, doing her best to hold back the tears, and hugged each of her friends in turn. Finally, she came to Sweetie Belle and embraced her--then broke down completely, weeping tears of joy into her shoulder.

She felt grateful, cared for, and most important of course, loved.The food, the gifts, the presence of her closest friends--not to mention the scooter--it was almost overwhelming. Nopony had ever been so kind to her, not in all her years of her short life. Finally though, she wiped the last rush of tears from her face, and pulled the scooter from its crate.

Sweetie Belle brought over her helmet and bag, which Scootaloo promptly put on. She slung the saddlebags on, then popped the helmet on her head and connected the chin strap with a satisfying snap. She wheeled her scooter from its crate, jumped on, and, with one of her back hooves, kicked off. She went sailing out of the room, new wheels smooth as butter, down the hallway of the massive castle, barely missing Spike on her way out.

She burst through the front doors and soared down the steps, then kept going. She felt that beautiful sensation of the wind blowing her mane, and rustling her fur. She kicked even harder, sailed even faster, as she cruised over subtle ebbs and flows of Ponyville's main thoroughfare.

Everything felt incredible. The handlebars, the deck--compared to her old ride, it almost felt like she was ice skating. She swerved around pedestrians and market stalls, leaning into the turns like a professional racer, until the street opened up onto cleared to a cliff which towered over a sea of grassland below. Her wings out, humming like mad, the braced for the flight.

As she soared over the drop, she felt the blood pumping through her veins, and the adrenaline coursing through her entire body. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and, for the first time in her life, truly flew.

The landing was almost an afterthought. She landed it--how could she not?--then swung the scooter into a long, semicircular skid. She ground to a halt and stood there, chest heaving, sweat running down her face, and stared up at the cliff that had given her wings.

After several long moments, Apple Bloom poked her head over the top of the cliff. "That was amazin', Scoots!" she called down. Another moment, and she was joined by Sweetie Belle, panting.

"You like it?" she gasped.

"This is so awesome!" Scootaloo said with a grin, every inch of her being still thumping in time with her heart. There were no words for what she was feeling.

A few minutes later, and the three of them had managed to get Scootloo--and her scooter--back up onto the road. The three trotted back towards the castle, Scootaloo gently pushing her scooter along with her hoof. Every so often, she took her eyes off the road to gaze over the new scooter. Her new scooter. All hers.

She wiped at the threatening tears. The motion caught Apple Bloom’s eye, and she turned to her with a smile.

"You went crazy fast on that thing, Scoots!" Apple Bloom said.

"It's really light, and easy to handle," she said, with a modest smile. “Whoever they got to help really knew what they were doing. It’s…” she sighed. “It’s beautiful.”

"Best birthday ever?" Sweetie Belle asked with a grin.

"Best birthday ever," Scootaloo replied.

3. Decision

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Rainbow Dash didn't like waking up early on a weekend. Nor did she particularly like somepony else waking her up.

And yet, here she was: somepony was knocking on the door, at who-knows-what o’clock. And now she had to get out of bed, and see who the hell it was. She opened her eyes--then immediately closed them again. After the drinks she had, and the general craziness of the day before, it seemed almost insulting for somepony to assume that she was in working order, let alone wanting company.

Slowly, she got out of bed, stretched her hooves forward, and winced as her hangover made itself known in the form of a migraine and a viciously upset stomach. Things didn’t improve much as she left her relatively dark bedroom, and was blasted by the sunlight which poured through the exuberant windows of her expansive cloud home.

Eyes squinted, she put a hoof out to feel for the doorknob. She managed to find it, then grabbed, twisted, and pulled the door open. She groaned; her hope that she would be spared the intensity of a clear spring day was dashed as she couldn’t bear to open her eyes. She probably looked ridiculous, to boot.

“Whaddaya want?” she snapped.

As she stared, the pony standing on her doorstep came into focus: Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash took a sudden step backwards; Fluttershy’s expression was hard, with steel in her gaze.

And then, she seemed to come to herself. She swallowed, hard, and the rage drained from her face. She looked up at Rainbow and smiled faintly. “Sorry for waking you, Rainbow Dash,” she said, no trace of anger in her voice.

Rainbow swallowed. “H-hey, Fluttershy,” she said, hesitantly--then yawned. “Come on in.” She turned and stumbled her way to the kitchen to brew some coffee. “Care for some joe?” Rainbow called out, as Fluttershy found a spot on a large sofa in the foyer.

“Thank you, but I had some tea this morning.” Fluttershy responded quietly.

Rainbow pricked up her ears. “This morning?” she asked. “What time is it?”

Fluttershy took a deep breath. “It’s almost three in the afternoon, Rainbow Dash,” she said carefully.

Dash’s eyes widened. Three in the afternoon? Then why the hell do I still feel like shit? She poured herself a mug of coffee, hesitated, then gulped it down, pure black and scalding hot. What the hell was in my drink last night?

Rainbow poured herself a second mug, added a sugarcube and a splash of milk, then poured a glass of water. She carried both of them out to the foyer, plunked the water on the coffee table in front of Fluttershy, then sat.. “So,” she said, taking a sip from her mug, “what brings you here? I thought you usually did your critter roundup or whatever, today.”

“Thank you.” Fluttershy smiled, then took a sip from her own glass, then carefully set it down. “You don’t remember what today is?”

Rainbow groaned to herself. I have a lot of days to keep track of all of the sudden.

Fluttershy watched her carefully, then took another sip. “It’s Scootaloo’s birthday today,” she offered, quietly.

Rainbow turned to look blearily at her. “I thought that was yesterday?”

Fluttershy clenched her jaw, and another faint ripple of anger passed across her face. “No,” she said patiently, “that was the cutecenera. For all three of them.”

“Wait…” Rainbow sat up. “That was yesterday?”

Fluttershy nodded. “Last night.”

Last night. Rainbow Dash slowly sank back into the couch, letting her words echo in her head. Slowly but surely, the memories of yesterday morning came back to her. The more she remembered, the deeper the pit in her gut grew. Fluttershy watched her carefully, then turned away.

“The girls are pretty upset with you,” Fluttershy said. “Especially Scootaloo.”

“I had plans!” Rainbow snapped defensively. “Soarin’ never has any time off, and that was the only time we could’ve schedule a night out.” She crossed her arms. “ Not my fault the little squirt got lost in the shuffle.”

Both of them knew it was a lie.

“I wouldn’t say that.” Fluttershy said, the edge creeping back into her voice. Fluttershy had a reputation for being quiet and non-confrontational with almost everypony--but Rainbow Dash was an exception. They had known each other since foalhood, and shared a mutual respect. As such, the animal-lover had no hesitation when it came to telling the speedster what she thought… at least, in private.

“You promised her you would be her big sister,” Fluttershy continued. “And you’re not doing a very good job of keeping that promise.”

“I know, I know,” she groaned. “And I--I feel terrible.”

Fluttershy raised an eyebrow.

“I do!” Rainbow snapped. She groaned again, then put her head in her hooves. “What do I do?” she said. “She probably hates my guts--”

“Her party is still going on down at the castle.” Fluttershy made eye contact, her gaze hard. “You should go,” she said pointedly.

“Of course it is.” Rainbow sighed, the prospect of confronting more than just an angry filly was not at all in her favor. “I… I’m in no condition to go to a filly’s birthday party, Shy. Look at me! I’m hungover and half-dead. I show up like that, it would just make things worse.”

Fluttershy heaved a sigh. “Did you at least get her something?” she said. “Maybe I can--” She looked into Rainbow’s face and frowned. “You didn’t, did you,” she said flatly.

“I’ve been busy—”

“Rainbow Dash,” Fluttershy said quietly, “please don’t lie to me.”

Rainbow stared at her, open-mouthed, then leaned back and pouted.

Fluttershy cleared her throat a little, then took a sip of her water. “So, you didn’t get her a gift,” she said. “Not even a cutecinera present? Or a card?”

Rainbow hesitated, then simply nodded. As if verbalizing it would just rub salt in the wound.

Silence hung for a bit. Fluttershy watched Rainbow carefully as she sipped at her coffee.

“You should come,” Fluttershy said suddenly. “Even if all you do is apologize. That’s all she really wants, is to spend time with her—” she hesitated, then swallowed nervously. “--with her idol,” she finished. She had almost said a different word, one that might have ruined everything. She took another sip. “Maybe you could take her with you to the Wonderbolts show this weekend?” she suggested. “I think she’d love that.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Since when did being a big sister have to be such a big responsibility?” she said, folding her arms. “I thought I was supposed to just hang out with her sometimes, and take her for a treat at Sugar Cube Corner or something.”

“But you’re not doing even that.”

“Oh, can it, you,” she muttered. She stood, then gritted her teeth at the sudden wave of nausea. She stumbled to the mailslot by the front door, looking for anything to distract her from her conversation with Fluttershy. She was surprised to find the wire basket underneath the mailslot stuffed with old mail; flyers, and ads, and—

She frowned, then pulled an envelope out of the stack. She tore it open, then unfolded the letter. It was a reminder from Ponyville Hospital that she had a checkup scheduled for this coming week.

Ponyville Hospital.

Today not only was the decennial of her little sister, it was also a decade since she foaled. So far as she had been told, that foal had gone to an orphanage. The Ponyville Orphanage closed its doors eight years ago, and most all of the orphans were dispersed to foster homes throughout Equestria.

If she was honest with herself, there were some nights she regretted giving up her foal. But this wasn’t one of them. She tapped the letter on the edge of the basket thoughtfully.
I’d have made a terrible mother, she thought.

“If you can’t make it to the party,” Fluttershy said suddenly from behind her, “maybe you could visit her.”

Rainbow jumped a little, then sighed. “Where?” she asked.

“At her house, I would imagine,” she sighed. “You know, down in—”

“Will you stop doing that?” Rainbow barked.

Fluttershy flinched. “D-Doing what?”

“You know! The-the thing where you state the obvious! I know I’m a terrible big sister--ya don’t need to rub it in!” She gritted her teeth, then stomped her hooves. “Luna, Celestia, and all the stars—” she muttered darkly.

Fluttershy turned to stare. “Rainbow,” she said carefully, “what are you—”

Rainbow Dash shot up into the air, her eye twitched as the sudden motion made her head throb in horrific pain.

“Come on, Fluttershy.” Dash proclaimed, a newfound determination about her. “We’re going to that birthday party!”

Pizza was delicious. Especially in the company of friends.

Now back inside, the crusaders and company sat in the spacious and spectacle dining hall of the Friendship Castle. The table now covered in plates, pizza boxes, and a giant chocolate chip cookie-cake that Spike made.

Pepperoni with mushrooms: Scootaloo’s favorite. Originally, Sweetie Belle insisted that Scootaloo loved cheese quesadillas, but for whatever reason, Twilight Sparkle insisted that pizza would be a better choice. No reason given, really. Rarity and Sweetie both were denied an explanation, and after some back and forth, pizza prevailed.

Scootaloo couldn’t care less. Already on her third slice, she was now reaching for a slice of the cookie cake.

“My, my,” Applejack teased, “Looks like the birthday girl’s got a big appetite.” This earned a chuckle from everyone, and a blush from Scootaloo who shamelessly shoved a slice of cookie in her mouth. Nodding in agreement as her packed cheeks were flooded with flavor.

“I have been eating absolutely terrible this weekend.” Rarity lamented. “Effective tomorrow, I am back on my diet.”

“You always say that, Rares.” Applejack opened, “Ya don’t need no diet, yer practically skin an’ bones.”

“I agree, sis.” Sweetie Belle added. “You worry too much about that kind of thing.”

It would be fair to say Sweetie intended this out of concern for her sister. She did. But, her main issue was, that with Rarity’s diet, came the reduction of sweet things in her house. When Sweetie Belle stayed over, it was a delectable choice between some green protein smoothie that looked like vomit, or some “healthy choice” hay fries that tasted like cardboard.

Add to that, Rarity would always comment on Sweetie’s dietary choices. Stating that practically everything that wasn’t a vegetable or upscale diet shake was “bad for you”, and that she should be “careful” with her eating habits. She implied Sweetie was fat, basically.

As much as Scootaloo would have loved to enjoy yet another slice of pizza, nature was calling, and she figured that heeding said call was the best course of action. There was just a slight issue. She figured with all the side-chatter going, that nopony would hear her.

“Um, Twilight?”

Wrong. As the birthday girl, with every utterance, the whole room went silent, all eyes on her. Scootaloo’s whole face turned a bright shade of red. Getting up from her seat, she cantered over to Twilight’s side, and whispered something in her ear.

“Oh.” Twilight suppressed a giggle, “Yes, first door by the main entrance.”

“Thanks!” With that, the filly was off.

A quick glance down the hall showed that the bathroom was indeed the only door closer to the main entrance outside of the dining hall. She began her trot, as the urge to go intensified to an alarming degree. Her trot became more of an erratic prance as she hurried to the door.

“Well, Ah think we did a pretty good job here, girls.” Applejack proclaimed.

“I concur.” Rarity agreed, “Scootaloo was simply adorable when opening her presents!”

“So, when Ah’m ten,” Apple Bloom smiled, “Ah’m gonna have an amazin’ party like this too, right sis?”

“I didn’t.” Sweetie Belle muttered, a half-glare sent Rarity’s direction.

“Darling, you know the reason for the opulence, remember? Somepony decided that their spring fling was more important than the filly that held them in the highest regard.”

It was impossible not to hear the venom in her inflection, and Applejack was even more potent.

“Ah reckon Fluttershy wasn’t able ta get that brat ta even come down here, huh?”

“Probably for the best.” Twilight sighed. “Would Scootaloo even want to see her anyway?”

The sound of the castle doors opening made the diners turn to the hallway.

“Looks like we’re about t’find out.” Apple Bloom muttered.

Spike and Twilight went into the hallway to investigate, and saw Rainbow Dash standing in the entry, Fluttershy just behind her..

“We were getting worried about you.” Twilight commented, being sure to keep her gaze on Fluttershy alone. Twilight did notice though, that Rainbow Dash looked unwell. As much as she was disappointed in her friend, it would be out-of-character to disregard that observation.

“You not feeling well, Rainbow Dash?” It didn’t come out caring or compassionate, she sounded annoyed, almost offended.

“Not really.” Dash grumbled. “Last night was kinda crazy.”

“You don’t say?” Rarity did nothing to hide her disgust, and Rainbow was greeted by an ensemble of scowls. Fluttershy watched Rainbow dispassionately, a faint sense of vindication in her eyes.

She tried to brush it off, “So, where’s the birthday girl?”

“Just to inquire,” Rarity spat. “Do you know who the birthday girl is?”

“Ah doubt it.” Applejack quipped.

“Look.” Rainbow growled. “I know I messed up, alright? At least I’m here. You know, I could’ve just stayed home!”

“You should have, you jerk!” Sweetie Belle snapped.

“Sweetie Belle!” Rarity gasped.

“Well?” The filly pouted. “She is!”

Before Rainbow or Rarity could retort, the sound of filly hooves coming down the hall stopped them. Rainbow turned around to see the stoic look of Scootaloo, who at first said nothing as she sat on her haunches, looking at her like some kind of curiosity.

Millions of words vied for the front of the queue, tons of emotions jostled for dominance in a wayward, haphazard mess; Scootaloo wasn’t sure whether she should be glad that Rainbow made it, or disgusted that she bothered to show at all. As the birthday girl, she had favor no matter what choice she made. The emotion which won, was disappointment, and the words that broke free, were anything but jubilant.


Her monotone, yet sharply accusatory delivery caught everypony off guard. Her tail, ears, and eyes signaled to anyone initiated to not try anything funny. As such, Dash was silent, but attentive.

“You promised that you would be my big sister.”

The pause between charges were practically murdering the rainbow-maned Element of Loyalty.

“Applejack is Apple Bloom’s big sister, and Rarity is to Sweetie Belle. They showed up… So why weren’t you there for me?”

“Scootaloo… I know no apology is going to make up for my failure. I failed you as a friend, but more importantly, I failed you as a sister; as an Element of Loyalty. The one time you needed me to be there- and, I’m going to be honest with you- I was too busy thinking about myself to worry about you.”

She let that resonate for a moment. Studying Scootaloo’s face for any shift in mood. None.

“Despite that, I owe you an apology.” Dash continued, “I’m sorry I couldn’t live up to my promise, and I’m sorry I hurt you. I don’t expect you to forgive me. I just hope that you don’t hate me forever.”

“Of course I don’t hate you, Rainbow Dash.” Scootaloo’s frown didn’t change, but her tone turned to understanding. “I’m disappointed-but… I don’t hate you. I never could. That’s not who I am.”

Rainbow tired a weak smile, but noticed Scootaloo didn’t move. She wasn’t done.

“Still, I can’t accept your apology.”

“I understand.” Rainbow resigned. It felt so weird to be intimidated by such a small fry, but Scootaloo’s presence was equal to a manticore at this point.

Scootaloo decided that the best course of action, was to give Rainbow a second chance. As naive as it would seem to her friends, and as much as she may regret it later, she was in too high of spirits to let herself remain bitter.

“But,” Scootaloo perked up slightly, “This is my birthday party, and I want everypony to have a good time.”

Scoots waited for Rainbow to smile back.

“I got a new scooter.” Scootaloo grinned.

Rainbow was uncertain how to reply. “So--You did?”

“Uh huh.” Scootaloo nodded. “Wanna see it?”

Rainbow glanced back, and while Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom looked mad as hell, the mares seemed to soften a bit. She turned back to the filly and smiled with her usual cocky grin.

“Sure. I’d love to.”

Scootaloo lead Rainbow to the outside of the castle, eager to present her newest toy.

“Fer the record, Ah think Scootaloo’s jus’ bein’ nice.” Apple Bloom crossed her hooves, scowl still plastered on her face.

“Me too!” Sweetie Belle grunted.

“Now, now girls,” Rarity cautioned, “Even if Scootaloo is sparing us the dramatics, we need to play along. The last thing we need, is for this wonderful day to be tarnished by conflict. Understand?”

The two girls nodded reluctantly.

“Pretty slick scooter, kid.” Rainbow complemented. “Does it ride as good as it looks?”

“Sure does!” Scootaloo answered smugly. “Wanna watch me do a tailwhip glide over a cliff?”

“That sounds a bit dangerous, Scoots.”

Scootaloo simply ignored her insistence, and sped off, leaving Rainbow to zoom after her.

“Hey kid…” Rainbow called after her, causing Scootaloo to slow a bit.


“I was wondering, I’m going to a barbeque up in Cloudsdale at the Wonderbolt Clubhouse, and wondered if you wanted to come?”

The scooter skid to a stop. Suddenly, those magenta eyes were piercing her again. Rainbow could see the filly thinking, the wheels of that little brain spinning at top speed, as it processed the offer, what was to gain, and what could be lost.

“Will you remember to bring me with?”

Rainbow could tell despite the wry smile on her face, that the filly was dead serious.

If anything, this meant that Rainbow truly did have a shot to redeem herself in the eyes of her number-one fan. This wasn’t just a snarky question, this was an invitation to prove her apology was more than just lip service.

“I promise I won’t leave without you.”

Scootaloo wasn’t taking that risk. “Why don’t you just pick me up at my house?”

Rainbow blinked. “Oh… right…” House…

Scootaloo sighed, “It’s where the orphanage used to be.”

“Wait… you're an orphan?”

Scootaloo did her best not to scowl. “Seriously?”

She folded up her scooter, and sat on the cliffside, Dash joining her.

“I was an orphan. Mrs. Harbor said that they changed the rules later, and all the foals were sent to foster homes. I just happen to have stayed here, I guess, and she adopted me.”

“Never met your parents?”

“Nope.” Scootaloo nodded. “I know I have ‘em; Just never met ‘em.”

As if Rainbow couldn’t be any more wretched... It wasn’t just that Rainbow Dash hadn’t been there for her, nopony was. Sure she had her fellow crusaders and their sisters of course; but a cutecenera was just as much about family as it was anything else. She could also tell by the way Scootaloo answered, that the subject was a sore one.

Risking further rebuke from the filly, Dash asked the inevitable. “So… where do you live, exactly?”

“You don’t remember?” Scootaloo groaned, but she couldn’t help but be slightly amused by how daft her idol was. “Come on. I’m sure you’ll recognize it once we get there. I need to get something, anyway.”

Scootaloo’s ears were lateral, and her voice carried a melancholy air about it. Still, the minute the scooter got momentum, her little wings were abuzz once more, and she was weaving around, under, and aside pedestrians of all sorts; Rainbow following from above.

What she felt she couldn’t explain. It was a mutt of uncertainty and annoyance. Despite this, and the heavy heart she carried, the filly was nimble and swan-like on her little scooter. Her maneuvers and detours were enough of a spectacle. An absurdly opportunistic upturned hay cart was in her sights.

WIngs beating furiously, a look of unfettered determination, she sailed up the impromptu slope, and soared into the air, letting her hind hooves rise from the deck and flow freely in the wind. Now in freefall, she used those same hooves to spin her body in a full circle; her handlebards being the pivot. Just before the front wheels made contact with the grass, her hooves reconnected with the scooter perfectly. Her landing was a bit of a drift, but never did she threaten to lose balance.

Part of her very much wanted to hear the complements of the cyan pegasus trailing her, another thought, was fine with their absence.

Now, they reached town hall. Scootaloo took a swift right, now cruising though residentials.

Rainbow recognized this neighborhood. Outside of a antiques shop, it was single-family cottages. She didn’t remember ever seeing an orphanage here, or at least anything that resembled the ones she’d seen in Cloudsdale or Manehatten.

Finally, they came up on a house. It looked like any other with the noticeable exception of it being about two times the usual size. From her vantage, she could see a simple playground in the backyard: complete with a slide, swingset, and tetherball pole. Scootaloo screeched to a halt before it’s double door, and looked up to beckon the elder mare to the ground.

“So this is-” Rainbow began before being vigorously shushed.

“Quiet!” Scootaloo hissed. “The foals are probably napping.”

With this, she propped her scooter beside the building, and fetched a key from her saddlebag. With the slow turn of the key, and a gentle push on the door, they headed inside.

Rainbow quietly followed as Scootaloo led her through the foyer. Size aside, the house seemed to be decorated and designed like the typical laypony cottage, with plain walls, and wooden frames. The foyer was nothing too special, and was more of a mud room with all of its coat and saddlebag hooks, horseshoe cubbies, and pictures of various foals, fillies,and colts. Dash noticed a couple of Scootaloo were up there: One of her as a foal, another that she assumed was about five years ago, and a more recent photo.

Exiting through the right entryway, they went through a narrow hallway, which terminated with a staircase. Again, pictures adorned the walls, though these seemed to be of Mrs. Harbour’s family. One image in particular--a faded wedding photo--showed a young mare and her stallion standing before what appeared to be Canterlot Tower.

Finally, the stairs lead to a small hallway with four doors on either side. Scootaloo ventured right, and slowly opened the second left door.

Instantly the room was familiar to Rainbow. The teal walls with the dark wooden trim, the circular flower trip rug, even the green checkered comforter set was the same as she remembered. That memory came back to her: Rainbow and the two other crusaders were on a train bound for the Equestria Games. The three fillies were supposed to perform their flag carrying ceremony for Ponyville.

Long story short, Rainbow wound up coming to this very room, in this very house, to encourage Scootaloo that her inability to fly meant nothing, both in terms of the ceremony, and in general. Scootaloo had talents of her own, and never let her disability stand between her and her aspirations before. They wound up taking first that day.

Scootaloo noticed the mare was staring into space. “You remember now?” She snapped playfully.

Dash shook the thoughts away. “Yeah, yeah. I remember now. It was kinda crazy when I came here last time. Most of it’s a blur.”

“Oh.” Scootaloo answered as she turned the blinds open. “I guess that makes sense.”

Rainbow took some time to look around while Scootaloo busied herself with rummaging through a box that sat nearby. Among the Wonderbolts posters that adorned the walls, were drawings. One of note, sat just above the filly’s desk. It was a simple drawing, an orange filly was strapped to a kite blowing in the wind. High above, was a rainbow streak, and a certain cyan mare leading the trail.

Then she noticed something else. The kite string wasn’t attached to a pony, or a stud. It was tied to an anchor that was well set in the ground. Dash’s heart sank as she realized what the artist was communicating.

She didn’t have much time to process it any further, as Scootaloo cleared her throat, and was standing impatiently in the doorway.

“C’mon, Dash.” Scootaloo ordered. “Let’s go.”

As the two headed back downstairs, Scootaloo could hear the sounds of restless fillies, chattering and clamoring about. No doubt that Mrs. Harbour was up and about, too. Sure enough, she was indeed in the foyer, moving some laundry from the nursery, to the washroom it seemed.

“Oh. I didn’t expect you to be back so soon. How has your special day been?”

“Pretty good.” Scootaloo grinned. “I got a new scooter!”

“Well I’ll be--” Harbour cooed, “Hanging out with Rainbow Dash for the day?”

Scootaloo flinched, almost like she’d forgotten about her.

“Oh. Naw, I was just showing her my new scooter. I forgot something here, and decided to come get it. You want me home in time to help put the foals to bed?”

“No, no no, today is a special day for you.” Harbour smiled, “Don’t worry about me, you enjoy yourself.”

Scootaloo seemed thrilled with that response. “Alright!” She turned to Rainbow Dash and made to open the door. Before she could however, a little colt popped out from the backyard.

“Is that Rainbow Dash?!”

Ten autographs and twenty-one questions later, Rainbow Dash finally managed to escape the swarm of youngsters who had engulfed her with inquiry and infatuation. Scootaloo was in tow with her saddlebag as the duo made for the castle.

She could at the very least claim some accomplishment: Scootaloo seemed perfectly ready, able to put the past aside--behind was asking too much--and get on the business of living.

Rainbow didn’t like silence. “What’cha got in that bag, kid?”

Scootaloo offered a simple answer, “You’ll see.”

“Where in tarnation did they go?” Applejack wondered aloud as Spike went around cleaning up the dining hall.

The two pegasi had been gone for several minutes now.

“Rainbow Dash probably made Scoots cry.” Apple Bloom grumbled. “Made ‘er go runnin’ on home.”

“Girls…” Rarity scolded.

“Yeah.” Sweetie Belle added, “Then, realizing what a horrible big sister she is, she went home, too!”

Applejack stomped a hoof to get the girls’ attention. “Oh will you two knock it off, already? Land sakes, girls! All you two been doin’ since they left, is mutter an’ moan, and Ah’m sick of it!”

“What else are we gonna do, sis?” Apple Bloom whined. “Can’t really have a birthday party without the birthday girl.”

“Ah got a bunch a work back at the farm fer ya.” Applejack growled, getting face-to-face with her sister, who flinched. “Mac and Granny could use an extra set of hooves if you ain’t gonna make nice with Rainbow.”

Apple Bloom simply nodded in resignation. Sweetie Belle only needed a scowl directed her way to clam up.

“I’m sure they’re fine.” Twilight smiled. “Scootaloo’s probably showing off some tricks or something.”

“They seemed fine when I last checked.” Rarity added. “Scootaloo honestly has a heart of gold to be so forgiving. Though I will admit that she ought to be careful. Never thought I would say this, but it appears Rainbow has commitment issues.”

Fluttershy glanced between her friends and frowned. She had hoped to bring Rainbow and Scootaloo together--not turn Rainbow into a pariah. But what else could she do?

Rarity glanced over at her, then frowned. “Fluttershy, Darling,” she said, “is something wrong? What’s bothering you?”

And, before she could stop herself, she thought back to that day in the hospital--thought back to when she’d first seen—

Fluttershy shook her head. “No,” she said. “I-I’m alright.”

And yet, she could not wipe the image of Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo, walking side-by-side from her mind.

4. Disconnect

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Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle grinned widely as Scootaloo reentered the room. As they ambushed her with hugs and earnest questions, Rainbow slunk to where Fluttershy sat, and took her place beside her, feeling the weight of the glares of everyone else in the room.

Why are they still mad at me? Rainbow Dash thought to herself as she watched Scootaloo open the bag she had brought with. I mean, I’m here, aren’t I?

With a squeal of joy, Scootaloo whipped out three brand-new, hoof-sewn capes, each with their owner’s cutie mark embroidered onto it. They were a slightly darker shade of maroon than their previous ones, in a shade that contrasted nicely with their cutie marks.

“Neat-o!” Apple Bloom cried with glee, taking her own. “Where’d ya get these?”

“My, these are just wonderful!” Rarity cooed over Sweetie Belle’s, “The detail, and the material…” She looked up at Scootaloo. “You simply must tell me, darling--who does your work?”

Scootaloo blushed a bit at the attention. “Mrs. Harbour sews blankets and stuff for the other foals. I asked if she could make some, and she did.”

“Well, ain’t that awful nice of her.” Applejack smiled. “Yer old ones were gettin’ kinda torn up anyway.”

As much as Rainbow Dash would like to enjoy this little scene, she couldn’t. She was used to Scootaloo fawning all over her, not some dumb fabric. She sighed. Seems she still hadn’t been forgiven for missing her cutecinera--much less her late appearance today.

“Well, I hate to run girls,” Rarity suddenly said, “But I do have a bit of work to finish at the boutique.” She put an arm around Sweetie Belle. “So, as much as we’d like to stay, we really must get going.”

Sweetie Belle looked up at her and frowned. “What about me?” she asked.

“I’m afraid it’s a school night, dear.” Rarity frowned, “Mother and Father will want you home no later than eight.”

“But that’s like, four hours, sis!” Sweetie whined. “Can’t I stay with them just a little longer? Please?”

Applejack sighed. “Well, we oughta get a mosey on, too.” Applejack added. “I promised Big Mac I’d help him fix them tree spreaders so we could put ‘em up tomorrow, and that’ll take a couple more hours, at least.”

Apple Bloom looked up at Applejack, her wide, puppy-dog eyes beginning to fill with genuine tears.

Rarity looked between Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, then trotted over to Applejack. The two held an urgent, whispered conference, then nodded and stepped apart. Scootaloo watched them with eager eyes.

“I suppose you girls can stay at the boutique for a few hours.” Rarity announced, “As long as that’s fine with you, Scootaloo.”

“Of course it is!” Scootaloo beamed. The two other fillies glowed as well.

“Let’s get going, then,” Rarity said with a smile. She turned and walked out the door, and the three crusaders followed along like baby ducks after their mother.

Scootaloo was the last in line. Before she passed through the door, she turned back to the mares watching her. “Thanks for the party, Twilight; everyone.” She smiled brightly. “I had a lot of fun today.”

Twilight smiled too; she couldn’t help it. Scootaloo’s grin was infectious. “Not a problem, Scootaloo,” she said.

“See ya tomorrow, Scoots.” Applejack waved after them, “Be back ‘fore yer bedtime, Bloom.”

Finally, the fillies were gone. Twilight and Spike began the slow task of cleaning the remaining litter and debris.

Fluttershy helped--sort of. She kicked awkwardly at some of the fallen decorations, then picked one up in her teeth, but quickly dropped it again.

“Fluttershy?” Spike’s voice made her jump. “You alright?”

“You were awfully quiet today.” Twilight added, “Quieter than usual.”

Fluttershy gaze flicked over to Rainbow Dash, and she seemed to shrink a little. “I-I’m fine,” she said in a nervous squeak. “There’s just been some things on my mind, that’s all.”

Rainbow scoffed. “Nice to see you’re concerned about her,” she spat, sitting on her haunches and glaring daggers at Twilight.

“Last time I checked,” Twilight growled, “Fluttershy didn’t break a certain filly’s heart last night.” She turned back to her sweeping. “If I were you, Rainbow, I wouldn’t be whining about being neglected.”

Rainbow scoffed. “This is seriously happening right now?” she said, sitting up straighter. “We’re seriously doing this? I can understand her being mad at me,” she said, waving out the door at the vanished Scootaloo, “but what the hay is up with you girls? How many times do I have to apologize before you all lay off me with the dirty looks?”

Twilight’s expression darkened. Spike looked up at her, then dropped his broom and slowly backed away, claws held up defensively.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” Twilight hissed, advancing on Rainbow.

Rainbow crossed her arms. “I get that I hurt her feelings,” she snapped. “After all, she was the one that got hurt. But she isn’t nearly as mad at me as you all are!”

Twilight snorted. “You actually think she’s fine?” she hissed. “You think she’s okay?”

Rainbow slumped the slightest bit. “She seems perfectly fine,” she said. “After all, she got a brand new scooter and stuff. ”

“Right, she did,” Twilight answered. “From us, not you.”

Rainbow looked up at her. “What are you—?”

“You got her nothing,” Twilight spat. “The cutecenera--well, I guess you have an excuse--not a good one, but an excuse--but today?” she snarled. “You knew it was her birthday! Fluttershy told you!”

Rainbow’s gaze flicked to Fluttershy, “Y-yeah, but--”

“You were already in hot water about missing the cutecenera,” Twilight continued, “but instead of taking the five whole minutes out of your schedule to try to at least pretend to care about her, you just roll out of bed and show up.” She glared at Rainbow. “ And expect that to be enough?”

For a long, tense moment, they simply stared at each other--Twilight, full of righteous fury, and Rainbow simmering rage and hurt. Finally, Twilight took a deep breath and slowly let it out.

Finally, Twilight scoffed. “Element of Loyalty, my ass,” she spat. “Celestia forbid you ever breed--I’d hate to see the damage you would do as a mother.”

The color drained from Rainbow’s face as Fluttershy clapped her hooves over her mouth. Fluttershy glanced, horrified, between the two of them: Twilight, her back to Rainbow, sweeping again, and Rainbow, slowly climbing to her hooves, thunder and fire in her eyes.

“You take that back,” she growled. Twilight turned and looked over her shoulder, but did not speak. Rainbow snarled, then, with a flare of her wings, shot forward and hovered, inches, from Twilight’s face. “Take that back!” she screamed.

Twilight stared, then took a cautious step backwards, holding the broom protectively across her body, as her horn began to glow brighter--and then, she saw the tears streaming down Rainbow’s face.

“You take that back,” Rainbow whimpered. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I could be a good mama. I could…

Scootaloo rode her scooter all the way to Carousel Boutique. She grinned as she passed her friends, just trotting slowly along, then whipped her ride around and circled them a few times, before scooting off, looking for something to jump off of. Rarity rolled her eyes and smiled.

All three Crusaders were eagerly wearing their brand-new capes. As much as she hated to admit it, it was good work; she could tell, even without a close inspection, that some of the stitches were a little crooked, and one or two of them even skipped entirely, but there was a sort of motherly sort of love in every thread. And, though the professional in her recoiled at the thought of sending something less-than-perfect out the door, she smiled as she watched the three of them as they strutted through town, showing them off--that sort of care did count for something, after all.

Rarity listened with half an ear as the three little fillies talked. Seeing her friends in close discussion, Scootaloo had pulled up alongside them, and now kicked idly along, chatting eagerly about what pizza they should get, about what their respective sisters were working on, and what they hoped to do tomorrow.

“I can’t wait to show this to everypony at school!” Scootaloo said excitedly.

“I bet you can’t wait to show it to your coltfriend!” Sweetie Belle,said, and both she and Applebloom laughed. Rarity looked back over her shoulder, and saw Scootaloo, her head down, and blushing furiously.

“W--what?” Scootaloo was mortified. “I--He’s not-”

Rarity frowned slightly. “Scootaloo, what’s this about a coltfriend?” She grinned wickedly. “You’re not dating someone, are you? At your age--oh, the scandal—”

Scootaloo shook her head vigorously. “N--No! We’re just… friends, yeah! Friends.”

Rarity smiled. “Oh, Scootaloo,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with a crush. It happens to all of us as some point or another.”

Sweetie Belle grinned wickedly. “Yeah,” she said, “you should ask her about Trenderhoof sometime.”

Well.” Rairty snorted, then turned back to face forwards. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle giggled.

Scootaloo’s response was hardly a mumble. “I don’t like him like that,” she muttered. She kicked savagely at the ground and sped past Rarity her head still down and her cheeks still red, and shot forward.

The other three walked in silence for a moment.

“Don’t mean to pry,” Rarity said suddenly, “but I have to know: who is it?”

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes. “Rumble,” she said.

Rarity thought for a moment in silence. “Oh!” she said. “Rumble--Thunderlane’s brother, right? Isn’t he cute?”

“Sorta,” Apple Bloom admitted. “If you like pegasuses.”

They rounded the corner, and saw Scootaloo skating in slow circles around the boutique. As she came around for another pass, she glowered at Rarity, who giggled a little.

“Perhaps we should change the subject, girls,” she said over her shoulder.

Sweetie Belle perked up her ears. “As I was saying,” she said, a little too loudly, “you should start selling capes like these! They’re nice, and comfortable, and—”

“That’s enough, dear,” she said with a small, ladylike wince.

As Rarity moved to unlock the front door, Scootaloo skidded to a halt, then folded up her new scooter, and joined the other girls on the porch. Rarity swung the door wide, and the three of them scampered up the stairs, Scootaloo holding her scooter in her teeth.

“I’m going to be working, girls!” she called after them. “Please, try and keep the volume to a respectable level!”

“We will!” came the faint reply. “Come on, girls, let’s go play with our presents!”

As Rarity climbed the stairs to her workroom, she rolled her eyes. She could only imagine the disaster that would be waiting up in the guest room tomorrow morning. Ah well, she thought, as she opened the door, it seemed Scootaloo had a good time--especially after their collective fumbling of her cutecinera. She listened carefully to the happy voiced through the ceiling above her, then sat down at her sewing machine.

5. Distracted

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I’d hate to see the damage you would do as a mother...

…why weren’t you there for me?...

Element of Loyalty, my ass

Rainbow ground her teeth and flapped harder. Try as she might, she could not banish those words from her mind--and each time they repeated themselves, they burned deeper into her soul.

She had to do something about this. There had to be some way to show Scootaloo and Twilight that she was still very much worthy of her element, and that she was a capable friend. The first demonstration was easy enough to plan; buy Scootaloo a gift, or take her somewhere a good time was guaranteed; get back into the good graces of her number-one fan, and her fellow Elements of Harmony.

The second one… Well, if it had a solution, she and it were playing a game of hide-and-go-seek, one that she was in no mood for. And it was winning.

Rainbow turned and glanced over her shoulder; as she thought, Fluttershy was following close behind her. “What do you think, Fluttershy?” she asked.

For a while, Fluttershy did not answer. “About what?” she said, finally.

Rainbow shrugged. “How to fix things. With Twilight.” She swallowed. “A-and with Scootaloo.”

Fluttershy did not speak; Rainbow had to look over her shoulder again to make sure she was still following. She was; she was simply staring down at the ground. Rainbow mentally shrugged; perhaps the argument earlier had gotten to her.

“Sorry about all that.” Rainbow said--the sincerest apology she could muster at the moment.. “I don’t know why I let her get to me that way.”

Fluttershy did not react.

Rainbow frowned. “You don’t think I’d make a bad mom, do you?”

Fluttershy glanced up at her, then back down--but, in that fraction of a second, Rainbow saw fear in her eyes.

“Please don’t make me answer that question,” she whispered.

Rainbow growled. “You too?” she snapped. “Come on! I mean--Really? Does everypony think I’m just a self-centered jock or something?”

How it was possible for Fluttershy to look even more evasive and uncomfortable, Rainbow did not know. But what she did know, is that her reaction burned through what little patience she had left.

“Fine!” she roared. “You know what? I’ll show you, I’ll show all of you! I’m gonna go to Cloudsdale, and I’m gonna adopt my foal! Yeah! Watch me make mom of the year in no time at all!”

Fluttershy looked up again, fire in her eyes. She flew higher, up to Rainbow’s eye level. She opened her mouth--lost her nerve--swallowed--then tried again.

“You don’t need to go to Cloudsdale,” she said.

Rainbow opened her mouth the slightest bit. “What did you say?” she breathed.

“I said,” she repeated firmly, “you don’t need to go to Cloudsdale. Your foal isn’t in Cloudsdale.” She took a deep breath. “She’s here.”

Rainbow’s gaze traced Fluttershy’s expression. There was no trace of humor in her look. “What are you saying?” she asked carefully.

Fluttershy held her stare for just a moment longer--then looked away. “You had a daughter,” she said. “A little pegasus filly. And her foster mother named her…” She licked her lips. “She named her Scootaloo.”

“Scootaloo?” Rainbow repeated.

Fluttershy nodded.

Time seemed to freeze. For a long moment, neither of them spoke. Neither of them breathed.

Then, suddenly, Rainbow laughed. Fluttershy’s mouth dropped open.

“Good one, Fluttershy,” Rainbow chuckled. "You had me going there for a minute.”

Fluttershy gaped, then snarled, tears forming in her eyes. “I’m serious, Dash,” she said. “Scootaloo is your—”

Rainbow reached out and patted her on the shoulder. “I know you are,” she said. “And that’s what makes it funny!”

Horror dawned across Fluttershy’s face, and she fell silent.

“I mean,” Rainbow continued, “I’ve known her, like--her whole life, it feels like. If she was mine, I would’a figured it out years ago. Plus,” she said, smirking, “I don’t think she got any of my awesome genes.” She turned around and flexed her wings. “Like, when was the last time you saw her get some use out of these babies?”

Fluttershy stared. Slowly, she looked down and curled her arms around herself. This… this isn’t how she imagined it would go. She had shared her greatest secret--the one that she had kept inside, for ten years to the day, the one that she thought Rainbow had finally been ready to hear.

And she had laughed at her.

She wanted to cry. She wanted to fly away. She wanted to disappear.

And then, Rainbow put her arm around her.

“Thanks,” she said. “I really needed a pick-me-up like that.” She paused. “Y’know,” she said to herself, “there’s a Wonderbolts show this weekend… and I think I can ask Spitfire for a couple tickets. Maybe that’s what I can do with Scoots.” She thumped Fluttershy on the back. “Good chat,” she added. “Let’s do this again sometime.”

And, with that, she flew away.

Fluttershy hung there in the air for a long, long time, before she turned and began to glide for home.

Helmet… check.

Brand spankin’ new kick scooter… check.

Best friends behind me and ready to go? She glanced behind her and saw Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle sitting behind her in Sweetie’s little wagon, rope tied to the handle, both of them staring, wide-eyed, back at her. Check.

Scootaloo turned to face forward again, grinned wickedly, then started her little wings pumping. With a yelp from Sweetie Belle, the three of them shot forward.

So far, Scootaloo’s morning had been great. She woke up at Carousel Boutique after a nice night with her friends; which itself followed a mostly amazing birthday party.

Rarity of course was a great cook, and with her stomach full of pancakes and eggs, and her two best friends in tow, she arrived at school with a wide grin on her face. She smiled a little wider as she spun the scooter sideways, skidding to a stop. She stepped off the board, then whipped off her helmet, letting her mane unfurl dramatically in the wind. She grinned a little wider as she heard Sweetie Belle start retching.

“Hey, uh, Scoots?” Apple Bloom said, grumpily.

Their cocky friend proudly folded her scooter shut and set it near the school's flagpole. “Wasn’t that awesome, girls?” she cried. “That’s like, the fastest I’ve ever gone!”

“Yeah, but… did did you have to whip us around so much?” Sweetie Belle whimpered.

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “Aw, come on girls!” she said. “Wasn’t it you who said ‘All we want is to see a smile on that face?’, Well guess what?” she said, grinning even wider, “Here it is!”

Apple Bloom slowly, unsteadily, climbed from the wagon. “Ah don’t recall nearly running ponies over an’ sending us to the moon, Celestia forbid ya hit a rock, bein’ anywhere in that sentence.”

“Pssh, whatever,” Scootaloo said with a dismissive wave of her hoof.

“Hey Scootaloo!”

All three of the crusaders jumped a bit at the voice--and it certainly wasn’t a filly. No, it was a certain gray colt with a charcoal mane.

Scootaloo swallowed, suddenly and unaccountably nervous. “H-Hey Rumble,” she stammered. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle glanced at each other, grinning.

If Rumble noticed the little drama playing out in front of him, he was gracious enough not to show it. Instead, he asked “Did you get a new scooter?”

Scootaloo nodded slightly. “Uh huh…”

Rumble trotted closer, and inspected the scooter with awe. “Wow,” he said, breathlessly, “that’s so cool! My bro and I saw you shooting through town just now. You’re pretty fast on that thing!”

Scootaloo blushed, and started pawing at the ground. “T-Thanks,” she managed to squeak. She could hear Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle behind her, their teasing whispers just barely audible. She blushed even harder. If they thought the ride here was rough...
Rumble glanced up at her, but quickly looked down, and began to paw the ground himself.

“You headed to the Wonderbolts show this weekend?” he asked nervously.

Oh goddess. Scootaloo’s mouth suddenly felt very dry. Is he asking me out…?

Rumble stood there, watching Scootaloo nervously, for three or four miserable seconds. Scootaloo herself frantically tried to make her mouth work, to spit out an answer--any answer--but nothing came. Not until...

Sure she is!” Apple Bloom said brightly, stepping up beside Scootaloo. Rumble and Scootaloo both turned to stare at her as she beamed back at them. “Yeah she’s… totally goin’ ta that Wonderbolts show, ain’t ya, Scootaloo?”

“I am?”

“Sure!” Apple Bloom said, nudging her.. “Yeah… You-- You was talkin’ ‘bout it last night.” Her eyes sparkled evilly. “Right after ya got done yammerin’ on about how cute Rumble is.”

Rumble’s cheeks burned a brilliant red. Scootaloo wanted to kill Apple Bloom--or die herself. Maybe even both.

Fortunately for all three them, relief came in the way of Miss Cheerilee. “Time for class, my little ponies!” she called.

Apple Bloom smirked as Rumble and Scootaloo turned, with the others, to head into the schoolhouse. Rumble, still blushing, seemed more mystified than anything--but Scootaloo, as she passed Apple Bloom, turned and shot her an evil glare, and muttered a few words that would have made Mrs. Harbour blush. Apple Bloom grinned a little wider, then followed them in.

Rainbow Dash liked to think of herself as a pony who kept her word. She had meant what she’d said to Fluttershy--she did want to make it up to Scootaloo, and had already sent a note to Spitfire requesting a couple tickets to the show.

Fluttershy’s joke had been in poor taste, though, but that was okay; it had made her feel better, and she’d already forgotten what it had been, anyways. Something about Scootaloo…?

Ah, well, it didn’t matter--she had other things on her mind at the moment. Today was a busy day for the SCWD--the South-Central Weather Division. Ponyville needed rain rather badly, and, as Captain, it was Rainbow Dash’s responsibility to make sure everything went smoothy.

Just a few months ago, this same task wouldn’t have needed so much of her attention, but Rainbow Dash was dealing with a brand-new weather team, most of them rookies. Most of her veterans had been transferred; something about some big event in Manehattan. Either way, it resulted in mostly unskilled and uninterested pegasi that had only the barest clue of what they were doing.

But finally, it was over. Almost eight hours of frustration, of shouting, of ending up having to do half the damn work herself, had finally resulted in a beautiful storm cell--and a sore throat and back pain that might kill a lesser mare.

Rainbow sighed, then flew over to a single, stray cloud. She deserved a rest--and half of Ponyville knew she did, too, after all the flying around she’d been doing all afternoon. As the first raindrops began to fall, Rainbow stretched herself out on the cloud, feeling her back pop as she laid down. Her eyes fluttered closed… only fifteen minutes, she promised herself, and then she needed to...

Hey, Rainbow Dash!

Rainbow groaned. She knew that voice; it was Spike. And she knew she couldn’t just ignore him. She rolled onto her stomach and peered down at him, scowling. “What?” she spat, venom dripping from her voice.

Spike, holding up an umbrella against the threatening rain, missed her venom entirely. “Twilight wanted me to tell you that she needs everypony at the castle within the hour,” he said helpfully. “Something about cutie marks or something… I don’t really remember,” he added with a shrug.

An hour… that gives me thirty minutes for some shut-eye…

Rainbow rolled back over. “Yeah, yeah,” she muttered, then yawned. “I’ll be there.”

Her eyes were already closed before she heard his voice again. “Twilight was wondering if you could go get Scootaloo, too,” he called up to her.

“What?” she cried, dismayed. She rolled onto her belly again--and this time, Spike saw her anger. “Why can’t you get her?”

Spike shrugged. “I dunno,” he said, turning and strolling away. “Twilight asked for you especially.”

Rainbow watched him go, then rolled back over, muttering a string of curses. Of course it had to be her to do everything. Why would it ever be anything different? This was almost certainly one of Twilight’s schemes to get them talking again...

She lay there for close to a minute before she realized she wasn’t going to get any sleep anytime soon.

Something seemed off.

Scootaloo couldn’t quite place it, but upon entering her home, eager to vent to her foster mother about how embarrassing her friends could be, she noticed the home was quiet. Normally around this time, the foals would be restlessly gurgling and cooing, stirred from their afternoon nap. But not this time.

The kitchen was dark, too, as was the living room. The only sound in the house was the dull ticking of the grandfather clock, each stroke a thunderclap in the silence.

Scootaloo swallowed, then crept up the stairs to her room and made to open the door. But before she could push it open, she paused, and swiveled her ears to listen. Somewhere, down at the end of the hall, she heard a voice. Slowly, she turned and walked towards the last door on the left, still open just a crack. She tentatively pressed her ear to the gap and listened.

It wasn’t speech she heard—it was Mrs. Harbour, crying. Not hysterical sobbing, but not quite a whimper, either--the sort of hopeless tears of someone left hopeless and all alone. Scootaloo’s guts turned to ice; the last time she had cried like this was after her husband passed a few years earlier. Mrs. Harbour did a wonderful job at keeping her emotions in check, especially around the children, but Scootaloo, being the oldest, was afforded some level of respect; would on occasion, listen to her as she vent about her various problems.

Scootaloo stood there nervously for a long moment, before she finally turned and made her way back to her own room. If Mrs. Harbour wanted her to know what was going on, she reasoned, then she’d tell her.

She was about to step into her bedroom when she heard a new sound, this one coming from downstairs: a chorus of fussy foals, just waking from their naps.

Scootaloo headed down to the nursery, and sure enough, many of the foals were awake and crabby. A few, fell quiet at the sight of her, and resorted to to sniffling and cooing instead. She had only ever helped Mrs. Harbour in the nursery a few times, but it wasn’t hard--plus, it seemed Mrs. Harbour was in no state to help them herself.

Most of the foals didn’t need much; just needed a stuffed animal or a binkie retrieved from the floor, or perhaps a fresh bottle. Several needed to be changed, of course, with all the normal tantrums that came with it. But, by this point, Scootaloo was a pro, and managed to get them all taken care of with a minimum of fuss. Or, at least, as little as could be expected under the circumstances. She felt a slight sense of accomplishment seeing the results of her work, though that pride was quickly overwhelmed by the unholy stench of the bag of filthy diapers she had left underhoof.

She held her breath, stood up on her hind legs, then took the bag in her forehooves. She turned for the door--and almost fell over backwards. Mrs. Harbour was standing there. She didn’t look as if she’d been crying--or, at least, she’d done a good job of cleaning herself up. Instead, she watched her, mouth slightly open, and her eyebrows raised.

“Scootaloo… Don’t tell me you took care of them, and did their diapers, and…” Scootaloo swore she saw her glasses fog. “You’re such a sweetheart, Scootaloo…” she sniffled a little. “Such a sweet little filly.”

Scootaloo smiled crookedly. “I kinda figured you could use some help, and--”

And suddenly, they were not alone.

A stallion, wearing a crisp business suit had materialized behind Mrs. Harbour. He wore the sort of flat, dead expression of someone who spent more time with paperwork than with ponies--and, when he glanced dispassionately at Scootaloo, his look sent a shiver down her spine.

The stallion turned and whispered something into Mrs. Harbour’s ear. Harbour nodded once or twice, then gave a muted response. The stallion nodded curtly, then left.

As Mrs. Harbour turned forward again Scootaloo tried to hide the fear and worry on her face. “Who was that?” she asked, in what she hoped was a neutral tone.

“Oh, just the usual inspection, dear.” Mrs. Harbour answered, a slight unease in her voice as she glanced back over her shoulder, where the stallion had gone. “Why don’t you let me handle the rest of this?” she asked, distracted.

“There’s some laundry in the washroom you can help with, if you want.””

“Sure thing.” Scootaloo replied, her gut twisting uncomfortably.

“I really appreciate this.” Mrs. Harbour said, a little warmth returning to her smile. “Thank you.”

After everything you do for me… I owe you Scootaloo thought.

Scootaloo slipped past Mrs. Harbour, and headed for the laundry room. A few feet down the hall, she paused, and glanced back at Mrs. Harbour. She was bending low over the little ones, making motherly little noises as she nuzzled them.

Something wasn’t right--but she didn’t know what it was, or how she was supposed to find out.

She watched Mrs. Harbour for a moment, then started trotting towards the laundry room again. As much as she wanted to ask what was happening, she had chores to do.

At least Rainbow remembered where the squirt lived this time. She knocked on the door, and it soon swung open, revealing the warmly-lit interior, full of life and noise. Standing on the threshold was a small colt, no bigger than Pipsuqeak.

“Wainbow Dash!” he sqeualed excitedly.

“Yeah, yeah,” she muttered, “the one and only. Is Scootaloo around?”

“Mm-hm!” The little colt nodded vigorously. “She's helpin’ Missus Hawbaw clean house!”

Before she could say anything else, he slammed the door, and his muffled, enthusiastic piping faded as he ran deeper into the house. Soon enough, the door opened again--this time, revealing Scootaloo, who glowered up at her. “What do you want?” she snapped.

Rainbow gritted her teeth--then swallowed. She was going to be nice. She had promised Fluttershy. She tried to smile, but it felt fake, even to her. “Twilight is having a meeting about cutie marks,” she said, “and she wants you there. I came by to pick you up.”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “Okay,” she said, her tone thawing only a few degrees. “I’ll come by later. I’m in the middle something right now.”

Instantly, an older mare Rainbow didn’t recognize appeared in the doorway. “Oh, now don’t you worry about the chores, Scootaloo,” she cooed.

Scootaloo shot a horrified glance between Rainbow and the other mare. “But, Mrs. Harbour, I want—”

Nonsense,” she said warmly. “Princess Twilight needs you more than I do. After all, I can get someone else to swab the decks--but there’s only one Scootaloo.” She bent down and kissed her on the top of the head, then nodded towards Rainbow. “Now, you better get going with your friend here. Don’t worry about me, dear, we’ll be alright.”


“No buts,” said the mare--Mrs. Harbour, apparently.

Scootaloo groaned aloud, then turned and stomped away. Rainbow nodded at Mrs. Harbour, then turned and followed her.

Rainbow trotted up beside Scootaloo--but she looked away with a hmph. They walked in silence for several minutes.

Finally, Rainbow cleared her throat. “So,” she asked, “was that your mom?”

“Foster mom,” Scootaloo spat.

Another long silence.

“Well,” Rainbow offered, "she seems nice, at least.”

“She is.” She turned a little further away and muttered something under her breath--something that sounded almost like “Unlike someone I know…”

Rainbow felt her patience already wearing thin. Small talk was hard.

“So, uh,” Rainbow began again, after a long pause, “you didn’t bring your scooter?”


Rainbow growled a little. She was trying to be nice--the least she could do was—

She bit her lip, then shook her head. Not how that works, Rainbow. She glanced over at Scootaloo, then sighed. No time like the present...

“Hey, uh…” she began uncertainly, “...I… feel free to say, ‘no,’ but I thought I’d ask…”

Scootaloo turned and looked over her shoulder at her.

Rainbow swallowed, then pressed on. “If… if you want… there’s a Wonderbolts show coming up, and, uh…” she swallowed again. “I got us tickets.”

Scootaloo stopped cold in the middle of the street.

Rainbow skidded to a halt and turned to stare at her--her eyes were practically bugging out of her skull.

“You mean—” she said breathlessly “--the 100th Anniversary Extravaganza?”

Rainbow gulped. “Y-Yes,” she said. “That.”

“The one that’s been sold out for months?”

Rainbow puffed out her chest. “One of the privileges of being a Wonderbolt,” she said.

Rainbow watched the struggle on her face--on one hoof, there was her own sour feelings towards Rainbow--sour feelings she really didn’t deserve, all things considered--but, on the other--The Wonderbolts.

Finally, she swallowed, and smiled. “Yeah,” she said, “I’d love to go!”

“Cool,” she said. “So, I’ll come pick you up around seven tomorrow morning? Down at the train station?”

Scootaloo opened her mouth to respond--then closed it again, as she peered up at Rainbow. “Wait…” she said hesitantly. “Is this just so I don’t stay mad at you?”

“Does it really matter what it’s for?” Rainbow snapped. “You wanna come, or not?”

“I do,” she said, nodding. “As long as you don’t forget me.”

“What would make you think I woul—?”

Scootaloo only glared at her.

Rainbow glanced at her, then rolled her eyes. Those times weren’t my—

She shook her head. Be nice, Rainbow...

“Right,” she said, lifting a hoof. “I promise, Scootaloo, I won’t let you down this time.”

Rainbow expected some kind of sarcastic retort, maybe a snort--but, when she looked back down at her, she noticed that Scootaloo was distracted. She followed her gaze, and saw Thunderlane and his little brother walking towards them. It was wasn’t hard to tell which of the two Scootaloo had her sights locked on.

Thunderlane offered a polite wave to Rainbow as the passed, with Rainbow returning in kind. Scootaloo and Rumble however, simply locked eyes with one another. Scootaloo was the first to blink, and a little shudder ran down her spine.

Rainbow grinned. “You like him, don’cha?”

“No.” Scootaloo lied, trying--and failing--to sound angry again.

“You were staring at him the whole time, though.”

“Was not!” Scootaloo stamped, “What do you care, anyway? I--I bet you like Thunderlane! Yeah, I bet you think he’s hot stuff.”

“Hm.” Rainbow Dash couldn’t suppress her grin, “If I wasn’t taken already, he’d be on my list. Not afraid to admit what I’m into.” She nudged Scootaloo. “Neither should you, kid.”

Scootaloo hmphed and stormed off, and Rainbow trotted to catch up with her. They walked in silence for a while, until the castle finally came into view. Scootaloo picked up the pace a little, and made it through the double doors before her. By the time Rainbow made it inside and found her seat, Scootaloo had already plopped herself on a crystal bench just outside the circle of thrones, next the other Crusaders, her face screwed into an almighty pout.

Rainbow herself drew hardly any looks, save for a faint side-glance from Rarity--more curiosity than condescension.

Twilight cleared her throat, as she illuminated the cutie map with her horn. “Ok, I think that’s everypony. First off, I want to apologize for such late notice, but things have been…” she sighed. “...a bit crazy around here. As I’m sure you all are aware, my brother and sister-in-law are arriving soon...”

As Scootaloo watched Twilight drone on about the obligations of loyalty, family, and friendship, her mind began to wander… that stallion who was at her house... the way Mrs. Harbour dodged her question... it didn’t add up. Something was going on--and she was not a fan of secrets.

An abrupt jab in her side brought her out of her thoughts.

“Ya need ta be payin’ attention.” Applejack hissed..

Scootaloo scowled at her. “Sorry,” she muttered,then turned back to watch Twilight, who still hadn’t looked up from her notecards. . Scootaloo thought it odd that she had those, considering she was among friends--but, then again, this was Twilight after all.

“...So, when the royal delegation arrives, I’ll need everypony’s help to welcome them into town,” Twilight continued. She took a moment to look out into the group, before turning her gaze to the three Crusaders

“As for you girls,” She continued, “I was hoping the three of you could organize a play, perhaps about being a filly or colt in Ponyville? Ideally, something school and family related, per the theme of this occasion.”

“Yeah, that’ll be fun!” Apple Bloom chirped.

“That sounds like a great idea, Twilight!” Sweetie Belle beamed with equal enthusiasm.

Scootaloo nearly gagged. Ugh! A play, really?

Suddenly, she realized that every eye in the room was on her. She forced a smile, and that seemed to do the trick; everyone turned back to stare at Twilight, who smiled.

“Excellent,” she said. “My brother and sister-in-law will be arriving here in town shortly. I would appreciate some assistance getting the guest quarters ready for them.”

A chorus of agreement amongst the crowd, minus one. As Twilight began assigning tasks to everypony, Scootaloo slipped from the bench and tried to sneak towards the exit.

“Where are you goin’, Scootaloo?” Apple Bloom called out suddenly, stopping her dead in her tracks. “Ain’t ya gonna help out?”

Scootaloo grimaced. She could feel the weight of the stares on her. Slowly, she turned around, racking her brain to find a good excuse.

“Well, I’d love to, but… I have some stuff at home I have to take care of.”

“Can’t it wait?” Sweetie Belle asked, a faint note of panic in her voice.

Scootaloo cast a skeptical glance at the two. “Uh… no?” she said carefully. “No, it can’t.”

“We could really use your help,, Scootaloo,” Apple Bloom said. “It won’t take too long, just c’mon. Ah don’t think Princess Twi’ll make ya clean the floors or nothin’.”

“We get to decorate the guest room!” Sweetie Belle piped up.

“Look girls, I’d love to but... “ I’m tired, and really, really hungry. And she’s already got enough hoofpower. “...Mom really needs my help today. You understand, right?”

Sweetie Belle looked convinced, but Apple Bloom stayed put. Sweetie seemed to notice something out of the corner of her eye, and suddenly became persistent as well.

Scootaloo tried stepping around them, but the two crusaders were one-step ahead of her. Quickly, the orange filly grew annoyed.

“Knock it off, girls!” Scootaloo barked, “I gotta go!”

“Bathroom’s over there.” Apple Bloom nudged Scootaloo backwards.

“You can’t.” Sweetie Belle insisted.

As if Scootaloo wasn’t skeptical of enough right now, that didn’t help. “Why not? You girls in on this, too?”

Apple Bloom looked genuinely confused. “In on wha- Oh, for corn sakes, Scootaloo, just simmer down, an’ stay here for a little bit.”

Scootaloo really had no choice. They weren’t going to let her leave, whether she wanted to, or not.

“What are you girls, just standin’ around for?” Applejack scolded, “Twi needs y’all to help set up the guest room, get a move on!”

With reluctance, Scootaloo followed her friends up the stairs, and down the hall to the guest room.

When Scootaloo had heard the word ‘decorate’, she had assumed it simply meant they’d simply move some stuff around, hang up some lights and pretty pictures, and be done with it.

Not quite. The three of them had spent the entire afternoon putting together a complex mobile, assembling the bed frame, and a half-dozen other tasks. It wasn’t long before they’d started to bicker, taking things apart and putting them back together again--and then even more bickering about the result. By the time Scootaloo left the castle, she was exhausted. All she wanted was a hot meal and some sleep. And that seemed to be fine with her friends; wherever they were going, they didn’t seem to worried about whether she tagged along. Fine with her.

As her old house came into view, she stopped and stared. Something was wrong. Two suited stallions, one of which looked familiar, stood by the front door; as she watched, they turned and walked away. Behind them trailed Poptart, the other colt that lived there. It looked like he’d been crying.

Scootaloo ducked into an alley and watched the three of them as they walked down the street. She watched them warily, and, when they had passed, she snuck deeper into the alley. A few turns later, and she stood at the back door to her home. She turned the knob and stepped inside. Something was wrong here--and it was time to get to the bottom of it.

By this time, the rest of the foals had gone home, leaving the house eerily silent. Scootaloo crept upstairs to her bedroom--and noticed that Mrs. Harbour’s door was open. Slowly, she trotted to the end of the hall, and peeked inside. Nothing seemed out of place. The bed that had to be at least three decades old was still there, covers carefully tucked in place; the pictures of her husband and former foster children , both hanging on the walls, and carefully arranged on the nightstand, were dusted and pristine; the old roll-top desk—

That was odd; it had been left open. And, though everything--pens, pencils, stationery--had been filed neatly away, a pile of opened envelopes sat in the center of the desk She licked her lips, then crept forward, towards the desk.

This was wrong. This was Mrs. Harbour’s room--she’d been here before, but snooping around like this--this felt dirty.

And yet, she had to know.

She picked up the letters and began to flip through them. Bills, with numbers in angry red ink; advertisements for vacation destinations and nursing homes--and, down at the bottom, a letter from the South-Central Department of Foal Services.

She paused, then slowly, pulled this last one from the stack. She unfolded it with trembling hooves:

Dear Safe Harbour,

After much consideration, SCDFS regrets to inform you that, in light of your your continuing financial difficulties and decreasing adoption rates in and around the Ponyville area, your appeal has been denied. Your foster home will be closed, effective as soon as arrangements can be made for the foals under your care.

Please expect an SCDFS employee within the next few days to take charge of the remaining foals. SCDFS will do its best to ensure safe, quality homes for them elsewhere in the DFS system. Please prepare them for the move, as keeping this transition smooth and orderly is of utmost importance.

Enclosed is information about SCDFS’s generous retirement packages, which you are encouraged to look through. Your many years of loyal service entitle you to a number of benefits, including a stay in a state-sponsored retirement community of your choice.

Thank you for your cooperation,

Mark Stable
Director, SCDFS

The paper trembled in her hooves. She did not notice when her legs gave out and she sat, hard, on the floor. She read it through again, a faint, panicked ringing in her ears growing louder and louder.

That stallion wasn’t here for a routine inspection. He was looking for her.

She did not notice the hoofsteps coming down the hall. Nor did she notice when the door creaked the rest of the way open.

“Scootaloo,” Mrs. Harbour said suddenly from behind her, “What are you—?”

Scootaloo turned, the letter still in her hooves. Mrs. Harbour saw the letter, and seemed to deflate a little. “...Oh,” she said.

The two did not say a word for a moment. Questions, explanations, all of which were prepared and judged before being said.

As Scootaloo stared back at her foster mother, she suddenly blurred. Scootaloo heard the faint plip, plip, of water droplets hitting the letter--and realized, suddenly, that she was crying.

“Wh...What is this?” she choked out.

Mrs. Harbour stepped forward and opened her mouth, but something boiled up inside Scootaloo.

“Why?” she cried aloud.

Mrs. Harbour swallowed uneasily. “Scootaloo,” she said, “please—”

Scootaloo stood. “You knew,” she spat. “You knew what was going on. Why didn’t you tell me about those stallions? Me or Poptart? You--you—” Her chest started to heave. “You lied to me…”

Mrs. Harbour shrank back, suddenly looking very small and afraid. For another long moment, neither of them spoke--until Mrs. Harbour sniffled. She looked away, and a tear ran down her cheek. And, suddenly, Scootaloo felt her emotions begin to drain away.

She didn’t want cry, or stomp her hoof, or snarl, or bare her teeth, or scream, yell, cry, or rage. She just empty. She wlt no longer sure what she felt.

And yet…

She lowered her head. “I’m sorry for calling you a liar,” she whispered into the silence.

Mrs. Harbour looked up at her, eyes shining and lips trembling. “Scootaloo...” she said, her voice shaking--then, she stepped forward, and pulled her into a hug. “If anypony should be apologizing,” she said, “ it should be me.

Scootaloo squeezed her tightly and buried her face deeper into her side, as Mrs. Harbour began to stroke her mane.

After another moment, Mrs. Harbour spoke. “I… I was worried that you might not take it well. That it would be better to keep you in the dark for as long as I could.” She sighed. “I… was wrong. I should have told you, at least… you are the oldest, after all. If anypony deserved to know what was coming…” She fell silent.

Scootaloo sniffled. “S-so, y-you’re just going to let this happen?”

“To be honest,” she said, “I… I’m ready to let it go. You and Poppie have meant the world to me, but it hasn’t been the same without my dear old Sandbar. An old gray mare like me can’t keep up with you kids like I used to.” She began to stroke Scootaloo’s mane again. “And... you and the others need room to grow and prosper. That won’t happen here, as much as I want it to…”

“B-but this is the only home I’ve ever known!” Scootaloo interjected, a rising note of panic in her voice. “They’re gonna make me leave Ponyville! What am I gonna—”

Mrs. Harbour gently placed a hoof on Scootaloo’s lips, and she fell silent--and, slowly, her shoulders began to shake with suppressed sobs.

“You’re old enough to have a little bit of say in where you’re going to end up,” she said, tears in eyes. “It’s only the littlest ones that have to just go where they’re told…”

“But I don’t want to go!” cried Scootaloo again. “I want to stay right here!”

“I know, dear heart,” she murmured. “I know. And, though I need to leave… I… I don’t want you to go, either.”

Scootaloo hugged her tighter, and a fresh stream of tears run down her face--and again, as she felt warm little raindrops fall on her own head.

“Scootaloo, you… you’re the closest thing to a daughter I’ve ever had,” Mrs. Harbour said gently. “You’re smart, and brave, and… and you don’t need an old salt like me to weigh you down…”

Scootaloo sobbed, once.

“This isn’t fair…” she moaned. She snuggled deeper into her side and began to weep.

Mrs. Harbour closed her eyes--and, unbidden, her mind leapt backwards through the currents of time--back to another time she’d heard Scootaloo cry. She was so much smaller, then--barely there at all--and she remembered marvelling at how such a tiny body could hold so much life.

The mare in the suit had told her that the mother had elected to give her up, and, young as she was, she needed a home right away--and, though she and Sandy had never taken on a newborn like this before, they had worked with her long enough that she’d thought of them first. So now, she sat in her old armchair by the fire, holding the wailing little bundle as Sandy, at her side, muttered his way through the paperwork, the SCDFS worker helping out where necessary.

And then, the crying stopped. Mrs. Harbour had looked down into her arms, and watched the little filly hiccup, once. Then she’d opened those big, violet eyes of hers—

Mrs. Harbour could not have children. She had known this from a very young age. In fact, this is why she and Sandy had started to take foster children, all those years ago--to help fill the hole in both of their hearts.

But, looking into those big eyes--completely open, completely trusting, and full of wordless, nameless love--she knew, for the first time in her life, what it might be like to have a child of her very own.

Mrs. Harbour hugged her tight. “I love you, Scootaloo,” she murmured. “More than you can know.”

Scootaloo took a deep breath. “I love you, too…” she swallowed. “”

Mrs. Harbour hugged her even tighter, and Scootaloo let out another sob. She would fix this. She had to. It just wasn’t fair. She’d find a way out of it. She would. She would.

But, for now, all she wanted was to drink deep of the love of the only mother she’d ever known--and, maybe, just maybe, show her exactly how much she meant to her.

6. Devotion

View Online

Ponyville Station.

7:00 AM.

Scootaloo was there. The idea that she would miss Rainbow Dash here was ludicrous; the platform was so small you could hardly miss seeing somepony if you tried, even during rush hour. Although the size was fitting given the small population of Ponyville, it was still somewhat disparaged relative to the other stations along the Southern Line.

Aside from a couple other pegasi, idling about or talking amongst themselves on the opposite end of the platform, Scootaloo was alone with her thoughts. First and foremost of course, was whether or not this trip to the station was simply a waste of time. Erring on the pessimistic side of things, she had Rarity fetch her admission ticket for her the night before. Even if her ‘big sister’ was a no-show, she didn't have to miss out on the spectacular spectacle that was due to commence in the cloud city in no less than three hours.

While she tried to focus on Rainbow’s promise to her, another, unpleasant thought bubbled up from the bottom of her mind--she was about to become homeless. As much as she tried to suppress it, the letter, the revelation; the horrible realization that her foster mother was leaving--and not taking her with her--was creeping about her subconscious, just waiting for a moment to strike. She had never had to think about living somewhere else. Mrs. Harbour’s abode was her home; those daycare foals were practically her brothers and sisters. A life without them was, rather literally, unthinkable.

And yet, that didn’t change a thing.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t have options. Surely one of her friend’s sisters could put up room and board. With that in mind, she had a preference: Rarity. As diametrically opposed to her mannerisms and mentality as that mare was, Scootaloo couldn’t imagine living on the Apple Farm for a second. It wasn’t Apple Bloom, it was her sister, Applejack. While Scootaloo could never articulate why, she just didn’t think very highly of the farm pony with the drawl. Rarity knew Scootaloo’s boundaries, preferences, past, and behavior. The fact that she had known her and Sweetie Belle since foalhood also helped a good deal.

A whole lifetime of knowing somepony, or something over a year. The decision seemed obvious.

However, while that facet of the whole affair was settled enough, the issue of it happening at all was not. Scootaloo couldn’t bring herself to see this whole ordeal as anything other than “the man” mucking in her business, and taking the closest thing to a mother she had right out of her hooves. Frankly, she had no intention of just sitting back and letting it happen.

She had determination, and she had a cause. Thus, she figured with her connections to royalty and the Elements, that she could probably have some strings pulled. Her head began to hurt when she tried to figure out where those strings would come from, though.

The clocks seemed to move at their own time, with each minute feeling like an hour, and each hour feeling like a decade and change. Scootaloo couldn’t help but stare as the hands took their sweet time advancing clockwise with a horrifically slow tempo. Every tick and tock were like nails on a chalkboard.

Another sound caught her attention, though. One which she first attributed to delusion. Soon enough, however, it became clear to her erect ears, that this was indeed a real sound produced by a real Rainbow Dash really approaching the station. Five minutes late, but better late than never.

Triumphantly, the cyan pegasus glided just short of the filly who looked a mix of impressed, and genuinely happy.

“Told ya I’d make it.” Rainbow Dash said with a wink. “Didn’t I?”:

“Yeah,” Scootaloo quipped playfully, “Five minutes late, though.”

“Pssh.” Rainbow waved, “We could be two hours late, and I’d still get us there early. Do you remember who you’re dealing with?”

Do you really want me to answer that question?

Rainbow Dash seemed oblivious to the meaning behind the filly’s wry smile, and glanced at the clock like it insulted her mother.

“Welp, we might as well go now- Cloudsdale is going to be absolutely packed here in an hour. If you wanna get good seats, you gotta be there at the buttcrack of dawn. We’re already late.”

She was half-joking, and half-serious. She turned her back to Scootaloo, and offered her back.

“Hop on kid, we gotta get going!”

Scootaloo was more than happy to oblige. Wind soon enough screaming through her mane as she held on for dear life. Opening her eyes moments later however, afforded her a spectacular view of the clouds, glowing gradients of pink and orange, as the sunrise loomed from down below. As the clouds parted, Clousdale came into view: it’s towering skyscrapers, and captivating rainbows which spewed from artisanal pillars and peaks among its composition, left Scootaloo in awe.

Soon enough, they were now cruising above the main thoroughfare of the city. Posters and banners loudly announcing today’s major event covered every blank space of every storefront and sign. Wonderbolts cosplayers, roadside stalls selling timely and pricey memorabilia and thematic wares to foals who didn’t know any better. Among this, were pegasi of business: suited and suave mares and stallions of record and riches were making connections, and playing their part in using this gathering to further their interests.

“You ever been here before, kid?” Rainbow Dash asked casually, as she kept her eyes ahead: swerving around the occasional airborne pegasus.

Scootaloo had to think about that. While she was mostly certain she’d never been; what with every facet of the architecture, ambiance, and atmosphere striking her with fascination and fancy.

“Nope. This is my first time being here.”

“Looks like we’ll have to make time for a tour, then.” Scootaloo couldn’t see Rainbow’s expression, but she could tell from the skew of her voice, that there was a smirk on the face of that cyan mare. Slowing down slightly, and their altitude gradually falling, Scootaloo panned her vision to take in the ornate and articulate pantheons, terraced houses, and immaculate engravings of battles of past millennia. From her visual experience thus far, Cloudsdale had a rich history, and an even wealthier culture, which she was dying to explore.

Her sight-seeing was disrupted, as Rainbow made a soft landing, and the rapture that Scootaloo had felt in the air, was cut short. She nearly yelped, as Rainbow sat on her haunches, clearly the intent being for Scootaloo to alight. Instead, she felt a tightening, tremoring grip darn-near choking her.

“Scootaloo,” Rainbow tried to sound as unirritated as possible, “What are you-”

Then it clicked. With that, she laughed.

“You do know you’re a pegasus, too, right?”

A simple arch of her back caused Scootaloo to drop off, a split second of absolute terror, turned to shock, then relief, then childlike wonder as Scootaloo realized what she meant. Rainbow couldn’t help a smile as she watched the filly so enamoured with her innate ability.

Geez. Rainbow thought, watching Scootaloo poke and roll around. She wasn’t kidding when she said she’s never been here, huh?

It was then that she had an idea.

“Hey kid, if you think that’s cool, wait ‘till I show you how to make your own thunder cloud!”

Scootaloo’s eyes widened with awe. “Seriously? I can do that?”

This was a mix of adorable and hilarious, with Rainbow observing the later. “Of course you can! Come on, squirt. We got enough time to show you some crazy things.”

Scootaloo nearly fell trying to scramble to her hooves, as she followed Rainbow’s trot, which continued through the main street of town for some ways.

Upon first sight of the weather factory, Scootaloo was beyond awestruck, and was literally speechless as the approached. It’s sheer mass of clouds sculpted to classical ordinance which constituted a humongous mechanical machine of marvel, was enough to make the filly’s head spin.

“This here’s the Weather Factory, squirt.” Rainbow presented with a grin. “Remember when we had that drought, and had to bring up a ton of water from Ponyville for the rainy season?”

Scootaloo labored on that thought for a moment, before deciding she didn't.

“Well, that water goes right into this bad boy, right here.” Dash yanked the filly, and glided over to the left ‘tower’ of the construction. Now over the giant drain, Scootaloo’s stomach twisted ever so slightly. Celestia forbid she dropped, it was a long, dark way down.

Soon enough though, she was whisked back down to the ground, and was towing Rainbow Dash as they entered two large doors below a large cloud-arch.

Rumble surprised himself with how much of his old neighborhood he could remember. As he towed his brother through the outskirts of Cloudsdale, certain landmarks such as signs, houses, and his old school, brought back a flood of memories, both positive, and otherwise.

On one hoof, the stroll through their stomping grounds was a nice displacement of the anxiety that threatened to rattle his nerves. It had been two years since Mother and Father had sent them packing- well, Thunderlane, anyway. Rumble was sent along as a sort of, motivating factor so to speak. He wasn’t sure what to make of this, really. Certainly, he could never wrap his head around their decision, and for sure had some questions he fully intended to ask.

Also on his mind though, was a certain filly who was undoubtedly somewhere nearby. To his surprise, it seemed his impending domestic shenanigans trumped whatever antics the butterflies in his gut wished to engage in. Taking his eyes off the slowly passing residentials and furthering cityscape, he could see his brother, who seemed slightly nervous himself.

“Man, it’s been awhile, huh?”

“Yeah... “ Rumble sighed a bit as their house came into sight, each pace towards the door tightening the knot his stomach was turned in.

Before either could say more, they were on the welcome mat. After an excruciating minute, the stallion finally knocked, hoofsteps following shortly after. Rumble could’ve swore his heart stopped as the door opened.

There were expectations from the colt and stallion of what they were to be greeted with, both shared a similar dread: scrunched faces, minced words, and a tone ringing with disappointment.

For once, their expectations being violated was a good thing.

“Well, what do we have here, Nebula?” Drumfire, a gruff, yet relaxed stallion sporting an ash-gray coat, and an inverted silver-white mane which resembled more Rumble’s keep than Thunderlane’s stood before them. His face was soft, and his warm smile was relieving.

“Oh, it’s been too long, you two.” Rumble’s heart melted at a voice he never knew he missed. It’s source, a sky-blue coated mare, golden eyes, and two-tone-pink mane. Nebula’s sights it seemed, were set directly on the little colt who returned attention in kind. A duplex of a blush and a wide smile defining his features.

“Get in here, boys.” Drumfire’s grin failed to waver as the two parents stepped aside from the entryway, an inviting gesture; “Mom’s got some eggplant parmesan on the stove, and apple pie in the oven. Still your favorite, right, Thundy?”

Thundy. There’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile. Thunderlane couldn’t help but grin himself as he and his brother stepped inside, the warmth of their home sweeping over them as the door closed behind them.

“Sure is.” Thunderlane replied, following the parents into the kitchen. Nebula stopped before passing through the archway, and turned to Rumble who seemed hesitant. Not out of fear, so much as it was a lot to take in. The pictures hung on the walls of the wood-paneled living room, just as he remembered. Dad’s recliner, Mom’s sofa; his preschool photo, every sight and sense that he could recall was in full form, and it brought a slight tear to his eyes.

Before he could swivel his head to see who bore the shadow in his periphery, he was swept into a warm embrace, his mother’s fur brushing against his, her fragrance was the same too: a mix of floral and sweet scents, which projected her gentle nature. He could feel her tremble slightly, and hear slight sniffling. It was very clear what she meant to convey.

Thank Goddess you’re alright.

Thunderlane and Drumfire sat across from one another at the small round table that had been a staple of their humble home since the young stallion could remember. The ambiance of the stove easing his nerves some.

“So, I heard you got yourself a gig down in Ponyville, huh?”

“Yeah.” Thunderlane found himself somewhat uneasy. Several conversations with his father had started on this tangent. So, got yourself something good going, huh? How long until you mess up, again?

“Nice work, son.” It was clear that the words impacted Drumfire as much as it did Thunderlane, the old man’s voice wobbled a bit from its usual steady firmness. “I knew you had it in you. I guess it just took us going a little overboard for you to cut it out, and get it right.”

I guess so… Thunderlane thought, absently staring at the tablecloth.

“How’s my little man?”

“Rumble? He’s doing good. He has some friends- He’s even got a filly he likes.”

“Oh really?” Drumfire glanced back towards the doorway with a wry smile. Silence hung for a few seconds, his face shifting from warm and pleasant, to one of guilt. “Considering how foolish we were in how we handled you… two, it’s wonderful to see that you’re doing well, m’boy. Nebula and I, I’ll be honest- there were times we both were screwed, drove the poor girl to the hard stuff for a minute or two.”

“You did what you had to.” Thunderlane steadied his voice a little, conviction sneaking into his tone. “I honestly really like Ponyville, and I’m so much happier… doing something. I think it’s been good for him, too.”

“He was never a bad kid.” Father sighed, “Damn fools we were to chuck him with ya like that. I expected the little rascal to try and bite my face off at least.”

“He was pretty down at first, and he would ask me about it every now and then… But once he started making friends in Ponyville, he sorta just accepted it, you know?”

Both stallions seemed dying for a change of subject, and both seemed to jump on that desire.

“Speaking of fillyfriends, what’s on in your world?”

Thunderlane relaxed, a casual subject. “Pssh, nothing steady. A couple old friends here and there, Rumble’s foalsitter, Cloud Chaser- that was something- but right now, it’s just us two.”

“So you work with Rainbow Dash, huh?”

Rumble missed his old room.

This longing was even more pronounced when he saw it was just as he had left it. He wasted no time getting a running start, before pouncing on the pillow-top mattress, and rolling around on his fuzzy comforter. Part of him felt silly- this re enforced hearing his mother giggle at his antics, but a substantial part of him was taken with nostalgia and comfort. His rolling stopped, now cocooned between a haphazard wrap of comforter and sheets; he simply lie there, content with the warmth that now surrounded him. If he had his way, he would stay like this forever.

“I figured we might as well leave your room alone.” Nebula trot up to his bedside, looking around at the various toys, drawings, and games. “We’ve missed you boys too much.”

The mare grew a tad sentimental, marked by her ears dropping ever-so-slightly, her attention now focused on a crude drawing of Rumble and his family.

“I hear you’ve made a few friends in Ponyville.”

“Mmhm.” Rumble nodded, unraveling himself. “I really like it there.”

“That’s good. That’s very good, sweetie..”

Rumble rolled around nervously, “So, what have you been doing?”

“Oh me?” Nebula couldn’t help a slight smile as she sat beside her colt. “Well, I’ve taken up to meeting with some mare-friends for the spa every weekend, otherwise, Its movies with Father, or a good book. You still like to read?”

“Yup. Daring Do.” Rumble smiled, “I’m already on the eleventh one.”

“Really?” she said with genuine surprise. Daring Do by no means was an arduous read, but was hardly a trivial one, either.

A slight tinge of worry flashed across her face as the next question queued up.

“What do you and your friends like to do?”

“Oh, well, Button Mash has a bunch of cool video games- I’ll go over to his house, and stay the night. Especially when he has something new. Then there’s Featherweight and sometimes First Base.”

Nebula wasn’t sure whether her son had just said, or if there were some very twisted parents out there. “First… Base?”

“Yeah, he gets teased a lot for that one.” Rumble snickered.

I bet, yikes.Nebula shook her head. She recalled Rumble getting stuck with “tumble”, “fumble”, and so on, but at the very least it wasn’t potential sex talk.

“Well, I’m going to go check on the stove. Lunch should be ready soon, okay?”

“Alright.” Rumble smiled, scooting over to a pile of building blocks he hadn’t seen in too long.

Cloudsdale Colosseum was a gargantuan testament to pegasi engineering and architecture. It’s expanse and prominence over the exurban sprawl was unmatched by anything else, and its pronounced and opulent arcades which rung around its base, were high and imposing.

This imposition seemed to grow as Scootaloo passed under them, towing Rainbow Dash who seemed to be alternating between a soft gallop, and a hectic trot.

So far, Cloudsdale had been an all-out bombardment of the senses: the sights, sounds, and spectacle of the cloud city never failed to captivate the filly. Even the most trife of things, such as naming conventions of food, and the classical heritage of the place, sent her into a myriad of questions launched at Rainbow Dash.

Most important of course, Rainbow Dash had not once left her hanging. They had a nice lunch together at a rooftop pizzeria, went on a sightseeing tour of the Wonderbolts estates, and other homes of the rich and famous; visited the Wonderbolts Hall of Fame,, and shared enough laughter and likeness to last a good while.

All in all, this was shaping up to be the best weekend in a long time. Rainbow couldn’t help but notice how much like her Scootaloo was, or at least, as how remembered her own fillyhood. Rainbow and her father trotted through those very same streets, wandered those same halls, and she had been awestruck by the sights and stories, just as Scootaloo was now. That vigorous excitement, that unwavering energy, it was as if she had a younger her trotting at her side.

Rainbow Dash couldn’t contain her own excitement for the show it seemed, grinning stupidly as they exchanged their admission stamps for the colosseum. Once clear of the booth, and in the atrium, she turned to Scootaloo with a wide smile.

“Are you psyched, Squirt? We’re almost there!”

It was infectious. “You bet I am!” Scootaloo’s voice broke as she tried to match the mare in volume.

“Man, your first Wonderbolt show…” Rainbow swooned, “You picked the right one, kid. This is going to be absolutely wild!”

“There’s a lot of pegasi here.” Scootaloo noted, her throat already sore from having to talk over the noise that surged through the halls from the on the stands.

“Yeah, they’re usually not this crazy,” Rainbow explained, “But, this is the centennial of The Wonderbolts organization, so the turnout is ridiculous.”

Scootaloo tilted her head. “Centennial?”

“One-hundred years, kid.” Dash explained. “Stick with me, alright? Things are about to get a little crowded.”

Now she could really hear the roar of the crowd, and the fanfare that blasted through the amphitheater. As the sound became clearer, so did her sight of the arena. Another wave of awe.

A massive banner, draped from the top trim of the coliseum's seating cover bearing the Wonderbolts insignia, and a minimalist silhouette of one of their iconic flights behind it. Thousands of pegasi packed into the place; and as the two made their way to their seats, the screams and stomping was almost deafening.

While the main event had nothing to do with the space below, the opening acts certainly did, and seemed to be the focus of everypony around them. Scootaloo found herself fascinated by the tribal dances going about. It reminded her of the Hearths Warming Eve play about the history of Equestria. Hundreds of pegasus in various tribal regalia, spanning from lowly peasants, to warriors of nobility; moved about to the tempo of a large drum whose beat was both hectic, yet rhythmic.

Scootaloo had to ask. “Uh, Rainbow Dash, what is this?”

“Warrior’s Song.” Rainbow answered, “It’s basically a dance about what Cloudsdale was like before we formed Equestria or something.”

“Oh.” Scootaloo seemed fine with the answer, and was jolted from focus by a growl.

Rainbow must’ve heard it, too. “Hungry, kiddo?”

Scootaloo blushed a bit. “I- I guess so, yeah.”

“I got ya, kid.” Rainbow waved a hoof. “Once these guys are wrapped up, I’ll head over and get us some grub. You’ll love their garlic hay fries, they are a-mazing~”

Lunch was ready, and Rumble trot out his bedroom, and blissfully down the stairs to the heed of his mother’s call. As he lept the final flight, the aroma of parmesan, breadcrumbs, and of course, pie overwhelmed his snout.

Already consumed by the pleasant smells, he was then enveloped in a tempered warmth which radiated from the kitchen. His eyes were not left out of this occasion, as the cream-colored wallpaper, and bright scheme of the counters, cabinets, and appliances only enhanced the brilliant yet relaxing scene before him.

“Smells good, don’t it, Rummy?” Father had that odd nickname for him since he was a foal. Had this been two years ago, the colt would’ve responded with a faint growl and a roll of the eyes. Now however, a simple tinge of his cheeks, and passive acknowledgment was good enough.

Taking his usual seat across from his mother, Rumble could’ve swore he was salivating as the eggplant parmesan was set down with a gentle clunk on the tablecloth. It was peppered with green herbs and nondescript species; four ramekins of marinara sauce circled the assembly.

Nebula took her seat, and passed around utensils, before clapping her hooves together. That warm smile on her glowing face once again.

“I think it’s only fair we let you boys dish up first,” she said. Her sons didn’t hesitate to nod in agreement, Much to her amusement. First of course, Rumble helped himself to the smallest of the pieces, knowing full well nopony else would- and arranged his food nice and apart. He always had an odd thing for not wanting food to touch unless it was supposed to.

Just as he was to take up his fork, and dig in, a large dark hoof menacingly grabbed his own, and began stirring his plate together. Greens clashed with his eggplant, and sauce caked his previously segregated vegetables. As much as part of him was annoyed, he couldn’t help but wear a toothy grin, trying his darndest to suppress laughter, which inevitably failed.

“Oh Drumfire, for the love of Celestia!” Nebula’s chide was a mix of peeved and playful.

Drumfire only laughed his usual hearty laugh. His wife’s skewed stare, and his baby colt’s red face was too precious. “He’ll live, wontcha boy?”

Rumble sighed heavily--a little too heavily, in fact--and began eating. Face loosening as he realized the contamination did little to hinder the taste of mom and dad’s great cooking. Part of him very much wished that was the end of the teasing, but he knew his father well enough.

“So, Thundy tells me you got a filly on your mind, huh, Rummy?”

Nebula raised her eyebrows.

“No.” Rumble couldn’t make eye contact with anypony, he shifted in his seat as he meekly tried to stuff his face with food.

“Scout-a-louise or something, isn’t it?” Thunderlane guessed, “Rainbow Dash’s little friend.”

“Well there’s a hell of a name.” Drumfire chided, “She cute at least?”

Rumble couldn’t bring himself to say anything. A stupid grin on his face, eyes still maddeningly evasive.

“When he wants to talk about it, he will.” Nebula offered a supportive hoof on the shoulder. “We’re both very proud of our boys.”

Thunderlane looked up. “You are?” he said, faint surprise in his voice.

“Sure we are.” Drumfire grinned, “With Rumble doing great in school, and you second-in-command of an entire Weather Division--that’s no small feat.”

Thunderlane couldn’t help but smile, “Thanks.”

“So stoked for the Wonderbolts show tonight.” Rumble piped, “We saw the line on the way here, and it was crazy.”

“We’d better get eating then,” Nebula cautioned, “Doors close in two hours.”

No further advisory was needed. The family silently finished their meal.

Rainbow Dash had woefully underestimated how long the line for concessions would be. It was monstrous, winding through the upper deck, and pouring into the restroom hall.

Wonderful. Rainbow grimaced as she put on a sour face. It wasn’t as if she risked missing the show, but the wait was going to be arduous at best. Most pegasi opting to stand as opposed to hovering at this point. Seconds turned to minutes which crawled at a nearly unbearable pace.

To say she was excited to see a familiar face approach, would be fair. Though she was far from alone.

“Is that Soarin’?” A perky mare squealed from further up the queue, causing several heads to turn, and a wave of squeals and frenzy followed. Sure enough, the Wonderbolt trot towards Rainbow Dash, accompanied by security detail, as flash photography created a strobe against his uniform. A beckoning hoof was all Dash needed to follow the stallion through a door cordoned off from the general public.

“What are ya doing in that mess?” Soarin’ asked, the shrill of the crowd now muffled by the corridor, and fading as they walked.

“I brought a little friend with me.” Dash smiled, “She was getting hungry.”

Soarin’ wracked his brain trying to guess the name. “Oh, Scooter?”

She couldn’t help but laugh. “No, Scootaloo, ya dummy.” She corrected. “Little orange squirt? Cutie Mark Crusader?”

Soarin’s eyes lit up. “Oh yeah!”

“Riight” Dash nudged him playfully, “Sure it was on the tip of your tongue, huh?”

Soarin smiled cockily, as his eye ran over her beautiful curves. He licked his lips, then looked into her eyes. “Not exactly,” he said with a grin. “But you wanna find out what is?”

Blushing madly, Rainbow Dash tried her best to look offended. “Geez, you don’t beat around the bush, do--”

All it took was a snicker from Soarin’, to make the mare realize what she walked into.

Dammit. Rainbow Dash pouted. She perked up as they approached the entrance to the VIP lounge. “Hey, you think Scuttlebucket can come up here, too?”

He raised an eyebrow. “I thought you wanted some private time?”

“At least a little,” she said. “But you, mister, have a show in an hour. And who’s going to keep me company then?”

Soarin’ rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he groaned. He waved a guard over. “Could you help Dashie here find someone?” he asked.

“What does she look like, m’am?” One of the detail asked.

“Little orange filly; purple mane; shield cutie mark with a lightning bolt.” Dash described.

“Sounds like a mini-you.” Soarin’ teased.

“She can be sometimes.” Dash smiled. “Hey, where's the other Bolts?”

“Captain is checking on the sound and stage, Fleetfoot is getting in some last-minute practice, and Rapidfire is with the rest of the squad doing photo ops. That’s where I was headed, but, hey, a little quality time with a quality mare never killed anypony, now did it?”

“It won’t if you’re smart.” Dash grinned.

Sixty minutes.

Scootaloo could claim she had counted that far, but after about ten, she got bored.

She was still bored.

Several ponies who had left before and after Dash had, returned with their snacks and sodas long before sixty minutes. A few even grimaced amongst themselves about said line. One even swooned over Soarin’ passing them by.

That’s where she is. Scootaloo tried her best not to think too much. They could just be chatting real quick. Soarin’ was part of the show, after all. However, that had been thirty minutes ago, and at that time, Rainbow had been gone “too long”. The tribal dances had long since wrapped up, and now the field below was being set up with strobe lights and fireworks for tonight’s event.

The sun was setting below the horizon of the stadium now, creating a terrific clash of orange and pink along the base of the sky. Floodlights slowly came on, and one could if they were to crane their head, see the faintest of stars begin to dot the dark blue stretch of the heavens.

Scootaloo’s stomach had gone from advisory rumblings, to obscene gurgling, to threatening a violent insurrection if its demands were not met in short order. All Scootaloo could do, was impatiently insist that the cyan mare would be back any moment with its ransom.

Trying to ignore its protest, she glanced around the stands, and saw that it now was well over capacity: whatever room existed that wouldn’t block aisles or balconies, was lined with pegasi. Young ones saddled on their parents or siblings, or seated on laps. Scootaloo could’ve swore she saw a certain colt and his family, but couldn't make heads or tails of them from where she sat.

Seventy Minutes. Seeing all this food and togetherness was realling pressing her nerves.

Eighty minutes. Her flank was sore from the plastic seats.

Scootaloo stood up. She hadn’t the slightest to where Rainbow Dash was, but if the grapevine was any indication, she was probably spending time with that damn stallion of hers. She might as well confirm that. She wasn’t so much angry as she trot up the aisle towards the concession stands, she was just slightly irritated. Today had been great, and there was no reason to spoil it by thinking too much.

It took her a bit too long to find where she needed to go. Signs pointing to the concessions were oddly placed, and sent her on a fifteen minute trot which saw the stadium become a labyrinth of sorts. Climbing large sections of stairs, only to descend that much more; rounding halls, corridors, and for a solid five minutes, walking in a complete circle. Her hooves hurt more than her flank did before.

Upon the concession stand being in sight, the line was much smaller than the dramatic descriptions she had heard. No more than twenty odd pairs of pegasi were waiting with varying degrees of patience for some snacks. This was all well and good, but there was one problem.

None of them had a blue coat, that signature cutie mark, nor a technicolor mane.

Noticing a security guard nearby, she trot over to him.

“Excuse me sir,” Scootaloo tried her best to sound as sweet as her raspy voice would allow, “I’m looking for Rainbow Dash. Have you seen her?”

“Sorry kid.” The guard shrugged, “The Wonderbolts ain’t takin’ pictures no more.”

“I don’t want a photo.” Scootaloo moaned, a pathetic stomp of her hoof, “She brought me here. I’m kinda hungry, and she’s supposed to have got us some snacks, but it’s been like, two hours already!”

“Well kid, I will say that that’s a pretty creative bit right there,” the guard rolled his eyes, “ but I still can’t tell you where she is.”

“You don’t believe me, do you?” Scootaloo groaned as she hung her head in defeat

“Nope. You and every other pipsqueak has a story. One even tried sayin’ she was a cousin twice-removed or somethin’. Heh. Kids love the Bolts. Anyway, unless you got your ticket, I got nothin’.”

Part of her wanted to whine and pitch a fit, but that had no use. Surely Dash was now looking for her. The best thing to do, was to get back to her seat. She didn’t have bits on her anyway, so it wasn’t as if she could do much more here.

This of course took longer than it should have. Retracing your steps in a giant stadium was no easy feat, and the filly wasn’t about to impress anypony, especially herself. As she read the painted column numbers along the back end of the seating sections, she cursed herself for not caring enough to memorize her own

Finally, she saw a bunch of ponies she recognized, and made her way down her aisle. Faces becoming familiar, she found their seats. She knew it was their seat, that was her ticket on the floor below them.

So why two university-aged stallions were sitting in them, slurping big jugs of cider, was beyond her understanding. Surely this was just a simple mistake that could be taken care of with some nice words.


One of them turned to face her with an irritated glance. “What?”

Scootaloo found herself a bit intimidated. “Well, I know you probably didn’t mean to, but that’s my spot and-”

“I don’t see your name on it.” The other stallion hissed. “Get lost, kid.”

“But Rainbow Dash said-”

“Oh, well, you’re friends with Rainbow Dash huh?”

Scootaloo’s face lit up. “Yup! And she said that-”

They were snickering. Whispering something to the other.

“I’m not joking.” Scootaloo whined with a stomp of her hoof.

“Sure you aren’t.”

Scootaloo glanced around, seeing if anypony else was watching, and to her dismay, they couldn’t care less about her plight. With a sigh, she returned to the diplomacy efforts.

“Can you just give me my ticket then? It’s right there under your-”

The stallion grabbed it, glaring at it for several seconds, before a wry smile crept across his face.

“You mean this?”


He got up, and held it out to Scootaloo. Before she could snatch it however, he shot up in the air.

Scootaloo was furious. The taunting snark of the stallion making her forget one very important thing as she leapt into their air and strained to fly.

She couldn’t.

She could hear both of them hysterical as her wings grew tired from the strenuous buzzing. Out of breath as she plunked to the floor.

“What the hell was that?” The airborne stallion cackled. “What are you, crippled?”

It would have been one thing if it was just her two opponents who were in on the hysterics, but they were not. She could hear all around her, laughter and jests at her expense. She tried so hard not to show any effect.

“Gimmie my ticket, alright?” Scootaloo’s voice cracked, “I’ll leave you alone.”

Scootaloo eyes widened with horror as instead, it was torn to shreds, showering upon her like light snow.

Surely this was the point where Rainbow Dash would swoop in, and beat these bullies black and blue; apologize for keeping her waiting. Some cool one-liner. They could laugh about it later after the show. It would be a story to tell among many others.

As the hoots and hysterics continued though, it dawned on her that this wasn’t happening. Still, she tried as hard as she could to just think the best of things.

“Dash wouldn’t hang around with a whiny little lame like you!”

Scootaloo made to retort, but stopped short, lurching her head back down so they could not seem her teary eyes. Without another word, she sulked up the stairs, not caring to evade spilled soda, errant gum, or popcorn which stickied, poked, and messed her hooves. Now on top of her faintly sore flank; throbbing hooves and wings, were her sore knees. All that stair climbing was getting to her.

Now that she gave it some thought, it seemed as if he was right.

It had been quite some time since Rumble had had Colosseum Nachos. Drumfire had spent an hour in what he described as a “goddess-awful line”, but it was worth it. The whole family was now well-stocked with sweets and greasy goods. His soda was iced and refreshing, and the buzz of the air around him, was electrifying.

Fifteen minutes until the show began according to the loudspeakers, and Rumble was as pumped as the crowd. He couldn’t care less if his mother bought him a propeller beanie which Thunderlane insisted stay on his head.

“Getting excited, sport?” Drumfire nudged the colt, who scrambled to keep his soda from spilling. This amused his brother and father immensely.

“Mmhm.” Rumble nodded.

Drumfire took on a nostalgic air, “Crazy to think they've been around this long.”

“Oh boy,” Thunderlane rolled his eyes, “It’s pops and one of his ‘back-in-my-day’ stories.”

“You're damn right it is, son.” Drumfire snorted. “When I was about Rummy’s age--which wasn’t that long ago, I’ll have you know--it was back when WInd Rider was on the squad. I’ll never forget what my old man said to me. He said-”

“Son, look at that, that can be you someday.” Thunderlane interjected, his tone slightly mocking. “We know, you’ve told us several times.”

“So you heard it so many times, but didn’t actually listen, did you?” Drumfire smirked, “The hell are you doing down here, again? You have the stuff to make the Bolts--you always have. Hell, you even had a free ride into the Academy, but no--” he said with a grin, “flank before fortune, I guess.”

Drumfire turned back to watch the preparations--and so, didn’t see Thunderlane bite his lip, then hang his head.

“Oh you two…” Nebula chided, “Let’s try to keep tonight drama-free, alright?” She looked towards Rumble who seemed all but infatuated by the noise and goings-on below to have caught the bickering nearby.

The two stallions nodded in resignation, and resumed stuffing their faces.

“Hey champ,” Drumfire turned his attention to his youngest. “You got a favorite Wonderbolt?”

“Hmmm.” Rumble put a hoof to his chin as he thought about that. “I guess Soarin’s pretty cool.”

“Dammit, he walked by me while I was in line.” Drumfire had muttered that, but against his intent, Rumble heard it.

“WHAT?” The colt practically exploded, “You-”

“Didn’t come with me, did ya?” Drumfire winked. “Poor little colt couldn’t bear to fly all the way to the concessions stand and wait in line. Quality time with his old man. This is what happens.”

Rumble simply groaned as he crossed his arms in a pout.

“Maybe we’ll catch them after the show.” Nebula said with a hopeful voice, “You never know, sweetie.”

“Aren’t he and your boss a thing?” Drumfire turned to Thunderlane once more, who nodded affirmatively.

“Yeah, last she said they were dating. Maybe we can run into her and your little friend, and get you a photo.”

Rumble’s face lit up enough to make the adults content before returning his sights to the area.

Rainbow Dash should be here…

That meant… ‘she’ was here, too.

Just the thought of her made his cheeks redden. Looking around, he didn’t spot that filly anywhere. Surely, with Rainbow Dash in the VIP lounge no less. Lucky girl.

Rumble was shaken from his thoughts by a booming announcement that blasted through the roaring crowd.

Ten minutes until showtime.

Scootaloo was now racing the clock. As she finally mazed her way towards the main exit, she saw what some passing pegasi had mentioned earlier: on the other side of the exit gates, a couple of Wonderbolts were heading towards the stadium, paparazzi and fans swarming them like locusts.

“Hey kid!” A gruff voice startled her in place. Whirring around she saw two security detail. They looked mean.

“We need you to come with us, alright?” The other started trotting towards her.

Scootaloo froze in sudden panic--then turned and bolted. “Hey!” one of them called after her. “We just want to take you back to Miss Dash—!”

But Scootaloo didn’t hear them. Her heart pounded in her ears as she ran, rounding halls and scrambling up stairs. The clearance of the ceilings making it impractical for the detail to take flight, were mobbing after her.

“Hey, kid, come back! You ain’t in trouble!”

Horseapples. Scootaloo growled as she tried to lose them by darting down a passage which lead into an elevator room. Panting, throbbing, she could hear them say something about losing her, and their voices faded out of earshot.

Slowly, and with some semblance of stealth, Scootaloo returned to the exit, and in due time, she passed through the admission gates, and trot towards the slow-moving horde.

She had nothing to lose. Surely Soarin’ was in there. And where there was Soarin’, there was a mare who had some serious explaining to do. Despite everything, Scootaloo wasn’t acidic, she wasn’t going to tear Rainbow a new one; no, this was just oversight, a misunderstanding.

Today had been great. No reason to think too much, right?

Her heart sank as she closed in. While they were certainly Wonderbolts, they weren’t who she was looking for. Pushing through photographers the best she could, she did not spot Rainbow Dash anywhere. At least, not before she was shoved backwards by someone in the swarm of flashbulbs and fanatics.

Part of her was relieved that the stadium was made of clouds--that way, the only thing that got crushed in her fall was her pride. That being said, she was disheartened by realizing this had been a red herring. Turning back towards the gates, she trot hurriedly towards the ticket booth, and would have made it back into the colosseum, had it not been for the attended blocking her path.

“Hey!” Scootaloo shrilled, “Let me in, please!”

“No-can do, kiddo,” The attendant replied, “Unless you got a ticket, you missed the box office.”

“Rainbow Dash is waiting for me in there. She’ll be worried if I don’t get back!” She knew, even as she said it, that it wouldn’t work.

The attendant shook his head. “No ticket, no entry. Rules are rules, kid. Sorry.”

Surely now Dashie was going to show up--to bark at the guard, to use her status to have him timidly open the gates, hang his head, and murmur a simple apology under his breath, as her big sister took her to the VIP lounge, and they watched a spectacular show from the best seat in the house.

It wasn’t. Twenty minutes didn’t change it, nor did thirty. She simply sat there. She could hear the crowd within, the music, the excited announcer, and could see the Wonderbolts taking to the sky in spectacular fashion, distant specks against the golden sky

She found, to her own faint surprise, that she didn’t care.

Stunt flying was something Rumble had always wanted to do, and seeing the majesty and mastery of the Wonderbolts as the defied the laws of physics and common sense in the most epic ways possible, ensured that ambition was locked in place.

It was a hell of a show to say the least, and the colt didn’t dare miss a second. From the stunts, to the intermission featuring Countess Coloratura debuting her latest sure-to-be hit single, complete with pyrotechnics and a moving tribute to Wonderbolts of the past. It was ended in the only way the Bolts knew how--as the sextet harmonically rocketed towards the stars once more, a brilliant, colorful procession of fireworks followed suit, outlined them against the stars in a shockingly beautiful display.

His family seemed beyond amused at the colt completely engrossed in the action. Head tilted upwards, mouth agape with awe and wonderment.

“Show’s over, champ.” Drumfire flicked his son with a wing, causing the colt to jump. “If you want a picture, we should probably get a move on. You won’t be the only one.”

Excited, Rumble grabbed his trash, and dunked it into a bin as he followed his family up and out of the stadium, into the massive press of ponykind, all squeezing towards the exit at once. Thousands of pegasi locking shoulders as they slowly trickled out of the exits. Some more inconsiderate ones would attempt to shoot over or under, causing a stir, some profane exchanges, and in one case Rumble saw, a brawl.

None of this phased him, though. While he was dead focused on his brother, who guided him through the claustrophobic swarm, he couldn’t help thinking to how amazing of a day this had been. What began as simply a trip to Cloudsdale for the show, turned into visiting his parents--and better, joining them to the show, too. His father was in his usual snarky, silly self; his mother was a source of hugs and cuddles, and his brother? Well, he fit in too, somehow.

He was a tad bit bummed though, that he hadn’t run into her.

Though he was a bit relieved, too. Surely he would see her at school, and they could both boast about how great the show was to those lame earth ponies and unicorns who missed out.

They had something in common.That was always a good thing.

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m starvin’!” Thunderlane blurted as the four finally made it outside, and had some breathing room.

“Doesn’t Rummy want to get a photo?” Drumfire glanced towards Rumble who himself looked over at an impossibly long line of ponies that had formed a ways away. Surely this was for photo ops. Oddly enough, Rumble found himself somewhat tired. The day catching up with him.

“Nah.” Rumble smiled, “I’m good.”

“Well, that settles it then.” Drumfire nodded, “We’ll get some grub over at that pizza place downtown.”

“Alright!” Rumble chirped excitedly. They now took to flight, and made their way towards the glistening skyline of Cloudsdale.

Rainbow Dash wasn’t a fan of waiting. But, when you’re with someone of fame and acclaim, waiting is just a thing you gotta do. She sat with some relatives of the other Bolts as they waited for the photo shoots to end. The show had been incredible, especially from the killer view she had- but he was even more so. Even the fake smiles and laughter he put on for the fans, he was a gem.

Seeing the young ones swarm around did cause her mind to wander a bit. It didn’t quite register for a few seconds.

Then it hit her.

Oh… shit. Scootaloo!

Before anyone could so much as ask why, Rainbow had launched over the stadium and searched around the stands. Among the many ponies getting up and out, none of them resembled the filly she was in charge of seeing through today. Zipping through corridors, hallways, even a thorough scan of the VIP lounge; nothing. Zilch. Nada.

The speed and stress of it all was getting to her, visibly panting as she flapped through the concession area.

“Something wrong, Miss Dash?” A guard.

She looked up, then leaned forward, right into his face. “Have you seen Scootaloo?” she barked.


“Little filly, orange coat, purple mane-”

“Shield cutie mark with a bolt like yours?”

“Yes!” Rainbow practically screamed. “Her. Yes, her. Have you seen her?”

Suddenly, the guard grew very nervous. “Uh… well, erm, yes actually…”

Rainbow began to grow furious, “Well? Did you see her, or not?”

“She was looking for you earlier…” he pawed at the ground. “I just thought she was a fan, y’know…”

“You wanna know what I know, pal?” Rainbow grit her teeth as the stallion trembled, “I know that you’re lucky I’ve got places to be, or I’d seriously knock you on your ass right now!”

She zipped away before he could respond--.Scootaloo had wandered off, and she needed to find her. Now high above the crowd of pegasi spilling into the streets, she still could not see the little filly anywhere. Numerous foals, fillies, and colts bounced and zipped about, no pony matching her likeness.

Her stomach began to twist and tangle, as a sense of dread washed over her.

Rainbow cruised around the stadium complex, then over the nearby streets. Occasionally, she dove into a low glide over the crowds, trying to ignore the cries of surprise and fear from the crowd. .

She squeezed her eyes shut. Rainbow, you damn fool. She had let it happen again. All the filly wanted was to spend some quality time with her--and, twice now, she’s scampered off to jump Soarin’s bones. And, once again, Scootaloo had slipped through the cracks. Her little sister was Celestia knows where, afraid and alone.

She had nopony to blame but herself.

She sighed heavily. It was going to be a long night.

It had been some time since Rumble had a proper firestone pizza. The fact that his mother remembered his favorite sauce, cheese, and toppings, was another nice touch to the whole thing. A petite little root beer float, about two-thirds gone sat beside his personal pie.

He had always loved the atmosphere of this place, with the grungy brick walls, and the various sports and Wonderbolts memorabilia decorating the place. It mixed well with the low lighting, and classic rock which lingered faintly at the bottom of his hearing.

“So Rummy,” Nebula wore that same grin she always did when she was a tad bit nervous. “Have you had fun tonight?”

“Yeah.” Rumble smiled, “Today has been awesome!

“Glad you think so.” Drumfire cleared his throat, “It’s nice to have our boys back for the day, we really missed you two.”

Rumble blushed a bit. “I missed you too dad, mom.”

“You boys are headed back home tonight, right?” Drumfire asked Thunderlane.

“Well, he is. He has school tomorrow,” Thunderlane replied. “I’ll probably get a room downtown. I have a meeting at the Weather Factory tomorrow. Rainbow Dash is going to be here, so I figured I might as well just save me the flight.”

“Oh, well, why don’t you just stay with us, then?” Nebula clapped her hooves together, a hopeful look in her eyes. “If you don’t want your old room, we have the guest room behind Rummy’s.”

“Speaking of the kid,” Drumfire interjected, “he can play hooky for a day, can’t he? Wanna stay the night, m’boy?” he said, leaning down to him. “I got some model kits that need some assembly.”

Rumble grinned--that sounded awesome--but, then again, he was also very eager to see a certain somepony tomorrow. Not to mention: being home alone also had its perks.

“I think I’ll go home tonight,” he said. “We have a test tomorrow, anyway.”

Nebula looked somewhat concerned, “All by yourself?”

“Come on, Neb,” Drumfire quipped, “When I was his age, I was flying from here to Manehattan, Vanhoover, and back again.”

Nebula cast a soft glance at the colt who beamed with confidence. “I guess you aren’t my little foal anymore, are you?”

“Hey, but before you go,” Drumfire produced several bits. “Here. Get something nice back home, or whatever.”

“Thanks.” Rumble eagerly snatched the bits, He loved this time with family. He loved the warmth of the nearby fireplace, the family which surrounded him, and the love that came with it. Sure mistakes had been made, but no matter what, he knew they would never leave him, never let him down. They were family, and they loved him.

He knew that. And that thought kept his warm as he trotted out into the nighttime chill behind them, a little spring in his step. Hugs, kisses, and a fond little noogie from of Thunderlane served as their goodbyes; Rumble turned for downtown, while his parents and sibling ventured back to the suburbs.

The main road was somewhat crowded, but by no means as dense as leaving the colosseum. Everypony seemed to be in a jovial and glowing mood, with laughter, light conversation, filling the air.

Rounding a corner which lead to the southern edge of Cloudsdale, the crowds rapidly dropped off, and the streetlights began to appear further and further apart. While trotting down past a diner and bookstore, he paused; something had caught his eye. He shrugged and trotted on for a few steps, until, suddenly, it hit him.

Wait a minute. Was that…


It couldn’t have been. A disheveled little filly, all alone, sat on her haunches a block behind him. She looked way too much like the filly he knew for him to simply shake it out of his head.

He turned around, and slowly trotted back.

Scootaloo sat in in an alley, back pressed up against a dumpster that stank of rotting vegetables. She shivered, from more than just the cold. She wanted to cry--but she wasn’t sure if she had the tears. Or the right.

Everything that could have gone wrong, had. Everything that could have gone right, simply hadn’t. It was the very thing that she feared since waking up this morning--that Rainbow Dash was going to let her down again.

The old saying echoed inside her skull:

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice--

Scootaloo had nothing left. Her strained trust had finally snapped, and her optimism plummeted to the dark depths, never to be seen or heard from again. Frankly, she was fine with just staying on this alley forever, mind mired in misery, head hung low from the weight of her heartache.

A sound of someone clip-clopping down the alley towards her didn’t phase her much. She kept her gaze to the ground, sure that it was just another pony who would break her heart again.

Instead, the hoofsteps stopped. Without a word, a fresh carton of tater tots slid across the ground and into her vision. For a moment, she didn’t react. Finally, she found the courage to look up and see from where they had come--only to see an empty alley. She stared back down at the carton, then timidly, she picked one lone tot from its box and popped it in her mouth. She chewed, and the tot crunched pleasantly, the salt and fat and starch squirted between her teeth. She leaned her head back against the dumpster and moaned softly--Sweet Celestia, these tater tots were the best thing she’d ever eaten. And, suddenly, she realized she was starving. Slowly, she picked away at the offering, checking every now and again to see if the donor was nearby.

Those tater tots were just what she needed. Their warmth radiated through her cold body like a radiant fire. She reached down for one more--and realized, to her own great dismay, that it was empty. Only the grease-stained paper boat remained. She slid it aside, then grimaced as happy laughter echoed down the alley. She sighed heavily, sending a thick cloud of steam whispering into the air.

Once again, she was startled by the sight of a treat before her. This time, it was a milkshake--peanut butter, she guessed. She couldn’t say she was a fan of peanut-butter, but she wasn’t exactly against it, either. She picked it up and took a sip, and her mouth was filled with the cool, nutty smoothness of the shake, a savory-sweet flavor that sent chills down her spine.

She heard a little noise, and whipped her head around--and this time, her mysterious donor was present, sitting just around the corner of the dumpster. He smiled nervously.

“You’re not allergic to peanuts, are you?” Rumble was surprised at just how easily the words came.

Scootaloo looked at her empty tot tray, and the shake, and then back at Rumble. Her eyes were seemingly devoid of emotional expression. Her voice however, seemed happy, if only slightly so.


Rumble watched as Scootaloo took another long, desperate pull on her dessert, practically inhaling the thing. She either really, really liked it, or was practically dehydrated.. A few moments later, and, with a hollow plonk, she se tthe cup next to the empty tray, then turned to look at Rumble.

“Thanks,” she said. She did not smile--but there was a softness in her voice that made it clear that his gift had been truly appreciated.

“No problem.” Rumble replied with a faint smile. He looked away for a moment, then back at her. “What are you doing out here by yourself?” he asked.

“I could ask you the same thing, couldn’t I?” Scootaloo snapped. Rumble flinched, and she returned to staring at her trash. Only for a moment.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell like that,” she signed. “It’s just… Rainbow Dash. She left me at the colosseum, I went looking for her, and got locked out and missed the show. I have no idea where she is. And I don’t know how I’m getting home.” She drew her knees up under her chin, then wrapped her arms around her legs. “I bet I know who she’s with, though.”

Rumble couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. He was only vaguely aware of the last time that cyan mare let her down--and could only guess what he would’ve felt if his brother did the same thing. Gently, he stood, picked up her cup in his mouth, his mouth, then stood on his hind legs and dropped it in the dumpster. He did it again a moment later for her tray. He sat down again--and was quickly enveloped in a tight, orange hug. Scootaloo whimpered into his shoulder, the colt’s coat muffling her voice

Wordlessly, he put a wing around her, and looked around again. The crowds seemed to be dying down, and the pedestrian traffic from earlier seemed to be as well.

“Well…” Rumble felt a lump in his throat. “I could fly you home.”

Her head raised, and it’s magenta eyes, bleary and bloodshot, pierced his own.. He could feel his cheeks grow warm as they stared into each other's’ eyes. .

Staring at her like this--her arms around him, his eyes locked on hers--filled him with a thrill he had never felt before. He set his jaw, gently removed his wing, then stood and began a slow trot down the the alley.

“Come on.” Rumble said quickly but kindly over his shoulder.

He took a few good strides before checking to see if she was following--and, she was. For a while, she walked behind him--but soon, she trotted up alongside him--and stayed there. The two didn’t say anything as they wormed their way through the maze of crowds littering the avenue; Rumble had to check every now and again to ensure he didn’t lose her.

Finally, they reached the edge of Cloudsdale. Rumble stopped, and sat on his haunches. Scootaloo sat beside him, and took in the view: it was dark now; the last sliver of sunlight that managed to pour over the mountains along the horizon did very little for the hilly lowlands beyond. Lights twinkled across the velvet landscape below, gathered here and there in little clusters--but they both knew one cluster in particular--Ponyville, with the faintest outline of the Castle of Friendship still visible in the distance.

Scootaloo sighed. She wished so much that she could just spread her wings and fly home on her own--which, of course, only made her feel more rotten. Her ears fell back against her head, and her tail just sat there, as still and lifeless as its host.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rumble bow his head, too, then start picking at the cloud between them. Suddenly, he set his jaw, then stood and offered her his hoof. For a moment, she did not look up--but, when she did, she saw him standing there, with a smile, his hoof outstretched. For a long moment--too long--she sat there, unmoving, staring back and forth between the smile and the hoof. Finally she slowly, hesitantly, reached out one of her own hooves and placed it in his.

Rumble grinned a little, then spread his wings and stretched, running through the same pre-flight routine she’s seen Rainbow Dash do once or twice. She took the cue and walked up beside him--and, as she did, he turned to face her with a smile.

Scootaloo suddenly realized that she loved that smile.

His pre-flight stretches done, Rumble opened his mouth--and suddenly seemed to lose his nerve. He sat down, then swallowed several times, his face turning that adorable shade of red again, and his hooves starting to tremble. Finally, he managed a nod over his shoulder, indicating his back. Scootaloo stepped forward and reached out a hoof--then drew it back, hesitating. The two of them stood there for another moment before Scootaloo squeezed her eyes shut, reached out, and wrapped her arms around his neck. He stood--surprisingly strong, for his size--and Scootaloo felt gravity press her body against his. He was warm. She could feel his breathing--hear it, even, as the air flowed into and out of his lungs. She swallowed and tried not to think of the obvious awkwardness--after all, they were almost the same size...

Before she could object or reconsider, she felt Rumble lean forward, then, with a mighty surge of strength, he leapt forward. Her stomach dropped out from under her, and she almost screamed--but they did not fall. Instead, she felt his wings pump against her, and felt the air flow gently through her mane. Instinctively, she leaned her head leaned forward, making Rumble wobble in his course, if only slightly.

Rumble himself quickly corrected his course. He was a good flier; pushing past his nervousness, he began to flap his wings harder and harder. What had started as a glide became a soar, as he guided the two of them home. What part of his brain wasn’t honed in on his aerodynamics, was filled with her--feeling her warmth, feeling her breathing, feeling her balance shift against him as he flew. Part of him was screaming to make sure that he didn’t drop her--but he knew he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. Part of it was that she was clinging so tightly to him that he could barely breathe--but the other part of it was that, if he was honest with himself, he had really been waiting for a moment like this for his entire life.

Finally, the they drew close to home. Scootaloo felt Rumble’s flight begin to slow, and she opened her eyes. Behind her, she could make out the skyline of Canterlot, it’s towers and mountainside looming over the valley below. Below them lay Twilight’s castle, or, the highest tower of it, at least. She had never really seen it from this vantage, and was slightly taken by the large emblem which crowned the structure: the Element of Friendship, reflecting the light of the moon which now hung over Equestria, filling the world with faint silver light.

Scootaloo felt Rumble trim his wings, and he turned into a glide, the sudden drop sending her stomach into her throat. He glided down through Ponyville, towards the dim outline of Town Hall.

Scootaloo felt a lump in her throat as she realized the time had come for her to speak to him. “You know where I live, right?” she asked.

The colt’s ears stood up straight, as he slowed his glide slightly.

“Actually,” he admitted, “no.”

“You go east from town hall,” she said. “I live down a ways.”

“Oh.” Rumble banked down her street. They were now gliding mere feet above the ground. Houses now lining every side of Scootaloo’s view like walls of a canyon. Soon enough, her own house rounded into view.

“Here.” Scootaloo nodded lightly, as her house came into view.

He touched down a few feet from her front door, but it was a smooth landing--despite the somewhat disorienting feeling of gravity suddenly reasserting itself She loosened her grip as she slowly, shaking, set her hooves on the ground again. Rumble sat down, his chest heaving, and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow.

Scootaloo glanced up at him, then back down and kicked at the dirt. “Y-You didn’t have to do that, you know…” she mumbled.

Despite his exhaustion, Rumble seemed fine with it all, “Don’t worry about it, Scootaloo.” He grinned, “It was worth--” His eyes widened. “I mean--.”

Scootaloo smiled for the first time in a good while.

“Thanks for… for everything, Rumble.” She said softly, “I owe you big time.”

He practically fell over as she nuzzled up against his cheek.

Scootaloo turned, and, her own face beet red, she made for the front door. “See you at school, I guess,” she said over her shoulder. There was something more in those words than there usually was.

Rumble looked up, a small smile forming on his own face. “Yeah. See ya then, I guess.”

He watched the door close behind her, then stood. Slowly, he turned and began to walk down the road, his heartbeat finally slowing to a decent rate--only for it to shoot back up again as he heard two words, carried on the night breeze:

“Goodnight, Rumble,” Scootaloo said, a gentle warmth in her tone.

“Goodnight, Scootaloo,” he squeaked in return. He dropped his head and cursed to himself--but he could’ve sworn he heard a slight giggle as he did.

7. Dither

View Online

As Scootaloo closed the front door, the coldness of the night, and the worries of the evening returned to her as swiftly as it had left her. If there was any relief to be found, it was the sight of the small speck of light glowing over the stove in the kitchen.

Scootaloo knew there was food waiting for her, and tonight it appeared to be homemade macaroni and cheese, still lukewarm under its plastic lid. Not bothering to turn on the overhead light, she proceeded to fill a bowl to the brim, and promptly shovel it in her face. Between the food, and the wonderful silence, save for a distant grandfather clock, it was just what she needed right about now.

“So, you came back tonight, after all?”

Scootaloo looked up to see Mrs. Harbour standing in the doorway. Scootaloo nodded wordlessly, still chewing her macaroni, and Mrs. Harbour smiled, then trotted over to the sink to clean up the leftovers. She needed only a passing glance at her foster daughter to know that, while she was, at the moment, satisfied, something had, at some point today, sent the filly into a tailspin. Ten years of living under the same roof lends itself to such intuition.

“Did you have fun?” she asked. “How was the show?”

Mrs. Harbour prided herself on her ability to read body language--and Scootaloo’s was about as transparent as they came. The little filly looked away, tapped lightly on the table, and took a shallow breath. Instantly, Mrs. Harbour’s gaze hardened.

“Scootaloo,” she said firmly, but not unkindly, “what happened?”

Scootaloo sighed; Mrs. Harbour had done it again. She supposed it wasn’t hard to read her--but it still surprised her how good she was at it.

“Well, it’s a long story…” Scootaloo shuffled nervously, the weariness of the night catching up with her, as her mind wandered back through the day's highs, lows, and deep, dark depths. She didn’t bother saying anything, as she could see her foster-mother pouring herself a cup of tea. Clearly, she had time for whatever Scootaloo was going to say.

Mrs. Harbour walked back to the table, pulled out the chair across from her, and slowly lower herself into it. Mrs. Harbour’s expression didn’t lighten at all. If anything, the concern became more apparent.

Scootaloo put down her fork. She needed no invitation to speak.

She slowly began detailing the day's events, from the train station, to arriving in Cloudsdale; the sheer joy of the first few hours, and all the wonderful time she had with Rainbow Dash. Then, her face fell; she told Mrs. Harbour about the Colosseum, about Dash leaving to get them food--and never coming back. It was here that she paused--then continued, slowly, her voice low and thick. She recounted--and thus in a way re-lived--the series of unfortunate events which led to her sitting by a dumpster, weeping to herself. Scootaloo was quite the hardened little filly, but she was a filly nonetheless--being alone in a big city, lost and hungry, was… hard, to say the least.

“ I just sat at the corner, and hoped that maybe she would come looking for me, I guess.” Scootaloo ended that sentence by wiping her nose with a hoof, followed by a sharp sniffle. “It was really cold, and… a-and nopony asked if something was wrong, or if I was okay... I was scared, Mom.”

Another skill that Mrs. Harbour had acquired over the decades of caring for children was an excellent poker face. She was able to project a sense of attentive calm. Inside however, she was thinking of the many ways she’d like to give that foundering pegasus a piece of her mind. If there was one thing she truly hated, it’s when somepony hurt her little foals.

She wanted to explode--so, instead she asked a question: “How did you get home, then?”

Scootaloo’s face brightened up, for just a moment. “That’s where it gets interesting,” she smiled faintly, “I’ve told you about Rumble before, right?”

Rumble… Mrs. Harbour had to think on that one. Eventually though, she did recall Scootaloo mentioning him at some point. Good enough. “I believe you’ve mentioned him before, yes.”

“Well,” Scootaloo glanced around the clearly-empty kitchen, then leaned forward conspiratorially. “He’s how I got home,” she whispered. “He flew me down here.”

Scootaloo was the only school-age foal Harbour was caring for at the moment, so her knowledge of a able-bodied pegasi was somewhat slim. And yet, she raised an eyebrow: if he colt was around her age--and thus likely her size, too--well, that was quite the feat.

“All by himself, hm?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said with a nod.

Mrs. Harbour leaned forward a little. “He sounds like a sweet young stallion,” she said.

“Y-Yeah, he… He is,” Scootaloo replied, blushing.

“Does he go to your school?” she asked.

“Mmhm. He moved her a few years ago. With his brother.”

“Oh--so you’ve met him before, then?”

“Well…” she shrugged. “...a little.”

“Only ‘a little?’” she asked. “Why have you mentioned his name before, then?” She already knew the answer, of course; she was curious to see if Scootaloo would say it herself.

“Well, I, uh… I… kinda like him,” she admitted, squirming in her seat.“He’s… really cute, and… really cool. I think.”

“And now you’ve realized that for certain, I suppose?” she asked with a smile.

Scootaloo’s sudden, demure little blush reminded her of her own days as a filly--her schoolyard crushes, her high school sweethearts, and her late husband. What she knew as “love” was always a little different each time, but the the butterflies, the evasive expressions--those were a constant.

“I’d say he made a pretty good first impression.” Mrs. Harbour continued, with a little smile. “You thanked him for doing that for you, right?”

“Oh yeah! I did.” Scootaloo nodded, her cheeks practically glowing now as she remembered how she had.

Mrs. Harbour smiled faintly, then breathed a longing sigh as she watched her little Scootaloo swoon.

Mrs. Harbour remained quiet while Scootaloo finished eating, followed her as she walked to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

“I’m… sorry that today went the way it did,” she said, finally. . “But I can’t say I’m surprised, sadly.” She sighed. “But, it sounds like it ended on a high note, at least.”

Scootaloo spat in the sink, then looked up at her. “Yeah,” she said, her smiling fading the slightest bit.

“I’m sorry you were mistreated by that… that brat. I guess she isn’t ready to be a big sister.” She smiled a little. “You deserve better, and hopefully you find somepony who is.”

“I know.” Scootaloo shifted, “I really, really wanted to go back to the way it used to be. But, she let me down and…” She went quiet for a moment. “I really don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust her anymore,” she finished.

“You tried, dear. You really did.” Harbour leaned down and pulled her into a soft embrace. “Don’t waste your time with ponies who treat you that way--life is too short for that. You’re a wonderful filly, and you deserve to be with only wonderful ponies. I think you know that.”

“I do.” Scootaloo answered, choking up slightly,

“I think for now we ought to get some shut-eye.”

Scootaloo nodded, then rinsed her mouth out and plodded off to bed. She snuggled deep under the covers, then pulled them up to her chin. She was a Big Pony now, and hadn’t ever really asked to be tucked in, even as a filly--but tonight, she didn't have to. Mrs. Harbour leaned in and did it anyways, then kissed her gently on the forehead. Scootaloo let out a yawn, and watched Mrs. Harbour trot out her door.

“Goodnight, Scootaloo.” Madame Harbour smiled, “I love you.”

“I love you too, mom.” She waited until Mrs. Harbour closed the door behind her, then heaved a heavy sigh.

She was tired--more tired than she could ever remember--but her brain would not let her sleep just yet.

While she certainly did dwell on the hunger, the humiliation, and the hurt of what was supposed to have been the best night ever, much more of her mind seemed focused on a certain colt, whose unexpected act of kindness certainly made him, for the first time, really stick out in her mind: somepony who seemed to truly care about her.

On the other hoof, however, she wasn’t sure how to handle the Rainbow Dash situation. Obviously, she was furious. She had blown her last chance, and in the most pathetic way possible. Like Rainbow’s last two mistakes, Scootaloo wondered how it could have gone so bad, and why she still bothered to have any faith in her--the self-centered jerk.

The filly smiled as she imagined the storm that would erupt the minute word of this reached her friends, then their sisters, and then…

She giggled darkly. Tomorrow was going to be fun.

Rumble laid in his bed, unable to lull himself to sleep. Usually, he could hear the TV, accompanied by his brothers snoring, through his bedroom door. Normally, this odd ambiance would be more than enough to help him fall asleep. But not tonight--tonight, he was still flustered from what transpired but an hour ago.

If he were to be honest, he had always liked Scootaloo, but nothing much beyond that. She was just some cute filly who hung out with her ‘meh’ friends, and knew some ponies in high places. Now however, he felt something else about her. Something he had never quite felt before. It was beyond his explanation, and certainly well away from his understanding. She had just nuzzled him, she held onto him, pressed herself against him. Only as they parted ways did he screw it all up..

It was weird. Before tonight, talking with any filly like that--well, it would’ve barely been worth a second thought. . Now however, Scootaloo wasn’t just a second thought--she was practically every thought, outside of breathing. Her mane, her cutie mark, and her raspy yet flowering voice still burned in his mind. Try as he might, he couldn’t dismiss her.

And yet, mixed with his thoughts of Scootaloo, was genuine concern. While he wouldn’t consider Scootaloo a friend--just a schoolmate--seeing her tonight, alone, afraid, and abandoned was infuriating. Rumble couldn’t even begin to wrap his mind around how Rainbow Dash, somepony his brother raved about, the mare who the Elements themselves chose as the embodiment of loyalty to friends and country--could just discard her number one fan--her little sister--her friend. Surely had Thunderlane done such a thing to him, the consequences would be far-reaching and fearsome. Three strikes you’re out, and their father would put that stallion in a box and bury it--if Rumble himself didn’t get to him first. You never left family hanging. You never abandoned you kith and kin. Never ever.

Rumble wondered why Scootaloo’s friends let her hang around Rainbow at all. What exactly was the Princess of Friendship good for, if her own fellow element was treating a filly this way and seemingly never faced the consequences for it?

It was funny, really. Steaming over a filly he hardly knew, and events he had no part in.

Why did he care?

Why did it have to be her?

Why was she so cute?

Why did he look forward to seeing her tomorrow?

Why was he still awake?

Rumble knew he could take care of the last one. Settling into his bed, he turned off his bedside lamp, and prepared himself for the long night ahead.

8. Date

View Online

Today was a school day, and that meant sitting in class─the back of the class, in the case of Scootaloo. It meant listening to Miss Cheerilee drone on about something or rather, get some assembly-line worksheet, cross her ‘t’s, dot her ‘i’s, turn it in, and then impatiently wait for recess; rinse and repeat.

Her usual disinterested routine had a slight hiccup, though: what normally would have been the same old panorama of foals, flanks fixed to their chairs, was now slightly more interesting… or at least, one part of it--over in the opposite corner front row, end column. There he was, weaving between attentive, and absent-minded; work time spent mostly chatting it up with some nearby colts. Sometimes, he would glance over his shoulder at her, sometimes even flash that beautiful little smile of his--but he never held his gaze long enough for her to reciprocate.

For Scootaloo, it was enough, though. Him noticing her was more than enough.

Suddenly, the bell for recess rang, and Scootaloo grinned. She had a plan.

She grabbed her paper-bag lunch, then marched right past Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, head held high. The two of them stared after her, as she made her way, not towards the shade of their own special tree, but--

“Towards the colts?” Apple Bloom gasped.

Sweetie Belle squinted. “I wonder what she’s up to?”

“Should we follow her?” Apple Bloom asked.

“No,” Sweetie Belle shrugged. “Let’s just see what happens.”

Scootaloo kept her head high--even as she wanted to turn and run. One hoof in front of the other, alternating strides between the fore and the hind; it was simple enough, quite literally a born skill, yet for whatever reason, Scootaloo felt the need to repeat those instructions in her head. She wasn’t nervous, no, not at all.

The motley crew which assembled itself around that picnic table─most of whom she knew by sight, rather than by name─were the problem. She couldn’t judge how they’d react, what they would do. Well, that wasn’t quite true: she knew one of them, but only because her best friend had a thing for him─the propeller-capped one, if she remembered right.

That wasn’t the target of her increasingly fake-confident advance though: it was the one whose back was facing her, third from the left, his slicked-back mane as beautif--awesome as ever. She could not only see his gray coat, but she could feel it, too. Flashes of memory from clinging ever-so-tightly to that same coat, on that same stallion-in-training.

Colt. He was a colt.

He had a beautiful smile.

Oh goddess, he sees me.

The two of them stared at each other, both seeming slightly curious as to why the other was there. Scootaloo stood a few yards away, looking straight at him. Rumble felt many things: the usual symptoms which arose upon her entering his line of sight, seemingly worsened thanks to the night before. He could’ve sworn his brother said things got easier. Nothing was. His heart was aflutter, his eyes were screaming to look away, and the snickers and “Ooh”s of his posse were doing everything to ratchet his nerves to new heights.

“H-Hey... “ He choked out a weak smile and an even wimpier wave. “What’s up?”

Now I have to say something… Scootaloo froze, smirks and curious eyes in the edge of her vision--none of which helped any.

“Nothin’...” she said, finally. Scootaloo brushed a hoof along the grass, her gaze darting every which way but ahead. “I was just, uh… Well, I just wanted to--you know--thank you for, uh… for last night, and--”

“Bwuah?!” A chorus of bewilderment caused them both the flinch.

“What did you two do?” Button Mash asked, ribbing Rumble, “Got yourself some cooties, eh!”

“N-No…” Rumble objected meekly, not daring take his eyes off that beautiful filly.

She’s so cute when she gets all flustered, he thought.

He’s so cute when he gets all flustered, she thought.

“Little Rumble had a filly up in the clouds?” Featherweight grinned stupidly.

“No!” Rumble swatted a hoof at him.

“What is she talking about, then?” asked a colt Scootaloo did not recognize.

Now, Rumble looked away with a speed that made Scootaloo sick to her stomach.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Fillies are weird, dude,” another unidentified colt quipped. A chorus of laughter sounded as the colts turned back to their lunch.

Had Rumble not turned away, had he been facing her, he would’ve seen her eyes fog, the slight tremor of her lip, suppressing a whimper, the speed with which she galloped back to the safety of her friends.

Stupid, stupid, STUPID. Colts are stupid.

It was a phrase that she and her friends had come up with some time ago. An indirect promise to never get entangled in the mushy business of stupid, bumbling colts.

Colts are stupid.

Everything was a blur: running back to the tree, being pulled in for a hug by her friends, them asking what had happened, followed by determinations to kick his flank at the nearest opportunity--all of it ran together in a blur of sight, sound, and feeling. But still, she heard nothing except that phrase:

Stupid. He’s stupid.

Colts are stupid.

… So am I, she thought. I’m stupid.

Stupid for believing that she could find somepony who wouldn’t hang her out the dry the minute she felt friendship--or maybe even love. If Rainbow Dash had taught her anything, she was stupid. Stupid enough to think that ponies were kind, caring, or worth her time.

She shivered. Everything hurt.

The sandwich in her lunch tasted like ash.

His fur had pricked her skin like pine needles.

His words of the night before rang hollow and meaningless in her ears.

And then, one of her friends stood. She looked up.

Apple Bloom was on her hooves now. She was staring face to face with a cowering Rumble..

“You have some nerve comin’ over here after what ya just did!” Apple Bloom hissed. Rumble winced. “Why, I oughta--”

“Yeah! Get lost, jerk!” Sweetie Belle spat, pawing the ground eagerly. Any excuse to give this colt what was coming to him.

He didn’t seem to look at them, though. His eyes seem fixed on a different filly.

Scootaloo didn’t say a thing. Instead, she stood, gently pushed Sweetie Belle away, and stepped beside Apple Bloom.

“Get ‘em, Scoots!” Apple Bloom grinned devilishly. “Show ‘em who's boss!”

While her two friends frothed for a fight, and the distant colts looked on in bewilderment, Scootaloo’s eyes cleared, and she saw his face. His soft, apologetic face.

“Scootaloo... “ He began, just as weak as before.

“What?” Apple Bloom interjected.

Rumble didn’t flinch. “I... I was… wondering... if…”

Memories from the night before flashed back before him, a hurt filly who needed a friend, a smile whose radiance was unrivaled, and a beautiful foal who meant more to him than anypony ever had before.

“I was wondering if… if maybe you wanted to hang out sometime…” He swallowed. Just the two of us, he added mentally.

She could’ve swore she saw the faintest of smiles form on his face.

She loved that smile.

Those tater tots tasted good.

His fur had felt like silk.

His words were real, and he meant what he said.

“I’d love to,” Scootaloo said with a nervous smile as her friends gasped beside her.

Rumble’s eyes lit up. “Really?”

“T-Totally…” Scootaloo said, pawing the ground, “I... kind of owe you, anyway.”

Apple Bloom tilted her head. “Fer what?”

Rumble and Scootaloo stole a glance at each other--both remembering their flight home--but said nothing..

“Cool.” Rumble said after a pause. “So… I’ll just see you…”

“Tonight,” Scootaloo said firmly.

“Huh?” Rumble replied, somewhat confused.

“Tonight,” she repeated, “at seven. That works for you, right?”

Rumble hesitated, then nodded lightly. “Okay,” he said.

“Okay,” Scootaloo repeated, her smile getting a little wider.

“What’s… goin’ on, here?” Apple Bloom craned into the Scootaloo’s view. Scootaloo turned to give her a questioning look--and, as soon as she looked away, Rumble’s nerves failed him. He turned, and galloped away, back to his circle of friends. Sweetie watched him go, brow furrowed.

Sweetie Belle and Applebloom looked at each other--and Scootaloo watched the realization dawn across both of their faces. She grimaced and braced herself.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” The two crusaders gushed. “Scootsie’s got a colt-friend!~”

“I do not!”


The next four hours were downright painful for the two foals--who, on top of being tormented by the tortoise pace of time, were scrambling to figure out what to do tonight. They had agreed to hang out after school, but beyond that, they both desperately scrambled to figure out what to actually do.

I guess i’m the one who asked her out… Rumble thought as he stared blankly at his untouched math assignment. Maybe Button Mash will let me bring her with me tonight? What if she doesn’t like video games, though?

He stole a backward glance as Miss Cheerilee was writing something on the board, and saw her facing towards the window, seemingly lost in her own thoughts. Rumble felt that same strange warmth that swept through his being every time he so much as looked at her. Maybe she’s never played one before? he thought nervously.

As Rumble turned to face forwards again, Scootaloo faced forward as well, her eyes drawn to the back of his navy-blue mane. He did such a nice thing for me… she thought. I need to find a way to really pay him back… Oh! Maybe we could go to Sugarcube CornerNah, everypony does that! Ooh! Maybe I could show him our clubhouse! Yeah! That could be fun… right? Or would that

A light tap on the shoulder caught her by surprise.

“Thinkin’ ‘bout somepony?” Apple Bloom said teasingly.,

“Whatever, Apple Bloom.” Scootaloo sighed. She was quiet for a long moment. “Do you… think it’d be alright, if I—I mean, if we showed him our clubhouse?”

Apple Bloom’s eyes glittered. “I knew it!” she whispered with a smirk.

“Why would you do that?” Sweetie Belle piped up, “My sister always says that when you want to woo a stallion, ya gotta think big, like, dinner and a movie, or something.”

Scootaloo pouted. “I was trying to be original. And this isn’t a date,” she added quickly. “And I’m not trying to woo him. We’re just friends!”

“Well, there’s a reason everypony does those things—” Apple Bloom smiled, “They work.

“I guess.” Scootaloo returned her view to the outside. “I just feel like I need to do something just as special as what he did for me… and some lame movie just wouldn’t work.”

Sweetie Belle frowned. “What… did he do, anyway?”

“Yeah,” Apple Bloom butted in. “Ya haven’t said a thing about it, other than you ‘owe him somethin'.’”

Scootaloo opened her mouth—then closed it again. “It’s--It’s not important,” she said.

Sweetie suddenly brightened. “Did he kiss you?” she blurted eagerly.

“No!” Scootaloo said, aghast.

“Did he take ya out to a fancy restaurant in Cloudsdale?” Apple Bloom ventured.

“No,” she replied.

“Oh!” Sweetie Belle clopped her hooves together. “Did he rescue you, as you were falling from Cloudsdale towards certain doom?”

“...No?” she said, cocking her head. “None of those things. Look—I just need some cool ideas. F-for a thing.”

“We’ve been tryin’ that, Scoots.” Apple Bloom frowned, “Doesn’t seem like any of them are workin’ for ya.”

“It’s not that!” Scootaloo insisted, “It’s just…” she fell quiet and looked out the window.

It’s just that I want it to be awesome.

2:59, and Scootaloo still had no idea what she wanted to do. She had waffled between going bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, and teaching him how to use a scooter— though none of it sounded practical, nor worthy of the debt she owed. As she stood by the school’s flagpole waiting for Rumble, she tried to wring a fresh idea out of her noggin, but once again, she came up dry.

Then, Rumble stepped out of the schoolhouse, Featherweight and Button Mash, right behind him, deep in conversation. And, right in the middle of frantic thoughts of where to find a parachute, her brain suddenly went phhhhhhbt. As the trio came closer, she heard what they were talking about

“... I dunno, dude,” Button Mash said, wincing, “my mom not like us having a filly up in my room… And would she even wanna hang out with us, anyways?”

Rumbled blinked, “I can just ask real quick,” he said. He then trot to Scootaloo with a slight smile on his face, his tail swishing freely, and his tongue-tied demeanor from earlier seemingly past.

“Oh--hey Rumble.” Scootaloo’s eyes evasive once again.

“Hey… Scootaloo.” Rumble laughed nervously as his smile faded slightly, “I was wondering if…”

Without warning, Button Mash shouldered his way past him. “Rumble’s stayin’ at my house tonight,” he said with a smirk. “Afraid of bein’ alone in that big ol’ house or something.”

Rumble snarled and slugged his arm, but Button ignored him. “We were just gonna play video games and watch movies until my mom makes us turn it off,” he said. He smirked wider, then turned to glance at Rumble. “And lover boy here wants to know if you wanna come.”

Rumble’s mouth dropped open--as did Sweetie Belle’s and Apple Bloom’s. Scootaloo swallowed, then turned to Rumble with a question in her eyes.

Rumble nodded, feeling his cheeks begin to burn. “Y-yeah,” he said. “I mean--Unless you have something planned already, or…?”

Scootaloo glanced between Rumble and Button. “Are you sure?” she asked. “I mean, if you had plans already, w-we can just hang out some other time.”

“We don’t mind,” cut in Button Mash again. Rumble looked away and muttered a curse.

Scootaloo glanced between them again--then nodded.

“Sounds fun,” she said. “Just let me get my scooter, and we can go.”

“Awesome!” Rumble smiled brightly, then turned and trotted to the waiting Featherweight. Button Mash rolled his eyes and followed. Scootaloo watched him excitedly discussing plans with Featherweight--then turn and flash her a smile.

Scootaloo sighed. She loved that smile. While she had really hoped to spend some time alone with him, it was convenient, at least, that he already had something planned. As she unlocked her scooter from the bike rack, she could see Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle in the corner of her eye, watching her with dumbfounded looks on their faces.

She didn’t board the scooter, nor did she strap on her helmet. Instead, she walked it back to where the three colts stood waiting. It felt somewhat awkward, having to drag the scooter along with her, especially when Rumble and that other pegasus colt could fly-- but she sure wasn’t going to leave it here.

“You wanna take that home real quick?” Rumble pointed to the scooter, “I mean, his house isn’t too far from here. We’re not in a huge rush or anything.”

“You nervous, Casanova?” Button Mash said, elbowing him. Rumble growled and swung, but Button ducked. “Seriously, though,” he said to Scootaloo, “I gotta go get some candy and stuff, so you got time." He hesitated. “You’re not allergic to peanuts, are you?” he asked.

That question was pleasantly familiar. “No,” Scootaloo said with a blush. “I don’t have any allergies, I think.”

“That’s good.” Rumble smiled, “One time we had Featherweight’s cousin over for a scary-movie marathon, and he was allergic to… what was it?”

“Milk,” Rumble piped up.

“Yeah, milk--and well, Featherbrain here slipped and spilled a bunch on him.” Button Mash shook his head. “Poor foal swelled up and got funny bumps all over him. Looked just like a pickle.”

“It was an accident,” Featherbrain moaned.

“Didn’t mean it wasn’t funny,” Button snickered.

Featherweight blushed, and Rumble cracked a smile, though Scootaloo simply nodded.

Button Mash glanced over at Scootaloo and Rumble. “Come on, Featherweight,” he said, “let’s let these two lovebirds some alone time.” The two colts sniggered as they trotted towards town.

Scootaloo’s gaze followed them for a bit, unsure of what to make of them so far. They certainly didn’t seem malicious.

“Don’t worry,” Rumble sighed. “they’ll tease you--and me--but they aren’t mean or anything.” Rumble began a slow trot, and Scootaloo fell into step beside him.

“You guys hang out a lot, it sounds like,” Scootaloo said.

“We do.” Rumble glanced after his friends. “They let me hang out with them at recess when I first moved here. Along with First Base, they’re pretty much my guys, y’know? Kinda like you and. uh... Apple-whatever, and Cinnabon.”

Scootaloo’s eyes narrowed. “Um… Rumble, it’s Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle.” She scoffed. “How do you not know their names? Seriously? We’ve been in the same class for, like, forever.

Rumble’s looked away, “I’m sorry,” he said. “I-it’s not like we hang out or anything, though--you girls just kinda do your own thing. I only know yours because…”

He swallowed. Because I wanted to know your name.

“No worries.” Scootaloo said, grinning, as the two turned onto her street. “To be honest, I didn’t know your friends’ names either. Well, I know Button Mash,” she admitted, “but that’s only because Sweetie likes him.”

Rumble looked over at her with an eyebrow raised. “Sweetie Belle? The little white unicorn?”

Scootaloo nodded.

“And she likes Button Mash?”

Scootaloo paused, but nodded again.

Rumble chuckled to himself as he looked forward again. “Two can play that game, Button,” he muttered. He thought for a moment, then turned back to Scootaloo. “Wait--you don’t know Featherweight?

Scootaloo bit her lip. She did. Both he and Rumble were there for some of their practice. She hoped to Celestia that it was before Diamond Tiara had spun her into her “fly-or-die” mentality. She would hate for them to have seen her like that....

And then something clicked.

“Now that you mention it, I do remember him,” she said. “He’s the editor of the Foal Free Press, isn’t he?.

“Yup.” Rumble nodded. “He likes taking pictures of…” he shrugged. “...lots of things. He says he wants to be a photographer when he grows up.”

“That makes sense, I guess,” she said.

By now, they had made it to her house. Scootaloo re-locked her scooter to the mailbox, then stuffed her helmet into her saddlebags. She turned--then saw Rumble staring at the old house.

He nodded appreciatively. “You live in a pretty big house.” Rumble said, looking over at her. “You must have a huge bedroom.”

“I wish,” Scootaloo chuckled. “My foster mom runs a daycare, so that’s what most of it’s for. It’s just me and two colts that live here full-time.” Scootaloo looked away, suddenly shy. “They, uh… they don’t go to our school. They’re, uh… they’re really sweet, but they’re a bit…” she swallowed. “...touched.”

Rumble nodded faintly.. “Oh,” he said, unsure of what else to say. Suddenly, his brow furrowed, and he looked over at her again. “Wait, you’re a foster filly?” he asked, incredulous.

“Sure am,” Scootaloo said with a nod as they began trotting again. “Mrs. Harbour says the social worker just kinda dropped me off after I was born. Never met my parents.”

Suddenly, Rumble’s mind flashed back to that night in Cloudsdale, to the sight of her sitting, weeping, all alone on the street corner. The memory sparked something inside him--some sort of smoldering rage, mixed with a deep, nameless sadness. He had no idea what that kind of betrayal felt like--abandoned by your own parents, abandoned by the only pony you looked up to in the word, abandoned by everybody.

His rage simmered inside of him until he realized, very suddenly, that Scootaloo was speaking to him. He swallowed it down, then turned to look at her. “Sorry?” he said.

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “I said,” she repeated, “what kind of candy does Button Mash usually get? Mrs. Harbour can’t eat sugar, so we don’t get much.”

“Oh he gets everything.” Rumble said quickly. “Skittles, Luna Bars, Flutter Butters... You want it, he’s probably got it.”

“Even…” she swallowed nervously. “...Starswirls?”

“He’d better.” Rumble grinned wider. “I love those things.”

“No way, me too!” Scootaloo squealed--then cleared her throat and looked away. Play it cool, Scoots, she told herself.

Button’s house was nothing special--one-and-a-half stories tall, half-timber construction, identical to nearly every house on the street.

Rumble tapped on the door, and, not five seconds later, a tan-coated mane answered the door, then smiled broadly.“Rumble!” Button’s mom cried, “So nice to see you again! …and who’s this?” She turned to smile at Scootaloo, who could only return a stupid grin.

“M-My name’s Scootaloo,” she stammered, taking the mares’ offered hoof and shaking it weakly.

“Well, you two make an adorable couple!” the mare cooed, causing both Rumble and Scootaloo to blush a brilliant shade of red. Button’s mom laughed, then nodded over her shoulder, deeper into the house.

“Button’s and Feather are already in his room,” she said, stepping aside to let the two in. “They brought home quite the haul.” As they walked past her, she turned after them. “Oh!” she said, suddenly, “Little miss--you’re not by chance allergic to peanuts, are you?”

“No, ma’am.” Scootaloo said with a meek little smile.

“Good.” Button’s mom clopped her hooves together. “Well, you two have fun. Don’t let the boys tease you too much.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Scootaloo laughed nervously, as she followed Rumble down the hall.

Rumble led Scootaloo back to Button Mash’s room--a smallish bedroom just off the kitchen, dominated by a bed, a dresser, and an old, boxy TV balanced on top of a milk crate. In the center of the room sat Button Mash and Featherweight, bags of candy spilled everywhere. Beside them sat two unclaimed controllers.

“Hey,” Button Mash said without looking away from the frantic battle happening on the television screen. He stuck his tongue between his teeth, and Featherweight groaned suddenly.

As Scootaloo made her way towards the center, carefully following Rumble to his accustomed spot to Button’s left. She sat down next to him, then focused on the TV, trying to make sense of the flashing lights and explosive music. It looked like the two ponies onscreen trying to beat the snot out of each other--and the purple one was winning. And, slowly, as she watched, she started to lean forward, her eyes going wide.

Suddenly, Rumble tapped her on the shoulder, and she sat up with a yelp. He simply giggled and held out a pristine Starswirl for her.

“Thanks.” Scootaloo smiled, taking it.

Button Mash, eyes still glued to the screen, cleared his throat. “I believe it’s me you should be thanking, not your little stud muffin.”

“Sorry.” Scootaloo rolled her eyes, “Thanks, Button Mash.

Rumble sighed.. “Hey let’s lay off the smartass thing for a little bit, alright?”

Button paused the game, then turned to look at him, eyes wide and bottom lip trembling. “Aw, I’m sowwy Wumble.” Button Mash mock-whined, “I didn’t mean to hurt your widdle fiwwy’s feewings!”

“Whatever, dude.” Rumble snarled, grabbing a controller. “We gonna play Diamond Force or not?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Button Mash said with a grin. “Just let me break Featherweight’s heart again, and we’ll switch. Wouldn’t want your little lady getting bored, after all.”

“Hey, I can still win!” interjected Featherweight.

“Not unless I drop dead of boredom,” Button shot back. “You’re down two-nothing, with like, three hits left.”

As the colts continued to squabble, Rumble handed her the last controller. “You ever play Diamond Force before?” he asked. She shook her head, then held his controller up so she could see it. “It’s pretty simple,” he said to her. “Green button is a regular hit, red button is magic hit, and tilting the stick different directions makes ‘em do different things. Try not to fly off the screen.” He turned back to the TV as Button Mash landed a devastating finisher, making Featherweight groan again. The triumphant Button then grabbed the familiar cartridge from its place on top of the TV--a thin yellow brick, with Diamond Force: Ultimate Fighter II printed on the front.

Featherweight crossed his arms. “I like Castle Brawlers better,” he muttered.

“Yeah, well, you suck at that one too,” Button said, as he switched out the cartridges.

Scootaloo stared, wide-eyed, at the screen, as the clunky old system wheezed to life again--then stared again as Button Mash whizzed through the menus by muscle memory, dropping them all on a field of colored squares, filled with ponies and monsters of all description.

Rumble glanced over at her, then smiled reassuringly. “You’ll get the hang of it after a few rounds,” he said. “Just watch what we do, and try to do the same, okay?”

Rumble’s ears perked as he could hear his two friends snickering behind his back. He sighed and rolled his eyes--but still had that same soft smile Scootaloo absolutely adored. Even a little bit of a blush, too.

“Alright,” she said, a little smile creeping across her face too. “I’ll try.”

Five humiliating matches later, Scootaloo growled and threw the controller to the ground. “I suck at this,” she said, pouting. She grabbed an angry hoof-full of chocolates and shoved them into her mouth.

Rumble smirked at her. “You’re getting better,” he said. “You even killed Button Mash in that last match.”

“Summon Crystal,” Button called. “Doesn’t count.”

Featherweight scoffed. “You got me with one twice,” he said.

“Only because you threw my controller and almost busted my Daring Do figure.”


“Pre-emptive strike.”

Featherweight opened his mouth to respond, but a knock to the doorway made all four of them look up. Button’s Mom poked her head in the room, carrying a steaming plate of pizza pockets in her hooves. “Who’s hungry for some pi-i-izza pockets?” she sang sang as she set the platter on Button’s floor. “Be careful not to drip these on the carpet again, alright? There’s a paper plate for each of you.”

“Thanks mom!” Button snatched one and immediately tossed it in his mouth--and everyone in the room heard it sizzle. He yelped and spat it out, then tried to catch it in his hooves, but it flew up in the air as he frantically tried to juggle it. The other three foals laughed, as he finally caught it on a plate, then frantically pawed at his already-reddening tongue.

Mom rolled her eyes. “What have I told you about eating things right off the stove, Button?” she sighed, as she turned and walked from the room. “I’ll go get an icepack…” she muttered.

As Rumble and Scootaloo continued to laugh, and Button Mash shot them all death glares, Featherweight abruptly stood and stepped to the TV. “Let’s play Super CartKart,” he said brightly. “I think you’ll like this one better, Scootaloo.”

Button turned to glare at him now. “‘Art’art ith for babieth,” he spat, earning a fresh wave of giggles from Scootaloo.

“Yeah, well, guest’s choice,” returned Featherweight. “And the guest chooses CartKart.” He glanced over at Scootaloo and winked. “Right?”

Scootaloo glanced at Rumble uncertainly. He smiled grinned back at her. “It’s easy,” he said. You’ll pick it up in no time.”

Scootaloo turned to Button Mash with a smile and a shrug. “Sure,” she said, “Why not?”

Super CartKart proved easier for Scootaloo--with a little coaching, she was managing to keep up with them. Plus, it didn’t hurt that she’d managed to nail Button Mash with about four of those blue rockets, and hearing him try to swear with a burned tongue always made her laugh.

They had managed to work themselves up to the Ice and Lava tracks when Scootaloo suddenly began to squirm.

“Um…” she said, “...can I, um…”

All three of them looked up. She blushed a little, then leaned forward and whispered into Rumble’s ear. Rumble’s eyebrows shot up.

“Oh,” he said. “Um… bathroom’s the last door on the left, there.”

She nodded, then stood up and trotted out. Rumble watched her go, glanced at the other two, then tapped the “pause” button on his controller.

“Sorry guys,” he said, “I gotta go, too.” He stood up and walked into the hall, a chorus of groans following him.

Rumble waited just down the hall from the bathroom door, then looked up as it clicked open. Scootaloo exited the bathroom and walked down the hall--and didn’t notice Rumble until she almost ran into him. She jumped, then smiled at him.

“Hey.” Scootaloo said.

“You, uh… you having fun?” Rumble asked nervously.

“Mmhm.” Scootaloo nodded. “I think I’m actually getting the hang of that, uh...”

CartKart,” he prompted. She nodded in return.

“Told ya you would,” he said with a grin. “But uh, when you’re ready to go home…” he swallowed. “Just let me know, and we’ll head out.”

Scootaloo felt a warm little blush spread across her face for reasons she didn’t understand. . “I will,” she said with a warm smile, and, her tail gently swishing she trotted back into the room

Rumble watched her go, sighed to himself, then stepped into the bathroom himself.

By the time Rumble returned to Button’s room, Featherweight and Button Mash were bickering, Scootaloo watching with curiosity and amusement. Something about who would win in a fight: Pipsqueak, or Featherweight… or Diamond Tiara.

“Diamond would so kick your flank, dude.” Button said, smirking.

“Wha--First Pipsqueak, and now Diamond Tiara?” Featherweight whined.

“She is pretty stocky, dude.” Scootaloo noted.

Featherweight turned and glared at her. “Who asked you, you--you--you penguin?

Rumble stepped up behind Scootaloo, the look in his eye making the color drain from Featherweight’s face. “What did you just call her?”

Featherweight stammered. “I-- I-- Jus--”

“Ooh!” Button sang with a devious smile, “You just dissed his girl, Featherbrain! You’re dead!” He leapt to his hooves, then grabbed two pillows from off his bed, and tossed one to Rumble, the other to Featherweight. Rumble snatched his from the air with his teeth, then stepped toward Featherweight, who backed up a step.

Button stepped between them, his face a mask of utter solemnity..

“Alright boys,” he said gravely, “I want a good, clean fight. No cheap shots, no wussing out. Usual rules apply.” He winced a little. “And try not to break Mom’s vase this time. She almost killed me...” He hopped up onto his bed, and looked between the two combatants with an evil grin.

“Fight!” he roared.

Rumble charged forward, pillow hauled back and ready to swing. Featherweight danced out of the way--but Button leapt from the bed and tackled him. Button smirked and clambered to his hooves, just as Rumble charged at him again.

With his command, Rumble ran at an fleet-footed Featherweight who managed to avoid his pursuant swings. Rumble had a clear shot as Featherweight found himself cornered, but before he could make a critical strike, he was blindsided by a briefly airborne Button who rolled over him, scrambling to his hooves just as Rumble charged him.

Featherweight stood and smiled, and reared back to swing--but Scootaloo swung at him first, with a pillow she’d rescued from the couches in the living room. The pillow connected, hard, and sent the off-balance Featherweight tumbling to the floor. He leapt up again, eyes glittering, and advanced towards her, as Scootaloo, giggling aloud, jumped up on the bed again. Featherweight grinned and spread his wings--but Rumble combat-rolled backwards into him, just as Button Mash, already halfway through his leap, howled with dismay and slammed, face-first, into the floor, making the games on his shelf jump.

Featherweight formed a wicked smile as he crept behind Rumble and was ready to clobber the colt, had it not been for an orange filly who nailed him from the side, and sent him tumbling. Undeterred, he came towards Scootaloo, who hopped onto the bed, doing a taunting dance as her opponent prepared to get on the bed as well. He was cut short but Rumble falling back onto him in a errant summersault, as Button face planted the floor, horribly missing his target with a ill-timed leap.

Scootaloo giggled and dashed out of the room--followed immediately by Featherweight, who smacked her three or four times with his pillow as they ran toward the living room. Button’s mom sighed and rolled her eyes as the other two emerged from the room and dashed after them as well, Button even vaulting over the arm of the couch on his way to the battle.

No one was entirely certain whose pillow it was that split first--but, as the four of them laughed and screamed, the air filled with whiffs and thuds, there was a mighty rrrrip--and, suddenly, the living room was full of downy feathers, falling like snow. Button stared up at them in mingled awe and horror--and Featherweight, seeing an opening, tackled him to the floor and let him have it. Rumble watched, smirking--until Scootaloo’s pillow smacked him across the face. He gaped at her, just long enough for him to smack him again, then he grinned and started swinging himself, Scootaloo squealing in joy and fear, until she tripped over Featherweight, bringing both of them to the floor.

Rumble giggled, then dropped down into the feathers himself, then rolled onto his back. The four of them lay there, chests heaving, as the feathers continued to fall on and around them. Finally, Rumble looked over at Button and grinned.

“Movie night?” he said.

Rumble nodded. “Movie night.”

Button took a small videocassette, and inserted it into the slot on the side of his TV. Soon enough, after an anti-piracy slide from the Canterlot Bureau of Investigation, a slightly dated movie began as the foursome gathered around the TV, the same spots as before. A bowl of popcorn placed before them by a quiet mare who was out just as quickly as she had entered.

It was an action flick starring a gritty ember-maned stallion who patrolled the rough ghettos of Manehattan, fending off the crooked and cracked with comical ease. Between the poorly timed sound effects, and the clearly fake “fights”, it should’ve been an instant pass, or at least the victim of mockery from these taxed foals who watched. Instead, it was infatuating. Something about the MC’s ‘bad dude’ persona and his politically incorrect one-liners was more than enough to vindicate the flick.

Scootaloo was sucked in as they were. Her eyes growing ever heavier as the movie dragged on.

About an hour in, and suddenly, the movie’s setting was in space, and the same rough and tumble bad dude was now karate-chopping and judo-flipping paper-mache changelings and dragons to the tune of some bottom-barrel disco funk. Finally, our hero was standing amidst a pile of defeated dragons, enclosed in a wall of fire. The same disco funk trunk serving as the backdrop to his monologue about virtue, patriotism, and how naughty illicit street drugs were.

Rumble looked down to see that all that was left of the popcorn was a few unpopped kernels, with the wrapper of a luna bar or two tossed in for good measure. He sighed--then noticed a weight on his shoulder. Featherweight giggled, and Rumble turned to see what it was--Scootaloo’s head, resting peacefully on his shoulder, her mouth open and slightly drooling She looked completely at peace, and totally comfortable with the idea of spending the entire night like this.

Rumble swallowed--if he was perfectly honest, he was, too. But as much as he wanted this to last, the sun was setting beyond the emerald hills, and the moon was already on the rise. It was probably about time to take her home.

Button Mash looked over at the two of them, smirked wickedly, and opened his mouth--but, as he did, his gaze softened, a bit, and he turned back to the TV just in time to watch a pony take a karate chop to the face. For a while, no one spoke.

“I think she really likes you, dude,” Button said quietly.

Rumble looked up. “You think so?” he asked, a hopeful note in his voice.

“Totally.” Featherweight said with a nod.

“Fillies are weird,” Button added, “But she spent all afternoon with you, playing games she sucked at—”

“Mostly,” Featherweight interjected.

Button nodded. “Mostly,” he repeated. “But she stuck around. Probably be because you’re here. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.” He watched the TV for another moment, then scoffed. “Besides,” he said, “she’s sleeping on your shoulder, when there’s a perfectly good couch right there--and we all know how bony you are, so she must like something about you.”

Hey,” Rumble said with a faint whine. Featherweight snickered.

Rumble turned back to the television, but just for a moment--all too soon, his eyes were drawn back to her. He smiled as he watched her simply breathe, watched the faint little smile on her peaceful face, watched her gorgeous mane shift a little, as her chest rose and fell, watched her cutie mark, in beautiful contrast to her coat, as she kicked a little in her sleep. He wanted to watch her like this all night--but he knew, too, that it was time to go home.

He shrugged his shoulders a few times, and Scootaloo slowly stirred half-awake. With guidance from him, and a little help from featherweight, Scootaloo climbed up onto Rumble’s back, straddling him with her hind legs, and wrapped her forehooves around his neck. He stood and walked for the front door, followed closely by his two friends.

“You’re coming back, right?” Button asked. “My dad wants to make us a killer scramble for breakfast.”

“Yeah.” Rumble smiled. “Just gotta take her home first. It’ll be quick.”

“You know…” Button blushed slightly, a rare sight. “You, uh… you can bring her by again, if you want. She’s cool. F-for a filly,” he added quickly.

“Tell me something I don’t know, man.” Rumble, said with a playful wink. “Maybe I can have her bring her little unicorn friend, too.”

Button’s mouth dropped open, and he blushed harder. Rumble snickered.

Button’s mom met them by the front door. “Going home?” she asked.

She is.” Rumble said, looking back at the sleeping Scootaloo. “I’ll be back, though.”

“Alright. Well, she is more than welcome back anytime.” Button’s mom smiled as she opened the door for the him. “It sounds like she got along with the boys pretty well.”

“Yeah, she did. I think she had fun,” Rumble said brightly.

“Wonderful.” she replied with a smile. “See you in a bit, Rumble.”

With that, Rumble stepped outside, and began the slow trot down the main drag towards Scootaloo’s house. The light of the moon and his memory of this afternoon made it easy to find her house--almost dark, save for a little light shining in one of the windows.

Scootaloo stirred awake. She looked up at her darkened ceiling, listened to the distant singing of frogs, and squeezed her eyes shut. She groaned softly and rolled back over again.

She wasn’t entirely sure how she had made it to her bed. Last she remembered, she was dozing off to some campy action flick from before she was born. Last she remembered, she was having an amazing time in the company of fun-loving, feisty, and flamboyant colts.

And best of all, she was in the company of her colt. Rumble. Surely he had something to do with her mysterious journey home-- It was obviously late--too late to ask Mrs. Harbour what had happened.

She wanted so much to thank Rumble and the other colts-- for a great time. Between the video games, the snacks, the pillow fight, the laughter and the lighthearted jabs and jest, it was the most fun she had had in a long time. Not only that though, but she learned something about colts--something she would’ve said was impossible in her safe circle of filly friends:

Colts were just like them. They were rough and rowdy, sure, but at the end of the day, the friendship that defined her bond with the crusaders was the same one that string those three colts together.

Colts were cool.

Rumble was cool.

Naw, scratch that. Rumble was awesome.

She had once called someone else awesome--a blue pegasus, who she once thought she admired--though she had given up that title. It was only right that Rumble now claim the title. Still, she felt a little guilty; the score now say Rumble two, Scootaloo zero. Not only had he whisked her away from the pain and disappointment of her trip to Cloudsdale, but he followed it up by bringing her along to a an afternoon with his best pals, which turned out to be a truly wonderful time.

She grinned to herself. She was definitely showing him the clubhouse tomorrow.

9. Defense

View Online

Without warning, the alarm clock screeched loud enough to wake the dead. Rainbow Dash’s hoof shot out and smacked it hard enough to send it flying--but the sudden silence was a relief. Rainbow sat up in bed, put her head in her hooves, and groaned.

As she rubbed her pounding head, she heard the voices again:

I’d hate to see the damage you would do as a mother...

…why weren’t you there for me?...

Element of Loyalty, my ass

She looked up and stared at the darkened wall in front of her. The morning after a day-long conference, not to mention a late-night flight home--or all those drinks--was never fun.. At least she’d been able to work off a little stress with Soarin’, up in that private booth of his....

It didn’t help that she’d spent half the night looking for Scootaloo: hours of questioning staff and searching the nearby side-streets had turned up nothing but false leads. As near as she could figure, Scootaloo had left the Cloudiseum just before the show started, and had last been seen in the company of a colt --a colt who, judging by the description, could be Thunderlane’s little brother (Rum Punch? Gin Rummy? Rainbow groaned again; seemed she still had alcohol on the brain, in both a literal and a figurative sense). Word was that the colt had flown her… well, somewhere. Back home, hopefully.

But, even if that were true, it was still some cold comfort: Rainbow mucked up again. Third time’s the charm; this time, she had to face the music--and she had a feeling she knew the tempo it would take. There was a filly out there who probably hated her by now, and a colt--her assistant’s little brother, no less--who would no doubt be itching to give her what for and how come.

And that wasn’t even counting Scootaloo’s other friends, or the other Elements--or their sisters, too....

Today was going to be a long day--and she had nopony to blame but herself.

Rainbow sat in silence for a long while before looking up--and spitting a sudden curse. Pinned to the wall next to her door was her calendar, with today’s date circled in red. Her day was just about to get even longer.

The royal delegation--Princesses Celestia and Cadance, along with Shining Armor--had arrived today. That meant that Twilight, as always, had scheduled a nice and early “Eleventh Hour Preparation Assembly”. She had less than an hour to be at the castle--but she guessed it would be at least three until she didn’t feel like dying. Thank Celestia she’d forgotten to turn off her alarm clock, at least.

And then came the knocking.

It was soft and quiet, but, in her current state, it felt like a sledgehammer in her skull. She groaned once more. There was only one pony she knew who would knock like that--


She rolled out of bed and stumbled to her bedroom door. She was here to pick her up, probably--and she’d come early to tear her a new one. She was tricky, that Fluttershy--she seemed all cute and soft, but, cross her, and the claws came out.

And, given her thing with Scootaloo recently, she had crossed her--big time.

As she plodded down the hall, she was sure what Fluttershy was going to say. “You owe it to her to be a good role model,” Rainbow mimicked sourly. “And it’s just what any friend would do. Um, if that’s okay with you,” she added, with a vicious kick at the hatstand in the front hall. She missed.

Rainbow put her hoof on the front doorknob, and sighed heavily. Would she hit her with the disappointed look first? Or would she lead off with her angry eyes?

She swallowed hard, closed her eyes, and pulled the door open.

“Hi, Rainbow,” Fluttershy said brightly. Suddenly, she grimaced. “I--I didn’t wake you, did I?”

Rainbow stared. Neither, apparently. “No,” she said, stepping aside to let her in. “Perfect timing, though. Just got up myse-e-elf,” she finished with a yawn.

“I just wanted to make sure you remembered Twilight’s meeting today,” Fluttershy said with a weak grin. “You know how she is…”

Rainbow’s mouth slowly fell open. She hadn’t said anything about Scootaloo yet… did that mean… maybe, she didn’t know?

Rainbow shook her head abruptly, then walked towards the kitchen, beckoning for Fluttershy to follow.

“Yeah, I do,” she said as she found the coffee maker. The pot was still half-full from yesterday. Rainbow grabbed it, then downed it cold, sending a shudder through her body. She reached into the cupboard for the fresh grounds and some filters. “You want any?” she said back over her shoulder to Fluttershy.

“No thanks,” she said. “But yeah--today is the big day, I’m kind of nervous.”

Rainbow set the filter in the machine, then loaded it up with two heaping scoops of grounds. “What about?” she asked.

“Oh you know,” Fluttershy fidgeted, “These royal events are also so hectic and… stressful. I just hope everything goes well.”

Rainbow shot her a sidelong look. She really doesn’t know….

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much, Shy,” she said aloud, walking to the sink with the empty pot. She swished some water into it, then filled it halfway and brought it back to the machine. “Twilight’s got it all figured out, I’m sure. We’re just there to look good.”

“I suppose so,” she said. “We uh--we should probably get going soon,” she added, warily eyeing the slowly-filling coffee pot. “I saw Rarity and the girls already on their way.”

Rainbow grimaced. Wonderful…

Without warning, the alarm clock began to chime, the bells on top ringing brightly. Scootaloo swatted it with her hoof, silencing it, then sat up and smiled. She rolled out of bed and onto her hooves, shook herself, and grinned; her memories of the night before flooding back.

That had been the most fun she’d had in a long time--and she’d get to see them again at school. Today was going to be a good day.

One plus about waking up this early was that the daycare hadn’t opened yet, which meant she was able to get relative peace and quiet with her foster-mother before a busy day. While Mrs. Harbour gingerly sipped her morning tea, Scootaloo nibbled at a couple blueberry muffins, fresh from the oven, a glass of orange juice at her elbow.

“I heard you had a lot of fun last night, ” Mrs. Harbour said with a smile.

Scootaloo blushed. “Yeah, they were really cool,” she said, looking down. Scootaloo danced a hoof along the tablecloth, “We played video games; watched a movie. A-and there was some candy, too” An embarrassed grin on her face.

Mrs. Harbour chuckled lightly, “Nothing wrong with a little indulgence every now and then, dear.”

Scootaloo looked up at her. “You’re not mad?”

“Mad?” she chuckled. “Why in Celestia’s sky would I be mad?”

Scootaloo shuffled nervously, “I dunno. You’ve always said ‘Candy is bad for you, Scootaloo.’, You always discourage me from buying it.”

“Well, that’s just me keeping your health in mind, dear heart” Harbour stated, “I never said you couldn’t ever have sugar--I simply wanted to steer you towards healthy choices. Up to you in the end, though.” She sipped her tea. ”I got to meet your coltfriend, by the way,” she added.

Scootaloo looked up at her, eyes wide, and tilted her head slightly.

Mrs. Harbour chuckled a little. “He seems like a sweet boy,” she said, with that smile of hers never wavering. “Took you all the way to your bed. We chatted for a little afterwards.” Her smile broadened a little. “I’d say he’s a keeper, especially after what he did for you the night before.”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo admitted. “I really like him, but I still don’t know if he, you know, likes me…”

“Oh sweetheart,” Mrs. Harbour said, putting her hoof on Scootaloo’s, “there’s no doubt in my mind that he likes you. No colt is going to take care of a filly the way he has you, not without at least a little fondness. Just let him open up in his own way. It might take time, which is nice: gives you time to build a friendship. More important than you might think.” She nodded to herself. “Loving somepony is grand,” she said, after a pause, “but being their honest-to-goodness friend makes it all the more special.”

Scootaloo frowned down at the half-eaten muffin left on her empty plate. “I guess that makes sense,” she admitted.

Mrs. Harbour, stood, then took what was left of her plate and glass, “Would you like something else?” she asked.”Oatmeal, maybe?”

“Naw, I think I’d better get going,” she said, shaking her head. She hopped from her seat, and grabbed her saddlebag near the doorway.

“Alright, have fun!” Mrs. Harbour called after her. “Try to be home before supper, alright?”

“I will. Love you!” chirped Scootaloo, returning a wave as she walked out the door, and towards the main thoroughfare. Her mind was set on school, which meant two things: her best friends, and Rumble.

Scootaloo took her sweet time, moseying her way to school while just taking the time to enjoy the mid-morning scenery. Courier carts, pulled by trotting stallions, full of almost anything you could imagine; ponies sitting on porches and in cafes, with tea and coffee and cocoa, just chatting about their day; little foals, chasing each other in circles down the street, like they hadn’t a care in the world. It was a typical scene that Scootaloo hadn’t taken the time to enjoy for some time now, and it only added to her bright mood, and light pace. Scootaloo took a deep breath: Today was going to be a good day.

As she crested the low hill before the school, her friends and acquaintances standing about in loose knots, waiting in front of the little schoolhouse, came into view. She smiled; there was Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom, chatting about some Countess Coloratura song, and, over there, Rumble, Button Mash, and a third colt she knew only by sight had their heads together, talking intently about something--probably some video game. Scootaloo smiled brightly and walked right in the middle of the group, just enjoying the company of her friends as they all waited together for Miss Cheerilee to call them inside.

Applebloom stood on tip-hoof and looked over Sweetie’s head at her, then smiled brightly. “Hey Scootaloo!” she called, Sweetie Belle turning and waving. Scootaloo returned the grin, then trotted towards the two.

“Hey girls,” Scootaloo said, giving them each a quick side-hug.

“So?” Sweetie Belle grinned, “How was your… sleepover?

Scootaloo couldn’t help but smirk at her fascination, “It was fun. We played video games, and just hung out.” She nudged her. “You should totally come next time!”

“...maybe,” Sweetie murmured, looking down and blushing the slightest bit. “Might be fun…”

“Aw, do it,” Apple Bloom said, nudging her as well. “Colts don’t bite… I don’t think,” she added with a smirk.

Sweetie blushed a little harder, and Scootaloo laughed.

Apple Bloom grinned, then looked over at Scootaloo. “Speakin of bitin’, you ready for that test today?”

Scootaloo’s smile faded fast. “Test?”

“Mmhm.” Sweetie Belle nodded, “The one Miss Cheerilee told us about yesterday.”

“Uh…” Scootaloo’s mind raced backward to the yesterday--but all she could remember was staring at the back of Rumble’s head.

Apple Bloom’s face fell--the look on Scootaloo’s face was enough answer for her.

“I’m sure you’ll do fine, Scootaloo,” Sweetie Belle interjected nervously. “It’s just basic history and vocabulary--nothing major.”

Scootaloo hung her head. She was not looking forward to the test. Mrs. Harbour wouldn’t ride her too hard for a bad grade, of course--especially not in history--but it always stung her pride a bit when she didn’t do well (not enough to actually, y’know, sit down and study, but it still hurt).

She shook her head gently. No. Today was going to be a good day. She wasn’t going to let some test bring her down...

As she stared at the grass at her hooves, she felt Applebloom straighten up. “Heya,” she called, a strange note of almost-excitement in her voice. Scootaloo looked up--and saw Rumble and Button Mash walking them.

“Scootaloo!” Rumble trotted straight to her, his face devoid of any of the trepidation and reserve of the past.

Scootaloo found herself smiling, too. “Hey Rumble!” she said, beaming.

Rumble came to a stop, then hesitated. “So I was wondering,” he said, scratching his head, “i-if maybe you wanted to hang out after school again, or something. Button Mash is headed to Manehatten for some tournament thing, and the rest of the guys all have stuff going on, so I figured, you know…”

Scootaloo heard whispered ooohs behind her, and rolled her eyes. Nevertheless, she grinned.

“Yeah, we should,” she said. “My treat this time.”

“You do kinda owe me one, huh?” Rumble said with a wink.

Scootaloo loved that playfulness of his. “Yeah, yeah,” she muttered--but still shot him a smile.

Scootaloo turned to Button Mash, who flinched a little, “Thanks for having me over last night, dude,” she said. “I had a lot of fun--and,” she added, her eyes twinkling, “I invited Sweetie Belle over for next time.” A wry glance to the petrified filly made her snicker.

“Oh yeah,” Rumble said, waggling his eyebrows, “Button Mash would like that, wouldn’t he?”

“Ye--n-no—-” Button Mash stammered, then sighed. “Wasn’t there something else you wanted to talk to her about?” he growled at Rumble.

“We—” Rumble’s eyes went wide, then glanced nervously around the small group. “N-not right now.”

“Huh?” Scootaloo tilted her head, “What is it?”

“Go on, Rumble,” Button Mash added, nudging him pointedly. “What did you want to talk to her about?”

Rumble found his tongue tied. “It’s… it’s something I’d like to talk to you about in private… later.”

A slow smile spread across Scootaloo’s face. “Sure,” she said with a nod. “Later.”

“Later,” Rumble repeated, frowning.“I mean, we got that stupid test today, and we totally forgot about it!”

“Yeah.” Button Mash frowned as well. “We’re screwed. Well, I’m screwed. Mom and Dad ground me if I get bad grades.”

“You think that’s bad?” Rumble scoffed, “My brother puts me on deputy weather patrols during the weekends. Do you know how boring that is for a colt who isn’t even a Class 2 Climate Cadet?”

Scootaloo raised an eyebrow. “Climate Cadet?”

“Yeah,” Rumble sighed. “It’s what you are before you can join the Junior Weather Division in high school. Basically, there’s three levels, and you gotta do your time to advance. I… don’t really like doing it... so I’m an eleven year-old Level 1.” He looked down and sighed. “Not that great.”

“Oh.” Scootaloo looked away briefly, unsure of what to say. She felt like she should know more about this sort of thing--after all, she spent plenty of time around the local Weather Captain,who had to have done the same thing herself.

Rumble watched her for a moment, then shrugged. “Eh, whatever,” he said. “Not like I care, anyway. I don’t wanna work on the SCWD, I want to do stunts and stuff when I grow up.”

“Like the Wonderbolts?” Button asked.

“Sorta.” Rumble nodded.

Suddenly, the bell rang, and all the foals looked up, dismayed.

“Time for class my little ponies!” Cheerilee called in her usual glowing voice, as the foals turned to plod inside.

Twilight for the most part, took her duties pretty damn seriously. And that was without having submitted a less-than-impressive Friendship Report to Celestia. So, now, she was extra-determined to make up for her gaffe.

Even if it meant casting a spell which forced the Cutie Map to summon her friends at an ungodly hour. None of the five that sat around the table seemed impressed by her dedication..

“I appreciate you all coming,” Twilight began, a journal floating in her aura, “As you well know, my brother, sister in-law, and niece will be arriving, and Princesses Luna and Celestia shortly thereafter. I need to ensure that all of our preparations are final, and that everypony know their roles.”

“The gowns and decoration are all finished and ready for display,” Rarity yawned.

“Mrs. Cake finished the last of the deserts for the banquet last night” Pinkie Pie added.

“Me ‘an Mac got the stage all fixed up, and ready for Rarity’s decoratin’.” Applejack said with a nod.

“My crew got the skies all cleared up for their arrival yesterday afternoon.” Rainbow muttered

“...and I recruited some birds for the musical accomaniment,” added Fluttershy.

“Splendid!” Twilight clapped her hooves, “Now we just need…” she looked around the table, then frowned. ”...where are the girls?” she asked.

Rarity and Applejack glanced at each other. “School,” Applejack said, carefully. “Where they always are on Friday mornings.”

Twilight pressed her lips into a thin line. “Did either of you check with Miss Cheerilee on the progress of the school play? That’s a big part of the program?”

Both mares suddenly became very quiet.

“Well…” Applejack said slowly, “I reckon I told Apple Bloom to talk to Miss Cheerilee about it…I can’t remember if she said anythin’.”

Twilight groaned, then spread her wings, then flew across the chamber until she hovered inches from Rarity’s face. “Tell me you havesomething, she pleaded.

“Well, you see, dear…” Rarity murmured, “I was so busy with the gowns, I failed to check with Sweetie about it…”

Twilight groaned and clapped a hoof to her forehead. “Great. How do we know they aren’t totally unprepared?”

“I’m sure it will be fine, dear.” Rarity tried her best to give her a reassuring smile. “Cheerilee and her students are a creative bunch. I’m certain, once we tell them--”

“They don’t know?she snapped, turning and drifting back towards her throne. “Wh-- how could you forget about this? That was the one thing I asked the girls to do!”

Twilight landed and began to pace. Five sets of eyes watched her uneasily.

“Is it really that big a deal, sugarcube?” Applejack asked gently. “I mean, it ain’t the end of tha world if the younguns don’t do their play…”

“It is absolutely essential that everything goes as planned,” Twilight snapped.“This itinerary is set in stone, and has been for a month-and-a-half. And we need it all to work perfectly, because just one kink in the chain can send the whole thing crashing down!

“Alright, alright, simmer down.” Applejack said, standing. “We’ll go talk to Cheerilee, ‘an get this all sorted out. You just make sure everything else works out, and we’ll get this taken care of for ya.”

Applejack turned and walked from the room, followed closely by Rarity. However, Rarity paused on the threshold, then turned and looked back over her shoulder.

“You too, Rainbow,” she said.

“Wh-huh?” Rainbow yelped, jerking her head up. “Why do I have to go?”

Rarity flipped her mane in slight irritation. “Everypony’s got something to do, Darling--except for you. No use just sitting around. “ She turned and trotted away. “Plus,” she added, “you and she are on good terms again, are you not?”

Rainbow felt the weight of every gaze in the room as, slowly, she stood, then followed Rarity out. Right… she shivered to herself, Good terms…

The knot in her stomach did not loosen as they walked out into the morning air. So far, they had no idea of the mess she was in--and it was already too late to say anything--

“By the way,” Rarity said suddenly, “how was the show with Scootaloo?”

“Wonderful.” Rainbow replied before she could stop herself. “She… had fun,” she finished lamely.

“Man, them Wonderbolts sure are somethin’, ain’t they?” Applejack said, smiling. “I bet she got a real kick out of all of it.”

“Yep…” Rainbow said, trying to hide her grimace, “she sure did…”

“I know Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom were a little envious.” Rarity said. “It was very sweet thing of you to do, Rainbow.”

“And that’s all she wants, ya know,” Applejack added. “A big sister that’ll go out of her way ta spend some good, old-fashioned quality time with her.”

Rainbow Dash felt ill. She wanted to say something, but she couldn’t--not with them praising her for how she treated Scootaloo.

Her nausea only increased when the roof of the little red schoolhouse came into view--and then, she actually felt like she was going to vomit.

It was lunchtime.

As nervous as she had been, Scootaloo found herself oddly relaxed during the test. It was mostly multiple choice, and the written portions wore on topics they had gone over well before. She felt kind of silly getting so worked up over what turned out to be pretty basic stuff.

Now, it was recess, and, with that weight off her shoulders, that meant it was time to relax with her friends—

No, she reminded herself. No it wasn’t. She still had to talk to Rumble about something.

She still had no idea what that something was, and no ideas presented themselves as she ate her lunch at her usual table. Every so often, she glanced over towards the table on the far end of the playground where Rumble, Button Mash, and company sat; Rumble looked fine, chatting, smiling, and laughing with his pals.

I wonder if he’ll tell me he loves me… She grinned a little. Maybe he’ll kiss me! She felt a blush spread across her cheeks as her imagination painted the scene—

And then, someone burst her bubble.

“Bet’cha can’t wait ta have yer little chat with Rumble, huh?” Apple Bloom said, elbowing her.

Scootaloo’s eyes went wide, and she nearly choked on her sandwich. She looked up at Applebloom with wide eyes, then swallowed and tried to regain her composure.

“I guess,” she said, with a faint shrug..

“You aren’t just a teensy bit nervous?” Sweetie Belle inquired, with a grin.

“Why would I be nervous?” Scootaloo looked over at her, genuinely perplexed. “We’re totally cool. It’s not like it’s gonna be anything bad.”

“Maybe he’s going to profess his love!” Sweetie Belle smiled a little wider, then got up from her seat and struck a dramatic pose. “He’ll say, ‘Scootaloo, oh beautiful Scootaloo, my heart, it yearns for only one; and it is you!’”

Scootaloo frowned.. “Uh...No,” she said slowly. “No, he—that’s not how he talks.”

“Yeah, drama queen.” Apple Bloom added, rolling her eyes. “Life ain’t a fancy Canterlot play.”

“Whatever,” Sweetie Belle said, pouting. “I was just trying to be optimistic!”

It was Scootaloo’s turn to smirk. “If you want something to be optimistic about, why don’t you talk to Button Mash?”

Sweetie Belle froze. “W-why would I do that?”

“Well, you seem to know the things to say, don’t you?” Scootaloo said, leaning forward eagerly. “He’s really nice--it’ll be a piece of cake!”

“Speakin’ a cake…” Apple Bloom looked back over her shoulder, towards the schoolhouse. “I can’t wait fer the ceremony tonight!”

Scootaloo tiled her head. “Ceremony?”

“Ya don’t remember?” Apple Bloom gasped, “The welcomin’ party fer th' Princesses! Why, there’s gonna be dancin’, fancy food, and we get ta…”

Apple Bloom’s expression froze as a horrible realization dawned on her.

“Uh… did any of you girls, by chance, tell Miss Cheerilee we was supposed to do a play?”

The other two stared back at her, their eyes widening.

“Aw… fiddlesticks,” Applebloom muttered. “We gotta tell Cheerilee!”

Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle sprang from their seats and bolted into the schoolhouse. Scootaloo, however, calmly put down her empty sandwich bag, then stood, and meandered over to a colt who wanted to speak with her. No time like the present, after all.

Button Mash was the first to see her. He looked up and smiled. “Hiya, Scuttlebucket!” he called.

“Hey nerd.” Scootaloo shot back, earning a giggle from from the other colts.

Button Mash rolled his eyes, then leaned forward. “Your coltfriend here wants to have a…” he cleared his throat. “a word with you alone.” Button Mash tried his best to put on a sultry, sexy voice.

Rumble rolled his eyes, slugged him gently on the shoulder, then stood. “Come on,” he muttered, “let’s get out of here.” He led Scootaloo towards an unpopulated corner of the playground, well out of earshot.

The two of them walked to a bench in the far corner of the playground, and sat. Scootaloo swallowed nervously, and looked over at Rumble. He did not look at her.

Scootaloo sighed. “So… what’s up?” she asked.

“Well…” Rumble began, his voice subdued. He hesitated, then looked away. “I was just wondering how you were doing.”

Scootaloo sported a quizzical look. “I’m… fine?” she said uncertainly.

The two of them were quiet for a while. Scootaloo started swinging her legs back and forth nervously.

“It’s just…” He began suddenly, then hesitated. “It’s messed up what she did to you,” he continued. “Nopony deserves to be treated like that.”

She stared blankly at him for a moment, then frowned. “Yeah,” she sighed, “but, I mean… it’s okay Rumble, that’s jus--”

“No it isn’t.” Rumble cut in suddenly. “If my brother did to me what she did to you…” The colt shook his head, “He wouldn’t be my brother anymore.”

Scootaloo’s eyes widened. “Rumble…”

“You just don’t do that, y’know?” he continued, his voice growing harsher. “You don’t leave family or-or friends, hanging like that. It’s--it’s wrong!

Scootaloo stared at him, as he began to tremble with suppressed rage. She was… well, to be truthful, she was a little flattered. She had not seen anyone care for her so much as he did just then.

And yet, if she was honest with herself, she was also frightened. More than a little.

She licked her lips. “Hey,” she said hesitantly, “Y-you don’t have to--to--”

Scootaloo stammered to a stop as she stared at Rumble. Suddenly, he was sitting very still, his ears standing up straight, eyes staring straight ahead.

“Rumble,” she said quietly, “are you okay?”

As she watched, his upper lip twitched into a snarl. Scootaloo swallowed and turned to follow his gaze, and saw several ponies filing out of the school house: Applejack, Rarity, some of her friends--and, hovering above them--

“The high queen bitch herself,” Rumble spat.

--Rainbow Dash.

She looked tired and sore, perhaps even barely conscious--and a little relieved. Not reproachful, or sad, or angry--relieved.

Rumble took a step forward, fire in his eyes--and, suddenly, almost without thinking, Scootaloo lunged after him. “No,” she hissed into his ear. “Let her be--she’s not worth the effort.”

Not worth the effort?” he repeated acidly. “She abandoned you--in Cloudsdale! You can’t just trot home from there, can you?”

His chest was heaving, and tears were starting to gather in his eyes. Scootaloo swallowed. “Rumble,” she said, “stop it, please. Y-you’re scaring me.”

He turned to stare at her, his breath now coming in short, sharp snorts of rage. “Scootaloo,” he snarled. “You have never had someone stand up for you, not once in your life.” He turned away from her and spread his wings. “That changes now.”

With a surge of his wings, Rumble lifted off and soared into Rainbow’s face. “You got some goddamn nerve coming here, Rainbow Dash,” he growled.

A gasp went up from foals and mares alike as Rainbow Dash looked up at him. “Excuse me?” she snapped.

“Oh, so we’re playing dumb now, are we?” Rumble inched closer, his eyes glistening. “You think that what you did to Scootaloo will just go away , like some bad dream? Well it won’t,” he barked. “Some of us get stuck living the nightmare.”

Applejack swallowed. “Rainbow Dash,” she said carefully, “What’s he talkin’ ‘bout?”

“I don’t know,” she lied, “He’s just gone off his meds or--”

Liar!” Rumble roared. “You took Scootaloo up to Clousdsale, then disappeared! You abandoned her, after you promised to take care of her! You promised!” he screamed into her face. “You promised!”

Rainbow Dash drew herself up to her full height. “Last I checked,” she said icily, “your brother still had a job. You want that to change?”

“Fuck you!” he spat, jabbing her in the chest with his hoof. “Don’t hide behind your title! You’re the Element of fucking Loyalty, and you can’t even keep a promise to a little filly for fifteen minutes!” He leaned closer to her. “What do you and Soarin’ do together, anyways?” he asked. “Whatever it is, it’s awful important to you--after all, you do it so much…”

Rainbow snarled. “Why, you little piece of shit,” she hissed. “I oughtta--”

She froze as something broke inside Rumble. He looked away, and a tear rolled down his cheek. “You’re no hero, Rainbow Dash,” he moaned. “You’re not a Wonderbolt. You’re not even a friend.”

Rainbow sucked in a breath, then glared from Rumble, to her friends on the ground, then to the other ponies standing around, rage on her face and steel in her eyes. She did not look at Scootaloo.

She opened her mouth to speak--

“Go home, Rainbow,” Rumble said quietly. “Go crawl back into whatever hole you came from. No one wants you here anymore.”

Rainbow closed her mouth, glared at him--and then, wordlessly, turned and flew away.

Rumble didn’t dare look at Scootaloo. He glanced around and swallowed nervously. He wasn’t stupid; he had really put his hoof into it this time. Cheerilee watched him a look he knew all too well.. Rarity had a hoof over her mouth, and Applejack looked both confused and angry. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle stared back at him in stark disbelief. After a moment, they turned and trot back into the schoolhouse.

And then, he heard a breath, close by his ear.

“Rumble…” Scootaloo’s voice was shaky and timid. “”

Then he felt it. No way it could’ve been mistaken for anything other than what it was--

Her lips met his cheek, and lingered there for the briefest moment. She stared deep into his eyes--then turned and ran, back towards the schoolhouse, her tail brushing his shoulder as she passed him.

He stared at the empty schoolhouse door, feeling a blush spread across his cheeks, not noticing as Miss Cheerilee stepped up beside him. “Rumble,” she said carefully, “it sounds like you’ve had a hard day today.” She hesitated. “Why don’t you go home?”

Rumble swallowed. It was not a request.

He turned and, slowly, trotted out of the schoolyard. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he was going to get it. He’d yelled at a grown-up, called her all kinds of mean names, and said some naughty words in front of the other foals. This was going to be a letter home to Thunderlane, at least… maybe even to his parents.

And yet, he was not afraid. He felt no fear or anxiousness.

Only pure, sweet satisfaction.

10. Despondence

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Rainbow Dash didn’t like being the center of attention--at least, not like this. Nor did she like retreating from a fight. And yet, here she was, starting up at her ceiling as she lay on her bed.

She knew she messed up, she didn’t need a livid little colt to scream the obvious right in her face. She certainly didn’t need to be scolded by a child to realize that her abandoning Scootaloo in favor of some irresponsible fun was nothing short of messed up.

She didn’t need it, but that’s exactly what she got.

“Really done it now, haven’t ya Dash?” Rainbow said bitterly. “Woulda been one thing if it had been one of the girls but… Rumble? Who does that little brat think he is, anyway?”

She flared her nostrils, as she angrily flipped her pillow to the cool, dry side.

“It’s not like anyone’s gonna believe me, anyway,” Rainbow continued. “I didn’t mean to forget about Scootaloo-- I spent hours looking for her!”

As much as she wanted quiet, the voices in her head would not allow it:

I’d hate to see the damage you would do as a mother...

You’re no hero, Rainbow Dash… You’re not even a friend…

Rainbow Dash pressed her hooves to her ears, as if somehow this would silence them.

Why weren’t you there for me?

Last I checked, Fluttershy didn’t let somepony down…

You promised!

“Shut up!” Rainbow pressed tighter, closing her eyes tight, “I’m not a bad pony. Shut up!”

I would be a good mother…. The best! That pint-size punk and that bookworm don’t know what they’re talking about….

Rainbow’s eyes shut one last time, a fresh crop of tears breaking free, rolling down her matted fur upon her tired body.

She was in high school again. Freshmen year at the Cloudsdale Junior Flight Academy. Only the best of the best made it through these doors; the photos of alumni that lined the halls practically doubled as a Wonderbolt museum.

Rainbow had done fairly well her first semester. By no means was she an A student, but she had a physical prowess, dedication, and determination to rise to the top of the heap. Even as a fourteen year-old, a scrawny little thing, she put the upperclassmen to shame… well, most of them anyway. She had friends, they’d practice routines and do mock Wonderbolts formations for fun. And, when the parents were gone, the party arrived, and so did the stallions.

So did the stallions…

Spitfire, a well-liked junior, one of the very few who could beat Rainbow in a race--barely--had invited her to a party. But not just any party, mind you, a “senior party”. This wasn’t just a loud stereo, some pizza, and pretty boys with shining smiles----this was a party for adults, where everyone played adult games, and said adult words, and passed around adult drinks. No fillies allowed.

Of course Rainbow Dash was going to go.

Spitfire’s house was more a mansion than anything, with it’s tall, imposing gates, colonial architecture, it was 34,000 square feet of filthy music, dirty dancing, and nasty stallions. She could hear all of the above as she rang the doorbell, flanked by a couple other students.

The foyer was packed, the music was thundering through the whole estate, with the melting pot of hoots, hollers, and heckling adding even more clatter to the commotion. All sorts of upperclassmen were there: the popular seniors, children of Wonderbolts, flaunting their designer saddlebags and bling; even some teachers from the academy--though less interested in the music and sundry, and more in the cigarettes and booze.

“Well, look who decided to show up?” It was Spitfire. Dash was now encircled by a gang of fillies and…

A drink was handed to her, a small shot glass, filled about ¾ full. The concoction seemed to be a brilliant orange-ish pink. It fizzled, it smelled like cherries. Without thinking, she shotgunned the tonic, sent the glass crashing to the ground, and reciprocated way too many hoof bumps and pats on the back to count.

There was some ping pong; water polo; musical chairs involving funnel clouds…

And then, things began to blend and blur. There was a stallion… That’s all she could really remember, a silhouette--a tall, handsome, goddamn sexy silhouette. She remembered she kissed this silhouette… more than once… They danced, too, lot’s of dirty dancing.

...the lights dim around the silhouette, the memory of the duvet… dirty talk, dirtier touching…

...they were alone. They could make out, make noise….make promises….

Saved by the bell. Or more appropriately, startled half to death by it.

She jerked awake as the clock in the hall chimed. The ghostly kaleidoscopes of fragmented memories wisped away, like the smoke… he had reeked of it. Ten years later, and she could still smell it. She’d curse him if she could remember his name.

Rainbow retched as she rubbed her eyes. The clock that had torn her from her recollection read one in the afternoon. She had conked out for two hours. Her headache had evolved into a migraine; where she wasn’t light-headed, she was hurting. With her heavy head and fluttery stomach, even the dim lighting of her kitchen came close to blinding her was she struggled towards the pills, then the sink, her shaking hooves barely able to grasp the faucet.

The pills washed it down like the drink from a decade before, Rainbow stumbled back to her bed, the cool side of the pillow shoved against her throbbing skull.

Fuck. Rainbow Dash spat, I hate this. I hate all of this….


This birthday morning had been three straight hours of cramping, crying, and hunching over the toilet.

The last thing she wanted to think about was the shitty foal partying it up--the foal making her into a sorry mess. Rainbow hadn’t hung out with her usual posse in weeks; she had practically been a recluse for the last two. She had told everyone to leave her alone, to go away, and to mind their own damn business.

Fluttershy didn’t listen. She never listened.

This was the worst damn birthday Rainbow had ever had. When you turn fifteen, you’re supposed to get crap like dresses and shoes, not morning sickness.

But Flutters was here. And she’d bought a present: A big box, wrapped in old funny papers. She could tell right away it wasn’t a Wonderbolts poster or a dozen cupcakes, like she usually got from Fluttershy. She had no idea what it was--and, given the circumstances, she wasn’t sure she cared.

Fluttershy sat across from Rainbow in her living room. Both said nothing as Rainbow simply sat there and groaned. Just the sight of her bloated belly made her nauseous. It was Flutters though, she had to open this present.

She pulled off the wrapping paper, which revealed a nondescript cardboard box, which was filled with packing foam. After a couple hoofulls later, Rainbow stopped. All the color drained from her face.




We figured, you know…” Fluttershy looked away, “You could use-”

“Fuck you.” Rainbow groaned, then laid on her side, kicking the box away. “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you… of all the things--”

Fluttershy did not react. “They still don’t know yet, do they?”

“Why would I tell them?” Rainbow hissed, “So I can get more wonderful shit like this? So I can get kicked out of the Academy?”

“That’s not a matter of ‘if’. Rainbow Dash. You’re three months pregnant. If they don’t know, they should have at least guessed.”

“Let them keep guessing, then.” Rainbow pouted. “I’m not telling them, and you aren’t, either.” She rolled over, facing the back of the couch. “Not like it’ll matter, anyway.”

Fluttershy hesitated. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m not keeping the stupid foal, Fluttershy,” she snapped. “I already talked to that doc you took me to down in Ponyville. I can give it to somepony else, come back to Cloudsdale, and get on with my life.”

Fluttershy simply sighed.

Rainbow continued, “I don’t need it; I don’t want it. I’ll just stay with you until I give birth, o-or whatever, and then be done with it.”

Fluttershy was silent for a moment, then spoke.

“You know,” she said, a sudden edge in her voice, “none of this would’ve happened if you had been a little more--”

Eyes open again.

Head still stuffed with cotton, and heavy as a heartbreak.

This time, it was nature calling. Nature didn’t leave a message.

The minute she got to the toilet, she lost the will to stand, or even crawl back to her bed. She simply lay hunched over the rim, the gray water casting back the reflection of a sad, sick, and sorry mare.

Scootaloo didn’t like being the center of attention--at least, not like this. Nor did she like retreating from a fight. And yet, here she was, starting up at her ceiling as she lay on her bed.

She cared not for the sounds of stallions moving furniture out of the house, she ignored the knocks on her door, and the occasional insistence that they needed to come in, she wasn’t hearing it. Not yet.

A good deal had happened today, and as if things at school weren't enough, there was one simple note on her calendar, four little words that made her sick every time she so much as thought about them.

Today is moving day.

Well, for Mrs. Harbour it was. Scootaloo on the other hand, was an uncertainty. Mrs. Harbour had worked out a deal: Scootaloo had a week to get something arranged, papers included, or she would be a ward of the state once more, and almost certainly be sent somewhere far from here; most likely Manehatten or Trottingham.

But Sweetie Belle and Rumble lived in Ponyville, which meant either city simply wasn’t an option.

Another kinder, gentler knock stirred Scootaloo from her melancholy. Curious, she trotted to the door, and opened it only slightly, just enough to see Mrs. Harbour.

Scootaloo returned to her bed, letting Harbour come in and close the door behind her.

Harbour sighed, “Look, Scootaloo, I know this is difficult, but it’s for the best, dear.”

Scootaloo didn’t move.

Harbour trotted to Scootaloo’s bedside, and tried to place a comforting hoof on her shoulder. Scootaloo pushed it away.

“Scootaloo, please…” Mrs. Harbour tried, “I don’t want what little time we have left together we have to be like this.”

Scootaloo still did not react. Mrs. Harbour sighed.

“You have to try to look at things positively,” Harbour said, sitting down beside her. “You get to live in a new home, with a new family. And you get the opportunity to create wonderful new memories with them.” She reached out her hoof again, hesitated, then pulled it back. “These last few years of your foalhood are some of the most memorable…”

She paused for a moment. Scootaloo’s ears remained flat, her tail unmoving. As she stared down at her, Mrs. Harbour felt her throat tighten, and tears begin to well up in her eyes.

“You’ve made my life so much better…” she said quietly. “Good times and bad; your optimism, resilience… Why, anypony would be blessed to have a foal with such personality, such heart...”

She felt her lip quiver, and a tear run down her cheek.

“This is difficult for me, too, Scootaloo,” she said.

Scootaloo’s ear twitched.

“Is it really?” Scootaloo hissed. “You seem just fine with getting out of here and leaving me.”

Mrs. Harbour sat up straight. “Scootaloo, how could you--”

“Why did you try to hide it from me?” Scootaloo snapped, rolling over. “Why did I have to sneak into your room just to find out you were going to just move away? Gonna move away and leave me to… to them?” she said, gesturing angrily out the door.

“I--I didn’t have a choice, Scootaloo,” Mrs. Harbour said quietly.

“You always had a choice,” she shot back. “You could’ve bought a house, rented a place… We could’ve stayed here in Ponyville, just the two of us. But no, you’re going to go to some fancy old ponies’ home in Canterlot… live it up with all the other old nags.”

“Scootaloo,” she said carefully, “this is important for you. You need to experience life outside of a foster home--life with a proper family. It’d be good for you.”

Scootaloo looked up at her, eyes filled with hatred, and a snarl on her llips.

“Good for me?” she spat. “You know what’s good for me? Somepony who isn’t going to just pretend they love me, and care about me, and then just go and leave me!”

Mrs. Harbour’s mouth fell open. She tried to speak but no sound came out.

“That was it all along, wasn’t it?” Scootaloo snarled. “You just had to wait until your ball and chain was old enough to get thrown out!”

Mrs. Harbour stared at her, then closed her mouth. Set her jaw, and looked over her glasses at Scootaloo. “You’re wrong, ” she said, her voice cold and level. “You have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”

Scootaloo stared up at her, eyes wide. Mrs. Harbour had done many things--but never before had she gotten angry. Not like this.

“I’m disappointed you think that this is any easier for me than it is for you,” Mrs. Harbour continued. Every syllable dripped acid. “You think getting stabled with those nags will be fun?” she shook her head. “It’s not a vacation--that’s where they send ponies to die. You think your life is a shithole? Try living in a madhouse.”

Scootaloo shrank back, but Mrs. Harbour stared down at her, trembling , righteous fury in her eyes. “Nothing you say, nothing you do, is going to make this go away, Scootaloo. You need to accept it. The sooner you do, the sooner you can…”

Something boiled up inside Scootaloo. “No!” she screamed, leaping to her hooves. Mrs. Harbour shrank back, the fire going out of her eyes. “I’m not going to accept this!” Scootaloo roared. “This isn’t fair, this isn’t right! I thought you loved me!”

“I do, Scootaloo,” Mrs. Harbour protested weakly.

Liar!” Scootaloo spat. She flared her wings, then advanced on Mrs. Harbour, who backed away, sudden fear in her eyes. “Stop pretending like you ever gave a shit about me,” Scootaloo snarled, “because you don’t!”

Even as Mrs. Harbour scrambled away from Scootaloo, her heart broke for her; there was anger in her eyes, to be sure, but so much more--all her pent up rage, confusion, uncertainty and heartache; her betrayal and heartache at the abandonment at the hooves of her idol; the humiliation of her disability; her fear and anxiety of losing every last pony she loved and cared about. All of it was tearing her little heart into shreds, aching with every step she took.

Mrs. Harbour swallowed as she realized that this could very well be the last time she would see Scootaloo.. This would be the last memory they shared, and she didn’t want it to end like this…

Closing her eyes, Mrs. Harbour lunged forward and pulled Scootaloo into a tight embrace. She felt Scootaloo thrash against her and try and push away.

“Let go of me!” Scootaloo screeched. “I hate you! I don’t want…! Want…”

And then, Scootaloo went limp. For a moment, neither of them moved. Then, slowly, Scootaloo wrapped her arms around her. Scootaloo buried her face into Mrs. Harbour’s side, and she began to sob--deep, gasping sobs of worthless rage and bottomless sorrow.

Mrs. Harbour squeezed her tighter and buried her face in Scootaloo’s mane. She breathed in her scent--the smell of the child that she had raised from birth into very nearly a mare--and wept like a foal.

Scootaloo bit her lip, stifling her sobs. She looked up at Mrs. Harbour. “I…” she gasped. “I… I love you…” She buried her face in Mrs. Harbour again. “...Momma.”

Scootaloo could feel Mrs. Harbour quiver, then give her a gentle kiss on her forehead.

“I love you too, Scootaloo… I’ll always love you.”

Mrs. Harbour held her there for a moment. “I want you to remember something,” she said finally. “No matter what life throws you way, what trials you face, what heartbreak you endure--always remember… that no matter what…” she pulled Scootaloo a little closer. “...Somepony still loves you.

11. Discovery

View Online

Rumble was still surprised Cheerilee had let him off so easy. Even more so that she was still letting him help with the school play. Stage tech, mind you--stationed atop the bleachers with Button Mash--but still… no detention, no note home, no nothing.

That wasn’t his main concern, though. It seemed everypony from class, and even some foals he didn't recognize, had all been volunteered to help put this ramshackle show together. All except one little filly.

This was the fifth time he had taken to the air to survey the gathering below. Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and their sisters were certainly hard at work, the former building some set pieces, and the later rehearsing a small singing part, but Scootaloo was nowhere to be seen.

To say it bugged him a little would be an understatement.

“Hey, Fumble!” Button Mash hollered from below. “I need your help wiring these speakers real quick!”

Of course you do, Rumble groaned internally as he descended back to the ground, then trotted over to a mess of wires, caps, and cables.

“You worried about Scuttlebucket?” Button said, digging through a crate.

Rumble simply rolled his eyes. “How’d you guess?”

“Well,” Button ventured as he hauled a long, orange extension cord from the box, “You’ve been lookin’ around since we got here. I haven’t seen her, either.”

Rumble nodded--then, suddenly, frowned.

“Do you think she’s mad at me, Button?”

Button’s eyes widened. “Wha-why in Equestria would she be mad?” he asked. “You stood up to Rainbow Dash for her… She kissed you, I saw it!”

Rumble blushed scarlet. “Y-you saw it too?”

“How could I miss it?” Button said, waving a hoof, “You were putting on a show. The entire class was lookin’ your way.”

Rumble suddenly looked away. “I... did kind of make a scene, didn’t I?” he said quietly.

“I’ll say. You were pretty badass, Rumble.” Button turned back to a speaker nearby. “You got some serious balls getting in Rainbow Douche’s face like that. I about shit myself laughing.”

Rumble couldn’t help cracking a smile. “Thanks… I guess.”

“Yeah, yeah, don’t mention it. I’ll deny everything,” Button mumbled, “Now quit being a chatterbox, and lend me a hoof already. We mess this play up, and Princess Twilight will have us burned at the stake or something.”

Rumble cast one more cursory glance around the stage and the stands, then sighed as he turned to help Button with the wires.

Rumble watched as Button connected each end, and routed everything into place. It was surprisingly clean and orderly—the last thing he would expect from his cocky friend. But then again, with all the time he spent with that video game console of his, this wasn’t his first experience with tangled cables...

“You think she’ll show up?” Apple Bloom asked, following Sweetie Belle behind the curtain.

“Beats me,” Sweetie said with a frown. “She’s got a lot going on today… I’d be surprised if she did.”

“Well, she kinda has to,” Apple Bloom said, “She’s playin’ Ponyvile’s first weather captain, Storm—Stormy—”

“Storm Cell,” Sweetie corrected.

“Yeah, her,” Applebloom said. “And your sister already made her costume an’ all...”

“Still ain’t here, huh?” Applejack asked, as she rounded into view.

Apple Bloom nodded. “Sweetie says she’s got a lot goin’ on, so…”

“Can’t blame her, honestly,” Applejack sighed, “Poor filly’s been through a real mess past couple days.”

No thanks to that selfish li’l brat, she thought to herself with a silent snarl. “Anyway,” Applejack said quickly, “I think we’re about done with the set. How’s Rares doin’ with the costumes?”

“Just finished up, actually.” Rarity said triumphantly as she came around the curtain, holding an elaborate, foal-sized gown. Her triumphant smile faded as she saw the little group. “Still no sign of Scootaloo, huh?”

Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom shook their heads, and Applejack shot her a knowing look. Rarity looked her in the eye, nodded slightly, then cleared her throat.

“Sweetie, could you come with me for a moment?” Rarity didn’t wait for her to respond, instead, trotting across the stage and down the steps. Sweetie Belle hesitated, then ran after her to catch up.

Rarity glanced back towards the stage as they trotted away from the gathering crowd.

“I think you should go check on Scootaloo,” Rarity said quietly, taking another look behind her, “Make sure she’s doing alright, that sort of thing.. Between today’s unfortunate revelations and… well, her current situation at home, she could use some company.”

“You sure everything’s ready?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“Don’t worry about any of that now, dear, you’ve done plenty.” Rarity smiled. “I think a certain filly needs more support than this tacky little production does.”

Sweetie smiled, “I’ll be a back in a bit, then.”

“No rush, dear,” Rarity called after her, “Rehearsals are in two hours, you have time.”

Sweetie Belle had visited Scootaloo at home, of course, but it had been longer than she liked to admit; after her third wrong turn, she finally rounded onto her street, and passed a large cart stacked high with moving boxes and bags.

She paused, then turned to stare at the cart: a sign on the side read Wide Load & Sons Moving Co. Sweetie frowned, then scanned the labels on the boxes inside to see if any of it was Scootaloo’s. None of it was. She turned back to the house, a growing unease in the pit of her stomach, then saw Mrs. Harbour talking with a stallion with a clipboard and a hardhat. Standing next to the tall, broad stallion, Mrs. Harbour looked very old and very small. Mrs. Harbour noticed Sweetie Belle, and gave her a weak smile. Sweetie Belle swallowed uneasily, then trotted towards her.

“Scootaloo’s still inside, dear,” Mrs. Harbour said, her voice tired and wheezy. “I’m sure she’d love to see you.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Harbour,” Sweetie said, smiling a little as she walked past her. She trotted through the open front door and up the stairs. She weaved her way around the stacks of cardboard boxes lining the hall. She hesitated for a moment just outside Scootaloo’s door, then raised her hoof and gently knocked.

She heard something thump on the floor, the rustling of a bag, and finally, a couple hoofsteps. The doorknob turned and the door opened a crack, before swinging wide.

Scootaloo reached out and pulled Sweetie Belle into a hug. Neither of them spoke as Scootaloo laid her chin on Sweetie’s shoulder.

Sweetie looked over Scootaloo’s shoulder, deeper into the room. Most of the room had already been boxed up, save for her bed, dresser, and some assorted toys and books piled in the center of the room.

Scootaloo finally pulled back, wiped a stray tear from her eye, “Miss Cheerilee sent you to get me, huh? I’m almost done here, I think.”

“No, don’t rush or… or anything,” Sweetie Belle said, “We’ve got two hours until rehearsals. I just wanted to make sure you were doing okay.”

“Mom and I had a bit of a fight earlier,” Scootaloo chuckled, “We were both really sap-tastic, but it’s okay now. I mean…” she looked away. “ isn’t okay... but, you know,” she added with a shrug.

“Have you found out where you’re going yet?” Sweetie asked, as she stepped forward and loaded an armful of junk into a waiting box.

“I got a week to find a place to stay,” Scootaloo answered, fetching some tape. “Can’t stay here though. They’re selling this place pretty quick.”

“Oh…” Sweetie pawed the ground nervously, before brightening up slightly. “Maybe you could stay with my sister while you figure something out…” She looked away, suddenly nervous. “I mean, if you want...”

“If she’s cool with that, so am I,” Scootaloo replied. “They say I need to have this stuff outta here by tomorrow afternoon. No later.”

“I’m sure we can get some help tomorrow morning.” Sweetie said. “Tonight’s gonna be pretty crazy.”

“Tell me about it.” Scootaloo groaned as she taped shut the final box. “Part of me just wants to call it a day… except for...” Scootaloo suddenly furrowed her brow. “Hey, have you seen Rumble lately?”

“Yeah, actually,” Sweetie said with a grin. “He’s doing stage tech with Button Mash.”

Scootaloo cocked her head. “Stage tech?”

“I dunno,” Sweetie said, shrugging. “That’s what Twilight calls it. Basically moving the lights around, and making sure sound works, that sorta thing.”

“Wow, Twilight is taking this seriously.” Scootaloo smirked. “Guess I’d better make sure I’m rehearsed, huh?”

“Wouldn’t want to be banished to the Everfree, would ya?” Sweetie winked.

“Not this week,” Scootaloo grinned.

“Scootaloo?” a voice called from downstairs. Scootaloo swallowed, then walked out the door, Sweetie Belle close behind. The two of them made their way down to the living room, where Mrs. Harbour sat by the doorway. At the sight of her, Scootaloo stopped dead in the center of the floor, and Sweetie Belle stepped up behind her. For a long moment, no one said a word.

Finally, Mrs. Harbour finally spoke. “Well,” she said, her voice trembling, “It’s time for me to go, dear.”

Scootaloo remained frozen a moment longer—then lunged towards her and pulled her into a tight hug. Scootaloo sobbed, and Sweetie saw fresh tears on both their faces. She felt a slight lump forming in her throat, and looked away.

“Sweetie Belle?”

Sweetie turned back, and saw Mrs. Harbour watching her, tears in her eyes, holding out one arm in invitation. Scootaloo glanced over at her as well, eyes trembling, and nodded. Sweetie nervously trotted over and wrapped her arms around the two of them, and was soon folded into the embrace. Mrs. Harbour smelled of lilacs and old age--that same sort of grandma-smell that bore witness to the many, many foals she had known and loved and said goodbye to over her lifetime.

No words were exchanged; none were needed. They simply held each other--and soon, Sweetie Belle felt tears of her own running down her cheek.

“Mrs. Harbour?”

Three of them looked up. In the door stood another stallion--a pegasus, with a dark-blue pelt. He wore a white coat with some arcane logo over the breast pocket. He smiled--but it was the sort of saccharine smile of someone who is paid to be happy and kind.

Mrs. Harbour’s eyes went wide. “He’s come to pick me up,” she whispered, almost to herself.

And, without another word, she wiped some tears from her face, pulled away from Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, and trotted out the door. Scootaloo grabbed pathetically at her as she walked away, but she had already left her reach.

The two fillies ran out the door just in time to see Mrs. Harbour climb into a white-painted carriage, painted the logo of Whispering Oaks Retirement Community, Canterlot.

She sat, then turned to look one more time at the old house. She smiled sadly at Scootaloo, who stood rooted to the spot.

The stallion who had fetched her hitched himself to the carriage, alongside a second, equally-fake pegasus. At some unseen signal, the two of them started off at a brisk trot.

Scootaloo suddenly found the urge to move her feet, and galloped up alongside the coach.

Mrs. Harbour heard her little hooves--the last time she ever would--and leaned out the window. “I’ll be sure to write you, Scootaloo,” she said. She wiped away a tear. “Take care of yourself... for me?”

Scootaloo wanted to answer--wanted to say yes, to call her back, to do anything—but the stallions were moving faster and faster, and she galloped with all her strength to keep pace.

And then, they lifted off.

For the briefest of moments, Scootaloo forgot she couldn’t fly. She leapt into the air--and, a mere second later, fell back to earth. She landed, hard, and tumbled head-over-hooves once or twice, then skidded to a halt in the dry road dust.

When she could bring herself to look up, the cart was already high over Ponyville, quickly vanishing to a speck. Scootaloo didn’t bother getting up. She put her head back down, and whimpered softly.

Soon, she sensed another pony standing over her. Silently, Sweetie Belle picked her up, and hugged her tight. Scootaloo returned the embrace, then began to sob.

Rainbow Dash didn’t like waking up with a nasty migraine. Nor did she especially like throwing up… again…

And yet, here she was, finally able to slog out of her bathroom, drenched in sweat, the weight of her heavy heart making every step a marathon.

She stopped midway between her bedroom and her kitchen. Part of her just wanted to sleep it out, but another part of her noticed how warm it was inside.The clock in the living room read six.

Rainbow groaned, her squinted eyes glued to her front door and to the darkening sky which lay beyond it. I think I’ll get some fresh air, she thought.

She tottered her way to the door, then pulled it open. With it came the cool, calm air of the Fall evening, bathing her face in a refreshing breeze. For the briefest of moments, her headache was gone, and the world seemed to be at peace. She spread her wings and took to the sky, the cool air pushing back her lingering nausea as she flew above the clouds.

She couldn’t remember the last time a simple night in the sky felt this good.

Rainbow didn’t feel like doing anything other than flying. She simply did wide loops around Ponyville, skirting the outer perimeter of the surrounding woods. As she passed the center of town, she smiled; she could hear ponies chatting and laughing together. It was… nice.

As she made her umpteeth loop, she noticed a dim, flowing light coming from the center of town, and saw several ponies heading in that direction. Curious, she began to cruise in that direction. As she did, that commotion grew louder. She crested the roof of a house, and the stage rolled suddenly into view.

Several ponies were gathered around both standing around the stage and seated in a row of bleachers a hundred feet or so back. In the front row, she saw a line of plush cushions, and, seated on them, the shadowy forms of Princess Cadance and Shining Armor. A spotlight shone expectantly on the center of the red, patchy curtain, waiting for the show to begin. She stared curiously at the arrangement, then flew away; she returned soon with a small cloud, then settled down onto it to watch the play, out of sight of the poines below.

Just as she found a comfortable perch, Miss Cheerilee stepped out from behind the curtain, to a smattering of applause.

“Thank you all for coming tonight,” Cheerilee began. “Before we begin, I would like to thank everypony who helped put this together on such short notice.” She cleared her throat, and Rainbow thought she caught nervous giggles from behind the curtain.. “I present to you, Welcome to Ponyville, starring the foals of our very own schoolhouse!”

More applause as she ducked back behind the curtain. The big spotlight snapped off, and, after a moment of darkness, a smaller light snapped on, pointed at the left side of the stage.

As Rainbow watched, Sweetie Belle stepped into the light, then cleared her throat.

"Tonight, fillies and gentlecolts," Sweetie Belle began, "Me and my friends will show you some of the wonderful things about our quaint little town..."

She exited the stage as the curtain rose, revealing a crude set depicting the Apple Family Orchards, with Apple Bloom dressed as Granny Smith. Diamond Tiara stood off to one side, and, after a suitable interval, began to woodenly recite the story of the founding of Ponyville.

Rainbow Dash watched for a few minutes, but quickly felt her eyelids drooping. She’d heard all the stories before, and her cloud was so soft… And this was so much better than being at home, thick with the scent of vomit and stale sweat…

Rainbow watched the next few scenes with half-lidded eyes. The next scene detailed the foundation of the town, with Silver Spoon as Mayor Mare’s great grandmother… Rainbow smirked sleepily as she watched. Heh… Rainbow chuckled to herself, She totally isn’t into it.

As the play continued, the scenes showed Celestia’s first visit, The Everfree Forest, the Rich family and their role in development--starring none other than Diamond Tiara--even a crude mockup of the Golden Oaks Library, where Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom told the story of Twilight’s arrival, and the defeat of Nightmare Moon. Rainbow looked up briefly, looking for herself on the stage--but the only one of her friends to appear was Twilight, played by Dinky Hooves.

Rainbow watched as Pipsqueak hurried onstage with a pair of cardboard wings, which he strapped clumsily to Dinky’s back. She had to admit: these foals had put a lot of work into this thing.

But that didn’t make it any more interesting. Rainbow yawned again, and almost started to doze--just before the spotlight clicked on, and swung haphazardly towards Apple Bloom, standing to stage left.

“Ponyville’s home to a lot of interestin’ ponies, and the past is one heck of a story…” he smiled, cheeks reddening slightly. “But, what about the future? Well, Why don’t we show ya?”

Rainbow’s eyes opened again as the curtain rose to light applause, now revealing the Ponyville Schoolhouse. The sight of that little red abode sent a slight shiver down Rainbow’s spine. Her last visit there had been anything but pleasant.

She looked down--and saw, just below her, the two foals handling the lights and sound. One of them was Rumble, who, just that morning, had been only her co-workers little brother--now, Public Enemy Number One in her book. Well, to be fair, he hadn’t been wrong…

The other colt wore a propeller cap, which made Rainbow smile crookedly; she idly twirled a hoof in the air as if she wanted to spin it.

“At Cheerilee’s schoolhouse, we learn all sorts of things,” Sweetie explained as she stood before the school, “Reading, writing, arithmetic…”

Apple Bloom entered the stage, with several other foals entering both side

“...about cutie marks, compassion, an’ kindness…”

“...and most important of all…”

Rainbow Dash sat bolt upright. That voice—

And, as she watched, she walked onto the stage.

She was a little Rainbow Dash, just as she had been ten years ago--back before… back before all the heartache. Back before her soul had been torn into a thousand little shreds. She still had a spring in her step, a smile on her face—

And then, the lingering sleep fell from Rainbow’s eyes. It wasn’t her on the stage: it was Scootaloo. Scootaloo, who, save for her coloring, looked just like her--the same mane-style, the same lean, athletic build--even her eye color was the same.

Why hadn’t she seen it before?

As she watched, Scootaloo stopped in center stage, turned to face the audience, and began to recite her lines. But it wasn’t her voice she heard--it was Fluttershy’s.

“Your foal isn’t in Cloudsdale,” she had said. “She’s here. You had a daughter, a little pegasus filly. And her foster mother named her…”

“She named her Scootaloo.”

Rainbow felt a tear run down her cheek. She knew it. She had always known it, even if she hadn’t always believed it.

As she watched her daughter prance across the stage, joining some dance or other, her mind rolled back through the years. And, suddenly--

She was back in the hospital again, many smiling faces around her. Some familiar, some not. The light was intense, and she felt a wave of exhaustion and relief.

And then, she realized she was holding something. She looked down and saw a warm, squirming bundle, swaddled in a pink blanket. And, out of the folds of cloth, two violet eyes stared up at her, set in a sunset-orange face.

And then, the scene shifted: she was sitting by a high chair, her mane tied back in a ponytail, a jar of pureéd carrots in her hooves. Her daughter burbled happily as Rainbow dug a fresh spoonful out.

“Here comes the Wonderbolt!” she said brightly. “Nnneeaoowww—”

The scene shifted again--now the two of them stood on the lawn in front of the little apartment Rainbow had rented with her savings, watching her daughter spread her wings. She flapped hard, and, just barely, lifted off the ground--and the sight filled Rainbow’s heart with greater joy than she thought possible.

Another shift. This time, Fluttershy was there, holding Rainbow’s daughter on her lap, as the two of them watched Rainbow do loop-de-loops for the Wonderbolts recruiter.

Shift: her first day at school, setting out with a bright smile and saddlebags full of pencils and notebooks. Shift: a birthday party, with cake and presents. Shift: the two of them standing in the town square, ready to meet Princess Celestia’s delegate, a young unicorn named Twilight Sparkle.


And then, the light darkened. She heard Twilight’s voice--

“I would hate to see the damage you would do as a mother…”

And then, Fluttershy’s—

“None of this would have happened if only you’d been a little more—”

And then Scootaloo’s pathetic, hopeless whine—

“Why weren’t you there for me…?”

Rainbow’s eyes snapped open. Her stomach twisted into a knot, and she felt ill again, her stomach threatening to expel its contents with every breath she took. Slowly, shakily, she stepped off the cloud and glided down to the ground. She landed, then took a moment to try and wipe the tears from her eyes.

The play was over, and had been for several minutes. A few ponies still milled about, but most had left. Princess Cadance stood speaking quietly to Miss Cheerilee, and, behind the closed curtain, Rainbow could see shadows moving onstage.

And, almost before she knew what she was doing, she took a step towards the stage.

She was going to make things right. She was going to make everything right.

She was going to hold her foal again, and tell her that she loved her and she was sorry, and that she was going to be there for her no matter what.

Everything was going to be alright. She was going to make sure of it.

12. Disclosure

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“Well,” Rarity sighed, “I think you all did a marvelous job. Considering the time constraints, it was an adorable little production!”

“Thanks, sis.” Sweetie Belle grinned, “It was actually kinda fun.”

“Unless you were Silver Spoon.” Apple Bloom grinned, “She looked absolutely miserable in that costume.”

“Well!” Rarity said, sticking her nose in the air, “Pardon me for sacrificing some comfort for authenticity!”

Scootaloo laughed with her friends, though her own laugh was half-hearted. Her mind was in too many places for it to be anything else. With the play over with, she was back to the issue of her new home...

She felt a light tap on her shoulder, then turned to see a familiar face.

Scootaloo smiled wide as she hugged Rumble tightly, the colt returning the favor.

“What’d you think?” Scootaloo asked sheepishly as she pulled away. “...of the…”

“You were great,” Rumble said quickly, “I mean… everypony was…”

“He almost hit me with the damn floodlight,” Button said from behind, the devious smirk of his in full force. “Stopped to stare at your flank or something--” Button giggled as he dodged a swing from Rumble, then turned to smile back at Scootaloo. “Yeah, you were pretty good though.”

Scootaloo grinned. “What about Sweetie Belle?” she said, a little louder.

“We—” Button turned red, hiding behind Rumble again, his voice now barely above a whisper, “She was alright... I guess.”

“Hey Scootaloo,” Apple Bloom said from behind her.


Apple Bloom was smiling. “We’re all gonna head over to the castle to meet the Princesses and have some food! They got a whole buffet of fancy Canterlot eatin’! Or, at least that’s what Pinkie was sayin’... Wanna come?”

“Yeah!” she said. “Once I get my costume put away, and take some stuff over to the boutique, I’ll head down there.”

“Neato!” Apple Bloom grinned, “See ya then!”

Apple Bloom stepped away, and joined the crowd of foals filing away from the stage.

Rarity watched them go, then rolled her eyes. Oh no, please, she thought to herself, as she bent to pick up a discarded dress, don’t worry about the costumes strewn about the floor or anything…

Rumble wiped the sweat from under his mane, panting as he leaned against the wall. Button Mash handed him a glass of water.

“Who knew a box of stupid cables would be so heavy?” Button whined as he slumped to the floor.

“I did,” Rumble said flatly, “because you put the mixing board in there, remember?”

“Oh,” Button muttered. “Dumbass.”

Rumble cocked his head, “Me, or you?”

“Who do you think, you dodo?” Button spat. After a few seconds with no response, he looked up to see Rumble facing towards the door. He stood rigid and unmoving, eyes wide, ears up, tail swinging slowly back and forth.

“Her.” Rumble growled under his breath.

Button pushed himself up, and walked up beside him. “You okay, Rumble? You know I was just f--” Button’s eyes went wide as he saw her, standing off in the corner. “Aw shit,” he breathed.

Button knew this was a bad idea. He knew he should stop Rumble, before he did something stupid. But for all his swagger, for all his attitude, he stood rooted to the spot as Rumble slowly, menacingly, advanced on Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow Dash was quite alright being alone in the corner, unnoticed and unseen. Her nausea had returned with a vengeance, and she felt she could barely stay on her hooves. There was no going back now; the door was behind her, and her mind was set.

She swallowed hard as she watched the scene before her. It was so mundane and calm. Rarity and Applejack tending to various bits of post-play business, be it hanging costumes on a rack, or disassembling some metal frame from a large set piece. And Scootaloo…

She was talking to somepony, somepony blocked from her view by an errant prop--Sweetie Belle, no doubt. She was smiling, her orange coat glowing softly under the warm lights of the room. Rainbow examined her carefully again. As she recalled the similarities, the reality of her revelation, she shuddered. That was definitely her, all right.

Her mind took a backseat as her heart took the wheel, and began to command her hooves forward. Slowly, cautiously.

“What are you doing here?” a voice snapped.

It was Rumble. That same, fiery look in his eyes, his wings flared: he looked ready to tear her down again. His pace quickened to a trot as he continued to advance on her, then stopped just in front of her. Rainbow realized suddenly that every eye in the room was watching her and Rumble.

Rainbow looked around, her mouth suddenly very dry. There were only the six of them--Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, Rumble, Scootaloo, and herself--but this wasn’t how she was hoping to have this conversation.

She opened her mouth, feeling the weight of everyone’s stares on her. “I want to talk to Scootaloo,” she said.

“Oh, yeah?” Rumble spat back. “Well, she doesn’t want to talk to you!”

“Cool it, Rumble,” Applejack cut in. “She don’t bite none.” She looked back at Rainbow, irritation and impatience in her eyes. “What did you wanna say?” she asked.

“Yeah!” roared Rumble. “Anything you can say to her, you can say to us!”

This time, no one tried to stop him.

Rainbow looked around one more time, and suddenly, she wanted to fly away. She wanted to spread her wings and head out into that open sky again--but she couldn’t, not with everyone watching her like this. She took a step backwards and bumped into one of the painted sets. She swallowed, panic rising in her chest.

And, then, she said it.

“She’s mine,” she croaked.

For a moment, no one spoke. Even Rumble had no response.

Then, Rarity cleared her throat. “Who is whose, dear?” she asked.

Rainbow looked at Rarity--but found her gaze drifting back towards Scootaloo--towards her baby.

“Scootaloo,” she said. “Scootaloo is my daughter.”

Rainbow watched Scootaloo’s face. For a moment, she did not react--but, when she did, a slow expression of dawning horror spread across her features. And then, Rumble stepped in front of Scootaloo, blocking Rainbow’s view, a scowl of rage on his face. “Why would you say something like that?” he asked, his voice thick with disdain and disgust.

Rainbow opened her mouth--then looked, helplessly, to her friends. Rarity looked back at her with annoyance, Applejack met her gaze with a heavy sigh, and Fluttershy—

Fluttershy stared at Rainbow Dash, her mouth slightly open, mingled fear and hope in her eyes. Rainbow looked, pleadingly, at her, and she nodded slightly.

“Because,” Fluttershy said to Rumble, “It’s true.”

Now everyone turned to look at her. She looked up, saw their eyes upon her, and quailed--but then, she gritted her teeth, and stood up straight.

“It’s true,” she repeated. “I was there. In the hospital with her.”

“Come on, Fluttershy,” Rarity said. “Don’t be ridiculous. Why, she would have to have been—”

“Fifteen,” Rainbow said. “I…” she swallowed. “I made some mistakes.” She shrugged angrily. “Fine--a lot of mistakes. And… and I didn’t know it was her. But now, I can’t deny it--Scootaloo is my daughter. And now, I want to start acting like it.”

Rumble looked back and forth between the adults, then snarled. “You have no proof!” he said. “I-i-it’s just you, and Fluttershy—”

“There’s proof,” Fluttershy said quietly. “At the hospital. In the birth records.” Fluttershy looked up, then back down again. “I’ve checked,” she said.

“Well then,” Applejack said, “there’s only one thing to do.” She hesitated—for a moment, it seemed that she, herself, couldn’t believe she was going to suggest it—”Let’s go to the hospital, and see what they say.”

And, without another word, she turned and strode away. Fluttershy shot a hopeful smile at Rainbow Dash, then turned and followed.

Rainbow looked hopefully at Scootaloo. Scootaloo had not moved--she still stood there, eyes wide and filling with tears, staring back at Rainbow Dash. Rainbow took a deep breath, and smiled--

“Scootaloo?” Rarity said suddenly. “Why don’t you come here, and we’ll go down there together.” She shot Rainbow a guarded, hateful look, one that made Rainbow swallow, hard, then turn and trot after Applejack and Fluttershy.

Rarity watched her go, then turned to Scootaloo. “It’s not right of her to make fun,” she said, “and it’s not right of her to drag Fluttershy into it, too.” She smiled a little. “But we’ll go get this sorted out--and we’re going to make sure you’re taken care of.” She gave her a little half-nod. “Now, come along.”

Rarity was watching Scootaloo expectantly. She had no choice. She took three or four awkward, halting steps, and stood alongside Rarity.

“There we go,” Rarity said gently. She smiled at her, then turned and trotted away. “How are you feeling, by the way?”

There were no words for what Scootaloo was feeling. Somewhere, deep down, she had suspected that Rainbow might be--but, to see her as she was now…? Irresponsible, selfish, dishonest, and uncaring...?

She was sick. Dismayed. Horrified. Her mind reeled with the possibilities--what if it wasn’t a lie? What if that meant she had to live with her own worst nightmare--maybe forever? What sort of life would that be?

She looked up at Rarity and forced a smile. “I’m fine,” she said.

Scootaloo moved to follow after Rarity—but paused, and turned to look for Rumble. He was the only one she felt she could really trust her feelings to…

...But he was nowhere to be seen.

Suddenly, Scootaloo felt more alone than she could say.

She swallowed, then turned and hurried after Rarity.

“Princess Twilight!”

Twilight looked up and frowned. “Rumble?” she said.

They were back at the castle, with the after-party in full swing. She had been standing back, just watching the proceedings--until little Rumble had galloped up to her, eyes wide, sweat pouring down his face.

He sucked down a deep, gasping breath. “Come quick,” he blurted.

Twilight turned to face him. “What’s going on?” she asked carefully.

Rumble took another deep breath. “Rainbow,” he said. “She—she’s gone crazy. Says—says she’s Scootaloo’s—” He swallowed, then shook his head. “Hospital,” he gasped. “Hurry.”

And, with that, he turned and galloped away. As he passed through the open front doors, he spread his wings and lifted off.

Twilight watched him go, then bit her lip. She turned, scanned the crowd, then trotted over to where Cheerilee stood, surrounded by a group of foals. The crowd parted as Twilight passed, and Cheerilee looked up.

“Do you think you can hold down the fort for a minute?” Twilight asked her.

Cheerilee frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing much. I hope,” she added uncertainly. “But I need to step out.”

Cheerilee nodded uneasily. “Alright,” she said. “Just… don’t be too long, okay?”

Twilight nodded. “I’ll try.” She looked around the crowd again. “Have you seen Pinkie, by the way?”

Fluttershy watched as patiently as she could, accompanied in this dry, dimly lit room by the buzzing of the overhead lights and the occasional sound of filing cabinets opening and shutting. White noise.

The five of them were sitting side-by-side in the hospital: Fluttershy, Rainbow, Scootaloo, Rarity, and Applejack. None of them spoke. Rainbow was gazing down fondly at Scootaloo, who stared straight ahead, her gaze cold and hollow; Rainbow gingerly stretched out a wing to wrap around Scootaloo, but a dirty look from Rarity made her pull it back.

Fluttershy sighed, then turned and looked out the door. every now and then some silhouettes would walk by, some obviously hospital staff, chatting amongst themselves or to patients. It reminded her of her many visits here--not just for Scootaloo’s foaling, but for all the other times, too, Rainbow’s injury among them. Never though had she been there this late. It was eerily quiet down the snaking hallway, and it made this whole affair that much more unsettling.

“Miss Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy squeaked and spun to face Nurse Redheart, now standing over her. Redheart smirked a little at her fright, then cleared her throat. “I’ve found it,” she said.

Fluttershy swallowed. “Her b-b-irth certificate?”

She nodded noncommittally. “Perhaps.”

Fluttershy and Applejack stared back at her--Rarity was too busy watching Rainbow, Rainbow was too busy watching Scootaloo, and Scootaloo still watched nothing.

“Can we see it?” asked Applejack, after a moment of silence.

Nurse Redheart pressed her lips into a thin line. “No,” she said.

Rarity glanced up at her. “But—”

Suddenly, the door banged open, this time, startling Redheart as well. Three ponies filed into the room: Rumble in front, his head held high. Behind him came Princess Twilight, who ran her gaze over the waiting ponies, a slight frown on her face.

Nurse Redheart swallowed. “M-May I help you… all?” she asked carefully.

Twilight nodded to the waiting ponies. “We’re with them,” she said.

Redheart sighed. “So you’ll be wanting to see the certificate too, then.”

Twilight glanced down at Rumble, then back up at Nurse Redheart. “Certificate?” she asked.

“The birth certificate,” she said, the slightest edge in her voice.

Twilight frowned slightly. “Why would we want to see that?

Applejack sighed heavily. “Rainbow says she’s Scoots’s mama,” she said. “And we wanna find out for sure.”

Twilight stared, wide-eyed, between Rainbow, now cooing like a fool, and Scootaloo, who still had said nothing. She looked back up at Nurse Redheart. “What’s the problem, then?” she asked.

Nurse Redheart frowned again. “I can’t just give out sensitive medical paperwork to anyone,” she said, testily.

Twilight glanced around at her friends. All of them, save Rainbow, stared back at her. She cleared her throat nervously. “So…” she said, slowly, “I hereby… order you… through royal decree… to hand over the certificate?”

Redheart sighed, “Frankly, Your Highness,” she said, “HIPPA doesn’t give two shits if you’re Filly Farmer or Princess Celestia herself. Without the consent of the alleged mother,” she said testily, glancing at Rainbow Dash, “you’re getting nowhere. No signature, no certificate.”

Fluttershy’s eyes widened, then she elbowed Dash hard, in the ribs. Rainbow looked up, and noticed the entire room was staring at her. She swallowed.

“I wanna know who my daughter is,” Rainbow said plainly.

“Well, you’re in luck,” Nurse Redheart said sarcastically. “I already found the document. All I need is your signature.”

Rainbow stood and followed Nurse Redheart to the counter. She took a pen in her teeth, then signed the form that Redheart slid across the counter to her.

“There,” Nurse Redheart huffed. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

She turned back to the filing cabinet, grabbed something resting on top of the open drawer, and handed it to her. Rainbow took the certificate gently in her hooves, as all of her friends gathered round.

Staring back at her from off the form was a mugshot of her at fifteen: incredibly bored, but at the same time, with a hint of uncertainty in her eyes, something that made Rainbow shiver.

And, her mouth dry, she read:



PLACE OF BIRTH: Ponyville Hospital, Ponyville, SCA
BIRTHDATE: 10/11/991 7:59 PM
SUPERVISION: Natal, Neo, Pediatric SpecIalist

MOTHER NAME: Rainbow Dash SPECIES: Pegasus RESIDENCE: Ponyville, SCA


MANE: Light Brilliant Gamboge
COAT: Moderate Cerise
EYES: Gray-Purple
DISTINGUISHING MARKS: Apparent Severe Flight Impairment

And, below that, in ballpoint pen:

NOTES: Mother RAINBOW DASH has invoked Imperial Foal Welfare Act, requests to cede foal to DFS for foster placement. Recommended Cloudsdale placement for further diagnosis and treatment of SFI if possible.

Applejack peered over Rainbow’s shoulder. “Gam—” she read hesitantly, “gam-bog…”

Nurse Redheart glanced at the certificate. “Gamboge and cerise,” she corrected. “Purple and orange.” She sighed. “I can go get the color swatches if you need… That’s DFS for you, always making—”

Applejack glanced up at Scootaloo. “Well….I’ll be damned,” she murmured.

Rainbow slowly sat on the floor. Rarity’s mouth dropped open. She looked between Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, the former with her head held high, a faint smile on her lips, the latter staring, almost disbelieving, at the certificate.

Suddenly, Pinkie Pie squealed. “You have a daughter?” she cried. “We should have a baby shower!” Her eyes bulged. “No--a retroactive baby shower! And--”

“Pinkie,” Twilight said, gritting her teeth, “Now isn’t the time—”

“Bullshit,” said a voice.

All of them turned to face Rumble, who had crawled up on the bench beside Scootaloo.

“I beg your pardon?” Redhart said, glaring at him.

“I call bullshit,” he repeated. “That could be any orange pegasus with a purple mane!”

Really,” Rarity retorted, “I think this is more than enough-”

Nurse Redheart sighed. “There is a test we can do,” Redheart said. “Though, how many flightless orange pegasi could be born on October 11, I don’t—”

“Let’s do it,” Rainbow said. “I… I want everyone to be sure.”

Something in her tone made both Rumble and Nurse Redheart look up.

“Well,” Nurse Redheart said, “If--if you want…”

“I do,” she said, looking up at her.

Nurse Redheart nodded. “Fine,” she said. “It’s just a basic DNA test. Results will take forty-eight hours, but then…” She swallowed. “Then you’ll be sure.”

Rainbow nodded.

“Alright,” she said, to no one in particular. “All we need is a feather from each of you.”

Wordlessly, Rainbow held out her wing. Nurse Redheart fished a pair of tweezers from a drawer in the desk, then stepped forward and gently plucked a tiny feather from the edge of her wing, making Rainbow suck in a sharp, painful gasp as she did. She dropped it carefully into a small, plastic bag, placed it on the counter, then turned and advanced on Scootaloo, tweezers gleaming.

For the first time since they had arrived, Scootaloo reacted. She looked up, saw the tweezers, and her eyes went wide. She shrunk back in her seat, grabbing frantically at Rumble.

No!” Scootaloo shrieked, “Don't touch me!

Rumble grabbed her and pulled her close. She burrowed into him, her chest heaving. Rumble looked up and glared daggers at Nurse Redheart, who had stopped in her tracks.

Everyone in the room stared as Scootaloo sobbed into Rumble’s coat, a blubbering, hyperventilating mess of a cry. Watched as she fought to hold on to every last ounce of denial and disbelief she had.

Then, they looked at him. Rumble stared back at them, then turned shyly back to the quivering filly he held. He licked his lips, then turned to whisper into her ear.

“Scootaloo…” he began, then faltered. He swallowed hard. This was a super-serious grown-up decision, and frankly, he had never felt so much like a foal before. Seeing Scootaloo in such a mess was painful enough, but now the pressure, the weight of the stares that practically pinned him in place, was almost too much to bear.

“Y-You…” he hesitated, then swallowed past another lump in his throat. “You need to let her take one.”

She shook her head fiercely against him, spreading the dampness of her tears across his chest , not daring to pull her face away from the safety of his embrace.

Rumble felt a slight well of irritation, “Scootaloo…” his voice was firm, but still quiet, “You need to let her take one. We need to settle this once and for all.” He swallowed. “It’s our only chance.”

Scootaloo pushed away from him, then looked up into his eyes. His heart practically stopped. Her eyes were full of fear and anger, her cheeks so wet and matted by tears, she looked as if she had just come in from a rainstorm.

“Why are you doing this?” Scootaloo whimpered, “Wh--why are you… I thought you…”

Rumble swallowed. He could still feel everyone staring at him--but, suddenly, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. As he stared back at her, he felt a warm light begin to glow inside his chest. And before he knew what he was saying, he spoke:

“I love you, Scootaloo,” he said. “I do. That’s why… I… we... want to know.” He glanced up, and saw the grown-ups watching him carefully, some of their faces gleeful, some angry. And, suddenly, he lost his nerve. “Come on,” he said, dropping his voice to a whisper again. “This is embarrassing.”

He regretted it as soon as he said it. He saw the flash of anger in her eyes--but it quickly faded. She leaned forward again and snuggled into his chest. She was no longer crying--she was now silent, save for a few sniffles here and there.

“She can’t,” Scootaloo whimpered.

Rumble swallowed. “Can I?”

For a long moment, she did not speak.

“Mm-hm,” she said, her voice so quiet and muffled he almost thought he imagined it.

Rumble swallowed. Slowly, he craned his neck forward, using his hooves to turn her slightly, enough so he could reach the nearest feather. With his front teeth, he clenched, and plucked it off, and felt her tremble against him. . It came free with only a little resistance, with a tiny scarlet drop of blood on the point. Nurse Redheart stepped forward, taking the feather in her tweezers, then hurried back to the counter with it., As she sealed the second baggie, Rumble stroked Scootaloo’s mane softly, then leaned down and kissed her on the neck.

One of the mares in the room awwed. Probably Pinkie.

“Well,” Redheart said, looking down at her desk, then back at the gang of eyes trained on her. “We’ll get the results of that test back in a couple days. But until then…” She looked up again. “She’s yours, as far as we’re concerned.”

Rumble sucked in a sharp breath. Twilight shot him a warning glance, then turned back to Nurse Redheart. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but did I miss something? I thought that’s what the test was for…”

She nodded. “It is, Your Highness. But, until we receive evidence to the contrary, the information on the birth certificate is conclusive enough for the courts. Or, at least,” she added, “in custody cases.”

Rainbow looked up. Custody, she mouthed.

Rarity’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry, Nurse Redheart,” she said, stepping quickly forward. “But I’ve already invited Scootaloo to stay at my home, at least until she finds something more permanent—”

“That’s fine,” she replied. “But, as far as the paperwork shows, Miss Dash here is her mother, and, by law, now has final say over custody arrangements.”

Rainbow looked again towards Scootaloo, a faint, hopeful smile on her lips—but Scootaloo was hiding her face in the arms of the colt she, apparently, loved--and that she hated so much. At the sight, her eager fire went out of her, leaving her feeling numb and hollow.

It was her. Scootaloo was… her daughter. She knew it, Scootaloo knew it, everypony knew it, as far as she was concerned.

And now, came the unwelcome question with an impossible answer.

She swallowed as she finally turned to face her friends. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

“What… what should I do?” Rainbow asked quietly, her gaze flicking over towards Scootaloo.

Nopony spoke. Rainbow looked uncertainly around the room, then swallowed. She turned, and took a nervous step towards her daughter. It had been ten years--hundred of frightened, tearful nights--and now, here she was, mere feet from her--

“Scootaloo?” Rainbow barely whispered.

Scootaloo’s only response was a pathetic, whimpering whine. Rumble pulled her even closer, then turned and glared at Rainbow.

Rainbow felt a snarl rising within her. For the briefest of moment, she wanted to put the brat in his place. He had no right to keep her daughter from her—she was her mother

Before she could do anything, Rainbow felt a hoof on her shoulder. She turned to see Rarity standing there.

“I think right now you both need some space to think about things,” she said firmly. “We’ll see about her tomorrow, okay?”

Rainbow opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She turned, swallowed the lump in her throat, then reached out a hoof to touch her daughter—her baby

At here merest touch, Scootaloo recoiled as if she’d been stung. Rumble had not moved; instead, he watched Rainbow with eyes full of caution and barely-restrained hatred.

Rainbow moved to step forward, to take her child in her arms--but another, stronger hoof reached out and held her back.

“Come on, now.” Applejack said, restraining her almost effortlessly. Rainbow strained against her grasp, but she sighed. “Come on,” she hissed. “Now’s not the time.”

And then, a single tear broke free and rolled down Rainbow’s cheek. She had been empty for so long—and now, it seemed, she would have to wait one more night to mend her broken heart.

She let Applejack pull her away, and lead her towards the door.

Nurse Redheart looked up, suddenly panicked. “Hang on,” she said, “Who’s she going to stay with?”

“Rarity,” Rainbow said, her voice flat. “If she wants it. I don’t care.”

Twilight watched the two of them leave, then swallowed. “I think it’s time we get going, too,” she said, with significant glances at Fluttershy and Pinkie. She turned and walked out as well, followed closely by Fluttershy. Pinkie walked to the door, waited for it to close, then turned back to Scootaloo with a grin.

“I’m so excited for you!” she said brightly. “Think of all the parties that we’ll have to plan! A family reunion, and ten years of back-birthdays, and—”

The door glowed magenta and swung open. A comically-oversized shepherd’s crook, also glowing red, reached out, hooked Pinkie around the neck, and dragged her unceremoniously through the door.

“Wait!” she cried. “I wasn’t finished—!”

The door swung shut behind her.

Rarity snorted, then turned back to the two foals. She stepped towards them, a gentle smile on her face.

“Rumble, dear,” she said, “I think I can handle things from here.” She glanced down at Scootaloo, then back up to him. “You’ve done enough.”

“But—” Rumble began,

“Rumble! Rarity said sternly--then grimaced, and cleared her throat. “She needs a good night’s sleep,” she said, her voice gentler, “and she needs some time by herself to process all of… this.” She hesitated. “I care about her as much as you do,” she said. “I’ve known her practically her whole life.” She smiled at him. “She’ll be okay. I promise.”

Rumble looked up at her, his eyes wide, then, slowly, began to relax his grasp. Scootaloo slowly turned to face Rarity, her face baggy and deeply lined. She crawled out of Rumble’s lap, then walked over and stood beside Rarity, staring up at her.

“It’ll be alright, Scootaloo.” Rarity said softly as she brought her a little closer with a comforting hoof. She looked up and shot Rumble a grateful smile, then led her towards the door.

As Rarity pushed the door open, Scootaloo glanced back over her shoulder. Rumble still sat on the bench, looking very small and afraid. He seemed to sense his gaze on her, for he looked up, into her eyes, and smiled.

I don’t deserve him, she thought to herself, as the door closed behind them.

Fluttershy was waiting for them outside the hospital, and walked up beside Rarity as the two of them walked out the front door. The three of them stepped onto the lawn, then stopped, quietly taking in the crisp, night air, after the stuffiness of the hospital. Scootaloo glanced up at the stars--and, off in the distance, she caught a glimpse of the Friendship Castle, colored lights still flashing in its windows.

“Scootaloo?” Rarity said gently. Scootaloo looked up at her curiously. “We can still go, if you’d like--”

Scootaloo bit her lip. She looked towards the castle for a moment, then shook her head.

“No worries, dear,” Rarity replied. “It’s been a rough day--for all of us. We can just go home.”

Scootaloo nodded, but said nothing. Rarity watched her, then turned to Fluttershy.

“Would you like to come by for a spot of tea?” she asked, “Or are you headed home yourself?”

Fluttershy looked up at Rarity, and realized she wasn’t asking about just tea--she wanted to talk.

“Tea sounds… nice,” she said, with a nervous smile.

“Well,” Rarity said to no one particular, “Off we go then. Come along, girls.”

With that, the three headed westward, towards the boutique.

13. Denial

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“Help me…”

“Please, help me…”

Rumble ran through the pitch-black emptiness, guided only by a faint, distressed cry. Blood surged through his veins as each hoof pounded the ground with the weight of a manticore, his legs burning and throbbing as he refused to slow down, refused to stop.

“No... don’t… No!

The voice was pained now, the crack of the last syllable sent tore through his spine, with a sting that nearly killed him. And yet, he ran, eyes fixed forward. With each breath, a rush of cold air choked in. Each ragged gasp felt like a cloud of razors scraping down his throat and into his lungs.

And, with a blink, she was there. He skidded to a stop. Seeing the two of them, his stomach twisted, and he tasted bile in his throat.

She was lying there in front of him, her tail swishing softly, struggling to stand on all fours, like a newborn foal.

Rumble watched her, breathless and still, even as the pain and adrenaline refused to let up, his heart pounding against his ribs.

Something was wrong.

“Rumble…” the limp Scootaloo whimpered, “Please… help me…”

Rumble lurched forward, hoof outstretched, but she grew no closer. He strained, pushed, gnashed his teeth, and broke into a full gallop, but Scootaloo was still as distant and helpless as before.


Rumble screamed. He opened his mouth and screamed in fear and anger and frustration. But no sound came out. Only silence ruled this darkness.

And then… she appeared. Walking slowly, deliberately towards the limp Scootaloo, too weak to even lift herself anymore, too weak to do anything but lie there as she whimpered and sobbed. Scootaloo lifted her head to look at her—to look up at Rainbow Dash, standing over her.

“Please, Mama… I can… please don’t…”

“Get up,” Rainbow ordered.

Scootaloo swallowed, and summoned a great well of strength within her. Shakily, she climbed to her hooves, trembling and sweating as if she was scaling a mountain.

“Fly,” Rainbow commanded.

Rumble stared at Scootaloo’s face—her beautiful face, broken and marred. She was covered in bruises, her eyes were blackened, her mane frazzled and torn, a string of long-dried blood on her muzzle, her coat punctured with bite marks.

“Fly,” Rainbow roared, her voice shaking Rumble to the very marrow of his bones.

Scootaloo opened her wings, which shook just as much as the rest of her. She closed her eyes as tears spilled down her face and dropped upon the ground. Then, she began to beat her wings, faster, faster still, her wings buzzing through the air

Then, they fell. Feather by feather, her wings split apart and fell away, each feather with a tiny ruby drop of blood on its tip. Scootaloo turned and watched in horror as her wings shriveled and died. Then, one of her shaking legs gave out, and she fell, slamming into the ground with barely a whimper.

Rainbow looked at her daughter, her face a mask of disdain and hatred. “You can’t, can you,” she said, her voice dripping venom. “I knew you couldn’t.” She turned away. “You’re useless to me.”

Scootaloo looked up at her, tears now streaming down her face. “I…”

Rainbow shot her another disgusted look, then turned away—and, suddenly, Soarin’ was there.

Rainbow grinned, her eyes ice-cold and iron-sharp. “That dead weight has given me enough problems, anyway. Should’ve never had her in the first place.” She walked away, swishing her tail. “Make it quick, babe.”

With that, she faded into darkness. Scootaloo looked up, eyes wide, and, somehow, found the energy to crawl away, but, in one-two-three strides, Soarin’ was upon her. Rumble found he could move again and lunged forward to save her—but as he reached out to grab her—as she looked up at him, eyes wide and pleading—he passed through her as if she were mist and smoke.

He landed, hard, on the ground, and rolled twice before coming to a stop. He looked up to see Soarin’ grinning madly down at him.

“Them’s the shakes,” he said, coldly. “The herd only has room for the strong. As for the weak… well…”

Slowly, almost delicately, he bent down, took Scootaloo’s neck in his jaws, and lifted her, squirming and weeping, into the air. As she swung helplessly from his teeth, Scootaloo turned and gave Rumble a look—a look of fear, of sorrow, of pain. She opened her mouth to speak—

And Soarin’ bit down, hard, his eyes glittering in mingled fury and pleasure.

Her neck broke with a crack like lightning. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and she sagged. Soarin opened his mouth and Scootaloo dropped to the ground, lifeless. Soarin’ looked up at Rumble, and licked the blood from his lips.

And Rumble screamed, a high, wordless scream, screaming all the panic and fear and loss and rage in his body—


He felt someone shaking him.

“Rumble! Can you hear me?”

Rumble turned, and saw a face he did not recognize.

And then, it came to him: he was back in his bed. It was night. And the mare beside him was Cloudchaser, Thunderlane’s latest marefriend, and his longtime foalsitter.

Right on cue, Thunderlane stepped up beside her, concern in his eyes.

“You alright, buddy?” he asked.

Rumble shivered as he shook his head. That sound… that horrible sound...

Cloudchaser leaned down and drew him into a gentle embrace.

“Aw, Rummy…” Cloudchaser murmured, “it’s okay, it’s okay. We’re here.”

Rumble struggled to form words, “I couldn’t…” He began to tremble again. “She…”

Cloudchaser shushed him gently as she picked him up, and brought him fully into her arms, Thunderlane leaned in and nuzzled him on the cheek.

Finally, the ringing echoes of the crack faded. The trembling chill slowly trailed away, and the last of the nightmare fell from his eyes.

He snuggled a little deeper into Cloudchaser. She was slim—not as much comfort as Mom would’ve been—and, knowing Thunderlane, she’d be gone before the week was out… but he needed someone to hold him right now... And, well, any port in a storm....

“Man,” Thunderlane sighed, looking out Rumble’s open window. “Second night in a row.”

“I was hoping they had stopped for awhile,” Cloudchaser said, still rocking Rumble softly.

“I did too.” Thunderlane said, “I tried asking him what’s up, but he just says he doesn’t wanna talk about it.”

Rumble snarled to himself. He hated it when they talked about him as if he wasn’t there.

He hated it—but not enough to want to tell them about it. To confess his deepest fear. To tell his older brother how much of a coward he was.

Them’s the shakes. The herd only has room for the strong. As for the weak…

He whimpered, and began to tremble.

Cloudchaser tutted gently at him for another few moments, then sighed. “Sweetie,” Cloudchaser said as she set him down, “what’s the matter? You’re scared, and it’s okay to be scared... but you gotta tell somepony. Just bottling it up inside isn’t going to do you any good…”

Rumble simply shook his head again, a faint whimper escaping his clenched teeth.

Thunderlane sighed, then turned to look at Rumble, sudden irritation on his face. “Well dude,” he said, his voice sharp, “if you don’t wanna fix it, then you’re on your own.”

“Thundy—” Cloudchaser started.

“No, he’s not a baby,” Thunderlane said sternly. ”Either you tell us what’s up,” he said to Rumble, “or you tough it out.”

Rumble opened his mouth, then quickly shut it. He squirmed back under his covers, then pulled the blanket back over his head.

“Whatever.” Thunderlane said with a snort. He turned and walked from the room. “Come on, babe,” he said over his shoulder. Cloudchaser watched him go, gently rubbed Rumble’s back once or twice, then stood and followed Thunderlane, closing the door behind her.

Rumble cautiously pulled the covers off his head, then rolled on his back and lay still. He was exhausted—tired as he’d ever been—but, all the same, he didn’t want to close his eyes again. Didn’t want to see Rainbow, or Soarin’, or a broken, lifeless Scootaloo lying at their hooves.

He clutched his comforter tightly and stared at the ceiling.

Scootaloo didn’t like the intense sunlight that greeted her tired eyes. Nor did she enjoy the sound of hoofsteps, no doubt of the mare who was coming to wake her. And yet, here she was, sleeping in the bed she still thought of as Sweetie Belle’s, covers pulled up to her chin, her back to the door.

“Scootaloo?” came Rarity’s soft greeting, “It’s time to get up for school, dear.”

Scootaloo groaned into her pillow as she squeezed her eyes shut, and sunk under the covers defiantly, The last thing she wanted to do was get out of this nice warm bed, and face the day.

Rarity simply sighed, then turned and left the room.

Scootaloo tried valiantly to try to fall asleep again, but it was too late. It wouldn’t come. She lay there for a while before she picked up her head and began to sniff at the air. Breakfast—pancakes, by the smell of it. She stretched, yawned, then sat up and rubbed the sleepies out of her eyes.

As if by instinct, she looked around, sighing to herself as she was reminded it was just her in this bed. No Apple Bloom sawing logs to her right, a small puddle of drool on her pillow; no sound of the shower going, or Sweetie Belle’s usual vocal performance therein. She was alone in Rarity’s guest room, all purple and lilac and violet, illuminated by the morning sun..

After a lick of her lips, another good stretch, and a yawn for punctuation, she clambered out of the bed. She arched her back and felt a satisfying pop from her knees,then trotted out into the hall, where the lovely smell of pancakes only intensified.

Sitting idly in the hallway for a few minutes, she noticed the faint sizzling of something good, the crackling of grease and oil against a skillet; and just above this scene, the ambient tick-tocking of a commanding grandfather clock which sat at the end of the staircase before her. Once more she turned her head towards the bathroom door, opened her mouth to say something to a Sweetie Belle that wasn’t there.

She had never quite noticed how high the ceilings were before.

Eyes still heavy, Scootaloo descended the stairs. Her ears perked up at the sounds of cooking, followed close behind by a quiet humming from Rarity. Rarity must have heard her plodding down the stairs, as she turned to face Scootaloo just as she took the last steps.

“It’ll be a few minutes on the potatoes, I’m afraid,” Rarity said as she levitated a steaming plate of croissants to her dining table, “Why don’t you wash up before we eat? Might as well get it out of the way.”

Scootaloo nodded as she turned around, and plodded back up the stairs and towards the bathroom. She barely had to think about it given how many times she’d been here. She fetched a towel from the closet across the way—not the embroidered ones, those were Rarity’s— turned the cold knob on the bath first, then, after a few seconds, the hot, then started brushing her teeth as the water adjusted to just the right temperature. She spat in the sink, rinsed her mouth, then hopped in the tub and pulled the curtain shut again. Scootaloo let the warm water wash over her, felt it run down her body, onto her legs, then down the drain. As she did, she let her mind drift...

Her thoughts alighted on the memories of the night before, and she shuddered a little.

Rainbow, she… she’s my mother… she, who ignored me, lied to me, abandoned me, she—she’s my mother

Almost unconsciously, her flank sunk to the floor. Scootaloo sat there in the stream of warm water, the porcelain cool against her skin, letting the water drop her mane over her eyes.

These last few days, Scootaloo hadn’t much say in anything. Even as others tore her life up by the roots and decided her fate for her, the only reaction she had been allowed was fear. She very much wanted to see Sweetie Belle or Rumble. She wanted a hug. She wanted this nightmare to be done and over, and to wake to the old, familiar sounds of tiny foals running and screaming in the halls, and of Mrs. Harbour downstairs, cooking something motherly.

Without warning, someone knocked at the bathroom door. Scootaloo jerked her head up, then realized the shower had gone ice cold.

“Scootaloo?” Rarity called from behind the door, “Are you okay dear? Your food is getting cold!”

“I’m c-c-ccoming!” Scootaloo cried, her teeth chattering from the cold. She shut off the water, then still sat there for just a moment, feeling the water swirl around her for a little longer. Then, she climbed out of the tub, toweled herself off, and wandered back towards the stairs, stopping just short of the top flight.

She swallowed. She knew that once she made her way down and set foot in the kitchen, another series of unfortunate events was going to befall her, its course and consequences decided by some depraved omnipresent force that seemed hellbent on making her as miserable as possible. With a heavy sigh, she began her descent.

Waiting at the bottom of the stairs , a look of faint concern on her face, was Rarity. “There you are, darling,” she said, concern in her voice. “I was getting worried… none of the other girls spend a half-hour in there…” Her speech stalled when she saw Scootaloo’s face.

Scootaloo glanced up at her, then back down. “I don’t want to do this.” she said simply, trying her best not to choke up. “I… don’t care if Rainbow Dash is my… is my mother, she’ll never…” Scootaloo shook her head, “I don’t wanna do this, Rarity.”

“Scootaloo…” Rarity leaned in and gently embraced her.

“I know it’s hard, sweetie,” Rarity murmured, after a moment of silence. “I don’t blame you for feeling so rotten. I know I sure as hell would.”

Scootaloo laughed—Rarity was so prim and proper, she’d never thought she’d hear her cuss…

Rarity held Scootaloo at arm’s length, then smiled at her. “You know what?” she said brightly. “I think a nice, hot, home cooked meal will do you good right now.”

Scootaloo looked up at Rarity, who smiled back down at her expectantly, and nodded. Rarity turned and headed back into the kitchen, and Scootaloo followed. She stepped into the sunlit room and almost gasped—there, on two china plates, sat a flawless stack of perfect pancakes, and, piled high next to it, a mound of roasted potatoes, golden brown and steaming gently.

Scootaloo hurried to her chair and sat. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was until that very moment.

As Rarity lowered herself into the seat across from her, Scootaloo eagerly slathered butter on her pancakes, attacked them with the syrup, then dug in, carving a giant chunk out of her pancakes and shoving it into her mouth. She chewed for a moment before the flavor hit—buttermilk, light and fluffy, cooked to absolute perfection, sweet sticky syrup and warm butter, and… and…

Scootaloo set her fork down. Rarity was a good cook—too good.

Her pancakes tasted just like Mrs. Harbour’s.

And then, all the bittersweet memories flooded back—of a childhood she had lived, a mother she had loved—and now, both of them lost to her forever…

She set down her fork, and began to cry.

Rarity saw her, then swallowed her own bite. For a moment, she was quiet—then set down her fork and sighed.

“Listen, Scootaloo,” she said, “I know it’s hard, but it’s going to be okay.”

Scootaloo looked up at her, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“I mean,” Rarity said, looking away and resting her head in her hoof, “regardless of what Rainbow said, it’s not a guaranteed thing you’re going to have to move in with her.”

Scootaloo felt her gut twist. Rarity, heedless, continued to talk.

“I mean, adopting a foal is, well, big. Lots of paperwork. It’s not like adopting a puppy or something…”

A sudden red-hot anger welled up over Scootaloo’s sorrow. “What,” she snapped, standing up on her chair, “is that all I am? A puppy?”

Rarity looked up, alarmed. “No,” she said, urgently. “No, not at all! It’s just—” she sighed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t say that right.” She watched Scootaloo for a moment, then held out her arms. “Come here,” she said.

Scootaloo sniffled, wiped at her nose, and, almost against her own will, hopped down from the chair, trotted over to Rarity, then clambered up into her arms. Rarity hugged her tightly, then buried her head in her mane. “I’ll take care of you,” she said. “I’ll make sure that Rainbow doesn’t get you—at least, not until she’s proved she’s good and ready. Proved it to me, and to you, and the governm—”

At that instant, the front door slammed open.

“Ra-a-arity!” Sweetie Belle called. “Scoo-o-otaloo! It’s time for school!”

Rarity looked up sharply “Dammit,” she swore, under her breath.

And, despite herself, Scootaloo chuckled again.

Fluttershy was sitting patiently on Rainbow’s couch--or, at least she was trying. It was hard to sit, waiting patiently for over an hour.

Rainbow had assured her that she’d need her help soon, but “soon” had turned into an hour of staring at the stack of boxes containing toys, furniture, and knick-knacks, most of them with their tags still attached, slowly disappear into the back of the house, Rainbow complaining about this and that the entire time. Now, she had come around to Scootaloo again--a topic she’d returned to repeatedly throughout the afternoon.

“I can’t believe they want to keep her at Rarity’s,” she was saying. “She doesn’t even like Rarity! I said I was sorry—I’m her mom, she’s mine!”

Well, there’s part of the problem, Fluttershy thought, and sighed. “Like I said,” she murmured carefully, “you can’t expect her to be okay with ‘sorry.’ You hurt her feelings… you lost her trust, and now, she’s probably not too happy you gave her up to begin with.” Fluttershy hesitated, ans noticed Rainbow was watching her attentively. “Sure,” she admitted, “making a room for her, with all this nice stuff, is a start--but it’s just that, a start…”

“And then they’ll find something else,” Rainbow growled. “This isn’t fair, Fluttershy!”

Fluttershy’s patience was starting to wear thin.

“Look,” she said plainly, “just take things one step at a time, nice and easy. She’ll be here soon, you just have to do the paperwork and be sincere. Being a good mom takes practice, it takes patience, and most importantly... “

Rainbow threw up her hooves. “I am patient!” she roared.

Fluttershy, wisely, declined to respond.

Rainbow flopped on the couch next to Fluttershy. “Why did I even give her up in the first place?” she asked, in a half-groan. “Why was I so stupid?”

Fluttershy stared. She hadn’t known who her foal was for twenty-four hours yet, and she was still acting like a fussy mother hen.

After a long moment, Fluttershy reached out and took Rainbow by the hoof. “It was for the best,” she finally said. “There’s no way you could’ve raised her on your own at that age.”

“Argh!” Rainbow growled and pulled away from her. She got up from the couch, grabbed the last box, and trotted back towards Scootaloo’s room.

Rainbow set down the box and glanced around. It was mostly done: there was a bed, with a new, officially-licensed Wonderbolts comforter, and a brand-new dresser, desk, and mirror. And there, in the corner, was a trophy case, waiting to be filled up with all the awards for after she had taught her how to fly properly. The walls were still mostly bare, but that was okay: they were ready to be filled up with posters of Spitfire, or Surprise, or Soarin’--whoever her daughter preferred.

Her daugher.

It still made Rainbow shiver every time she thought about it, and, with every chill up her spine, she very much wanted a warm little filly to hold… her filly. She dreamed of it for just a moment, then sighed. That dream was a little ways off.

“Just like Flutters says,” Rainbow said to herself as she unpacked the final box: a lamp, a trash bin, and a couple Wonderbolt throw pillows. “Slow and steady wins the race.”

She put the lamp on the end table, and turned it off experimentally and on a couple times. She placed the pillows neatly on the bed, then placed the trash can beside the desk,moved it behind the door, then back again, before finally rolling her eyes and pushing it out of sight behind the laundry hamper. She folded up the box and tossed it into the hall, onto the growing pile of cardboard, then turned back to look over the bedroom.

To look over all her work.

All for her.

In her mind’s eye, she was in that bed, her orange little bundle of love and light, ready for her usual bedtime story.

“Alright kiddo,” Rainbow imagined herself saying with a smile, “What’ll it be tonight? Daring Do and the Lost Caverns of Griffonstone, or The Littlest Wonderbolt?”

Little Scootaloo squirmed, her brow furrowed as her little mind spun like a pinwheel, “I dunno,” she grinned, “Wonderbolts!”

“Alright, alright,” Rainbow chuckled as she picked the book from a nearby shelf, and tucked Scootaloo under the covers, watching her with a smile as the little filly nestled her head gently into her pillow, eyes wide with anticipation.

No matter what hardships and hassle the day brought, it always seemed to fall away, here, in the light of the lamp at Scootaloo’s bedside. Rainbow loved reading to her. Of course, she loved to read the stories herself, but she loved even more to see the mask of awe, intrigue, and surprise on the adorable little filly—that little face that, somehow, made the troubles of the day seem like they didn’t matter hardly at all.

A couple pages of high fantasy, sprinkled with a few explanations of the bigger words, and it was over already. Rainbow smiled as Scootaloo fought to keep her heavy eyes open. Rainbow turned off the light, carefully put the book away, and trotted over to Scootaloo’s bedside.

“I love you, Scootsie,” Rainbow said softly, then bent and kissed her gently on her little forehead.

“I love you too, Mommy.” Scootaloo said, then yawned and she nestled deeper under her covers.

The vision faded, and a tear slid down Rainbow’s cheek.

Apple Bloom thoughtfully chewed her sandwich as she watched Rumble, three or four tables away, tear through his lunch. Looked almost like he was starving… or, he would have, at least, if his face wasn’t already so sour.

Apple Bloom swallowed. “I don’t get what you see in him,” she said over her shoulder.

Scootaloo looked up. She was used to peanut butter and jelly and carrot sticks in her lunch, so Sweetie was having to show her how to eat the hummus Rarity had packed for her. “Huh?” she said, distracted.

“Rumble,” Apple Bloom said, turning to look at her. “I mean, you can be friends with whoever ya want… but why him?” she asked, jerking her head back over her shoulder.

Sweetie Belle glanced between Apple Bloom, a faint frown on her face, and Scootaloo, whose ears were already starting to drop back in hurt or anger, she couldn’t tell which.

“I think he’s nice,” Sweetie cut in abruptly. Both Apple Bloom and Scootaloo turned to look at her. “I mean, Scootaloo’s told us about how much fun she had at his place… and he was so worried that she’d get taken care of—”

“That’s what I mean,” Apple Bloom said, gesturing with what was left of her sandwich. “I mean, he’s nice and all—but he’s rude, too. Didja see how he talked to Rainbow th’ other day?”

“Of course,” Scootaloo said, “who didn’t?”

“She did kind of deserve it,” Sweetie added.

“Maybe so,” Apple Bloom said. “But still, weren’t no call for him talkin’ to her like that.”

Scootaloo dropped her pita bread, halfway to her mouth. “Weren’t no call—” she sputtered.

Sweetie Belle laid a gentle hoof on Scootaloo’s shoulder, and she fell silent. Sweetie leaned forward to look Apple Bloom in the eye.

“Can we change the subject?” she said, pointedly. “This is all still kinda… raw... for some of us.”

Apple Bloom took another bite. “Ain’t no harm in—”

“Apple Bloom,” Sweetie said, her voice pained.

Apple Bloom swallowed, stared at the two of them for a moment, then turned back to her lunch. Sweetie felt Scootaloo relax, just the slightest bit, and she forced herself to turn back to her own meal.

For a moment, all three of them were silent.

Apple Bloom swallowed another bite, then, eyes still down on her own brown-paper bag, spoke quietly. “Just sayin’,” she said, to no one in particular. “Ya gotta respect your elders. Ya gotta—even if they deserve it, bad-mouthin’ them don’t accomplish nothin’.” She took another bite. “That’s what Ma always said, at least.” She chewed for a bit—hesitated—then glanced at Scootaloo out of the corner of her eye. “And I don’t know that Rumble can be a good friend unless he’s respectful of you—you, and your Ma—”

Scootaloo slammed her hooves on the table, making both of them jump.

“What right do you have to talk?” she snarled.

Apple Bloom jerked back, surprised. “Didn’t mean nothin’--”

“Yes you did,” she snapped. “You, talkin’ all high-and-mighty, when you’re rude to Applejack all the time.”

“That’s different,” Apple Bloom sniffed. “We’re sisters.”

“Yeah--but she’s your elder, by what--like, eight years?”

“My elder sister. Sisters gotta give each other a hard time, that’s what sisters do—”

“It’s the same difference—”

Suddenly, Sweetie Belle grabbed Scootaloo by the elbow. She turned to snarl at her--but saw her smiling back.

“I forgot to ask!” Sweetie cried. “How’s your new scooter treating you?” She looked down, feigning shyness. “I hope it worked out alright… none of us have done much scoot… scooter, um, scooter-ing, so we kinda had to guess…”

Scootaloo’s eyes lit up. “Oh my gosh, you guys!” she said, the words tumbling excitedly out of her mouth. “It’s sweet! It’s light, and it’s super-smooth, and the color—!”

As Scootaloo started to babble, Sweetie Belle leaned backward slightly and shot a look at Apple Bloom behind Scootaloo’s back. Apple Bloom caught the look, rolled her eyes, then turned back to her lunch. If Scootaloo noticed the exchange, she didn’t show it.

Button and the other colts watched as Rumble ripped open his bag of chips, sending little fragments of fried potato scattering all over the table.

“Slow down,” Button said with a smirk, “No one’s gonna take it from ya.”

Rumble just shoved a messy hoof-full of chips into his food hole.

“Uh… we’re gonna go play some touch hoofball…” one of the other colts said, hesitantly . There was a moment of silence, then Featherweight, Pipsqueak, First Base, and the others slipped out of their seats, and, with nervous glances at Rumble, filed away. Button watched them go for a moment, then turned back to Rumble with a mix of fascination and curiosity.

“What’s going on, Rumble? You’ve been all quiet and… I dunno…” he gestured vaguely. “...demonic.”

Again, Rumble kept his head low, and his eyes on his lunch. He pulled out his apple and took a huge, desperate bite.

“A little dramatic, I know,” Button said into the silence, “but… well…” He shifted uncomfortably. “Not sure there’s words for it.”

Rumble remained focused on the apple.

Button watched him for another few moments, then swallowed. “Cat got your tongue or somethin’?”

Rumble shot him a glare, but did not otherwise react.

Button sighed, then hopped from his seat. “Okay then,” he said, turning to trot around the table, “if you don’t wanna talk about it, maybe Scootaloo will know what’s up—”

Rumble looked up sharply, then leapt from his seat and landed, wings flared, directly in front of Button Mash. Button skidded to a halt, his eyes wide.

“Sit down,” Rumble ordered.

Button looked him up and down, then scoffed. “Okay, seriously, Rumble?” he said, holding up his hooves defensively. “You need to take a chill pill. All I was gonna do was—”

He yelped as Rumble reared up and shoved him, hard, in the chest. Button fell back onto his flank, his cap flying off his head and spiraling into the dirt.

“Leave her alone,” Rumble snarled. With a flare of his nostrils, he turned and trotted away

“Alright, alright, calm your shit,” Button muttered as he slowly climbed back into his seat, leaving his hat where it lay. . Rumble was moving quickly, and Button watched him carefully, both curious and afraid to see what he would do next.

Rumble ran through the playground, looking for Scootaloo. He finally saw her, still sitting at her lunch table, and a broad grin bloomed across his face. He turned and ran towards her--and then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something pink moving towards her as well. He turned to look, and his grin soured: it was Diamond Tiara, saddlebags cinched across her shoulders, making a beeline for Scootaloo. Without so much as a second thought, he turned and galloped towards her, skidding to a stop just in front of her.

Diamond Tiara pulled up short, then looked him up and down, the surprise on her face quickly turning to irritation. She cleared her throat, then looked him in the eye.

“Can I help you?” she asked, her voice full of the politest sort of venom she could muster.

“Yeah,” Rumble said, not bothering to mask his aggression, “You can tell me what you’re doing.”

“I would,” she sneered, “but it’s none of your business.”

“Does it have something to do with her?” Rumble asked, gesturing towards Scootaloo.

Diamond Tiara’s eyes flicked towards scootaloo, then back to his face. She stared at him, then gave the slightest of nods.

“Then, yes,” he said, “that is my business.” He held out his hoof. “So, why don’t you tell me what you’re planning?”

Diamond Tiara looked at his face, then down at his hoof, and back up again, astonishment clear on her face. “No,” she said, then turned to step around him.

Rumble growled a little, then stepped in front of her again, his wings flared.

“What’s your problem?” she asked, now more surprised than angry. “I just want to—”

“Spill it,” Rumble snarled.

Apple Bloom looked over her shoulder, then nudged Scootaloo in the side. Scootaloo turned to look at her, then followed her gaze to where Rumble and Tiara stood, Tiara frightened, Rumble growling.

“Looks like someone’s havin’ a little trouble,” Apple Bloom said mildly.

Scootaloo turned fully around, watched them for just a moment, then hopped off her seat and trotted up alongside Rumble.

“Is… something wrong?” Scootaloo asked, carefully.

Tiara shot another terrified look at Rumble, then turned to look at Scootaloo--who was astonished to see what looked like genuine fear in her eyes. “I-I just wanted to give this to the three of you,” she said, reaching into her saddlebags and retrieving an envelope. “A-an invitation for a party I’m having this weekend. But then Rumble—”

“She doesn’t want to go to your stupid party,” Rumble growled. “She’s gonna—”

“Why don’t you let me decide that,” Scootaloo said.

Rumble turned to stare at her, then took an involuntary step backwards as she walked towards Tiara. Scootaloo reached out and took the proffered envelope in her teeth.

“Thanksh,” she said around the envelope.

Tiara shot her another frightened glance, then turned and galloped away. Scootaloo tucked the envelope under her wing, then turned to face Rumble. He looked into her eyes for just a moment, then lowered his head. At least he had the decency to look ashamed.

She stared at him for a long moment, then swallowed. She stepped beside him, put an arm around his shoulders, and pulled him close. “What was that all about, huh?” she asked gently.

She wanted to strangle him. But that’s not what he needed at the moment.

Rumble looked up at her. “She...” he began, then looked back down, suddenly embarrassed.

“She what?” Scootaloo prompted.

He glanced up again, then shook his head.

“I appreciate what you’re trying to do,” Scootaloo said, “But please—don’t try to decide who I can and can’t talk to.” She squeezed him a little tighter. “Okay?”

Rumble looked up at her. She saw a flash of hurt, of anger, of frustration in those eyes of his--but he looked down and nodded.

“...okay,” he muttered. “Sorry.”

Scootaloo watched him carefully for a moment as he glanced back towards Button Mash, still sitting at the lunch table, watching the two of them silently. Rumble swallowed as he turned to face her again, blinking nervously.

She sighed, then forced a smile. “Come on,” she said as she lead him back to her table. Sweetie saw the two of them coming and scooted aside, opening a space for him. “Let’s see what this invite is all about,” Scootaloo said.

Apple Bloom watched Rumble warily as Scootaloo gingerly pulled the envelope from under her wing, opened it, and unfolded the invitation. She cleared her throat, then read it aloud:

The honor of your presence is requested for dinner and dancing this Saturday, at six in the evening at the Rich Family Estate. RSVP by tomorrow night.

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes, and Sweetie Belle gasped in anticipation. Scootaloo herself stared at the invitation for a long moment.

“Sounds fun…” she sighed, folding the invitation back up again. “You girls’ll have to let me know how it goes,” she said, handing the invite to Sweetie Belle.

“You’re not going?” Sweetie Belle asked, aghast.

Scootaloo frowned. “Well, even if I wanted to, I can’t.”

“Why not?” Sweetie cried.

“Probably because Casanova here wouldn’t let her.” Apple Bloom grumbled under her breath.
Scootaloo felt Rumble tense up beside her, and turned to glare at Apple Bloom.

“Leave him alone, Apple Bloom,” she growled.

“Why should I?” Apple Bloom crossed her arms. “He’s a big boy--he can stick up for himself, if he wants.

“It’s okay, Scootaloo,” Rumble said flatly. “It took her all day to come up with that dumb line, let her have it.”

Apple Bloom narrowed her eyes. “You callin’ me stupid?” she hissed.

“You sure look the part,” Rumble shot back.

“Hey!” Scootaloo barked. “Enough! Both of you!” She whipped her gaze back and forth between the two of them, and both looked away. She sighed, then turned back to Sweetie Belle. “As I was saying,” she continued, “I have that stupid visit with Rainbow Dash tomorrow night. I don’t think I’ll be in much of a partying mood after that.”

Apple Bloom looked at her quizzically. “You got a what, now?”

Scootaloo turned to her. “A visit with Rainbow,” she groaned. “She’s gonna try and win me over, see if I’ll move in with her. Fluttershy set it up late last night.” She laid her head on her forehooves. “Spoiler alert: ain’t gonna work.”

Apple Bloom frowned. “I don’t get why you’re so upset, Scootaloo,” she said. “Aren’t ya a at least a little excited? You finally know who your real mama is!”

“Ugh,” Scootaloo groaned. “No.”

“Well, if it were me and my Ma,” Apple Bloom said, “Why, I’d be the happiest little filly this side of Appleoosa!”

“You sure about that?” Rumble muttered. “Don’t think an inbred alcoholic who ate dirt and foaled stupid would be much of an improvement.”

He had meant to say it under his breath--a dark little smudge of angry smoke that would get lost in the winds of conversation. But Scootaloo had not responded as quickly as he thought she would, so his insult had come in a lull in the conversation--in a moment of silence, said loud enough, he suddenly realized, for all three of them to hear. He looked up to see all three of them staring at him: Sweetie Belle with shock on her face, Scootaloo with blank confusion, and Apple Bloom in dawning horror and boiling rage.

For a moment, all was silent.

“W… what did you say about my Ma?” Apple Bloom hissed.

Scootaloo leapt into action. “I’m sure he didn’t mean—”

“I said,” Rumble interrupted, louder, “that I’d want to be put out of my misery, too, if I dropped a foal like you.”

Part of him knew this was a bad idea. She hadn’t done anything wrong--not really--and he was hitting her where he knew it would hurt the most. But the rest of him was boiling, simmering anger. He only wanted what was best for Scootaloo--and why couldn’t her friends see that? And then there was this dumb hick, whose only crush had probably been some apple tree--what did she know what was happening between them? What could she know?

“I’m not surprised she left you,” he said, “With how dumb you are, I’m surprised she didn’t—”

With a sudden howl of rage, Apple Bloom leapt towards him. Scootaloo ducked out of the way, and Apple Bloom slammed into him, bringing him to the ground. Rumble held up his hooves to fend her off, but she swung, hard, smashing her own hooves into his face, one, two three times.

Rumble lay there, stunned, until she grabbed him around the neck and hauled him off the ground, pulling his face just inches from her own, her eyes full of fire and salt water. “Don’t you ever disrespect my Ma,” she hissed, her voice sharp and hard. “Or my family. You… you…” Her eyes flashed. “You blank flank.”

Somewhere in the distance, Rumble could hear Sweetie Belle gasp, and Scootaloo start to yell.

“Just wait until I tell my sister about this,” Apple Bloom continued, chuckling darkly. “You make fun of my Ma being dead? Well, AJ’s gonna make you wish you’d never been born.”

Rumble spat to the side. One of his teeth felt loose, and his mouth tasted of copper. “Cool,” he wheezed. “Then we’ll finally have something in common.”

Apple Bloom stared at him for a moment longer—then, with another screech of rage, raised her hoof again—

Suddenly, an orange blur slammed into Apple Bloom, knocking her off of Rumble. He rolled onto his stomach and stood shakily, then looked over to see Apple Bloom writhing in the dirt—and, on top of her, Scootaloo. She was holding Apple Bloom down in a sloppy, but effective, headlock.

“Get off me!” Apple Bloom roared. “He… he said…”

And suddenly, Apple Bloom went limp. She turned her head to look up at Rumble--and, as they made eye contact, Rumble felt the color drain from his face.

She was weeping--tears streamed openly down her face, and, though there was hatred in her eyes, it was overwhelmed by a vast, bottomless sorrow.

Scootaloo let her go, then stood up, but Apple Bloom just laid there in the dirt. “H-he said Mama was a drunk…” she said, her body starting to heave with barely suppressed sobs. “He-he said It’s m-my fault that Mama…” She squeezed her eyes shut then shook her head, scattering teardrops like rain. “No!” she howled. “Mama loved me! She was good people! AJ wouldn’t lie… o-or Big Mac, or Granny, or...She buried her head in her hooves and sobbed.

Rumble watched her weep, and took a step backwards. His face was sore, and he was going to have quite the shiner in the morning. But, even for that--he felt a little sorry for her. He had wanted to hurt her, sure, but didn’t know it would cut this deep...

A shadow fell across the four of them. Rumble looked up and quailed--Miss Cheerilee stood over them, her expression unreadable.

“Rumble,” she said, in a voice that brooked no argument. “Stay here. I’ll be back for you in a moment.” She turned and looked around the playground—and Rumble noticed, for the first time, that the entire school was watching them in a frightened, haunting silence.

“Featherweight,” Cheerilee called, and Rumble saw him try and hide behind Snails. “Please fly over to Sweet Apple Acres right away, and let Applejack know that she needs to come pick up Apple Bloom.” Featherweight tried to shrink behind Snails even further. “Now, please,” she said firmly.

Featherweight swallowed, then stood up straight, spread his wings, and took off.

Cheerilee watched him go, then turned back to the rest of the bystanders. “Please go back to playing,” she said. “Fight’s over.”

One by one, the foals turned and began to file away. As Buton left, he shot Rumble a look--but, whether he was frightened for him, or of him, Rumble couldn’t tell.

Finally, Miss Cheerilee bent down, grabbed the scruff of Apple Bloom’s neck in her teeth, and picked her up. For a sudden, horrible moment, she looked to Rumble like Scootaloo, dangling from Cheerilee’s jaws—but Apple Bloom did not resist, and hung there, already limp and broken, though there wasn’t a mark on her.

Cheerilee shot Rumble a hard look. “Thtay here,” she repeated sharply, then turned and carried her back towards the schoolhouse.

Rumble took a deep breath, then slowly let it out. He turned to Scootaloo and opened his mouth—

—and she slapped him across the face.

Rumble stared at her, wide-eyed. After the beating he had taken, her slap barely even registered--physically, at least. But the sharp, hollow smack echoed back and forth inside his brain like the ringing of some great, ominous bell.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Scootaloo spat.

Rumble closed his mouth, then opened it again. He wanted to speak—but no sound came out.

“Do you have any idea what you just did?” she hissed. “Do you know how much she cares about her mother? And you—” she jabbed him in the chest “—you just had to twist the knife, didn’t you?” She turned around then threw her forehooves in the air. “I do not need this right now!” she said, to no one in particular.

Rumble finally found his voice. “You don’t need a friend who’s just fine with handing you off to Rainb—”

Scootaloo round to face him, her expression a mask of rage. “You don’t get to decide who my friends are!” she roared, drawing stares again.

Rumble’s mouth fell open again, and he said nothing else.

Scootaloo glanced around the playground, staring down those few who dared to watch them openly. Then, she turned back to Rumble. She took a deep breath, and, when she spoke, her voice was quiet againnormal, save for the faintest simmering tremor of anger.

“I don’t know what is up your ass today,” she said, “but I’m done.” She turned away from him. “Leave me alone.”

Rumble gasped--but no air came in. He felt like he’d had the wind knocked out of him. “W—What?” he breathed, his voice barely a whisper.

“You heard me,” Scootaloo said, without looking at him.

Rumble’s rump slowly dropped to the grass. He didn’t know what to say. Didn’t know what to think. His mind was a blank white sheet, useless and afraid.

“Come on,” Scootaloo said to Sweetie Belle. “Let’s go play. On the other side of the playground.”

Wordlessly, Scootaloo trotted up beside her, and the two of them set off. “Thanks for your help back there,” Scootaloo said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Well, I didn’t want to make—” she muttered, before, her voice trailed off, caught and torn to pieces by the wind.

Rumble sat there, in the center of the crowded schoolyard, surrounded by ponies, but totally and completely alone.

Rumble hung his head, and suddenly realized he was tired--very tired. He hadn’t slept well since… well, since the trip to Cloudsdale. His nightmares wouldn’t let him. At first, they had been weak little things, dreams that just made him toss and turnbut now, any time he closed his eyes, he saw them. Sometimes it was Rainbow. Sometimes Soarin’. Once, it had even been Rarity. But each time, they did something awful to Scootaloosomething he was powerless to stop. And each time, they stared at him, blood on their lips, their stares cold and sharp.

Rumble squeezed his eyes shut. He hated feeling this wayall this anger, all this fear. His little body was too small to hold it all. And yet, what else could he do? No one in Ponyville gave a damn about Scootaloono one but him. And he had to keep her safe. Because, if he didn’t, who would?

But--he let out a small sob--he had ruined everything. True, he wasn’t thinking clearly--there was too much going on in his heart and soul for that--but he had tried to keep Scootaloo safe. Safe from an old enemy, who he was sure was going to hurt her again--from her friend, who had wanted to throw her to the wolves--and from his own best friend, who, he had feared, wanted to whisk her away from him.

And look how far that had gotten him.

Rumble slowly lowered himself the rest of the way into the grass. Scootaloo hated him now--and it was all his fault.

And that knowledge hurt more than Apple Bloom’s beating ever could.

14. Dinner

View Online

Princess Cadance set down her teacup with a clatter. “He didn’t,” she gasped.

Twilight nodded. “He did,” she said. “Called her inbred and everything.”

Cadance scowled, and Twilight took a sip of her tea. This wasn’t the sort of thing that they normally liked to talk about, but it didn’t matter much: Twilight had almost forgotten how much she enjoyed just spending time with her sister-in-law.

When Cadance had first arrived—solo this time, as Shiny was needed back in the Empire—she and Twilight had just made small-talk about this and that. But the conversation had come around, as Twilight knew it would, to the subject of Rainbow and Scootaloo. Cadance had a way of knowing when something needed her attention, and, well—this particular relationship was rockier than most.

Not that either of them were exactly helping. Rainbow didn’t know how to take “no” for an answer—never had—and Scootaloo was, to put it mildly, acting her age. Cadance’s questions had eventually led Twilight to tell what she’d heard—including how Rumble and Apple Bloom had gotten into a fight the day she’d left.

And she’d told her, as far as she knew, exactly what Rumble had said about the Apples’ mother.

Cadance screwed up her face in anger. “He deserves everything he got,” she snapped.

“Ordinarily, I’d agree…” Twilight began, “but, well…”

Cadance raised an eyebrow. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Twilight took a deep breath, then let it out. “Have you heard the saying still waters run deep?”

Cadance nodded slowly.

“Well,” Twilight said, “Let’s just say that Applejack turned out to be a particularly nasty section of the Mareana Trench.”

Cadance’s eyes went wide, and she leaned forward slightly. “It was that bad?” she breathed.

Twilight nodded. “When Apple Bloom told her what he’d said, she was so mad she could barely speak. I think she would’ve wrung Rumble’s neck right there—and Big Mac would’ve helped her do it—if Thunderlane hadn’t invited me to come with them.” Twilight shook her head slowly. “And, what she did manage to say, well…” she shrugged. “She made Rumble cry, at least. And I don’t think he stopped for hours.”

Cadance nodded slowly. “Nothing, I’m sure, compared to Apple Bloom…” She took a sip of her tea. “But still.”

Twilight nodded. “But still.” She picked up her teacup and took another sip. “Anyways, Applejack barred him from the property, and Thunderlane grounded him for… well, a few weeks, I think. And Rumble and Apple Bloom avoid each other like the plague. Scootaloo made up with Apple Bloom, eventually, and she and Rumble started talking again, too, but it’s, uh...” she swallowed. “It’s still put a little bit of a strain on his and Scootaloo’s relationship.”

Cadance looked up sharply. “Relationship?” she repeated. “Are they really...?

Twilight shook her head vigorously. “No, not at all. But anyone who knows them knows it’s just a matter of time.”

Cadance nodded to herself. “Speaking of time,” she said, “how are she and Rainbow doing, now that they’ve had a little?”

Twilight rolled her eyes and put down her cup. “Did you hear how their first visit went?”

“A little,” Cadance admitted. “Dumpster fire?”

“No,” Twilight said, “train wreck—hundreds dead, news at eleven.”

Cadance winced.

“Indeed,” Twilight said. “Scootaloo scrapped some plans she had with her friends to do it, and Rainbow had a long, frustrating day at work beforehand. And it didn’t help that Rainbow was still full of herself—or, at least, full of her ideas for how their visit was supposed to go—nor that Scootaloo was determined to have a terrible time. I hear it turned into in a full-blown shouting match, right there in Sugarcube Corner, which only ended because someone called the cops.” Twilight settled back in her chair. “Which, of course, didn’t help with Rainbow’s legal troubles any.”

Cadance looked up from her tea. “Legal troubles?”

Twilight nodded. “Someone—maybe it was Cheerilee, or Mrs. Harbour, or another government worker like that—or maybe could’ve been one of the dozens of others who heard the argument between Rainbow and Rumble—but it got back, to all the wrong people, that Rainbow had been mistreating Scootaloo. So now she’s had to go to court, too—and it’s…” she sighed. “Well, it’s not going well for her.”

Cadance looked down again, and began to stir her tea pensively.

“Anyways,” Twilight continued, after a moment of silence, “they’ve kept up their visits, such as they are. Rainbow’s starting to get better at it… not much, but she’s trying, at least… but Scootaloo…” Twilight swallowed, then looked away, watching Cadance out of the corner of her eye. “...she’s still angry,” she said simply.

Cadance continued to stir her tea in silence.

Twilight nervously cleared her throat. “So, uh… y’know, if you wouldn’t mind doing a little work while you’re on vacation… I think, uh…” she swallowed again. “I think Rainbow and Scootaloo wouldn’t mind.”

Cadance said nothing for a long moment. When she did finally speak, she kept her eyes on her tea, and her voice was barely a whisper.

“There are some things,” she said, “that ponies must do on their own. And, I think,” she said, “that this is one of them.”

Twilight swallowed, but did not reply.

“This is a relationship that the two of them will have to earn,” Cadance continued, in the same quiet voice. “I can fix it, if I have to, but the cracks are too deep for me to heal completely. And without a strong foundation—one built, over time, by the two of them, working together—anything I could do would be just a coat of paint. It’d all collapse again within weeks.” She turned away. “I’ve done it before.” She swallowed. “Once. And…” she shook her head. “And that was enough for me.”

Twilight turned to watch her for a moment, then looked away again. She sighed, then took a sip of her tea.

There was another long moment of awkward silence. Suddenly, a quick grin flashed across Twilight’s face—just a quick one, one that she quickly buried.

“So,” she said, trying hard to keep her voice casual, “How’s Flash doing?”

Cadance looked up. “Flash?” she repeated.

“Flash Sentry,” Twilight said. “In the guard?”

Cadance raised an eyebrow. “Why in Equestria are you asking about him?” she asked.

“Oh, well…” Twilight shrugged. “Y’know…”

Cadance stared at her, then a mischievous smirk crept across her face. “Oh,” she said, “I do know.” She set down her cup. “Well, if you must ask, he’s doing fine…”

“Now, be sure to behave,” Rainbow Dash said.

Soarin’ put on his best injured, pouty face. “I always behave,” he said.

Rainbow glared at him. “Soaring Marion Skies,” she said sternly, “I’m serious.”

Soarin’ stared at her. He had never heard her use her Mom Voice before. He didn’t know she had a Mom Voice.

It was kinda hot, actually.

The two of them were standing in Rainbow’s rarely-used dining room, which she had just dusted that morning. Rainbow herself had brushed out her mane and tail and preened her feathers twice, and had forced Soarin’ to put a little something in his mane for good measure.

“We’re trying to make a good impression,” Rainbow continued. “This is the first time you’ve really met her, and I want you to show her you can be a gentlecolt.”

Soarin’ gave her another pouty look. “You say that like you doubt me,” he said.

Rainbow’s eyes narrowed.

Soarin’ cleared his throat, then glanced at the table, set with a white cloth and porcelain plates, with two flat cardboard boxes resting in the center of the table. “Little fancy for pizza,” he muttered.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Everyone likes pizza, especially kids, so pizza we’re having.”

Soarin’ glanced over at the table again, hesitated, and counted the place settings. “Four,” he said aloud. “Why four?”

Rainbow sighed. Soarin’ could really get on her nerves when he was playing stupid.

“One for me,” she said patiently, “one for you, one for Scootaloo, and one for Sweetie Belle.” She frowned. “Or Apple Bloom.”

Soarin’ raised an eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he said.

“She asked if she could bring a friend,” Rainbow replied. “Which means it’s one of those two. Can’t think of who else she would invite…” She shuddered. “Unless it’s Diamond Tiara.

Soarin’ shrugged noncommittally.

Rainbow glanced at the clock. “Speaking of,” she said, “It’s almost time. I should probably go get them...”

At that moment, there was a knock at the front door.

Rainbow frowned, then trotted smartly to the front door. She swung it open.

“Hey, Squirt,” she said, grinning wide. “Good to see you! How did you—?”

And then, her smile froze.

On her doorstep stood Scootaloo. Her expression was vague and unreadable—though she, like Rainbow, had taken the time to brush out both her mane and her tail.

And next to her stood Rumble.

Rainbow stared at him, eyes wide, for a long moment. “Oh,” she said finally, her voice hollow. “Oh. Oh. Ohhhh.”

She turned her head slightly, her wide, panicked eyes never leaving Rumble. “Oh Sweetie,” she called back over her shoulder, “l-look who Scootaloo brought along.”

Scootaloo’s brow furrowed. “Sweetie?” she repeated.

Soarin’ poked his head around the corner. As Rumble saw him, his eyes went wide.

“Sweetie?!” he yelped.

Soarin’ shot Rainbow a look, one eyebrow raised, then trotted up beside her and put on his best meet-and-greet smile. “Hi,” he purred, “I’m Soarin’.” He polished one of his hooves on an imaginary lapel, examined it, then breathed on it and polished it again, all with an air of practiced nonchalance. “You might know me from the Wonderbolts,” he added, almost as an afterthought.

For the first time, he seemed to see who was standing on the porch. “Oh,” he said, “you must be Scootaloo.” He glanced at Rumble. “And you’re... Apple Belle?” he hazarded.

“Rumble,” Rumble corrected, coldly.

“Ah, yes,” Soarin’ said, “Roomba.” He held out a hoof. “Good to meet you.”

Rumble stared at the outstretched hoof, a snarl twitching his lips. He must think he’s so clever, he thought to himself. He has no idea how pompous he looks. He thought of his Soarin’ action figure—now lying somewhere at the bottom of the Ponyville dump—and thought of another dozen evil and violent things he should have done to it before throwing it away.

Soarin’s smile slipped the slightest bit. He had spent most of his career around foals this age, and most of them couldn’t get enough of his “I’m not actually famous” act. “Oh yes, Mr. Soarin’, I do know you! I have your poster, and your t-shirt, and…!”

And yet this colt was just glaring at him, and this filly was looking away. Admittedly, he was more impressive when he was in uniform, but still: he had never had a fan snarl at him before.

Soarin’ decided suddenly that he disliked this—this Ramble, or whoever he was.

Scootaloo glared past Soarin’s still-outstretched hoof, to where Rainbow stood, motionless, just inside the door. Cold sweat ran down her forehead, her teeth were clenched tight, and tendons stuck out like steel cords on her neck. What is she thinking, Scootaloo found herself asking, inviting him along? This was supposed to be a private thing, just the three of us.

Rainbow glanced between the three of them, fighting tooth and nail to keep her calm. A great many unpleasant revelations had been made in the past few seconds, and she was still trying to marshal her defenses against them. Not only was Scootaloo’s “friend,” as it turned out, a colt, he was that colt: the one who had gotten her in so much trouble, the one who openly hated her guts, the one who, she had to admit, she still thought of as her greatest enemy.

And here he was, all ready to spend an evening not only with her, but with Soarin’. And, if he hated her, what was he going to think of her boy-toy?

It was going to be a long, awkward evening. And it could only go downhill from here.

For a long time, no one moved. Finally, Rainbow gulped.

“Soarin’,” Rainbow hissed through her teeth, “Why don’t you let Scootaloo and her—” she swallowed again. “Her friend come inside?”

Soarin’ glanced at her in mild surprise, then pulled back his hoof and took a step backwards.

“Come on in,” Rainbow said, her teeth still clenched. “Dinner’s on the table, and I have some movies in the living room for after.”

Scootaloo stepped inside and shouldered past her, and Rumble followed, shooting Rainbow an acid glare as he passed. Soarin’ watched them head into the dining room, then stepped closer to Rainbow.

“Tough crowd,” he muttered. “What’s up his ass?”

And then, he turned and walked into the kitchen.

Rainbow swallowed two or three times, then pushed the door shut. As she leaned on it, she had the sudden, unaccountable mental image of a freight train, under full steam, screaming towards the edge of a cliff. She shook her head, then turned and walked into the kitchen.

Scootaloo sat quietly next to Rumble. After a moment, she turned and looked him up and down, and ran a hoof through his hair. Rumble made a grumpy noise, then leaned away from her.

“Be nice,” she said warningly. “We’re trying to make a good impression.”

“No need,” he grumbled, mostly to himself. “No saving those two.”

Scootaloo gritted her teeth. “Rumble,” she said sternly, “we discussed this.”

“Didn’t discuss him,” he said sharply, nodding over his shoulder, where Soarin’s hindquarters were just visible through the door to the kitchen.

Scootaloo followed his gaze, then pressed her lips into a thin line.

“Well,” she said finally. “It’s only a couple hours.”

Rumble glanced over at her, then sighed. “I’ll be good,” he said finally. “As long as he is.”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “Will have to do,” she said to herself.

“I don’t want a colt like that in this house,” Soarin’ whispered urgently.

“It’s not your house,” Rainbow whispered back.

Soarin’ shot her a look—a look she fired right back. Soarin’s eyes flashed, but finally, he looked away.

“This is important to me,” she hissed. “Important to us.”

He looked up sharply. He had heard a threat in her voice—though real or imagined, he couldn’t quite be sure.

Rainbow sighed heavily. “Listen,” she said. “It’s only two or three hours. And half of that’s a movie. Do you think you can hold it together until then?”

Soarin’ turned away. Rainbow watched him carefully, but still almost missed the hurt little glance he gave her.

She hesitated, then leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.

Soarin’ straightened up a little. It was just a quick peck—but she had never kissed him like that before. There was some actual tenderness in that kiss of hers.

“Can you do it?” she repeated. “For me?”

Soarin’ took a deep breath—and, as he was letting it out, an image of Rumble’s clouded face flashed across his mind.

“I’ll try,” he said, with a sincerity that surprised even him.

Rainbow smiled. “Good,” she said. “Now, let’s get this party started.”

Rainbow took a deep, nervous breath. “So,” she said, “We’re having pizza tonight. Hope you like it.”

She reached over and theatrically lifted the lids on both boxes. “Pizza Hoof,” she said grandly. “Mushroom and black olives, and onions and green peppers.”

She watched them nervously. Rumble raised his eyebrows, then leaned forward, grabbed a slice of each, and took a big, eager bite. Rainbow smiled a little, then turned to watch Scootaloo—and froze.

Scootaloo looked like she was going to be ill. She stared at both pizzas, eyes wide and face ashen. She glanced up and saw Rainbow watching her—and shrank back, just a little.

“I don’t like olives,” she croaked. “Or onions.”

The bottom fell out of Rainbow’s stomach. “Oh,” she said, her brain frantically scrambling for a way to save this. “I-I can—”

“No,” Scootaloo said miserably, “I can just—”

She picked up a thin slice of the onion and green pepper pizza, and began to nibble at it, with careful, delicate bites that danced around the offending onions.

Rainbow watched her for a moment, then gulped and turned helplessly to look at Soarin’, and found him already chowing down. He must have felt the weight of her gaze on him, for he looked up at her, incredulous.

“Eat,” he urged. “No sense in letting it get cold.”

Rainbow realized, rather suddenly, that she wasn’t actually hungry. And yet, she forced herself to reach out, take a piece of pizza--the pizza she had been so excited about an hour ago--and take a bite.

They ate in silence for several minutes. Rainbow had finished once slice and started on another one before she noticed Soarin’ had stopped chewing. He was staring intently at something. Rainbow turned to follow his gaze, and saw he was watching Scootaloo eat, her slice now a ragged swiss-cheese of bread and toppings.

“You know,” he said suddenly, a note of simmering irritation in his voice, “you can pick ‘em off.”

Rumble’s eyes flashed, and he looked up at Soarin’. “Maybe she doesn’t like the taste,” he snapped.

“They’re onions,” Soarin’ spat back, “not rat poison.”

“Yeah, well,” Rumble muttered, looking down at his pizza, “I hear she’s not overfond of stuck-up Wonderbolts either.”

Soarin’ dropped his pizza to his plate with a splat, placed his forehooves flat on the table, then stood, pushing his chair back, his face full of dark fury.

Rumble gulped; he hadn’t realized how very tall Soarin’ was.

For a long, agonizing moment, no one spoke. Rainbow opened and closed her mouth. She had planned for almost anything tonight—except for this. Now the locomotive in her head was not only barreling towards the cliffside—it had caught fire, with bright scarlet flames consuming the cab and burning the engineer alive.

Rainbow looked around desperately, and her gaze fell on Scootaloo. She stared back at Rainbow, her expression carefully neutral, save for a faint whiff of… something. Was that judgment? Or anger? Or was Rainbow just seeing her own feelings, projected back at her?

But, as Rainbow stared at her daughter—her daughter—something in her brain finally caught.

She looked up with a bright smile. “Everyone finished?” she asked, just loud enough for all three of them to turn and stare at her. “If we’re done,” she continued, “Let’s go to the living room. Soarin’ and I can go get the popcorn.”

Scootaloo seemed to catch something in her tone. “Good idea,” she said, hopping off her chair. “C’mon, Rumble, let’s go check it out.” She grabbed Rumble by the hoof and pulled him out of his chair, then out the door.

As soon as they had gone, Rainbow rounded on Soarin’. “What the hell was that?” she hissed.

He turned to stare back at her, still furious. “You heard him,” he said. “Cocky little brat needs—”

“He is eleven,” she spat. “You,” she added, jabbing him in the chest with her hoof, “are almost three times his age—and the second most-famous Wonderbolt on the team. Are you seriously going to get into a pissing contest with a colt whose balls haven’t even dropped yet?”

Soarin’ glared back at her, then closed his eyes and swallowed, hard. When he opened them again, he flashed her his winning, crowd-pleasing smile, the smile that lingered on his face just a little too long.

“Fine,” he said, grinning, in a tone that cracked at the edges. “Let’s go get the popcorn, then go and sit down with the munchkins. And we’ll all be one, big, happy family.”

Without another word, he turned and marched—practically goose-stepped—into the kitchen.

Rainbow stared. She knew this mood. She’d seen it before, once, back when Signal Flare had spilled coffee on his show uniform two minutes before he was set to perform. That was the look he had when he was planning murder.

Figuratively, of course.

Or—she gulped—at least so she hoped.

15. Defiance

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“So, kiddos,” Soarin’ asked brightly, “What do we want to watch tonight? Auntie Dash and I picked out a whole bunch of movies we know you’ll love!”

Scootaloo swallowed. There was something wrong here, though she wasn’t sure what. Soarin’ was a little too happy—and, if she knew him at all, the only thing that could possibly get him in that good of a mood was if Rainbow had promised him she was going to—

She shook her head. No. Couldn’t think about that.

Rumble, next to her, eyed the stack of movies sitting on the coffee table.

“Got some good ones,” Rainbow volunteered.

Scootaloo looked at her. If Soarin’ was too perky, Rainbow was—well—the opposite. She sat on the couch almost as if the entire room, and everyone in it, was made of glass, and one errant touch would send everything crashing to the floor. Almost like Soarin’ had somehow sucked the life out of her.

“I found The Good, The Bad, And The Derpy,” she continued shakily, “A-and Enter the Dragon Lord, and Pony Express 2—”

Rumble shot Soarin’ a dirty look. He stood and examined the stack of cases on the table, easily as tall as he was. “Ooh,” he said, turning away from the stack. “What about this one—The Waler of Wall Street? I hear it’s really good. Some ponies I know,” he added, staring directly at Soarin’, “really see a lot of themselves in it.”

Scootaloo grabbed his elbow. “Rumble,” she whispered urgently, “What are you—”

“Or how about Schleswig’s List?” Soarin’ piped up. He was still smiling, but his gaze was murderous. “I hear the little kid gets what he deserves in the end.”

Scootaloo’s eyes widened. She opened her mouth to speak—

“Princess,” Rainbow squeaked.

All three of them turned to look at her. She sat on the couch, eyes wide and staring, sweat rolling openly down her forehead.

“Princess,” she repeated. “O-of Oz. You kids seen it?”

Scootaloo had seen it forty-seven times. It was one of the few films Mrs. Harbour would let them watch on Sundays.

“No,” Scootaloo said. “Never have.”

She jabbed Rumble in the ribs. He turned to look at her, and saw her expression. He cleared his throat, then turned back to Rainbow. “Me neither. Ma’am,” he added respectfully.

“Good,” Rainbow said through clenched teeth. “I’ll go put it in.”

Rainbow stood and walked to the stack of movies. As she started sorting through them, she lifted her back right leg, then nudged the bowl of popcorn sitting on the floor, full to overflowing, towards Scootaloo. Scootaloo pulled it away from her—then gazed down, hungrily, at the bowl. She stuffed an enormous hoof-full of it in her mouth while no one was looking.

As the manticore on the screen roared, Rainbow flicked off the lights, then sank, uneasily, into the couch. Soarin’ sat next to her, and, in the middle of the rug sat the two kids. The four of them started more-or-less attentively at the screen, watching as the old-timey credits began to roll.

Rainbow, with some difficulty, unclenched her jaw. This night had gone just about as badly as was physically possible, but, at last, they had put in the movie. Short of a house fire, nothing more could go wrong. All she had to do was to wait until Dolores found she had the power to go home all along in those ruby horseshoes of hers, then usher the kids and Soarin’ out the door. She could start picking up the pieces tomorrow.

She stared at the screen—blankly, at first, but then, during Dolores’s “Over the Rainbow” number, she started to smile. It had been a long, long time since she’d sat down and watched this one. She’d forgotten how good it was, despite all the cliches…

As Dolores started to mouth off to Mrs. Gale, Rainbow slowly became aware that Soarin’ was bouncing his hoof. He was starting to get bored.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. He was a big boy. He could deal with it for another hour and a half.

Rainbow tried hard to ignore him. She could tell he was getting more and more impatient, but she was quickly running out of sympathy for him. Tonight wasn’t about him after all, it was about—

At that moment, Soarin’ leaned over and kissed her.

It was a simple kiss, on the corner of her mouth, but he held it for a long moment, in a way that made a tingle run up and down Rainbow’s spine. “Mmmm,” she breathed, a genuine grin spreading across her face.

She wasn’t sure the last time he had kissed her like that. There was some actual tenderness in that kiss of his—

And then, he kissed her again, lower, just on her jawline—and again, lower, on her neck. Rainbow’s guts froze.

“Soarin’—” she began.

But he shifted his weight and pressed up against her, pushing her down onto the couch. His hooves snaked around her waist—low, too low. Rainbow tried to push him away, but Soarin’ just kissed her again, on her collarbone—

“Ahem,” said a voice.

Soarin’ and Rainbow looked up. Both the kids stared back at them, Rumble’s face filled with a dark scowl, Scootaloo with a faint frown.

Rainbow turned to look at Soarin’. He was no longer staring at her—any part of her. He was glaring at Rumble, eyes practically glowing with the heat coming off them.

“Hey, Rum Swizzle,” he said suddenly, his voice dripping acid. “Bug off. This doesn’t concern you.”

Rumble’s eyes went wide. On screen, Dolores said, “Jojo, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Appleoosa anymore.”

“Leave him alone,” Scootaloo said, her voice shaking.

Soarin’ glanced disdainfully at her, then turned back to Rumble. “What’s the deal with the cripple, anyways?” he said. “Charity auction? Lose a bet?”

Rumble’s eyes flashed. “She’s not a cripple,” he spat, getting to his hooves. “Her name is Scootaloo, and she just needs a little help—”

“Oh yeah?” Soarin’ said, sitting up. “And you’re going to give it to her? With the magic healing power of your willy?” he sneered.

Rumble’s brow furrowed in confusion—then his eyes flashed with anger. He stood, and opened his mouth to speak—but, before he could, Scootaloo stepped in front of him.

“C’mon, guys,” she pleaded. “Let’s just watch the movie, alright? It’s a good one. I like it.”

Soarin’ raised an eyebrow. “Never seen it before, huh?” He turned back to Rumble. “Impeccable taste, Rumble,” he said acidly. “You picked yourself a cripple and a liar—”

Rainbow put a hoof on his shoulder. “Soarin’, please—”

“No,” he snarled. “I’m sick of him, sick of his lip, sick of—”

“Of not having someone stroke your ego?” Rumble cut in. “What has it been—fifteen minutes?” He clopped his hooves together, then batted his eyes up at Soarin’. “Golly gee, mister!” he cried. “I’m so glad to meet you! And you’re turned out to be everything I’ve ever dreamed of! You’re so strong, and fast—” his gleeful expression darkened “—and vain, and stuck up, and—”

Soarin’ sucked in a deep, shaky breath. A vein had popped up on his forehead, and, even in the semi-darkness, it pulsed angrily. Scootaloo placed a warning hoof on Rumble’s shoulder. For several seconds, the only sound was the television.

And then, Soarin’ flashed a grin, then turned to Rainbow who stared, silent and wide-eyed, at the scene in front of her.

“Hey, babe,” he said, his voice calm, though he himself still trembled with rage, “Whaddaya say we take a raincheck on that movie? Throw the kids out, have ourselves a little fun…”

Before Rumble could stop himself, he had pulled free of Scootaloo’s grasp.

“What’s wrong, Soarin’?” he heard himself say, “Can’t stand the truth?”

Soarin’ looked over his shoulder at him. “Hey, kid,” Soarin’ said.

His voice was quiet, deathly quiet, but the ice and steel in his tone pierced through Rumble’s heart and nailed him stock-still to the floor.

Before any one of them could react, Soarin’ stood up from the couch. Standing on two legs, he stepped forward, hauled back one leg, and kicked Rumble in the jaw.

The force of the kick sent Rumble cartwheeling into the darkness. Before he had even hit the floor, he was already howling in pain. In seconds, Scootaloo was beside him. Gently, she lifted his head and peeked at his jaw—the wound was dripping blood, and she could see the white of the bone through the gash.

“Sh, sh,” she whispered, as Rumble continued his long, breathless scream, “It’s gonna be alright…”

Even she heard the lie in her voice.

Suddenly, she jerked her head up. Soarin’ stood over the two of them, down on all fours again—and, between his legs, Scootaloo could see Rainbow, still sitting, frozen, on the couch, her mouth opening and closing over and over again.

“You might as well learn this now,” Soarin’ said in that same, icy quiet tone. “Until you make it big, you are nobody. You’re just a little fish in a big pond. I have a million more fans just like you, so I don’t need your lip, hear? I’m not gonna lose sleep over one punk kid who doesn’t buy my t-shirts anymore.”

He looked down at Rumble’s bleeding jaw and smirked. “Actually, at this point,” he said, “It looks like you don’t need your lip anymore either.”

Scootaloo looked up at Soarin’, defiance in her glare, and pulled Rumble close. “You leave us alone,” she said, her voice trembling.

Soarin’s eyes flashed. “And you,” he growled, “Don’t you defend him. He doesn’t deserve it—”

Behind Soarin’, Rainbow finally stood. “Soarin’!” she barked. “Back off!”

Rainbow swooped towards him—but Soarin’, with only a disdainful glance, grabbed her in a headlock, then tossed her aside.

“While I’m at it,” he added, casually as if he had just swatted a fly, “I might as well take care of two of my fans. I mean,” he said, his eyes glittering evilly, “it’s only fair, right?”

Scootaloo’s eyes went wide. She dropped Rumble and scuttled backwards, away from Soarin’, who stalked towards her with all the urgency and inevitability of a glacier grinding down the mountainside.

“And here’s the beauty of it all,” he continued. “No matter what happens next, it’s your word against mine. And no one is gonna take the word of a angsty punk and a homeless filly over a beloved celebrity. And I think we both know Rainbow here isn’t going to say anything, either,” he added, “not while she’s—”

“Hey, Soarin’!”

Soarin’ turned and glanced over his shoulder, just in time to see Rainbow stand on her hind legs. With fire in her eyes and a snarl on her lips, hauled back her leg, and, with a speed and strength that would make a buckball player swoon, slammed her hoof into Soarin’s groin.

Soarin’ sucked in a sharp squeal of a breath and collapsed. Rainbow dropped down onto all fours, then stood, towering over him. Scootaloo looked up at her, then gasped. She ran back to where Rumble lay, then dragged him backwards, away from Rainbow. She’d seen her mad before, of course—but she barely recognized the mare standing over her now.

“Get out of my house,” she said to Soarin’, her voice barely a whisper. “And stay away from my kids. Otherwise, there won’t be anything left of you for the cops to arrest.”

Soarin’, his eyes brimming full of salty tears and fiery rage, opened his mouth to respond.

“Now!” she roared.

Soarin’ stared at her for another long moment before closing his mouth. He clambered to his hooves, and, shooting a glare back over his shoulder, hobbled towards the front door. No one moved until the door had slammed behind him.

Rainbow let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. She looked around urgently. “Are you kids alright?” she asked. “Is everything—”

Her eyes widened. She was alone—alone save for a trail of ugly red drops that led across the floor and into the kitchen.

Rainbow, her mouth suddenly dry, followed the trail into the kitchen. One of her dishtowels had been taken from where it hung on the oven, and the back door swung open in the breeze.

Rainbow slipped outside and froze. There, on her back porch, overlooking the Ponyville valley, stood Rumble. He was whimpering, and his knees were shaking, and her dishtowel, already soaked through with blood, had been tied around his head as a makeshift bandage. Scootaloo was midway through clambering onto his back. When she realized Rainbow was watching them, she turned.

“Go away,” she cried, her voice trembling.

“N-no,” Rainbow said, her voice shaking, too. “I have a first aid kit—and the movie’s still going—I-I can fix, him, and make us a cake after, and—”

Scootaloo’s eyes flashed. “You don’t get it, do you?” she snapped, sliding off of Rumble’s back.

Rainbow shrank back and stared, wide-eyed.

Scootaloo swallowed, and Rainbow noticed, for the first time, that she was crying.

“I came here tonight,” she said, “to give you one more chance. I thought you deserved that much. But now—” a fresh tear rolled down her cheek “—now I can see that you’re never going to change.”

Rainbow’s knees gave out, and she sat down, hard. This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening.

“B-but I saved you,” she heard herself stammer. “I scared him off—”

“Shut up,” Scootaloo spat, her voice thick. “Yeah, you saved us—after you ordered a pizza I couldn’t eat. After you let him pick on Rumble all evening. After he—he broke Rumble’s jaw, or whatever. And after—” she snarled “—after he threatened me. When it was just Rumble, you didn’t give a rat’s ass.” She turned around and started to clamber up onto Rumble’s back again.

Rainbow shook her head. This was all a bad dream. She was hallucinating. Soarin’ had spiked her drink at dinner, and she was still sitting on the couch, watching Dolores and Jojo skip down the yellow-brick road.

Scootaloo finally succeeded in climbing up onto Rumble’s back. She turned and saw Rainbow, still just sitting there, her eyes glassy and sightless.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said savagely, turning back to Rumble. “Let’s get you to somepony that gives a damn.”

Rumble nodded, then spread his wings and leapt off the cloud. It took him a few wing-beats to gain his balance, and, even then, it was really more of a glide than a proper flight—but, in moments, they were gone from sight.

Rainbow sat there, on her back porch, for a long, long time.

Soarin’ lay on his couch, an enormous bag of ice in his lap.

That bitch, he thought to himself. He hadn’t done anything wrong—not really. True, he had lost his temper, a little, but he did that every so often. That was part of his reputation, wasn’t it? The kid had insulted his honor—surely, no one was surprised that he had reacted that way, right?

Right. He was innocent—Rainbow was in the wrong here. He had tried to do her a favor, and she had literally kicked him in the balls for it.

He shifted uncomfortably. Well, damn them. Damn all of them. He never dated mares with kids anyways. Too many complications.

He wondered briefly if Surprise would still be awake at this hour. She was quite pretty, though a little too perky for his tastes—but you couldn’t have everything, after all. And, though he was a little sore for proper fun, there were other things they could do together—and, after what had happened tonight, he deserved a little stress relief.

Rumble giggled. Fluttershy frowned at him, then turned back to what she was doing.

Everything was a little fuzzy after Soarin’ had tickled him under the chin. He had given Scootaloo a ride to Fluttershy’s, because she said so. And then Fluttershy had made him swallow something that tasted bad but felt so goooooooood.

And now Fluttershy was poking him in the chin with something, over and over and over. It felt like a little tickle. She had told Scootaloo that he had a mhmnhnmnunm, and that he was going to need a opogobqoqo—or, at least, that’s what it sounded like.

He looked at Scootaloo and giggled again. She looked sad. He thought he knew why—but he couldn’t remember, exactly. Something her mommy had done. He thought he was sad too, but he couldn’t remember why, either.

Suddenly, one side of Rumble’s face went cold. Fluttershy had put ice on his face. She said something so Scootaloo—”fttfj kxxky”—and Scootaloo nodded.

He briefly wondered where all the pretty rainbow butterflies had come from.

Scootaloo felt like she was about to throw up.

Fluttershy had let her sleep in the living room with Rumble. She had laid Rumble down on the couch, then rolled out a sleeping bag on the rug for Scootaloo, and Scootaloo had slithered miserably into it. As much as she liked Fluttershy, she couldn’t stand her house. It smelled like flowers—but also of dirt and animal urine, with an uncomfortable whiff of magic that she could never quite get used to.

But Fluttershy had been their only option. She didn’t want to take Rumble back to Thunderlane’s—not like this—and she, a little homeless filly, just like Soarin’ had said, didn’t have the bits to take him to the hospital. But Fluttershy would help them, she knew. And best of all, she hadn’t asked questions—she’d seen the two of them standing on her porch, invited them inside, made Discord go fetch her medical bag, and then made him promise to leave them alone, all with barely a word to the two of them (Discord had sulked for a half-hour before poofing off to Celestia-knows-where).

Fluttershy had given Rumble something to dull the pain, then stitched his wound shut. As she did, Scootaloo got the strange impression that Fluttershy somehow knew what had happened tonight—even without either of them saying anything.

Scootaloo bit her lip. If she knew what had happened, then she knew it was all her fault.

It was, no matter what anyone said. She had almost hoped that Rainbow really had changed, that things really would be different--so she had ignored her gut and gone along with it. And it was her who asked Rumble to come along with her on her doomed visit to Rainbow’s house—to trap the two of them on a cloud miles above ground. She had put them both in a dangerous situation, with dangerous people… and she’d had the gall to be surprised when it had all fallen apart.

She squeezed her eyes shut, and felt tears begin to run down her face. She wanted this all to be over. Her life was one endless, sick, melodramatic mire of betrayal, bruises, and bad blood, and she hated it. She was tired of being tired, worn down by the weight of responsibility and regret. All she wanted was to go back home—not to Rarity’s, sure as hell not to Rainbow’s, but home home—back to Mrs. Harbour, the mare who loved her, and hugged her, and kept her safe, and made pancakes whenever she asked. She wanted to be a little filly again, and have someone to hold her by the fire, and read her stories, and...

And then there was Rumble. Last month, she had been so angry with him, she literally wouldn’t have thought twice if she never saw him again. But, a few days later, she had noticed she was feeling lonely—even more so than usual—and even Rarity’s gentle questioning about her day grated on her nerves. And, when she’d finally started talking to him again, it was just the opposite: she was happy, even if she was doing stuff that would drive her up the wall—schoolwork was almost a breeze, in fact, at least as long as she could see Rumble sitting there out of the corner of her eye.

Though it was nice to have a friend she felt so good around, she wanted everything to be simple again. She wanted to have a shoulder to cry on, a friend to talk to, someone to look forward to seeing when she woke up in the morning—but she didn’t want to feel this way about it all. She wanted Rumble to be one of the gang, like Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom. She didn’t want him to be—to be—well, to be whatever he was now. She wished—

“You’re pretty.”


Scootaloo opened her eyes. Rumble was lying on his side, watching her. His chin was bound up with gauze, and Fluttershy had tied on a thick icepack, too. Scootaloo knew what was under the bandages—an ugly scar, tied shut with thick black thread, still crusted with dried blood.

“You’re preeeety,” he repeated, slurring his words a bit. “Your face is nice. I wanna smooch it.”

Scootaloo felt herself blush. “Rumble, do you—do you remember what happened tonight?”

He nodded eagerly. “You asked me to the dance, then Uncle Soarin’ tickled me under the chin, and then we went to visit Fluttershy for ice cream.” A shadow of doubt flashed across his face. “But ice cream doesn’t hurt, most of the time…”

Scootaloo sighed. With… whatever Fluttershy had given him, she was almost surprised that he remembered his own name.


She swallowed nervously. Even then, she had to know.

She took a deep, trembling breath. “So… you don’t hate me?” she asked.

He frowned. “Why would I hate you?”

She scoffed, then threw herself back down on the floor. “Why would you hate me?” she repeated. “Because I made you do it. I brought you up there. And I made Soarin’—” she gulped “—tickle you. And,” she added, “made sure you’re gonna have a wicked scar and the hangover of your life tomorrow.”

She rolled over to face away from him. “Bet you won’t remember a thing,” she said, “and yet—I wouldn’t blame you if you never spoke to me again.”

Everything was quiet for another long moment. Scootaloo sighed, then closed her eyes again.

“Why would I do that?” Rumble said. “I love you.”

Scootaloo pricked up her ears. “Still?” she asked, before she could stop herself.

“Uh huh,” he said. “I like talking to you, and you’re funny, and you’re pretty, and you’re my bestestest friend.”

Scootaloo rolled over, and saw him staring at her again—but this time, he had a big, goofy grin on his face.

“More than Button?” she asked.

He furrowed his brow—then nodded. “Button is my best friend. But you—you’re my best-est-est-estfriend.” He smiled. “ ‘S different,” he said triumphantly.

Scootaloo couldn’t help herself. She wriggled out of her bag, shook herself off, then tiptoed over to where Rumble lay. She bent down and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, too,” she said.

He smiled wide, then giggled again. “I know,” he said.

He lay his head back and stared at the ceiling. “You know,” he said suddenly, “I think I like Mama Rainbow, too.”

Scootaloo froze. “What?” she gasped.

He nodded. “She was nice,” he said. “She bought us pizza, and gave us a movie. Even if the Tooth Fairy was mean, Mama Dashie didn’t do it. She stood up to him. She did.” He snuggled deeper into his blanket. “We should visit again,” he said, dreamily.

Scootaloo swallowed. “Maybe some other time,” she said hesitantly.

“Other time,” he repeated, smiling. “Whenever you say, Louise.”

Despite herself, Scootaloo cracked a smile. She leaned down and, gently, kissed him on the lips.

“Goodnight, Rumble,” she said, with a tenderness that surprised even her.

“Goodnight,” he replied with a giggle.

Scootaloo rolled her eyes, then walked back to her bag. She snuggled down in it again, then sighed. It took her several minutes to realize that she felt warm—both inside and out.

She smiled, then closed her eyes. Try as she might, she couldn’t push all the worries away. Tomorrow, she would have to explain to Rumble why they were at Fluttershy’s, and what he was doing with bandages around his head. And she still had to deal with Rainbow and whatever sort of bonding she was going to insist on next.

But, knowing that, through all of it, Rumble was going to be right by her side…

Well. That made things just a little bit easier.

Rainbow’s house looked like it had been hit by a hurricane.

White pillow-feathers drifted slowly through the air. Broken glass and porcelain lay scattered across the carpet. The hollow shell of the shattered TV spat sparks onto the carpet. Sounds of breaking glass and splintering wood came from the back rooms, where the storm herself was having her way.

Rainbow Dash stomped back into the dining room. To say she was a mess would be a criminal understatement; her mane was everywhere, her wingfeathers were now messy and ragged, and her face was twisted in a mask of white-hot rage and bottomless sorrow.

Rainbow grabbed one of the chairs from around the big table, then, with a roar, hurled it end-over-end into the living room, where it shattered to splinters on the rug. But Rainbow wasn’t watching: she swept the now-cold pizza onto the floor, along with the plates, tablecloth, and everything else, then kicked the table over. She screamed to the empty house, then stomped into the living room. She kicked the coffee table on which stood the tower of movies, sending them flying everywhere, then grabbed a lamp off the end-table and hurled it against the wall, where it smashed into a million pieces.

And suddenly, in the midst of the chaos, Princess Cadance appeared.

She carefully opened the front door, then poked her head in. She watched in silence as Rainbow continued to destroy her own home, and made careful note of the tears running down her face—fresh tears running over dried tracks. She stepped inside, quietly closed the door behind her, then stood, waiting for Rainbow to notice her.

It didn’t take long. Rainbow flipped the couch, sending cushions everywhere, then turned and looked for something else to break before she saw the Princess of Love standing in her entryway.

“You,” Rainbow snarled, then charged forward. “This is all your fault!”

Cadance sighed. She had half-expected this reaction—but hadn’t expected such fury.

“No, Rainbow,” she said quietly. “It’s not—”

“It was your idea,” Rainbow spat, shoving an accusing hoof in Cadence's face.

“No, it wasn’t,” she said, in the same quiet tone. “You asked me if it was a good idea, and I said—”

“Shut up,” Rainbow roared. “It’s all the same.” She turned and stomped away. “Now she’s never gonna want to see me again. And I dumped my coltfriend. Thanks a lot,” she spat.

“I know,” Cadance said, following her. “I was watching.”

Rainbow spun to face her. “You were—” she spluttered.

Cadance nodded gravely. “Out the window, on a cloud,” she said.

Rainbow stared blankly at her, then launched herself into the air. “And you let it happen?!” she screeched, hovering at Cadance’s eye level.

Cadance didn’t flinch. “I told you, Rainbow Dash,” she said wearily, “I can’t interfere, or else—”

“Then why are you even here?” she spat. “If you’re not going to stick your nose in things, then why even give me advice? Honestly, for all the good it did, you should take your advice and shove it up—”

Cadance’s eyes hardened. “Rainbow Dash,” she roared. Rainbow jerked backwards and hovered there, in the middle of the room, silent and eyes wide.

Cadance was quiet for just a moment. Then, she cleared her throat demurely and began again, quieter. “I gave you advice,” she said carefully, “because, though I can’t help you, I want you to know…” She hesitated, then took a deep breath. “Because, Rainbow, I want you to know—” she swallowed “—that you’re not alone.”

Rainbow’s mouth fell open. For a heartbeat or two, all was still—then, Rainbow’s eyes began to fill with tears. She sobbed, once, then dived towards Cadance and wrapped her arms around her neck. Cadance took a startled half-step backward, then reached up and pulled Rainbow close with one arm.

“I-I tried,” Rainbow blubbered, “I tried so hard. I w-wanted it to be perfect, a-and then it all went wrong—”

“Shh, shh,” Cadance murmured. “It’s alright… it’s going to be okay...”

Cadance closed her eyes as Rainbow wept. If Rainbow was any other pony, she’d know exactly what to do: most ponies she worked with just needed a pat on the back, a few encouraging words, a cup of cocoa and a good nap. But Rainbow was different—she’d had a hard life, harder, even than her friends knew. And her demons couldn’t be exorcised with a kiss and some chocolate, she knew that much. But, as much as Cadance hated to admit it, she was best at chocolate and kisses.

So, with Rainbow still clutched against her like a weeping child, Cadance threw her mind back, racking her brain for an answer. And, after a moment’s thought, she grinned wickedly.

“I know what’ll fix you up,” Cadance said soothingly. “Let's head down to Nightcap’s, order you something nice and fruity, and get you fucked. Up. Whaddaya say?”

Despite herself, Rainbow looked up at Cadance. “You know how to party?” she whimpered.

“Oh, please,” Cadance said, with a mighty roll of her eyes. “I was the president of my sorority.”

Rainbow sniffled, then glanced at Cadence's swelling abdomen. “And… the baby?”

Cadance shrugged. “I can just fill up on rum and cokes. Hold the rum, of course.”

Rainbow laughed, a weak, pathetic, yet still somehow genuine laugh. The sound made Cadance smile. “That sounds… fun,” Rainbow admitted.

Rainbow closed her eyes and snuggled into Cadance’s chest again—and, with her eyes closed, suddenly realized that Princess Cadance, in some strange way, reminded her of her mother. Though Rainbow was a full-grown mare, Cadance was big enough to hold her just like her Mom had, back when she was a little filly. And she was soft, and warm, and snuggly… not to mention pink...

As the thought wafted through Rainbow’s brain, she suddenly became aware that the two of them were moving. Cadance was walking the towards the front door.

“So,” Cadance was saying, “let’s get going. Are you more of a mojito mare, or do you prefer margaritas...?”

“Actually, um…” Rainbow swallowed. “Could we… stay? Here?”

Cadance stopped walking. When Rainbow peeked up at her, she was staring back with a mix of surprise and concern.

Rainbow swallowed. “I… I don’t want to be alone tonight,” she said.

Cadance hesitated. “Drinks might help,” she suggested half-heartedly.

Rainbow took a deep breath. “I’m not sure I want to forget,” she admitted. She snuggled a little deeper into Cadance “And, this is… nice,” she added.

For a long moment, Cadance said nothing. Then, Rainbow felt her swallow.

“What would you like, then?” she asked quietly. “Would you like me to get you some warm milk? Read you something? Tuck you in? Or—or maybe, would you just like me to hold you a little longer?”

Rainbow nodded against her. “Sleep,” she murmured. “Sleep sounds good.”

Cadance hesitated another moment, then, slowly, she turned, and headed back deeper into the house. After a few steps, she began to hum—a lullaby, an old one, one that Rainbow had known, once upon a time. As they walked, Rainbow felt the music sink deep into her soul, the rumble of Cadance’s chest gently nudging her towards sleep.

Cadance had never been in Rainbow’s home before, but it wasn’t large; it took just a few moments of exploration to find the master bedroom. She stepped over the threshold, then crept towards the bed, carefully stepping over piles of old magazines, takeout boxes, and piles of dirty clothes. She carried Rainbow to her bed, swept it clean of crumbs with one of her wings, then laid Rainbow gently down—to her surprise, she was already half-asleep—and, with her magic, pulled the blankets up to her chin. She sat down gently on the side of the bed and began to rub Rainbow’s back, still humming her song.

Eventually, her humming stopped, the sound fading into the quiet of the night. Cadance pulled her hoof back into her lap. For a long moment, she said nothing.

“You know, Rainbow Dash,” she said quietly, “I’m proud of you.”

Rainbow, not yet entirely unconscious, stirred.

“You were very brave tonight,” Cadance continued. “You opened yourself up. Let yourself be vulnerable. Once, you wouldn’t have done that. Once, you would have pushed them away. But not tonight. And…” she swallowed. “And I think you did very well, all things considered. True,” she added, wincing slightly, “the results were… unfortunate, but it was a step.” She smiled a little. “Keep it up, and it’ll work out. I know it will. ”

Cadance watched her, carefully lying still under the covers, then smiled. She stood, bent down, draped a protective wing over her, and kissed her on the cheek.

“I’ll go ahead and clean up a little,” she said, “then go I’ll lie down on the couch. Just in case you need something.”

Cadance walked from the room, but paused on the threshold. She turned and looked back over her shoulder at Rainbow, and smiled. She stepped through the door and closed it behind her.

For a long time, Rainbow laid there on the edge of sleep, listening to the cool autumn night. Just before she nodded off, she smiled.

True, tonight had been an unmitigated disaster. One for the record books. It was going to suck being alone again, but, truth be told, ever since she’d found Scootaloo, she’d been missing Soarin’ less and less. And, if we was going to act that way, well—he could just die in a fire, for all she cared. No great loss, in the end.

But Cadance was right: it was going to work out. It had to. She was motherfucking Rainbow Dash. She had broken the sound barrier under her own power, she’d fought her way onto the Wonderbolts, fought evil gods—twice—hell, she had even kicked a dragon in the face and lived to tell the tale. She could do this. She could. She could, and she would.

And, with that thought at the front of her mind, Rainbow Dash finally slept.

16. Deference

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Rumble didn’t like waking up with the sun in his eyes. Nor did he especially enjoy waking up in an unfamiliar place. Yet, here he was—the sun in his eyes, lying on a sofa he didn’t recognize, and with a thick bandage wrapped around his head. He felt fine, though—fine, except for a dull ache under his chin.

As the sleep fell away and his eyes adjusted to the soft light of the sunrise beyond the windows, he glanced curiously around him. After a moment, it finally clicked where he was: this was Fluttershy’s house. He hadn’t ever really been inside, but, with all the little bowls of pet food scattered about, and the narrow catwalks for squirrels and rabbits by the ceiling, whose house could it be?

As he looked around, his eye caught a splash of color on the rug. He sat up: it was Scootaloo, dead asleep and drooling on the rug, sleeping in a threadbare sleeping bag made for a foal two sizes smaller than she.

Rumble pushed the blanket off him, then wiped the sleepies from his eyes and let out a gaping yawn. He peeled the now-warm icepack off his face and set it down, then slowly slid off the couch and swayed unsteadily on his hooves. His head felt a little funny, though it wasn’t too bad… what had happened last night?

Rumble slowly tottered over towards Scootaloo, then reached out and timidly poked her in the cheek—once, twice…

At his touch, she stirred. “What?” she groaned, her words slightly slurred. “It’s not… time yet,” she added with a yawn. She rolled over again and buried her face in her drool-stained pillow. Rumble hesitated, then poked her again.

Scootaloo turned her head and started into Rumble’s eyes for a moment. Her gaze was hollow and tired—and, judging by how he felt, he probably didn’t look much better.

“Hey.” Rumble said. As he closed his mouth again, he sucked in a little gasp; the movement of his jaw had made his stitches catch painfully in the bandages.

...his stitches...

His mind reeled back to the night before. There, frozen in time, he saw Soarin, face full of nameless fury, stepping towards him—then, white-hot agony—soaring through the air—pressure, as Scootaloo tied something around his head—the ground coming towards them fast, too fast—the two of them tumbling across Fluttershy’s lawn—Fluttershy poking him in the chin—

Rumble stood there, eyes wide, and trembled.

And then, something warm wrapped himself around him. It was Scootaloo, giving him a hug. She was holding him very tight—so tight, Rumble started to blush.

“You okay?” she said, laying her head on his shoulder.

Rumble tried to answer, but this tongue felt like cotton. Scootaloo looked curiously up at him—but, just at that moment, Rumble was saved by Fluttershy, who walked in from the kitchen, wearing her bathrobe and stifling a yawn.

“Good morning, you two,” Fluttershy said sleepily. She smiled at the two of them—but there was something strange behind her smile, something Rumble wasn’t sure he knew the name for. “How are you feeling, Rumble?” she asked.

“Fine, I guess.” Rumble glanced back at Scootaloo, then his face screwed up in confusion. “How did we get here?”

Scootaloo took a deep breath. “You flew us here,” she answered. “Most of the way, anyways. The… the landing was a little tricky.” Her gaze flicked over his shoulder, at Fluttershy, busy in the kitchen. “Then Fluttershy put you on some heavy meds,” she continued, “and you were…” Scootaloo giggled, “...a little loopy.”

Rumble furrowed his brow, “What do you mean?”

Scootaloo hesitated. “Well—” she began.

Rumble heard a clink behind him, and the two of them turned and looked. Fluttershy had set two teacups on the coffee table, each with its own teabag, and was pouring steaming water into them.

“Drink up, you two,” Fluttershy said. “It’ll do you good.”

They obliged. Rumble took his teacup and chugged it, then let out a long sigh. Scootaloo watched him with a faint smile on her lips, then gently sipped at hers.

After she finished, the two of them sat in silence, side-by-side, on the floor, listening to Fluttershy hum to herself as she made them breakfast. Rumble smiled a little; he could feel the tea in his belly, still pleasantly warm, the heat radiating outward through his entire body. Kinda like how Scootaloo was making him feel right now.

He felt, more than saw, when Scootaloo turned to look at him. She watched him for a minute, then slowly lifted up a hoof and began to unwrap the bandage around his head. Rumble tried to pull away, but Scootaloo shot him a look, and, with a gulp, he sat still.

Scootaloo carefully unwrapped the bandage, keeping it rolled at neatly as she could. As she pulled off the last layer, both she and Rumble sucked in a breath—he, feeling the cold on his cut, and she, seeing what Fluttershy had done to it for the first time.

Under his jaw, on the right side, Fluttershy had shaved a small patch of fur, and, in the center of that naked patch, ran the stitches. The thick black thread made a line of Xs that bound the skin together in a long, ugly crescent, with dried blood still crusted around the edges

Rumble must have seen something in her face, for he grinned. “Let me see it!” he cried eagerly, and then went to the mirror.

Rumble craned his neck and pushed up a tuft of his fur to give him a look. He stared at the ugly, puckered stitches for a long, silent moment.

“Took her forever to get the stitching right,” Scootaloo said nervously as she sat beside him. “It looks way better now than it did last night, though…” she shivered. “Blegh.

Rumble grinned as he turned to Scootaloo, “You can say it looks gross all you want,” he said brightly. “I like it. Looks like some wicked battle scar or something.”

Scootaloo suppressed a grin of her own, then rolled her eyes, “Whatever, Rumble,” she said, “you know it wasn’t much of a battle. A stallion vs. a rag doll.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Rumble said. “Looks pretty cool.”

Scootaloo turned to him, eyes wide. “W-what?” she sputtered, “No, it does not! Nobody’s gonna think that. What do you think—someone’s gonna come up to you and say ‘Rumble, that’s so cool?’”

“Rumble, that’s so cool!” Button squealed.

Rumble simply basked in the attention, his head tilted slightly back so his adoring fans could admire his stitches. Scootaloo watched from a distance, embarrassed.

“You survived a Wonderbolt trying to kill you,” Pipsqueak added, equally enamored. “That’s… amazing!”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Rumble said, with a cocky grin. “The dumb foal just couldn’t handle the truth.”

Scootaloo gagged.

The bell rang, and Scootaloo watched as the colts turned and walked inside the schoolhouse. Over the sudden tumult of voices, she managed to catch Button Mash say, in reverent tones, “I would never have the balls to talk to somepony like that… like that…”

“So,” Apple Bloom said suddenly, “that’s the half-wit mule you’re gonna hitch yourself to someday, huh?”

“He’s not a half-wit,” Scootaloo mumbled. She shot a glance at Apple Bloom, who stared impassively back at her, then turned back to watch the back half of her… mule… vanishing through the door.

Sweetie Belle, on Apple Bloom’s other side, flashed a weak smile. “Did Soarin’ actually, like… attack him?” she asked uncertainly.

Scootaloo’s face fell. “Yeah,” she said. “Soarin’ straight-up slammed his hoof right into his face.” She took a deep breath, then let it out. “It was scary,” she murmured.

“Thick skull of his finally did some good.” Apple Bloom muttered, just loud enough to draw icy glares from both Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle.

Scootaloo turned and trotted angrily into the schoolhouse. Sweetie Belle watched her go for a moment, then turned to Apple Bloom and drew a menacing hoof across her neck, glaring daggers at her. Apple Bloom just rolled her eyes, then shouldered her way past Sweetie and headed into the schoolhouse.

Rumble idly scratched at his stitches. For all his boasting, they sure were irritating; they were painful, almost like a zit he couldn’t pop.

Button watched him out of the corner of his eye.“You know you’re not supposed to do that, right?” Button said, “Stitches could come out.”

Rumble glared at him, “What do you know?” he snapped.

“Remember that time I split my head open trying to skateboard off the roof?” Button smirked, then lifted his cap, revealing a long, pale scar running through his hairline. “I had stitches too.”

Rumble shivered, then sighed. “I know,” he said. “Just… this thing is bugging me.”

Button grinned even wider. “You mean,” he said, “you haven’t asked your widdle filly-friend to kiss it and make it feel aww bettuh?”

Rumble fought to suppress a grin of his, “Shut up, Button.”

Button cleared his throat.

“So, assuming you don't get yourself killed between now and Friday, you are planning to come to my birthday party, right?”

“Of course I am,” Rumble said with a smile. “It’ll be a nice break from…” he shrugged “...everything.”

“Cool,” Button answered. “ ‘Cause I invited your little filly, too.” Rumble looked up sharply, and Button grinned. “She had fun last time she came over, and she’s cool.”

“She'd love that,” Rumble answered, a little too quickly. He lowered his head and blushed. “O-of course. I don't care… just… it’s awful nice of you, thinkin’ of her like that…”

“I know,” Button said with a smirk.

Suddenly, Something made both of them look up. Rumble stared, then sat up a little straighter. Miss Cheerilee was watching them. She had a strange expression on her face, one that he couldn’t quite read. Either way, it made him uncomfortable.

After a long moment of silently watching him, Miss Cheerilee turned and made a small note in the planner that lay open on her desk. She set down the pencil, then then closed the book with a sharp snap.

Rainbow Dash didn’t like waking up with the sun in her eyes. Nor was she especially fond of it happening at—what time was it? She rolled over and glanced at her alarm clock—nine-thirty in the morning? Dammit, she groaned to herself.

She had been dozing dreamily in her bed. Her night had been filled with dreams—pleasant dreams, of little Scootsie and her Mama Rainbow. They had been having a little picnic together, for her fourth birthday.

Somewhere in the distance, Rainbow had heard the insistent ringing of her doorbell, but she ignored it, opting to blow bubbles with her daughter a little longer. And as Scootaloo giggled and popped them, Rainbow heard the door open, heard the hoofsteps come up the stairs, and heard somepony say her name.

The vision had shifted and wavered, but Rainbow had just grimaced and rolled over. Just a little longer—she and Scootaloo were about to practice her flying—

And then whoever-it-was grabbed her by the shoulder and shook. Dream-Scootaloo shrieked, then shattered and blew away as reality re-formed in Rainbow’s bedroom, the sunlight streaming through the slats in the blinds and directly into Rainbow’s eyes.

Maybe it was because of the sun—or, more likely, because she had just been woken up—but everything was still a blur. Rainbow looked around blearily: the blue blob draped over the lamp in the corner, that was her uniform, and those white ones was the pile of pizza boxes she’d been meaning to throw out for weeks, and, just in front of her, the pink blur—Rainbow smiled a little—that must be Princess Cadance, still here, just like she promised—

And then, Rainbow blinked, and the world came into focus—and the pink blur congealed, not into a pink coat, but a pink mane, long, and wavy, framing a yellow face. A face that stared back at her with a cold, hard look.

Rainbow groaned. She knew that look. She’d seen it once before—on her fifteenth birthday.

“We need to talk,” Fluttershy said, her voice firm but quiet.

Rainbow rolled over and pressed her pillow over her ears. “Can it wait?” she grumbled.

“No.” There was no patience in that voice of hers.

Rainbow looked up at her, stared for just a moment at her harsh, unyielding expression, then threw off the covers. She climbed from the bed, shook herself, then silently followed Fluttershy as she turned and strode from the room.

When the two of them walked back into her living room, Rainbow stopped and stared. She wasn’t sure what she had been expecting out of her living room the morning after her tantrum, but it sure wasn’t this. Cadance had said she would clean up “a little,” but even Rainbow could barely tell there had been any damage at all. Sure, the trash can was full of broken plates, and the dining table was conspicuously missing a chair, and she saw the cord to her old, shattered television snaking out from under a closet door, but otherwise, the room looked pristine. She’d even taken the time to re-straighten the picture frames.

And then, Rainbow’s face fell. Seated on her couch, on the ottoman, and on the floor, were her friends. Applejack, sitting on the floor, looked away as Rainbow glanced her direction. Rarity stared at her with a look full of anger and disdain. Fluttershy, cold, hard, and distant, took her seat next to Twilight, who bit her lip and looked at the floor. And Pinkie Pie, sitting on a corner of the couch, was bouncing her hoof impatiently.

Rainbow swallowed, hard, then slowly walked to the only open seat—the armchair, off to one side. As she sat down, something caught her eye—a pink envelope, sitting on the end-table, with her name written in an unfamiliar, loopy script on the front. Rainbow swiped it off the table, then shoved it down inside the armchair before anyone could ask. It wouldn’t do to read royal correspondence at a time like this.

For a long time, none of them spoke. Rainbow tried to avoid looking at them, half-knowing, half-fearing, what she would see there.

Finally, Rarity took a deep breath.

“Well,” she said, “I think it is clear to everypony here, as it has been to me for quite some time, that you are incapable, unfit, and unworthy to be anything even remotely resembling a mother.”

“Now, Rarity,” Twilight cut in, her voice pained. “There’s no need—”

Rarity whirled on her. “Don’t you dare ‘no need’ me,” she snapped. “Did you hear what Fluttershy said?” She leaned forward. “Rainbow kicked him so hard he needed stitches.” She leaned back and crossed her arms. “We’ll see your ‘no need’ when Rumble’s jaw gets infected and falls off.”

Rainbow pricked up her ears. She opened her mouth to speak—

“That is not what I said,” Fluttershy cut in. “Stitches, yes—but Rumble’s in no immediate danger. I’ve stitched up worse before, with better results—”

“No immediate danger?!” Rarity practically shrieked. “You know how she is, it’s only going to be so long before she—”

Applejack piped up: “Slow down there, sugarcube, don’t go saying somethin’—”

Then Twilight: “—maybe we should all take a moment and write down—”

And Flutterhshy: “—girls, can we be please a little more—”

Rainbow whipped her head back and forth as she tried to follow the conversation as it ping-ponged back and forth between the ponies. Everyone was ignoring her now—instead, they were all shouting at each other, screaming louder, and louder, and louder

—all except for Pinkie Pie, who watched the proceedings with a growing scowl.

Without warning, Pinkie sprung from her seat, leapt up on the coffee table, and grabbed the small candy dish that stood in the center. She lifted it over her head, then spiked it into the table, sending shrapnel exploding in all directions. Applejack dove for cover, and Fluttershy shrieked.

“Awright, ladies!” Pinkie roared into the sudden silence. “If we can’t do this like adults, then we’re gonna do this like children! Gimme that,” she barked at Twilight, as she extended a demanding hoof.

Twilight looked around in confusion, then pulled out a half-flattened Daring Do plushie that she’d been leaning on. She tossed it to Pinkie, who caught it with a triumphant look, then held it over her head.

“This is the Magic Conch!” she bellowed. “If you have the Conch, you can talk! If not, shaddap!”

She glared around the circle, and saw five faces staring back at her, their expressions variously frightened, annoyed, terrified, and amused. Pinkie grinned a little to herself, hopped down from the table, tossed the doll to Rarity, then sat and smugly crossed her legs.

Rarity caught the doll, set it down beside her, and sighed. “I think I’ve already said my piece,” she said. “I think this incident is clear evidence: regardless of what we said in the hospital, Rainbow isn’t fit to take care of—”

Twilight grimaced. “You know, Rarity,” she said, “I really don’t think—”

“Ah ah ah ah AH!” Pinkie said, leaping to her hooves and pointing an accusing hoof at Twilight. “Magic Conch! Magic Conch!”

Twilight rolled her eyes and held out a hoof. Rarity passed her the doll, and Twilight put it in her lap.

“We still don’t know exactly what happened,” she said. “All we really have is Fluttershy’s theories.”

Rarity opened her mouth, but Pinkie shot her a dirty look, and she sighed dramatically and closed her mouth again. Without a word, Applejack reached up and took the doll from Twilight’s lap.

“I agree,” she said, “though, you have to admit—it ain’t too far a stretch. Rainbow kinda has a reputation for havin’ a bit of a hair-trigger, and I think we all know how much of a pain in the ass Rumble can be—”

Ahem.” Fluttershy.

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Fine. A pain in the plot—”


Applejack sneered. “Fine. We all know how difficult he can be—”

“Just give me the damn doll already,” Fluttershy snapped.

Applejack’s eyes went wide, and she handed it over silently. Fluttershy nodded a curt thanks, then turned to the group.

“You’re right,” she said, “we don’t know what happened. All we really know is that Rumble and Scootaloo came by my house, asking for help to get a little spiffed up for a visit with Rainbow, and, next thing I know, one of them is bleeding all over my front porch. And there’s only one adult living here I know who would be dumb enough to pull a stunt like that. So,” she said, her eyes glittering, “what I want is for Rainbow to tell us exactly what she did last night.”

Fluttershy cocked an arm back and threw the doll. All of them watched as it soared through the air, then landed in Rainbow’s waiting hooves. Rainbow looked numbly down at it, then back up at her friends, each of them watching her, waiting for her answer. She had to swallow several times before she could speak.

“I… wasn’t the one who kicked him,” Rainbow said.

“Oh?” Rarity asked, eyebrow raised. “If it wasn’t you, then who did?

Rainbow swallowed again. “It was Soarin’ who—

“Soarin’?” Applejack practically screeched. “What was he doin’ here? And what in Celestia’s blue sky did you expect bringin’ two short-fused stallions in the same stable?”

“Rumble is a foal,” Fluttershy interjected carefully.

“Girls,” Pinkie cut in, “Magic Con—”

“I know what Rumble is,” Applejack said, louder, “he’s a no-good foul-mouthed loose cannon just beggin’ for an excuse to go off.” She leaned back against the couch and crossed her arms. “Can’t believe I’m the only one seein’ he’s the problem,” she grumbled. “Scootaloo ain’t never been a troublemaker, not like this. Not like this,” she repeated, shaking her head.

“Are we seriously letting a colt get under our skin, dear?” Rarity asked. “We’re here to save Scootaloo, not burn a little boy at the stake.”

“I'm telling you, Rares, he's trouble,” Applejack insisted. “This whole ‘love’ business is trouble. They’re thinkin’ it’s somethin’ special, like they’re soulmates or somethin’, and y’all are takin’ ‘em serious. They ain't gotta clue, they ain't in love—heck none of them foals would know what love was even if bit 'em on the muzzle and left a mark. All this talk is makin’ em crazy, both of ‘em, but he’s more of a problem than she is—”

Twilight lit her horn and pulled the doll from Rainbow’s grasp. “I think we’re getting a little off track here,” she said, a little louder than strictly necessary. “Let’s try and focus, please.”

Applejack rolled her eyes but shut her mouth. Twilight nodded, then turned back to Rainbow.

“Let’s start at the beginning,” she said. “Who, exactly, was there last night? And why?”

Rainbow took a deep breath. “It was me,” she said. “Me and Scootaloo, and Rumble, and Soarin’. We had dinner, then watched a movie.”

Twilight nodded. “Okay. So, what exactly happened?”

“It was during the movie,” Rainbow said. “Rumble and Soarin’ had been picking at each other all night. And it…” she swallowed. “It got out of hoof.”

Twilight watched Rainbow’s face carefully for a moment, then gave a slight nod. “Okay,” she said, her voice betraying just a hint of relief. “Then what happened? How’d Rumble and Scootaloo get down to Fluttershy’s?”

Rainbow shrugged. “They left. I tried to stop ‘em, but they wouldn’t—”

“Pardon my Prench,” Rarity interjected, “but I’m going to call bullshit. If you care about these kids as much as you say,” she sneered, “Then why’d you let it happen?”

Rainbow shook her head. “It all happened so fast—”

“And why’d you let them leave?” Rarity snapped. “If he wasn’t in a state to fly, why’d you let them out of your sight?”

Rainbow’s eyes flashed. “For Celestia’s sake,” she spat, “are we gonna do this song and dance all day? Or are you gonna shut up for five seconds and let me finish?”

Rarity made an indignant little snort, then looked around the circle and noticed everyone glaring back at her. She leaned back into the couch and huffed. When Pinkie tried to reach carefully across her to grab the doll still sitting in Twilight’s lap, Rarity slapped her hoof away without looking.

Rainbow took several deep breaths and ran a hoof through her mane before she spoke again. “Like I said,” she began, “It was over, in, like, two seconds. And I never even expected him to do something so stupid. And still, I did what I could. When he started threatening to do worse to Scoots, I—” she gulped. “I kicked him. And threw him out. And I tried to help the kids, but they…”

Rainbow trailed off. They were quiet for just a moment, until Twilight cleared her throat.

“Well,” she said, “Soarin’ does have something of a reputation for having a short temper. At least behind closed doors.” She hesitated, then glanced around . “What?” she asked indignantly. “I’m a Princess. I have to keep up on these things.”

“Yes,” Rarity whispered to Applejack, “and so do the gossip rags.” Applejack smirked.

“I do not read gossip magazines—” began Twilight.

“Girls,” Fluttershy said, in a voice that made them all look up. Her voice was strange and quiet, but there was no condemnation in it, no hatred. It was the sort of voice that you heard when you discovered a hatching egg, or a cardboard box on your porch, or a wasps’ nest under your eaves.

Be quiet. Something big is about to happen.

One by one, they followed Fluttershy’s gaze. And, one by one, they saw: Twilight sat up a little straighter. Rarity clapped her hooves over her mouth. Pinkie’s eyes went wide. And Applejack’s mouth fell open, just the slightest bit.

Rainbow Dash was crying.

Twilight stood and walked gingerly over to the armchair. “It’s okay, Rainbow,” she said, slipping an arm around her shoulders, “It’s gonna be okay—”

“What do you say?” Rainbow erupted. “What do you say to her? I tried so hard to do good—to have the perfect evening—to do something that would make her give a damn about me. A-and, in two seconds, it all fell apart.” She took a deep, trembling breath—then reached over, wrapped her arms around Twilight, pulled her in, and buried her head in her shoulder. “Y-you’re never going to change,” Rainbow sobbed. “That’s what she said—after everything I’ve done, after everything I’ve tried—I’m never going to change. And—and—” Rainbow squeezed Twilight even harder and wept into her shoulder. Twilight, slightly mystified, looked up at the others for help, but they just stared back at her, eyes wide.

For a long, uncomfortable moment, there was no sound other than Rainbow crying. Then, suddenly, Fluttershy sniffled, and wiped at her own eyes. She stood, walked over to Rainbow, and put her arms around both her and Twilight, and pulled them tight.

Pinkie made a sad little noise, then stood and joined them; she was followed closely by Applejack, and, finally Rarity. No one spoke; no one needed to. Just the six of them, standing there, hugging each other, lending help to a friend in need—

It reminded Twilight, a little bit, of when she had become a princess. Not quite the same, of course—for one thing, there was no surge of magic this time, let alone no sudden, unexplained growth of wings—but, six friends, their hearts knit together to help one of their own—

Well. It was close enough for her.

“So, ladies,” Twilight said, “I think we all know what needs to happen next.”

She felt her friends shift against her as they all turned to look at her.

“I think,” she said, her mouth suddenly dry, “that we can all see that, whatever her faults, Rainbow is trying to do right by her daughter. And,” she added, “I’m willing to bet good bits that we wouldn’t do much better, if we were in her situation.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight thought she saw a slow smile spread across Rainbow’s face.

“She already has it hard enough,” she continued, “and she still has a long way to go. So, what do you say,” she said, turning to glance at each of them—as well as she could, anyways—“let’s not make it any harder on her, okay? Let’s help her and Scootaloo out as much as we can. Or, if we can’t bring ourselves to do that, let’s at least stay out of her way.”

Immediately, Fluttershy nodded. She didn’t speak, just made a sort of squeak.

Applejack glanced at her and sighed. “I don’t cotton with that Rumble kid—”

“That wasn’t the question,” Twilight interjected, with the slightest hint of acid in her voice.

Applejack shot her a dirty look. “But,” she continued, “ I guess that don’t matter none, if all we’re talkin’ ‘bout is gettin’ a little filly back to her mama.”

“Does the little filly get a say in all this?” Rarity asked, her tone cold.

“That wasn’t the question either,” Twilight cut in again. “Scootaloo still gets a choice. All I’m saying is that we need to be there for a friend who needs us.”

Rarity shot a glance at Twilight, then sighed.

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll do it. But, if I hear so much as a peep out of Scootaloo about you—”

“You won’t,” Rainbow said, her voice muffled under all the bodies.

“Good,” Rarity said—then smiled.

Pinkie glanced around eagerly, then squealed. “Drama over!” she shrieked. "Magic Conch Party! My place, fifteen minutes!” She wormed her way out of the huddle, then turned and bounded out the door.

Twilight followed her with her eyes, then sighed. “I’ll go after her,” she said, then, likewise, extracted herself and jogged out the door, spreading her wings. Applejack followed, as did Rarity, who stopped on the threshold. She turned and glared at Rainbow, before pointing to her eyes, then at Rainbow. Rainbow smirked a little as she snuck out.

When the door slammed behind her, both Fluttershy and Rainbow jumped a little. Fluttershy sighed, then quickly turned away.

“I… I’m sorry,” she said, her voice trembling. “I… I didn’t know… The kids didn’t say anything, and I thought…” She swallowed. “To think you’d do that to Rumble—a-and after all he means to her—it just made me so—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Rainbow said, slugging her gently in the shoulder. “Things worked out. Though,” she said, grinning wickedly, “you do owe me one.”

Fluttershy grinned. “I guess that makes us even, then,” she said.

Rainbow smiled back. “True,” she said. “But hey,” she said, “at least it wasn’t as bad as that time with Iron Will…”

Fluttershy snorted, then laughed—and soon, Rainbow found herself laughing along.

17. Delinquency

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“Care to remind me why he’s comin’ along?” Apple Bloom asked sourly as she led the four towards the orchards. “You do remember he ain’t allowed on our property, right?”

“Yeah, I do,” Scootaloo nodded, glancing up to see Rumble still hovering twenty or thirty feet above them. “I just don’t care.”

Sweetie Belle scoffed. “Somepony’s feeling a little feisty today...” she murmured.

“You know, Sweetie Belle?” Scootaloo put an arm around her, grinning brightly. “All I want is a day to just hang out with my friends and have some fun. No drama at all; think can that happen?”

“Sure,” Apple Bloom said, “But I’m pretty sure lettin’ him in the Clubhouse is just askin’ for drama. ‘Specially with Appleja-”

Scootaloo stepped in front of Apple Bloom. She was smiling, but her eyes were hard and sharp.

“But not with you though, right?” she said.

Apple Bloom gulped. She would be a liar if she didn’t admit that Scootaloo could be intimidating when she got… like this. That glare, that snarl, that stance… she knew better than to cross her.

“No ma’am,” Apple Bloom said, smiling nervously. “None.”

Scootaloo’s face brightened, “Awesome,” she said, stepping out of Apple Bloom’s way.

They walked in silence until they approached a barbed-wire fence, a thick orchard of apple trees just on the other side. A weathered wooden sign hung from it: “Welcome to Sweet Apple Acres! No Trespassing.”

Apple Bloom shot a nervous glance at Scootaloo. “Why don’t y’all stay put real quick, while I go check on somethin’?” she said. WIthout waiting for a response, she pushed open the gate, then trotted through the line of apple trees.

Rumble fluttered down beside Scootaloo. “What’s she doing?” he asked.

“Probably checking to see where her siblings are,” Sweetie Belle said. “Even if she’s not…” she grimaced. “...fond of you, she still doesn’t wanna get in trouble.”

A few moments later, Apple Bloom poked her head out of the trees. With a slight smile, she walked back to her friends, and—her expression soured a little—and Scootaloo’s flyin’ mule.

“Coast is clear, y’all,” she said, her expression strained. “Now let’s get a move on, ‘fore they come lookin’.”

With a nod, Scootaloo, followed by Sweetie Belle from behind and Rumble from above, wandered through the trees until they came to a clearing. in the center stood an old, gnarled apple tree, and, in its branches hung a cute, if simple, treehouse.

“Here we are, Rumble,” Scootaloo beamed, “The Cutie Mark Crusader Clubhouse.”

“Hm,” Rumble put a hoof to his chin, “I was expecting something a little more…” he gestured vaguely. “I dunno, secret.”

Scootaloo blinked. “Huh?” she said, glancing up at the treehouse. “This is pretty well hidden… I think.”

“I think he wants a secret little hidin’ place where you two can swap cooties,” Apple Bloom said with a sneer. “Ain’t none a’ that goin’ down in there, you understand?”

“Sure, sure, whatever,” Scootaloo said, shouldering her aside as she walked towards the treehouse.

As the four of them climbed the ramp, Rumble spoke again. “I didn’t mean secret as in, like, hidden in the Everfree or something,” he said. “I just meant like… a secret hideout.”

“Like, a fort?” Sweetie Belle asked, looking at him over her shoulder.

“Yeah,” Rumble nodded.

“Well, I for one, like our little treehouse,” Apple Bloom said as they stepped inside. “What more could you want? You have food, shelter, electricity, and…” She trotted under the trap door, and pulled the lever, a ladder clunked down to the floor, “A loft!”

“That’s more like it,” Rumble said, smiling. “So… what do you girls do in here, anyway?”

“Well,” Scootaloo said, “When we were blank flanks, we would plot different ways to earn our cutie marks.”

“Now, we pretty much do the same thing,” Sweetie Belle continued, gesturing to the giant checklist pinned to one wall, “but for other ponies. That’s kind of our mission: to help other ponies discover their special talents.”

“We’re pretty good at it, too.” Scootaloo thought for a moment, then grinned. “Might even be able to sort you out one of these days.”

“I think we already know what he’s good at,” Apple Bloom grumbled, “but I don’t think you can get a cutie mark for runnin’ your mouth.” She thought for a moment, then grinned wickedly. “Maybe you just need to piss off the right pony.”

No one laughed. Apple Bloom glanced around at the stoic faces and glowered. After a long moment, Sweetie perked up, then clopped her hooves together..

“Ooh!” She said brightly,, “Let’s play a board game!” Without waiting for a response, she lit her horn and grabbed a colorful box from the shelf.

“You ever play Bubbles, Rumble?” she asked, as she opened the box and started laying out the pieces.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Never even heard of it.”

“It’s fun,” Scootaloo said, wrapping an arm around his shoulder—and blushing the slightest bit. “I-it’s really easy, too All you gotta do, is roll the dice by pushing on this bubble, and then move your little pegs until you reach the end.”

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” Apple Bloom scoffed. “Might wanna explain it in a way he can understand:” she leaned forward. “Now, this here is the dicey-wicey, and ya gotta push it with your little hoofsie, and—

Scootaloo pressed her lips into a thin line, then looked away, and Rumble followed suit. Sweetie Belle shot Apple Bloom a hard look.

“I’m sure he’ll get it,” Sweetie said. “We’ll all go first, and he can watch.” And, with that, she reached out and pressed the bubble.

Thunderlane gulped.

Cheerilee sat calmly at her desk, carefully rearranging the knick-nacks. She fiddled with her mug of half-sharpened pencils (“A mind is like a parachute: it works best when open,” it cheerfully proclaimed), then nudged it a quarter-inch to the left. After that, she turned to a stack of ink-stained essays, stacked neatly with with razor-sharp precision. She ran a hoof down one edge, and, satisfied, tuned to her few little desk-toys: a plastic apple filled with sticky-notes, a drinking bird she’d used once for a science demonstration,and an oversized plastic hourglass she used to time tests.

Thunderlane sat in the front row of desks and watched her nervously. The chair was just a hair too small to allow him to relax, which was fine with him. Thunderlane didn’t consider himself especially smart, but neither was he stupid; as he watched Cheerilee carefully order her little world more to her liking, he saw a dark, predatory look in her eyes. She was angry—and, if life as a weatherpony had taught him anything, the only thing to do now was to watch which way the wind was blowing and to try and stay ahead of the storm.

Cheerilee flicked a glance up at the clock, then sighed and looked down again. Thunderlane sat up straighter in his seat.

“It appears,” she said, breaking the silence for the first time since Thunderlane had entered, “that Miss Dash will not be joining us.”

Suddenly, the image of a rough-and-tumble cowpony flashed, unbidden, across his mind.

She’s quiet… too quiet...

Thunderlane nodded quickly, rattling the image loose from his mind. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “She wasn’t at work today, either. If I had known that you’d invited her, I would’ve—”

She waved her hoof dismissively. “I’ll just have to talk to her later,” she said.

Thunderlane gulped again, swallowing his words.

Cheerilee sighed again, then pressed her hooves together. “I’m assuming you saw Rumble’s chin?” she asked, her voice quiet and level.

“No, ma’am,” Thunderlane said, a note of surprise creeping into his voice. “Did something happen?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Really?” she asked. “You haven’t seen him at all?”

He shook his head. “Not since yesterday afternoon. Scootaloo came and picked him up, and the two of them—”

Cheerilee pressed her lips into a thin line, and Thunderlane trailed off.

Cheerilee leaned forward slightly. “Mr. Lane,” she said carefully, “When Rumble left school yesterday, he was perfectly fine—as healthy and rambunctious as ever. This morning, he came to school with a cut on his jaw—a big one, one that had been expertly stitched closed.” She cocked her head slightly. “Are you sure you know nothing about that?”

Thunderlane’s eyes widened. “N-no,” he stammered, “No, I don’t. Maybe he and Scootaloo were roughhousing, and—?”

“Perhaps,” Cheerilee admitted, picking a pencil from the mug and toying with it. “But that’s not what he’s telling his friends.”

Thunderlane swallowed. He had the sense that Cheerilee wanted him to ask the next question. And, given her mood, that seemed the best course of action.

“So,” he said carefully, “what is he telling his friends?”

She spun the pencil experimentally around her hoof, then looked up at him. “He’s telling them,” she said gravely, “that he was almost killed by a Wonderbolt.”

Years of after-work card games with the guys had given Thunderlane an excellent poker face. And yet, he still had to swallow three or four times before he could speak.

A Wonderbolt—Rainbow Dash? What would she have against little Rummy? They don’t get along, sure, but I didn’t think she’d have it in her… She’s weather captain, after all! She’s supposed to be better than that!

And—he shrank a little deeper into his chair—what in Equestria can I do about it? I can’t stand up to her—not if I want to keep my job. And if I get fired, then me and Rumble would have to—

And it was all that filly’s fault. Had to be.

Thunderlane heard himself begin to speak.

“Maybe it was an accident,” he said, his gaze on his desk. “You know how reckless he is… maybe they were just racing, and—”


Thunderlane looked up, then shrank deeper into his seat. Cheerilee held the broken remains of her pencil in her hooves, dark storm clouds sweeping across her face. She pushed back her chair, stood, and placed her forehooves on the desk.

Thunderlane suddenly felt very small.

“Do not insult my intelligence,” she said, her voice cold and quiet. “I am not an idiot. Rumble said that he was attacked. And precious few are the foals who can race fast enough to give themselves stitches.”

“Y-yes ma’am,” he stammered. “Sorry, ma’am.”

Cheerilee glared at him a moment—then, suddenly, her expression cracked. The mask of anger slipped away, and she looked almost frightened. She sat, heavily, in her chair, then put her face in her hooves.

For a long moment, she was quiet—then, just as Thunderlane was contemplating sneaking away, she spoke again.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I... have something of a reputation for being protective of my students.” She looked up at him over her hooves, her gaze hollow. “Perhaps overprotective,” she added.

She lowered her hooves back to the desk, and began to toy with the two halves of the pencil. “It’s just…” she began, then trailed off. Thunderlane said nothing.

Finally, Cheerilee sighed. “I… I don’t know you’d understand,” she said. “But seeing these little ones… seeing them listen to me, look up to me, spend half their waking days with me…” She chuckled mirthlessly. “Well, I’ve never been married, but I expect it’s something like what it feels like to have children of your own. And to see someone threaten them… it’s…” There was another snap—smaller, this time. Cheerilee looked down at her hooves, at the two new pencil fragments that lay there, then brushed them, self-consciously, into the wastebasket.

Cheerilee crossed her hooves in front of her, then looked up at Thunderlane. Thunderlane stared at her for a moment before his eyes widened. He had the distinct sense that Cheerilee wanted him to do something, though, for the life of him, he couldn’t think of what.

So, he said the only thing he could think of.

“I’ll talk to her,” he croaked. “See what happened. And—” he gulped. “I’ll see what needs to happen next.”

Cheerilee leaned back in her chair and smiled. “Thank you,” she said.

Thunderlane shot skyward, scanning the panorama below for any signs of his little brother. Flying low over Ponyville, he watched as many mares, stallions and foals trotted and romped about, yet no gray-and-navy colt caught his eye. As he neared the center of town, Thunderlane paused, then wheeled around; he still hadn’t found his brother, but he saw a colt he had recognized—exiting Sugarcube Corner with a cupcake in one hoof, and the other shoved in his mouth.

Button Mash damn-near choked as a pegasus landed right in front of him. He looked up and recognized Thunderlane, then squealed and turned to run away, but Thunderlane caught him by the tail.

“Hey kid,” Thunderlane said urgently, “You know where my brother is?”

Button blinked, “Shouldn’t you know that?” he shot back.

Thunderlane’s eyes hardened, and Button sucked in a sharp breath.

“I… I-I think he’s with..with Scootaloo,” he squeaked. “Yeah! He’s with his little filly friend and they went to… to...” As he remembered, his eyes widened.

Oh, shit.

Thunderlane saw the change in Button’s face and he swallowed.

“C’mon,” he said, “you can tell me—where’d they go?”

“T-that little fort the girls have,” Button squeaked. “I-it’s like a treehouse or something, I don’t know.”

Thunderlane opened his mouth in shock, and, his tail freed, Button fell forward—and landed directly on top of his other cupcake.

“Dammit—” he spat.

“Are you sure?” Thunderlane asked, his voice trembling.

Button Mash looked up at him, furious. “Pretty damn sure,” he said. “He was talkin’ about it all afternoon—”

Without another word, Thunderlane spread his wings. Button was nearly blown back on his ass as Thunderlane rocketed into the sky, and soared towards Sweet Apple Acres. Button huffed, then looked back down at himself, then up at Sugarcube Corner. Maybe he could ask Miss Pinkie for another cupcake. She was usually pretty good about that sorta thing.

Apple Bloom glared at the game board. The only pegs left were green and blue—hers and Rumble’s. And the mule was winning. She pressed the dice bubble and watched the die pop into the air—and, when it landed again, it showed a 1. She growled, then reached out and pressed the bubble again—and again

Sweetie Belle leaned in and looked closely at the bubble. . “What are you doing?” she asked, irritation creeping into her voice.

“Thing’s broke.” Apple Bloom squinted as she peered down at the dome, and the hated die within.

Scootaloo snorted. “Uh… I don’t think it’s broke, Apple Bloom,” she said, snickering. “You’re just losing.”

Apple Bloom whirled around and glared daggers at Scootaloo, “Like hay I’m losing!” She barked. “H-he cheated!” she said, pointing a hoof at Rumble.

Rumble just smirked back at her.

Sweetie sighed. “How do you cheat in a game like this?” she asked.

“Dunno,” Apple Bloom said, tears starting to gather at the corner of her eyes. “But he’s doin’ it.”

Rumble glanced between the three fillies. “So,” he said carefully, “Are we gonna finish the game, or what…?”

“They might,” a voice said, “but you aren’t.”

Rumble whipped his head around, and the three fillies looked up. The color drained from all four of their faces. Standing in the doorway, blocking the sunlight, was Thunderlane—and he looked none too pleased.

Thunderlane felt his expression crack. He had always tried to do right by Rumble, but this—this—this was too much. He watched Rumble’s face carefully, and saw the rough patch of fur under his chin.

It felt like somepony had dumped a bucket of ice in his gut.

“It’s time to go,” he said coldly.

Rumble swallowed, hard. Silently, he stood and walked out the door and down the ramp. Thunderlane turned to follow, and, after a quick, shared glance, the girls stood and followed.

“What’s this all about?”

Apple Bloom squeaked and tried to hide behind Sweetie Belle. Walking up the path, carrying two baskets full of apples, was Applejack. She was staring at Rumble, fire in her eyes and a snarl on her lips. “I’m pretty sure I made it clear you weren’t allowed on my property,” she hissed.

“He got lost,” Thunderlane said, looking her in the eye. “I was just bringing him home.”

Applejack looked up and watched his passive, stoic expression for a long, long moment. Finally, she nodded. “Fine,” she said, turning away. “Just get out of here. And make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Thunderlane nodded, and the two of them turned and trotted away.

Applejack sighed, then turned back to Apple Bloom. She opened her mouth to speak—but, suddenly, Scootaloo broke from the trio and sprinted after the retreating Rumble. Applejack watched her go, then turned back to Apple Bloom.

“You know better.” Applejack said firmly, “I know Scootaloo’s your friend, and you wanna keep her happy, but it doesn’t matter. He’s bad news.” She leaned closer. Never. Again.”

Apple Bloom swallowed and nodded her head. “Yes, ma’am,” she said, her voice shaking. “Won’t happen again, ma’am.”

As Scootaloo galloped towards them, Thunderlane looked over his shoulder at her. He leaned down and whispered into Rumble’s ear, which made Rumble look up at him in shock, then glance back at Scootaloo. Thunderlane said something else, and Rumble gulped, then galloped away.

“Wait!” Scootaloo cried—but Thunderane reached out and caught her as she passed him. Scootaloo froze, then looked up at him.

Thunderlane looked down at her, licked his lips, and sighed. “Listen,” he said, his voice gentle but firm, “I think… I think it would be for the best if you left my brother alone for a little while.” He swallowed. “He.. he has some very important flight courses coming,” he lied, “and he doesn’t need any extra stress or distractions…” He lowered his head a little and looked into her eyes. “Okay?”

Scootaloo blinked, and mouth hung open.

“But why—?”

Even as she asked it, she saw in his face that, despite his tone, this was not up for debate.

Scootaloo swallowed her words and nodded numbly.

Thunderlane nodded a curt, but genuine thanks, then turned and flew away.

Scootaloo watched him go, and slowly sank onto her flank. It felt like someone had just ripped her heart from her chest.

Neither of them spoke as they walked back home.

Rumble walked behind Thunderlane, his head bowed. He couldn’t see his brother’s face from back here, but he didn’t exactly need to. Thunderlane was never one to yell, never one to ground him or otherwise punish him like other foals’ parents did.

And yet, Rumble could still tell that Thunderlane was furious. It was in his voice as he had told him to run home, in the way he walked… Rumble swallowed nervously. Thunderlane had snapped at him once or twice, but he had never seen him angry.

Thunderlane said nothing as he unlocked the door to their apartment and let Rumble inside. Rumble trotted back towards his room—

“Rumble,” Thunderlane called after him, his voice quiet yet firm.

Rumble froze. He turned back to Thunderlane, still standing just inside the door.

Thunderlane jerked his head towards their tiny living room. “In here,” he said.

Rumble trotted into the living room and climbed up on their sofa. Thunderlane followed behind him, then pulled a wooden chair into the middle of the room, sat down on it. For a moment, he said nothing—then, he heaved a weary sigh, and leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees.

For a long moment, neither of them spoke. Finally, Thunderlane looked up.

“Listen, Rumble,” he said, with the slightest tremble in his voice. “There’s… something we need to talk about.”

Rumble nodded wordlessly.

Thunderlane looked down again. He took a deep breath—and, when he spoke again, he spoke carefully, as if his words were made of spun glass.

“I get,” he said slowly, “that you see something special about this filly—this Scootaloo, or whatever her name is. And I respect that.” He swallowed. “But, you have to understand—the past few weeks, I’ve seen you getting back into bad habits. You’ve been mouthing off to my boss, and picking a fight with a Wonderbolt, and humiliating and insulting Applejack’s sister—a-and then…” He sighed again. “You snuck onto their property, when you knew you weren’t supposed to.” He shook his head slowly, then looked up at Rumble.

He wasn’t angry. Or, at least, he didn’t sound angry.

“Can’t you see?” he said, almost pleading. “Can’t you see what she’s dragging you into? You’re trying to protect her and be with her—and she’s dragging you down to a bad place. You—” he gulped. “You could’ve been killed last night. And it was because of her.”

“That wasn’t her fault,” Rumble said, a note of irritation creeping into his voice. If Thunderlane noticed, he ignored it.

Every time you’re with her,” he pressed on, “You come home, and you’re in a bad mood. You’re depressed, or lonely, or angry, or stressed. And this is over some stupid girl.”

Rumble’s eyes flashed.

“You’re barely ayearling, dude,” Thunderland continued. “You don’t need this kind of…” he gestured weakly. “...this kind of crap in your life. Not yet. You should be out pallin’ around with your friends, getting dirty and breakin’ stuff, not worrying about girls. You’re still a colt, Bud,” he said. “No need to act like a teenager just yet.”

Thunderlane looked up and met Rumble’s gaze—and what he saw frightened him. Rumble saw him shrink back a little. But still, he swallowed, reached out and put a hoof on his shoulder.

“I’m only trying to help you,” he said tenderly. “You’re my brother—and I—” he gulped. “I care about you.”

Rumble snarled, and swatted his hoof away. “Since when have you cared about me? About anything?” he spat. “The only reason we’re here is because you’re a slacker—a loser. You’re stuck in some entry-level job because you can’t hold down anything else. You change marefriends more often than the milk in the fridge—it’s a friggin’ miracle that you haven’t run off Cloudchaser yet.” He took a deep breath. “Do you know you made Mom cry before we left?”

Rumble was shaking with rage now. He knew what he was saying wasn’t right—wasn’t fair—but still, in some deep, twisted part of him, it felt good.

“You’re a jerk,” Rumble spat. “You’re a jerk, and a loner, and a loser. You’re just angry because I have friends and you don’t. You’re jealous I finally have something good, and just want to ruin it for me. Well,” he said, sitting up taller, “I’m not gonna be like you. We’re gonna stay together, and we’re gonna be happy. And—” an evil grin spread across his face “—I’m not gonna end up working a dead-end job for some bumfuck weather crew like you.”

Thunderlane’s eyes went wide. For a moment, he just stared—and then, his lips twisted into a snarl.

“Don’t you dare,” he hissed. “Don’t you fucking dare.”

He stood, knocking his chair back, his face twisted with rage. Rumble gasped and scrambled backwards, pressing himself deeper into the couch.

“Don’t you DARE give me shit!” Thunderlane roared. “You have no fucking idea what I’ve had to put up with—all for you, you little snotnosed shitstain!” He pressed his face up to Rumble’s, eyes blazing. “You think you’ve had it hard? Try this on for size, numbnuts: senior year, Skydancer Memorial High, best flyer in your class. College acceptance letter, spot on the Wonderbolts reserve, whole nine yards. And then you make a bad decision, and it all comes crashing down: everyone hates you. Can’t show your face anywhere. Father won’t look at you, Mother cries when you walk in the room. And your six-year-old brother isn’t helping—bullies call him a fillyface, a faggot, and one day he snaps, goes HAM on their asses. Gets suspended. Mom’s boss hears, feels bad, comes over with flowers to make him feel better. He snaps again, cusses her out, almost jumps her before you step in. You sport the shiner for a week and a half, which doesn’t help your prospects any. And you can tell that, if he stays here, he’s gonna do it again. Gonna end up the same way you did. Folks want him to stay—folks think they can change him—but you know different.”

Rumble tried to back away, but there was nowhere to go. Thunderlane’s chest heaved as he worked up his head of steam.

“So you strike out on your own, you and the shitstain,” Thunderlane growled. “You couchsurf for two weeks until one of your friends gives you a lucky tip: easy job, alright pay, working the weather patrol for some podunk little town in the middle of nowhere. Boss is nice, has her eyes on the ‘Bolts. Not the job you want to make a career out of, but might help you earn back your stripes. So the two of you move out there and find a place. And you get the shitstain in school, then work every shift you can beg, borrow, and steal, to make sure you and him stay fed and under a roof. You give up everything you have, everything you are—your friends, your hobbies, your relationships—because you think it’s what you have to do to keep the two of you alive.”

Rumble flicked his gaze away, looking for a way out of this. But there was no way out—it was only him and Thunderlane, a songbird and the hurricane.

“So you work hard,” Thunderlane snarled. “And you get promoted. And you start to make some actual money. Find a marefriend you actually give a damn about. And the kid is liking school, and making friends, and doing alright. And then he—then he—”

Thunderlane’s voice cracked, and he looked away—and, in an instant, all the steam went out of him. He swallowed once or twice before he spoke again. “And then,” he said slowly, “he starts making the same mistakes you did,” he finished.

He squeezed his eyes shut. And, as he did, Rumble’s eyes went wide.

Thunderlane was crying.

All of a sudden, Rumble saw Thunderlane for who he actually was—not a neglectful tyrant of an older brother, but a pony, plain and simple. A young, frightened pony, with shoulders too weak to hold the responsibilities he’d taken for himself, but burdened, too, with the knowledge that, if he failed, there was no one else to take them.

Thunderlane sagged, and dropped on his haunches, tears rolling down his cheeks. “Do you know what happened?” he asked, after a long moment. “Back in Cloudsdale? Do you know why I had to leave?” he asked, looking up at Rumble.

Rumble stared for a moment before he realized Thunderlane actually wanted an answer. He quickly shook his head, and Thunderlane chuckled mirthlessly.

“Sunflower,” he said. “That was her name. Had a crush on her since… oh, I don’t know, maybe flight camp, back in the day. Smart, and funny, and her body—” he clicked his tongue appreciatively, and flashed a rogueish grin—but his smile quickly fell again. He bowed his head, and fresh tears ran down his face.

“But all the looks in the world won’t help you if you’re ugly inside,” he said. “And she was triple-A, gold-star, board-certified disgusting. Soul as black as a smoker’s lung. Clever, manipulative, cunning, and cruel—would’ve made a great politician someday. And I—” He hesitated, then swallowed. “I was hers, head over hooves.”

“What’d she do?” Rumble heard himself say.

“You don’t wanna know,” Thunderlane said. “But it was bad. So bad she—” He shook his head. “She was the reason it all went wrong. She hooked another stallion. Got the two of us to fight each other. I won, and he—” Thunderlane shook his head. “Well, he didn’t.”

He took a deep breath. “That’s when it all started to change,” he said. “That was why I had to leave. Because I didn’t want to have another pony look at me like that, knowing what I’d done. And—” he swallowed nervously. “—and that’s why I brought you with me. Wanted to make sure you wouldn’t make the same mistakes. Wanted to make sure—” he swallowed again. “—wanted to make sure that Mom and Dad would have one son they could be proud of.”

Rumble watched him sitting there, chest heaving, tears running openly down his face, and felt a twinge of something deep in his chest. Slowly, he clambered down off the couch, trotted over to where Thunderlane sat, and wrapped his arms around him.

“Sorry,” he whispered, burying his face in Thunderlane’s shoulder.

Thunderlane returned the hug, and they sat there for a long, silent moment, Rumble feeling hot tears dripping on his mane.

Rumble squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn’t unravel what was going on in his heart—there was pain, and anger, and guilt and frustration, and another dozen things he didn’t have names for, all wrapped up in each other, twisted and knotted and boiling up inside him.

But one thing was clear: he had crossed a line. He knew his words could hurt—it was one of the things he was good at, in fact. Very good. But never had he hurt someone he loved. Never had he seen his words cut so deep.

And that, alone, hurt him more than he could say.

“I’m sorry,” Thunderlane said suddenly. “I’m sorry for losing my temper. I’m sorry for yellin’ at you. And—” Rumble felt him swallow. “I’m sorry for being such a shit brother. A shit parent.”

“ ‘S not your fault,” Rumble murmured.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Still not fair to you.” He hesitated, chuckled a little. “Do you know why Cloudchaser’s stuck around so long?”

Rumble shook his head.

“It’s because she’s good with kids,” he said. “I mean, she’s nice—”

“—and kinda cute,” Rumble admitted.

Thunderlane nodded. “But I was hoping…” he swallowed. “I was hoping she could help the two of us figure this mess out.”

Rumble let out a little laugh, and Thunderlane chuckled, too. For a moment, they both were quiet again.

“I want you to promise me something,” Thunderlane said suddenly.

Rumble nodded against him.

“I want you to stay away from her.”

Rumble’s eyes snapped open. “Scootaloo?” he managed to choke out.

“You know she’s not good for you,” he said. “Don’t lie to yourself. Just—promise, okay?”

Rumble looked up at Thunderlane. He opened his mouth, ready to fire another barb—but he snapped it shut again and bit his tongue until he tasted copper. He swallowed once or twice, then, he spoke:

“I promise.”

It was a lie. It was a promise he knew he couldn’t—wouldn’t—keep. He knew it even as he said it.

And yet, he knew, somehow, it was all he could say. Anything else would have been simply cruel.

Thunderlane squeezed him tighter. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

18. Desire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweetie Belle huffed, but said nothing more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Arrested?” Featherweight said. “Really?”

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

“A couple?

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

My turn!” cried Button Mash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come here.”

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

“Come. Here,” Rumble repeated.

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

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

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

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

But, to her astonishment, Rumble smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This time, it was Rumble who looked away.

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

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

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

He looked at her, concerned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the door clicked shut.

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

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

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

Rumble’s mouth dropped open. “Uh—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hm?” she said, looking up.

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

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

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

The ponies you love

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

“Can I have Scootaloo over?”

Cloudchaser raised an eyebrow and cocked her head.

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

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

“—she is—” Rumble fervently butted in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19. Descent (Part l)

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“Ya ready, Dashie?”

Scootaloo looked up at Rainbow, the faintest snarl on her lips. She wore a thick, poofy parka—Sweetie Belle’s, maybe?—a set of golden-orange snow goggles, and, oddly enough, a moth-eaten, hoof-knitted scarf. Rainbow had tried to buy her a new one, but she was weirdly attached to that old, nasty thing...

Scootaloo looked back down at her board, and clipped her back-left hoof into the bindings on her snowboard, just like Bunny Slope had shown them. As Rainbow watched her, she felt herself smile a little. Damn, she thought to herself, my kid is awesome.

Scootaloo looked back up at Rainbow and scowled. “You coming?” she snapped.

Rainbow stared at her for a split-second longer before she gasped a little then shook her head. “S-sure,” she said, “lemme just—”

Rainbow opened her wing and dropped her snowboard onto the snow. The bottom was so scuffed it was almost gray, but she kicked at it, flipping it over. On the other side, a cutesy, anime-style pony surrounded by Japonies lettering smiled up at her—and, branded right across her face, were the words GALLOPING GORGE SKI RESORT RENTAL BOARD—RETURN FOR DEPOSIT. Rainbow looked into the eyes of the anime filly as she, too, clipped her back-left hoof into the bindings.

(She winced a little as the metal teeth on the bindings bit into the keratin. It didn’t actually hurt; it was more the principle of the thing. She hated people touching her hooves. Even herself.)

Rainbow looked up, only to see Scootaloo’s scowl had deepened. She scoffed, and blew a tuft of mane out of her eyes. “Finally,” she groaned.

Scootaloo turned away to look down the slope. She took a deep breath, then wobbled up onto her hind legs, holding her arms out for balance. She planted her free hoof in the glittering snow—

“Wait a sec, squirt,” Rainbow said suddenly. “I gotta—”

Scootaloo shot her a savage look over her shoulder.

“What’s the matter, Rainbow?” she spat. “Chicken?”

And, with that, Scootaloo shoved off down the hill. Rainbow watched her slide away. As she started down the slope, Scootaloo clipped her free hoof into the bindings, wove around a small crowd of schoolfillies, and disappeared down the hill.

“I’m not a chicken,” Rainbow muttered to no one in particular, as she looked down at her hooves. “It’s just… my binding is loose. Gotta have that looked at before someone twists an ankle or something. Yeah.”

She looked down the slope after Scootaloo—now a speck of orange in a sea of white, already in line for the ski lift again—and sighed. “It’s her turn this week,” she reminded herself. “Her turn. Just—just put up with it for a while, and next week you can go bowling or something.”

Truth be told, she had no idea why Scootaloo had been so insistent on going snowboarding. But, when she’d picked her up from Rarity’s that morning, it was the only thing she would talk about. But, despite her own feelings on the subject, Rainbow had promised Cadance—promised herself—that she was going to do her best to be a good mama. So, snowboarding it was, then—despite the cost of the ski passes, the equipment rentals, and these damn—

Rainbow groaned aloud, then reached up and fumbled with the strap on her goggles. As soon as she saw them, she knew she had to have them—they had this awesome mirror finish that looked like a rainbow in the right light—but they were turning out to be more trouble than they were worth. The stupid strap kept on pinching her ear, and they fogged a little too easily, and they had this weird reddish tint that made everything look weirdly pink.

But, she reminded herself again, it was all for Scootaloo. Even if all this cleaned out her not-insubstantial bank account, it would be worth it. Because it was all for her.

Rainbow looked down the slope again—down to where she knew Scootaloo was, so far away she could barely see her—and something began to nag at her, at the back of her brain, something painful and sad. Rainbow pushed it back, swallowed her nerves, then clipped one hoof into the board and stood on her hind legs.

Scootaloo plopped onto the lift seat as it swept up behind her. She sighed, then looked back over her shoulder as the ski lift carried her up and up. She could see Rainbow, about two-thirds of the way back through the line, looking just a little bit green around the gills. Scoots turned and followed the line of lift chairs with her eyes as they rose up the mountain, then sighed. This lift took them up to the top of the beginner’s course—a short, shallow, green-circle hill called Sunshine Slopes. Part of her wanted to transfer to the next lift; try one of the harder runs, maybe even that tantalizing black diamond that Bunny Slope had warned them about— but she knew full well what would happen if she did. If she even so much as mentioned it, precious little Dashie would have a hissy fit and burst a blood vessel. She could hear it now: “Scootsie, you’re not ready for that one yet…”

Scootaloo lolled her head back on the headrest and groaned. She’d been excited to go on this ski trip—anything that got her out of Ponyville was a winner from the start—she couldn’t help but be just the slightest bit irritated. She’d have much rather been in the company of Applebloom and Sweetie Belle, perhaps their sisters as well … maybe even Rumble, while she was at it… in short, she sighed to herself, anyone but Dashie.

It had started before they’d even hit the slopes. While in the ski shop, before they’d even picked up their boards, Rainbow had spotted a goofy-looking pair of snow goggles that she decided she couldn’t live without. Scootaloo had tolerated her antics—that is, until Rainbow had spotted the scarf. It was a garish blue-and-yellow, with the Wonderbolts logo on one end, and designed for a filly easily a third of her size. But still, Rainbow had almost insisted on buying it for her—she’d even called Scootaloo’s scarf a—

Scootaloo shook her head. No. Today was going to be a good day. She was going to enjoy herself up on the mountain, and that was that. Dashie or no, she was going to have fun.

Scootaloo hopped off the chair as it crested the hill, landed in the ice-slick snow at the top of the run, and coasted a few feet away on her board. She swept her gaze over Sunshine Slopes again, plotting a new route. That one looked good, if she—

She gasped and whipped her gaze to the left—but no, it wasn’t her. Just a pink mare wearing a sky-blue jacket. Rainbow hadn’t made it up to the top of the slope yet, thank Celestia.

Scootaloo sighed heavily, then pushed off again. Her board dipped down and glided along the snow. As she started to pick up speed, Scootaloo took a deep breath of the frigid winter air. She always loved the wind in her fur. She had no need for a helmet up here in the snow; she just let her mane whip around as she cut her way down the slope.

At first, the run was normal enough; some swerving around trees and posts, her path making a smooth waveform in the snow as she mobbed down the slope, her speed slowly building. She hit a small jump, sending her a cool six feet of air, did a showy little turn in midair, and made a somewhat wobbly landing. She managed to stay up, though, and slid faster and faster down the mountainside.

The little shit… Rainbow mouthed as she trudged along the base of Sunshine Slopes. She had always wanted to go skiing, but that wasn’t why she was here; she was really here to spend time with Scootaloo—but Celestia knows where she had gone. Every group of fillies and colts she saw raised her hopes a little higher—only to be dashed when not a single one even looked her way.. The last time she’d really seen Scoots was up at the top of that hill; as soon as Bunny Slope let them off the leash, Scootaloo had snowboarded away and never looked back. Rainbow sighed heavily. At least, she thought to herself, it wasn’t entirely her fault this time.

Rainbow climbed back on the ski lift for another run, then leaned heavily on the arm of the ski lift. She had always wanted to go skiing, but her heart just wasn’t in it today. It was a little fun, she had to admit, especially when she really got going. Something about the feeling of the board against the fluffy snow, the faint hiss of the winter air...

Rainbow glanced up at the terminus of the ski lift. It stood at the top of Sunshine Slopes, but, a few feet away, stood another ski lift, this one marked with a single black diamond. “The Challenger,” it said in giant letters. Bunny Slope had said it started with something like a twenty-foot drop off a cliff, followed by a fifty-degree downslope through thick trees. Rainbow considered herself pretty ballsy, sure—but that just sounded suicidal.

Rainbow gazed idly for a few seconds at the other ski lift—then sat up straight. If that course was so dangerous, then what in Celestia’s name was Scootaloo doing at the end of the line?

Scootaloo was so fixated on the lift that she didn’t even notice Rainbow approach.

Rainbow licked her lips nervously.

“Hey, uh…” she began hesitantly. “Looks pretty scary, huh?”

Scootaloo jumped, sighed heavily, then turned to face her. “You would think it’s scary,” she snapped. “You big chick—”

Rainbow’s eyes flashed. “That’s it,” she said, “You’re not going.”

Scootaloo’s eyes widened, then narrowed. A chill breeze swept across the snow, cutting through their fur.

“Says who?” Scootaloo hissed.

“Says me,” Rainbow growled back. “No way under Celestia’s sun am I gonna let you drop off that cliff and break your—your everything.”

Scootaloo’s gaze hardened. ”You’re not the boss of me, Dashie,” she spat. “If you wanna hang out here and be a big scaredy-pony, fine—but you’re not gonna ruin my fun.” Scootaloo turned and jogged back to her place in line, already three or four ponies ahead.

“Fun?” Rainbow repeated. Her eyes widened, and she dashed forward, grabbed Scootaloo, and yanked her out of line. “Fun?!” she shrieked. “What the hay is fun about doing something that could get you killed?”

Scootaloo snarled. “Never thought I’d hear that from you,” she growled. “Then again, I guess you have been a bit of a coward lately—”

“Excuse me?” hissed Rainbow.

For a half-second, Scootaloo shrank away, fear in her eyes. But then, something hot and powerful welled up inside of her, and she stood tall again, and shot a withering glare back into Rainbow’s scowl.

“You heard me,” Scootaloo said, her voice low and dangerous. She turned back to the line. “Go and wait in the lodge until I’m done. Maybe ask the kitchen for some graham crackers and a bottle while you’re at it.”

Rainbow stared after, eyes wide and mouth slightly open, for two or three seconds. Then, she gritted her teeth and charged forward, cutting off Scootaloo just as she was about to board the lift.

“No,” she snarled.

Scootaloo glared up at her. “Get out of my way—” she began.

“Shut up,” Rainbow spat. Scootaloo’s eyes widened, and she took a half step backwards.

“Go back to the lodge,” Rainbow continued, her voice barely above a whisper. “Turn in your board. We’re going home.”

Scootaloo looked up at her as her mouth dropped open. The look on Rainbow’s face brooked no argument. And yet—Scootaloo felt her temper rising again—this was the face that had done her so much hurt, so much suffering—what right did she have…?

Scootaloo bent down and grabbed her board. She balanced it precariously over her back, then made a break for the lift, ducking under Rainbow as she did. Rainbow’s eyes widened, but she spun after her, reached out, and grabbed Scootaloo’s scarf with her teeth.

And, very suddenly, time seemed to stop.

Rainbow’s teeth sunk into the scarf. She strained, pulling back, but Scootaloo continued forward. Instead, the scarf began to slip from around Scootaloo’s neck. Scootaloo herself, feeling the cloth slip away, began to turn, her face a mix of horror, fear, and anger.

But Rainbow didn’t notice. Or, if she did, she didn’t care. All she knew is that the scarf wasn’t getting her what she wanted—and what she wanted was for Scootaloo to heel. She let go of the scarf, then lunged, tackling Scootaloo to the snow. Scootaloo’s board slipped from her back and landed in the snow. The scarf hung in the air for a split-second, then fluttered gently through the air, and landed beside it.

Scootaloo cried out as Rainbow’s weight pressed her deeper into the snow. “Leggo!” she cried. “Gerroff—!”

But Rainbow, eyes aflame, did not hear. Or, if she did, she didn’t listen.

The wind swept across the snow, blowing stray flakes with it. It blew up and over Rainbow, too enraged to feel it; it blew over Scootaloo, who, shielded by the body of her mother, barely registered it; it blew across the fallen snowboard, which rocked uncomfortably where it lay…

And it blew across the scarf.

For just a moment, it seemed the wind would leave it be—it would blow across and through it, and leave it where it lay.

But then, the wind caught it. The scarf billowed up like a sail, and began to lift away. It drifted across the snow, then gently lifted up into the air, and blew away into the bright blue sky.

“No!” Scootaloo shrieked. She squirmed, frantically trying to wriggle free, but Rainbow was too heavy for her. She snarled, then opened her mouth wide, and bit down, hard, on Rainbow’s leg.

And, suddenly, time snapped back into motion.

Rainbow yelped. She jerked back, then stood. Scootaloo scrambled to her hooves and looked frantically after the scarf, but it was already drifting far away, over the trees, an off-color speck against the blue sky. She let out a little gasping cry, then turned back to Rainbow.

“You—you—” she stammered. “You bitch!”

Rainbow paled.

My mom knitted that for me!” Scootaloo shrieked. “And now it’s—it’s—it’s gone! And it’s all your fault!”

Rainbow Dash stared at Scootaloo—and something in her brain flipped. Rainbow had insisted on wearing her chrome-finished, pinkish-red goggles nearly all morning—almost long enough for the color to simply fade into the background. However, as she looked at Scootaloo—who, through her goggles, looked orange-red against the pink snow and purple sky—Rainbow realized, very suddenly, that something was wrong. Horribly wrong. And had been for far too long. Rainbow reached up and fumbled with her rose-colored goggles—and, as she did, she looked up at Scootaloo.

There she stood—her Scootsie. Small, delicate, afraid, incomplete. She needed a mom, a real Mom, even if she didn’t know it. If she could just let go of her anger a little, let bygones be bygones, and learn to forgive, she could have everything she’d ever wanted—and Rainbow was going to make her, if it was the last thing she did.

And then, Rainbow found the strap. She slid the goggles off. And, in the sudden, blinding white of the snow, Scootaloo changed.

Scootaloo stood there, four years older and six inches taller, her chest heaving, her eyes glistening with hot, angry tears. She wore a borrowed parka two sizes two large for her. She slept in a borrowed bed, in a borrowed room, in a borrowed life, and the only thing that had ever really been hers had just blown away in the icy wind. This wasn’t the anger of a petulant child, a spoiled brat crying for a sucker—it was pure rage, hard and sharp, dredged from the bottom of her soul and forged through a lifetime of hardship and want into a white-hot spear, aimed at the heart of the one pony in the world who had truly done her wrong. The one pony in the world who genuinely deserved whatever she had coming.

Rainbow stared, her eyes wide. The rose-colored goggles slipped from her grasp and dropped, unheeded, into the snow beside her.

“You don’t know me!” Scootaloo exploded. “You think I’m a wimp! You think I’m a punk! You think you know everything, and I’m dumb and stupid and an idiot! Y-you—” She took a deep, shaking breath as she trembled with rage. “You think you own me. Well, guess what?” she snarled. “You don’t.”

Rainbow opened her mouth. “I—”

“Shut up!” Scootaloo howled. “You’ve never listened to me! Never! Not once! And I’m sick of it!”

Rainbow clamped her mouth shut. By now, steam was shooting out of Scootaloo’s nostrils in hot little bursts.

“You—you think you can tell me what to do. Even though you gave me up. Even though you abandoned me—twice. That doesn’t make you my mom. That makes you a coward. A chicken. You haven’t fought for a thing your whole life. You’re just a spoiled bully who doesn’t care about anypony but themselves. Well—” She took a deep breath. “Screw you, Rainbow.”

Scootaloo turned and started stomping down the hill. Rainbow stood there, watching her, frozen, for a split-second. Then, her eyes widened.

“Wait—!” she cried out.

Scootaloo whipped her head around and pinned Rainbow to the ground with an icy glare. “You wanna know why I wanted to go snowboarding?” she snarled. “Because snowboarding is something you do by yourself.” Her eyes flashed. “You just won’t leave me alone. You don’t get that I don’t wanna see you, don’t wanna be with you—don’t even wanna be near you. So, if what it takes to get you to shut up about it is going on a trip where I never have to talk to you—?” her eyes narrowed.. “Then so be it.”

She turned and headed back down the hill. Rainbow stood there on top of the hill, listening to the wind howl. She swallowed several times without speaking.

Scootaloo shoved past a colt, not caring about his indignant squawk, nor the ponies who turned to stare after her. She didn’t care about anything. All she wanted to do was be anywhere she was not. Somewhere in the back of her brain, she knew what she had said was wrong—if she still lived with Mrs. Harbour, she would be grounded for a month, easy—but, at the same time, she knew it was true.

Scootaloo stomped into the lodge, then threw herself into one of the armchairs around the big fireplace in the corner. After a moment, she turned to look at the window, where, outside, she could see little snowflakes falling—little snowflakes who only wanted to find someplace they could rest, but were blown about incessantly by the winds they couldn’t control, winds that didn’t give a damn about what they wanted.

Scootaloo scowled and squirmed deeper into her seat.


I’ll never love you.

Rainbow wasn’t a fan of being berated. Nor was she keen on wandering aimlessly along a mountain looking for windblown scarf. Yet, here she was: shivering in the cold darkness of the woods.

She felt… hollow. Like something had been torn out of her insides. She felt like she should feel something—surprise, anger, shame, any or all of the above. Instead, she just felt broken, like all the different parts of her didn’t line up like they used to. Every step she took, something ground up against something else with a squeak or a shiver or a groan, like a machine badly in need of a tune-up.

It hadn’t been the first time someone had yelled at her. Not by a long shot. Not even the first time by someone so young. But, for the first time, something inside her had cracked—this time, the shell she’d put up to protect herself so long ago had finally started to give way.

She was right, Rainbow thought to herself. Princess’s New Clothes: it’s the kid who can see through the lies. Rainbow had been terrible; she just hadn’t let herself realize it yet. She was too fixated on who she wanted Scootaloo to be. But now, seeing her as she really was

Rainbow hung her head as she crunched through the snow. There was so little of herself left, now that her dreams had shattered and blown away. All her foolish, stupid, insane dreams. This was real life, not a storybook; there was no “Happily Ever After,” not without an asterisk. True, Scootaloo had been… difficult, but she had every right to. At least as long as she had a pony twice her age with half her sense, blind to everything she truly was, trying to force herself on her.

Rainbow had hoped, somewhere deep inside herself, that everything she was doing would somehow make things better. To be fair, she had done a lot… fixed up Scootaloo’s room real nice, installed guard railings and a rope ladder on her front porch… but to hope that a literal coat of paint would cover up all the heartache was, well…

Rainbow sighed. She was rapidly running out of synonyms for “stupid.”

Rainbow shivered and trotted on through the snow. She felt like, somewhere deep down, she should actually be grateful; she didn’t like being left in the dark about something, and, if it took her own daughter cussing her out on the side of a mountain to force her to figure something out, so be it. But that still didn’t make things any easier... at least, not with all the other trouble she was in at the moment…

Rainbow sighed again. It had probably been Cheerilee who had squealed to the Authorities. Rainbow didn’t hate her, though; telling the cops when her students were in danger was part of her job—even if it was all based on the accusations of a screaming colt. But it didn’t make things any easier for her, that’s for sure.

Thankfully, Thunderlane was competent enough to take over the Weather Patrol by himself on short notice, and Rainbow knew a good lawyer who owed her a favor. But all the good intentions in the world wouldn’t have saved her—not if it hadn’t been for her willingness to testify in Soarin’s case. But, even though her lawyer had managed to talk the judge down from felony child abandonment, she was still staring down the barrel of a hefty community service sentence. It wasn’t official, though; her sentencing was on Tuesday.

Rainbow groaned. When her lawyer found out what happened today, he was going to kill her...

Rainbow walked on for a few more steps, then sighed again. Whatever happened, it was all going to come back and bite her in the ass in a bad way. She had worked so hard to keep anyone from finding out the sort of trouble she was in… and, come Tuesday, word would spread like wildfire...

No. Rainbow gritted her teeth.

No, she was going to fix things. She wasn’t going to let even this break her.

It was going to take her a long time. And it might not ever happen. But she was going to prove herself to Scootaloo. Even if she couldn’t bring her home—not this month, not this year, not ever—she was going to do her damndest to bring back that little light to her eyes. The one that sparkled whenever she saw her hero.

And it started with this scarf. The little piece of cloth that had meant so little and so much all at the same time.

Rainbow looked around her. That scarf couldn’t have blown this far, could it? She had been walking through the woods for what felt like hours by this point. The snow and the gloom was starting to get to her—she could feel the cold seeping into her bones—in fact, she almost wished she was back at the lodge, by the fire…

No, she thought. Not until I find that scarf.

She trudged on through the snow, trying not to look up at the trees that were starting to close around her...

20. Descent (Part ll)

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“Hey Kodiak,” Bunny Slope said, “I’m gonna go check for any more strays.”

Kodiak—a tall, broad, dark-brown unicorn—nodded. “Sure thing,” he said. “Just scare ‘em out of here as quick as you can. We’re gonna put the game on that big TV in the lobby as soon as everyone’s gone.”

Bunny shot him a grin. “C’mon,” she teased, “you know Canterlot’s gonna lose.”

Kodiak sniffed. “I know no such thing,” he said airily. “Either way, get the tourists out. They should’ve all gone home already anyways.”

“I know, I know,” Bunny said, turning and walking towards the stairs. “Go Manehattan,” she called back over her shoulder.

“Aw, can it,” Kodi called back at her. Bunny just laughed.

Bunny Slope smiled to herself as she trotted down the stairs. She was tall and lanky, with a golden coat and white mane. Mom would have died if she told her, but really, life here at Galloping Gorge was everything she wanted. The pay wasn’t great, but room and board was free—not to mention, she got to spend all day every day out on the mountain. And running those beginner classes… She grinned even wider. Kodi and Rainier probably would’ve killed themselves by now if they’d had to teach four classes daily, but she wouldn’t give it up for the world. Getting to see ponies discover their new favorite hobby—not once, but four times, each and every day? Heck, she would’ve done twice that, if they would let her.

By this time, the lodge was dark. Most of the chairs had been stacked and the floors swept—but, then again, this wasn’t the first time they’d found some little punk colt lurking in a corner after hours. It always paid to be careful…

Bunny searched the entire lodge and found no one—that is, not until she took a closer look at the big armchairs sitting around the gas-fueled fireplace. There, curled up in a tiny, scowling ball, was a little orange filly, almost smaller than the armrests. Bunny Slope watched her for just a moment, then smiled a little.

Bunny slope trotted over to the chairs, lowered herself into one with a heavy sigh, and watched the fire for a few seconds. Then, she turned and shot the little filly a crooked grin.

“Hey, Kid,” Bunny said cheerfully. “It’s, uh… Scouter? Scooter?”

“Scootaloo,” Scootaloo muttered.

“Scootaloo, that’s right,” Bunny said brightly. She flashed her a grin. “First day, right?”

“And last.”

Bunny looked stricken. “Aw, c’mon,” she pleaded, “You just gotta give it another chance, is all…”

Scootaloo shot her a scathing look. “I lost my scarf,” she snarled.

Bunny Slope cocked her head. “And?” she said.

Scootaloo turned to look at her like she had grown a second head. “And?” she repeated, scandalized.

“Yeah!” Bunny cried. “You don’t need a scarf to snowboard. Especially with a fancy parka like that.”

Scootaloo stared at her a moment longer, then wriggled deeper into her chair. “It was special,” she muttered. “My mom knitted it for me—and now it’s gone.”

Bunny was silent for just a moment. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know how bad that sucks…” She sighed, then leaned over and gave Scootaloo a gentle slug on the arm, earning her another scathing look. “Hey,” she said, “wanna hear what happened to the very first board I ever owned? Birthday present from my dad? Got my Cutie Mark on it and everything?”

Scootaloo stared up at her, then sighed heavily. The way she was smiling down at her, eyes wide and shining, she wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

“...fine,” she grumbled.

“Snapped it clean in half, pow!” Bunny cried, punctuating her story with a hefty slap on the back of Scootaloo’s chair. “Hit a rock buried right under the snow.” She grinned. “Almost broke my neck, too—but, y’know, that grows back.”

Despite herself, Scootaloo felt a little smile tug at the corner of her lips. This apparently wasn’t the first time she’d told this story…

Bunny saw her smile, and grinned even wider—but then, her smile fell. She leaned back in her chair and stared into the fire for a moment. “That was…” she sighed. “That was after Daddy’s accident. That board was the only thing I had left to remember him by…”

Scootaloo looked sharply up at her, and, in the firelight, saw her watching the flames with a distant, turned-inward look. Scootaloo shivered a little, then turned back to the fire.

“I’m sorry,” she said, after a long pause. And she was surprised to realize she meant it.

Bunny nodded, then sniffled and wiped her eyes. “Wanna hear what I did next?”

Scootaloo looked up at her, then slowly nodded. Bunny shot her a sidelong glance, then smiled a little.

“Cussed up a storm, actually,” she said. “If Dad had been there, I would’ve been tasting soap until I was old enough to drink. Probably cried a little, too, I don’t really remember.”

Scootaloo chuckled, and Bunny turned to face her, smile bright and eyes gleaming once more. “You know what I did next?

Scootaloo raised an eyebrow. “...cried and screamed some more…?”

“Nope,” she said brightly. “I rented another board, and got right back on that slope!”

“Why?” Scootaloo blurted, before she could stop herself.

“Because,” Bunny said, “You can’t let one bad thing keep you from doing what you love. Bad stuff happens all the time, and if you’re gonna let one sour experience keep you from living your life, you’re going to have one long, sad, lonely time.” She smiled a little wider. “You gotta get back up and try again, no matter what—because it’s no fun just parking your flank in the snow while there’s still so much mountain to see.”

Bunny fell quiet for a moment, then leaned over again. “Y’know, Scootaloo,” she said, “I’m proud of you.”

Scootaloo looked up at her. “Huh?”

Bunny nodded. “I mean it. Most fillies your age have never gone snowboarding. Most of ‘em are too afraid to try. And, here you go, coming up here out of the blue, and tearing up those slopes—at least for a little bit,” she added with a goofy little grin.

Scootaloo felt herself begin to blush.

“You’re awesome, Scootaloo,” Bunny said. “And don’t let anyone tell you different—” she leaned over and slugged her again. “Least of all yourself. Okay?”

Scootaloo stared at Bunny Slope for just a moment before, suddenly, she started to go all blurry. Scootaloo wiped at her eyes and sniffled a little. “Okay,” she mumbled.

“ And—” Bunny slugged her again “—when you’re ready to try again, Galloping Gorge will be here for you. I mean, how are you gonna get better if no one gives you a second chance?”

Scootaloo slowly turned and looked back at the fire. “Yeah,” she murmured, “Yeah, I guess…”

“Thing is, though,” Bunny said, with a wry twist in her voice, “You’re gonna have to take that second chance tomorrow. It’s time to go home.”

Scootaloo just kept staring at the fire.

Bunny frowned a little. “How, uh…” she swallowed. “How you getting home? I mean, is your Mom gonna come pick you up or something…?”

Scootaloo scowled. “My mom’s not coming back,” she grumbled. “All I got is a babysitter now.”

Bunny swallowed. “Well, uh…” she began. “Where’s your babysitter?”

”I dunno,” Scootaloo said bitterly. “Probably still riding Sunshine Slope. Trying to prove she’s better than me or something..”

Bunny’s eyes widened, but her face quickly relaxed into an expression of practiced calm. She leaned back into the chair, counting her heartbeats, trying to keep her breathing even—until she heard heavy hoofsteps on the stairs.

Both of them looked up as Kodiak rounded the corner. He shot Bunny a disapproving look, then opened his mouth, but, before he could say a word, Bunny spoke.

“Hey, Kodi,” she said, her voice a little too relaxed, “Could you go wake up Mister Husky for me?”

Scootaloo heard something in her tone and looked up, just in time to see Kodiak pale, then turn and walk quickly away.

“So,” Bunny said to Scootaloo, “what’s your babysitter’s name? And what’s she look like?”

Scootaloo glanced up as she heard running hooves on the floor above them. “Rainbow Dash,” she said slowly. “She’s blue, with a rainbow mane…”

“Uh huh,” Bunny said, the very faintest note of strain in her voice. “And when was the last time you saw her...?”

“I dunno,” Scootaloo replied, “ten?”

Bunny nodded, and somewhere in the distance, a door slammed. “Okay,” she said, heaving herself up out of the chair. “You just sit right there, and get yourself another cocoa or something. I’m gonna go use the restroom, and—”

Scootaloo scowled. “Stop it,” she spat.

Bunny’s eyes widened. “Stop what?” she said,

“I’m not a fan of being lied to,” Scootaloo said, glaring at Bunny, who shrunk back a little. “Either I’m a coward or an idiot. Pick one.”

Bunny stared at her, then nodded. “Okay,” she said in a small voice.

“Who’s Mister Husky?” Scootaloo demanded.

Bunny swallowed. “The… the Search and Rescue team,” she said. “It’s… it’s a code word...”

Scootaloo felt the blood drain from her face. “S-search and Rescue?” she repeated. “But she’s on the slopes! I told you!”

Bunny smiled a smile that cracked at the edges. “Sweetie,” she said carefully, “The ski lifts have been closed for an hour. No one’s on the slopes.”

Scootaloo’s eyes widened.

“If she’s out there, and you last saw her at ten in the morning…” Bunny swallowed again. “Mister Husky might be too late.”

Scootaloo sat very still for a moment.

“...I’m coming with you,” she said finally.

“Pardon?” Bunny asked, cocking her head.

“I’m coming with you,” she repeated, louder. “It might be my fault she’s out there. And…” She swallowed, then fell silent.

Bunny watched her for a moment, then wordlessly gestured for her to follow. Scootaloo leapt from the chair and charged after her.

Bunny tossed Scootaloo a bright-orange beanie and pulled her through a rough wooden door. Before she was even fully aware of what was happening, Bunny plopped her on a hard plastic seat, sat down in front of her, and, with a deep, mechanical roar, their sleek white snowmobile shot forward into the darkness.

Scootaloo’s backside was numb. She had been sitting on the snowmobile for… well, she wasn’t sure for how long. But Bunny Slope seemed to know what she was doing, so she wasn’t worried. It would almost have been relaxing—there was something beautiful about the trees, thick with snow, that whizzed past them, something soft and welcoming about the whurr of the engine—if it hadn’t been for the frequent squawks of panicked static over the radio clipped to the windscreen, nor the shafts of flashlights she glimpsed through the trees. Scootaloo, who had her arms wrapped around Bunny Slope from behind, gripped her a little tighter and wished she was back home again.

They had already been up and down every hill and trail on the resort at least twice (Scootaloo could’ve sworn she felt Bunny tense up every time the snowmobile tore up her precious powder), and now they had turned and headed into the woods. “Only an idiot would have wandered off like this,” Bunny had muttered.

Scootaloo had almost made a crack about Rainbow’s decision-making capabilities, but it died, unspoken, in her throat.

Scootaloo swallowed. The night was beautiful, sure—but still, there was that deep, creeping sense of dread in her gut. She had tried to ignore it, but the further they drove the more insistently it gnawed at her. In its wake, it left a soft, lingering sense of regret… a sort of vague longing for what might have been, if things had gone a little differently…

Scootaloo yelped as the snowmobile lifted into the air, dropping the bottom out of her stomach. It landed, hard, in the snow again, and Scootaloo clutched Bunny even tighter.

“Sorry,” Bunny called back over the roar of the motor.

At that moment, there was another burst of static from the radio. Bunny snatched it up. “Rainy, you have eyes?” she cried.

Another burst of static. Bunny listened intently, clipped the radio back onto the windscreen, then turned the handlebars. The snowmobile cut a graceful arc, spraying snow in a high, delicate rainbow, then headed off in a new direction.

“They find her?” Scootaloo yelled, allowing herself a faint note of hope.

“Maybe,” called back Bunny. She cranked the throttle, and the snowmobile lurched forward.

Bunny coasted the snowmobile to a stop, then leapt off it, leaving the engine running, snatching up the radio as she did. “Kodi, Rainy,” she shouted, “I think I found her. Niner-niner-tango-foxtrot…”

Scootaloo clambered off the snowmobile as well, and quickly dashed after Bunny—or, at least, she tried to. Here, the snow was deep and fresh—no problem for Bunny’s long legs, but for a filly Scootaloo’s size, it was like swimming in cement.

And, suddenly, she came around a thick clump of shrubbery and stared. There, in a small clearing, by the light of the snowmobile’s headlamps, a wide circle of snow had been stomped down. Scattered around the circle were a Galloping Gorge rental board, a long, thick scarf, and a crumpled, discarded winter coat. In the midst of the debris stood Bunny Slope—and, at her hooves, curled up tight and lying very, very still in the snow, was Rainbow Dash.

“Is she…?” Scootaloo breathed.

Without a word, Bunny dropped the still-squawking radio into the snow beside her, then crouched down and rolled Rainbow over onto her back. She leaned down and held her ear to Rainbow’s mouth. She held there for just a moment before pressing her lips into a thin line, then moved down to Rainbow’s chest. Rainbow had her arms crossed tight; Bunny peeled them apart, letting them fall to the snow, heedless of the object that fell from Rainbow’s grasp. She placed both her forehooves on Rainbow’s sternum, and began pumping her chest.

Scootaloo stared for a long moment, then gingerly took a step forward. She walked over to where Rainbow lay, then slowly, reached out and picked up what lay on the ground beside her, the thing that she had been clutching so tightly—

—a moth-eaten, hoof-knitted scarf.

A few minutes later, Rainier landed in the snow beside Bunny Slope. She tucked her wings away, then trotted over to the snowmobile, dug in one of the emergency kits under the seat, and pulled out a flare gun. She fired it into the air, grabbed a couple sets of hoof warmers and a wool blanket, and went to help Bunny. A few seconds later, Kodiak appeared in a flash of light, and looked helplessly on as the two mares tended to the mare lying in the snow.

He glanced over and frowned, then trotted over to one of the trees nearby. Under that tree stood a tiny orange filly, wearing a parka almost as big as she was, clutching tightly to a brightly colored scarf. As he approached, she looked up at him—but he would be astonished if she could see him through all the fog in her goggles.

“Hey kid,” he said kindly, “you alright? We can—”

Without warning the filly sobbed aloud, dropped the scarf, then lunged forward. Kodiak yelped and backed away, but she ran past him. Rainier, who was trying to wrap the mare in the snow in a blanket, tried to grab her, but she dodged between her legs; Bunny Slope, still pumping the mare’s chest, tried to say something, but, before she could even get it out, the filly had already wrapped her arms around the mare’s neck and started to bawl.

Rainier hesitated, then stepped forward and tried to pull the little one away. “It’s gonna be okay, kid,” she said. “We’ve done this before, we’ve got this…”

And yet, the little orange filly just clutched her tighter, weeping into the cold, still body.

21. Deliberation

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Rainbow Dash didn’t like waking up in near-total darkness, nor did she like the fact that even lifting a hoof felt like moving a mountain, yet there she was, looking around the dim haze that began as darkness, but slowly became a hospital room.

It was so cold… so hot… so lonely.

She felt many things as she stared up at the ceiling: relief, regret, remorse. The last she remembered, she was alone in the dead of a long winter’s night, in the thick of a mountain forest, Even as the bitter frost cut deep into her, she was sweating bullets and burning, first went her hat, jacket, mittens; to no avail… it was so hot, but so brutally chilly—

Rainbow knew that she was safe now. Despite all the horrors, they had rescued her. She was back in Ponyville now.

But what about…

Something warm and heavy shifted against Rainbow’s hooves. She had noticed that thing before, but she had thought it was just her tired old bones before. Despite how much it hurt and how stiff her movement was, she looked down, and over the covers, she caught a glimpse of ruffled, orange feathers and fur curled up at the end of her bed. Draped over its shoulders like a protective blanket was a worn, threadbare scarf.

Rainbow reached out a weak, trembling hoof. She hesitated, then just barely touched the tip of one single feather. Scootaloo stirred a little and groaned.

Scootaloo simply grumbled and shifted for a little, her eyes closed and face buried in the sheets. Finally, her cheek gently brushed the cold steel of the railing of the hospital bed, and she jolted awake with a little yelp.

Scootaloo turned her heavy head and looked at Rainbow Dash, her sleepy eyes bloodshot, a darkened ring of fur beneath them.

For a moment, she simply stared back at Rainbow, blinking groggily at her before gingerly getting to her hooves. She shakily stepped towards Rainbow Dash, her legs quivering more and more with each half-step.

“Rainbow Dash?” Scootaloo croaked, “Y--you’re alive.” Her voice began to crack as her chest heaved with every other breath. “You looked so… ”

Compounding Scootaloo’s trauma was seeing Rainbow’s seemingly dead eyes, her expression displaying no emotion.

“Dead… ” Scootaloo breathed.

Rainbow jerked back as Scootaloo threw herself forward, her wings buzzing frantically, and wrapped her hooves around Rainbow Dash.

“I’m so sorry,” Scootaloo sobbed. “I was so mean, I said all of those stupid things and you almost…” Scootaloo shuddered “Because of me... “

Scootaloo remembered their fight, memories of her berating Rainbow spliced with the emptiness and impact of what followed... she cried even harder as her mind's eye fell back to that dark, frigid scene, a limp and lifeless Rainbow Dash half-buried in snow.Each time she saw that shape, it shook her to the very core and made her want to throw up. Just seeing the snow gently fall out of the hospital window brought about a sense of dread and loneliness she couldn’t escape.

I’m so sorry.

Scootaloo jumped, gasping as Rainbow’s tremoring hoof clumsily stroked her mane, the other holding the weeping filly tenderly against Rainbow’s chest.

Scootaloo swallowed hard, squeezing her eyes as her throat throbbed in pain. As Scootaloo held her hooves tightly around Rainbow Dash, her warm, blue fur brushing softly against her cheek, Scootaloo was once against struck with flashes of painful imagery. A cold shock ran down her spine as the realization of what might have been lost.

Rainbow turned away from her as Scootaloo’s eyes opened, her hooves gently slid down onto the bed. Scootaloo held Rainbow Dash for a moment longer, listening to the gentle rise and fall of her chest before letting go. She gently stepped away, then wandered back to the foot of the bed where she laid down on her side, eyes fixed on the dozing Rainbow.

I’m a terrible friend. She thought

After a moment, Scootaloo’s look of sorrow transformed into one of resolve. She was going to do right by Rainbow—to make up for what she had done. She didn’t quite know how, but that determination stuck with her as her own eyes grew heavy once more.

In a strange, some could say twisted, way, Scootaloo was comforted by the relative silence of the Ponyville hospital. Lying there, she could hear Dash’s breathing, the whirr of the central air, the occasional burst of distant, reverberating chatter and medical machinery, horseshoes clopping against the laminate flooring past their door, and other rhythmic, soothing sounds of safety and security. She liked this quiet and warmth.

She raised her head, and saw Rainbow Dash still fast asleep.

As Scootaloo watched Rainbow sleep, she heard a set of hoofsteps approach the door. Several, actually. Scootaloo lifted her heavy head just in time to see Rarity, Applejack, and their sisters round into view, followed by Twilight and Fluttershy. Scootaloo straightened up as the adults trotted towards her--but, just as Scootaloo braced herself for the inevitable hugs, the three of them swept right past her, towards the still-sleeping Rainbow. Scootaloo, despite herself, pouted--just a little, though.

Nurse Redheart, still standing in the doorway, cleared her throat. “She’s recovering very well,” she said to Rainbow’s friends, as she walked to the foot of the bed and glanced at the chart there. “They were able to get her to a warm place and comb out the ice and snow out of her coat at the resort, and get her here before it got too much worse. Now it’s just a matter of time, and rest.”

“Thank goodness,” Twilight said, relieved. “Do they know what happened?”

“From what we were told, she was found unconscious in the woods off the resort. She’d removed her clothes, fallen asleep in the snow... Typical symptoms of severe hypothermia, but still very serious stuff. She’s lucky for sure, but she’s going to be on bedrest for a while.”

Twilight glanced between a sleeping Rainbow and a preoccupied Nurse Redheart, “So, what do we do?” she asked. “I mean, how long will she need… ”

“About a month, I’d say.” Redheart said. “Nothing that requires full-time assistance, just lots of rest, some warm, healthy meals, and help getting up and around.”

Scootaloo, half-listening, simply nodded and lay her head down.

She flinched as a hoof draped over her shoulder, turning to see Sweetie Belle smiling gently at her, her soft compassionate gaze filling Scootaloo with a warmth that seemed to melt the icy chill away.

“Scootaloo looks pretty beat,” Sweetie Belle said, looking up at Rarity. “Are you sure about—”

“Dear, we discussed this,” Rarity cut in. “Rainbow is going to be here a little longer. I think it would be best if Scootaloo got some fresh air, some time away from everything.”

“She’s fine to go, no injuries for her,” Nurse Redheart interrupted. “Just a little tuckered out is all.”

Scootaloo’s ears perked up. She stood, arched her back and let out a yawn.

“A few weeks?” Twilight said. “I suppose we should figure out some kind of accommodations, then,” she sighed. “I wish I could, but I’ve got a busy trip to Canterlot this weekend, with a speaking engagement and a meeting with Celestia… ”

“I wouldn’t even know where to put her up, ‘cept the drafty old barn,” Then Applejack frowned, her eyes wandering until they landed on Fluttershy. “If we gotta, then we could, but I think Flutters’ would be a much better place—if you don’t mind, of course,” she said, turning to Fluttershy.

Fluttershy answered immediately. “Well, my cottage is a little crowded too. Between Discord visiting so often and a bunch of sick animals that I’ll be taking in this week, I wouldn’t have any room.”

All eyes turned to Rarity, who squeaked in surprise. “W-well, if it must be said,” she stammered ”my boutique is essentially a storefront. I can put her in our guest room, but that’s hardly comfortable, not to mention that Sweetie will be staying for the next three weeks while Mother and Father cruise the South Luna seas.”

“So,” Twilight glanced about worriedly, “Nopony can make it work?”

“I’ll do it.”

Now all eyes, some curious, others critical, turned to Scootaloo. She suddenly felt very small, her courage of just a moment ago, the courage that made her speak up, already melting away. She swallowed, then cleared her throat.“I... used to help my foster mom with sick foals, and…”

“Honey, that’s very sweet of you,” Redheart cut in. “But while Rainbow’s condition isn’t critical, this is a serious matter.”

“I know that,” Scootaloo insisted. “Please, I’m responsible for… this. Let me help. I—I could have Fluttershy stop by and check on us... and Rumble could—”

Applejack scowled. “The whole reason Rainbow is here is because you two always fight and fester. The last thing we need is for you to kick up a ruckus when she’s bedsick.”

“But I wouldn’t--” Scootaloo fell silent as Sweetie lay a hoof on her shoulder. A lone tear rolled down her face. “I didn’t mean for her to get sick… or hurt…” she whimpered.

“Scootaloo,” Rarity began carefully, “what you need is rest and respite from… from everything.” She shook her head. “It’s not that you can’t, as much as you shouldn’t—”

“Right now, Rainbow don’t need no more trouble,” Applejack said firmly, “and you and that mouthy little colt a’ yours ain’t gonna be nothin’ but.” She shook her head. “The fact we’re even discussin’ this is nothin’ but wastin’ time. Y’all got school, now get.”

Scootaloo looked between Rarity and Applejack, the former with a faint, long-suffering smile, while the later simply glared at her. As Scootaloo looked at them, she felt herself wilt, a familiar hitching deep in her chest threatening to overwhelm her.

Applejack snarled. “I said get.”

Scootaloo watched Sweetie lead Apple Bloom out the door before she herself followed the girls into the hall, glaring the eldest Apple as the door closed behind them.

Redheart collected a dirty food tray, checked some things, and trotted out into the hall.

Slowly, the sound of Redheart’s footsteps faded into the light mess of noise beyond the door, leaving the light tick of a clock and the hum of the air conditioning to rule the silence.

Rarity was the first to speak.

“You should know better,” she said, scowling at Applejack.

Applejack simply rolled her eyes. “Ain’t gonna let some little foal talk like that,” she said. “Don’t matter who she is.”

“We’ve been over this,” Rarity hissed. “You shouldn’t talk down to her, and you certainly don’t try to talk above her. That simply serves to make things difficult.”

“Look, Rares,” Applejack said with a sigh, “I know you like avoidin’ conflict, but if that little filly is going to ever grow into proper mare someday, then ya gotta put your hoof down, lay down the law. Ya can’t just let her sass back like that. Just look where that’s got her,” she said sourly.

“Oh, so now this is somehow my fault?” Rarity growled. “Just who the hell do you think you are—?”

“Girls! Please,” Twilight cut in. “Save the mudslinging for after we get Rainbow and Scootaloo situated. We will… entertain the proposals put forward, and reconvene later this afternoon. Give us some time to, well, think. Right now, let’s give them some time to recover.”

“Ain’t no point in entertai--”

Twilight’s eyes flashed. “We will reconvene later this afternoon.” she hissed. “It’s about time we get moving, too. Let Rainbow get some rest.”

Applejack sighed, taking one last concerned glance towards Rainbow.

“See ya then, I suppose.” she said simply before heading into the hall.

Scootaloo began to perk up a little as the sterile hospital air gave way to the crisp outdoors, the sound of birds, and the blinding brilliance of the sun against the glistening snow. That first crunch as Sweetie Belle stepped into the snow made her shudder as the sights and sounds of the cold mountain woods rushed back with a hiss and a flash.

“So… what happened last night?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“We got in a fight, and she stormed off into the woods or something. It got dark, and the ponies at the lodge got all nervous… turns out she was frozen in the middle of the woods, and…” Scootaloo shuddered. “It was kinda scary, actually.”

“Yikes,” Sweetie Belle said, frowning. “Well, aside from everything...” she began carefully, “...did you have any fun?”

“Oh yeah,” Scootaloo grinned a little. “Snowboarding is super fun. The three of us are totally going to have to go sometime.” She sighed. “Nice to be home, though. Ugh.”

As they approached the schoolhouse, some familiar faces came into focus: Diamond Tiara, Snips and Snails, Button Mash…

Scootaloo’s face soured a little as Rumble was nowhere to be seen.

“The one time he’s absent,” Scootaloo muttered under her breath, looking one last time from the top of the hill to confirm her colt-who-was-also-a-friend was indeed a no-show.


Scootaloo screamed and kicked behind her with full force. She whipped her head around to see Button Mash lying on the ground and laughing hysterically. Scootaloo glared daggers at him as Sweetie Belle tried to cover her own smirk..

“Alright, alright, you got me. Real funny,” Scootaloo growled.

“Well,” Button Mash said between snorts, “I figured since your play date was in Cloudsdale today, I could mess with ya and get away with it.” His eyes glittered. “Also, you do kinda deserve it for skipping out on on my birthday.”

“Oh….yeah,” Scootaloo squirmed a little. “Sorry about that.”

“No big,” Button smirked. “I loved what you got me—Awakening of the Griffinstone, you know how rare that cart is? Epic game, too.”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said with a playful nudge. “ ‘S why I got it. Glad you liked it. But…” Scootaloo blinked “Wait, you said Rumble was in Cloudsdale? What’s he doing up there?”

Button’s smirk fell.

“What... what he always does every other week?” Button said incredulously “You know, the flight academy stuff?”

Scootaloo, still staring at him, shook her head.

“H—how do you of all ponies not know that? He never shuts up about it. It’s either gloating about how well her placed, or bitching about how much he hates it.” Button rolled his eyes(?)

Scootaloo frowned. “Not with me, I guess,” she said with a shrug.

“Well, that makes sense, seein’ how you’re… y’know,” Button gestured vaguely, “ You know, the whole… flapping thing with the wings… the thing you--”

“I get it!” Scootaloo snarled.

“Yeesh, I was just saying,” Button frowned. “Already got a stick up your ass, huh?”

“Hey!” Sweetie growled, “Give her a break, she’s… had a rough weekend.”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “More like worst weekend.”

Button frowned. “That bad, huh?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo frowned. “Rainbow Dash got hurt real bad...” She looked away.“...and it’s all my fault.”

“Whoa,” Button sucked in a breath, “she okay?”

“Better than she was,” Sctooaloo sighed. “I offered to help her when she gets out—she’s gonna need it, but instead I got lectured by—” she shuddered “—Applejack.”

“Applebloom’s sister?” Button asked.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo growled. “I swear, she hates me as much as she does Rumble now.”

Button frowned. “From what I’ve heard, she can be kind of a bitch.”

“Kind of?” Scootaloo scoffed. “I play nice because she’s my friend’s sister, but, argh, she’s just so preachy and rude. And she so annoying with her stupid, ‘this is the way we do things’ … ugh.”

Button’s eyes went wide “Uh… Scootaloo… ”

“Like, she couldn’t just say, ‘No Scootaloo, we’re the big ponies. You’re too young for that kind of responsibility.’ She had to go on and on about how much of a brat I am and how terrible Rumble is, Like, for the love of Celestia, just shut up already—”

“A’hem.” Applebloom pursed her lip as she waited, an eyebrow raised questioningly.

Scootaloo turned around to see Appleboom.

“What was that you were sayin’ ‘bout my sister, Scoots?”

Scootaloo knew that look Applebloom was giving her. It was the last thing Rumble saw before being tackled and smacked around. It was that cocky, overconfident attitude she always got when she started to argue. Scootaloo had never liked it, and she certainly didn’t like it now. Part of her thought it best to just drop it and move on, but another part of her really didn’t get why she had to stick her nose in everything, just like… No.

Scootaloo felt her blood boil. She hadn’t slept right since blacking out on a train, she hadn’t had a word of good news since last week, and frankly, the last thing she needed was another Applejack, nagging and belittling her for every single thing.

She took a small step towards Applebloom, her anger easily overshadowing any fear.

“You heard me,” Scootaloo snarled with a look that made Sweetie’s blood run cold.

“Girls,” Sweetie began carefully but firmly, “l-let’s just drop it alright? It’s been a rough weekend, let’s just—”

“And let her bad mouth my sister like that?” Apple Bloom cried. She shook her head firmly. “Nuh-uh.” She took another step towards Scootaloo, her face twisted into an angry scowl.

Button swallowed, knowing fully well what Applebloom was capable of. If this was anything like last time, Scootaloo was either going to give up--or go down.

“I don’t get how you can still be good friends with that mule, Rumble, either,” Apple Bloom hissed. “After what he said about me—about my Ma… ”

“Well,” Scootaloo growled, her breath coming in short, hot bursts, “When the two ponies who are supposed to be my best friends in the world don't give a damn about all the crap I've been going through, what else am I supposed to do?”

Applebloom looked hurt for only a second, before her eyes burned with indignant fury. “You callin’ me a bad friend?” she spat.

“Naw,” Scootaloo chuckled darkly, “I’m calling you a little bitch.”

Applebloom’s mouth fell open and eyes bulged. Suddenly, her look of surprise twisted into a look of pure fury.

“Why you little…” Apple Bloom breathed, taking a firm step forward. Then a small white hoof was held before her, halting her momentum.

“Applebloom, Scoots isn’t in a good place right now. I think we need to all cool our heads a bit.”

Applebloom looked back at her friend and blinked as she saw small tears threatening to crawl down Sweetie Belle’s cheek.

“But she--” Applebloom began--but the fire had gone out of her, and she fell silent. She sighed. “I reckon you’re probably right,” she said finally. She and Sweetie Belle turned and filed into the schoolhouse, Button moving past Scootaloo without saying a word.

“Button?” Scootaloo called after him, raising a hoof in the air.

He looked back at her uncertainly, then glanced after Sweetie Belle again before looking back to her. He stood there for several seconds before finally swallowing, then turning and trotting guiltily inside the schoolhouse. Scootaloo sat down on the hard dirt road, ponies walking around her, past her, as if she wasn’t there.

Fluttershy let out a sigh as she brushed aside the curtain divider between Rainbow’s bed and the hospital room. Everypony else was already there, Twilight had asked them to return about half an hour ago, but she figured they’d understand. Between the fifth “Oh, before you go” from Discord, and just “one last little thing” to tend to before she headed off, it was always a bit difficult for her to be exactly on time.

She glanced around at the assembled ponies. Applejack still looked sour, Rarity stoic, Twilight uncomfortable, and Pinkie nowhere to be found.

Nopony said anything as Fluttershy looked at a sleeping Rainbow Dash, her mane in tatters and her fur matted. She couldn’t imagine how terrifying those moments alone in the bitter, brutal cold must have been like… and--she shuddered--what it must have been for Scootaloo to find her like that.


A name she heard rarely, mostly in chatter from Rarity or Applejack, was now at the forefront of her mind again. Not that it hadn’t been before, but that had been so long ago… or at least it certainly had had felt that way. She had always watched from a distance, watched her grow to the young filly she was, go about her life in the shadow of her mother she never knew, worshipping the ground she walked on all the same.

Now she knew. Now they all knew. The timing couldn’t have been worse, not with everything Rainbow had done to wreck Scootaloo’s image of her. It certainly didn’t help that Scootaloo had brought a partner to join her in the battle between forgiveness and forsaken. A belligerent who she claimed to love. Be it hormones, be it naiveté, he was proving to be as much an asset as an antagonist.

In other words, it was a mess. One only Fluttershy might be able to clean up.

“So,” Twilight began, “Now that we’ve had some time to collect our thoughts… and hopefully our wits,” she emphasized, glaring at Applejack, “we need to get Rainbow situated. Best case scenario, she can be discharged tomorrow night, and whoever among us that can take her in does so. I spoke with Nurse Redheart, and she said she would be on strict bedrest for a week or so, though she’d still need help for a while afterward.” She sighed. “One of the drawbacks to being a princess is that I don’t have the time to help. Even if I moved around some of my more flexible appointments, there’s still several days she’d be all by herself.”

“My door is always open,” Applejack said, careful to avoid looking at Rarity, “But like I said, it wouldn’t be comfortable, and, like you, I’ve got a million things to do. I ain’t leavin’ her to Granny or Bloom. I couldn’t.”

“I can make it work,” Fluttershy said simply, “You girls have a lot to do, but I have time. I can’t fit her in the cottage, though… I’d have to get her back home first.”

“Are you sure?” Twilight asked. “You have your animals, too… Worst case, we can--”

“I’m very sure.” Fluttershy nodded. “I... feel like I haven’t really been there for her much as a friend… things have been tough for her, and—” she swallowed as she glanced at a disheveled Rainbow. “...and I think I should be the one to do it.”

Scootaloo and I.

“Thank you, Fluttershy,” Twilight smiled, “I think she’ll be very happy knowing she can go home and have some care for awhile.”

“Sounds good to me,” Applejack said, “A heck of a lot better than what that brat was on about--”

Applejack stopped as Rarity shot her a hard look. “As Twilight said,” Rarity began, “If you’re up to it, then it sounds like this is the best option for her. Perhaps you can even solicit a little ‘help’ every now and then.”

Fluttershy grinned to herself. “Great minds think alike.”

22. Discourse

View Online

Rumble had several reasons to be a happy little colt: Mom and Dad were in town; they’d never been, and Rumble, their self-designated tour guide, had been more than willing to show them around. Even better, they were even staying for dinner, and that was awesome. And the cherry on top came in the form of a knock on the front door, and Rumble hollered out as he ran to answer it.

Rumble’s grin was massive when he saw his favorite filly on the other side. “Scootaloo?”

“Y-Yeah…” Scootaloo smiled nervously, seeing Thunderlane’s disapproving stare from within the house. She flinched as he trotted towards the door, Rumble seemingly oblivious until he spoke.

“What are you doing here?” Thunderlane said, causing Scootaloo to wince, a nasty snarl crossing Rumble’s face.

“W—I…” Scootaloo’s tongue tied as she glanced away from the menacing stallion staring down at her.

“Rainbow’s still at the hospital, huh?” Thunderlane said dryly, not even bothering to mask his displeasure.

“Yeah…” Scootaloo replied, “She—”

“Well, that’s too bad,” Thunderlane cut in. “Tell her I—”

“Ooh, aren’t you just adorable~” An unfamiliar face popped into view. “Come in, dear, you must be freezing out there! ...Keeping the poor filly out in the cold like that...”

Thunderlane opened his mouth to object, but it was too late: Nebula was already introducing herself and her husband. He looked over to see Rumble with a shit-eating grin, sticking his tongue out.

“So, you’re the filly m’boy’s on about, huh?” Drumfire said, shaking Scootaloo’s hoof. “Name’s Drumfire, future father-in-law.”

“M-my name is…” Scootaloo’s brain misfired as what he said finally registered, her shaky hoof was accompanied by a blushing complexion she tried desperately to cover.

“Not even past ‘hello’ and you already embarrass the girl,” Nebula smirked.

“Oh, Neb, she can handle it,” Drumfire retorted. “Can’t ya?”

Scootaloo smiled at the playful jab, glancing over at Rumble who had gone from tense to relieved.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo smiled, “I think so.”

“You’d better,” Drumfire teased. “It’s one of the key things for surviving this family.” He cleared his throat, “So, little lady, what do you do when you aren’t hitched to this troublemaker?”

Scootaloo brushed her hoof through her mane, her cheeks reddening like a spring peach. “W-well, I…” she trailed off as Rumble suddenly hopped from his seat and followed Cloudchaser into the kitchen.

“Uh… I like to play with my friends, and ride my… scooter around…”

“Oh?” Nebula smiled, “What do you and you friends do?”

“You and Rummy have the same pals, don’t ya?” Drumfire added.

“Sort of,” Scootaloo glanced around, “my best friends—Applebloom and Sweetie Belle, we’re Cutie Mark Crusaders.”

“Sounds like a glam-rock band,” Drumfire smirked. “I’m gonna guess you’re the lead singer.”

“Wha-” Scootaloo grinned, “No-no-no, not after… Actually, we go around helping fillies and colts realize their special talent.”

“Well I’ll be, that sounds like some serious work.”

“Any chance you can get our little Rumble sorted out?” Drumfire smirked. “I know they say that some take a little longer than others, but this is ridiculous.”

“Maybe...” Scootaloo glanced towards the kitchen where she could occasionally see Rumble’s tail poke out from behind the island counter.

Looking back she saw Nebula glaring at a doe-faced Drumfire.

Anyway,” Nebula said, a smile returning to her face, “so aside from your virtuous crusading quests, what do you do for fun?”

“I like to do stunts and stuff. I just got a new scooter and it—”

Scootaloo jumped as a smoke detector began to wail, Rumble furiously fanning the beeping menace as a hint of smoke began to waft into view… and smell.

“The hell are you kids doing in there?” Drumfire hollered.

“She’s trying to burn the house down,” Thunderlane quipped from within the kitchen.

Cloudchaser gasped, “You little—”

After the chirping died, Drumfire cleared his throat, “Hey Scootaloo,”

“Yeah?” Scootaloo glanced over as Rumble returned to his seat, doing his best to suppress laughter.

“If you plan on stickin’ around, a word of advice: The way to a stallion’s heart is through his stomach, so if you learn to cook, you’re set for life.” Drumfire rolled his eyes before gazing toward the kitchen. “Honestly, it’d be nice to have at least one daughter-in-law who doesn’t try to burn the place down just to a make some damn soup-”

“Oh, just can it, would you?” Nebula cut in. “Wanna tell her about the week we went without a kitchen because of your big game appetizers?”

Drumfire simply scowled at her before clearing his throat.

“I forgot to ask our son if he had fun at Flight Academy this weekend.”

“A little bit,” Rumble rumbled, “kinda boring when you’re just waiting between drills.”

“How do you not have anypony to talk to?” Drumfire asked, thought for a moment, suddenly looking at Scootaloo. “You play hooky or something?”

Scootaloo blinked “What?”

“She doesn’t go to Flight Academy,” Rumble said quickly. “U-Uh, Mom, how did you like the—”

“Doesn’t go?” Drumfire asked, an eyebrow raised. “Why not? I know it can be kinda scary all the way up there, but—”


“You just need to take a deep breath, step off the cloud and open you—”

Dad,” Rumble said firmly.

“Well, like I said, everyone figures it out at some point. Can’t call yourself a pegasus if you can’t-”

Rumble stood, slamming his hooves on the table, “Stop!”

Drumfire made to speak again but saw the fire in Rumble’s eyes, his little body trembling with rage.

“Rumble!” Thunderlane barked, “What’s your prob—”

“You alright, son?”

No,” Rumble growled.

Nebula looked concerned. “What’s wrong?”

The fire in Rumble’s eyes died as he settled back into his seat, unable to look at Scootaloo, who kept her gaze glued to the floor.

“She…” Rumble started, only for the rest of his words to get caught in his throat, “can’t.”

“Can’t what?” Nebula asked carefully.

“Fly,” Rumble finished, breathing out a sigh of frustration. “She’s a cripple.”

There was only oppressive silence as Rumble’s parents looked on, their expressions a mix of confusion and horror.

Suddenly, Scootaloo’s frown turned to a smile. She glanced over at a mortified and ashamed Rumble, who yelped as she scooted beside him and pulled him close.

“He’s right,” Scootaloo said. “I’ve never been able to fly, a-and so…I have this guy do the flying for me,” She smiled as she watched Nebula and Drumfire, whose confusion and horror softened to weak smiles and gentle understanding.

“Does he really?” Nebula said.

Scootaloo nodded simply. “He brought me home from Cloudsdale. He actually did a lot of nice thing for me that night.”

“No cutie mark?” Drumfire said, an inflection of uncertainty.

Scootaloo’s grin went toothy as she laughed nervously, “No, Sir,” She looked at Rumble, “especially if he calls me a cripple again.”

“Well, you just might be outta luck, son,” Drumfire smirked

“But on the plus side,” Nebula added, “you’ve got a lovely little filly to look after.”

Scootaloo buzzed briefly as she blushed.

Cloudchaser placed a covered platter at the center of the table.

“Dinner’s going to be a bit... delayed.” She turned to Rumble, lowering her voice a little. “Why don’t you show Scootaloo around? Give her a little tour.”

Rumble happily obliged and Scootaloo followed him towards the stairs.

“Rumble?” Thunderlane’s voice came from behind.

“Yeah?” Rumble asked, his ears flattening a little.

“What are you doing?” he asked suspiciously.

“I was just… gonna show her my room and stuff.”

Thunderlane shook his head.

“Aw, why can’t-”

“Go ahead, Rummy,” Nebula hollered from the table. “Let them go play upstairs for a little.”

Thunderlane scowled as Rumble practically pranced upstairs, a nervous Scootaloo in tow.

“Keep the door open!” Rumble heard as he passed through it.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” he muttered under his breath. He turned to see Scootaloo, who was trying her best to suppress a grin.

Rumble’s room was far more modest than Button’s, almost reminding her of her own, save for the shreds of paper stuck below thumbtacks outlining where posters used to be—Wonderbolts most likely.

“Sorry, Scootaloo,” Rumble shook his head. “I swear my brother isn’t usually this much of a jerk.” Then his face brightened, “Anyway, uh… this is… the place.”

Scootaloo’s eyes were immediately drawn to a display of trophies, five gold medals, and several certificates of achievement. “Whoa, Rumble, what is all of this?”

“Oh, those? Most of ‘em are competition medals. Foal Flyer’s League and Young Flyers… the yearling brackets, of course, but… Scootaloo?”

Not one second later, her attention had turned to his desk, or more specifically, a certain something he had written with really nice quill-work, and a really adorable doodle of a colt and a filly that looked a little too familiar. His cheeks turned scarlet as he rushed over and shoved several notes into a drawer, nearly smashing his hoof in the process.

Scootaloo simply giggled. “I already knew you’re a softie,” she said with a smirk. “But seriously? Louise?”

“Sh—shut up, those…” Rumble stammered. “...are private.”

“Okay, okay,” Scootaloo laughed. “Is it cool if I check out your bookshelf or should you make sure for any more love letters?”

Rumble scowled as Scootaloo snickered, wandering over to his bookshelf, adorned with Daring Do books, some comics, and, what piqued her interest most of all, a set of flight goggles. Without asking, she strapped them on and turned around to Rumble.

“These are so cool!” Scootaloo chirped, “Put them on, lemme see.” She took them off and handed them to Rumble.

Scootaloo watched as he put them on, carefully lowering the visors above his mane and then letting go as they fell over his eyes.

“They look way cooler on you,” Scootaloo smiled.

“Well duh,” Rumble mumbled as he looked anywhere but at her, “They are mine.” He trotted over to his freestanding mirror, Scootaloo coming up beside him.

Wanna know what else I look cool with?

Rumble’s eyes widened at his own thoughts. He shook them away and cleared his throat.

“My parents seem to like you… a lot, actually.” Rumble glanced towards his bedroom door, “I was a little worried they wouldn’t because… um… ”

Scootaloo nodded, “I was a little scared, too, actually.” she smiled, “But, they seem nice.”

“Yeah…” Rumble removed the goggles and went to put them back on the shelf. “I just wish my brother would come around.” He frowned, then said, “Every one of my friends and family like you…. except him.”

“I’m sure that’ll change eventually,” Scootaloo smirked. “I mean, I am pretty awesome after all.”

“Yeah, you’re pretty somethin...” Rumble smiled as he nuzzled Scootaloo on the cheek, making her blush furiously, her eyes darting between the door and his own.

“R-Rumble,” Scootaloo murmured, trying her best to keep a straight face. “Are you sure—”

“That you’re adorable?” Rumble grinned, “Yeah, yeah, I’m pretty sure, pretty filly.”

Scootaloo giggled as he draped a wing over her and pulled her close. For a moment, neither said anything as they stared out his bedroom window, just gazing up at the soft blue sky and the faint stars within it.

Rumble flinched as he heard hoofsteps, gently nudging Scootaloo as he returned to his desk, looking for something in the stack of homework and instead finding an old sticky note about writing an apology letter to Rainbow Dash.

Rumble frowned as he read it over. “Hey, how’s Rainbow Dash? My brother said she got hypothermia hiking out in the mountains or something.”

“Yeah. Actually, I was wondering,” Scootaloo began nervously, “If you could help me with that.”

Rumble nodded. “Sure, what’s up?”

“She’s going to be pretty out of it for awhile, and I’m supposed to help take care of her—”

She flinched as Rumble’s eyes narrowed.

“...and, getting to school, picking up her meds… ” Scootaloo continued.

Rumble swallowed once or twice, as much as he didn’t want to ask, something inside compelled him.

“Why are they making you look after her? Like… where would she stay? It’s not like…”

“Well, Fluttershy will take her home, and come check on us every now and then, but she says all I got to do is make her soup and make sure she takes her medicine and stuff.”

“What do you need me for, then?” Rumble gave Scootaloo a curious glance.

“Well, she’s going to be super busy until later this week, so she was sort of hoping you could maybe help me with some stuff. It’ll only be a couple days.”

“Her friends are cool with this?”

Scootaloo’s frown flattened, “They’re not.”

“Huh... yeah, I can help ya out.”

“Are you sure?” Scootaloo said, her wings drooping slightly. “I—if you don’t, we can totally figure something out.”

“Look,” Rumble said, “if I didn’t want to, I would’ve said no. Hell, I’ll do you one better. How about I crash with ya while Rainbow gets better?”

“Wh—no, you don’t have to...”

“Pssh, don’t even. That’s what friends do, they help eachother out.”

“Cool—I mean, thanks. I was really worried I’d be doing all of this by myself.”

“Naw, actually sounds kinda nice. My bro’s gonna be bell to bell this week, so I’d just be home alone, anyway.”

A knock on the door startled them, opening to reveal Cloudchaser.

“Dinner’s ready, kiddos,” she said with a grin.

“We still have a kitchen?” Rumble asked as he trot past.

“Watch it, young stallion,” Cloudchaser said, “Wouldn’t want me to embarrass you in front of your filly-friend, now would you?”

Rumble simply rolled his eyes and lead Scootaloo back downstairs.

Scootaloo took her seat next to Rumble, and saw before her a steaming bowl of soup and some Broccoli Almondine on a small plate.

“Sorry for the wait,” Cloudchaser said nervously as she set the last pair of silverware in front of Drumfire, “Had a little… trouble with the curry.

“You don’t say?” Drumfire said, Nebula shushing him.

“I’ll admit it, I’m not quite domesticated,” she replied with a knowing grin. “But I didn’t see you back there, so quit complaining.”

“Couldn’t complain even if I wanted to,” Drumfire said, turning to Scootaloo. “I get to have a nice dinner with you, my boys, and little miss Scootaloo here.”

“Alright, gang, let’s eat,” Cloudchaser said as she sat beside Thunderlane.

A couple minutes passed with only the sound of silverware among the silence.

Rumble cleared his throat. “Hey, Thunderlane.”

Thunderlane’s expression soured. He never liked it when Rumble used his name. Why it couldn’t just be “bro” or something short and simple, he never could understand.

“Hey what?”

“You won’t be home next week, right?”

Suddenly Rumble saw the adults looking at him with mild suspicion. It only then dawned on him why.

“W—I mean,”

“Depends,” Thunderlane said after swallowing a bite, “why do you need me to be gone for a week?”

“It’s not like that, I just… was wondering if it would be alright if I could stay with Scootaloo wh-”


“I wasn’t—”

Thunderlane shook his head.

“Oh, for the love of Celestia,” Nebula groaned, “at least let him finish a sentence.”

Rumble sighed, “She’s taking care of Rainbow Dash and needs somepony to run errands and stuff.”

“Still no, Rumble,” Thunderlane shook his head. “Remember what happened to you last time you went up there with her?”

“That was Soarin’.”

“Doesn’t matter, kid,” Thunderlane said. “Every time you’re with her, you get into some kind of trouble, and I’m not having that.”

Drumfire and Nebula shared a confused glance as Rumble glared at his older brother.

“It’s just a couple days, and Fluttershy is gonna check on us—”

“Dammit, Rumble, I said no.”

“Now hold on a minute, son,” Drumfire said, placing a hoof on Thunderlane’s shoulder. “Let’s not slam the door on him like that, what exactly happened… last time?”

How did they not know...

Rumble swallowed, he trembled under the heat of his brother’s vicious glare.

“Go ahead, Rumble,” Thunderlane said with barely hidden mockery. “Tell mom and dad what happened. Show mom and dad what happened.”

As much as Rumble wanted to launch across the table and slam a hoof into that smug face of his, he had a filly to impress and parents to make proud, so instead he bit his tongue.

“Rainbow Dash invited Soarin’ over and we got into a fight—” Rumble swallowed, “—he hit me.”

Nebula gasped, “Wh—what? Why? Were you hurt?”

“Yes,” Thunderlane said, gritting his teeth. “He was. Left a mark. Wanna see?”

Rumble could feel himself shaking, he wanted so much to just talk about something else, but instead there he was, parting the fur along his chin, revealing a healed but still visible scar.

Nebela stood and began trotting towards him, her eyes wide with horror.

“What in Equestria—”

“Mom,” Rumble said as he pushed away Nebula’s hooves from his face, “I’m fine, I’ll be okay. Soarin’ isn’t there anymore.”

Scootaloo kept her mouth shut. Daring to glance across the table, she saw a look from Thunderlane that couldn’t be anything other than outright disgust.

Thunderlane stood, “No, it won’t, you’re not old enough to understand. Trust me, Rumble, I know relationships, and you don’t want to get involved with a broken filly like her.”

She isn’t Sunflower!” Rumble retorted.

Thick silence filled the room as all eyes fell upon Thunderlane. He growled, opening his mouth to respond, but then he faltered.

A chair scraped across the floor as Scootaloo stood up, her eyes avoiding all others, save for Rumble’s.

“You know what? I don’t need this.”

Scootaloo turned and trotted out, leaving a feeling of tension in the air behind her.

“Scootaloo, wait!” Rumble cried as he got up from his seat and half-flew towards the door, tripping over a table leg as he went.

Cloudchaser watched as Rumble slammed the door behind him.

“You can be a real asshole sometimes, you know that?” Thunderlane looked over to see his father, who was visibly disappointed. “Really had to beat her down huh?”

“You don’t understand—”

“You must feel like a real stallion, tearing down a little filly like that.”

Cloudchaser glared at Thunderlane as the door slammed shut behind Rumble. “You just couldn’t let him have a nice night tonight, could you? Celestia forbid you think about his happiness before your own. They’re foals, do you honestly think she—” Cloudchaser shook her head as she herself stood and trotted towards the door. “I hope you’re happy.”

You’re doing the right thing.

Try as she might, Scootaloo couldn’t believe what she had just done. Part of her felt it was all she could do. If her being there was going to make things worse for Rumble, then she didn’t need to cause him any more problems. Still, her stomach was twisted and and her head felt fuzzy.


Tears were already flowing as she shoved out the door and towards Carousel Boutique, but as Thunderlane’s words were branded on her conscience, she found could hardly see.

You callin’ me a bad friend?” Apple Bloom’s retort cut through the fog in her head.

Scootaloo shook her head. I’m such a hypocrite…

She stopped then turned around just in time to see Rumble flutter down in front of her, his mane a little frazzled, his breathing heavy.

“What are you doing?” Scootaloo muttered, “Just leave… please.”

“No,” Rumble barked. “He’s wrong, Scootaloo, he doesn’t know you—”

“But he’s right,” Scootaloo said as she began to shake. Then, before she could push him away, she was brought against Rumble’s trembling body, his hooves wrapping her into a tight hug.

Look what I’ve done to you? Look at what I’ve done to Rainbow Dash… Apple Bloom… What is wrong with

Scootaloo opened her eyes to see Cloudchaser, her eyes blazing like a celestial sunrise, and then Rumble whipped his head around, his eyes shooting daggers at a Thunderlane who wasn’t there.

Cloudchaser smiled as she trotted up to them, extending a hoof to Scootaloo.

“Why did he have to say that… ” Rumble shook his head “Why—”

“Because he's scared, Rummy,” Cloudchaser said with a frown. “He doesn't want you to go through heartache and hurt he did.”

“So insulting my best friend in front of mom and dad won’t hurt me? Calling her broken? That’s okay?”

Cloudchaser sighed, shaking her head.

“Then why should I care about how he feels? He never listens to me and he’s always badmouthing her. It isn’t fair.”

“What he said was not okay, and he owes Scootaloo an apology, and then some, honestly. But running away isn’t going to solve anything, it’s only going to make things worse.”

Rumble looked over at Scootaloo, who was staring at her hooves, her sorrowful face drenched from heavy tears. Suddenly, she raised her head, her scared eyes going from one pony to another.

“Come on, let’s head home and figure this out,” Cloudchaser said as Scootaloo climbed on her back, and took towards home. Rumble watched for a moment, sighing and taking flight behind her.

Rumble closed the door behind them as they wandered back through the living room and into the dining room. Mom, Dad, and… Thunderlane were seated and silent, though from his dad’s tired eyes and Thunderlane’s look of shame, there had been a chat—an unpleasant one.

Rumble looked over at them as he trotted past, stopping for just a second as his parents stood and followed him into his bedroom.

Just as he opened his mouth to speak, Nebula sighed.

“We… had no idea,” her voice shaking a little. “We’re so sorry, sweetheart… Is she okay?”

“No,” Rumble said. “No, she’s not, and I’m not either.”

“That’s understandable,” Drumfire said, his voice carrying far more weight than usual, “I had a bit of a one on one with little Thunderlane, and if he can’t be friendly with her, he’ll keep his mouth shut. I didn’t raise either of you to talk about anypony like that, ‘specially a damn filly.”

“Rumble,” Nebula began, sitting beside him, “there’s no reason to be ashamed for having her as a friend. She seems sweet and sincere, she appreciates you for you, I can tell, and that’s what you want in a friend.”

“Doesn’t matter if they can’t talk, see, hear or fly, son. All you need in a friend is somepony who’s good to you and makes you happy, somepony you can depend on.”

“We’re proud of you, Rummy,” Nebula said, gently nuzzling her youngest foal, whose expression began to soften a little. “I think it’s wonderful that you want to help her and Rainbow Dash…” her smile faded a little. “Though with what happened to you, I will admit, your father and I are a little nervous.”

“I’ll be fine,” Rumble said, looking away.

Drumfire glanced through the door and sighed. “We trust you.”

A knock on the open door made them all glance in its direction, Thunderlane was on the other side, his expression uncertain.

Before Rumble could so much as blink, Nebula placed a hoof on his shoulder.

Without prompt, Thunderlane took a couple more steps into the bedroom, his gaze downcast, and his usual gait slow and dragging.

“I believe we have something you’d like to say, don’t you?” Nebula said. Rumble shuddered at her tone of voice—that was one that was only meant for them, and only when they were in trouble.

Not a face in the room betrayed any emotion as Thunderlane shifted a hoof nervously across the carpet. Past Thunderlane’s lowered head, Rumble caught a glance of Cloudchaser, who smiled at him softly. Scootaloo nowhere to be seen, and before he could ask why, Thunderlane began to speak, albeit quietly.

“What I said was wrong,” he began, still not able to look Rumble straight in the eye. “The way I acted was unacceptable, and I won’t blame you if you want nothing to do with me.” Finally, he swallowed, and look at Rumble directly, “Yeah, I worry about you… suffering like I did, but, I shouldn’t.

Thunderlane straightened up a little. “In a lot of ways, Rumble, you’ve done a lot more growing up than I have since we came here. I need to be encouraging you to keep it up, not getting in your way.”

Rumble perked his ears.

“Which means,” Thunderlane sighed, “If Rainbow Dash is okay with it, I have no problem with you helping her out. However—”

Drumfire cleared his throat. Thunderlane was silent.

If Rumble noticed this, his wide grin certainly didn’t show it. “Really? You’ll let me?”

Thunderlane shut his eyes and slowly nodded, as if it caused him physical pain.

“Alrig—” Rumble began to exclaim, a firm hoof on his back cutting him off, “I mean, I uh… thanks.”

Thunderlane quickly turned around and trot out the door.

“I don’t think we’re quite done yet.” Nebula called from behind, stopping Thunderlane in his tracks.

Rumble’s face hurt as he used every iota of strength to keep his stupid grin in line. He trotted forward until his mother’s hoof held him back, he could just see Scootaloo standing beside Cloudchaser.

“I owe you more than an apology,” Thunderlane said, his eyes not quite meeting Scootaloo’s “I was so caught up in my own fears and frustration that I made you out to be a horrible pony and… that wasn’t right, and I’m sorry I said those things to you. Y-You never deserved that.”

“It’s oka—”

“Just promise me one thing,” Thunderlane swallowed, lowering his voice. “Don’t let him bite off more than he can chew. He tries to act tough sometimes and, you know better than I do, he gets in trouble. You care enough to watch after him, and he needs that—heck, I need that. I appreciate it. You and his other little friends, he needs that.”

Scootaloo simply nodded, nervously glancing at her hooves.

“Wasn’t so hard, was it?” Drumfire said with a raised eyebrow. He and Nebula trotted past Thunderlane and stepped into the hall. Drumfire turned to look between Cloudchaser and Scootaloo.

“You fillies keep these ornery colts in check,” he said, “Me and this pretty mare are going to enjoy our empty nest.” His eyes then fell upon Scootaloo, a little smile crossing his lips. “However, if Rumble’s going to take you places, one of ‘em might as well be ours.” He glanced towards Rumble, “You hear that, colt? I expect you to bring your filly-friend over for supper. If Thundy here could do it, no reason for you not to.”

Rumble blushed fiercely as the adults headed into the living room, their words running into each other and lost to Rumble’s ears. His eyes were fixed on Scootaloo, who went from watching them, to looking at him. Slowly, she began to smile, a sight that filled Rumble with a warmth he couldn’t describe.

“Rumble!” Drumfire hollered from the front door. “Get on over here and give your mom a hug, dammit!”

Rumble chortled as he trotted into the living room, Scootaloo close by his side. He yelped as Nebula squeezed him way too tight, though he didn’t dare push her away. As she let go, his father's hoof came down and ruffled his mane beyond repair. He didn’t bother trying to straighten it as he felt his mother kiss him on the forehead.

“You be a nice colt, you understand me?” Nebula said. “I don’t want to hear anything about you being a little turkey.”

“I won’t,” Rumble grinned.

“Better not,” Drumfire said. “I told your little friend here she can kick your ass if you split a single hair.”

“Pfft,” Rumble smirked, “as if.”

“Says the colt who got smacked around by her little friend.”

“Hey! That was different!”

“Well, hopefully we won’t have to find out,” Drumfire said as they opened the door and stepped outside. He turned to Thunderlane as Nebula and Cloudchaser said their goodbyes.

You,” he said. “you do right by your little brother.”

Thunderlane nodded, summoning the courage to meet his father’s eyes.

“I don't think he wants to come home, so you’re all he’s got in the role model department. Don’t blow it.”

Thunderlane nodded.

With another wave goodbye, Nebula and Drumfire took off, leaving Thunderlane, Cloudchaser, and the foals to watch them until they disappeared into the darkness of night.

“I think it’s a little late,” Cloudchaser yawned. “Probably should be taking somepony home before it gets too dark.”

Rumble nodded and Scootaloo trotted up beside him. For a moment, he looked at her, and Scootaloo stared blankly back at him, until she realized, and swallowed.

“Thanks for having me over.”

“No problem, kiddo,” Cloudchaser smiled. “I’m sure we’ll see you around.” She turned to Rumble, then said, “It’s past your bedtime, so make it quick.”

“Got it,” Rumble nodded as he and Scootaloo made their way towards Carousel Boutique.

As they reached the end of his street, Rumble glanced over at Scootaloo, her tired eyes reflecting the emotional rollercoaster they had just ridden. He stopped, holding his hoof in front of her.

“Hey, uh…” he said, bending slightly and gesturing towards his backside. “I kinda owe ya, anyway.”

Scootaloo smiled and clambered onto his back, wrapping her hooves around him, and resting her heavy head on his shoulders. She felt them move up and down with his gait as her body grew heavier with each passing second, her heart pounding against his body. Slowly, her eyes began to fall, the day finally coming to an end.

23. Dearest

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A soft snore gently pulled Scootaloo from dreamland. She opened her eyes and searched for the source of the noise. Finally, Scootaloo glanced over and spotted Sweetie Belle, curled up in her favorite red blanket, passed out and peaceful beside her. For a moment, Scootaloo smiled, letting her body sink into the pillowtop once again.

Sweetie Belle…

She had always been there for her, even in the thick of things. They had known each other since before they could remember, and not once had she let her down or left her behind.

But, as Scootaloo watched her sleep, her heart sank.

I doubt she still feels that way, after what I said.

Scootaloo sighed as she flipped her pillow to the dry side and settled into the bed again. Try as she might, she couldn’t shake the sudden onset of guilt that nagged her, a terrible aching that threatened to tear her up from the inside.

“Sweetie Belle?” she whimpered.

Sweetie Belle’s ear perked up a little as she stirred. “Scoots?”

Scootaloo breathed, closing her eyes briefly as she tried to steady her nerves.

She swallowed. “You’re not a bad friend, I—”

“I know that,” Sweetie said, turning over to face Scootaloo. “Things have been kind of crazy for you, I know you don’t really hate us—”

Scootaloo’s eyes flashed. “—You,” she corrected. “I don’t hate you.”

Sweetie rolled her eyes, and Scootaloo sighed. “Still,” Scootaloo said, “I should have never said that. Of all ponies, you’ve always had my back—always been there when I needed you…”

Scootaloo swallowed—even this felt shallow.

“I mean... you aren’t totally wrong,” Sweetie said, hesitantly. “After Mrs. Harbour left, I just…” She shrugged. “ out of the way. You had Rumble there for you, and our sisters just wanted us to keep out of the way. Rarity didn’t want me getting caught up in any of it.”

“I can’t blame her, I guess,” Scootaloo admitted. “I guess, after seeing after what happened to Rumble, I’m glad you stayed out that mess,” she added.

“Yeah, well, between you and me, they’re being weird,” Sweetie said. “Apple Bloom hasn’t invited you, or me to a sleepover in, like, two weeks, I’ve been stuck at home with my folks.” She shook her head. “But that’s okay, I’ve missed you, anyway.”

Scootaloo looked into those mint-green eyes of hers. They burned with so many memories, the annals of her short life. One of those memories--one she shared with her--flashed across Scootaloo’s mind, and, brief as it was, the memory made her smile faintly.

“What?” Sweetie asked.

“Remember when Rarity was foalsitting us during the grand opening of the boutique?” Scootaloo said.

Sweetie blinked once or twice, her smile growing a little wider. “Yeah! She was so mad when she found us in her inspiration room.”

Scootaloo giggled as she thought back to how the two foals somehow had managed to unravel spools of yarn, unsettle an untold number of undressed poniquins and… so much glitter.

Scootaloo shuddered as Rarity had, remembering her expression as she stood over their trail of destruction. Sweetie burst out laughing.

“She was furious,” Sweetie smirked. She threw a dramatic hoof to her forehead. “You girls ruined everything!’’ she cried--then started trembling with stifled laughter.

“ ‘Ruffians,’ ” Scootaloo snickered.

“Or how about when your foster mom and dad made you a cake for your birthday?” Sweetie piped up.

“Didn’t you chip a tooth?”

Sweetie flashed a timid smile, showing her filled-in incisor.

Scootaloo chuckled, “Still wasn’t as bad as the... present you got your sister for her birthday a couple years ago.”

Sweetie scoffed. “How was I supposed to know she hated hamsters?”

“I thought she said it was a rat. Hard not to think it was, with the way she was screaming, and—” Scootaloo suddenly burst out laughing hysterically.

Sweetie started giggling, too. “Scootaloo, sh-shush,” she tried to say. “You’re gonna—”

Scootaloo wiped the tears from her eyes as she started laughing even harder. Sweetie fought valiantly to stifle her giggles, but, soon, she was laughing out loud too..


Sweetie managed to settle herself down, but Scootaloo was still guffawing as Rarity opened the bedroom door.

“Girls, it’s late,” she said reproachfully. “What’s so funny?”

Scootaloo pointed a trembling hoof at Rarity, her own face burning bright red.

You,” she gasped.

Sweetie smiled. “We were remembering when I got you a pet hamster for your birthday.”

“Oh yes, that,” Rarity rolled her eyes. “That turned into quite a spectacle, didn’t it?”

Rarity watched as Scootaloo slowly began to catch her breath, cheeks red, her eyes watering. It brought a smile to her own face. It had been too long since she had seen her so genuinely cheerful.

“I don’t suppose you two would care to join me for some cocoa?” Rarity asked. “I was just reading by the fire downstairs, but some company is always nice...”

“Sure,” Sweetie nodded, hopping off the bed, with Scootaloo following suit.

From Sweetie’s moonlit room, the girls trotted into the relative darkness of the boutique’s parlor room, lit faintly in one corner by a lightly crackling fire and a dim reading lamp.

Scootaloo felt the heat as she heard the popping of stray embers and sparks as the soft flames danced upon a log behind the wire mesh. Her eyes were fixed on it as she found a seat next to Sweetie Belle on the couch across from it, Rarity having already marked the recliner as her own with the blanket draped over the footrest and the book face down on the seat.

Scootaloo sank into her cushy seat, the memory of Rarity’s horrified face on her mind, and a silly smile on her face. Soon, Rarity came in, the smell of chocolate gently wafting about her as she set the steaming mugs of cocoa on the low coffee table before them. Scootaloo picked hers up; two tiny marshmallows bobbed on the surface like a buoy on calm seas.

“Give it just a couple moments, girls,” Rarity said simply as she settled back into her chair,setting her teacup beside the mugs. “It’s still hot.”

Scootaloo looked around the sitting room and sighed. There were good memories here. Ever since she was a foal, Rarity’s had always been a home away from home. No matter what happened, it would always be a special sort of haven for her.

The crackling of the hearth reminded her of home, when Sandbar and Mrs. Harbour would let her stay up on a school night, sit around the fireplace with them, sharing stories and tall tales. Scootaloo wasn't much for singing, but she'd hum and tap her hoof along to Sandy and his guitar. That stallion could play a mean guitar, even at the ripe old age of forever.

Those nights would always end too soon. Before she knew it, it was time to be tucked in, to sleep, and to look forward to another wonderful day with Mom, Dad, and the other foals.

After Sandy passed, things got quieter. They moved from the living room to the kitchen, their only light coming from the oven hood. Mrs. Harbour would have her tea, Scootaloo her milk or water, and they would play cards or do a puzzle together.

For a long, long time, before Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle met Apple Bloom, Scootaloo’s only role models had been a feisty old matron and a fervent fashionista.and, though Rarity was still there, Mrs. Harbour had left her, just like Sandy had.

I miss her.

It was like a dam had burst inside her. Loneliness, fear, sorrow, all threatened to drown her at once. She missed her so badly—and all she wanted, at that very moment, was for her to be here so she could tell her that, one last time.

Please come back… she thought, trying to fight back her tears.

I miss you…

I’m scared.

Please come back…

Scootaloo barely managed to set down her mug before she collapsed, weeping. Sweetie Belle caught her , then wrapped her arms around her and held her close. . Even as Sweetie whispered “it’s okay, it’s okay…”, Scootaloo could hear nothing but her own pain. . Again and again, she saw the carriage holding her mother, flying up and away as the ground rushed up at her, her broken wings robbing her of that final goodbye.

“I wanna go home,” Scootaloo sobbed. “I wanna be with my mom, an--and Poppy, and the foals, and I… I hate…” Her words jammed against the lump in her throat, with only a faint whimper mixing with her cries.

Rarity stared, wide-eyed, at Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, her mind suddenly and unaccountably blank. As much as she wished it weren’t so, there was nothing she could do; nothing that she could say to save this other baby sister of hers from the depths of her own sorrow.

Finally, Rarity stood, trotted towards them, and bought both the fillies into her embrace. She rested her chin on Scootaloo's mane, and her own soft tears flowed down her muzzle.

After several minutes, Rarity pulled back and gazed down into Scootaloo’s eyes. Her eyes had always been a beautiful violet, but now they were dulled with shades of distrust, anger, and fear that threatened to rob her of that light forever..

And suddenly, Rarity smiled. She knew exactly what to say.

“Scootaloo,” she began, “It doesn’t matter what happens, where you go, or what you do...” She swallowed hard, fighting back tears of her own. “...we will always be there for you. You always have been, and always will be, family for Sweetie Belle and I. You’ve been through so much in so little time, and even now, you amaze me with how resilient and resolute you are.”

Scootaloo looked up at her. Rarity smiled a little more, then continued.

“You’ve always been an amazing little filly,” she said, “and while, yes, you’re in a rough spot right now, it is just that—a spot. If anypony can make it out, wiser, stronger, and better despite the hardships,” she said, her eyes glistening in the firelight, “it will be you.” She swallowed as tears of her own began to fall. “We love you, always have and always will. Please,” she said, “never forget that.”

24. Dessert

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Scootaloo knocked for a third time on Button’s door.

Thunderlane had said that Rumble was spending the day there, and while Scootaloo was miffed he wasn’t up and at Rarity’s first thing in the afternoon, she couldn’t stay mad at him.

Her heart fluttered as she heard two sets of hooves coming towards the door. It opened to reveal Button wearing his too-typical smug expression, Rumble peeking from over his shoulder.

“Hey, Scuttlebucket,” Button said with a smile. “Wanna come play with us? We’re just about to start another round if you wanna jump in.”

Scootaloo frowned. “I wish I could, but we have some important meeting with Twilight.”

“And Casanova here is your escort.” Button’s smile faded only for a moment before it grew sinister again. “Damn it.”

Button moved aside as Rumble stepped up to Scootaloo, looking a little nervous.

“I thought we were supposed to head up later,” Rumble said, looking away.

“Nope,” Scootaloo said, “today.”

Rumble swallowed. “Oh, w-well then, yeah. Sorry, Button, I guess I gotta go.”

Button frowned. “I can’t come?”

Both Scootaloo and Rumble glanced at eachother, then back at him. WIthout a word, button strode past them and off the stoop, spinning the propeller on his cap as he leapt into the air, hovering for a moment, before plopping down with a thud.

“Shit. Nope.” he shrugged, “Well, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Actually, nevermind… Have fun, you two!”

Button whistled a little tune to himself as he brushed past Rumble and back into the house.

“Maybe we can come back tonight?” Rumble asked, glancing at Scootaloo, who was staring off into space.

“Hey, no pressure,” Button said, smirking back at him. “Mom wants me to run some errands while she’s gone, so I’ve got shit to do anyway.”

Rumble and Scootaloo trotted back towards town, both awkwardly silent as they kept their gaze away from one another. After awhile, they reached a little hill, which gave them a good view of Rainbow’s cloud home.

Rumble cleared his throat. “So, we’re headed up there, huh?”

Scootaloo nodded, her gaze shifting from the clouds to Rumble. “And I’m sorry for being a little snippy earlier,” she said, “Last night was kinda weird.” She finally managed a smile. “I’m happy you’re with me right now.”

“I said I’d help, didn’t I?” Rumble smiled. “Didn’t know it’d be this soon,” he shrugged. “but whatever.”

“Blame Twilight.” Scootaloo frowned as she hopped aboard the Rumble Express, “She wanted to be there to go over everything I’d need to do, and well, yeah.”

Warm air rushed underneath Rumble’s wings, an inch separating him from the ground. It built up after a moment, and with a single powerful wing flap, he sent them sailing towards the clouds above.

Scootaloo always loved looking around as he took her up in the air, watching Ponyville shrink into the haphazard tapestry that was south-central Equestria.

“I’ve never see you fly like that!” Scootaloo’s eyes widened she gazed at the ground far below. “Who—”

“Thunderlane actually showed me that trick,” Rumble admitted.

Just as she started to enjoy the wind whipping through her mane, it was over, and she shakily dropped onto the clouds.

Rumble lead as Scootaloo followed him to the front door. He knocked twice, but stepped back as Scootaloo simply pushed the door open.

“She said to just come right in,” Scootaloo said as she trotted into the living room. On the couch sat Twilight and Fluttershy, who looked up and smiled at them.

“There you two are,” Fluttershy said. “We were getting worried.”

“We already made a schedule for you two, with very simple and precise instructions that should be easy to follow.”

Of course she did. Scootaloo grinned as she trotted over to the coffee table, looking over a 4-page itinerary, complete with annotations and footnotes.

“That’s… a lot,” Rumble said, frowning down at the instructions.

Fluttershy giggled. “Don’t worry about all of that. Just make sure she has three meals a day, takes her medication, and is getting better,” Fluttershy explained. “I’ll come check on you at night, but, honestly, I think she would appreciate having you around, Scootaloo.”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, glancing at her hooves. I kinda owe her, anyway.

A loud stomping from the hallway signaled the end of the niceties as familiar angry orange pony entered the room.

“Well, well, well, if it ain’t the foul-mouthed foal,” Applejack said with a snarl as she entered from the kitchen. “The hell’s he doing here?”

Scootaloo stepped back as Rumble as he took a defensive stance in front of her, his fur standing up. She could sense Rumble was only just holding his tongue, placing a comforting hoof on his trembling shoulder.

“Applejack, please,” Fluttershy pleaded.

“I thought we agreed that it was just Scootaloo and Fluttershy. Ain’t nopony said anything about that little shit.”

Rumble pawed the ground, “If you honestly think I’m just going to take that, you’ve taken too many apples to the head, you hick.”

“Oh?” Applejack stomped a hoof. “Wanna run your mouth again, huh? I’d be careful if I was you. Wouldn’t wanna make you cry in front of your little filly.”

“Um… “ Fluttershy whispered.

“We can take this outside if you want, Applejack. You know, a few thousand feet above the ground?” Rumble raised an eyebrow tauntingly.

Scootaloo swallowed. “Rumble, sto—” Then she was cut off by Applejack, who was taking a step towards them.

“Take me to the ground, boy. I’ll beat you into it.”

“Everypony stop!” Fluttershy roared at the top of her lungs. Her face was red with annoyance and disappointment.

“Thank you, Fluttershy. Nopony is doing anything to anypony,” Twilight said as she suddenly stood, stepping between the two. “Now, Applejack, you want to explain to me why you of all ponies are picking a fight with a foal?”

“Not right in the head...” Rumble muttered under his breath before Scootaloo shushed him,

“You care to explain to me why you’re enablin’ her and her bad decisions?” Applejack shot back. “Ain’t nothin’ good gonna come from this,” she shook her head, “nothin’.”

Twilight bit her tongue, shaking her head in disapproval.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say,” she said, “don’t say anything at all. He is here. He is helping. That is all.”

Applejack muttered something under her breath, but Scootaloo didn’t hear it. She watched as Twilight kept her hard gaze on Applejack until she retreated into the hallway. It was only now Scootaloo noticed that Rumble was watching the doorway as if it were the cave of a demented beast.

“Sorry about that.” Twilight sighed, then continued, “If anything, let that serve as a lesson on how not to conduct yourself, especially around children.”

Rumble glanced around. “Where is Rainbow Dash, anyway?”

“She’s on bedrest,” Twilight said. “Hopefully that didn’t wake her up.”

“Are you kidding me?” Scootaloo said, trying to stifle a laugh. “Rainbow could sleep through a hurricane as long as it didn’t hit her cloud.”

“Speaking of Rainbow,” Fluttershy said with the faintest smile. “I was hoping you two could help me fix her something sweet for afterwards.” She nodded towards the kitchen as she lead them further into the house.

Scootaloo was the first to see the assortment of candies and fresh fruit that lined the dining room table, a pie tin with a premade pie crust sat on one side.

“So,” Fluttershy began, “I figured you two could help me bake a pie.”

Rumble could feel his mouth water. “Sounds tasty.”

“It’s not for you,” Scootaloo said “But that sounds fun!”

“She’s not eating a whole pie,” Rumble argued as they took seats at the table. “Sharing is caring, you know.”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes, and could’ve sworn she heard Fluttershy giggle.

“You two let me know when you’re done, and we can put it in the oven.” Fluttershy smiled as she trotted back into the living room.

Scootaloo listened to the faint conversation for a moment before turning her attention to the assortment of savory fruits: Apples, blueberries, pineapple, strawberry, peaches and funny enough, pumpkins.

She winced as Rumble dangled the bowl of apples over the trash can and teasingly tipped it just slightly.

Don’t,” Scootaloo hissed.

Rumble grinned stupidly as Scootaloo grabbed the bowl from him.

“Apples are kinda lame anyway,” Rumble quipped. A small stomp sounded from somewhere in the house. Rumble grabbed pineapple pieces that Fluttershy had set out and scooped them into the tin.

Scootaloo glared at him, watching him carefully fill the pie crust with the pineapples, a crooked smile on his face. She rolled her eyes and prepared to lay the top crust bands.”

“It’s always good to try something different.” Rumble smirked, but grabbed some apple slices as well. “Let’s use some apple too, just so Applejack can’t bitch about it.”

Scootaloo sighed as she felt a hoof on her shoulder, her tension melting as those purple eyes looked into her own. Yes, he was being a bit feisty, but she knew why. That knowledge brought a light smile to her face.

“Good idea.” Scootaloo glanced at the hoof-crafted perfection. “Um, I think we’re done?”

“Now hold your horses.”

Scootaloo was hardly surprised as Rumble shot out of his chair and once again separated her from the Bad Apple. Applejack scoffed as she stormed over to the table and lifted a loose band of crust, her eyes narrowing with disdain.

Pineapple,” she hissed.

“What’s the matter?” Rumble growled, “There’s apples in there.”

Applejack whirred around, the fires of Tartarus in her eyes.

“That ain’t the same damn thing, and you know it.”

“Bullshit.” Rumble shot back, moving closer to Scootaloo, but never taking his eyes off her. “We put both in there, she saw it!”

“What’s going on here?” Twilight stepped in, Fluttershy in tow.

“Exactly what I said would happen, Applejack growled, “causin’ trouble.”

Rumble snorted. “I’m not the one who came charging in here to ruin everything! We were doing just fine, but somepony has to have a stick up their-”

Scootaloo pulled him close.

“A pineapple isn’t a real apple, and shouldn’t even be heard in the same breath, let alone share a pie!” Applejack barked. “He’s gettin’ my goat, he knows that ain’t right! He insults my Ma, he humiliates my sister, and he’s mockin’ my livelihood!”

Twilight groaned, Applejack suddenly surrounded by a magical aura.

“I think we’ve overstayed our welcome,” she said as she effortlessly levitated Applejack behind her on the way towards the door. “I think Applejack and I need to review some Friendship lessons. Fluttershy can handle it from here.”

Fluttershy watched as Twilight carried Applejack outside, shutting the door gently behind her. Rumble kept his gaze to the floor, before Scootaloo nudged him with her muzzle. Rumble glanced up at her with a downtrodden expression.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. He wasn’t crying or upset. No, rather, he just seemed sad.

“Rumble…” Scootaloo said before trailing off, unsure of what to say.

“I think you two did a wonderful job,” Fluttershy said with a weak smile as she gently repaired the rolled-up crust and put the pie in the oven. “I’m going to check on Rainbow Dash. Why don’t you two make sure your room is comfortable? I have plenty of blankets and things at home if you need anything.”

“Sure.” Scootaloo smiled, putting a hoof around Rumble. “C’mon.”

With that, she lead Rumble down the hall to her bedroom.

Instantly, Scootaloo threw open the door, and leapt inside, belly flopping onto her bed with a groan. Rumble stepped inside and eyed the door for a moment. Then, with a small grin, shut it with his wing.

“Not even five minutes and Applejack had to be a bitch,” she said, glancing at Rumble as he trotted to her bedside.

“I shouldn’t have let her get to me. I promised my brother—and you—that I’d behave.”

“But,” Scootaloo said, “I don’t get how she can still be mad at you! I mean, yeah, you said some mean things to Apple Bloom, but she just won’t let it go.”

“Well, she’s gone now.” Rumble smiled, moving a step back before taking a tiny running jump up and over Scootaloo, landing on the other side of the bed. He laid down beside her, gently putting a wing around her. “Got more important stuff to do, anyway.”

For several minutes, the two rested on her bed, staring at the cloud formations that made up Scootaloo’s ceiling. Scootaloo sighed as she turned to her side to find Rumble staring back at her. A warmth spread through her cheeks as she smiled.

“Hey, Scootaloo.” Rumble frowned as he ran a hoof over the comforter. “Do any of your friends actually like me?”

“What?” Scootaloo blinked. “Why…”

“Well, the Apples hate my guts; Princess Twilight doesn’t seem to be a fan, with Rarity I can’t tell, and I don’t think Sweetie Belle likes me either.”

“I don’t think Sweetie hates you,” Scootaloo said, “or if she does, she’s never told me. I think she likes that you like me if that makes any sense. Stay on my good side, and you should be fine.”

“You two seem pretty close.”

“Oh yeah.” Scootaloo grinned. “We go way back. My number one super best friend—best filly friend, I mean.”

“Who’s your best colt friend?”


“That’s not funny.”

“That wasn’t a joke.”

“What about me?” Rumble said, raising an eyebrow.

“What about you?” Scootaloo countered, stifling a giggle.

“What am I? A stick in the mud?”

“Doesn’t taste like it.”


Scootaloo inched closer and closer, and before Rumble could blink, she had pecked him gently on the lips.

“Nope, tastes like… pineapple and breath mints.”

Rumble’s cheeks reddened fiercely as her struggled to keep eye contact.

Just then, the smallest creak came from Scootaloo’s door, Scootaloo turned in time to see a tuft of yellow moving away from the opening.



Rumble flew over to the door and yanked it open, revealing an embarrassed Fluttershy.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt, but I wanted to show you two something real quick. If you don’t mind...”

Scootaloo followed Fluttershy down the hall with Rumble hovering above, leading to a door she had only seen once before.

Rainbow’s room was, unsurprisingly, larger than Scootaloo’s. Several posters were plastered on the walls, placed between the numerous trophy shelves. The bed rested on a raised floor, and beside it sat a picture of Scootaloo, centered perfectly on her nightstand.

Rainbow didn’t move as the three trotted to her bedside, Scootaloo wincing as she felt a pit in her stomach. Only her colorful mane was visible above the covers, the rise and fall of her chest the only sign of her wellness.

“She’s looking much better,” Fluttershy said. “I’ve had her just eating yogurt and granola for breakfast, and some tomato soup for lunch. All you will need to do is make sure she remembers her medicine, and doesn’t push herself too hard.”

“Sounds easy enough,” Rumble said, putting a wing around Scootaloo. “But why would she forget to take her medication?”

“It’s more that… she doesn’t want to.” Fluttershy shook her head. “She thinks that medicine is a sign of weakness—that she can to sleep it off and tough it out.”

“Sounds like what my brother tells me when I get a cold or feather flu,” Rumble muttered.

“Anyway,” Fluttershy continued, “I think it’ll make it much easier if she had some company while she heals. I would stay longer, but I have my critters, and, well, Discord...”

“We got this.” Scootaloo smiled confidently. “Besides, I feel like I owe her at least this much. After all…” she trailed off, her smile fading into a frown.

Then, a loud ding startled them.

“Sounds like the pie is ready. I’ll be right back,” Fluttershy said before flying out the door and towards the kitchen.

Scootaloo watched Rainbow’s chest rise and fall with each breath. She shivered as images from that night flashed before her again. Rumble pulled her close and nuzzled her.

“Like you said... We got this.” Rumble smiled as she returned the nuzzle. “You and I make a great team, you know?”

Scootaloo’s smile returned, albeit with a sinister curl. “Says who?”

“Hey!” Rumble whined as Scootaloo trotted into the hall, giggling to herself.

The only thing better than eating pie… is watching somepony enjoy your hard work.

Scootaloo flopped on her bed again, gazing up through the hole Rumble had kicked into the ceiling, a do-it-yourself skylight, revealing a sea of stars twinkling above. The moonlight filtered through and bathed the bedroom in luminescence.

She didn’t like sleeping alone, but Fluttershy seemed none too keen on anything else. Rumble was on the couch in the living room, no doubt watching some B-movie he fished from Rainbow’s collection.

She lay there, letting various thoughts and feelings take the stage in her mind and say their piece, all the while glancing at the narrow strip of glowing light under her door. She sat up and watched it fade and change color a few times, before hopping from her bed.

Scootaloo moved silently, as if walking on clouds, as she entered the living room. The TV was still on, a straight gray screen accompanied by a low tone. Rumble, wrapped in a thin wool blanket, had his head resting on a throw pillow, his back turned to her.

A little smile crept across her face as she peeked over her sleeping friend, gingerly crawling up and over Rumble. She nudged open her own little spot between him and the couch backing and settled down. She was barely managed to stifle a squeak as he pulled her close and wrapped a wing and hoof around her. She returned the favor as she felt the weight of her body sink into the cushions, the cold of the night driven away by his warmth.

25. Detour

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Twilight didn’t like storming through her castle without any niceties, nor was she of fan of having to tow a defiant friend into the throne room for inquisition. Yet there she was, storming past a petrified Spike and a curious Starlight, before she thrusted open the throne room doors with the same magic that dragged Applejack past them.

Finally, Applejack was released from Twilight's magic. She dropped flank-first into her seat around the Cutie Map as the Princess of Friendship took her throne.

Twilight sighed.

“So, I’m going to assume you still don’t have an answer to my question, correct? Some plausible explanation as to why a mare would harbor such a toxic and troubling level of contempt for a yearling? A convincing objection to my growing desire to consult with Celestia about your recent behaviour?” Twilight gave Applejack a dead stare. “In other words, who pissed in your applesauce?”

Applejack swallowed, her hooves shaking as she pressed back into her chair. With her adrenaline gone, her anger drained from her, along with the color from her face. She opened her mouth to speak, but quickly clamped it shut as Twilight’s gaze hardened.

“I understand that things were said that crossed the line on several fronts. And, for for all intents and purposes, all of it was unacceptable and horribly offensive.” she shook her head, “Even still, Rumble, like Apple Bloom, is a foal. You’re a grown mare, who should know far better than you have demonstrated. Foals, fillies, and colts alike are prone to making mistakes; lacking the maturity and empathy to control their outbursts.”

“He disgraced my Ma, and humiliated my sister.”

“He apologized, and was disciplined accordingly,” Twilight countered. “That should have been the end of it. The moment he bowed his head and expressed his regret for what he had said, you should have accepted it and turned the page. That doesn’t mean you like him, doesn’t mean Apple Bloom has to be his friend. But,” Twilight stomped her hoof down, “that does mean you as an adult; as a bearer of the elements; as a civilized pony; should have forgiven him and if you so chose, never spoken to him again.”

“You don’t—”

“But you didn’t do that, did you, Applejack?” Twilight cut in. “Instead of setting an example for these children, you instead become a bully. You let your pride override your moral code, and even worse, you became an antagonist who seems hell-bent on erasing every trace of progress made in ensuring Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash can have a normal relationship.”

“This isn’t about them.”

“No, this is about you.”

Applejack sank a little in her seat.

“As cumbersome and cocky as he can be, Rumble is as important to mending their friendship as anypony else. Despite their tendencies… whatever they are, he is at least one of her closest friends.”

Twilight gave Applejack another hard stare. A bead of sweat traced down Applejack’s snout before dripping onto the floor.

“And even somepony she might spend the rest of her life with. Like or it or not, that means you can’t avoid seeing him. This petty grudge you hold will only make things worse between Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. Is that what you want?”

“Can’t say I do.” Apple Bloom shook her head as she once again looked towards Ponyville.

Diamond Tiara was once again throwing a party, and Scootaloo was invited. However, she was far from the only one who noticed her absence.

DIamond’s simple smile fell a little. “Oh well, maybe I’ll see her tomorrow-”

“I could give it to her, I bet I’ll be seeing her later!”

“Oh, no… I-it’s okay, I’ll just—” Diamond Tiara gave a weak smile, “—hang on to it.” With that, Diamond trotted past her and into town. As Apple Bloom turned to pick up her saddlebag, she heard an excited gasp behind her.

“Sweetie Belle, just the filly I was looking for!”

It was the very same DIamond Tiara who seemed so defeated just moments ago. Without hesitation she handed the invitation to Sweetie Belle… and then another one… followed by yet another.

DIamond was already out of sight as Apple Bloom joined Sweetie Belle at the top of the hill. She could see one of the invites sticking out of Sweetie’s saddle bag. Apple Bloom sighed as she held back asking what was most on her mind.

“Where is Scootaloo, anyway?”

Sweetie Belle almost looked bewildered. “Rainbow Dash’s house,” she said. “She and Rumble are helping with her rehabilitation.”

“Her re-habitat-what now?”

Sweetie couldn’t help smirk a little. “Rehabilitation — meaning they’re helping her get back on her hooves and feel better and stuff.”

“How is that mule gonna help with that?”

“A lot more than you would, bumpkin.”

Both turned to see Button Mash trotting towards them, a paper bag on his back.

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes as she turned back to Apple Bloom. “Will you quit calling him that? They’re probably gonna get married one day, so you might as well get used to it.”

“Who says I gotta?”

Sweetie’s face betrayed no emotion. “Our friendship.”

Apple Bloom’s mouth hung open for only an instant before she snapped it shut, and looked anywhere but at her friend.

Sweetie turned back to Button Mash. “What’s in the bag?”

“Well,” Button said as he smiled, glancing back at the paper sack, “Rumble said he needed some stuff from his house, so I was gonna take it to him. Problem is, I don’t know where to drop it off,”

“You can come with us, then.” Sweetie nodded as they trotted into town.

Apple Bloom winced as Button followed alongside them. She didn’t know much about him, but anyone who was best friends with that mule had to be up to no good.

“Where are we going again?” Apple Bloom asked.

“We gotta drop some things off for... Scootaloo... at Fluttershy’s cottage.”

It had been awhile since they had been to Fluttershy’s humble abode, which was as verdant and quaint as it always had been. Apple Bloom watched several squirrels scurry up an apple tree as Sweetie Belle knocked on the door.

“Oh, hello girls… and...” Fluttershy said peering at Sweetie’s bag

“Button Mash.” Button watched as Sweetie’s aura enveloped his bag and floated it towards Fluttershy.

“This is for Scootaloo and Rumble?”

“Yeah,” Sweetie said as she handed over her own bag of snacks along with the envelopes. “She asked me to send them food, and Diamond Tiara invited them to a party, so maybe they might wanna go.”

Not me though. Apple Bloom watched as the envelopes changed hooves, the two chatting a little longer. Afterwards, Fluttershy waved goodbye, and the three were headed towards town once again.

“I hope they’re doing alright up there,” Sweetie said. “I almost wanted to help, but, y’know Twilight says cloudwalking spells are a bit complicated and ‘error-prone’.”

“Oh, I’m sure they’re just fine.” Button smirked a little. “Scootaloo and Rumble pretty much got a whole cloud house to themselves!”

Apple Bloom simply nodded as they kept trotting, the town’s outskirts coming into view.

“You okay, Apple Bloom?” Sweetie asked.

“No.” Apple Bloom frowned. “I’m not. I don’t get why I’m the only pony who wasn’t invited to the party.”

“Simple,” Button answered, giving her an even stare. “Rumble’s invited.”

“But why him and not me?”

“Because Scootaloo is going,” he replied readily.

“My sister says he isn’t very nice.”

“Your sister wouldn’t know nice if it fell from a tree and cracked her head open.”

Apple Bloom looked daggers at the smug colt, but bit her tongue.

“Button, be nice,” Sweetie said. “Apple Bloom’s in a sour mood.”

“Oh, so it’d be okay for him to bad mouth my sister if I was in a good mood?”


“Maybe you wouldn’t be such a rotten apple if your sister wasn’t such a bitch.”

“Hey!” Apple Bloom whined. “Stop bein’ mean!”

“I’m the mean one, huh?” Button said. “Last time I checked, my head wasn’t so far up my ass that I had to pick on a foal to feel better about myself.”

“She wouldn’t have ta yell at ‘em if Rumble wasn’t such a stubborn mule!”

Sweetie’s eyes darted back and forth between each belligerent pony.

“That same mule that saved Scootaloo’s fucking life? The same stubborn brat that has done everything for her, that loves her.” Button stomped a hoof into the dirt. “Unlike you, her “best friend,” who just hides behind her bitch of a sister. Yeah, sounds like a real asshole.”

“I…” Apple Bloom started, trying desperately to find something—anything to say—but her mouth merely hung there, unwilling to move.

Button took a step towards her, causing Apple Bloom to flinch.

“Sister to the Element of Honesty, right?” Button gave her a smug grin.

“Button. Enough!” Sweetie said with a stomp. The fire in her eyes was only brief, as much as she wanted to tear into him, she couldn’t deny he was right; that some of what he said could have come out of her own mouth had she found the courage.

Before Apple Bloom could stop herself, she stomped towards Button — who didn’t even so much as blink. She froze, a chill shooting through her body. This wasn’t Rumble, not some featherweight she could knock around. Earth ponies were different—a fact she knew all too well. His stance and his cold stare ensured that any move on her part would end in humiliation at best.

“Yet you’re too afraid of your big sister to admit the truth,” Button continued, not deterred in the slightest. “No amount of bullshit that comes out of your sister’s mouth should stop you from protecting your friends.”

“But I…” Apple Bloom trembled, looking between a conflicted Sweetie Belle and an immovable Button.

‘When the ponies who are supposed to be my best friends in the world don't give a damn about me, what else am I supposed to do?’

Apple Bloom felt the pit in her stomach as Scootaloo’s words echoed in her mind, hot tears streaming down her face.

Apple Bloom looked off towards the edge of town, towards home. Sweetie watched as she nodded.

“I think…” Apple Bloom swallowed back a lump in her throat. “I’m gonna go home.”

“Yeah, you’ve got a lot to think about, Bloom,” Button muttered as they watched her sulked away.

The walk to Sweet Apple Acres took far longer than she remembered. She only lifted her gaze from her hooves when she finally crossed over the property line. There was no sign of Big Mac within the orchard and she figured Applejack was going to be at Twilight’s for a while. She practically had the farm to herself, a place to let her heavy heart and hurting head rest a little.

Pushing the front door open, she heard only the grandfather clock her grandmother sat by, no doubt in her rocking chair, as Apple Bloom slowly sulked through the kitchen and up the stairs.

Right now, she and Sweetie were supposed to be at Sugarcube Corner, enjoying a treat before heading to the schoolyard to play; then heading to the homestead for a sleepover--the first in far too long.

Scootaloo was supposed to come, but she couldn’t. It was only from the whispers’ of classmates that Apple Bloom heard she didn’t want to. The way Sweetie had been acting lately, had it not been for their sisters....

The Crusaders’ clubhouse was dilapidated, dirty, and in disrepair. The ramp creaked and cracked, and the light didn’t work last time she’d checked a month or so ago.

She shook as fresh tears emerged, the idea of being alone again, like she was before she met them — in this old house, this musty, rustic homestead. It was just her, with only Winona for company before she went out to the farm because she had nothing better to do.

All because of that smug, self-centered punk with an resolve that’d rival, well, a stubborn mule. Irredeemable, unbearable, unkind, and…

Applejack was home.

Apple Bloom turned to the window again, covers pulled over in hopes that she would be left alone. She hated feeling outcast and ostracized, sure, but she hated even more what she might say, and what would happen if she said it.

Those loud footsteps stopped at her door, the sudden silence twisting her stomach into a knot.

“Everything alright, Sugarcube?” Her voice was… normal, like nothing was wrong.

Apple Bloom swallowed back the venom and bit her tongue until she tasted copper. How could you do this to my friends? They hate me now, everypony hates me now and it's all your fault! I hate you, I hate you, I never want to...

“I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” Button asked, looking uncharacteristically nervous.

Sugarcube Corner was oddly quiet for it being four in the afternoon.

“Yeah,” Sweetie said. “I mean, Apple Bloom she’ in a tough spot.”

“Can’t really blame her,” Button said between bites of his cookie. “Her sister’s mental.”

“She isn’t usually this bad,” Sweetie admitted. “I mean, she can be a little strict and, I guess, difficult, but I’ve never seen her like this.”

“You’ve known them for how long?”

“Uh, good question. I’d say… a year, maybe a little longer? Scootaloo and I met her at Diamond’s Cutiecenera, though my sister’s known Applejack for a long time.”

“About the same time I’ve known Rumble, actually. Pretty sure he moved down here a couple years ago.”

“Sooooo,” Pinkie said as she appeared from nowhere, causing Sweetie to flinch, “What’ll it be?”

“The Cinnamon Cilantro Cupcakes look good,” Button said, then looked back at Sweetie Belle. “Wanna share?”

“Wh-” Sweetie blinked, “I... Sure.”

“Peanut butter for me, and… vanilla for you, right?” Button added.

Sweetie was surprised, but smiled nonetheless. “Uh-huh.”

“Ookie dokie!” Pinkie chirped as she bounced off into the kitchen.

Sweetie felt her cheeks redden slightly as she looked to her hooves, which were dangling over the edge of the booth seat.
“Y--Yeah, Scootaloo and I, we pretty much grew up together. She’s basically my little sister.” Her smile faded as she went on, “That’s why it’s been so hard watching everything from the sidelines, feeling… like I can’t do anything to help her or be there for her. Rarity wants me to stay out of it, but she’s my best friend. It isn’t fair.”

“I think Rumble will take good care of her up there. He’s crazy about her, and he… means well. He really does care about his friends, even if he comes off like an asshole sometimes.” Button’s smile widened. “He talks tough, and I’m sure he was hot stuff up in the clouds, but down here he’s a lightweight. Doesn’t take much to put him in his place when he gets rowdy.”

As Button continued enthusiastically, Sweetie found herself smiling despite herself. She still couldn’t be too sure how Rarity would handle his… vernacular, but, right now she didn’t care.

She thought about what to say as Pinkie set their cupcakes on the table She took a bite, or two, or four as she watched Button inhale a particularly well-frosted cupcake, which resulted in half of the icing becoming face paint.

Sweetie giggled at first, then burst into laughter as he licked it off with his tongue.

“What?” Button said.

“You know what,” Sweetie snickered. “You’re such a goofball.”

Button gave an affirmative nod as he inhaled the rest of his cupcake.

Finally, Sweetie cleared her throat. “Thanks for… what you did earlier, Button.” She smiled as green eyes met vermilion ones. “Somepony really needed to say something, and… I couldn’t .”

“No biggie,” Button said. “I don’t like seeing my friends being fu-- I mean, messed with. Scootaloo’s my friend as much as Rumble is.”

“Y-Yeah…” Sweetie nodded, “Um, thanks for the treat and, you know, maybe…”

Pinkie came to collect the dishes, after which the two sat in silence a little longer, Button staring out the window; Sweetie, her hooves lightly tapping the top of the table.

Pinkie burst into view, making Sweetie flinch again.

“Oh, I forgot the bits,” Sweetie squeaked.

Sweetie went sifting through her saddlebag, desperately looking for bits.


Sweetie jerked her head up to see Pinkie bouncing away, seemingly satisfied.

“Y-You took too long,” Button stammered.

“Well here, I can at least-”

Button hopped from his seat and trotted towards the door, leaving Sweetie to scramble to shut her bag and follow him outside.

“I-It was my treat,” Button smiled. “It was just nice to hang out with you.”

“Bw-ye--I agree.” Sweetie blushed furiously. “Maybe… we could do this again sometime?”

“Yeah.” Button grinned. “Sounds like a plan.”

An awkward wave goodbye and a rattle of the nerves sent them on their separate ways.
Sweetie Belle sighed deeply as she walked off, her entire body seeming lighter than it had been.

26. Disrespect

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Apple Bloom slowly opened her eyes and lifted her tired head. She wasn’t sure how long she had slept, though it felt like at least a couple hours; it was dark outside and the hall light was on. Even from behind her door, it was a bit intense as she slowly got up from her bed.

Instinct told her to grab her Stetson hanging on a bedside post, but her other half overruled her, a hoof fishing through the nightstand drawer for her old bow, instead.

She shook the dust and errant cobwebs off her treasured headwear. While she felt lighter now, her heavy heart made up for it as she remembered what was in store.

She could smell that it was almost time for supper—hashbrowns and waffles.

With a rumbling stomach and a sigh, she pushed open her door and plodded down the stairs, her bright, blurred vision clearing up just as she took the top step.

Halfway down the flight, she could hear Granny Smith carrying on about some old ponies’ tale of some sort. Then, as she took the last step, she shuddered, the simple sounds of preparation and conversation was shattered by the voice of…

“Is that you, Bloom?”


“I don’t know, Applejack, Who else would it be?”

While Applejack was staring at her quizzically as she rounded into view, Big Mac and Granny seemed either unphased, or unaware of her temper.

She took a seat next to Applejack, scooted the chair as close to the table leg as she could. She picked at her waffle, which was a little underwhelming, but it would do-

“I decided to give Granny a night off an’ made ‘em myself,” Applejack said.

The waffle is burnt and it tastes like charcoal.

The first nibble was largely harmless to her taste buds, but now that she knew it was the creation of… her, it slid down her throat with a bitterness she’d never known before.

“How was your day, little filly?” Granny said. “Weren’t you gonna have your friends over?”

“Oh, I was,” Apple Bloom said. “But they didn’t wanna come.”

“Oh? That’s too bad.”

“Yeah... it really is, Granny.” Apple Bloom’s scowl deepened.

“Well I suppose that gives you more time for chores tomorrow.” Big Mac grinned.

“Yeah, I think I’m gonna have plenty of time for chores, Big Mac,” Apple Bloom sneered. “‘Specially since I won’t have no more friends if she keeps it up.” Applejack flinched as Apple Bloom turned to look up at her with nothing short of contempt.

Applejack scowled. “Who do you think you’re talking to?”

“Where do you get bein’ a right foul bitch?!” Apple Bloom shouted, “Badmouthing Scootaloo’s… whatever he is because he said some rotten things one time! I could’a swore it was you who said holdin’ a grudge won’t do nopony no good, but what have you been doing for the last couple weeks?”

“Apple Bloom, that’s enough!” Applejack shouted, her coat turning the shade of a ripe grapefruit.

“I don’t like what Rumble said about our Ma neither, but you don’t see me runnin’ around hollerin’ at somepony over nothin’ all day.”

“What… what’s this about, girls?” Big Mac asked.

“Oh, she didn’t tell ya, Mac? That ain’t very honest of her, is it?”

Applejack began to tremble with rage. She opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted.

“Alright, Apple Bloom. Now cool your britches,” Granny said firmly, “Ain’t nothin’ gonna come of you shootin’ yer mouth off like that.”

“Granny, it ain’t fair!” Apple Bloom wailed, ignoring Grammy’s shush as tears began to stream from her eyes. “I don’t wanna be alone again, I love my friends, and… she’s tryin’ to take that away from me! If it weren’t for Scoots and Sweetie, I would be-” she choked up. “Scoots doesn’t even look at me no more. Sweetie only talks to me because she has to… I wasn’t invited to Diamond’s party, because Scoots and Rumble are going. I can’t have friends or have fun because she keeps on ruining it!”

Apple Bloom collapsed into a blubbering heap. Granny Smith cleared her throat, her face blank and unreadable.

“Applejack,” she said, her gaze hardening, “you wanna explain to me what in Equestria she’s carryin’ on about?”

“W—well, ya see, Granny,” Applejack stammered, taking a deep breath. “You know her little friend, Scootaloo?”

“The pegasus filly?”

“Yes ma’am,” Applejack swallowed. “Well she has this colt she thinks she’s in love with; his name’s Rumble, and well, one day he an’ Apple Bloom were bickerin’ and he got nasty. Said some awful things about her, about Ma, it wasn’t right, Granny.”

“Mmhm.” Granny took a sip of her water, “What did the little spitfire say exactly?”

“That Apple Bloom was the product of a dirt-pushin’ alcoholic, and that we’re all just a bunch a’ inbred mud ponies.”

Apple Bloom stood up. “That’s not-”

Granny shushed her.

“That it?”

Applejack’s eyes widened. “That… it? What do ya mean is tha-”

“Listen, sugarcube,” Granny sighed, “unless that boy is lookin’ to marry this little filly right here, I don’t give a hoot or holler what he, or Scootaloo, or her other little friends are sayin’ and doin’. Neither should you.”

“But Granny-”

“Ain’t no buts about it, missy,” Granny Smith cut in. “Yer a grown mare, you ain’t got time for pickin’ on some foals. Little Bloom’s had it tough enough in school before she met those two fillies. Unless they ain’t doin’ right by her, you got nothin’ to do with ‘em.”

“Eeyup.” Big Mac nodded.

“You have two choices, Applejack,” Granny continued. “Either you keep bein’ the big sister she looks up to and trusts, or you make her hate every bone in your body. You’ll have her lyin’ right to your face, runnin’ off, and gettin’ into more trouble than she can handle—is that what you want?”

Without a word, Big Mac stood and collected the plates and silverware, while Granny hobbled to the sink to wash the dishes. Applejack got up, and headed upstairs, leaving an uneasy silence in her absence.

“You got no right talkin’ to yer sister like that,” Granny said, her gaze concerned, yet stern.

Apple Bloom said nothing as she sat up in her chair, resting her chin on her forehooves.

“What she’s doin’ ain’t right, but what yer sayin’ ain’t much better,” Granny continued. “I ain’t never heard them kinda words outta yer mouth, and I don’t wanna hear ‘em again, you understand me?”

“Yes ma’am,” Apple Bloom mumbled. “I’m sorry for bein’ disrespectful, it’s just-”

“Can’t let her get yer goat like that.”

“It’s just that, I kept believin her, and kept doin’ what she said because she’s my big sis and she’d... never let me down.”

“Well, you know... never might be askin’ a bit too much, right?”

“I guess so.”

Apple Bloom glanced back as she felt Big Mac’s hoof on her shoulder.

“Yer a sweet filly, Apple Bloom.” Granny smiled, as she came around the other side. “You’re still a ways away from bein’ a mare, but you’re already growin’ up a little. Part of growin’ up is figurin’ out that ponies, even family, are gonna make mistakes and let you down- but she loves you, she loves ya like me an’ Mac do.”

Apple Bloom nodded. “I know.”

“I’ll have a little talk with yer sister…. In the meantime, you need to keep on bein’ a good filly and keep the cursin’ in your head.” Granny winked and held up a hoof. “Got a bar of soap with yer name on it if ya don’t...”

“Understood, ma’am.”

Apple Bloom felt a little better, good enough to help Big Mac tackle a couple chores on the farm. After all, nothing helped her unwind like stacking firewood and collecting appleseeds.

By the time the sun had set, she was too tired to make one another trip through the orchards. She rested at the base of an apple tree, head tilted upwards, watching the wispy clouds of the sky as they drifted high above.

Somewhere up there, Scootaloo and Rumble were tending to Rainbow.

Sweetie Belle and Button Mash probably hung out after she left.

Thoughts that not so long ago would have formed under a cloud of jealousy and disapproval now excited her. For the first time in too long, her friends were happy.

And she could join them.

Apple Bloom slowly climbed the stairs, her hooves getting heavier with each step. Looking down the hall, she could see a faint strip of light below Applejack’s bedroom door.

She sighed, trotted into her own bedroom, and climbed onto her bed. Her body sank into the comforter as her head rested on her favorite pillow.

She could hear her heartbeat against the bed, the gentle pitter patter beginning to lull her into dreamland.

Then came that sickening sound of hoofs from the hallway.


Sure enough, the door opened. Apple Bloom didn’t bother turning to face her. She could hear Applejack breath a heavy sigh, and sit on the floor. After several minutes, it seemed she had found her voice.

“Apple Bloom, listen,”

For a moment, she stopped, likely having to swallow her pride, which threatened to bust her teeth before she could surrender. Apple Bloom shuddered, resisting the urge to roll over.

“I’m not going to make any excuses for how I’ve been behavin’ lately. What I was doing was wrong, and not only was I setting a bad example, I was slowly making you hate me—and that isn’t something I want. I learned a good deal today, and had more than one talkin’ to. I got my licks, and… I ain’t gonna deny it—I deserved each and every one of ‘em.”

“I’m sorry, Apple Bloom,” she said. “I’m sorry for making things difficult between you and yer’ friends. I never had any right to do that, and the fact that you had to see your big sister act like a ‘you-know-what’ … that should’ve never happened, and I promise it won’t happen again.

“A big sister is supposed to show you what’s right, and who you ought to be as a pony; somepony to look to for guidance and friendship. I haven’t been a good sister to you lately, and… I wanna make it right.” She sucked in a breath. “I love you, Apple Bloom. I hope even with how I’ve been… I hope you never forget that.”

Apple Bloom tried to wipe away the tears from her eyes, her head spun as she fought to keep her emotions in check. After several minutes of silence, she finally spoke.

“I love you too, Applejack,” Apple Bloom said. “I know you were just thinkin’ about me, and wantin’ me to be around good ponies- Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle are my best friends, and I know they won’t let me get hurt or into big trouble. I’ll be alright.”

“I know you will, sugarcube. And one of these days, you’re gonna have a colt- or filly of your own, and... well, I can’t promise I’ll like ‘em, but you know what Granny said—they do right by you, and you really truly love them, well,” she chuckled. “Ain’t nothin’ I can do about that.”

Apple Bloom finally turned to face Applejack, a light smile on her face.

“Just promise me one thing.”

Applejack nodded.

“You’re gonna apologize to Rumble and Scoots?”

“Sure am.”

“...and he ain’t banned from the clubhouse?”


“Ooh! Maybe we can invite them over for supper one night!”


27. Domesticated

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Scootaloo didn’t like waking up early, nor did she enjoy being pinned by a defensive forehoof, yet here she was; figuring out a way to squirm free of her vicious attack dog who moonlighted as a rambunctious colt.

This proved to be a little bit more complicated than she had initially thought, what with her precarious spot between Rumble and the couch. With a couple of clumsy maneuvers, she managed to break free of his hold, finally leaping over and onto the cloud floor below.

Scootaloo shook herself as she stretched her hooves, feeling the satisfying pop as she loosened her joints, rigid from being stuck in that awkward position for Celestia-knows how long.

Note to self: Never do that again. Scootaloo thought as she glanced back at Rumble. Or, at least, call dibs on the outside.

After a drawn-out yawn, she trotted into the kitchen, faintly remembering that Fluttershy had left notes for them. The first task of the day was, of course, to make breakfast.

Simple enough

Scootaloo figured simple eggs and potatoes would be fine. It was something she could make from scratch, and was, as far as she remembered, safe for her… Rainbow Dash to eat.

It took a little bit to get the lay of the land, but soon enough, Scootaloo had fetched all of the equipment she would need. She retrieved eggs, potatoes, and seasonings, all which were stored inside the pantry. She wondered how much of this was brought for them, and how much Rainbow actually kept for herself.

Scootaloo didn’t need the carefully written instructions Twilight had left her, though it was nice of her to do do so.


She was on her back, the rattle of the pan against the floor making her cringe. Before she could even blink, a grey hoof stretched down to her up, Rumble’s eye wide in horror.

Rumble’s look of worry quickly shifted to one of irritation.

“What the hell are you doing?” he snarled. He had bags under his eyes, his muscled jaw lacked into one position.

“What does it look like? I-”

“Falling over and breaking shit?” Rumble growled, his hooves scraping the clouds as he past her and putting the pan back onto the counter. “I got this, okay?”

Scootaloo blinked. “W--what? No- Rumble, I’m fine, I just slipped-”

She stopped as Rumble gave her that look.

“You don’t need to be such a grump, Rumble,” Scootaloo said as she trotted back to the living room.

“It’s too fucking early to be dealing with this shit.”

Not half an hour ago, she couldn’t stand the idea of leaving his embrace. Now, however, she wouldn’t mind bucking that snarling snout of his.

“Scootaloo, I’m sorry. I shouldn-”

“Damn right you’re sorry!” Scootaloo stomped towards him. “You’re lucky I… like you, or one of these hooves woulda shut you up!”

Scootaloo glanced at the counter to notice Rumble had grabbed some other supplies. Gone were the eggs, replaced with biscuit batter and gravy mix.

“What are you...?”

“Biscuits and gravy,” Rumble said as he added milk to the simmering mixture. “Figured that’d be a little fancier than just eggs and potatoes.”

“W--what’s wrong with just that?”

“Nothing wrong with it.” Rumble shrugged. “But, if you wanna start things off on the right hoof. You gotta go all out, you know?”

You’re one to talk. Scootaloo sighed. “Can I help at least? It is my… idea.”

“Sure.” Rumble smirked. “You can clean off the couch and get her morning medication set up.”

As irritated as Scootaloo was, at least he’d listened to Twilight’s instructions.

Motionless. Emotionless. Rainbow Dash was completely unaware of how she managed to go from nearly dying in the snow-dressed pines of Foal Mountain, to her bedroom which smelled strongly of ammonia.

Rainbow Dash had to struggle against gravity just to turn her head. Somepony had placed a TV tray at her bedside with a cup and some napkins on top.

Glancing forward, she could see her right forehoof propped up and bandaged near the end. She didn't remember hurting herself. And, as she tried to think about it, she found couldn’t remember much of anything at all.


“I’m so sorry,...I was so mean, I said all of those stupid things and you almost…”

She shuddered.

“Because of me... “

Those last words echoed in her head as she felt nausea roll over her like an avalanche.

How long have I been here? Rainbow shut her eyes as the light filtering through the clouds threatened to blind her.

Rainbow’s eyes shot open. She didn’t care for the bloom or the blinding light, no. She finally had feeling beyond the endless tug from the center of Earth, and it was for all intents and purposes…


Her bandaged hoof itched. It wasn’t just a fleeting sensation, either. This bastard pulsed with the blood in her veins, and mixed with what little feeling she had up there to create a truly horrible sensation that made her retch violently.

Or maybe that was just the candy from the open bottle placed on the far side of her bedside stand.

“Fuck me,” Rainbow croaked as her voice cracked.

For what seemed like an eternity, she simply lie there. The terrible itch went from burning her hoof to searing into her psyche. She cared little about how she got here or why she was living in slow-motion, but she would be damned if this sadistic sensation was going to ruin her life further.

So she moved. Or, more appropriately, her back began to arch up, but her head refused to lift. A sharp pang in her neck sent her right back down.

“What the…!” Rainbow coughed. Whatever followed was obliterated by the onset of a nasty, gravelly, hoarse hackfest that was as relentless as that goddamn fucking itch.

Her heart raced as she heard sounds beyond her door. She winced as she jerked her head, just in time to see Thunderlane. He looked worried.

“You okay?”

What is he doing here?

“Rainbow Dash?”

Rainbow’s pained face curled into a smirk as Thunderlane inched closer, concern in his eyes.

She licked her lips. “Hey old flame, I’m glad you’re here, this itch is fuckin’ killing me.”

Thunderlane chortled as he rolled his eyes and trotted towards her. He said something about sherbet and losing marbles but Rainbow Dash didn’t remember ever having any.

“Yeah, right over there, handsome. Why don’t you do your throwaway a favor and give it a little scratch? While you’re at it, you know, maybe take care of another itch, too?”

Rumble stopped dead in his tracks. He felt only the churning of his stomach and the color draining from his face. He took a few steps back, screaming as he bumped into Scootaloo.

“They’ve got her on some good stuff, don’t they?” Rumble shuddered.

“Well, I mean she did call you handsome, so—”

“This was your idea. You handle it.

“What?” Scootaloo whined. “I don’t wanna clean up her gross bandages!”

“I made breakfast, and if I stay in there any longer, I’m gonna un-eat it.”

Scootaloo groaned as Rumble closed the door behind him, turning to see that Rainbow was staring at the ceiling again.

She carefully trotted over to Rainbow Dash as she grabbed some trash off the TV tray.

“So who am I, Rainbow?” Scootaloo asked. “Cloudchaser or Fluttershy?”

Crickets… and snoring.

Not three minutes after scarring Rumble for life, Rainbow was off to dreamland once again.

Scootaloo laughed in spite of herself. As Twilight’s instructions detailed, she unwrapped the bandages just enough to scrub the wounds, trying her best not to retch.

She was about to wrap up the trash bag and leave when she noticed something on Rainbow’s opposite nightstand. Setting the bag down, she trotted over to the other side of the bed and saw herself in the picture frame. It had to be from a couple years back… back when…

Scootaloo shivered as a flood of memories rushed her mind’s eye with a fury.

She glanced over at Rainbow Dash, who was out like a light. Had this been other circumstances, she would’ve been amused, but instead, Scootaloo felt a pang in her chest .

She shook her head and sighed. She watched Rainbow’s body rise and fall as she imagined her doing rainbooms over the moon. Scootaloo felt sick in more ways than one, and she didn’t bother looking back as she grabbed the rubbish and walked out of the room.

“When’s the wedding?”

“Shut up, birdbrain.” Scootaloo growled, “Pretty sure it was you she was babbling about.”

“Naw,” Rumble waved a dismissive hoof. “My brother, though… he’s got some serious explaining to do when I get back.”

“He never told you?”

“You knew?

“Well, I mean... I always heard about it when she had a stallion. Usually just Rarity gossiping about it or something. Never cared enough to know who though.”

“I guess I’m not surprised,” Rumble said, flipping through a comic book. “He had a mare for every day of the week it seemed like.”

Scootaloo bit back a quip and sat beside Rumble on the couch.

“What’cha readin’?”

Power Ponies,” Rumble replied. “Button sent a shit-ton of comics if you wanna read one. Just don’t get them wet or torn. He’ll literally kill you.”

“Sure he will.” Scootaloo smirked. “He so much as splits a hair, I’ll just sick my rottweiler on him.”

“Hilarious.” Rumble frowned. “You come up with that just now, or have you been working on that one since your trip?”

Scootaloo snickered as she leafed through some comics, carefully popped one from the stack, and scooted back to Rumble’s side.

After a couple minutes of following the escapades of a Daring Do steampunk knock-off, and her duel against mechanized yaks, Scootaloo found herself drawn back to what Rumble was reading. Setting her comic down, she began peeking over his shoulder.

Rumble glanced over. “Hey.”

Hey.” Scootaloo giggled, a dumb grin plastered on her face.

“You bored?”

“Naw, I’m Scootaloo.”

“Pfff, okay, Scootaloo.” Rumble rolled his eyes. “You know what I meant. Not a fan of bionic Yaks?”

“I dunno.” Scootaloo shrugged. “Just not in a reading mood, that’s all.”

“Did you already open our mail?”

“What mail?”

Rumble pointed towards the paper sack. “Fluttershy said there’s some invitations or something for us.”

“Oh, really?” Scootaloo hooped down from the couch and plucked one of the fancy envelopes from the bag, eyeing the glittered border with curiosity. She tore off the flap and pulled out a small card.

You are cordially invited to dinner and dancing at the Rich Estate. Saturday from 8PM-11PM. No RSVP required. Casual attire is encouraged.”

“Another party, huh?” Rumble asked.

“Looks like it-” Scootaloo read the other envelope. “Even you have an invite this time.”

“Oh, lucky me.” Rumble smirked. “We should totally go.”

“We can’t.”

“W...what do you mean we can’t?” Rumble laughed, “We just head out around seven, and-”

“What are we gonna do about her?” Scootaloo said, pointing towards Rainbow’s room.

“It’s almost as if we have a mare who wouldn’t mind coming here a little earlier than usual.”

“Rumble, no. That’s rude.”

“Are you serious right now?” Rumble face-hoofed. “You go from I’m not sure I wanna do this, to this is our life now in under an hour. Cool.”

“Hey, if you wanna just bail on me, then go for it.”

Rumble guffawed. “Okay, Cranky Doodle, you know that’s not how it’d go. You afraid of fresh air or something?”

No!” Scootaloo barked, stomping her hoof. “I promised that I would help take care of Rainbow Dash, and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do!”

“Because that involves so much-”

“You know what, Rumble?” Scootaloo galloped over to him, her fiery glare meeting his indifferent stare. “After the way you ran your bucking mouth this morning, I didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to piss me off again.”

Rumble carefully set the comic book on the end table, and with a sigh, got down from the couch, trotting past Scootaloo and towards the front door.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Rumble simply shook his head as he closed the door behind him. Scootaloo almost wished he had slammed it.

If you wanna bail on me, then go for it.” Rumble stuck his tongue out as he mimicked his grumpy friend.


Rumble loved the rush of morning air that whipped around him as he took off from Rainbow’s porch. He knew the house was a little musty inside, but the crisp air and the smell of Ponyville really made him realize how much he needed this.

While normally he’d love to go above the clouds, he couldn’t afford to be spotted by any of his brothers’ work pals. Banking right from above the town’s center, he headed north. The further from his house, the better.

It was still fairly early in the afternoon, with ponies trotting about Mane Street as the Friday Farmer’s Market began to set up for the afternoon traffic. Fluttering down not too far from Button’s house, he turned and wandered towards the crowds.

I wonder if Fluttershy is out here. He thought as he listened to an artichoke merchant hawk his wares, which included some funky-looking shears.


Rumble snarled. Yes, because I need another furious filly on my case.

Even though she didn’t say anything, Rumble could feel Apple Bloom staring at him.

She flinched as he whirred around, a stern glare upon his face.

“What do you want?”

“Well, I was just-”

“Look, I already got Scootaloo mad at me right now. You can bitch at me later if you want.”

As he began to trot away, she quickly followed, the sound of her hooves making Rumble’s ears flatten.

“I was actually wantin’ to apologize...”

Rumble stopped and turned around. “What?”

“I was maybe hopin’ we could… put the past behind us.”


“I feel awful.” Apple Bloom pawed the ground nervously. “All those rotten things I said about you. I was bein’ foolish, and- I just made it worse for you and Scoots, and well…”

Rumble gaped as tear trickled down her cheek and fell to the ground.

“Scootaloo’s my best friend. I don’t wanna lose her and Sweetie Belle over some stupid fight. I ain’t mad at you anymore, and we don’t gotta be friends if you don’t want, but I just wanted to say... I’m sorry.”

Rumble watched her for a moment, trying his darndest to process what had just happened. His mind still a bit scrambled from earlier.

“So, let me get this straight.” Rumble sighed, “You finally decide to apologize to me now… Why exactly? How am I supposed to just be okay with it?”

“I didn’t because I couldn’t, Rumble.”


“Applejack, she…” Apple Bloom swallowed. “I never thought she’d do me wrong; lie to me. She told me you were nothin’ but trouble, and… between that and… what happened at school, I just kinda believed her. I know that’s not really an excuse, but...”

I never thought my big sister would do me wrong, huh? Rumble shuddered. Switch the sex around and… dammit.

“I know what you mean, actually,” Rumble chucked darkly. “Wasn’t until my dad probably threatened to kill Thunderlane that he stopped being a total asshole to Scoots. It does suck. Never thought I’d have to be the bigger pony, but… I get it. I’m sorry, too.”

Apple Bloom didn’t know what to say, staring at her hooves instead.

“Look,” Rumble said finally. “I’m not accepting your apology, but I can’t hate you. Scootaloo still likes you, so as long as you don’t get on her bad side, you won’t have any problems from me.”

“Oh…” Apple Bloom shook a little. “I was hopin’ to maybe talk to her. Is she here?”

“Nope,” Rumble said quickly. “She’s up in the clouds, kicking up a storm.”

Rumble glanced back towards town. It appeared a couple more stalls had opened, and he was tempted to get away from this and grab a snack—maybe get some of that peace and quiet he had come here for.

Then he looked back at Apple Bloom who hadn’t moved. Pawing the ground, sniffling a little. Rumble swallowed. I’d better not regret this.

“You wanna see her?”


“I mean.” Rumble winced as he realized what he was about to do. “Maybe she’d be in a better mood if you two talked.”

“Well, sure, but I mean if she isn’t-”

“Wait. Right. Here.”

With that, Rumble shot upwards. Within moments, he was back on the porch of Rainbow’s house.

He didn’t see Scootaloo as he closed the door behind him, or as he crossed the living room, trotted past the kitchen, or as he passed through the hallway. Peeking through Rainbow Dash’s bedroom door, showed she wasn’t in there, either. He also noticed that Rainbow hadn’t touched her breakfast yet.

Well that’s irritating. Rumble grumbled internally as he knocked twice on Scootaloo’s door.

He was greeted by an adorably grumpy filly.

“What?” Scootaloo barked.

“You’re still mad at me?”

“You’re still not gonna apologize?”

“Scoots…” Rumble couldn’t help smirk, even as he sighed. “Look, I’m not a morning pony. I guess I never warned you about that. I’m sorry for being such an asshole.”

“Whatever,” Scootaloo said. “What do you want?”

“Apple Bloom needs to talk to you.” Rumble blinked, then continued, “I... also think I left my goggles in your room. If I’m doing all this flying today, I kinda need to see.”

Finally, Scootaloo opened the door all the way. She watched him with suspicion as he peeked around the room for his eyewear.

“How do you know she wants to talk to me?”

“Saw her when I was walkin’ through town,” Rumble said, digging through his duffel bag. “Told me she was sorry for being a jerk and stuff.”

“What about Applejack?”

Rumble glanced back at her with that coy smile she hated to love.

“If I tell you everything, you’ll have nothing to talk about.”

“Whatever.” Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “Just hurry up and find your stupid goggles already.”

“Pretty sure it was you who was swooning over ‘em when we were at my place- speak of Tartarus here they are-” Rumble fastened them over his eyes and headed towards the front door. “Either that or I just outed my side filly who’s also your stunt double.”

“Pushing it, Rumble,” Scootaloo growled as she clambered onto Rumble’s back.

You’re just mad because you’re doing the climbing this time.

Rumble snorted as he bit his tongue. Celestia forbid he give her an actual excuse to smack him.

He didn’t wait for her signal, instead, getting a kick out of her wild screams as he launched downwards, earthbound like a blazing meteor.

Scootaloo was quick to dismount as Rumble landed not far from where Apple Bloom was still waiting.

“I really want to kick your ass right now,” Scootaloo growled at Rumble as she trotted towards Apple Bloom.

“I’d love to see you try, caped crusader.” Rumble quipped, earning a glare but not much else.

Rumble watched from a distance as Apple Bloom apologized in length to Scootaloo, this time with many tears and firm hugs. He couldn’t quite make out what she was saying, but it seemed from Scootaloo’s relaxed posture and occasional laugh that they were getting along well.

“They’re probably going to be awhile,” Rumble said to himself as he watched ponies mingle near the center of town. One last look back to Scootaloo and Apple Bloom and then he began to trot towards the bustling crowds.

Rainbow opened her eyes once again, this time the sterile smell was accompanied by something delicious. Immediately, she looked towards the tray to see homemade biscuits and gravy on one of her paper plates, and a half-filled plastic cup. Grabbing it with a trembling hoof, she could see it was orange juice; some of it sloshing onto her blanket as she brought it to her snout.


After getting half of it down her throat, and the other on herself, Rainbow launched the cup towards the wall, yelping as the pain in her hoof renewed with insistent vigor.

Sitting up proved equally arduous, her shaking making the bed frame rattle as she pulled herself up. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to do this, but she wasn’t about to eat lying down.

She groaned as her stomach growled, the smell of brunch tormenting her. Slowly, she brought the plate to her lap, her mouth watering at the two halved biscuits dressed in gravy and tasty bits.

“Fluttershy really went all-out with this one,” Rainbow smirked as she opened her mouth to take a hearty bite, only for her lips to part the tiniest fraction.

What the buck happened to me?

Her bites were hardly nibbles, and she got more of the gravy on her muzzle than in her mouth, but she savored every little bit of flavor she could get.

Maybe it was just the food, but Rainbow Dash felt slightly better—enough to finally sit up and eat, anyway. Finally able to look out her bedroom window, she could see a light cloud cover above Ponyville, some of the intern weather squad keeping the front in check.

I guess I wasn’t wrong trusting Thunderlane to take care of things. Rainbow smiled to herself. I’ll be outta here in no time, but until then, I’m fine with this… extended nap.

Rainbow winced as her body began to ache again. Slowly, and almost as unsteadily as before, she managed to lie back down. In trying to glance up at the window, she noticed something on her nightstand.

Pushing the frame around, she made out a slightly younger Scootaloo sitting beside her. Taken a time before the betrayal, before the hatred and regret—before both of their worlds were turned upside down.


Rainbow’s head sunk back into the pillow as she frowned. She hadn’t seen her since that night in the hospital, where she had been hysterical.

Rainbow shuddered a little, wondering where the little orange filly was right now.

I hope she’s okay… Rainbow frowned. Everything I put her through…

My little filly….

Rainbow’s eyes shot open, she could’ve sworn she heard something. Somepony was somewhere in her house, and it infuriated her that she couldn’t determine where they were.

She jumped as she heard muffled speech somewhere in the living room—voices she couldn’t recognize. They seemed to be getting closer, until finally the door opened.

Scootaloo jumped a little as Rainbow’s wide eyes were fixed on her. Tongue tied, Scootaloo glanced to somepony behind her.

“You… okay?” Scootaloo managed to squeak out. “You… you need something to eat? She ate, right, Rumble-”

Rainbow blinked as Rumble popped into view. “How was it?”

“Rumble, she probably just woke up.” Scootaloo scowled. “Maybe she’s like you. Wouldn’t wanna, you know, annoy her or anything.”

“Oh, stop with that, will ya?”

“Scootaloo?” Rainbow croaked.

“Ye… Yeah?”

“You okay?”

Scootaloo’s ears flattened a little, taking a cautious step backwards as tears began to well up in her eyes.

“I was worried about you…”

Rainbow felt a pit in her stomach as Scootaloo quickly heel-turned and sped off into her room, slamming the door behind her. Rumble watched her go, then turned back to face Rainbow Dash.

Rumble swallowed. “Anything… you need anything? We can get lunch ready if you’re… hungry.”

“I’m good,” Rainbow lied, trying to wave it off, only to have the gesture trigger yet another coughing fit.

She watched as Rumble hurried out into the hallway. After a moment, he returned with what appeared to be a small bottle of cough suppressant.

“I guess you’re supposed to take this every five hours,” Rumble said as he cautiously approached her. “Uh… here.” Just as soon as he set the bottle on the tray, he trotted towards the door again.

Rainbow let out a heavy sigh. This was going to be a long night.

28. Icky Thump

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Yay!” Sweetie squealed. “Thank you so much, sis!”

“No need to thank me, Sweetie.” Rarity smiled as she trotted to her workshop. “To tell you the truth, I’ve been anticipating the day you girls would have your first ‘fancy party’.”

“I already asked… him,” Sweetie blushed slightly before continuing, “and he’s gonna go with me.”

“Oh?” Rarity grinned. “A date?”

“Uh huh.” Sweetie nodded, her mane bobbing back and forth. “You remember Button Mash, don’t you?”

“Ah.” Rarity’s smile wavered only briefly. “Rumble’s friend? The…”

“Yeah, he is sort of a potty mouth.” Sweetie averted her eyes. “But he’s really sweet, sis.”

“I’m sure he is, dear.” Rarity smiled. “Do you know if he’s getting something tailored? You can’t be the only one arriving in style, you know.”

“Now that you mention it…” Sweetie put a hoof to her chin, a lightbulb going off in her head. “I don’t know, but I can go ask him!”

“Don’t worry, Sweetie.” Rarity watched as her little sister dashed down the stairs and out the door. “You’ve got... plenty of time.”

Rarity sighed as she sat at her workbench, her eyes set upon an inanimate sewing machine.

She couldn’t help but giggle a little. Rarity glanced over at an undressed poniquin which basked in the sunlight that poured through the room’s towering windows.

With just her mind’s eye, she could already picture her sister’s gown—A glittery azure rump, the saddle and seams lined with sky blue trim; the entire dress was elegantly bordered by a neat precession of sapphire studs. Maybe a color-coded floral wreath, too, and maybe…

A knock at the boutique door.

“Well, that was quick,” Rarity said to herself as she poked her head into the hallway. She took another step, calling out for whoever to come in.

Curiosity and the slightest tinge of concern brought her to the front door, nopony having responded to her call. Empty space greeted her as she opened the door, not until she looked up.

“Oh, hello Miss Hooves.” Rarity smiled. “What brings you here so early in the afternoon?”

The mail mare smiled meekly as she fluttered to the ground, leafing out an envelope spotted with stamps.

“Well, you see…” Derpy laughed nervously. “I couldn't read this fancy writing on the front, and… there were a lot of stamps. It’s for you, though. The very... unhappy stallion at the Manehattan Post Office said so…. very loudly.”

“Oh…” Rarity said as she magicked the envelope towards her. “Well, thank you very much, Derpy. Your work is always appreciated.”

“No problem, ma’am.” Derpy smiled as she clumsily flew away.

Rarity chuckled as she closed the door behind her, turned, and then opened the envelope. Indeed it had stamps from Manehatten, Fillydelphia, Baltimare… and somehow Las Pegasus, before a slap dashed Ponyville stamp sat crooked at the end of the row.

Well, this certainly had quite the journey, didn’t it? Rarity scanned from the stamps and postage to the recipient. Her smile quickly faded.


Carousel Boutique

Ponyville, Equestria

Dear, Scootaloo…

I was worried about you.

Scootaloo shuddered again, the chill decaying into pricks as she sank further into her comforter.

Her eyes trembled as she shut them tight, the sunlight seering flashes of neon through the blindness.

Why did you worry about me? I was so mean to you… I don’t deserve this.

Scootaloo yelped as there came a knocking at her bedroom door. Before she could bring herself to object, Rumble’s hoofsteps already approached her bedside.

“You okay, Scoots?” She shuddered at Rumble’s casual approach. “You seemed a little spooked.”

“Do I look okay, Rumble?” Scootaloo hissed.

“No, you look beautiful.”

She flinched once again as Rumble hopped onto her bed, and lie down beside her, curiosity in his eyes.

“You still mad at her about that scarf?”

Scootaloo shook her head vigorously.

“Yes, no, maybe so?” Rumble unfurled his wing over her, flinching as Scootaloo slapped it away.

“Leave me alone, Rumble,” Scootaloo growled, turning away from him with a hmph.

Scootaloo stared at the wall opposite her bed, which was adorned with half-torn Wonderbolts posters, some old drawings, pictures, everything looked out of place. None of it belonged.

Scootaloo swallowed past a lump in her throat. “Rumble?”


Finally, Scootaloo let his wing drape over her. “What do I do?”

“I dunno, sour snout,” Rumble yawned. “Maybe stop being such a grump?”

“I am not a grump!” Scootaloo pouted, glaring at Rumble’s smile. “I just…"

“Said that you wanna take care of her. You said that, huh?”

“I did, but…” Scootaloo shifted uneasily. “I was a bad pony. I said mean things, and R-Rainbow got really hurt and it was all my fault.”

As Scootaloo began to cry, she felt Rumble’s wing draw her closer. “Remember what happened with my brother?”

Scootaloo nodded.

“I think Rainbow’s kinda like that.”


Scootaloo turned away from Rumble once again, now looking at the photograph on her dresser—a smiling Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo right after a Sisterhooves Social. She was happy, then. Rainbow Dash was her hero, and she was still a blank… slate.

Why did you forget about my cute-ceañera and birthday?

Why were you so selfish?

Why do you care so much that I’m your daughter?

Why did you almost freeze to death trying to find my scarf?


Why am I still so angry?

Scootaloo closed her eyes as she let out a long sigh, snuggling firmly up to Rumble.

“Hey Rumble?”


She turned to face him again, her indifference now a smile.

“We still going to Diamond’s party tonight?”

“I don’t know, are we?”

Scootaloo nodded.

“Sweet.” Rumble smiled as he hopped from the bed and trotted to the door. “I kinda already told Fluttershy we were going, so that would’ve been kinda awkward if you said no.”

“Wait, what?” Scootaloo blinked, “When did you do that?”

“When you were talking to Apple Bloom, remember?”


Scootaloo followed Rumble into the living room, and watched as he pulled a large box out of one of his saddlebags.

“Bubbles, huh?” Scootaloo smiled. “You really liked it?”

Rumble blushed a little. “I mean, it’s okay, I guess. I figured you liked it, so I had Button let me borrow his game.”

“D’aww, you’re so thoughtful,” Scootaloo snickered.

“Whatever, Louise.” Rumble rolled his eyes as he rolled the dice.

Rumble rolled five, and advanced his little blue plastic peg counterclockwise.


Button Mash mashed buttons as his texture-mapped teammates were terrorized by the towering terror.

“Excuse me?”

He flinched as he heard the faint irritation of his distant mother.

“N-Nothing mom!” Button hollered.

Button sighed as she remained silent. Back to the task at hoof. Five hours until he had to take this back to Buckbuster, and there was no way he was returning a game unbeaten.

His body tensed as his vision laser focused as he dodged fireballs and magic attacks. His party was down for the count.

“Damn it,” Button muttered, under his breath this time. “These bastards are giving me me a real challenge now, huh?”

“Button!” his mother yelled.

Button blinked. He missed it, a screen-clearing shockwave that put an end to his valiant quest.


“If you didn’t have somepony at the door, the next thing coming out of that mouth would be an apology to Sweetie Belle for missing the party.”

Button shuddered as he set his controller down and stood, trotting towards the front door with nothing short of irritation written all over his face.

I swear to Celestia, if it’s the mail pony… Button growled as he threw open the door.

“Eep!” Sweetie Belle squeaked as the door slammed against interior wall.

All color drained from Button’s face.

“Oh sh-- I’m s-so sorry!” He scrambled and stammered as Sweetie Belle simply giggled. He could feel his mother’s eyes burn into the back of his head.

“Hey.” Sweetie smiled, her hooves pawed at the ground.

“Hi…” Button cleared his throat. “Is it time to go already?”

“No, I just-”

“Cool,” Button said, not bothering to wait as he trotted back towards his room. “What’s up?”

He glanced over in time to see Sweetie Belle enter his room.

“My sister wants us at the boutique soon so she can get us fitted and dressed.”

“What for?” Button said as he refocused on the television.

He could hear Sweetie sigh. “The… party?”

“Oh. Why-- Dirty bitch, that little fucking pus--”

Suddenly, the screen went black as his blood ran cold. Button’s eye twitched as hot breath and a stern voice assaulted his ear.

“Enough,” his mother growled. “Stop being disrespectful and listen to her, or you won’t have anything to play for a month. You understand me?”

By the time he’d turned around, she had left, leaving a slightly uncomfortable Sweetie Belle in his room.

Button bit back a curse and made eye contact. Sweetie smiled.

“So like I was saying, my sister is gonna make matching garments for you and me for Diamond’s party. It takes her a little while, so we gotta leave early.”

“Right…” Button scratched his ear with a hoof. “Like now?”

Sweetie glanced back, then nodded. “Probably a good idea. For your sake, at least.”

Button swallowed. “Sounds good, then.”

The two made their way into the kitchen, Button keeping his gaze to the floor. No sense in risking making eye contact with the den mother when he knew the house like the back of his hoof.


Resistance was futile, it seemed.

“Uh hu--”

“Look at me.”

Button did.

WIthout a word, she trotted to the door and stood beside it.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Button shrunk slightly. “...No?”

His mom sighed. “A gentlecolt doesn’t make his date get the door.”

Button sighed, making sure not to leave another mark in the wall this time.

“Much better. Love you, son~” His mother practically cooed. “Have fun, you two!”

“Okay, bye!” Button forced a smile as he bit back a remark.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Sweetie said as Button closed the door behind them.

Part of him knew that his return home wasn’t going to be a warm one.

Once they reached the edge of town, Button relaxed a little. He finally glanced over to Sweetie Belle, who was watching him curiously.

“You okay?” she asked. “You seemed a little… uptight.”

“Sorry,” Button said. “She can just be so embarrassing sometimes!”

“At least she’s around,” Sweetie replied.

“Wh…” Button’s mouth was agape. Sweetie blinked once or twice before her eyes widened.

“I mean, here right now--they’re on vacation… they always are.”

“That’s okay,” Button blurted, smiling nervously as he scrambled words in his head. “We’re going to a fancy party at a flashy mansion with some famous ponies. It’ll be fun!”

“Yeah.” Sweetie smiled. “I’m glad I have somepony to go with. Th…” she suddenly blushed and looked away. “Thanks for being my date.”

“Don’t mention it.” Button heard himself say. “I mean…”

Button broke eye contact, his nerves playing hide and seek as they passed through a bustling Ponyville. FInally, they arrived at Carousel Boutique.

He had passed this place a couple times with his parents, but this was the first time he’d ever set hoof inside. That was one of many things that rattled his nerves as they approached the door.

Sweetie cleared her throat, and he nearly yelped.

Even as she giggled at him, she had an expectant look.

After a moment, Button understood, sighed, and trotted to the door, knocking three times. Just as he stepped back, the door flew open, causing him to scramble back slightly.

“Well hello, Sweetie, Button Mash,” Rarity greeted, her eyes fixed on Button. “I understand you are the fine gentlecolt who will be accompanying my sister this evening?”

“That’s right,” Button replied unsteadily.

“Splendid!” Rarity clopped her hooves together. “I’ve only heard the positive things, I promise. I won’t keep you two long.”

As Button followed Sweetie inside, he noticed Rarity staring out the door a little longer before closing it.

“No Scootaloo and Rumble?” Rarity asked as Button admired the double-high ceilings and the dressed poniquins and vanities; his eyes fixed on the large display stage.

“I haven’t seen Scoots since she was here last,” Sweetie said.

“No worries dear, I’m sure they’ll be heading out soon enough,” Rarity said as she lead the pair upstairs and to her workroom.

Scootaloo listened to the clock as it ticked and tocked; Rumble sat beside her reading a comic about some cave dwellers and a spooky elevator.

After losing five games of Bubbles to a boisterous colt who insisted he hadn’t played since the clubhouse, she wanted a little time to just kick back, and relax.

“Hey, Scoots?” Rumble looked at her from behind his graphic novel. The cutesy cover art contrasting with his serious expression.

“What’s up?”

“We should probably get ready to go, Celestia’s starting to set the sun.” He smiled. “Why don’t you go check on Rainbow Dash one last time?”

Scootaloo’s eyes narrowed. “Why me?”

“Because,” Rumble said with a frown, “I wasn’t a fan of being hit on by my fillyfriend’s mom. Wouldn’t want me to lose my appetite before we eat rich ponies’ food.”

“You think they’ll have a buffet?” Scootaloo asked, hopping down from the couch.

“I’ll be pissed if they don’t.” Rumble smirked. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

Suddenly, his smirk fell. “Uh… actually, matter fact, I don’t think she has eaten since breakfast, either.”

“Shoot, I totally forgot!” Scootaloo panicked as she scampered into the kitchen.

Rumble watched from the entryway as Scootaloo rushed around the kitchen, grabbing a plate, some bread, and eggs, a saucepan, and a bowl.

“Simmer down, scuttlebucket.” Rumble remarked as he watched her fiddle with the stovetop.

“Don’t call me that,” Scootaloo growled.

“What?” Rumble giggled. “Why can’t I call you ‘scuttlebucket’?”

“That’s just weird.” Scootaloo scoffed.

Rumble looked at her incredulously. “But Button calls you that all the time?”

“Exactly,” Scootaloo replied.

“So not only is he your best colt friend, but he also gets to have his own nickname for you?”

Scootaloo glanced back, the slightest grin on her face.

“You get to be my coltfriend and… all the mushy stuff that comes with it. Besides, you can me ‘Louise’, so that counts. Babe.

Rumble shuddered. “Yuck! Don’t call me that.”

“Yuck?” Scootaloo snorted. “Isn’t that what mares and stallions call each other?”

“Well yeah, but…” Rumble blushed. “Doesn’t that make it a little obvious that we’re kinda breaking the rules?”

Scootaloo triumphantly presented a plate of de-crusted sandwiches. “Whatever, foal.”

Rumble licked his lips. “Egg salad sandwiches? Nice.”

“Not for you, though.” Scootaloo teased as she trotted into the hallway. “There’s some baby food in the milk crate.”

“Hilarious,” Rumble growled in time with his stomach.

Scootaloo forgot how musty and dreary Rainbow’s room was. She crinkled her nose as she gently closed the door behind her.

She cautiously crept towards the beside, balancing the plate on her back. She went to grab it with her mouth when a weak cough startled her.


Scootaloo could’ve sworn she’d heard something faint. Her ears perked as she stared at Rainbow Dash, her seemingly lifeless body brought to life by the smell of food. She began to pull herself up.

Without a second thought, Scootaloo set the plate on the tray, and rushed to the end of the bed. She helped Rainbow up by wrapping her hooves around Rainbow’s middle, grunting with the effort.

“Thanks, kid,” Rainbow croaked. “It’s a bit of a pain sitting up… literally.”

“I bet…” Scootaloo trailed, suddenly so nervous she couldn’t make eye contact. She cleared her throat. “You hungry? I… m-made you a-”

“Smells good.” Rainbow smiled as she shakily plucked one of the halves from the plate.

Scootaloo watched Rainbow struggle to hold steady, both herself and the sandwich. Every bite, no—nibble was a process, typically involving more and more of the egg paste decorating her muzzle, than actually touching her taste buds.

She cringed a little, but at the same time, she couldn’t bring herself to offer assistance. Scootaloo began to turn to leave, her job being done.

“You made this?”

Scootaloo turned around. “Uh-huh.”

“It’s good, Scoots.” Rainbow smiled. “I never knew you cooked.”

Of course you didn’t.

Scootaloo winced as she felt many things. A little bit of pride welled up, but it was muscled aside by frustration. She wanted so much to yell at her about how if she hadn’t had her dumb head in the clouds, she wouldn’t be bitten and bandaged.

Yet she sat silently, glancing down to see her hooves not far from some discarded tissue wads.


“Yeah.” Scootaloo nodded. “I do.”

Rainbow would trade between messy bites of her sandwich, and sloshy sips of water, all the while not saying anything, or even looking at her.

Scootaloo glanced around the room a little, noticing a gleam just through the darkness: a trophy case, vanity, and the hinges of a closet door.

“So, I hear you two are headed... to a party?”

Scootaloo whirred back around, Rainbow looking directly at her with red dead eyes, face betraying no emotion.

For a moment, Scootaloo didn’t say anything, opening her mouth to speak, only to close it again. The scent of sickness was replaced with a slight hint of body odor.

“How did you…” Scootaloo trailed as she heard herself speak.

“Paper-thin walls, kiddo,” Rainbow coughed. “I hear ya all the time, whether I want to, or not.”

Scootaloo’s face burned a brilliant red as Rainbow burst into laughter, which quickly slipped into a fit of wheezy, phlegmy hacking.

She winced every time the coughing fits started. Just as Rainbow took a wheezy breath, another burst of congestion and hacking, each sounding more painful and more hoarse. Rainbow held a hoof against her chest, which lurched back and forth each second.

Rainbow lie back down, groaning as she settled back into her mattress.

Scootaloo’s ears twitched as she heard Rumble rummaging through the kitchen cabinets. She glanced back, the door was shut. She felt a slight chill down her spine.

She wasn’t kidding, was she?

“Could be worse.” Scootaloo barely heard her now. “I’d take this shit over icky thumps any day.”

Scootaloo hated the silence, she glanced between her hooves and the door as she waited for Rainbow to speak again.

“Once I’m over this crud, I’m gonna make things right. You deserve a role model… a… mother who… who you can be proud of. Somepony you know who’s got your back, and then some. I’ve been a terrible friend, and an even worse sister… but I swear, I’ll be the best mom I can.”

Rainbow paused again, taking a deep breath as she stared at the ceiling. Scootaloo thought to say something, anything at all—but she came up empty once again. Then, she straightened up, swallowed, and stood on all fours.

“You’d better.”

Or I’m done.

She didn’t wait for a response. Turning around, Scootaloo trotted towards the door. She shut her eyes as she closed it behind her as the bright light of the hallway assaulting her vision. Nonetheless, she strode into the hallway.

“Come on, Rumble,” Scootaloo called into the kitchen. “Let’s go.”

29. Diamonds

View Online

Rumble said nothing as he careened through the residentials of Ponyville, his perturbed passenger holding on a little too tight. As much as he wanted to ask, he figured it’d be best to let Scootaloo talk about it when she was ready. He knew better than to agitate her when she was like this… or at least, he did now.

As he flew past his own home, he realized something, something which made his stomach knot up.

“Hey, Scootaloo?” Rumble asked, not bothering to turn his head.

“Huh?” Scootaloo muttered. She didn’t bark, but Rumble flinched anyway.

“Um… where am I taking us?”

Scootaloo’s death grip loosened enough to let Rumble breath a little.“Rarity’s, I guess.”

Rumble slowed down, the Friendship Castle towering against the horizon. “So I’m going the wrong way?”

Scootaloo chuckled. “Totally, dude.”

Rumble groaned as he rolled his eyes and altered his flight path. Despite the irritation, he breathed a sigh of relief. Whatever had ruffled her feathers earlier, she didn’t seem to care anymore.

“You excited?”

“Mmhm.” he could feel Scootaloo nod against him. “I can’t wait to see what Sweetie Belle’s wearing.”

“Like, a dress?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo giggled. “Rarity would die before she let Sweetie go to a party without looking absolutely fabulous.

Rumble smiled a little as he flew back over downtown Ponyville, the setting sun above and the busy street below a relaxing sight.

“Does that mean we have to dress up too?” Rumble asked as he fluttered to the ground before the Carousel Boutique. “I got nothin’ nice.”

“I bet she’s got ya covered.” Scootaloo smirked as she trotted to the door and knocked. “Or if she doesn’t, she will.”

Scootaloo shrieked as the door swung open, the blinding white lights of Carousel Boutique damn-near blinding them.

“You made it!” Sweetie Belle stepped out with a smile almost as radiant as her backdrop.

Rumble tried his hardest not to stare, but between the elegant form of the dress, and the filly it was on, the colorful creation of tapestry and expert craftsmanship held his attention a little too long.

Soon the brilliance of the filly before him was overpowered by the heated stare of an unamused Scootaloo.

“Hey, Rumble,” Scootaloo deadpanned, stepping into his line of sight. “I’m over here.”

Button suddenly appeared beside her. “Yeah, Fumble, quit staring at my filly. You got one already.”

Sweetie cleared her throat and narrowed her eyes. “Your filly?”

Button spun around. “Wh-I uh…”

“Ooh, I’m so glad you two decided to drop by!” Rarity cut through the tension like a hot knife through butter. “Do come in. I’m almost done with Button’s garment, then I can get started on you two.”

Rumble followed the others as they trotted into the Boutique's foyer. With his eyes adjusting to the light, his nose picked up the scent of sweet, sugary things, and the overpowering scent of perfume.

His eyes followed Scootaloo as she strut past him, blinking as the tip of her tail lightly brushed his face. It made him smirk a little. She’s totally jealous right now.

“Your dress is amazing, Sweetie Belle,” Scootaloo said. “Did she really do that today?”

“Not even today,” Sweetie rolled her eyes as Button followed her sister back to the workroom. “She’s crazy when she’s got a deadline. Both crazy talented, and, well…” she shrugged. “Y’know.”

Rumble slowly trotted towards them, stealing a glance at the kitchen, where he could just make out some cheesecake sliders.

“I wonder what she’s making for Button,” he asked, being sure to keep his sights set on his filly this time.

“Wonder no more!” Rarity announced from the balcony. With a dramatic wave of her hoof, she revealed the brand-new Button Mash. Gone was his signature cap, his unkempt mane swept back slightly. A dark green suit with a cooler mint trim spanned his body, ending with coattails lined with a sliver of silver.

Rumble couldn’t help but snicker as Button’s disinterest, contrasted with Sweetie Belle oohing and ahhing at every minor detail of his attire.

“Lookin’ sharp, stud muffin.” Rumble jabbed Button in the side as he strode by.

“Yeah, laugh it up, fillyface,” Button deadpanned. “You get to play dress up too.”

Sure enough, Rarity cleared her throat.

“I suppose you wouldn’t mind coming with me for a moment, Scootaloo? I think it would be best if we finished yours now, as it’s likely to be a bit more involved.”

Rarity watched as Scootaloo trotted through the door, closing it behind her with her magic. Why the filly’s presence suddenly brought down her mood wasn’t totally beyond her.

For a moment, Rarity simply sat there, staring at the mess her hard work had produced so far: all the unspoiled yarn, errant bits of cut fabric, various beads, diamonds, and other things.

She saw Scootaloo staring at her, and jumped a little, clearing her throat as she trotted towards her workstation.

“Normally, when I design formal wear, I tend to keep the theme and scheme somewhat contiguous and consistent,” Rarity heard herself say. “But that simply will not do for you girls. You need… something special.”

She heard her voice shake, felt that lump in her throat. Scootaloo’s eyes seemed to show that she sensed it.

Rarity, you need to tell her. Her brow furrowed as she tried to push aside her thoughts with busywork. It isn’t right to keep her in the dark, you promised, remember?

Scootaloo’s eyes followed her as Rarity’s magic wrapped measuring tape around her neck, midsection and across her back. Rarity caught her eyes glistening between taking notes on her clipboard.

Even if you promised transparency… this is a special occasion. Souring her spirits with something of such magnitude simply isn’t fair.

Carefully, she selected a palette of fabrics that danced above Scootaloo’s head, each one brought to her side like a swatch against a painted wall.

“Is everything alright, Rarity?”

Her chest hitched.

“O-of course, darling. Whatever would make you suggest otherwise?” Rarity didn’t know why she bothered trying to fake it. “Tell me, which do you prefer? Lavender or Lilac?”

Even as she said those words, Rarity felt the pit in her stomach collapse into a bottomless sinkhole. She tasted nothing but bitterness and hollow words, felt nothing but terrible. And, while she was determined not to bring down her little sister, she was equally unaccustomed to this level of guilt. She shook her head.

It seemed, to her relief, that Scootaloo gave up on pressing her, now glancing between the two polyester sheets floating above her.


“Excellent choice.” Rarity smiled.

I’m sorry.

While Scootaloo too had a floral wreath, her dress was layered: a lilac organza bow; a lavender rump lined with hoof-woven white trim ended with a parting, rounded notch at the midsection, with a slightly darker shade of purple for the waistband, itself made of silk.

Rarity trotted around for the umpteenth time with a ruler floating before her, scrutinizing every seam and stitch. She swallowed, a chill making her shiver. If Scootaloo noticed, she didn’t say, much to Rarity’s relief.

“Well?” Rarity smiled nervously as she swiveled a mirror into Scootaloo’s view. “What do you think? Don’t be afraid to be honest with me. I’m not satisfied until you are.”

She watched as Scootaloo’s face played host to many different emotions, all fighting valiantly for supremacy.

“This is… incredible, si-- Rarity.” Scootaloo blushed. “I-I… I really like it.”

That smile, born of unbridled happiness, that tender voice which spoke words of genuine, heartfelt appreciation—Rarity turned away as she fought back tears.

“I’m… very glad, Scootaloo.”

You… look simply beautiful.

Wiping her eyes, she lead Scootaloo towards the door, stopping just before her magic surrounded the handle. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the folded letter, sitting in a vacant cubby. She opened her mouth to speak.


“Y-yes, Scootaloo?” Rarity stammered.

“Thank you.”

Rarity turned to see Scootaloo looking at the floor, her hoof pawing the carpet nervously.

“No need, dear.” Rarity smiled. “You know I’d do anything for you. No sister of mine is going to show up to a party like this without the finest garments. Now come along, I believe there’s somepony awaiting your return.”

Rumble took the fifth bite of his fourth cup of cheesecake, growing rather bored.

“Don’t eat too much,” Button smirked. “Remember how you destroyed my toilet after eating half of my birthday cake last year?”

Rumble’s eyes narrowed. “Wasn’t that you?”

“Naw man.” Button’s smirk never wavered. “It was both of us. I remember ‘cause my mom was fuckin’ pissed.”

“Hey, potty mouth.” Rumble smiled. “I don’t think Sweetie Belle likes dirty words.”

Button glanced behind him, Sweetie Belle still adjusting some jewelry at one of the vanities across the room.

“Since when do you care about keeping it clean?”

“I don’t have to because Scootaloo doesn’t give a shit,” Rumble replied, taking another bite. “Not when we’re alone, anyway.”

“Speak of the devil…” Button began. Rumble noticed him trail off as he trotted into the foyer.

“While it did take a little longer than I anticipated…” Rarity’s voice called out from the top of the stairs.

Whatever Rarity said once Scootaloo trotted into view, Rumble couldn’t care to comprehend. Sauntering downstairs was a filly whose beauty was unparalleled. Every follicle of fur and every strand of her dress seemed to glow like a magical aura as she floated towards him.

He wouldn’t have noticed the drool if Button hadn’t nudged him.

“So?” Scootaloo looked away, blushing slightly. “How… what do you think?”

“You…” Rumble’s mouth hung open. “...look incredible.”

“I think he likes it,” Button said. “I mean, not that you couldn’t tell, or anything.”

Scootaloo smiled, finally bringing her gaze to meet his. Before he could blink, Scootaloo’s muzzle booped his own, just close enough…


Scootaloo stepped back suddenly, blushing furiously as Rarity came into view.

“Last, but certainly not least,” She gave a firm nod to Rumble. “This lovely filly of yours needs somepony to complement her style, does she not?”

“I think so.” Sweetie took one cautious step forward, before going into a full trot towards a part of Ponyville they rarely frequented.

Casual houses gave way to verdant foliage and vibrant flowers, decorated estates set far behind a formation of privacy shrubs.

“Alright,” Scootaloo said. “But if we get lost, remember, it’s all your fault.”

“How are we gonna get lost in Ponyville?” Button snickered.

“I guess you can burn orange juice,” Scootaloo smirked. “So nothing’s impossible. Right, Sweetie?”

“Sounds like you’re gonna have to learn how to cook, Button.” Rumble’s grin widened as Sweetie Belle glared daggers at both him and his date, who simply laughed it off.

“That’s not funny,” Sweetie muttered. “I’m still learning.”

“Looks like he is too,” Rumble quipped, glancing back at Button Mash who simply watched as Sweetie was verbally skewered.

“What?” Button blinked, flinching as his eyes met Sweetie Belle’s.

After a couple minutes of peeking through iron gates and dead ends, they finally came upon the Rich Estate, golden lights pouring out through the windows of the lower-floor as crystalline violins sounded from within.

“I think we found it,” Scootaloo said as they passed the open gates.

“Even if we didn’t,” Button said. “They’ve got music, and I swear I smell pizza and hayburgers.”

“Of course that’s the first thing you notice,” Rumble said.

“Probably better than noticing the first filly in the room, and getting in trouble again,” Button remarked.

“Don’t worry,” Scootaloo said, pulling Rumble a little too close. “He won’t.”

Rumble put a wing around her as they headed up the front steps, only to be shouldered past by a visibly nervous Button.

“You got it, Mishmash?” Rumble asked as he stood beside him.

“I have to.” Button grimaced.


“Don’t ask.” Button rolled his eyes, wrapping on the door, once, twice, thrice-

Everypony was nearly knocked on their flanks by the an explosion of light and sound, their nerves rattled.

Looking up, they saw a formidable stallion towering above them.


Rumble glanced over as Button looked like a deer in headlights, sweating bullets.

Before he could answer, a much smaller pony poked her head from behind the door.

“These are friends of mine. They’re cool,” Diamond said, dismissing the stallion back into the mayhem of the mansion.

“Party’s already started,” she beamed. “Our cook just brought out some imported daffodils, they’re to die for. Come in, come in.”

Even the foyer was awash with color, fillies and colts both known and unknown scuttling about. As Rumble took in the brilliant lights and the chatter of who knows how many foals, he could hear Diamond greeting the girls.

“Let me guess... Rarity?” Diamond gushed as she admired Scootaloo’s dress.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo nodded. “She did all of our…uh...”

“Attire,” Sweetie Belle finished.

Stunning, girls!” Diamond grinned. “I’d love to stay and play catch up, but, you know, it’s my party, and I gotta make my rounds. Make sure to enjoy yourselves!”

“Ooh!” Diamond stopped mid-trot, bright eyes aimed at Sweetie Belle. “I’m pretty sure the DJ has a microphone, maybe you could sing for us later! You’re taking classes with the Countess Coloratura, right?”

“Pfff.” Button waved. “Since when does Sweetie Belle sing?”

His ears dropped as silence hung over his head. He swallowed nervously as he looked around. The only one who wasn’t either bewildered or annoyed was Rumble, whose face was contorted comically.

“Well…” Diamond struggled to keep a straight face herself. “Looks like you guys have some catching up to do, anyway. Ta-ta for now!”

Finally, Rumble burst out laughing, turning away from the dirty look Button cast his way.

“How... do you not know that?” Rumble wiped the tears from his eyes. “Never seen her cutie mark before?”

“Well… I…” Button shrunk as the heat from Sweetie’s glare attempted to melt him on the spot.

Keep it up, and he’ll be a gelding before the party’s over. Scootaloo smirked to herself as she rest a hoof on Sweetie’s shoulder. “Of course he knew. He just forgot, a slip of the tongue, right?”

Button didn’t dare respond.

“Hey, babe.” Scootaloo turned to Rumble. “Wanna go check out the living room real quick? I also heard she’s got a pretty crazy rec room.”

“Sounds good… Louise.” Rumble put a hoof around hers as the set off for the west wing.

Button watched as they disappeared, leaving a slight chill in their wake.

“I’m… really sorry, Sweetie, I—”

“It’s fine.” Sweetie Belle managed a small smile. “Come on, let’s go look around. Scootaloo said something about a rec room, maybe it has—”


Sweetie giggled. “Yeah. Games.”

Button eased up a little as Sweetie trot beside him, carefully wandering between the dancing foals and groups of chatty yearlings.

“This place is huge,” Button said, glancing at the high chandeliers.

“I know,” Sweetie Belle said. “I can’t imagine having to clean this place.”

“Pretty sure they got maids for that.” Button stopped as he eyed a table set with bowls of chips and exquisite dip. “Care if we make a quick detour? I’m hungry.”

“Sure.” Sweetie nodded, following him to the table, watching as Button sampled just about everything.

“I think I like this artichoke dip the best,” Button exclaimed as he filled a small paper bowl with several chips glazed in it.

“You know they’re dips, not lipstick, right?” Sweetie giggled at Button’s soiled snout. Her smile faded as Button rose his hoof to wipe it.

“Eek! No!” Sweetie swat his hoof away, rushing to find a napkin. “You can’t get your suit dirty, my sister will be furious. Here. I’ll get it.”

Button flinched at Sweetie’s erratic levitation, poking him in the eye with the napkin as she attempted to wipe his snout.

“Sorry.” Sweetie looked away. “I’m still figuring out the whole precise part of levitating.”

“Does that mean we’re even now?”

“Not even close.”

As they filed into the dining hall, Sweetie instantly noticed Scootaloo trotting behind Rumble.

“Good evening, everypony,” Diamond smiled as she stood at the end of the table. “Hopefully tonight has been nothing short of a good time. We were supposed to have eaten earlier, but there were some… setbacks.”

Each seat had a tagged gift bag resting atop it, the gathering of foals resembled a game of musical chairs as they circled the table in search of their spot. Scootaloo was assigned next to Rumble and Sweetie next to Button. The two pairs were placed across from each other, adjacent to the head of the table.

Scootaloo admired the elaborate spread before them. From fruit salad featuring exotic fruits of the Crystal Empire, to steel-cut oatmeal topped with Yakyakisthani apples. Her view was obstructed by Rumble’s hoof reaching for his eating fork; she quickly batted it away.

Just as Scootaloo was going to speak, a glass was struck twice with a fork

“I doubt I need any formal introduction, it’s my party after all,” she snorted. “But it would be criminal of me not to introduce you to these two gorgeous fillies beside me.” She smiled. “Not too long ago, I was a selfish, spoiled filly who was far more interested in frivolities and flare than friendship. I, uh… I was a brat for lack of a better word.”

A slight rumble of laughter let her glance around.

“In truth, I was a lonely loser who was afraid to be myself, to be anything other than my mother’s daughter. That was of course, until these fine young mares showed me that there was more to life than just status and success. There’s also sincerity and sisterhood. That’s what takes a pony from just being refined, to being respected… and respectful.”

Scootaloo watched as Diamond glanced away, though only for a second.

“No words can truly express how grateful I am for what the Cutie Mark Crusaders did for me. Tonight, I get to be in the company of all of my friends for a simply terrific evening, and I have you girls to thank for it. So,” she raised her glass before continuing, “tonight, I dedicate this toast to friendship, for it is truly the most valuable thing in the world!”

The clank of flutes, filled to the rim with sparkling cider, was quickly followed by the clatter of utensils.

Scootaloo eased into her chair and watched as Diamond and Sweetie chatted with each other, smiling as she remembered that afternoon. A day which began as a simple class election, and turned into what would be their final crusade.

At that moment, when Diamond Tiara went from foe to friend, the moment she and her friends were given the very thing they had been pining for since they first met—that sweet sense of accomplishment; it all came back to her.

“It’s funny,” Button said as he scraped together some careful slices of apple, which were dressed in oatmeal. “For a dinner that’s all about apples, you’d think she would be here, too.”

A sidelong glance is all he received as Sweetie focused on her food,

“Just saying.” Button shrugged. “Not complaining, that’s for sure.

“It’s a shame that Apple Bloom couldn’t make it.” Diamond sighed. Button flinched as Sweetie slugged him in the shoulder. “Did she ever apologize to you guys?”

“Yeah.” Scootaloo shrugged. “I mean, I accepted her apology, anyway. Somepony else is being a bit stubborn about it.”

“Stubborn, huh?” Rumble smirked as he took a generous bite of an apple.

Diamond shrunk a little as she quickly turned to Sweetie Belle.

“So…” She began carefully. “How are singing lessons going?”

“We’re on a bit of a hiatus while she’s on tour,” Sweetie said. “But it’s been really fun, actually. Coloratura is incredibly talented, and, well, I don’t wanna brag, but she says I’m getting pretty good.”

“Oh yeah.” Rumble smirked. “Button said something about that.”

Button’s ears flattened as they laughed, including Sweetie Belle, much to his relief.

“Enough about us,” Scootaloo said. “How have you been?”

“Well, Father is opening a Rich Family Fun Palace in Las Pegasus,” Diamond said, picking at her apple slices. “Mother has several weeks of summits in Northern Equestria for financing some new infrastructure projects or whatever, so I’ve been just hanging around, I guess.”

“That doesn’t sound all that fun,” Button said, Sweetie giving him a harsh look.

“It really isn’t.” Diamond frowned, lowering her voice slightly. “Today would’ve just been another day of this little filly, in this big house, with a whole lot of nothing to do, and I decided ‘You know what? Why not do something fun while Mother and Father are away, have your friends over?’ Because isn’t that what matters? That no matter where you are or what you do, your friends are always there for you?”

“Maybe once stuff cools down for me, we could invite you to a sleepover of clubhouse campout.” Scootaloo smiled. “Wouldn’t hurt to add another pony into the mix.”

“W-well, that sounds nice and all but, I wouldn’t want to intrude on your special—”

“Pssh, don’t even.” Scootaloo smirked, putting a hoof around Diamond. “Sweetie and I don’t bite. It’d be fun!”

“Yeah…” Diamond smiled. “Keep me posted.”

Sweetie Belle smiled a little as she watched the gathering of foals joyfully eating, giving their thanks, and wandering back into the vastness of the estate for some games and good times.

“Thank you so much for the great party, Diamond Tiara,” Sweetie said.

“And the food,” Button added.

“My pleasure, fillies—and colts,” Diamond giggled. “I’m just happy everypony is having fun. It really is a shame we have to start winding things down. Fine Manners wants everypony out by her bedtime.”

“Fine Manners?” Scootaloo asked, glancing around.

They all turned as an elder mare cantered into the room. “Miss Tiara?”

“Yes, Manners?” Diamond trotted towards her. “Is it time?”

“I believe now would be the appropriate hour to transition to the… musical event.” Fine Manner winked as Diamond Tiara beamed.

“Perfect!” She smiled, turning back to the gang. “Looks like it’s time to get everypony dancing! Come on!”

“I don’t think we’ll need much help with that,” Rumble boasted a cocky grin as he took Scootaloo by the hooves and sauntered over to the dancefloor.

Scootaloo was whisked from the dimmed lights of the dining room, to the parade of colors which softly traced across the high walls of the ballroom, heads bobbing and hooves stepping in tempo with the music which echoed above.

Once the rush was gone, she only felt warmth. She looked into Rumbles’ eyes, her body began to relax and sway to the rhythm of the music; all of her senses leaked away as he brought her closer, resting his chin on her shoulder.

Tonight had been great, dare she say, wonderful—an evening with friends old and new, frivolous fun, and the chance to simply be a free little filly again. She could feel the smile on her face, on the many faces around her. Honestly, she might as well have been floating.

Suddenly, she was brought out of her trance as Rumble spun her around. As if on instinct, she raised to one hoof and spun like a ballerina, falling into his hooves, seamlessly easing back into their slow dance.

“Rumble.” Scootaloo could barely hear herself whisper, even as Rumble’s ear twitched. “Thank you.”

His hoof around her tightened a little, their hearts beating against one another. He planted a little kiss on her muzzle as they began to canter clockwise again.

Don’t thank me. Rumble smiled as he watched her dress glimmer in the soft lights of the ballroom; he watched her smile, genuine, for the first time in Celestia-knows how long.

You deserve to be happy.

Sweetie and Button Mash watched as foals trotted and folicked in time with the music. She sighed as she saw Scootaloo and Rumble enjoying themselves.

“I wanna dance,” Sweetie said simply, looking at Button who seemed more entranced than interested. “Just one song, I promise I won’t do anything crazy.”

Button groaned. “I don’t… that’s embarrassing.”

“How is it embarrassing?” Sweetie asked, her voice understanding but indignant. “We’re two foals who like each other—look at Scoots and Rumble.”

“Well yeah, but they’re practically married.”

“So?” Sweetie did her best to hold her weak smile.

“So,” Button gestured vaguely before continuing, “what if I trip or step on your hooves? I don’t know how to dance, and well...”

“Aw, Button…” Sweetie put a comforting hoof on his shoulder. “I won’t be mad, everypony’s gotta start somewhere. If anyone makes fun of you, you know those two will make them regret it.”

Button watched Rumble from behind some other waltzing foals, his movement deliberate. He looked like a seasoned pro.

Before he could protest again, a gentle, encouraging foreleg brought him to his hooves, and away from the wall. Looking up, he saw Sweetie Belle’s kind eyes looking back at him.

“J-just one song?” Button asked.

Sweetie nodded, her smile never wavering. “Yes, just one. It’ll be fun.”

Button glanced down again, barely seeing his reflection in the marble below. He closed his eyes, swallowed, and then looked back up, a determined smile on his face.

“Okay.” He nodded.

Sweetie blushed a little as she thought of how to begin, slowly tapping her hoof against the floor.

“Okay so…” Sweetie began, trotting in place. “Do as I do, canter in place, nice and slow.”

Button watched his trembling hooves as they began to lift, his brain misfiring—forgetting how to gait for the briefest second. A chill shot down his spine, his cheeks burning furiously as his right forehoof spasmed and his left slipped a little.

“Just a simple trot, Button.” Sweetie smiled, perfectly patient. "You can do it. Right forehoof, left hind hoof; then switch.”

Sweetie’s horn lit up, and with it, some marble tiles below Button’s feet forming a cross-like shape: red, green, blue, and yellow; beside each of his hooves.

“What…” Button’s eyes lit up as the floor did.

He didn’t need to be told what to do, stepping on each colored tile as it was lit; first one at a time, then forming a trailing circle he began to turn with. By the time he had come full circle, Sweetie Belle took his forehooves, and brought them onto her shoulders.

“I thought you said you couldn’t dance.” Sweetie smirked.

Button didn’t have time to respond as Sweetie trotted in a circle, At first, his trembling hind-hooves threatened to slip, but the floor lit up again, a soft glow leading his step.

He felt his lips curl into a smile as he looked into Sweetie Belle’s eyes, his hooves moving without guidance. He wasn’t going to try spinning her around or any of the other stunts Rumble was pulling off in the distance, but this was enough. Holding her like this though, he’d deny till the very end, made him feel something he’d never felt before.

“Having fun?” Sweetie asked.

Button nodded. “Yeah, this is fun. I like… this.”

“Told you,” Sweetie Belle giggled as she closed her eyes, letting the music and motion take control.

As they went around again, Sweetie could see Scootaloo with Rumble, carefree and comfortable. She couldn’t help but be happy for her.

The music continued to slow in tempo as the lights began to soften, the room bathed in moonlight pouring through the towering windows.

“Sweetie Belle?”

Sweetie and Button looked over as Diamond Tiara trotted towards them, beaming.

“We’ve got one more song before they wanna turn out the lights and send everypony home.” she smiled, “You wanna send us off?”

“Wh-” Sweetie’s eyes widened as she stammered, “I… I don’t know if I can-”

Her eyes darted around as other foals were watching with anticipation. Sweetie swallowed, unable to move, let alone speak.

She flinched when she felt a hoof on her shoulder. As Sweetie turned, she saw the confident face of Button Mash, wearing nothing short of a genuine smile, and that look of determination that she loved.

“Just one song.” he smiled.

Sweetie fought back tears as she looked to Diamond Tiara and nodded.

Button followed Sweetie towards the opposite end of the dance hall, where a microphone and large speakers waited for her.

Sweetie peered over the microphone, accidentally tapping the stand with her hoof. Every foal that wasn’t staring at eachother was now staring at her, a mix of curious and confused.

Her nerves shot again, opening her mouth to speak, but never making a sound.

“I… uh- my name…”

She blinked, swallowed, and shivered, surprising even herself how gripped she was by stage fright. Singing in front of the town was one thing. In this room, in this light, with these eyes on her… it arrested her.

Button watched her for a moment, her tail motionless and her ears flat against her head. He swallowed, and stepped forward, tapping the mic, getting her attention, along with everyone else.

“Her name is Sweetie Belle.” He heard himself say, “She’s gonna sing you a song, and you’re gonna dance.”

He stepped back, Sweetie trying her best not to laugh, or kick him.

“Thanks…” she said, turning back to her audience, Scootaloo and Rumble among them. She glanced back one last time at Button, who beamed back at her, a familiar smile on his face. Suddenly, she didn’t feel so afraid anymore.

"The love of the world, in all its splendor.
The fire of my heart, a lonely ember.
Deep inside my soul, I surrender,
to the way of the world, as I remember.”

Button wandered from around the makeshift stage, and towards Scootaloo and Rumble.

“I’m gonna dance, huh?” Rumble smirked, slugging Button in the shoulder. “How about you watch my spot real quick, Scuttlebucket wants an italian soda.”

Before Button could object, Rumble took Button’s hooves and placed them in Scootaloo’s, abruptly disappearing into the crowd behind them before he could so much as object.

“I saw Sweetie Belle showing you the ropes.” Scootaloo smirked deviously. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”


Button yelped as Scootaloo took him for a spin, practically gliding across the floor on her hooves as she twirled Button on his axis. As he spun, he saw Sweetie Belle watching him, her smile never faltering, and had it not been a blur, he could’ve sworn she winked at him.

"Because now, as the world crumbles around me,
I think of that special bond, that honest melody.
Always struggling to make the world into what we wanted to see,
but now, everything falls away from harmony.”

Heart palpitating and short of breath, Button held on for dear life as Scootaloo kept him on his hooves, going from a waltz to some kind of chaotic ballet routine.

“And now I see you, a shadow at the edge of my mind,
a reminder of all we were supposed to be.
Hopes and dreams slip away from these hooves of mine,
a lovely future that was never meant for me.”

Finally, she stopped, giggling as Button caught his breath.

“Not bad.” Scootaloo smiled. “I guess she’s a pretty good teacher, too, huh?”

“Yeah…” Button said, looking at Sweetie Belle as she swayed to the tune, her dress glistening in the moonlight cast upon her.

“So…” he began sheepishly, “you have fun tonight?”

“Me?” Scootaloo blinked, then nodded. “Yeah, I had lots of fun. Tonight was… really cool. I’m glad you and Sweetie came along.”

“I almost backed out.” Button looked away briefly, “I never liked DT, and well, I figured it would just be some stuff rich ponies’ party with bad jokes and worse food.”

“Still would beat whatever my life is right now.” Scootaloo shrugged. She had a smirk on, but Button knew better, no Rumble by any means, but still well enough.

“I thought you and Rainbow were getting along now?”

“Did Rumble tell you that?” Scootaloo shook her head, chuckling. “Not even close.”

“Oh.” Button frowned. “Sorry.”

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry about, Mutton.” Scootaloo smiled. “You, and Sweetie Belle, and Rarity, and… everypony else, I mean, without you guys, I’d probably be some troublemaking punk with a kick scooter and a chip on my shoulder.”

“You mean you’re not?”

“Shut up.” Scootaloo nudged him playfully. “Wouldn’t want me to sick my attack dog on ya, now would you?”

“I think I could take him.” Button smirked, glancing over in the direction Rumble had gone. He then joined Scootaloo in watching Sweetie Belle, both awestruck for different reasons.


Button’s eyes widened for a moment as Rumble looked positively pissed, only to scowl as that thin line curled into a smile which devolved into laughter.

“Not so easy keeping up with her, is it?” Rumble quipped as he passed Button a drink and tousled his mane. “I’m surprised you didn’t blow chunks.”

“Real funny, Casanova,” Button said.

“Figured I’d give you something to do while your filly is up there singing her heart out.” Rumble glanced over to Scootaloo. “Why don’t you go up there with her?”

“Wh--what?” Scootaloo blinked. “I don’t sing!”

“That hasn’t stopped you before, has it?” Button smirked.

Scootaloo scowled at Rumble, who couldn’t stifle his laughter as it devolved into hysterics, Button doing the same. Scootaloo tried to press her lips into a thin line, but it seemed in trying to keep it together, she fell apart that much quicker, nearly sloshing her soda as she began to laugh uncontrollably.

Sweetie watched from the behind the microphone. Seeing them, Scootaloo especially in such high spirits, raised her own. Her heart fluttered for only a moment as she couldn’t help but blind the room with her brilliant smile.

Best. Night. Ever.

Not even half a minute past the Rich Estate, and the colts had tossed their suits onto their backs, trotting a little faster as a cool breeze brushed through their fur.

Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle had gone ahead, gossiping about one of the other fillies. Rumble and Button watched them for a moment, mostly to make sure they didn’t get lost in the maze of hedges and marble statues.

“I don’t know about you,” Rumble said after a while. “But I think I’m ready to crash at your place tonight. Nice and quiet.”

“You and Scootaloo aren’t going back to her place?” Button asked.

“Naw.” Rumble waved a dismissive hoof. “She and Sweetie are already having a sleepover at Rarity’s house, so if your mom’s cool with it, I was kinda thinking we could kick it for a bit tomorrow.”

“She probably won’t care,” Button yawned. “I mean, she’d better not.”

“Or else what?” Rumble snickered. “You gonna tell her no and make her ground you again?”

“Well…” Button trailed, watching Sweetie again.

“That’s what I thought,” Rumble replied. “I mean, I love Scootaloo, but I really hope she’s passed out until after lunch tomorrow. I really don’t want to go back up there.”

“Love, huh?” Button asked.

“Well yeah?” Rumble looked at Button with confusion. “What else would it be?”

“Just friends, I guess?” Button shrugged. “Love is for like, when you’re married with foals, and shit, not when you’re a foal.”

“Don’t think about it too hard.” Rumbled thumped the back of Button’s head. “Anyway… did you see Pipsqueak?”

Button’s eyes lit up. “Totally. Pip and Tiara, that’s just… crazy.”

“The little shit can move better than I can,” Rumble chuckled. “Even DT seemed surprised when he asked her to dance.”

“It’s not that hard.” Button waved a hoof.

“At least he was stallion enough to ask Diamond Tiara...unlike a certain scaredy colt I know,” Rumble teased as he playfully shoved Button.

“Aw, fuck you.” Button growled. “Let’s get these fillies home before I put you in the ground.”

30. Departure

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Rumble didn’t like waking up with drool on his face, nor did he like seeing that it was almost noon, yet there he was―groggy and gross. Five hours of unexpected late-night gaming and sugary soda had rendered him comfy and comatose.

“Time to wake up, sleepy heads.” Button’s mom smiled as she opened the door just slightly, glancing towards Button who squirmed under the covers.

“Five more minutes,” Button mumbled.

His mother sighed, “Only if you want cold oatmeal.” She giggled as she closed the door carefully.

Rumble let out a yawn as he slowly got to his hooves, unfurling his wings to their full extent, and arching his back.

“Ugh,” Button groaned, “I’m still beat. How late were we out last night?”

“Nine-ish,” Rumble snickered. “But we stayed up playing Storm Fortress II until like… I dunno.”

Rumble watched as Button settled into his bed again, tossing and turning as he fought dream sheep for a few more minutes.

“Oh yeah,” he replied as he finally threw off his comforter. “Covered a lot of ground, though. Pretty sure we’re about sixty-five percent through the campaign now.”

Rumble followed Button Mash into the kitchen, where sure enough, two bowls of oatmeal sat, accompanied by apple slices. Mrs. Mash sat across from them, looking over some papers and a tabletop calculator.

“You boys were up pretty late last night.” She pecked a few keys with her hoof, one press making a little printer go. “How was the party?”

Rumble blew on the steaming bite of oatmeal as it dripped from his spoon, glancing over to Button, whose craptrap was shut unusually tight.

Always forget he isn’t a morning pony. Rumble shook his head. “We had a good time.” He turned to glance at Button. “Didn’t we?”

Button simply nodded; Rumble could’ve sworn he saw the slightest tinge of red on his cheeks.

Come on, Button. Rumble frowned as he poked his friend with his spoon. Stop being such a wuss, and tell her what happened, or she’s gonna ask-.

“Did something happen, sweetie?” Button’s mom finally asked, her eyes now fixed on her son who kept his gaze to his food.

Rumble turned away and stifled a laugh. For all his swagger and snark, Button was easy to embarrass, especially when his mother was around.

“N―No,” Button muttered, glancing at the door. “It was fine.”

“You’re making it sound like something bad happened.” Rumble raised an eyebrow.

“No I’m not!” Button growled, quickly snapping back to avoiding eye contact. “We… had fun. Sweetie taught me how to dance, and stuff.”

“Oh, really? That’s wonderful!”

“Yeah, it was pretty nice actually.” Rumble scraped together one last heap of oats. “The girls had a pretty great time, and everypony was really... cool.”

“Well, that's terrific, you’ll have to tell me all about it after you get home Sunday.”

“Sunday?” Rumble glanced at Button, who had perked up noticeably.

“Yeah, I’m headed to ManeCon,” Button replied. “I’ve been saving up bits for the last couple months.”

Button’s mom sighed as she gathered the plates from the table. “I’m a little worried about you taking the train by yourself…”

“Pssh, I’ll be fine, mom.” Button rolled his eyes as he lead Rumble towards the front door.

“You’re leaving already?” his Mom asked, looking up.

“No.” Button stepped away. “I gotta stop by Sugarcube Corner real quick.”

“Oh, alright then. Don’t take too long, though, I have a lady’s day at the spa, and want to say goodbye before you leave.”

“Sure thing,” Button called back as he closed the door behind him.

They were a couple steps outside as Button’s mood darkened again.

Rumble had his suspicions, and it helped that devious smirk along.

“What the hell got into you earlier?”


“Opal got your tongue, Mutton?”

“No!” Button growled.

“Then why were you acting like your mom was asking if you wet the bed?”

“B-Because…” Button turned away with an indignant little stomp of his forehoof. “I don’t want my mom asking me a zillion questions about her--and then insisting I invite her over for dinner, so she can share foal pictures and tell stories about... well, you already said it.”

“Aw, you really liiiiike her, don’t you?” Rumble buzzed his wings, speaking right into Button’s ear.

Button swatted at him like he would a Parasprite. “Sh-shut up, Rumble. You’ve got it wrong!”

Rumbled snickered into a hoof before turning around suddenly. “Heya, Sweetie Belle. How’s it goin’?”

Button performed a one-eighty to see his friend muffling his laughter with a hoof. “Not. Funny.”

“It totally was.” Rumble moved to catch up with Button, who was now stomping off towards Sugarcube Corner. “Don’t worry, Button. You think your parents are embarrassing?” Rumble shook his head as he chuckled darkly, “You have no idea.”

“I thought your parents liked Scuttlebucket?”

“Yeah.” Rumble rolled his eyes. “After we had a family intervention right in front of her.”

“Couldn’t have been that bad, because she’s never brought it up.”

“I bet she would if you asked.”

“Can I?”


Scootaloo couldn’t remember the last time she had slept in like this. She hardly cared that Sweetie had tried―several times―to get her to eat breakfast, or that her oatmeal had gone cold, or that they also had plans to go see Apple Bloom before she had to do chores. She’d earned her twelve hours of sleep, and nopony was going to take it from her.

“Scoots, wake up already,” Sweetie whined at her bedside. “Rarity needs us to help her with some errands today.”

Scootaloo groaned into her pillow as she tried one last time to turn away and tuck herself in. “Go away, Sugar Belle.”

Just five more hours.

Her eyes shot open as the warmth trapped between the sheets was ripped away. She opened her eyes to see Sweetie Belle, a corner of the sheet still in her teeth, the slightest curl of a smile under her snout.

“Alright, alright, I’m getting up,” Scootaloo yawned as she crawled out of bed, using her last ounce of irritation to put on the meanest glare she could muster.

Sweetie quickly trotted to the lead as Scootaloo headed downstairs. Tempting revenge came as Scootaloo watched Sweetie’s swirly, candy-colored tail swished this way and that.

I wonder how her tail would taste. I mean, it even looks like candy.

“Well, there you are,” Rarity said as they entered the foyer, “I was starting to worry you were possibly ill.”

Rarity’s voice carried the same air as usual, but something seemed off. Scootaloo couldn’t quite pin down what, though, shuddering a little as she recalled a flash of the night before.

“Nah, just tired,” she replied, smiling. “Partied a little too hard last night.”

“Indeed, I heard you all had quite the time. I’m glad it went so well.” Rarity smiled. “I was hoping I could’ve been awake for you girls to return but, well, I bit off a little more than I could chew.”

“It was worth it.” Sweetie grinned. “I can’t remember how many times somepony complemented our dresses, huh Scoots?”

Scootaloo nodded. “Yeah, Diamond was all, ‘Let me guess, Rarity?’

“That’s fantastic, girls. You all deserved to have a splendid time, and I was more than happy to play my part, as small as it was.”

Scootaloo noticed a stack of postage boxes she hadn’t seen the night before, all stacked by the front door.

“What’s all that?”

“Oh, just some packages from the ma…” Rarity froze. “The mail.”

Scootaloo winced as Rarity’s ears flattened a little.

“Are you ok--?”

“Sweetie, darling,” Rarity began deliberately. “Would you be a dear and… run by the castle? I know Twilight needed some old tapestries repaired, and I would like to get those mended before I take on my next project.”

“Ooh, yeah!” Sweetie smiled, intertwining her tail with Scootaloo’s. “Come on, sis!”

Rarity cleared her throat.

“I think Scootaloo needs a little more time to wake up. I wouldn’t want her to go without breakfast.”

“Oh, alright.” Sweetie deflated for a only a moment. “Be right back!”

Scootaloo could’ve sworn she saw Rarity shiver as the door semi-slammed behind her. For what seemed like an eternity, Rarity simply stood there, idly fidgeting with her hooves. Without warning, she broke from her trance and trotted hurriedly towards the stairs.

The silence alone began to bear on her with a crushing weight. “Is… something wrong, Rarity?”

“Scootaloo,” she almost choked. “Could you come here for just a moment?”

She had already disappeared by the time Scootaloo had turned to follow.

Poking her head inside, she could see Rarity at the center of the room, an envelope in hoof. Something about it made Scootaloo uncomfortable.

The door closed as Scootaloo stepped towards Rarity, causing her to jump.

“Sorry about that,” Rarity said without facing her.

Finally, as she sat on the floor, Rarity turned to face her.

“There’s something we need to talk about,” Rarity began simply. “I… wanted to show you earlier, but with all you had going between the party, and your situation with your—” She swallowed. "—I thought the moment wasn't appropriate.”

She glanced at the envelope one last time, before her aura raised it from her trembling hoof, and into Scootaloo’s.

“This is for you.”

Scootaloo hesitantly took the envelope from Rarity’s magic, carefully drawing out the artful stationary, the cursive hoofwriting instantly familiar.

Dear Scootaloo,

I was worried about you, from the moment we said goodbye. I’ve been hopeful that this reaches you during a time of pleasantries and prosperity. Part of me was slightly concerned that my lack of writing would bilk you slightly, but regardless, I wanted to get settled in—perhaps it would give you time to do the same.

I’ll be frank: I miss you. Our days together were among my best, and adjusting to this new life has been difficult to say the least. It goes without mentioning that going from being responsible for and surrounded by youth and vitality, to one marred by seniority and sterility is a jarring experience. You never think you’re an old pony until you actually become one; and sure as sugar did it take but a month in Manehattan to push me to that next stage of life.

So enough about me, dear heart. Have you been a good filly, respectful, considerate, and resolute? I hope all is going well for you, dear. I miss you, and I love you.

Mrs. Safe Harbour

Scootaloo couldn’t raise her gaze from the words on the page; they stared back at her with an intensity she couldn’t bear. She felt a hoof on her shoulder, which slowly began to pull her close. As the warmth met her, the tears came, and the artful, archaic hoofwriting began to blur into a smudge of black and white.

She didn’t know what to say as the letter was once again encased in a magical hue, delicately trifolded, and carefully slid back into its envelope.

Scootaloo shut her eyes, and as they trembled, she could see her foster mother carried into the sky, feel her hooves frantically clopping against the ground below―that horrible moment she leapt towards her…

Her eyes shot open as she hit the ground.

“I...w--” Scootaloo blinked as the words jammed in her throat. “I want to see her, but…” Her throat dried out. “I can’t! I promised Rainbow Dash I’d…”

She gritted her teeth as she fought back a burst of indignance. You can’t ask, Scootaloo. That’s selfish. Scootaloo bit her tongue.

No it isn’t! I miss her, I haven’t seen her in months! This isn’t fair! She tasted copper.

Scootaloo shook again as a wave of emotions washed over her, inundating into her resolve like a tsunami. The more she forced her eyes shut, they more they trembled.

A hoof on her shoulder tore her from her mental nosedive.

She opened her eyes, Rarity sitting before her, a mix of emotions in her eyes, though concern shone the brightest.

“I understand that you made a commitment to Rainbow Dash’s recovery, and that was a very admirable thing of you to do.” Rarity’s gaze hardened slightly as she edged ever closer. “However, you are a filly, and none of us would honestly expect your commitment to never waver, not because you lack responsibility, but because such a task isn’t meant for a single pony, let alone a foal.” She smiled and pulled back.

Scootaloo watched her for a second, swallowed a lump in her throat.

“You need to go see her,” Rarity continued, her voice stern. “If not for your own sake, then for hers.”


Rarity waved her off with a hoof. “You have done more than enough to demonstrate your good will towards Rainbow Dash—if I’m being frank, considerably more than she deserved.”

Scootaloo was silent, sights slowly lowering to the floor again.

Come on, Scootaloo why are you being such a foal!

She shook her head, opening her eyes to reveal a different envelope floating in Rarity’s magic. She glanced up at Rarity, who nodded.

“Go on.” Rarity’s stern face cracked only a little. “Open it.”

Carefully, she opened the envelope, revealing a hotel reservation card, and three round-trip train tickets from Ponyville to Manehatten.

Scootaloo’s eyes met Rarity’s again; a smile had returned to the mare’s face. She suddenly found herself galloping into Rarity’s embrace as she struggled to speak.

“You’re such a special filly, Scootaloo. Don’t let anypony tell you otherwise.”

“Rarity?” Sweetie Belle called from the foyer.

“Upstairs, darling!” Rarity called as she gently pulled away.

Scootaloo looked behind her as she felt Rarity pull away, Sweetie Belle stopping in the entryway.

“What’s wrong?” Sweetie asked, cautiously trotting towards them.

“Nothing, Darling.” Rarity smiled. “I do suppose you have yet to get a wardrobe together for your trip to Manehatten, though.”

“Manehattan?” Sweetie’s ears perked. “Is there another fashion show?”

“Ugh, no!” Scootaloo scoffed, then smiled brightly. “Because Mrs. Harbour wants us to visit!”

“You heard back from your m—foster mom?”

Scootaloo could only laugh sheepishly as her wings buzzed with excitement.

“But there’s three train tickets...” Sweetie noted as she watched Scootaloo hold them up. “Who else is gonna go?”

As much as she preferred her own digs, Fluttershy’s couch was more than enough to satisfy Rainbow Dash. That, and homemade chai tea, a nice, warm bath; hell, the general warmth of the little cottage was enough to put even the ill-tempered at ease.

Rolling over to rest her chin on the couch arm, she watched as Fluttershy danced about the kitchen, preparing bird seed and tea cakes.

“Almost ready, Rainbow.” Fluttershy smiled she opened a window to toss out some feed, which was very quickly caught by a cluck of chickens.

It was safe to say part of her envied Fluttershy’s calm demeanor, her light touch; everything she did, she did with grace and gentleness. The amount of care and attention was incredible.

Dash swallowed as she turned over again, resting her head on a throw pillow.

“Hey, Shy...”

“Huh?” A pan rattled in the kitchen.

You startle way too easily, you—

Rainbow shook her head. “How are you so… relaxed, all the time? I mean--I know you’ve always been an animal-lover and kind and all that, but… like when that baby rabbit fell into the river, you just swooped in, got it, and somehow didn’t completely lose your head.”

“Well...” Fluttershy smiled as she set the cakes and cups on the coffee table, taking a seat on a rocking chair across from her. “There’s no sense in getting too excited, especially when it comes to the little ones, you’ll scare them more that way.”

“But, it’s not just with the animals or anything, you’re almost always--unless it's me making an ass--”


“Sorry—When I’m not busy making mule of myself. You always seem to have it together; even when you’re mad, you’re not really… y’know… mad.”

Fluttershy let the teacup linger on her lips a little longer than usual, taking a deep breath as she set her cup down.

“You can do it too, Rainbow.” Fluttershy smiled. “I know that you care about the ponies around you, and when you set your mind to something, you don’t let anything—or anypony—get in your way. You just have to commit to becoming a better you.”

It was only now that Rainbow noticed a little bird sitting on the coffee table, Fluttershy slowly stroking the back of its head as she gingerly removed a bandage from one of its wings.

“Do I deserve it, though? After all I’ve bucked up, I can’t blame anypony for wanting nothing to do with me. That’s why I’m with you right now,”

Rainbow could’ve sworn she saw Fluttershy raise an eyebrow, the little bird fluttering towards the kitchen window as she took a dainty bite of her cake.

“I mean, not that this is a bad thing, but…” She glanced out the window towards Ponyville, letting out a sigh.

“Just give it time, and give yourself some room to grow; learn to understand her, and let her understand you. It isn’t going to be perfect, and there’s going to be times you want to give up, but...” Fluttershy glanced towards her kitchen window as the little bird tweeted before taking off. “She needs you as much as you need her.”

Rainbow jumped a little as those kind eyes met her own for just an instant. Even then, it was enough to remind her of the friend who, despite having more than one reason to disavow and disown her, had not. She knew everything, even the darkest depths of Rainbow’s delinquency, and yet here she was in her home, still believing in her long after Rainbow had given up.

I don't deserve a friend like you. Rainbow couldn't help a smile.

“I was thinking, if you're okay with seeing the girls, we could meet at the Day Spa.” Fluttershy gave a hopeful smile.

“I could definitely use a day to just veg out—and who knows? That bath might knock out the rest of this crud. Sounds good to me.”

“Are you sure? I can always just run a warm bath here if you-”

“First one to the joke shop puts out for the good stuff!” Rainbow didn't dash out the door, but the vigor she did show made Fluttershy’s smile widen a little more.

“Last one to Button’s house is a rotten.... Apple!” With that, Scootaloo launched into a manic gallop over the hill towards town. Sweetie Belle blinked once or twice before leisurely trotting behind her.

“Speaking of… uh… apples… Are you sure you don’t want to take Apple Bloom?” Sweetie asked as they trotted around Town Hall.

“I don’t think she’d have much fun,” Scootaloo replied without looking back. “I mean, this is kind of… personal. And besides, Applejack probably needs a hoof on the farm this weekend, anyway.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Neither do you.”

“I just feel bad after she was snubbed for the party, y’know?”

Scootaloo finally stopped.

“Look,” she said simply. “If this was just some girls’ trip, then yeah, I’d totally make sure she was the first filly I asked, but....”

“But Babs-”

Scootaloo nickered and kept trotting, her hooves hitting the grass with a thump. Sweetie rolled her eyes as she quickly caught up.

“Found your wife, Fumble.” Scootaloo whirred around as they saw Button and Rumble leave Sugarcube Corner.

“Wife…” Rumble’s eyes narrowed. “Not funny.”

“Heh, had to get you back for earlier,” Button smirked.

“Don’t mess with his image in front of Sweetie Belle.” Rumble flinched as Scootaloo thumped his head with a hoof. “His ego can’t take it.”

“What are you guys up to?” Sweetie asked, either completely oblivious or feigning ignorance.

“We could ask you the same thing, couldn’t we?” Button said as a grey hoof restrained him from taking a swing at Scootaloo.

“Ladies first.” Scootaloo smiled. “We were actually looking for you two bozos—well, not you, Mutton—sorry.”

Scootaloo held back a laugh as Rumble instantly deflated.

“We have to head back up already?” Rumble whined.

“No, we aren’t headed back up there.” Scootaloo smiled. “We’re headed to Manehattan.”

Button was gobsmacked. “W-when?”

“I dunno.” Scootaloo shrugged. “Rarity says these are good for the rest of the mon—”

“You should go today,” Button blurted.


“Awww.” Rumble flicked off Button’s cap and ruffled his mane. “Poor little Button doesn’t wanna ride the big bad train all by himself.”

“W--buck you, that’s not it,” Button barked. “I just thought maybe it’d be fun if we all went together, that’s all!”

“I mean, I guess we could…” Scootaloo looked at Sweetie Belle, who shrunk back a little.

“On such short notice?” Sweetie asked.

“Sure! It’s the weekend.” Scootaloo nodded. “We just head out today, and get back by Sunday night. Not too hard. The hotel room has three beds too, so it’s perfect!”

Suddenly three suspicious pairs of eyes were on her.

“That’s not what I meant!” Scootaloo stomped.

“Whatever you say, scuttlebucket.” Button chuckled as the four of them trotted together to his house.

Rumble glanced out the window of the Friendship Express, the blur of the trees, towns, and landscapes rivaling those he recalled from his more treacherous dives in flight practice.

His sightseeing was interrupted as he felt something on his shoulder. Glancing over, he was tempted to spin the propeller on Button’s cap, which now spun lamely not too far from his ear. Sweetie giggled, drawing Rumble’s eyes across from him, where Scootaloo slept soundly. She was curled up like a cat before a hearth, Sweetie herself engrossed with a volume of the Junior Unicorn’s Guide to Intermediate Magic.

He had met Mrs. Harbour once before, the night they came home from Cloudsdale. Truth be told, most of that conversation was mixed in the blur of everything else--only a brief glimpse of her old, kind eyes managed to keep still.

I wonder…. “Hey, Sweetie Belle?”

Sweetie raised her head, looking somewhat surprised. “Huh?”

“I was wondering… What was this foster mom of hers like? I mean, I met her once, but it’s kind of a blur.”

“Well...” Sweetie Belle earmarked a page of her tome, and gently set it between her and Scootaloo. “I’m kinda surprised Scootaloo didn’t talk about her much-”

“Other than she was better than Rainbow would ever be,” Rumble muttered.

“She pretty much raised Scootaloo from when she was a newborn foal, and her husband--Sandy, was like her papa. They could be stern sometimes, but they adored her, and Scootaloo loved them just as much…”

Sweetie trembled as she stood beside Scootaloo at the top of North Hill, quivering hooves wrapped around the feisty filly whose own were gripped tight to the foam handlebars of her newly acquired scooter.

Still bandaged from a bad fall in what was to be her final ‘unsupervised practice flight’, Scootaloo smirked deviously. Confidence vibrated off of her as she scraped her hind hooves against the grass, staring down the slope like one faces a colossal beast.

“I… I don’t know about this, Scootaloo,” Sweetie Belle stammered. “Didn’t your mom say to be safe with your scooter?”

“Yup!” Scootaloo chirped. “I’ve got this, Sweetie Belle. I’ve been practicing on the littleler hill down the road—you watch, I’m gonna stick this.”


Sweetie shrieked as Scootaloo thrust them downwards, the grassy knoll and surrounding trees dissolving into a smudge as the wind whipped through their manes. Sweetie’s stomach matched the velocity of the scooter as it shot off a rickety makeshift ramp.

The last thing she heard before impact was the terrified squeal of Scootaloo as they were thrown into a thicket of bushes.

“Girls?” A panicked mare cried from not too far away.

“You were supposed to be keeping an eye on her, Sandbar,” Madame Harbour said sternly as she wrapped the last bandage over Scootaloo’s forehoof. Sweetie glanced down to see a throbbing bump on her own.

Scootaloo hadn’t said a word, her head hung low when not propped up for attention.

“You bless your hearts you were tossed in the bushes before the tree.” Mrs. Harbour shook her head. “This is why I always ask you to be careful, Scootaloo.”

Scootaloo simply nodded as she sniffled, whimpering a little as she was pulled into a hug.

“I know you like to go zooming about and getting a thrill, honey, but you need to use your head. What if Sweetie Belle had gotten really hurt? How would you have faced Ms. Rarity if something had happened?”

“I… didn’t mean to…” Scootaloo sniffled as she glanced back towards Sweetie Belle.

“Of course you didn’t, dear.” Even though her words were direct, there was a soft smile, even if it was subtle.

“There, I think that’s good enough for now.” she looked at Sweetie Belle and nodded. “Run along into the kitchen, I think lunch is about finished.”

Sandwiches, barley soup and milk—something about growing foals and bone health or something, Sweetie couldn’t exactly recall. What she could remember was that that night had ended just like every other at Scootaloo’s house; after some food, they’d head up to Scoots’ bedroom to play a game or work on some art project.

Harbour had a lovely wavering voice that not even time could diminish, always keeping time and tune with Sandbar’s playing on their mid-century piano. Songs from a time long before their own bringing them warmth in the present.

It was easy to get lost in it, their romping about the living room always turning to carefully watching and mimicking Harbours simple steps. Sweetie always tried hard from the start, but usually got distracted as Scootaloo tripped, slipped, or “spiced it up” with some nonsensical motion, leaving them hysterical and happy on the dusty armchair by the fire.

This is always where she’d be when Rarity gently nuzzled her awake, Sweetie always fighting her futile fight to have just one moment more in the company of her bestest friend in the whole wide world.

“She sounds really nice.” Rumble smiled, taking a couple seconds to watch the homes of Hollow Shades whiz by.

Sweetie Belle nodded. “I’m kinda surprised Scootaloo’s never told you much about her.”

“Eh.” Rumble shrugged. “I never really asked, so I can’t blame her. I did meet her once, anyway.”

“Oh yeah, after that... “ Sweetie glanced over to see Scootaloo still sound asleep. Rainbow Dash. “After she was left behind.”

“Yeah,” Rumble sighed. “A lot’s happened in the last couple months.”

Rumble shuddered as he thought back to one evening in particular.

It had never occured to Rumble how terrifying the sound of heavy hooves against a hardwood floor could be. As he sat at the end of the Apples’ living room, his brother by his side; Big Mac at the entryway, he felt many things, chief among them nervousness and anxiety.

In truth, his stomach hadn’t left his throat since those bad words came out of his big mouth. Apple Bloom was devastated, Scootaloo had backhoofed him and declared their friendship dead; if there had been any silver lining, he had completely missed it.

He could’ve sworn his heart skipped a beat as the front door slammed shut, the heavy hooves approaching the entryway.

“Where I’m from, somepony runnin’ their mouth the way you did wouldn’t be standing here,” Applejack snarled, her eyes squarely focused on Rumble.

He wanted to run away, he wanted to apologize—anything, really, but some sinister invisible force pinned him in place as she came closer.

“It’s one thang to disrespect me, our way of speakin’, I suppose you could even get away with mockin’ what we do; but the minute you come for my family, especially my little Bloom, well, you fucked up.”


“You’re wrong. Dead wrong!” Applejack roared as she slammed her back hooves into the wall. “My ma was a proud mare, she wasn’t a... What was that you called her? Right, a mud pushin’ alcoholic.

“She’s had to git passed enuff bullshit in her short life. It ain’t bad enuff her mom and dad are dead, it isn’t bad enuff we’re dirt poor and barely getting by.” Applejack shook, righteous fury in her eyes, “What I wouldn’t do to put you snot-nosed little shits into the ground, make yah feel what she feels every damn day!”

Another stomp towards Rumble, this one making him whimper.

Rumble watched as she steamed, stomping around the room before stopping at a window overlooking the orchards. She stood still with that same snarl on her face; each swing of the clock’s pendulum made Rumble’s heart skip a beat.

“You know what’s funny?” she continued, gaze still out the window. “At first, I almost let you off, “Kids just being kids, no harm meant. I was going to talk to you, but it was just that—but then, I remembered—you know exactly what you’re saying. You’re a better asshole than I am a farmer.”

She let out a long sigh, then turned and stood before Rumble again.

He swallowed.

“You aren’t like the other ones, though. The other little fucks were at least decent enough to know where the line was.”

“I’m sorry,” Rumble finally squeaked out.

“Oh, you’re gonna be sorry alright,” Applejack spat. “I never liked you. Doesn’t matter what you did for her friend, you’re no good. You’re not even a good bully, you’re just a mud slinging coward. Enough of a stallion to call my mom what you did, but not enough to actually say it to my face? A real shame, I can always use more fertilizer.”

Rumble jumped as Applejack whipped around. Somepony had said something he hadn’t heard.

“Of all people to go easy on you,” Applejack muttered before trotting into the hall, giving one last icy glare to Rumble before disappearing.

“Come here, colt.” Big Mac boomed, Rumble trembling as he cautiously trotted towards the massive stallion. Following him outside, they were lead through the orchards. Rumble spotted, at the top of a hill, an empty basket at the base of a populated apple tree.

“All of them.” Big Mac said simply. “No wings, just your hooves.”

Rumble gulped, and screamed a little as he saw Applejack’s shadow loom over him, Apple Bloom now by her side.

“Now before you pay your dues, I believe there’s something you need to say to my little sister here.”

His snout to the dirt, and his tail in the air, Rumble trembled as he bowed. “Go buck yourself.”

Sweetie Belle arched an eyebrow, hooves crossed. “Why do I have the feeling you’re mis-remembering something?”

“No, that’s totally how it went.” Rumble leaned against the window.

“You sure about that?” Button deadpanned. “You’re still alive, aren’t you?”

“W—well everypony knows how it ends, no point in rehashing it. Also, when did you wake up?”

“My bullshit alarm was on high alert,” Button answered.

“Very funny, peanut gallery.” Rumble frowned, looking at Scootaloo who stirred in her sleep, kicking the wall behind her. “Are we there yet?”

“Actually, almost.” Sweetie looked around, from the city outside, to the slumbering filly that was close to her heart, and finally to the two colts traveling with her. “We’re all here for her, right?”

Rumble nodded immediately, and to his surprise and satisfaction, so did Button. “What are friends for, after all?”

They all smiled and nodded as the train whistle sounded, the station only minutes away.

31. Destination

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Scootaloo groaned as somepony nudged her—then nudged her again, harder. Shakily sitting up, she cocked back her hoof, ready to ferociously boop his snoot, only to find Sweetie’s kind eyes staring back at her.

“I can see Manehattan Station from here, sleepyhead,” Sweetie said with a smile.

Scootaloo’s eyes widened as a surge of excitement ignited all of her senses. “Really?”

Sweetie nodded. “We just went over the bridge.” She pointed to the window, which showed a pristine view of Equestria’s largest metropolis.

“Were you about to drill her?” Button asked, causing Scootaloo to flinch.

“W-wha—no,” Scootaloo stammered, quickly collecting herself. “I mean, yes. I was going to hit him,” she said, pointing to Rumble.

“Why would you hit me for waking you up?” Rumble stretched his wings as he sat up.

“Kinda sounds like an abusive relationship,” Button said with a smirk. “Rummy, buddy, if you need an out, there’s probably plenty of other fillies trottin’ around this town—or colts, I won’t judge.”

Rumble opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by the wail of the train’s whistle and the squeal of its brakes. Button shrunk back as Sweetie stared him down with nothing short of contempt.

Scootaloo hopped from the booth and made a beeline for the door, not stopping until she stood on Manehattan soil.

Ploughing through the bustling business ponies and down the steps of Manehattan Station, she walked into the sunshine and caught her first glimpse of the big city. Towering buildings scraped the sky; horse-drawn carriages whizzed by as the cool breeze of the concrete jungle brushed across her face. The commotion alone almost overwhelmed her.

She turned around just in time to see the others filing down the steps. Rumble came last, his teeth gritting as he balanced two bags on his back, the others strapped to his side.

“Didn’t know I was your carrying colt,” Rumble grumbled as he dropped her luggage beside her.

“Wow!” Sweetie gasped, staring up at the buildings with wide eyes.

“I know.” Button tilted her chin back down, stopping Sweetie from falling over from dizziness. “Friendship Castle’s got nothing on Manehattan.”

“Nuh-uh,” Rumble retorted. “Pretty sure the Princess’s flank stamp is still taller.”

Button snorted. “It’s called an ornament, dummy, and no, those two buildings over there top that, easy.”

“I’d love to stand around and compare building sizes,” Scootaloo said, placing a hoof on Rumble’s shoulder. “But we’ve got places to go and ponies to see!”

Button stood at the edge of the street. “You’re damn right we do,” he called over his shoulder. “Let’s go!”

“Uh… Are you sure it’s safe?” Sweetie’s eyes darted as the carriages did.

“And… now!” Scootaloo darted into the road, Rumble and Sweetie following close behind.

Just as Sweetie screamed, Scootaloo felt herself plucked off the ground; her hooves dragged across the roof of a carriage. She finally saw Rumble’s horrified face as she was set down.

“Okay,” Scootaloo panted, “Maybe… maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.”

“We could’ve been squished!” Sweetie was trembling, and on the verge of tears.

“Yeah, next time we need to—” Rumble began, but Button’s outburst cut him off. Rumble shot him a look as the two fillies held each other, Button still laughing hysterically.

“You wanna tell me what’s so funny about us almost getting killed?” Rumble snapped.

“Oh, stop, you drama queen,” Button said as he wiped tears from his eyes. “There are no signals, you just go.”

“How the hay do you know that?” Sweetie barked.

“W-Well,” Button snorted as he steadied himself. “I’ve been here before with my dad on a couple business trips. I thought I’d told you that.”

“Well, maybe next time, you can think a little harder.” Sweetie stepped close, her eyes narrowing as she stared Button down. The poor colt looked away, brushing his mane with his hoof.

“So, where’s our first destination?” Rumble looked pointedly away, directing his attention at Scootaloo.

Scootaloo fetched a card from her saddlebag. “Says here we need to go to… the Manefair Hotel. Looks like it’s on Second and East Forty-fifth Avenue… wherever that is.”

“Lemme see,” Button said as he snatched the card from Scootaloo’s hooves. Nodding as his eyes scanned the words. “Yeah, I got this. Follow me!”

“Should we really be following him around?” Sweetie asked Scootaloo, concerned. “Rarity said we can always just get a taxi—”

“What, and spend half your bits because you don’t know how to get around?” Button tsked, gesturing with a hoof. “Come on!”

Scootaloo followed reluctantly, Rumble at her side, and Sweetie a couple steps behind.

Wandering the thick of the concrete jungle gave them plenty of time to take in the sights and sounds of the big city. With all the flashy marquees and advertisements, to the hustle and bustle of Celestia-knows how many ponies, both grounded and the occasional pegasi, they didn’t know where to look.

Rumble glanced up from time to time, watching the pegasi above zipping about. Scootaloo noticed his upward gaze as they waited at a street crossing.

“You wanna fly, don’t you?”

Rumble nodded. “I mean, if I knew where we were going, sure. Not that it’d be fair to you girls and Mutton, though.”

“Maybe we should find someplace to eat once we get to the hotel,” Sweetie suggested as they crossed the street.

Button’s stomach rumbled. “Not a bad idea.” Button didn’t look but the least embarrassed as he looked around. “I remember this one place me and my dad went to—well, the best damned spaghetti joint this side of Canterlot.”

“I could go for some pasta, actually.” Scootaloo licked her lips.

“Yeah, that sounds yummy,” Sweetie said, nodding.

“Well then, a little less talking, and a little more trotting.” Button smirked as he trotted ahead. “We’re almost there!”

“You’re right, Fluttershy. This was a good idea,” Dash said with a heavenly sigh, sinking down into the tub with a moan of content.

“You’ve been stressed lately, and I figured you needed a way to unwind.” Fluttershy smiled, glancing at the other girls who nodded in agreement.

“Plus,” Twilight added, “it’s always nice to be able to catch up, especially with how busy we all have been lately.”

As she went on to Rarity about some royal assignment involving Yaks and eminent domain, Rainbow glanced at an unfamiliar face who trotted into the room. She was a tan mare who seemed to be around Rarity’s age—possibly a little older.

“Who’s that?” Rainbow whispered into Fluttershy’s ear.

“I believe that’s Button’s mother. You know, Scootaloo’s friend?” Fluttershy volunteered.

Rainbow sank into the warm water. “She’s got a lot of friends,” she muttered.

Fluttershy simply smiled. “I’m sure you’ll get to know them soon enough.”

“Ah, good afternoon, darling,” Rarity greeted with a wave. “Unusual for you to be this early. Colts out for the weekend?”

“For the first time in forever, yes,” she giggled. “Husband is on business, and Button is headed to a comic convention in Manehattan.”

“Is that so?” Rarity’s ears perked. “I believe the girls headed out this morning as well.”

“Yeah,” the mare replied, “something about Scootaloo seeing a relative?”

Rainbow Dash suddenly looked at her hooves underwater, her curiosity souring to anxiousness.

Yeah, if she knows that much, she probably hates my guts. Rainbow closed her eyes. ‘Hey there, I’m Scootaloo’s mom; y’know, the one who abandoned her…’

Her gaze lurched up as she felt a familiar hoof on her shoulder. Fluttershy’s smile was infectious.

“Speaking of relatives, I don’t believe we’ve met before.” Rainbow looked up, and saw the mare sitting across from her, a smile on her face, and one hoof extended in greeting. “I’m—” A hiss of steam from a nearby pipe drowned out her voice as she spoke. “—Love Tap. And you’re Scootaloo’s…” Her smile wavered a little. “...sister?”

Rainbow blinked once or twice, “W—I mean, I guess it’s kind of… like—”

“She’s Scootaloo’s biological mother,” Fluttershy explained.

Rainbow Dash watched as the mare fidgeted slightly. “Right, sorry. My son only mentioned that she was staying with you. Then again, he doesn’t really listen to what he hears.”

“Honestly, Scoots probably doesn’t think of me as mom material, so…” Rainbow chuckled nervously, running a hoof through her mane.

“Foals at this age can be difficult, their emotions all over the place—I’m sure if you give it time, she’ll come around. She seems like a sweet filly, always very polite and well-behaved.”

“Does… Has she ever said anything about me?” Rainbow leaned forward.

“I don’t believe so, no…” The mare put her hoof to her chin; Rainbow sank back. “The only mention of you by any of the foals—that I’ve caught at least—was that little outburst Rumble had at school.”

Rainbow blushed, the heat in her cheeks rivaling that of the bath.

“Oh yeah… that,” Rainbow almost mumbled.

“But he tends to… think too much, anyways,” Lovetap added. “And everypony makes mistakes; I’m certainly not a perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination. Button can be a hoof full, what with his potty mouth, and his father’s stubbornness...”

“Sounds oddly familiar.” Rarity smirked.

Love Tap giggled. “But at the end of the day,” she said, “what matters is that you love them, and that they love you—and, even when you’re at your wits end…” She sighed happily. “...that never changes.”

“Yeah, I can’t say I was the best kid, either.” Rainbow scratched the back of her head.

“Really, were any of us?” Twilight chortled. “I know Shining wasn’t the only one butting heads with mom and dad…”

Rainbow looked around, finally meeting each mare’s eyes.

“It isn’t going to be a trot in the park dear,” Rarity continued, “But, look on the bright side. We all know Scootaloo.”

”We’re all friends, and of course—” Fluttershy smiled. “—we’re always here to help if you ever get into a bind.”

“Honestly, Rainbow.” Twilight laughed. “Why do you think we come here every weekend?”

Rainbow simply shrugged as her grin threatened to break her face.

“Beats me.” She smiled. “But, uh… I got a feeling I’m gonna find out.”

“Hey, Button, we there yet?” Scootaloo whined.

Sweetie Belle moaned in faint agreement from where she lay across Scootaloo’s back. She had been carrying Sweetie Belle for over ten minutes now, and was beginning to think that Sweetie was living up to her name.

Button’s ears wilted a little as they stopped at another intersection. He didn’t turn around, but she could still see him pawing the pavement nervously.

“I—I think I’m starting to remember.”

“That’s the fifth time you’ve said that,” Rumble growled, finally stomping up beside Button. “Either you’re brain dead, or we’re lost; which one is it?”

“Hey!” Button snapped. “I don’t see you taking the lead, featherbrain!”

“Yeah,” Rumble scoffed. “Because I was stupid enough to believe you knew your head from your ass for once.”

“Come on guys, can we not?” Scootaloo groaned as she shifted her weight. “I’m hungry and my hooves hurt. I just wanna get to the hotel!”

“We saw the hotel,” Rumble seethed, his wings flaring. “It was like right around the corner from the train station! If we would’ve just trotted over there instead of following this dumb clod—”

Scootaloo stifled a squeal as she saw Button’s murderous ire. With a narrowing stare, Button growled, “What did you just call me?”

If Rumble was at all intimidated, his equally menacing glare made up for it.

“You heard me,” he spat.

Scootaloo swallowed. “Guys, please—”

“What in Tartarus is going on here?” The accent was thick, the voice sounding rather entertained.

Scootaloo spun around. “Babs?”

“You’d better believe it, Orange,” Babs replied with a devious grin. “Heard these two running their snouts and decided to see what’s up.”

Button and Rumble both stared blankly as she trotted towards them.

“Literally, who?” Button asked as she approached.

“What? You’ve never met?” Scootaloo asked as she trotted up beside Babs. “She’s the fourth Cutie Mark Crusader!”

“Name’s Babs Seed, knucklehead,” Babs replied as she poked Button’s snout with a hoof. “I’m also on my way to grab some grub.” Babs eyed the luggage Rumble had strapped to his back. “What’s with the baggage? Manefair’s way the buck over there.”

“Yeah, we know that,” Rumble replied. “Somepony decided we were going to get lost before we settled in.”

Button opened his mouth to speak. Sweetie reached over and shut it with a hoof.

“Could you show us the way back?” Scootaloo pleaded. “I’m….”

“Sore, sour, and starvin’, got it.” Babs smiled. “Let’s get this shit back to the hotel, and we’ll get something.”

Scootaloo glanced back as Rumble and Button hesitantly followed them.

“Shouldn’t have to tell you that you’re in the largest city in Equestria,” Babs explained. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and still get lost sometimes.” She glanced back again. “No Bloom?”

Scootaloo’s smile faltered

“W-well… no.”

“It’s alright, knowing cous’, she’s probably putting her to work.” Babs snorted. “I love her, but Celesia-damn-it, they need to get out every once and awhile.”

“Didn’t they visit once?”

“Pssh, yeah, but that…” Babs glanced back to the colts as her voice trailed off. “That doesn’t count.” She smirked. “What are you bozos doing? Pick up the pace!”

Button groaned. Rumble rolled his eyes.

“Oh, for the love of—” Babs turned around and trotted over to Rumble, snatching one of the bags from his saddle. “Gimmie that. You a mule or something?”

Scootaloo giggled. Funny you should say that…

“Here we are, fillies.” Babs announced. “Manefair Hotel!”

Scootaloo glanced between her card and the sign above the revolving doors, her eyes lighting up.

“Thank you so much, Babs,” Scootaloo chirped. “You’re a lifesaver!”

“Yeah, yeah, don’t mention it.” Babs waved her towards the door. “Get in there and get your shit settled. I’ll get us a table at that place I mentioned.”

Scootaloo finally found the spring in her step and practically bolted through the door, finally jostling Sweetie Belle awake.

“Hey, we made it,” Sweetie yawned as Scootaloo struggled up the stairs.

“Hey, you’re finally awake~” Scootaloo cooed as she promptly dropped Sweetie Belle on her flank.

“Hey!” Sweetie whined. “What was—” She glanced around. “Where’s the colts?”

“Oh, we’re coming,” Rumble mumbled from a couple flights behind. “Might be a little quicker if either of you fillies wanna take some of this off my hooves.”

Scootaloo trotted up a few more stairs, then, giggling as she heard Rumble give an indignant squawk from below. She and Sweetie trotted back downstairs, then grabbed their saddlebags from him.

After one more flight up, and three numbers down the hall, Scootaloo unlocked the door to their room. She dropped her saddlebags at the entrance, and vaulted onto the nearest bed she could find.

“Aaah,” Scootaloo sighed. Her frogs throbbed against the cool air. “It’s so nice to finally lay down.”

“You weren’t kidding, Scoots,” Sweetie said as he closed the door behind them. “Three beds. Each in their own rooms though, so that’s cool.”

“Well, I mean, we were supposed to only be a party of three.” Rumble smirked. “I’m not against keeping it that way,”he added, glancing back over his shoulder at Button.

“Rumble, be nice.” Scootaloo said, scowling.

“Just getting even for having to march around Manehattan.” Rumble turned to jab Button in the side, only to see a downcast colt wordlessly moping towards the only empty room.

Button mumbled something under his breath.

“What was that?” Rumble pressed. Button kept his eyes low, his ears wilting.

“I said I’m sorry.” Button’s voice was hoarse and unsteady, catching Rumble off guard.

Scootaloo sighed as she rolled onto her stomach.

“Button, it’s okay…” she said. “I mean, that really sucked, but… it’s cool. Things happen.”

“Like she said, shit happens.” Rumbled slugged Button in the shoulder. “We’ve probably got a little time, so let’s all chill for a few minutes, and then get some… lunch… I think.” He shrugged. “Maybe dinner, I dunno. Food.”

Button meekly nodded, carefully closing the bedroom door behind him.

Rumble watched the door close before trotting towards the bed.

“Nuh uh,” Scootaloo tittered.

“What?” Rumble stomped a hoof. “I carried all your shit up here, and you’re gonna make me sleep on the floor?”

“Go cuddle up with your coltfriend, jerk,” Scootaloo humphed.

“I was kidding!”

“I am too, stupid.” Scootaloo giggled as she patted the comforter.

Rumble obliged, and landed just inches from Scootaloo’s side. After a stretch and some roosting, he finally laid down, his back to her.

Were it not for the pit in her stomach, Scootaloo would’ve closed her eyes. She stared towards the window, which overlooked some apartments with the Crystal Mountains behind them in the distance.

Her mind was a scrambled egg. Part of her wanted to head straight over to where Mrs. Harbour lived—she was so close! But her roaring stomach reminded her that no matter what, they had to take up Babs Seed on her offer first.

A knock on the door jolted Scootaloo from her nap she only now realized she’d taken. Her body insisted on staying right where it was, but her stomach wasn’t going to let her.

“Coming!” Scootaloo yawned as she rolled and hopped down from the bed, opening the door revealed a bemused Babs Seed.

“Good thing the wait time was an hour, I was starting to think you forgot,” she said.

“Naw,” Scootaloo said as she gestured inside. “Just had to crash for a bit.”

“No kidding,” Babs grinned as she spotted a passed-out Rumble.

Scootaloo made her rounds, first waking Rumble by simply poking his snout, then Sweetie Belle who required an extra boop or three. As she listened to the other two chat with Babs by the door, she pressed her lips into a thin line.

Button wouldn’t budge.

“Still fighting it, huh?” Rumble asked as he trotted into the room.

“He just grunts, growls, and turns away from me,” Scootaloo said, rolling her eyes.

“Button, you wanna starve to death?” Rumble asked. “I know you’re a heavy sleeper, but this is kinda ridiculous.”

“No.” Button Mash finally growled from beneath the covers.

“What do you mean, no?” Rumble tugged on the blankets. “You can’t go without dinner, buddy. Come on.”

“Mmm,” Button growled once more, pulling his pillow over his his ears.

Rumble sighed and rolled his eyes. “Fine, go ahead and starve—see if I care.”

“What’s wrong?” Sweetie poked her head into the room.

“Your fillyfriend doesn’t wanna get up.” Rumble rolled his eyes. “He’s pouting.”

“I am not!” Button cried, his voice already thick.

“What are you doing?” Sweetie asked, irritation creeping into her voice as she sat at his bedside, futilely poking his back.

Scootaloo groaned and trotted up to Sweetie Belle, placing a hoof on her shoulder. “We gotta go, or we’re going to lose our spot.”

Sweetie took one last glance towards Button.“Please?”

The pillow shook left and right.

Scootaloo sighed, trotting out into the hallway, Rumble not too far behind.

“Hope you feel better, Button,” Sweetie whispered, turning to follow the rest out of the door.

If there was one thing Scootaloo had learned about Manehattan, it was to not judge a book by its cover.

As they passed through the rustic wooden door set into the drab masonry exterior, they found themselves in a cavernous space that was less a casual-dining restaurant, and more a work of art. Replicas and remnants of mid-century machinery loomed above the walls dressed in sports and music memorabilia.

Between the high-hung lanterns, and the radiance of a large fireplace that sat before the waiting area, this might as well have been the creation of some manic hoarder with a hankering for fried food and rock music.

“Whoa…” Scootaloo breathed as she glanced at the decor on the way to their booth.

“Not too shabby, huh?” Babs said as they took their seats.

“It looks good, it smells good—”

“Yeah,” Rumble cut in. “They got tons of classic ‘Bolts gear up there. Pretty rad.”

“I can’t say their taste in music is my cup of tea,” Sweetie said, swaying slightly anyway. “But, its got a unique...”

Scootaloo eased into her seat, turning to Babs who seemed to be discussing something far more interesting with Rumble.

“...the best thing here though, hooves down, is the Madison Mare Monster.”

Rumble’s eyes lit up immediately. “Madison Mare Monster, huh?”

Scootaloo opened her own menu, eyes widening a little.

“I dunno, Scoots.” He eyed her quizzically. “You wanna just split one?”

“Pfft.” Babs waved a dismissive hoof. “What are you, her husband?”

Rumble sputtered. “N-no!” His eyes widened. “I mean, well… why does everypony keep calling us that? Gross.”

“Gross?” Babs arched an eyebrow.

“Wha—Okay look: we aren’t married, alright? I just don’t want her to—”

“I get you pegasi stallions are all about those lean cut mares,” Babs said, chuckling, “but let the filly live a little.”

Rumble’s face turned red enough to make ketchup pale in comparison.

“He does kinda have a point,” Sweetie pointed to the description below the delectable monstrosity. “That’s enough calories alone for the fi—er—four of us.”

“That wasn’t…” Rumble mumbled, his face hidden by the erect menu, and his voice drowned out by the ever-distant, ever-present background music. “Luna raise the sun.”

“Don’t worry, Wondercolt.” Babs jabbed Rumble playfully. “She isn’t gonna gain fifty pounds off one sandwich.” She turned to Scootaloo. “Seriously though, you two a thing? He sure acts like it.”

Scootaloo nodded sheepishly. “I mean, I guess we’ve been good friends for awhile—”

Babs was unamused. “Friends, huh?.”

“I do…” Scootaloo squirmed. “I mean, I do—he—like—”

The clip-clop of hooves caught their attention as a lanky stallion approached their table.

“Hello, everypony,” their waiter asked. “Can I get anything started for ya?”

“Yeah,” Rumble started, gesturing at Scootaloo. “We would like to split a Madison—”

“Nuh uh.” Scootaloo crossed her forehooves.

Rumble blinked once or twice. “Are you… serious?”

Scootaloo nodded. “We both would each like a Madison Mare Monster.” She paused, glancing at the menu again. “Hold the tomatoes on mine, please.”

The waiter shared the same disbelieving expression as everypony else.

“You sure? that’s… a lot of food for one filly.”

“Yup.” Scootaloo nodded. “One hundred percent.” She arched an eyebrow as she heard Babs snickering.

Scootaloo sat back as Rumble facehoofed. “Whatever, Scoots.” he said simply. “Don’t come crying to me when you can’t move… or breathe… because you ate half your weight in hay, greens, and…” he snorted. “Everything else.”

“Laugh at me all you want.” Scootaloo smirked. “I got this.”

“Famous last words.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t like the smell of sickness, nor did she—


“Bless you,” Fluttershy giggled. “I figured it would be a little dusty around here, but—yikes.”

“Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you’re on your… flank for a week,” Rainbow said as she sprayed another dirty surface with some good smell Fluttershy had brought up. “Besides, I don’t think she was too happy about her room… I mean, how was I supposed to know she wouldn’t like the Wonderbolts?”

“Save that for when she gets home. Remember what Love Tap said—”

“I know, I know. The most important memories you make are those you share together.” Rainbow rolled her eyes. “What exactly does that have to do with cleaning her room?”

“Because, if you do it without her, she’ll feel left out—or think that you don’t care about what she thinks or wants.”

“That last thing I need right now is for her to get grumpy, again,” Rainbow muttered. She inspected her recliner, which seemed to have the thickest coating of dust out of anything else.

“You were very brave tonight,” Cadance’s words echoed among her many thoughts. “You opened yourself up. Let yourself be vulnerable. Once, you wouldn’t have done that.

Suddenly, it was night, her home ransacked, furniture reduced to fragments. Rumble had left bloodied, Scootaloo declaring her a lost cause…

Before she had the wind knocked out of her, for the briefest of moments, she saw those terrified, pleading eyesher child begging for mercy from the monster her own mother had brought into her home.

She shuddered. There was no way they had forgotten about about… that…

“What’s wrong?” Fluttershy tilted her head to look at Rainbow’s now sullen features, her pink mane falling over her muzzle.

“N—Nothing.” Rainbow shook her head as she swiped the cushion with her hoof. “Just thinking.”

“All you can do is try your best from here on out,” Fluttershy said. “It’s going to be tough, but if anypony can tackle a tough challenge, well, I can’t think of anypony else better.”

“What if my best isn’t good enough, Shy?” Rainbow’s voice wavered. “After everything I’ve put the kid though, she has no reason to—”

“If she wanted nothing to do with you, she would not have been here this week. She certainly wouldn’t have brought Rumble along. She wanted to help you—”

“Because she was probably guilted into…”

Rainbow looked up as Fluttershy placed a hoof on her shoulder, her stare hard yet still retaining that kindness she was known for.

She sighed. “There is nothing you can do about the past, Rainbow.” She shook her head. “Everypony makes mistakes—and yes, sometimes those mistakes are unforgivable. But… she seems willing to… She loves you. Even after everything, there’s still that part of her who believes in you.”

She felt Rainbow’s chest hitch.

“I know for certain if you put your best hoof forward, and show her that she means as much to you as you’ve said, you two will be able to share something truly wonderful.”

“Waste not, want not, that’s what my pops always tells me.” Babs smirked as she crossed her forehooves, staring at a bloated Scootaloo as she gazed blankly at half of her Madison Mare Monster.

“I… can’t… do it,” Scootaloo groaned.

Rumble snorted. “Looks like splitting it wasn’t a bad idea.” He patted Scootaloo on the head. “Is Sweetie Belle gonna have to carry you back to the hotel?”

“Why me?” Sweetie whined, sinking a little in her seat.

“Because my withers are sore, and my back hurts from carrying all of a certain somepony’s crap.” He shot a glare towards Scootaloo, who glowered back.

“Hey there, everypony.” The waiter, Hot Quiche, appeared again, looking a little more tired, but no less peppy. “Any room for desert?”

His grin widened as he was met with a chorus of groans.

“Okay then,” he said brightly. “I’ll just be right back with your checks, and then—”

“Hang on a sec,” Rumble said suddenly, sitting up.

He snatched a paper napkin from the dispenser, then scribbled on it with crayon, and passed it to the waiter. He took it, read it quickly with a raised eyebrow, then walked away.

“What was that?” she asked Rumble.

“Nothing,” Rumble said quickly, turning away. “You girls go ahead; I’ll be right behind you.”

Scootaloo grunted as she scooted off the booth, followed by Sweetie and Babs. Clumsily, they wound through the stuffy restaurant, and out into the rush of cool outdoor air and sound of Manehattan traffic.

“Managed to wolf a good chunk of it down, Orange. I’m impressed,” Babs said as she slugged Scootaloo on the shoulder.

“Yeah…” Scootaloo huffed, before letting out a hearty burp. “Sure did.”

She glanced back to see that Rumble was not trailing behind.

“I hope Button’s feeling better,” Sweetie said as they took the final crossing to the hotel.

“Probably just needed some shut-eye.” Scootaloo smiled. “I’m sure he’s fine.”

She felt relief as they approached the hotel’s awning.

“Babs,” Scootaloo said, managing a smile. “Thanks for… everything. Finding our hotel, the food, I owe you—”

“Nothin’.” Babs finished with a smirk. “It’s just cool seeing you guys—what are the odds, right?”

“I know…” Scootaloo chuckled. “Crazy.”

“Well, I gotta bounce.” Babs rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “Folks will start painting the town red if I don’t get home by ten.”

“Yeah…” Sweetie started. “Maybe we’ll run into you again?”

“You never know, huh? Maybe us fillies can get in a little mare-time.” Babs winked before trotting down the street. “Later!”

Scootaloo and Sweetie watched as she trotted away, waving back as she turned out of sight.

Sweetie glanced around for a second. “Where’s Rumble?”

“I dunno.” Scootaloo shrugged. “Let’s head up though, I’m pretty cold… and tired.”

“Sure thing,” Sweetie yawned.

The room was just as they left it, Button’s door still closed. Immediately making a running jump for her bed, Scoots bounced as the old springy mattress recoiled against her weight.

Scootaloo stared up at the ceiling as she heard Sweetie gently knock on Button’s door, and then poke her head in.

“You okay?” Sweetie asked.

Button’s reply was unintelligible.

“Still tired, I guess,” Sweetie sighed as she hopped on the bed beside Scootaloo.

Just as Scootaloo made herself comfortable, there was a knock at their door.

Awesome timing, Rumble. Scootaloo growled as she slunk off the bed and trotted to open the door.

“Sorry.” Rumble shivered. “Didn’t have the key card.”

“Yeah, yeah—” Scootaloo stopped as she saw two food cartons on Rumble’s back.

“You brought some leftovers back?”

“Ye~ sort of.” Rumble shrugged as he stopped at Button’s door. “He still asleep?”

“I think so,” Scootaloo said, watching him for a moment before following.

Rumble carefully crept towards the mini-fridge under the nightstand, opening it just enough to slide in the stacked containers.

“Is that for him?”

Rumble scowled at Scootaloo, then turned and led her out of his room.

“Uh huh,” Rumble muttered, his cheeks reddening a little.

“Aww, Rummy~” Scootaloo cooed. “You’re such a good friend.”

“N—I just didn’t… Ugh.” Rumble grunted, his eyes widening as he noticed Sweetie already sound asleep.

“You gonna—” he stopped as Scootaloo hopped on the bed, settling down beside Sweetie.

“Nope. Well, alright,” Rumble mumbled. “Got my own place to crash for once. Night, Scoots.”

“Night, Rummy.” Scootaloo let out a yawn as she stretched her forehooves, snuggling into her pillow as what remained of the cold gave way to room temperature.

For a moment, she simply stared at the warm bulb of the bedside lamp; its orange-ish glow was comforting to her, the floral wallpaper reminding her of somepony special.

Somepony she couldn’t wait to see again.

She turned out the light, letting the last ounce of energy leave her as she settled under the covers. Sweetie’s soft snoring fading in and out with the distant ambiance of the city that never sleeps.

32. Dreams

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

She felt a familiar hoof gently caressing her back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Alright with what?” Scootaloo hollered back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scootaloo swallowed as Sweetie gently nudged her towards the counter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scootaloo blinked once or twice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I like your place.” Scootaloo beamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This… doesn’t feel like home.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her expression softened as Scootaloo’s tail swayed nervously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah!” Scoots and Sweetie shouted in delight.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweetie Belle was not amused.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The... what?”

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

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

His mouth watered.

“Um… sir?”

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

“You’re moving.”

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

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

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

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

“....please don’t.”

Rumble jumped as Button tapped his shoulder.

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

“Uh… you cool with that?”

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

Wow, that’s oddly considerate.

Rumble nodded, holding back a smirk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe that was an airhorn.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rumble’s left eye twitched.

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

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

Rumble’s right eye twitched. “No.”


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

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

“You know the rules, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rumble blinked. He chose Fluttershy.

Button chose Pinkie Pie after several extra seconds of deliberation.

“Pinkie Pie?” Rumble tilted his head.

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

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

“Uh huh.”

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

“...and picked who?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rumble simply rolled his eyes. Ruffled Feathers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly, this game was interesting.

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

“Shut up until we win.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A kick in the teeth.

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

Another hoof stuck his head.

“Not feelin’ so hot now, are ya?!”

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, it’s you or them.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Anypony home?”

“What?” Rumble blinked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re gonna win it.”

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

“Gonna kick their ass.”

“That’s right!”

“Let’s do this!”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why don’t we go for a trot?”

“Well…” Harbour hesitated.

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

“Scootaloo…” Sweetie raised a hoof to object.

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

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

Come on, Scoots….

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

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

“Ready to go?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She flinched as Harbour noticed her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweetie felt her nerves being punched.

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

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

“But…” Scootaloo deflated, pawing the pavement.

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

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

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

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

Suddenly, they stopped.

“Shut up.” Scootaloo muttered.

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

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

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

Both watched as Mrs. Harbour staggered to her bedroom.

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

Sweetie watched as Scootaloo bit her lip.

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

“Tender…” Harbour began to object.

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

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

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

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

Tender passed Scootaloo as she stormed into the hallway.

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

Sweetie Belle heard Scootaloo open her mouth.

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

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

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

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

Scootaloo spun around, her ears splayed to her head.

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

“I don’t…”

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


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

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

“Nopony deserves to be cooped up like that!”

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

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

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

Don’t.” Sweetie put her hoof up.

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

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

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

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

“Well shit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Heya filli—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Battle of the Hay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He watched her shift under the covers a little.


Rumble blinked. “What?”

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

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

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

“Why are you arguing with me?”

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

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

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

“Ugh!” Scootaloo moaned. “Get out!”

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

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

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

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


No response as the silhouette remained still.

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

“What?” She grumbled.

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

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

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

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

“I’m glad you’re here.”

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

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

33. Decline

View Online

Rainbow Dash wasn’t a fan of monotony, nor was she all that fond of—

“Hustle it up, Dash!” Spitfire hollered. “Three more of these bastards, then we’re outta here!”

She waved a casual hoof towards a trio of bright red plastic bins, all full of very heavy, very thick paperwork.

Did they use ink or lead? Rainbow groaned on the inside as the outside was matted by sweat. She wasn’t one to wimp out of some heavy lifting every now and then—the Bolts’ weight regimine made sure of that—but at least strength training didn’t tack on the boredom.

“I mean, I could grab some drinks and greasy appetizers by myself, but…” Spitfire smirked as Rainbow strained to lift the final crate to the top of the stack. “Nicely, done.”

“Yeah…” Rainbow replied. “No sweat.”

Spitfire arched an eyebrow as she closed the storage unit and lead Rainbow down the hallway. “Unless there’s a rogue rain cloud in here, I’d say you’re full of shit.”

“You wouldn’t be wrong, I’ve been holding it in since the first load.”

“Holy… “ Spitfire shook her head. “Why don’t you drop them colts off at the pool before we head out.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice.” Rainbow rolled her eyes as she slipped into the Mare’s room to traumatize a toilet.

Relieved in more than one way, Rainbow followed Spitfire into the teeming streets of Cloudsdale’s Cirrus Corner: an eclectic mix of uptown clubs, dive bars, and ten-figure flats that had a sweeping view of South Equestria. The entire city was bathed in the wonderful amber of the setting sun.

“Two more days, bitch.” Rainbow flinched as Spitfire nudged her a little harder than usual. “Told ya you’d make it.”

“Since when did I say I wouldn’t?” Rainbow puffed out her chest. “You call it suspension, I call it a little extra exercise.”

“Of course you’d say that…” Spitfire chuckled. “But uh… when it’s in the bag, what are you gonna do?”


“I’m pretty sure the Bolts will consider your reinstatement. I wouldn’t be the only one putting in a good word for ya.”

“That would be amazing,” Rainbow’s smile quickly faded. “But, just like my friends said… filly's first.”

“If you put half the effort you did back there into being a mom, she’s going to grow up to be a fuckin’ alicorn.” Spitfire razzed as they trotted into a quiet pub, the dim lighting relaxing.

“I hope so,” Rainbow sighed. “If this trip of hers doesn’t go well, I could be in for a rough couple months.”

“Have you…” Spitfire watched as their glasses were filled with sky piss on the rocks. “Ever thought about maybe coming back?”

“With her?” Rainbow was practically bug-eyed. “I’d love to, but… she wouldn’t do well here. She already gets shit back home for being grounded. Her life would be Tartarus.”

“Oh yeah, I always forget she—can’t. They ever figure out why?”

Rainbow shrugged. “I dunno, honestly. She’s always had tiny wings, so they just kinda told her to deal with it.”


“Yeah, but she’s a rough and tumble kind of kid. She mobs around on that scooter of hers like a bat out of Hay.”

“Stubborn, speedy, and a smart-ass.” Spitfire smirked. “If that’s not a little you, I don’t know what is.”

Their orders taken, the two were left to fidget and tap their hooves on the table. Finally, Rainbow cleared her throat.

“If I were to, you know, rejoin the Bolts…” Rainbow traced a hoof across the table.

“We miss ya,” Spitfire said simply. “We all make mistakes, and with that cuckoo in his cage, we can start scouting for a new recruit.”

“You haven’t yet?”

“No, ma’m.” Spitfire shook her head. “We took your suspension as an opportunity to catch a much needed break, both for PR and our sanity. I hate to say it, but you fucking up was the best thing that happened to my sleep schedule.”

“‘Least it was good for something, I guess,” Rainbow muttered as her drink was set before her.

For what seemed like forever, Scootaloo simply lie there, half-lidded eyes adjusting to the bloom of sunlight blaring through the window.

The unkempt colt before her slowly focused into view, her mind was virtually blank. The smell of pizza breath wafted into her nostrils as drool oozed from Rumble’s slacked jaw.

Nopony closed the blinds, huh? Scootaloo’s ear flicked as she sat up.

Her eyes scanned the room, from Rumble, to a snoring Sweetie Belle, then the wide-open door on the opposite wall. She blinked once or twice, wondering dumbly why the open door caught her attention. An empty bed, with covers tossed haphazardly, was all Scootaloo could see inside.

Left Rumble here, huh? Scootaloo glanced back towards their bed as she trotted towards the bathroom, resurfacing emotions starting to bring her down.

Relief came as the warm shower pelted her feathers and fur, steam rising from the floor; her inner voice drowned out by droplets pelting porcelain.

Adjusted to the light, she raised her head up, watching stray pelts slowly streak down the tile. She shook her head; last night had been awful.

“Is it bad I don’t wanna see mom again?” Scootaloo mumbled as she reached for the microscopic shampoo bottle. “I mean, It’s not that I don’t want to see her, just not like…”

Her ears perked as she swore she’d heard something—maybe something fell? She looked around the small shelves in the showers, the hilariously tiny conditioner, hoof brush, and soap were undisturbed.

She muffled a squawk as she heard the twist of a knob and the rush of the bathroom sink. For a minute, she kept her gaze to the floor, the water getting slightly cooler. Finally, she heard the brushing of teeth.

WIthout saying a word, she pulled the shower curtain askew just in time for Rumble to spit take all over the mirror, coughing as some toothpaste no doubt assailed his windpipe.

“What are you doing in here?” Scootaloo barked.

“Why didn’t you lock the door, stupid?” Rumble’s tone was as acidic as his face was red.

“Are you deaf?” Scootaloo hissed. “Obviously somepony is taking a shower!”

“Figured you’d already left,” Rumble shrugged as he continued brushing his teeth.

“Wait, so you assumed it was Button when you came bursting in here?”

“Uh huh.”

Scootaloo’s eyes narrowed for a second before she closed the curtain and she began sudsing her coat with soap.

“Still grumpy, huh?”

“No.” Scootaloo began. “Can you just hurry and get out?”

“Sorry, yeesh.”

Scootaloo kept her gaze low, watching the suds wash towards the drain. “Yes, I’m still grumpy. A lot happened last night, and I’m… not happy about it.”

She winced as Rumble gargled mouthwash.

“Mmrgfrmf,” Rumble said poetically before he spat in the sink. “Something wrong with your mom?”

Scootaloo nodded.

“You… want me to come?”

There was a sudden pang in her gut as the water grew colder still. Ignoring the loud yes that echoed through her mind like a ringing bucket, she closed her eyes and let out a sigh.

Silence lingered as she felt shampo washing over her eyelids and down her snout.

“I guess Button kinda just left me here, so if you want me to tag along with you fillies—”

Scootaloo shuddered.

“—just say so,” Rumble finished.

Fillies? Oh, yeah, her Scootaloo finally turned off the water, stopping halfway from throwing open the curtain, remembering who was on the other side.

The door closed just as her mouth opened. Peeking from behind the curtain again, she saw she was alone. Scootaloo shuddered, hard; she hadn’t even stepped out into the chilly air yet.

Cleaned off, and mostly dry, she wandered back into the room; Rumble was now missing, leaving only her and a snoring Sweetie Belle.

“Where did he—” She flinched as Sweetie went from sawing a log, to butchering an entire forest.

Ears splayed she trotted over the Sweetie, her hooves as heavy as her boop was blunt. Sweetie’s horn sparked as she sputtered awake.

“You’re worse than Rainbow Dash,” Scootaloo deadpanned as she looked into her tired eyes.

Sweetie Belle looked away for a moment, forcing down a smile.

Scootaloo did the same, scuffing at the carpet. Her tongue tied as Sweetie hopped down from her bed.

“Where’s the colts?” Sweetie asked as she slowly meandered towards the washroom. She stopped after a second, turning to see Scootaloo still sitting at her bedside, gaze to the floor.

As she raised a hoof, somepony knocked thrice on the door. Opening it with her magic revealed Rumble, saddled with two platters of something.

“Awww,” Rumble groaned. “I have to go back and get juice, anyway. What do you want?”

“Bwah?” Sweetie blinked, the smell of breakfast alerting her senses. “Oh, uh… maybe some raisin oatmeal if they have any. Thank you, Rumble.”

“No problem,” Rumble said simply as he placed the two platters onto his bed, one revealed to host half a bagel, some hashbrowns, and pancakes. Without another word, he cantered back out the door.

As it clicked shut, Scootaloo slowly wandered to the open platter. She drew in the wafting smells as she took a curious nibble of her hashbrown.

“That was nice of him,” Sweetie said mostly to herself as she finally entered the bathroom.

As Scootaloo wandered back to her breakfast, she glanced towards the door again. Sighing, she hopped on the bed and brought her food towards her side.

Rumble returned with juice and some oatmeal plus toast. He instinctively took his food and prepared to sit on the floor.

“Come on,” Scootaloo said, a smile finally on her face. “Don’t be such a wuss, I don’t bite… usually.”

“Yeah, Celestia knows you sure bark, though,” Rumble remarked as he sat down beside her, the two of them laser-focused on their breakfast.

Feeling warmth in her stomach, and the last of the tired weight shed, she looked out the hotel window. The scene just like the day before; she even recognized some carriages and their occupants.

She sighed. It seemed nature was calling, and she’d much rather answer than spend another moment lost in her thoughts, so she hastily trotted to the bathroom.

Rumble dared a glance at Sweetie Belle.

“You’re coming, right?” Sweetie asked, not looking away from her morning feast.


“You should.” Sweetie cut in. “I hope today is better than yesterday, but between boredom and frustration, she’s… not happy.”

“Well, then, I’m glad I already told her I’d go if she wanted.”

Sweetie’s ears wilted as a fire died. “Oh. W—well, that’s good.”

“Yep,” Rumble said, raising an eyebrow, “sure is.”

Scootaloo wrinkled her snout at the smell of toast and gravy, or at least, that’s what she told herself it was as she lead the trio upstairs and down the hallway towards Mrs. Harbor’s apartment.

“This is a pretty big place, huh?” Rumble asked as he glanced at the various portraits and open doors.

“Yeah,” Sweetie answered, “seems like old ponies from all over Equestria come here.”

“Must mean it’s pretty good, then.” Rumble was looking towards Scootaloo, but only Sweetie nodded in response as he watched his marefriend’s tail hang limp, her heavy hooves plodding along the amber carpet.

“Was she like this yesterday?” Rumble whispered.

Sweetie simply sighed as they slowed, Scootaloo scowling at the door. Trotting to sit beside her, Rumble glanced between the unmoving door, and Scootaloo’s face.

“You gonna knock, or…?” Rumble flinched at the glare he received.

“Bwu—y-yeah!” Scootaloo sputtered. The three of them listened and waited after Shave and A Haircut and were met with silence.

“Maybe she’s still asleep?” Sweetie tilted her head. “What did Tender Care say—“

Rumble snorted.

“What?” Scootaloo scowled as a smirk threatened to form. “That’s his name… I think.”

“Poor bastard,” Rumble muttered.

“Oh, I’m quite alright with it.”

Scootaloo’s face grew frigid as Rumble turned, facing the intimidating stallion with an indifferent smirk.

“Sounds more like a nickname,” Rumble quipped.

“Rumble!” Scootaloo hissed.

“Rumble, eh?” Tender smiled himself. “Guess we both got the short end of the name stick.” His smile faltered a little as he looked towards the fillies.

Scootaloo was the first to notice. “What’s wrong?”

“Well,” Tender sighed. “I’m afraid Mrs. Harbour won’t be up and about much. Seems she overdid it yesterday. Bone doctor wants her rested until physical therapy this afternoon.”

Scootaloo let out a whimper.

“Might see a couple nurses in and out today, let them do their thing.” He shook his head, eyes widening as he saw Scootaloo stiffen. “She’ll be alright, but make sure she doesn’t push herself, okay?”

Sweetie watched Scootaloo for a moment, and then swallowed. “We will, sir.”

“Excellent.” he forced a smile. “She was very much looking forward to seeing you again, Scootaloo. If you need anything, just holler.”

With that, he turned the key and opened the door, closing it behind them.

Sweetie watched as Rumble’s curious eyes scanned the surroundings, stalling at a couple pictures of a certain orange pegasus.

“You were pretty cute as a foal.”

Scootaloo scowled as she shook her head, wordlessly trotting down the hall.

Sweetie did the same as Rumble glanced her way.

“What? Just trying to lighten the mood.”

Sweetie sighed. “You of all ponies should know better.”

“Excuse me?” Rumble arched an eyebrow.

You heard me. She mouthed as they wandered down the hall, the door at the end now open.

“…doctor says I need to take it easy, no strenuous exercise,” they heard Mrs. Harbour say as they trotted inside. “And that includes an afternoon stroll.

Scootaloo’s ears wilted. “Hey! You could’ve told me no.”

“With the guilt trip you were putting on?” Harbour chuckled as she glanced over to Rumble, who sat beside Scoots.

“Well as I live and breath~” She smirked. “Still hitched to this feisty wagon, I see?”

Rumble simply tilted his head.

“Oblivious as ever, too,” Sweetie muttered.

“If I got a guilt trip, you surely got the works,” Harbour sniggered.

“That’s one way to put it.” Rumble smiled as he dodged a hoof swing. “I actually went with my friend to Manehattan Comic-Con, yesterday.”

“Oh, with all the ponies in superhero costumes and fantasy getups?” Harbour clopped her hooves together. “Well that sounds wonderful; why didn’t you girls go?”

“Because I came here to see you,” Scootaloo squaked.

“Dearest, you wouldn’t offend me in the slightest if you chose to spend the rest of the weekend downtown; how often do you get to an event like that?”

“We could go late—” Rumble trailed as Scootaloo looked at him with murderous ire.

Mrs. Harbour laughed as her adoptive daughter mouthed a dirty word or two, punctuated by a menacing step towards her bemused coltfriend.

“In any case, why don’t you three make yourself at home while I get these old bones rarin’ to go?”

“Would you like some coffee or tea?” Sweetie asked.

“Coffee would be lovely, dear.” Harbour smiled. “There’s cream and sugar in the pantry.”

“Sure thing!” Scootaloo beamed as she dashed down the hall and into the kitchenette.

Scootaloo was already cranking the coffee grinder by the time Sweetie rounded into the kitchen, stalling for a second at the strong smell.

“You got this, Scoots?” Sweetie asked, letting out a little eep as two irritated magenta eyes glared at her for the briefest moment.

“You of all ponies… ” Rumble tsked as he trotted into the living room.

Sweetie watched Scootaloo for a moment, trotting over to help find a filter.

“I got this.” Sweetie’s eyes went from the depths of a drawer, to a piercing stare. “I was just—” Sweetie began, only to sigh and exit the kitchen, seeing Rumble flipping through a photo album.

As she sat with him, she saw some photos she recognized—mostly of Scootaloo, and occasionally herself, but also Madame Harbour, her husband, and the old house. For a moment, she could smell the dust and faint fragrance.

“You remember most of this?” Rumble asked curiously, carefully turning the page over.

“Mmhm.” Sweetie nodded, pointing to a polaroid of Scoots in a Nightmare Night costume that was much too big. “Yikes, that had to be from before my sister moved out of Mom and Dads.”

“Huh?” They heard Scootaloo from behind the counter.

“We’re looking at some old pictures,” Sweetie giggled. “You remember when you went as an egg?”

Suddenly a shadow loomed over the album. “N—No!” She hastily covered the offending snapshot with a trembling hoof. A gray one gently pushed it away.

“Oh stop,” Rumble giggled. “It’s actually kinda cute.”

“Aww, mama’s little hatchling,” Harbour cooed, sending Scootaloo’s nerves into the stratosphere.

“Aaaagh!” Scootaloo cringed as she attempted to sneak back to the kitchen.

“Already got my coffee, dear, thank you.” Harbour smiled as she took a seat beside Sweetie Belle. “Besides, wasn’t it you who wanted to look through these, anyway?”

“Well yeah…” Scootaloo sulked over to sit beside Rumble, who draped a wing over her.

“We’re all friends here.” Sweetie smiled. “Nothing to be embarrassed about.”

“Yeah,” Rumble added. “You don’t know embarrassing until you see my mom’s homemade Wind Rider costume I got to wear for my first Nightmare Night in Las Pegasus.” He shuddered. “I can still feel that itch sometimes.”

“Besides—” Harbour waved a hoof. “Sandy already had that rooster getup from his stage days, and my good friend Cherries Jubilee was a customer for a local theatre troupe. So, we made a little flock.”

Scootaloo swallowed as she gazed at a faded picture from her first day at Cheerilee’s schoolhouse.

“I wonder why that one looks so dated,” Sweetie said. “That’s the newest picture I’ve seen so far.”

“Hm.” Mrs. Harbour adjusted her specs. “Probably used a disposable camera for that one. Money got a little tight after Sandy lost his job at the Acres.”

“Bw—huh?” Scootaloo’s head shot up.

“Oops,” Harbour muttered under her breath. “I suppose you’re old enough, but he was a salespony for the Apples as seasonal work. He did good, got them rapport in Manehattan.”

Scootaloo shifted under Rumble’s wing as Harbour paused for a sip of coffee. “And my hometown of Vanhoover; but he lost them a good deal of bits after getting hoodwinked by a con artist in Trottingham.”

“Eugh.” Sweetie shuddered. “I can see why they’d be unhappy about that.”

“Didn’t help he and Bright Mac had a few before they had it out.” She shook her head. “Both were the kinda drunks suited for karaoke night or a hole in the wall. Bright was a bit of a young buck, long and short of it was that you got used to oatmeal for a month.”

“Huh.” Scootaloo nodded. She watched Harbour’s concerned gaze for a moment. She knew as well as anyone the wheels in Scootaloo’s brain were spinning.

The next page yielded more recent moments: Sweetie Belle was in most of these. Their first school pictures, Harbour and Sandy helping clean and stage the Carousel Boutique for its grand opening; and a couple pre-CMC shenanigans.

“I forgot how close our families were.” Sweetie glanced towards Scootaloo, who was fixated on a dinner photo of Rarity’s parents, Harbour, Sandy, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle.

“Yes, Betty and I often met each other at the spa before they moved to the other end of Ponyville.” Harbour grinned. “I remember helping Magnum find Quills and Sofas after they first moved into town. He and Sandy were on a bowling team for a couple years if I recall.”

“No wonder you two grew up best friends.” Rumble snorted. “You’re basically family.”

Family Scootaloo mouthed, then smiled.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?” Harbour put a hoof around Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo prancing from Rumble’s cover into a gentle embrace.

Rumble glanced towards a shelf in the corner, adorned with knick-knacks and framed pictures.

“So, uh… If you don’t mind me asking…”

“Not at all.” Harbour smiled and nodded.

“What happened to… your husband?”

“Sandbar?” Scootaloo asked incredulously, an old hoof rested on her shoulder.

“Have you ever heard of Laminitis?”

Rumble shook his head.

“It’s when your hooves grow tender, and swell until you can’t stand up.” Harbour nodded as Scootaloo shuddered. “At first, we thought it was just from a fall he’d taken a month before he began to founder, but the doctors told him to take it easy for awhile.”

“He got sick and began to lose weight, wasn’t eating; eventually it got bad enough to where I couldn’t take care of him, anymore. He had about a month at Ponyville Hospital before he passed.”

“I’m sorry,”

“Don’t be.” Harbour smiled. “He was a hard workin’ stallion, but he never was one to take care of himself; he ate enough for the whole town when he was in rare form. That’s why I always told this little filly to keep herself busy. Nothing wrong with a little indulgence every once in awhile, but…”

“Wait… ” Scootaloo blinked at a sudden realization. “Is that why you took me to the hospital that time I fractured my forehoof?”

“That’s why I was a worry wart, yes.” Harbour nodded. “Once you learn about the signs, you become just a touch paranoid.”

“Wasn’t that after you tried an… Ender..”

“Endo No-hoof kickout,” Scootaloo corrected, “…and yes. I stuck it the second time, though!”

Rumble tilted his head as Mrs. Harbour stifled a giggle. “The hay is that?”

“Scooter trick,” Scootaloo answered. “Haven’t I shown you before?”

Rumble shook his head.

“What?” Sweetie’s eyes widened. “How have you not?”

“Dunno,” Scootaloo shrugged. “Been a little busy, I guess.”

“Even Apple Bloom has seen you pull crazy stunts!”


Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes.

“Alright fillies— and colt, I think it’s time we head down to the feedlot for some oats.”

“Already?” Scootaloo’s voice cracked as she whipped around to see the hour hand facing north.

“Sounds good to me,” Rumble yawned as he followed Mrs. Harbour out the door. “Come on, Scoots.”

While Harbour and Sweetie Belle trotted down the hallway, Scootaloo lingered a little, seemingly fixated on the still-open photo album.

“Come on.” Rumble nodded towards the door. Scootaloo flinching as he put a hoof over her withers, nudging her.

Scootaloo scowled at him.

“What’s wrong?”

Rumble shrank back as Scootaloo’s scowl deepened.

“Are you seriously this dense?” Scootaloo breathed.

Rumble blinked once or twice before flashing a weak smile. “I guess so.”

“Alright then, featherbrain, let me spell it out for you.” Scootaloo stepped a little too close, pressing Rumble’s snout with hers as they backed into the room.

Praise Celestia you wash.

“This place is gross,” Scootaloo began as she closed the door behind them. She waved a hoof across the living room, landing on a particularly dirty section of wallpaper. “She does the same stupid stuff every day.”

“Sounds like my grandparents.” Rumble shrugged, nudging Scootaloo backwards.

“You just watched your grandparents wither away and die in a dusty flat?”

“Whoa. Scoots…” Rumble glanced towards the door. “What are you-”

“Don’t give me that.” She stomped in a circle. “Sweetie Belle said the same thing!”

“Alright, well I’d love to stand here and listen to you whine, but I’m starving. Let’s go before they come looking.”

“You’re gonna do it too, huh?”

“Sure am.” Scootaloo flinched as Rumble cut in with a commanding tone. “We’re going.”

She scowled as she was lead out the door and down the hall. Rumble let off as they reached the stairs, but kept beside her until they reached the cafeteria.

Assembled at the same table as yesterday was Harbour, Rosedust, and three other grandmares. Three empty chairs sat ready at one end.

“There you are.” Harbour smiled as Scootaloo took a spare seat. “I was about to have Miss. Belle check on you two.” She glanced to her left, arching an eyebrow.

“Colt’s room,” Scootaloo answered.

“…no need to play hard to get, sugar bun,” Rosedust cooed at a young stallion, whose beet-red face contrasted his apricot coat.

“Discord rise, Rosebud!” A mare howled as her spectacles shimmered. “Not even his first day and you’re already on the prowl. Also, I’d prefer if you left my sugar buns out of your promiscuity.”

“Oh, can it, you.” Rosebud scowled, ears perked as her prey scuttled out of sight. “I would’ve had him hooked if you hadn’t hollered.”

Scootaloo squirmed in her seat, blinking as Sweetie scooted closer.

The spectacled mare shook her head. “Hardly conduct appropriate for grown mares,” she continued, waving a hoof Scootaloo’s way. “Keep it up and the fillies will mistake this place for the looney bin.”

“Might as well just have them bring on geldings from here on out.” Harbour muttered as she took a sip of her water.

Rosedust stuck out her tongue as she humphed back to reading her book. “Foals.”

“Sun above, mares.” Harbour shook her head. “The flirty filly is Rosedust, and Cocoa Butter—” she pointed to the spectacled mare, “This is Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle.”

“Pleasure to meet you.” Sweetie smiled as she shook the mare’s hand.

“Did I miss introductions?” An alabaster mare pulled out an empty chair beside Harbour, her Bass Clef cutie mark catching Sweetie’s eye.

“Just in time, Ivory.” Harbour chuckled.

“Ivory Flower.” she extended a hoof. “Pleasure to finally meet you girls.”

Rumble tilted his head. “Finally?”

“Well, when you’ve heard so many good things about this here filly,” Ivory cooed, rustling Scootaloo’s mane.

“Well, well, who under Celestia’s sun is this suave stallion-to-be?”

“Yearling’s off-limits, Rosie.” The peanut-colored mare tsked. “Especially since my bits are on him being company to one of these lovelies.” She turned to Scootaloo, who barely suppressed a squawk.

“Oh, come now, Cocoa.” Rose scowled.

“You know what they say.” Ivory smirked. “Birds of a feather and all that.”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes at the sight at Rumble’s stupid smirk. As nice as this banter was, it did little to fill the sinkhole in her stomach.

“Uh...” Sweetie raised a shaky hoof with a nervous smile. “I hope you don’t mind me asking Mrs… Ivory, but is your cutie mark a Bass Clef?”

“Sure is, sugar.” Ivory puffed out her chest. “Two decades in the Manehattan Chamber Orchestra is what it got me.”

Sweetie’s eyes embiggened. “The Manehattan Chamber Orchestra? My sister attended one of their concerts; they’re the best in Equestria!”

“Well, they’d better be.” Ivory grinned. “My great nephew’s the director.”

“No way!” Sweetie covered her mouth with a hoof as her cheeks turned amber. “I… I mean…”

“What’s all the ruckus?”

Everypony turned to see a crimson-coated stallion with a white mane. On his head, a cap bearing the last-century insignia of the Cloudsdale Aeronautical Defense Force.

It was now Rumble’s turn to dawn wide eyes and a dropped jaw. Scootaloo busied herself with a bowl of boiled oats.

“Pretty sure you’re still on the hook for a shoddy game of bridge, Barry.” Madame Harbour smirked as the stallion took his seat beside an awestruck Rumble.

“Pretty sure it was only half my fault there, Wharf.” He turned to Rumble. “These your grandfoals?”

“Just this filly.” Scootaloo couldn’t help a small smile as her mane was rustled again.

“Who’s this, then?” He smiled, looking at Rumble who almost choked on air.

“Rumble—Sir.” Rumble scrambled to punctuate with a salute.

“Sir, eh?” He chucked as he shook Rumble’s hoof. “No need, colt. Call me Red. Red Baron if you wanna be formal. Let me guess… ” his eyes narrowed for a brief moment. Junior Flight Academy?”

Rumble nodded.

“Your turn.” Red Baron smirked.

Rumble’s eyes widened once more as he put a hoof to his chin.

“That’s their prewar insignia, so….” Rumble squirmed a little. “Yakyakistan?”

“We have a winner.”

Rumble’s grin stretched his face.

“Alright, stud.” Red smirked. “What division?”

Rumble froze. “Uh….” he squinted as he dared to lean a little closer, scrutinizing the cap. “I… don’t know.”

“52nd.” Red smiled. “These four stars and the phoenix, colt.” He took off the cap, and placed it on Rumble’s head.

Scootaloo winced, only to relax as instead of hastily tossing it and ‘fixing’ his mane, he shook like a giddy foal. She could’ve swore she saw the slightest squee almost escape his lips.

She sighed as she returned to her gruel. Soggy oats sludged sloppily as she lazily toyed with her food.


“Huh?” Scootaloo’s gaze shifted from her brackish bowl to Mrs. Harbour who, while not concerned, looked curious.

“You’ve been awfully quiet.” Her words drew the attention of everypony else.

“Oh—whoops. Guess I kinda just spaced out or something.” Scootaloo chuckled nervously as she felt heat in her face.

“‘S’alright.” Harbour nodded. “You want something else?”

Scootaloo followed the incredulous hoof to what was now miserable mush.

She nodded meekly as Harbour smiled.

Ivory snorted. “Good thing you snapped out of it, sweetie—”

“Huh?” Sweetie asked.

“Not you, sweet roll.” Rumble smirked.

“Apologies, little filly,” Ivory giggled. “Thought that was a nickname. Anyway, they’re about to close up the kitchen, so better get a word in—Oh, looks like Harbour’s six steps ahead of us.”

“Surprised?” Red waved a dismissive hoof. “She’s too sharp to be hanging around these old donkeys.”

“Who are you calling lame, slowpoke?“ Rosebud tsked. “Celestia could hang the sun and it would still run circles around you.”

“Bah.” Red stuck out his tongue. “At least I got my wits about me, sugar mama.”

“Well, I never!” Rosebud objected, then went on about something or other.

“Oi, Scoots.” Scootaloo flinched from Rumble’s boop. “We’re gonna go to Sgt. Red Baron’s apartment after lunch. You wanna come?”

Scootaloo nodded.

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Sweetie asked. “I’m sure Mrs. Harbour wouldn’t care if you took a nap in her room or something.”

It wasn't even a blink, and the two were caught up once again in the adorable antics of the old ponies.

Scootaloo sighed.

Sweetie Belle’s eyes narrowed as she scrutinized the sheet music with an intensity that made Scootaloo take notice.

“I figure we start with something light.” Ivory looked over Sweetie’s mane at the music. “You familiar with Beautiful Dreamer?”

“Hmm.” Sweetie Belle put a hoof to her chin. “Certainly isn’t something Countess has ever shown me.” Her face brightened. “But I can use all the practice I can get!”

“There’s the spirit.” she smiled. “Let me go find my songbook, and we can get going.”

Sweetie squeed with excitement as she pranced in place.

Scootaloo simply lay on her side; this couch was much comfier than the one in Mrs. Harbour’s room, at least. With its elegant lines and finer material, it reminded her of something in Rarity’s ever-evolving sofa collection than furnishing for an old ponies’ home.

“You still tired, Scoots?” Sweetie tilted her head.

“I guess,” Scootaloo muttered. “Rumble ran off to go fawn over pegasus stuff, and you’ve got… something going on.”

Sweetie’s smile faltered only slightly. “Why don’t you join us?”

Scootaloo couldn’t help snort. “You serious right now? Do you not remember the talent show?”

Sweetie nodded. “Aw, come on, it’ll be fun! Give you something to do.”

“Nah, you two have at it. I’ll stick with being the audience.”

“You sure, sw—Scootaloo?” Ivory chirped as she emerged from the hallway.

“Yeah, I’m good.” Scootaloo waved a hoof as she forced a smile and slid back into the cushion with an oomph.

“Fine as well.” Ivory smiled as she took a seat at her piano. She played a few notes and a sweep, winking at Sweetie Belle as she cleared her throat.

Scootaloo watched her horn glow, the sheet music bathed in a faint, mint aura as she smiled.

As Ivory played the chorus, Scootaloo perked up just a bit. Something about the melody—or maybe just the piano itself—reminded her of late nights and crackling fires.

She shuddered.

“Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee.
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull'd by the moonlight have all passed away.”

Scootaloo couldn’t help a soft smile. With every strike of the keys, and the faintest bob of Sweetie Belle’s head, she felt an invisible weight upon her being slowly washed away.

“Beautiful dreamer, beam on my heart,
Even as the morn on the streamlet and sea;
Then will all clouds of sorrow depart.”

Halfway through the bridge, she could’ve sworn her eyes met Sweetie’s—the faintest glimmer, and the brightest smile. And as Ivory played the final notes, Sweetie let out a sigh of relief.

Scootaloo clopped her hooves together for a moment as Ivory and Sweetie Belle bowed for the party of one.

“Well, well, little missy, I will say you’ve impressed me quite a bit,” Ivory said. “Very rare is it that somepony so young has quite the spark you do.”

“I’m still early in my coaching.” Sweetie blushed, her eyes cast to the floor.

“No need for such humility, filly.” Ivory smirked. “Just dedication. My best years were when I made a living doing what I loved; even now that it’s more a hobby… there’s nothing like being in the world of music—especially for those ponies who harbor a genuine passion.”

“You’re still a pianist?”

“Dear, I’m almost offended at the idea that I wouldn’t be!” Ivory smiled, putting a hoof over Sweetie Belle’s withers. “Just because you reach seniority doesn’t mean you’ve finished following your dreams.”

Sweetie sat awestruck as some songbooks and newspaper clippings danced around her in a violet aura.

“Charity concerts and the occasional performance for some upscale dine or birthday may not equal sold-out shows at Madison Mare Garden, but that’s not what it’s about. Music can be a means to money, sure—”

Scootaloo watched as Sweetie’s marvelous gaze swept from picture to picture, the smile on her face widening with every glisten in her eyes.

“—You’re the protege of this generation’s pop sensation! You don’t need me telling you that; but what matters is, when you love something—really feel it in your heart, whatever it may be— even the smallest smile from a faint face in the crowd is enough to warm your heart for days on end. Do you not love what you do?”

“Yes, ma’am!” Sweetie squealed with adorable ferocity.

“Well then, with your passion and practice, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing eachother again real soon.” Ivory winked.

“Ooh!” Sweetie trembled once more. “Maybe my sister can have you play at her first Manehattan Hearthwarming’s Eve Party!”


“Oh—” Sweetie blushed. “Y-Yeah, my big sister, Rarity…”

“Rarity?” Ivory’s eyes widened. “Rarity For You, Rarity?”

“Uh-huh.” Sweetie nodded.

“Well, how about that?” Ivory smiled. “I was just chatting with an old friend about finding a seamstress for her daughter’s wedding. I don’t suppose your sister would be up to the task?”

“Are you kidding?” Sweetie beamed. “She’s kill me if I didn’t ask her!”

“Splendid!” Ivory glowed. “Looks like I have some shopping to do this evening.”

Scootaloo couldn’t quite remember how they got there, but she didn’t care too much. Now they were in a slightly colder apartment, distinguished only by its vinyl wood paneling and the cluster of shelves hosting photos and memorabilia behind glass.

While Rumble fawned over the veteran stallion and all the shiny trinkets and trophies, Scootaloo’s chin grew sore from the firm couch arm it rest on. Sweetie Belle seemed immune to the occasional kick to scoot over.

...that’s the value of hard work and perseverance.” She could make out the baritone of Red’s voice. “You know the meaning of perseverance, colt?”

I… don’t think so,” Rumble replied, meekly, politely.

Must be nice. Scootaloo closed her eyes once more.

It means that even when the going gets tough, and the odds are stacked against you, you keep going. Be it flight class, or a disciplined Yak horde in the Crystal Mountains that have got you three to one: you take it on, and even if you lose, you didn’t give up.”

Scootaloo flapped her lips weakly as she gave up her slump.

You having fun, Sweetie Belle?”

Sweetie Belle yawned as she herself sat up.

I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”

Yeesh, Scootaloo.” Sweetie scowled. “You could at least try to enjoy yourself. Her physical therapy will be done in half an hour.”

Too long.”



Rumble was suddenly three inches from her face, which burned instantly, even as her thoughts turned to ice.”


C’mere!” Rumble said as he grabbed her limp hoof and lead her to the opposite end of the room.

She swallowed back an insult as her eyes met Red’s.

“Guess he wants you to sit in for the story, too.” Red chuckled, glancing towards a Sweetie Belle who was either fast asleep, or faking it like a pro.

“Scootaloo, is it?” Red extended his hoof to Scootaloo.

“Mmhm.” Scootaloo nodded meekly, returning the hoofshake with the force of a baby rabbit.

“Between Harbour and this colt, I’ve heard your life story and then some.” Red smirked. “Must be pretty darn special to ‘em. This little spitfire, especially.”

Rumble’s wings flared as he rushed to cover his face with feathers and Red roared with laughter, which sputtered with a wheezy cough.’

“Agh,” Red hacked. “That’s what you get for twenty years on the roll.”

Scootaloo winced at her sudden yawn. “The… whauuuuua?”

“Cigars, filly,” Red answered curtly as another bout of hacking threatened to erupt, only to go out with a wheeze. “A bunch of nasty muck and stuff rolled into tobacco. Don’t try it, don’t buy it; don’t even look at it. I already told this colt about what happened to one of my buddies; he was aspiring bolt, wound up sick and sorry instead.”

Scootaloo noticed something as she glanced Rumble’s way. Behind the colt, who felt the need to scratch behind his ears, was a small cardboard box with what appeared to be an athletic trophy sticking out.

“You can take that out if you’d like.” Scootaloo flinched, whipping around to see Red’s kind eyes and soft smile. “I’ve been meaning to finish unpacking, anyway.”

Scootaloo hadn’t even began to trot forward before a bluish-gray blur zipped towards the box. By the time she blinked, Rumble was already blowing the dust off a glistening gold-goggled pegasus.

“Believe that one’s from the 940 Junior Aviator’s Race, or as they call it these days, the Young Fliers Competition.” Red trotted up to the half-height trophy and looked at it wistfully. “Yes, that was back when this old pony kept up with the best of ‘em. Had to be about your age or so when I took this one home.”

“Whoa…” Rumble sat awestruck once more.

“Had to bust your flank in those days, though.” Red smirked. “If you wanted to train, your old stallion took you up and around the Low Clouds, the ones spewing those rainbows earthbound. Clipped my right wing in that race, if I remember right.”


“Not nearly as painful as placing third the next year and crashing my streak.” Red shook his head. “Got cocky and careless. Without money from the competitions, I was back at home with mom and dad—they were less than thrilled. Old man said I was going to the Wonderbolts Academy and joining the Equestrian Air Corps.”

Scootaloo looked over to Rumble again, his head craned upward, eyes wide and full of wonder. She felt the slightest pang in her stomach, like she had no reason to feel so listless and irritable. Yet, as Red went on about his first tour of the Crystal Mountains, that bitter taste in her mouth returned with a vengeance.

“If you think the Yaks of today have a temper, you’ve never met the Poleward Yaks. They were some of the most hardened bovines this side of Griffonstone.”

“My dad says they were carnivores!” Scootaloo winced at how enthusiastic her mule—Rumble was about the grizzly tone of this tale.

“You can bet your bits they were, colt,” Red continued. “Took ten of us in the first five days up there. Magic means nothing against steel resolve and raw power.”

“So…” Scootaloo heard herself ask before she could stop, “How did you win?”

“By the skin of our teeth—”

Scootaloo and Rumble sucked in a breath.

“Figuratively.” Red chuckled. “For me at least.”

“So, did it turn into melee? Hoof to…” Rumble stalled. “They call those hooves too, right?”

“Sure do, kid.” Red answered as he trotted towards the kitchenette to pour himself a drink. “Let’s just say one of theirs to your face will ruin your day and then some. Drink?”

“I’m fine,” Rumble answered quickly.”Scoots?”

Scootaloo shook her head.

“Yup… was a hell of a week. But, you gotta to what you gotta do.”

“Weren’t you scared?”

“As frightened as Celestia’s sun shines.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“SImple. There were ponies back home that wished me well, that had enough heart to believe in me. I wasn’t gonna let some ill-tempered yaks bring us down. Not without a fight. It’s one thing to take on the world—or the enemy—alone. It’s quite another when those you love got your back, because even when the going gets tough; well, you oughta know the rest.”

Rumble glanced down at the small glass of milk he hadn’t asked for, and chugged it without hesitation.

“Knew it.” Red snorted. “You two—ah, right, three have been here for nearly an hour. Figured you were a little parched. I always bring a little tea in for my students, especially during the summer. Colts think they’re hot stuff until they’re a nearly moltin’.”

“An hour?” Scootaloo’s ears perked.

“Students?” Rumble’s eyes lit up. “You’re a teacher, now?”

“Been for thirty years, colt.” Red smirked. “University of Cirrus. I teach world history majors during the week, and A.P. Cloud Physics on weekends. Maybe if you keep up your Weather Cadet classes, you’ll get into one of my infamous Atmospheric Science courses.”

“Wow! My mom went to Cirrus! My brother almost went…. until… he didn’t.”

“Is that so?” Red smiled. “Well looks like you’ve got some showing up to do. Speaking of which, I think a certain Wharf should be coming home from boot camp soon.

“Feels like boot camp, sometimes, at least with how banged up my hooves are on a good day. Anyway, I need to finish unpacking and prepare some lessons. It was a pleasure meeting you, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing eachother again. You especially.”

“Sir, yes, sir!” Rumble blinked as his salute resulted in a light thunk to his noggin.

Rumble grinned dumbly as Scootaloo trotted to the couch, poking Sweetie Belle with a hoof.

Wandering down the hall, Scootaloo’s hooves plodded heavily against the floor. On top of being tired, she was mind-numbingly bored.

Sweetie Belle was slow to keep up at first, but did well enough as they entered Mrs. Harbour’s room. She frowned as Scootaloo flopped limply onto the sofa and let out an irritated groan.

“You’ve been acting strange today, Scoots,” Sweetie Belle said, trotting to her friend’s side. “What’s wrong?”

“What do you think? While Ivory and Red are still out and about, doing something, it just seems like Mrs. Harbour does… y’know... nothing.”

“I’m sure she’ll find something to do once her hooves get better,” Sweetie assured her.

“What if they don’t?” Scootaloo asked as she turned to lay on her side. “I’m telling you Sweetie Belle, she wasn’t like this when she moved away.”

“Oh, come on/” Sweetie Belle dared a light chuckle. “She’s just getting old, Scoots. It happens.”

“Good to know you find it funny,” Scootaloo growled.

“I-” Sweetie stopped herself, instead turning around and trotting to close the door to the apartment.

“Not so fast, Sweetie Belle.” Harbour smirked as she rounded into view. “Hopefully you haven’t been idling around here too long.”

Scootaloo sat up, ears perked. Perhaps her eyes were playing tricks on her, but Mrs. Harbour seemed to be… limping a little. She watched as Mrs. Harbour set down her purse, turning to enter the hallway.

“Are you…” Scootaloo trailed as her stomach twisted into a knot; Harbour began to stagger, stumble, and in an instant, slumped down the side of the wall with a groan.

“Mom!” Scootaloo cried as she galloped to Harbour side, shaking as she struggled to help her back up.

Rumble made it three steps forward before he was stopped by her murderous ire.

“Back the fuck up!” Scootaloo barked, straining as she made the final push to right the old mare onto her bed.

“Scootaloo... I’m just trying to help-”

Her glare shut him up, and he sat perfectly still as she charged out of the bedroom towards him. As she lunged forwards, his wings flared and hoofs stretched out, restraining her just beneath her barrel. His teeth gritted as he restrained the thrashing, borderline frothing filly.

“Let me go! Let. Me. Go!” Scootaloo screamed between growls and gravely grunts. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”

Rumble grunted as he barely dodged her elbow. Nearly falling back, he directed it into a tumble, keeping her firmly in his clutches as she flailed with fury.

“Scootaloo, please stop...” Sweetie Belle barely whispered, looking between the commotion and Harbour’s room before trotting towards the later.

Mrs. Harbour lie in her bed, on her back. She looked miserable on top of any pain, but mixed with that anguish was the color of embarrassment; maybe humiliation.

“Are you alright?”

Mrs. Harbour didn’t say anything for a moment, finally letting out a long sigh.

“I suppose I’d be lying if I said I was, dear.”

“I can get you an ice pack—or maybe some anti-inflammatory potio—“

“Sweetie Belle, honey.” Harbour was hoarse, yet firm. “If you want to help me, really want to relieve... Celestia forgive me... a burden...” She nodded towards the hallway, where glancing back yielded the briefest view of Scootaloo biting air.

Sweetie’s heart raced as she heard the springs of the mattress groan.

“Madam, I really think you should lay down-”

Mrs. Harbour ignored her as she struggled out of bed and hobbled down the hallway.

Rumble’s cheeks throbbed along with his jaw; his hooves were sore, and a couple of his feathers had bite marks, but he didn’t let up.

“Scoots, come on,” Rumble panted. “You need to chill, you’re freaking me the fuck out.”

“Oh, it must be so hard!” Scootaloo traded between crying and clenched teeth. “You got to pal around all day and live it up!”

“What are you-” Rumble blinked as Scootaloo’s struggle began to subside. “There. Just breathe, alright? She’s okay, OK?”

“No, she's not!” She gave one final, powerful thrash; Rumble lost his grip, scrambling to pull her back. “She’s dying, Rumble! I told you, I told Sweetie Belle, I told you! But you two won’t listen to me. You just tell me to be okay with it, well fuck-”


Scootaloo fell to the carpet with a dull thud as Rumble was startled. Mrs. Harbour stood at the end of the hall. Her voice was hardly commanding, but still held that motherly firmness. Rumble dared not move, much less breathe.

“I don’t know what in Equestria has gotten into you, but it needs to stop right here, right now; or I am going to have to ask you to leave.”

Sweetie Belle dared to cross the room. She kept her eyes on Scootaloo, who simply stood still, ears splayed and hooves trembling.

“You don’t know, huh?” Scootaloo’s fur began to stand. “Must be nice.”

“Scoots-” Rumble began, only to swallow it back as Harbour took a frail step forward.

“Must be nice to just leave me to some selfish, spoiled brat while you get to rot away in this dump.”

Mrs. Harbour’s jaw set.

“What... are you talking about? I thought you and your mother-”

“Don’t call her my mother.” Scootaloo hissed. “She is not my mother! You just needed an excuse to leave me and Poppy to fend for ourselves!”

Mrs. Harbour made to speak, only to be cut off.

“I don’t want you to leave me like Sandy did. I don’t want you to go away... like he did... I love you so much-”

As Scootaloo fell into a heap, Rumble swept her up again, this time without resistance.

“We’ve been over this, Scootaloo,” Harbour strained, rubbing her forehead. “This was for the best. She promised to take care of you-”

“She’s a liar!” Scootaloo cried. “What happens if she gives up and leaves me alone again, huh? What am I...” She choked back a lump in her throat. “W-what am I gonna do?”

“Teach her.”

Scootaloo’s ears perked. And for the briefest moment, Rumble tightened his grip. Only to loosen as Harbour spoke.

“Teach her to be careful, to be mindful of you. If she’s irresponsible, then show her responsibility. If she’s unreasonable, show her understanding and compromise.”

“You don’t know her!”

“Oh? But I know you. I know that when you came to me as a foal, I was far from the maternal maiden you’ve come to know. Hardly. I married too young and grew up too fast. Were it not for you to show me what it meant to be family... I’d be long gone.”

Mrs. Harbour smiled as she took a step forward. She nodded to Rumble, who finally relaxed as he let go. Scootaloo’s tail brushed his face as she stood still.

“What if...” Scootaloo sniffed. “What if she doesn’t listen to me? What if she kicks me out or says she doesn’t want me?”

“If she’s naive enough to discard you, well, Tartarus awaits; but in any event, you need only look around you. These two here—“ She waved a hoof between Rumble and Sweetie Belle. “I am far from the only pony who loves you.No matter which way the tide turns, you’ll swim to shore. You managed to teach this old pony how to love, how to listen. If your mother has half the mind to do right by you, then I know you can reach her.”

Scootaloo shuddered as she let out a little whimper. “I’m scared.”

Mrs. Harbour closed her eyes. Rumble and Sweetie exchanged glances, and for a moment, the room was silent.

“So am I.” Harbour’s voice finally began to waver. “There are many things that keep me up at night. I know these days are numbered, and unlike some ponies, it’s a fact I seem to have trouble accepting. I didn’t want you to see me like this; I wanted your memories of me to be that of a mare who was composed and confident, but stress and seniory seemed hellbent to defeat that desire.”

She finally trotted to Scootaloo and brought her to her side.

“There are many things that scare me too, Scootaloo. But there is one thing, one little glimmer of hope—a flame that keeps the darkness at bay. I know... I know that you are going to be alright. You’ve had every reason in the world to simply give up and go limp. But… that isn’t who you are.”

“Where one saw weak wings, you saw a scooter and a need for speed. Heck, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in Ponyville who would call you an orphan.” Harbour’s face stretched into a wide smile. “Because you never let your lot in life define you, and who you wanted to become. You’ve always been your own pony, and between your friends, and that heart of gold, you’re going to march to the beat of your own drum right until the end.”

“I don’t wanna lose you, ma—”

A hoof met Scootaloo’s muzzle. “Your mother is waiting for you, Scootaloo. I did my part, and I will always love you, but I am your mother no more. You won’t lose me, because the largest part of my heart and soul is right here before me. She’s going to return to Ponyville, and is going to mend someone’s heart anew, just as you did for me.”

Scootaloo was silent save for her muffled cries, absorbed by the coat of a mare who had worn her tears for longer than either could remember.

After awhile, Harbour sighed, wearing a look of anguish as she gently pulled from the embrace.

“I’m sorry, but I really need to get some rest. My hooves are tired, and as you saw, even the slightest overdoing it can make them go. Why don’t you three see the city some more, and you can come back for supper?”

“But-” Scootaloo choked, then jumped as she was startled at the slight nip of her feather. Rumble nodded towards the door.

“Go on, Scootaloo.” Harbour smiled. “No sense in your wallowing in this damp little apartment more than you ought to.” With that, she yawned, and with Scootaloo’s very diligent assistance, made it to her bed without a hitch.

Returning to the room, she nearly galloped into Sweetie’s hooves, resting her chin on Sweetie’s shoulder. Some tears were shed but she mostly revelled in the warmth, and possibly the sight of Rumble sprawled out on the sofa like he owned it.

“Rumble?” Scootaloo said after awhile.

“What?” Rumble answered sleepily.

“I love you.” She giggled stupidly as she felt Sweetie Belle flinch.

“Wh… what?” Rumble snorted. “I mean, I uh…”

“Sorry, I just felt like saying it.” Scootaloo smiled.

“What about me?” Sweetie pouted.

“Well, I mean I love you, too, but there’s a difference between a sister and… a… I’m not calling you a stallion.”

“But you just did.”

There was a long pause as Scootaloo furrowed her brow.

“Shut up.”

“Shut up, eh?” Rumble’s eyes grew sinister as he slunked from the couch, and over to the fillies, promptly turning the sisterly embrace into a group hug of immeasurable sappiness.

Scootaloo cherished every second of it.

34. Dusk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey Buzzard,

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

- Babs

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s up?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hilarious.” Button rolled his eyes.

“You excited?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scootaloo nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks,” Scootaloo said meekly.

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

“Did you get the gift Bab’s left us?”

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

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


“Thanks for coming with me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You two aren’t tired?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You made it!”

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

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

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

Rumble nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Heya girls… and mule.”

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

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

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

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

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

Scootaloo simply smiled; it almost looked pitying.

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

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

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

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

“A snowglobe!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mmhm,” Sweetie replied.

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

Scootaloo sunk a little further in her seat.

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

Sweetie nodded.

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

Scootaloo suddenly looked up.

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

Apple Bloom tilted her head. “Like what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rumble, that’s not-”

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

“You never have?” Sweetie asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah…” Scootaloo mumbled. “Home.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now then, who do we have here?”

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

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

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

“Oh yeah.” Apple Bloom nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle exchanged glances before shrugging.

“Looks like we get dinner.” Scootaloo smiled.

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

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

“Oh yeah?” Rumble arched an eyebrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As much as you can call a hitchy hobble striding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rumble’s eyes shut.

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

“Which one was that?” Apple Bloom asked.

“Tasted like peaches.”

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

“Really?” Granny arched an eyebrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Y—Yes… please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh huh?”

She gestured towards Rumble, who blinked.

“Notice anything?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple Bloom nodded in fierce agreement.

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

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

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

“Mmhm.” Scootaloo nodded as the grip loosened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Finally, she sighed.

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

Rumble flinched as Scootaloo came a little closer to him.

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

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

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