For the first time in a long while, Scootaloo felt warm. Long tendrils of pleasing heat radiated pleasure and comfort throughout her body, bringing the filly a level of happiness she had not known for quite some time. Yet, the source of her warmth was not the thick wooden walls of the cozy farmhouse which barred the ponies inside from the raging elements. It was not the fire, roaring and snapping away within the cheery little hearth. It was not the steaming mug of hot apple cider which sat before her, the contents of which had sizzled and nearly scalded her throat when she took her first big, refreshing gulp. It was not the hoof-knitted wool blanket which Fluttershy had draped over the filly's back. All of these things contributed to the comfortably heated atmosphere of the house, but, in Scootaloo's mind, they were not the source of her warmth.
She gazed around the crowded kitchen, her eyes lingering on the face of each pony as she went. She looked to Applejack, grinning sheepishly as she prepared to stuff yet another slice of pie into her mouth. Her gaze passed Fluttershy, smiling gently as she watched her sister-in-law, her eyes sparkling with mirth. Applebloom stood next to her, laughing wildly as some joke that Scootaloo had, in her reverie, not heard. She looked up towards Rainbow Dash, who grinned back down to her, playfully running a hoof through her messy purple mane.
No, Scootaloo decided. A cozy kitchen was nice, but her warmth her happiness came not from the things that surrounded her, but the ponies that surrounded her. Each of these ponies smiled and laughed, and soon Scootaloo found herself smiling and laughing as well.
It seemed strange to her. She felt as if she was swept up in a roaring tide of good spirits, as if the merry-making and happiness of those around her was somehow rubbing off on her, personally. It was evident in the actions and expressions of every pony there; every smile that was cracked; every laugh that was shared; every sidelong glance thrown in her direction. Scootaloo knew, deep down, that everypony there was there for her. Everypony had gathered in this kitchen for her sake. It felt as if the very air around her head was alive with the tingling sensation of electricity, as if the very spark of life resided in this room, ebbing and flowing on the tide of pony comradely and companionship. Scootaloo felt as if she were being charged, as if she herself had been sparked with new life. She felt wanted. She felt cared for. She felt loved.
It was love, she decided, that she felt. It was not something she had much experience with, and the true nature of love was not something simple enough for the filly to wrap her mind around, but she knew it to be true all the same. She could feel it all around her. She could sense its warmth in the gaze of every pony present as they looked at her, and she felt it rising in herself. To Scootaloo, the warmth and the love were one and the same. As she felt herself getting warmer, so too did she feel the rising sensation of unbridled affection for each and every pony who cared enough about her to join her on a cold winter's morning, when she might otherwise have still been stuck out in a cemetery. Scootaloo's smile grew wider, and she felt the pressure building within her. Words, which felt as if they had risen straight from her revived heart, pushed at her lips, and she threatened to burst if she could not exclaim them to the world. "I love you guys! You're the best friends ever!"
"Friends? We're more than just friends, Kiddo." Scootaloo looked up in surprise at Rainbow Dash, who wrapped a foreleg around her and pulled her into a rough hug. So lost had Scootaloo been in her own musings that being spoken to was like being thrust back into reality. She found herself pressed against the cyan pelt of her heroine, and she embraced her in return, glad once again for the contact. "We're family." Rainbow Dash grinned, gesturing around the room with her free hoof as the other ponies looked on, smiling. "In fact, I'd say that you're a part of this family already."
Scootaloo blinked several times in disbelief, allowing the statement to sink in as she stood in silence, taken slightly aback and not sure how to react. She gazed into Rainbow Dash's smiling face, finally prodded into saying something when she saw that smile falter. "Do you
do you really mean that, Rainbow Dash?"
"O' course she does, Sugarcube!" Applejack trotted around from the other side of the table, stooping down behind Scootaloo to administer to her daughter, who had just stumbled her way into the room in her awkward yet unendingly cute way. She whisked Applejoy into the air, nuzzling the giggling foal momentarily before setting her gently onto her back. Applejack turned around again, facing Scootaloo, and smiled. "You're more than welcome here. We have plenty o' extra beds."
"Besides," Rainbow Dash remained standing next to Scootaloo, beaming down at her, "What kind of a big sister would I be if I left you out in the cold?" She extended her wing, wrapping it across the filly's back in one of her unique displays of affection. "I would've invited you to live here before if I had only known, Scootaloo. You can stay here as long as you like."
Scootaloo found herself frozen in place one again. For several seconds, the logical part of her brain refused to accept what she was hearing as truth. It was simply too perfect. This situation had long been the stuff of dreams for the pegasus filly. Yet here she was. Rainbow Dash her idol was asking her to come live with her and her young family. She looked up into her smiling magenta eyes, and Scootaloo felt her own start to water. In an instant, her temporary paralysis had passed, and Scootaloo, without thinking, threw herself into Rainbow Dash, nearly knocking the cyan pony to the floor as she embraced her.
Scootaloo wrapped her forelegs around the pegasus before her, dropping her head to the level of Rainbow Dash's chest and burying her face into her pelt. Tears of joy stained her cyan fur, but Rainbow Dash remained smiling all the same as Scootaloo squeezed. "Thank you! Thank you so much Rainbow Dash! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"
Beams of moonlight streamed through the uncovered glass panes of the nursery room windows. The soft, pale light fell across every surface in the room, bathing wall and pony alike in a cool shade of blue that just barely cut into the darkness of the night. The slats of two cribs cast many repeating, vertical shadows across the sleeping forms of the young foals within. The faint rising and falling of tiny ponies' chests could be seen with each breath Honeycrisp and Sweet Blossom took. The soft light of the moon, unable to breach their closed eyes, did not interrupt their slumber.
Across the room, the third crib lay empty; the dim shafts only barely illuminating it and the couch adjacent to it. From the dark hallway, the sound of a pony's feet clicking gently against the hardwood floor began to slowly emanate into the room, gradually growing in volume as a pony approached. Applejack walked carefully as she came across the threshold of the nursery door. She took each step with caution, going slowly so as to not disturb the sleeping foal on her back. Applejoy had curled herself into a ball and now rocked gently back and forth with every movement of her mother's shoulders as she rested.
Applejack blinked the sleep from her eyes as she approached the lone empty crib. It had been a long day for her and the night before had taken a toll on her as well. She smiled as she reached the crib, reaching behind her to gently lift her daughter from between her shoulder blades. Applejoy yawned slightly, falling limp as she was carried through the air only very briefly before being set down on the soft enclosed cushion that was her bed. She immediately rolled onto her side, curling up once again into a ball as her tiny body adjusted to the new surface.
Stooping downward, Applejack picked up the stuffed pink bunny in her mouth, lifting it up and over the bars of the crib to set it down gently next to her daughter. She was rewarded to see Applejoy, grasping about unconsciously, scoop the soft pink toy up into her hooves and snuggle into it, pulling it against her small chest. Applejack smiled. She leaned down to pick up the blanket that lay near her daughter's tail, stretching it out so that the expanse of soft, warm fabric spread itself across the little filly's body. As she tucked the blanket in around her daughter's chin, Applejack could not help but be drawn up to her tiny, sleeping face. For a few moments, she just stood there, gazing down at her soft orange skin and light blonde mane. Not for the first time, Applejack was struck by how similar the foal looked to herself. Only the colorful streaks of rainbow hair running through the filly's mane remained visible as a reminder of Applejack's life partner. Applejack smiled. That, her beautiful pink eyes, and her stubby little wings, both of which were now unseen, showed more than enough of Rainbow Dash. Applejack had long ago decided that their daughter was nothing less than the best of them both combined. It was a thought that never ceased to thrill her.
Leaning forward again, she placed a light kiss on Applejoy's cheek. The tiny pegasus slept on, seemingly without notice, but Applejack thought she saw a shadow of a smile creep its way onto her daughter's face. She was struck by the happy thought that maybe, just maybe, whatever dreams the young filly was having had been brightened by the grace of a loving mother's kiss. It was a thought she entertained as she bade her sleeping foal good night. "Sweet dreams, little Joy."
In the next instant, every hair in her coat seemed like it was standing on end. Applejack froze, still looking at the crib, but remaining perfectly still; listening. She thought she had heard a noise, a noise that sounded like a cough, as if something had announced the arrival of somepony else in the room. She spun around, careful not to bump or jostle the crib, to face the doorway. She relaxed at once, the sight before her almost making her giggle at how unfounded her reaction had been.
Rainbow Dash stood in the doorway. She leaned against the side of the frame, sporting a wide grin that Applejack had long since learned to love. Her magenta eyes sparkled in the dim moonlight as she stood herself up straight and began to slowly cross the room, heading towards Applejack. "You look tired, AJ." The distance between them closed, gradually shrinking as Rainbow Dash neared. Their breath mixed and intermingled between them as they drew together, their lips finally meeting in loving kiss.
Applejack moaned as they pulled away, a quiet, low moan that soon turned into a deep yawn as she drew in more breath. Rainbow Dash brought a hoof to her mouth to stifle her laughter before she woke the foals. "Ah am, Sugarcube."
"You've been awake for a while and it's getting late. You should get some rest."
"Ya'll have to come with me. Ah can't sleep without mah favorite mare."
Rainbow Dash leaned over to give her wife a quick kiss on the cheek. Happily, she obliged, and the two of them started making their way towards the door. They both stole a final glance at their pride and joy before they left, however, each sighing in wonder as they gazed upon their daughter's face. "She looks so beautiful when she's asleep, AJ. She must get it from you."
"Yer such a softie, RD. Ah love you." Rainbow Dash grinned, responding by digging her nose into Applejack's long blonde mane, kissing and nipping playfully at the sensitive spot behind her ear and receiving coos of bliss in return. They walked side by side, tails swishing together and occasionally intertwining, as they left the nursery. Closing the door behind them, they began to walk down the hallway that would lead into the rest of the house, but both were stopped cold by another noise.
They stood still to listen. In the dark of the night, it was hard to distinguish over the ever-present growing and receding howling of the wind blowing against the house, but as they listened intently, they both heard it again. It was a sniffling, barely audible yet there all the same, and it seemed very close by. Rainbow Dash perked her ears, pressing one against the wood of the closed door they stood by. The sound almost immediately became more pronounced. "I think it's coming from Scoot's room." She spoke in a whisper, neither of them entirely sure of the situation.
Gently, she put a hoof to the latch and opened the door, letting it swing slowly onwards before venturing into the dimly-lit room beyond, Applejack following close behind. Once again, the only light source was the shining moon, but it was enough for them both to see the room and everything within as they entered. The room, having been a spare guest bedroom before, was sparsely decorated. A bed stood against the wall, but other than that, only a bedside table, a lamp, and several storage boxes occupied the previously-unused bedroom. Scootaloo rolled over off her side and looked up when she heard the others entering. She sniffed loudly, trying to maintain her composure in front of Rainbow Dash, but the cyan pegasus could see that she had been crying. Wordlessly, she shot her a wan smile and walked over to the side of the bed.
"The first night in a new place is always tough." Rainbow Dash climbed into the bed, laying herself down gently next to Scootaloo. They both felt the bed rock and shift again as Applejack climbed into the other side. "Maybe you'd like some company."
"Th-thanks, R-Rainbow Dash." Scootaloo shook her head, trying to clear her eyes. Rainbow Dash could still see the tears barely forming in them. She reached her hooves out and grasped the filly, pulling her towards her in a warm hug. Scootaloo rested her head against Rainbow Dash's shoulder, her tears abated for the moment.
"What's wrong, Scoot? Anything I can help with?" She lazily stroked the filly's purple mane, waiting patiently for her to begin.
I haven't had my own bed in years." Rainbow Dash nodded as Scootaloo spoke, looking her in the eye and urging her onward. "I only used to get the chance to sleep in a real bed when Applebloom or Sweetie Belle invited me over. I haven't had my own since
Rainbow Dash pulled her closer to her own body, feeling Scootaloo's rapidly-beating heart through her chest. "You don't have to continue if you don't want to."
I want to
. It's just
It's always hard. It was hard for me too, when I lost my parents."
"You lost yours too?"
"Yeah. Long long time ago. Right after I got my cutie mark, in fact. House fire. Worst part was, I was in Cloudsdale when it happened. My parents lived outside of a small town, and I had run away to go to flight school. I had to read about it in a newspaper."
"I know. It took me a long time to get over it. But I'll tell you that story some other time. Here, right now, tonight is about you. If you want to talk, I'm willing to listen."
Scootaloo hugged Rainbow Dash even tighter. "It started as just a cough. I was pretty little, so I didn't understand what was happening. My mom just started coughing one day, and she didn't stop. Soon, she would just stay in bed all day. Dad would be with her whenever he could, but he never let me see her. He said she was too weak. She stayed in bed for weeks, and then dad started coughing too. He told me at first that it was fine, that it would pass him over soon, but it never did. I watched him every day, getting weaker, while he tried to take care of me and mom."
Rainbow Dash felt Scootaloo quiver in her embrace. She was about to tell her that she didn't have to continue, but Scootaloo opened her mouth again before she could. "Then, the day came when dad couldn't even get out of bed in the morning any more. That was the day when all the other ponies came to our house. I didn't know that they were from the hospital, but they kept me out of the way while they took mom and dad out of the house. Then one of them took me, and we all went to the hospital. We had to go all the way to the big one in Canterlot. They put dad and mom in a special room, and told me I couldn't see them. They said they were 'contagious' and 'infectious'. I didn't even know what those words meant back then."
Rainbow Dash pulled the filly into an even tighter embrace. She could see the tears in her eyes, glistening in the moonlight. The top of Scootaloo's head now brushed Rainbow Dash's chin, so Rainbow Dash kissed her forehead. Choking down sobs, Scootaloo took a deep breath and continued. "Then
then one day
one day, a nurse told me they were gone. I don't even remember all her words; she just told me that they were gone. They let me in the room to see them one last time, and they made me wear a mask. I saw them there for the last time. They were each in their own bed, and they were completely still not even breathing. I wanted to kiss them goodbye, but a nurse told me that I couldn't. She said I was lucky enough to not be sick myself."
Scootaloo stopped abruptly, burying her face into Rainbow Dash's neck, and the floodgates opened. Rainbow Dash lay silent, stroking the filly as she cried into her. For several moments, Rainbow Dash was unsure of what to do, so she just held the orange pegasus in her warm, comforting embrace. "D-does it ever stop, Rainbow Dash? Does the pain ever stop, will it ever stop hurting?"
"I can't say it does, Scoot. It will get better as you get older, but it will never be gone. I still feel it whenever I think about my parents. I don't think it ever leaves completely." She looked down at Scootaloo, surprised to see that she was no longer crying, but looking up at her, her glistening eyes taking in every word. "But I know this helps. It helps to talk with other ponies about it. It's better than keeping everything shut up inside."
Scootaloo nodded, laying her head down on Rainbow Dash's shoulder again. "It does help. Thank you, Rainbow Dash." She brought a hoof up to wipe a single tear from her cheek before she began speaking again. "I overheard two nurses talking about me. They said that they were going to send me to the orphanage. I didn't want to go there, so I snuck away. I got out of the hospital and I ran. I ran all day until I got back to Ponyville. I tried to go back home, but the door was locked. So I wandered around until night and fell asleep in an alley. I didn't even go to the funeral because I was afraid somepony would see me and take me to the orphanage. I went to see the graves the day after, though, and I've gone back there whenever I could for the last five years."
Rainbow Dash blinked in surprise. "Five years? You've been living on your own for five years and you never told anypony?"
"Yeah. Sometimes, I felt like telling Sweetie Belle or Applebloom, but it was always too painful to talk about. So I just pretended everything was Ok. I haven't had my own bed for five years, I haven't had a home for five years, and I haven't had a family for five years."
Rainbow Dash broke the hug only to wipe a few tears from her own eyes. Scootaloo rolled off Rainbow Dash to lay next to her, setting her head down on the pillow next to her heroine's. The cyan pegasus was left in the middle of the bed between the two other ponies. She turned over to look at Scootaloo, their eyes met, and Rainbow Dash reached out a hoof to touch it to Scootaloo's chin. "No more, Scoot. I won't let you live like that anymore. You have a bed now. You have a home now. You have a family now. I won't leave you. You'll never be alone again. Right, AJ?" Rainbow Dash craned her neck to look over at her wife, who had been quiet ever since they left the nursery. Despite herself, she couldn't help but chuckle at the sight of Applejack, lying underneath the blanket with her eyes closed and her chest rising and falling in the rhythm of slumber. "Good night, AJ." She left a kiss on her wife's cheek before rolling back over and wrapping a foreleg around Scootaloo. "I guess that means we should get some sleep too."
For the longest time, the two of them lay still. Neither spoke, but both contemplated similar thoughts. Gradually, Scootaloo began to nod off, and she shifted closer to Rainbow Dash, reveling in the warmth of the other pegasus before slipping into a young filly's dream world. Rainbow Dash's eyelids began to droop. She lay between two ponies she was proud to call family, and even as her last thoughts left her mind for the night; she could feel both of them unconsciously snuggle into her. A smile crossed her face before she too fell into the depths of nighttime bliss.