A stiff, cold wind whipped its way across the rolling hills and fields and through the groups of snow-covered trees, swaying heavily-laden branches and stirring the glistening piles of white snow as it blew. Many latent snowflakes enjoyed a short, triumphant return to the late-morning sky as they were borne upward on each gust, twirling and sparkling in the sun's brilliant morning light as they soared above grove and plain, only to come drifting lazily back down to earth when the wind died back down. This process repeated itself innumerable times on the crisp winter morning. Despite the sun, it was a cold morning, a condition the biting wind did nothing to remedy, as the air retained its chilly quality even as the time advanced closer to midday. The sun's light, however, still managed to create a cheery scene as its rays shown down upon the countryside, sending the rolling dunes of pure white ablaze with countless, tiny, glittering reflections.
The only obstructions met by the sun's light were a few small scattered clouds, lazy drifting through the winter sky as they blew steadily forward on the breeze. The sky had been naturally clear this morning, and had remained largely untouched by pegasus wings, as the town's weather team had been given the day off to enjoy their Hearth's Warming Day morning. Most ponies had opted to remain indoors this morning, both to partake in the festivities and to avoid the freezing chill of the outside air. From Ponyville to the surrounding countryside, very few ponies could be found out-of-doors, yet along a lonely snow-covered path on the outskirts of town; a path that meandered its way past groves of trees and through sparkling white clearings, a dual set of hoofprints betrayed the presence of two of these intrepid souls.
They walked side-by-side, their boot-clad hooves sinking slightly into the thick white carpet beneath them with every step. From time to time, they would stop to gaze around at their surroundings, or to simply look at one another, smiling and laughing in the carefree way lovers are apt to do, even as each breath they took turned to steam right before their faces. Occasionally, one of their tails would twitch outwards to flick the other pony in a light-hearted manner, signifying the perfect joy each felt in one another's company as they trudged through the swirling winter wonderland.
At the onset of a particularly strong gust of wind, the cyan pegasus paused in the road to shiver slightly, turning to address her companion as she stopped beside her. "Come on, AJ. Ya gotta tell me why we're out here now, I'm freezing!"
The orange earth pony mare grinned at her wife, reached out with a front hoof to give Rainbow Dash a playful nudge on the shoulder. "Sorry, Sugarcube. Ah'm not tellin' until we get there. Ya'll just hafta wait an' see."
"Come on, just tell me, AJ!"
"Nope. Ah ain't tellin'."
Rainbow Dash sidled up close to Applejack, brushing her lover's flank with her own, bringing them both to a halt. "You know what? You really get on my nerves sometimes." Rainbow Dash leaned forward to give her wife a quick peck on the lips.
"Ah ain't the only one who's guilty o' that, Sugarcube." Applejack grinned before returning the gesture in full. Small, billowing clouds of their breath rolled from their noses and intermingled in the rapidly-diminishing space between their faces before their muzzle came completely together, their lips pressing together for a few seconds of bliss before they drew away. "Now, come on, Rainbow! We gotta get there!"
Applejack took off running, stumbling every so often as her boots sank into the light snow surface. Rainbow Dash laughed as she chased after her, kicking up clods of snow behind her as she tried to catch up. Suddenly, a surge of snow kicked up by Applejack as she ran caught Rainbow Dash by surprise. She closed her eyes and sputtered as the white powder besieged her face. Rainbow Dash stumbled blindly for several yards, not noticing that Applejack had stopped in front of her. Without warning, Rainbow Dash struck Applejack from behind. Applejack's legs gave out from underneath her, and with a yelp, she and Rainbow tumbled to the snow on top of one another.
Rainbow Dash opened her eyes and waited a few seconds for her swimming vision to clear. She looked down to see Applejack, her hat knocked askew, pinned underneath her. Applejack shook her head, allowing a few flakes of snow to fall off before she blinked open her eyes and stared up at Rainbow. "Heh. Sorry about that, AJ."
"That's alright, Sugarcube." Rainbow Dash tried to climb off, but found Applejack's forehooves wrapped around her neck. Without struggling, she allowed the earth pony to pull her head down for another impassioned kiss. Rainbow Dash and Applejack both closed their eyes as their mouths locked together, before they reluctantly pulled apart, grinning at one another. "We're here, Dashie."
Rainbow Dash looked up in surprise, carefully picking herself up off of her wife so that Applejack could stand once more. She had to crane her head to read the sign that hung above them, swinging just barely in the slight breeze as it hung over an open gate by the side of the path.
I'm so sorry, Applejack. I didn't know."
"Didn't know what, Sugarcube?"
"That we were coming here. You
you probably want to see your mom and Granny Smith
if I had known, I
I would have
Applejack silenced her stammering wife with a quick kiss to the cheek, smiling brightly when Rainbow Dash turned to look at her. "Yer close, Rainbow. But that's not why we're here." She giggled at the look of confusion on her lover's face, walking in front of her to lead her forwards. She paused under the gate, looking back to see Rainbow Dash standing behind her. "Come on," She flicked her tail towards her head, as if egging the pegasus onward, "follow me, and don't make a peep!"
The two ponies made their way underneath the archway and into the sanctuary. They meandered their way through row upon row of half-buried stones, Applejack walking ahead and Rainbow Dash followed close behind. Applejack kept her head on a swivel, her eyes scanning the seemingly endless sea of white and grey as if she were searching for something. Rainbow Dash stared near fixedly ahead, her attention occupied by the orange rump and swishing golden tail that took up most of her vision.
Without warning, Applejack stopped abruptly in the snow. Rainbow Dash stumbled to avoid colliding with the mare in front of her a second time. Glancing backwards, Applejack had to place a hoof to her mouth to stifle a laugh brought on by her wife's display and the pink rushing to the pegasus's cheeks. She reached over to put a fore leg around the embarrassed pony, drawing her up next to her and giving her a quick nuzzle; cheek-to-cheek. She lifted a hoof, directing Rainbow Dash's attention towards a point off in the distance. "Look, Sugarcube, over there. That's why we're here."
Rainbow Dash squinted against a billowing cloud of wind-swept snow, staring past headstones and snowdrifts, she thought she saw something stick out amongst the nearly endless backdrop of white. Suddenly, the wind died down, affording her a better view as the airborne snow settled briefly. In the distance, a speck of color became visible to Rainbow Dash, orange and purple rose into her vision from the torrent of white. "Is that
is that somepony? AJ?" Dash looked to the earth pony beside her as she felt her leg leave her neck. Standing in place, still blinking confusion from her eyes, she watched as Applejack stepped forward.
Tentatively, Rainbow Dash took a few cautious steps forward. Her boots plunged into the loose surface with every step she took. They passed row upon row of stones, most of them half-buried by the previous night's storm. All the while, they drew ever closer to their destination. As she stepped forward, the vision before her grew gradually clearer. She blinked several times against the blinding light the sun's rays reflected off the glistening pure snow, and the image before her came into focus. Rainbow Dash had to fight the urge to stop in her tracks and blurt out something in her astonishment.
The image revealed itself to be a small filly, orange coat, purple mane, crouching in the snow and shivering slightly. Silently, Rainbow Dash and Applejack crept up behind Scootaloo, not wanting to announce their presence with too much haste. As they drew nearer, Rainbow Dash could hear the muffled sound of small sobs the cries of a filly nearly lost to the bitter wind and frozen landscape as their owner crouched in a drift. Her head stared fixedly straight forward and down, her gaze directed towards the base of two headstones that lay before her two headstones where the snow had been lovingly brushed away, revealing the marks on each stone face.
Scootaloo wore nothing, she lay in the snow with her nose held just barely above its icy grip, yet she shivered all the same. She gave no indication of having noticed either of them as Rainbow Dash and Applejack slowly advanced on her, so they were surprised when they heard her speak. Her teeth chattered, chopping her words into small pieces as she struggled to make her voice heard over the winter's own noise. "H-hap-p-py H-hearth-th's-s W-warm-ming M-mom and D-dad. I l-love you g-g-guys."
For several seconds, Rainbow Dash stared with her mouth hanging open slightly. Before her, the sight of the smaller filly, alone in a cemetery, shivering against the cold, and trying to speak to parents she no longer had, triggered something in the mind of the cyan pegasus. Two things happened simultaneously. First, a piece of knowledge clicked into place. She had known this filly for years. She had been idolized by her, she had watched her play with her friends, she had come to think of the little pegasus as a close personal friend, even a sister. But never, not once, had she met the filly's parents. In this moment, everything made sense to Rainbow Dash. In this moment, she felt as if, after all these years, she finally really knew Scootaloo. And in this moment, an overwhelming tide of emotion crashed through her mind, triggering some internal mechanism that made her leap forward.
Startled, Applejack had no warning and no time to stop her companion in. Rainbow Dash cleared the last few stride lengths ahead of her in what amounted to be but a few heartbeats. Alerted by the sound of rustling behind her, Scootaloo nearly jumped, whipping around just in time to see a pony with a familiar multicolored mane barreling towards her before she found herself engulfed by two cyan legs.
Rainbow Dash embraced Scootaloo and held her to her chest, leaning over her in an attempt to warm the freezing filly's body. For several seconds, the bewildered filly made no movement she simply allowed herself to be hugged. Finally, after Scootaloo's initial shock, Rainbow Dash was rewarded to feel smaller legs grasp around her midsection. She felt the filly squeeze her even tighter, a chilling sensation reaching her chest from both the cold filly's body and the icy wind. The cold was only intensified by the wet spot formed on Rainbow Dash's chest borne of the tears that leaked onto her coat from the filly's grey eyes as Scootaloo buried her face into her heroine's cyan fur. Yet still, Rainbow Dash held on.
It did not take long before Applejack worked her way up to the other two ponies. Wordlessly, she embraced the both of them, comfortingly adding her own body heat to the mix. For many long moments, the three of them remained locked in tight embrace. None said a word, yet at times, tears dripped from the eyes of all three. As they held each other, they grew warmer, a heat that lent itself to the strength of love as it emanated from their bodies, wrapping its heated tendrils around until it formed a warming cocoon, shielded against the elements, around the three ponies. Safe and warm in each other's embrace, it took a while for the three to separate, but even as they did so, each of them returning to all four hooves, Scootaloo kept herself pressed against the elder ponies' soft fur. The shivers which had racked her body were gone, but the need for comfort remained.
"Ah don't think this is a very good morning ta be spendin' by yerself out here, Sugarcube." Applejack smiled, beaming at the filly as she looked down at her. Scootaloo had grown over the past few years, but she had yet to emerge from her adolescence, and her head barely reached up to Rainbow Dash and Applejack's necks. "We're not leavin' here until ya agree to come home with us."
Scootaloo did not protest. Still without saying a word, she turned to give one last long look towards the carefully attended headstones before her. She knelt down in the snow before the graves again, and felt a hoof fall across her shoulder. She looked up in silent surprise to see Rainbow dash, her foreleg outstretched to reach the filly, with her eyes closed and her head bowed in respect. Looking to her other side, she saw Applejack with a similar forlorn expression on her face.
Then, wordlessly, they began to walk away. As she struggled through the thick carpet of snow, Scootaloo began to fall behind the two elder ponies. The biting chill of the wind reached her once again, and she found herself floundering and shivering once more as she tried in vain to keep up. Glancing over her shoulder, Applejack spied the struggling filly, and returned to help her onto firmer snow. With a spark of kindness in her eye, Applejack removed her scarf, wrapping the long strand of rainbow fabric around the grateful filly's body.
They raced to catch back up with Rainbow Dash, who, upon seeing the filly at her side, draped a warm wing over Scootaloo's back, much like she had done many times with Applejack. Seeing this, Applejack fell into step by Rainbow Dash's other side. Happily, Rainbow presented her wife with her other wing, grinning as the orange mare, colder now without her scarf, snuggled lovingly up into it. In this way, the three passed underneath the arch of the gates and back out onto the road, each step bringing them closer to a warm house.
Quietly, Rainbow Dash leaned over to whisper in her lover's ear. "How did you know?"
"It came ta me in a dream."
Bright orange tongues of flame leapt from within the hearth, crackling, snapping, and hissing as they devoured the logs which provided them fuel. The fire danced within its stone encasement, every so often sending sparks flying up into the lofty reaches of the chimney above. The orange flames cast their soft, glowing light upon the face of an equally-orange filly. Scootaloo sat before the fireplace, each tongue of flame reflected in her grey eyes as she stared ahead. She hadn't spoken a word since she sat before the graves of her parents.
Rainbow Dash looked up from her position near the kitchen table. Her eyes passed over Applejack, who was busy explaining the situation to Applebloom on the other side of the kitchen. Applebloom had visibly blanched upon hearing about Scootaloo and her parents, and was now hanging intently on Applejack's every word. As she looked across the living room, her gaze fell upon her own daughter. Applejoy lay on the floor, her little mouth stretched wide into her charismatic smile as she played, giggling to herself. On the floor next to her were two Wonderbolt dolls, gifts Rainbow Dash smiled upon as she remembered the look in her daughter's sparkling eyes when she and Applejack had presented Applejoy with the present but a few hours previous. The little filly giggled wildly as she rolled around with a pink stuffed bunny courtesy of her aunt and uncle clutched in her small hooves. Rainbow Dash winked at Fluttershy as she caught sight of her keeping a close watch over her niece, her own foals resting in her lap. Big Macintosh slept on a couch nearby.
Her vision crossed the rest of the room, soaring above the pieces of wrapping paper scattered about the floor, and finally fell upon the form of an orange filly, staring blankly into the fire. As she watched, Rainbow Dash could see a tear flow from one of Scootaloo's eyes and drip onto the floor in front of the roaring blaze. Sighing, Rainbow Dash stood up on her hooves and slowly made her way towards the hearth. She set herself down gently on the floor next to the filly, prompting Scootaloo to look up in surprise when she noticed her presence. Rainbow Dash looked down toward the other pegasus, bringing her own mouth into a half smile as she caught the filly's attention and began to speak.
"Do you remember, when we were all at the hospital waiting for Fluttershy's foals, and Nurse Redheart almost didn't let you in?" She paused, watching as Scootaloo nodded before continuing. "I think you remember that I told her you were my sister. I also told you afterwards that I really thought of you like a little sister." Rainbow Dash placed a hoof under Scootaloo's chin, lifting her face so that she could stare directly into her eyes. "That wasn't a joke, and it wasn't just some lie to get you back into Fluttershy's room. I meant it. I meant it then and I still do now. I care a lot about you, Scoot. I think you should know that."
Rainbow Dash could see tears forming in the younger pony's eyes once again. Suddenly, without warning, Scootaloo leapt up and threw her forelegs around Rainbow's neck, drawing her into a tight embrace which Rainbow Dash quickly reciprocated and burying her face into her heroine's rainbow mane, beginning to sob uncontrollably. Rainbow Dash patted her on the back of her head, soothing her with gentle whispers into her ear as she held the crying filly.
She held onto her for several minutes, letting the warmth of both the fire and her beating heart wash over Scootaloo. Finally, the filly pulled away, sniffling slightly and batting at her eyes with a hoof. She backed away from Dash several feet, hanging her head, and finally managed to choke out her first words since she had thought herself alone in the graveyard. "I
I-I'm s-s-sorry, R-Rainbow D-Dash."
Rainbow Dash stepped forward, laying a comforting hoof to Scootaloo's cheek. "What do you have to be sorry for?"
I'm sorry you have to see me l-like this."
Rainbow Dash leaned forward just enough to kiss Scootaloo on the top of her head, much like a big sister would do, she reasoned. "You have nothing to feel sorry about, Scoot. We all need to cry sometimes, and it's best to do it when there are other ponies who care about you around to help." Rainbow Dash grinned, seeing the beginnings of a smile begin to form on Scootaloo's face. "Now, follow me, Kiddo. I know two other ponies who care a lot about you too, and they probably have something nice waiting for us."
Sure enough, when Rainbow Dash led Scootaloo into the kitchen, several steaming mugs of warm apple cider graced the table alongside a fresh-baked apple pie. Upon seeing her friend, Applebloom jumped up and raced across the room to embrace Scootaloo. Even though they had each obtained their cutie marks long ago, the bonds of fellowship between the Cutie Mark Crusaders had never dwindled.
Rainbow Dash crossed the kitchen to where her wife stood, beaming at her. "Ya make a wonderful big sister Sugarcube. Just as good as ya are a mother."
"I guess that means I learned from the best, doesn't it?"
Applejack leaned forward to give her a peck on the lips, blushing ever so slightly. "Well now, Rainbow, whenever did ya become so modest? It's not like you."
"What can I say, AJ? You just make me want to be a better pony." She grinned, pressing forward to lock muzzles with her wife.