Luna the Matchmaker
Chapter 2 "Sometimes You Just Need a Nudge.
By Steven Little
My little pony © Hasbro
The summer sun rose over Ponyville through a cloudless blue sky. The early light beamed through the window of Princess Luna's bedroom at the Carousel Boutique. With the sun in her face again, the Princess slowly woke up from the wonderful dream she was having. Stretching lazily, she reached over to the other side of the bed, sat up swiftly, and gazed at the empty spot next to her. "I guess it really was a dream." She spoke softly to herself.
Luna sighed and smiled. 'But what a dream!' She thought. Now that it was light, the Princess could see her environment better. Luna was used to much larger rooms. To tell the truth, she had closets that were larger than Spike and Rarity's guest room but even given its small size, Luna liked it. The room felt warm and cozy; it felt lived in. The angle of the room's walls formed a wedge shape with a long curving exterior wall at the back. The bed was big enough for her but only just. A nightstand stood at either side at the head of the bed. She looked over to the clock hanging on the wall.
"For the love of muffins," she swore quietly. Using her alicorn magic of astral projection, she centered her thoughts on where her sister was flying at the moment. "Tia! It's five in the morning. Did you have to raise the sun so early?"
"Oh hello Lulu, I didn't realize you were awake." Celestia said with a smirk.
"I wasn't. You interrupted one of my favorite dreams." Luna pouted. "And stop calling me Lulu! You know how much I hate that."
"Sister dear, I'd love to stay and talk to you but as you can see, I'm quite busy performing my duties and yours, ta ta." Luna realized that Celestia had overpowered her projection when she found herself back in the guestroom.
'Damn that Celestia.' She thought to herself. 'Well, seeing as I'm already awake, I might as well get started.' Luna walked out into the family room to find Sweetie Belle reading on one of the sofas.
"Good morning Princess." She said.
"Good Morning Sweetie Belle, what are you reading there?" Luna asked her. The small unicorn lifted the book so that the Princess could read the cover. "A Treatise on Magical Shields and Levitation, isn't that a little advanced for you?"
"Twilight said if I want to get better at magic I need to study. She lent me this book to help me but I don't understand some of it." Sweetie Belle admitted.
"Perhaps you should ask Twilight to tutor you as well. Study can only take you so far without practical application. She can also help you with some of those topics you don't understand."
"Do you think she will?" She asked.
"Twilight is devoted to the study of friendship and magic. I'm sure she'd relish the chance to share that knowledge with another." Luna hesitated. "Sweetie Belle, can I talk to you for a moment about your friend Scootaloo?"
"Sure. She's not in trouble or anything is she?"
Luna sat on the sofa next to the unicorn. "No, nothing like that; I'm just curious. Have you ever met her parents?"
Sweetie Belle though for a moment, "No, come to think of it, I never have. I remember she told me and Apple Bloom once that her parents are always busy and don't like visitors."
"So you know where she lives?" The young filly nodded her head. Luna considered her options quickly. "Sweetie Belle, I need you to go on a mission for me."
"Sure thing Princess!" She said enthusiastically, jumping up from her prone position on the couch. "Let me get Apple Bloom and we can get started."
"No Sweetie Belle, this is a mission just for you. I want you to follow your friend home, observe her with her parents, then report back to me with your findings." Luna requested. "I'm afraid you friend might be in some trouble but I do not want to act without more information. Observe but do not intervene, no matter what you might see. That's why I only want you there; Apple Bloom's a good filly but she's headstrong and may act recklessly if her friend is in trouble. Do you understand?"
"Yes Princess. I'm to watch and do nothing else, report back to you what I see."
"Excellent. I have a few things to take care of today. Please let Spike and Rarity know that I'll return later today, and don't worry about your friend. If I can help at all, I will." Luna walked into the kitchen and opened the sliding glass door that opened up to a second floor veranda that ran along the outside of the Boutique. She spread her wings, stretching the stiffness from them and took flight. She circled the Boutique once then headed south toward the floating cloud home of a certain pegasus.
Rainbow Dash's home was large and quite impressive. To say the cloud structure, with its many columns and rainbow waterfalls, was beautiful would be an understatement. Many ponies would not think a pony like Rainbow Dash would live in a place like this but given her grandiose attitude, it fit her perfectly. The cyan pegasus was disturbed from her slumber by a loud knocking on her front door. Grumbling, she dragged herself out of bed and made her way downstairs. The knock came again. "Yeah I 'm coming!" She shouted. "Whoever you are, you'd better have a bucking good reason to wake me up so early!" Rainbow flung the door wide open and at that moment she wanted nothing more than to curl up and die. "P- P- Princess Luna!"
"Good morning Rainbow Dash."
Rainbow bowed as low as she could go. "I'm so sorry Princess."
Luna chuckled. "It's okay Rainbow Dash. Please rise and in the future I would appreciate it if you would just refer to me as Luna. Honestly, I really do dislike all the scraping and bowing. I just want to be treated like everypony else."
Rainbow stood up unsure of what to say next. "Would you like to come in?"
"Unfortunately I do not have much free time today. Rainbow Dash, I need your help with a matter of great importance in Appleoosa. I have a task I need to perform there and I feel you are the best suited to assist me."
"Appleoosa, what's going on way out there, the buffalo's and the ponies aren't getting into it again are they? I thought we settled all that the last time we were there." Rainbow scratched the back of her head. "Have you talked to Strong Heart? I'm sure if there's a problem she'd help smooth things out."
"No, no it's nothing like that. You and Applejack are very close friends and I can't ask her to go with me, her pride would prevent it. I need you to come with me because you know the troubles her farm's had in the past. Problems your friend would never admit to."
"Yeah, AJ can be pretty stubborn sometimes. Let me just grab my bag and we can get going." She said.
"That will not be necessary." Luna hugged Rainbow close to her, wrapping her wings around the cyan colored pegasus. Rainbow Dash blushed. She was uncomfortable being this close to another mare. Luna's horn began to glow and everything went black. In what seemed like seconds the blackness was replaced by blinding light. Luna released her hold on the mare and giggled as Rainbow Dash staggered around a bit.
"What was that?" The cyan pony asked.
"Sorry. Teleportation over long distances can be a little disorienting for some ponies. I'm just hoping you don't get sick." Luna said.
Rainbow Dash shook her head, trying to clear the stars from her vision. "I didn't have breakfast this morning, probably a good thing too. Wow, I've seen Twilight teleport from time to time but never anything too far and never with anypony else."
Luna smiled at the mention of Twilight's name. "With practice and time, Twilight should be able to do it as well. Now let's see, the pony we're after is a stallion named Braeburn. He should be around here somewhere." Rainbow Dash looked around realizing that they were now just outside of Appleoosa city limits.
"I remember that guy. Really high strung. He kind of reminds me of Pinkie Pie. If he's like the rest of the Apple family, he's been up for hours and most likely out in their orchard." Rainbow Dash said. "Let's see, there's the sheriff's office, and there's the Salt Lick. If I remember right, all we have to do is fly west of the saloon; the orchard should be just outside of town just on the other side of that ridge." Both ponies took off into the air headed toward the far ridge.
After a short flight, they sighted the orchard. Rainbow Dash was the first to spot him. "There he is Luna, just to the left of the road, up ahead." The pegasus pointed to an amber colored earth pony with a golden mane and a single red apple for a cutie mark. He wore a tan vest and a brown stetson hat that shaded his light green eyes.
The cyan blue pegasus landed right in front of him. "Howdy Rainbow Dash, it sure has been a long time since we saw you around these parts. Is my cousin with you, or maybe Pinkie Pie?" Braeburn asked. "She sure was a lot of fun."
"Sorry Braeburn. Pinkie and Applejack aren't with me but I did bring somepony else that wanted to talk to you." Rainbow said, pointing behind him. Braeburn turned around to find Princess Luna.
"Princess!" Braeburn threw himself down prostrate before her.
Luna sighed as Rainbow Dash knelt down and whispered in his ear. "Braeburn, you might want to stand up. Princess Luna's not a big fan of ceremony."
Braeburn righted himself smiling. "Sorry about that. What brings you so far from Canterlot? Was there something I can do you for?"
"Braeburn. This may seem a little strange but I need you to do a personal favor for me."
"Anything for you Princess Luna; you just ask and I'll be right there."
"I need you to move to Ponyville." Luna said. "I know what I ask is not an easy thing and this is not something I ask lightly but you are badly needed back in Ponyville. Know that I would not be requesting this favor of you if it were not vitally important."
The look of shock on Braeburn's face spoke volumes. "But Appleoosa's my home. Why would you want me to leave?"
"Have you ever seen your cousin's farm?" Luna asked. "Sweet Apple Acres is enormous. Her crops not only feed all of Ponyville but most of the surrounding area, including Canterlot. I personally can't start my day unless I've had one of Applejack's apples."
"That's a right kind thing to say about my cousin's farm but I don't know what that has to do with me."
"Applejack wouldn't tell you but the whole farm is run by her, Big Macintosh, and a hired hoof. Their Grandmother is far too old and Applejack's little sister isn't old enough to properly do the job. Essentially, three ponies are working themselves to the bone to keep that massive farm running. They need help and an experienced farmer like you is exactly what they need. Isn't that right Rainbow Dash?"
"She's right." Dash said as she sat down next to the amber stallion. "Braeburn, Applejack is probably going to yell at me for telling you this but about five years ago Big Macintosh got hurt. It was harvest time and Caramel; their hired hoof, was out of town visiting with friends. Even her sister, Apple Bloom was away at camp. Applejack was all by herself and tried to harvest all the apples alone. There were shortages all over the place. Applejack is a great friend but you know how stubborn she can be. She wouldn't accept help form anypony but family and even then you'd practically have to force her. This orchard is tiny compared to what we have in Ponyville. I'm not trying to be mean or anything but there's a lot of ponies here to tend the trees and crops and help them grow. We need you in Ponyville."
"I don't know Rainbow Dash." Braeburn sat back trying to think. "I helped build this town up from nothing and I'm right proud of it. It's hard to just up and leave." The amber stallion looked around at the other ponies tending the orchard, many like him, came here with their parents to help build the town. "I've also been waiting, hoping a certain pony would show up again. Somepony I have some unfinished business with."
"Care to explain?" Luna asked, curious.
"It's nothin' for you to worry yourself about Princess. He hasn't shown his face in these parts for years. I've started doubting if he'd ever come back."
"Braeburn, whatever business you have with this stallion, I'm sure you can handle it." Rainbow Dash said. "I know you're proud of this town and normally we wouldn't ask you to leave but Applejack needs you, even if she won't admit it. And Braeburn, you won't just be helping out Ponyville; Pinkie Pie will be there too." Rainbow said smiling. "I know you like her and she's missed you a lot as well."
Braeburn smiled. "Really, she missed me?"
"From what I've been told she's is constantly trying to find the means to come visit you. Unfortunately the Cakes have been so busy with their children, it's been up to Pinkie to run most things at the shop." Luna informed him.
"I want to help Princes, I really do but still, I don't know. This isn't an easy decision." He said.
"Please Braeburn?" Princess Luna's ears had dropped and her lower lip began to quiver. She looked at Braeburn with the saddest look he'd ever seen. Her eyes were beginning to water.
The amber colored stallion couldn't take that look for long and inevitably gave in. "Okay okay, I'll go Princess Luna. I'll go. I don't usually have a lot of stuff so I can be on the train tonight and be in Ponyville in two days. Would that be soon enough?"
Luna sat up straight, smiled, and hugged the amber pony. "Yes Braeburn, that would be perfect." Luna released the blushing stallion. "We'll go tell Applejack to expect you in two days. Don't be late now." Luna beckoned Rainbow Dash to follow her and they both took off into the air.
"Well, this is gonna' make Pinkie Pie happy." Rainbow commented.
"That was one of the reasons I picked Braeburn to come to Ponyville and not another member of the Apple Family. I was also made aware that Pinkie is rather infatuated with him. He's a good match for Pinkie and with any luck he'll mellow her out a bit."
"I know what you mean. I like Pinkie and all but sometimes I worry about that mare. Did you read the letter Twilight sent about her birthday five years ago? Talk about creepy town."
"Yes. I read of your account as well. It's disturbing to say the least. Has she ever done anything like that before?" Luna asked.
"I've known Pinkie or a long time, ever since she moved to Ponyville. I've seen her sad like that more than a few times. I mean she's never hurt anypony and she usually locks herself in her room when she gets like that, but there are times I'm afraid she would hurt herself. Those are the times I stay with her." Rainbow Dash explained.
"Is that often?" Luna asked her as they flew.
"Every April fourth; it's the day her grandma passed away. Pinkie has never really gotten over it, her grandma was very special to her." Rainbow Dash informed her.
"With any luck, Braeburn will be able to even out her mood swings though, I would appreciate it if you'd let him know how Pinkie gets at that time of the year." Luna commented. "You've had the most experience with it and if something does develop between the two of them, I think it only fair to prepare him for it."
"I'll keep an eye on things, don't you worry. Was that what you needed me for Luna?" She asked.
"Yes Rainbow Dash and you played your part perfectly." Luna moved a little closer to Rainbow and brushed the tip of her right wing against the tip of Rainbows left. The cyan pegasus veered away and landed on top of a nearby mesa. Princess Luna circled around and landed next to her. "Is something the matter?"
"Uh Luna. I don't really know how to say this." She said, scratching the back of her head with a hoof. "I'm flattered and all but I don't like mares like that."
"What are you talking about Rainbow Dash?" Luna asked her.
"You brushed the tips of my wing feathers with yours."
"Yes, it's always been a sign of gratitude among pegasi. I saw no harm in it." Luna covered her mouth with her hooves. "Oh no, please tell me the meaning of that gesture hasn't changed since I've been gone."
"It's okay Luna. I forget that you're still catching up on how things have changed. It has been a thousand years after all. Some things are bound to change in all that time." She said. "Today, when one pegasus does that to another, it's a sign of, how should I say this, romantic interest. I don't mean to say you're a fillyfooler or anything."
"Oh muffin, I'm sorry Rainbow I'd never flirt with you! Not that you aren't attractive or anything but I know there's somepony that you're after."
"Thank you, I think. Wait, how did you know?" The cyan pegasus asked, a little shocked.
"I have my ways, I am a Princess after all. I have, shall we say, informers in my employ. I want you to promise me something Rainbow Dash."
"Don't be too afraid to go after what you want. Don't hold back and fail to achieve your dreams because you were too frightened of rejection. Don't, don't be like me." Luna advised hanging her head in depression.
"Like you, what do you mean?" Luna reached into her mane and brought out her locket. "Hey, that looks like the locket Twilight has. She tries to hide it but doesn't do that good of a job."
"My mother made this locket many many years ago." She said solemnly. "Celestia gave it to me the same day you and your friends freed me from Nightmare Moon. She told me that mother always meant for me to have it. Celestia said that when I discover my true love, the locket would open and a little over a year ago it did." Luna held the locket out for Rainbow to inspect.
Unfastening the clasp, the locket opened revealing an engraved picture of Twilight Sparkle. "Twilight? You, you really are a fillyfooler?"
"As much as I detest that description, yes, I like mares. Stallions have never really done anything for me and believe me, after fifteen hundred years, I'm more than sure what my preference is."
"I'm sorry Princess, I didn't mean to insinuate there was anything wrong with being a filly, er, I mean, uhm, being like that. I have a couple of friends in Ponyville who are that way; they've been married for years now. Lyra and Bonbon are cool."
"Yes, I remember reading about them in one of Twilight's reports from about two years ago."
"So, how long have you known? I mean, when did you know you liked Twilight?" Rainbow Dash asked.
"I always have." Luna admitted. "Ever since the first time I saw her. I didn't know it at the time but looking back on everything now, I know it to be true." The Princess saw the confused expression of the pegasi's face. "Perhaps I should start at the beginning. Out of curiosity and a nagging feeling of an unfamiliar emptiness, I asked Celestia to let me read the regular reports Twilight and the rest of you sent her. I saw how happy the letters made her and was hopping they would cheer me up as well. Also, I sort of wanted to get to know all of you a little better but was too shy at the time to talk to you directly. That one Nightmare Night a year later helped me a lot but even then, I was uncomfortable talking to the six of you. I guess that's one of the reasons I acted the way I did."
"From what I saw, you didn't seem to have a problem talking to Twilight." Rainbow said with a smile.
"Yes." The Princess said, blushing. "Even then I still didn't fully understand what I was feeling. Then, four years later, when you and your friends came up to Canterlot to help Spike, I avoided most of you but Twilight in particular."
"Yeah, I kind of noticed that. I thought you were just worried about Spike and Rarity but then I saw you walk the other way whenever you saw Twilight." Rainbow said.
"I admired her. I admired all of you. Your courage, your determination, and your drive to do whatever was necessary to help the ones you cared about. You may not know this, but each of you has had a profound impact on me. It was all of you that saved me from Nightmare Moon, but it was Twilight Sparkle who focused the Elements of Harmony. She directed its magic. She could have destroyed Nightmare Moon and me with her. It would have been easier to simply destroy us or send us back to the moon but she didn't. Instead she dug into the nightmare and found me."
"That's the way Twilight is." Dash said. "She wouldn't give up on anypony. No matter how bad things get, she'll do whatever she can to help. She'll never quit on anypony."
A tear rolled down Luna's cheek. "She saved me Rainbow Dash. Twilight fought her way past the shadows and the darkness to where I was hidden away. She used the Elements to free me. Not even Celestia was able to do that." Luna said, choking back her tears. "At first I thought my feelings were little more than gratefulness. As I read each of the letters, more and more I realized that it wasn't gratitude. My dreams have become all about her. Some are sad, some are wonderful, and others are bittersweet. I wouldn't give any of them up because they all have her in common. It was at that moment I realized I loved her, I always had. When I made that realization, the locket opened and I saw what it held."
"I understand Luna." Rainbow said hugging the Princess. "I may not know if Twilight likes anypony or even if she's interested in mares but I promise I'll help you anyway I can."
Luna wiped the tears from her face. "Thank you Rainbow Dash. You've been such a big help to me already. Promise me you won't tell Twilight how I feel. It's something I need to do for myself."
"I promise." Rainbow hugged the alicorn tightly. Luna wrapped her wings around her and teleported them back into Rainbow's house.
"You get some rest Rainbow. Teleporting around can take it out of a pony. Thank you again for your help."
"No problem Luna." Rainbow Dash slowly walked back to her bed and flopped down. It was only about ten in the morning but the pegasus was exhausted.
Luna flew over the vastness of Sweet Apple Acres. She circled the farm several times until she found the light orange mare she was looking for in one of the backfields behind the barn. "Hello Applejack." She said as she landed next to her.
"Princess Luna? What brings you around here today?" Applejack asked with a little curtsy. "Is everthin' okay"
"Everything is just fine. I realized that I needed to get out more so I decided to pay Ponyville visit."
"Well we sure are glad to have you here. Is there anythin' I can do for ya?" She asked.
"Please Applejack. I'm not one for titles. Just call me Luna. I came here for lunch, if you don't mind that is?"
"Not at all Princess." The amber mare said smiling. "I don't know what all we have fixed up at the house, but you're welcome to it."
"Actually, I've always loved your apples just as they are with nothing else to get in the way of their exquisite flavor." Luna told her.
Applejack beamed at the compliment and waved her left front hoof towards the trees. "Help yourself."
Luna pulled two apples off a nearby tree and offered one to Applejack. The amber mare gratefully accepted and the two sat happily in the grass munching away on their fruit. Finishing her apple first, Luna cleared her throat and addressed the farm pony again. "Applejack, there was one other thing I came by for. I came here to tell you that your cousin Braeburn will be here in two days to help you out around the farm."
"Why would Braeburn be comin' here? And who said we needed any help? Me, Big Macintosh, and Caramel can take care of everythin'." The Princess could tell Applejack was starting to get upset. She also noticed how the farm pony's face blushed slightly when she said Caramel's name.
"Applejack, before you get too offended I want you to know that I asked him to come here." Luna said flatly. "This farm is far too large for three ponies to handle. While I think it's too big for even four ponies, he's an experienced farmer and a member of your own family. You need the help in case one or more of you get sick or injured again."
"Do you really want to a repeat of what happened six years ago?" Luna asked.
"You know about that?" She asked ashamed.
"Yes, I know of the incident. Twilight had sent a letter to my sister asking for advice on how to handle the situation with you and the farm. I'm glad you finally came to your senses. For a while, I was worried I wouldn't be able to get my favorite apples anymore."
"No matter what, we would always keep the castle well supplied." Applejack stated proudly. "But still, I'd have the girls to help me if it ever happened again."
"And what if they can't help because they're busy with their own responsibilities or out of town? What then?"
"I see what you mean, Luna."
"I'm glad you see things my way. Now I have to ask. When I was flying over I noticed you had a worried look on your face. Is there anything I can help you with?"
"No offense Luna but it's kind of a personal matter. I don't know if I should bother you with it."
"Please, bother me. It wouldn't have anything to do with your hired hoof Caramel would it?"
"Yeah, err no! I mean, how did you know that?" Applejack said, her cheeks turned as red as the apples on her flank.
"A little helper of mine informed me of what was going on."
The light orange farm pony stomped her right fore hoof in anger. "Apple Bloom told you didn't she? When I get my hooves on that little eavesdropper she's gonna' be grounded for a month."
"Please, don't be cross with your sister, she was only trying to help. She appears to know what's going on and just wants you to be happy." Luna said.
"There aint nuthin' goin' on between me and Caramel." Applejack stated resolutely.
"But you want there to be, don't you?" Luna said. "I saw you staring at him when I landed and the way you blushed when I mentioned him pretty much confirms it. Talk to me Applejack. I may be a Princess but I'm still a mare. I know how it is when you like somepony but are having difficulties telling them how you feel."
Applejack sat next to the Princess. "I don't know what to do with him. He's cute and all, and he's a real hard worker but he's also a goof. He's managed to the lose the grass seeds every spring for the last six years. He constantly runs his apple cart into fence posts and saplings." The amber mare sighed deeply. "Lately he's been more careless than usual. He's gotten himself hurt three times this last year because he hasn't been payin' attention to his work."
"It's not really his fault he can't take his eyes off you." Luna said smiling.
"What?" Applejack asked, shocked.
"I saw him as I flew over, when he hit that root and tipped his cart. He was looking at you instead of where he was going."
"Are y'all sure about that?" Applejack asked flatly.
"Quite. I've been watching him since we started talking. He catches a quick look at you every time he thinks you can't see him. I'm guessing that's why he's so accident-prone. He's so busy trying to look at you without being caught, he bumps into everything."
"I never thought about it like that." Applejack admitted. "If he likes me that much why hasn't he ever asked me out?"
"Could it be that he's too shy? Maybe he finds you intimidating and he's scared." Luna explained. "Why don't you ask him out?"
"But Granny always said that mares shouldn't be askin' stallions out on dates. It makes them sound seedy."
Luna laughed. "Your grandmother is certainly old fashioned. If there's one thing I've learned since I've been back it's that somepony has to make the first move. If he won't, you should. Don't let a good thing pass you by Applejack."
"I don't know." She said a little uncertain. "What if you're wrong, what if he says no?"
"If he says no, than he says no. Why, if he says no, I'll buy you dinner. We'll have a girl's night out. We can get drunk and gossip all night." Luna said, smiling at the chuckling farm pony. "Would it help you to ask him if I were there? I could teleport into the tree above you quietly. He'd never know." Luna gave her a wink.
"That would sure be a comfort to know I wasn't goin' it alone. Thank you Luna, but what would I say?"
"Ask him to dinner. That's a typical first date isn't it?" She asked. "I mean it's nothing too intimate."
"No, no I think that would be fine." Applejack said.
"Good." Luna said. "But not tonight, tomorrow, give yourself and him time to prepare." Luna said smiling. The Princess was about to teleport away when both of them heard a commotion off to the left. "We should probably see what that was, it sounded pretty loud. Applejack and Princess Luna ran west to where they believed the noise was coming from only to find Big Macintosh glowering over Caramel. Both of their carts were tangled up and toppled over, apples spilled across the ground.
"Caramel, what the heck are you doin'? Didn't ya' see me there?" Big Macintosh growled at him.
"Sorry Big Mac. I guess my mind wasn't on my work."
"I know what your mind was on and I've told you before, you stay away from my sister. She's got enough on her mind without a lovesick stallion adding to her problems."
Applejack rushed over from where she and Luna were watching. "Macintosh! What do think your doin'? You have no right interferin' in my nonexistent private life." She said, raising herself up so she could look him in the eye.
"But nuthin' Macintosh." Applejack shouted angrily at her brother. "Now you go about your chores while I help Caramel get this cleaned up. Go on, git!" Macintosh walked off toward the barn in a sulk. Applejack knew he was only being protective of her but he needed to understand that she wasn't a filly anymore. "You okay there Caramel?"
"Yes, I'm fine. I'm sorry AJ, I didn't mean to cause problems." He apologized. Caramel was a well built stallion, not as big as Macintosh but by no means short. He had a long brown mane and tail with coat of sand yellow fur. His cutie mark of three horseshoes was the same color blue as his eyes. All in all Applejack found him quite handsome.
"It's okay Caramel." Pushing the carts back on their wheels, Applejack began to pick up the fallen apples. "Is it true; what Big Mac said?"
"I uh, I don't know what you're talking about. Big Mac was just talking. There's nothing to it." He reassured her.
"Caramel!" Applejack snapped at him. "You know I don't like it when ponies lie to me, even little lies. Now, tell me the truth."
"Yes. It's true."
"Why didn't you say anthin'?" She asked.
"I was afraid you'd be mad and fire me. Mac's right, you have enough to worry about without me adding to it."
Applejack rubbed the side of her head with a hoof. "Caramel, you shouldn't listen to everything my brother tells you. He can be a bit overprotective at times and sticks his nose into things that don't concern him." Applejack sat down next to the sand yellow stallion. "Listen Caramel, I was wondering, if you're not busy or anything, did you maybe want to go and get something to eat tomorrow night?"
Caramel fell over one of the harness rungs of his cart. When he got up again his brown mane was mussed from its usual neatness. Applejack thought this added to his charm. "Uhm, I don't think I heard you right. Could you maybe repeat that?"
"Caramel, I'm asking if you wanted to have dinner with me tomorrow night. Unless you don't want to, I don't want you think you're obligated or anythin' since I'm your boss and all."
"What? No, I mean yes I'd love to." Caramel fidgeted for a moment. "I don't get it though, I thought you didn't like me. You were always shouting at me."
"Oh Caramel. I just get a little perturbed when you break things or lose things. It doesn't mean I don't like you." Applejack said, swatting him with her hat. She saw Luna smile at her from the side of the barn. The light orange mare leaned in and gave Caramel a quick kiss on the cheek. Walking back to her part of the orchard, she called back to him. "I'll see you tomorrow night."
"Yeah; tomorrow." Caramel seemed frozen in place, a blush spread hot across his face.
"Good job Applejack." Luna said to herself.
Luna made her way back to the Carousel Boutique and let herself in. Rarity was working on a dress while little Garnet played on the floor with a roll of ribbon.
"How did it go Luna?" She inquired.
Luna was smiling. She was smiling more this day than any other in a long time. "I don't want to be premature but I think we can check Applejack off the list; only four more to go."
Sweetie Belle came charging into the shop. "Princess, thank goodness your back."
"Hello dear. How did your mission go?" Luna asked her.
"Not so good your majesty. I think Scootaloo is in a lot of trouble." The small unicorn informed her. "I followed her home like you asked and when I got there I went around back and looked through the window. The whole house is covered in dust. The kitchen was clean but from what I saw through the rest of the windows; it looks like nopony has lived there in years."
"What's going on?" Rarity asked.
"We think young Scootaloo may be in some trouble. Sweetie Belle, get Spike and then I'd like you, him and Rarity to go over there and wait for me. I need to contact somepony else about this."
"Sure thing Princess. We'll see you soon." She said.
Princess Luna flew as fast as she could toward the home of Rainbow Dash. The dark purple alicorn knocked on the door loudly. "Rainbow, I need to talk to you immediately!" She shouted up to the numerous windows.
Rainbow Dash streaked out of an upper story window and landed in front of the Princess. "Luna, what's wrong? Is everything okay?"
"I don't know but I believe there's a problem with a little orange pegasus named Scootaloo. Are you familiar with her?"
"Yeah, she's kind of a fan filly of mine and I've been helping her become a stronger flier since she says her parents never seem to have the time."
"Have you ever met her parents?" She asked.
"Yeah but it was like seven years ago. They were heading to Coltsberg that winter but then I saw Scootaloo back in town shortly after Winter Wrap Up. She said her parents took a permanent position in Canterlot but preferred to live here. To be honest I haven't seen her parents since they left that last time."
"This is getting more confusing every minute. I need you to come with me. If there is something wrong, I think the young flier will need another pegasus around, somepony she trusts." Luna explained.
Spike, Rarity, and Sweetie Belle were waiting outside Scootaloo's home in a secluded back corner of the Rainbow Cottages, when Rainbow Dash and Princess Luna landed next to them. "Rarity, where is Garnet?" Luna asked.
"Pinkie is watching him until we return. Do you know what this is all about Luna?" She asked.
"I have my suspicions. Wait here a moment." Luna flew up to the second story windows and looked in each one until she found what she was looking for.
"What is it?" Rainbow asked.
Luna landed at the front door. "It's as I feared, she's alone."
"But if you want to talk to her alone, isn't that a good thing?" Spike asked her.
"No, you misunderstand. She's completely alone. Her room and apparently the kitchen appear to be the only rooms that have been lived in, in years. Scootaloo is upstairs sleeping in her room, we need to talk to her but I don't want to give her the chance to run away." Luna touched the front doors lock with her horn. There was a soft click and the door swung open on loose hinges. "None of you saw that."
The five ponies carefully entered the home and quietly shut the door behind them. The house was empty, nothing on the walls or the floor. The only thing that said somepony lived there were the hoof prints in the thick layer of dust covering the floor. They made their way upstairs and gathered in the room of the young orange pagasus. The room was as clean as would be expected from a filly her age. There was no decoration in the room save various posters of the Wonderbolts and Rainbow Dash on the walls. Like the rest of the house, there wasn't a scrap of furniture in the room. A pile of old straw served as a bed for the young pegasus. Sweetie Bell approached her and gently shook her friend. "Scootaloo, wake up please, we need to talk to you"
Scootaloo slowly opened her eyes. "Hey Belle," she said sleepily. "What are you doing up? Come on back to bed, I'm cold."
The other ponies stood in shock, looking back and forth between Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle. The young unicorn shook her head indicating she had no idea what her friend was talking about. Luna walked over and laid next to the pile of straw. "Scootaloo, crusader, your Princess needs you."
Scootaloo sat bolt upright in her bed looking at the ponies around her. "What's going on, why are you all here? How did you get in? Uh, my parents will be home soon and they'll be really mad if they find you here!" She sputtered out at a rapid pace.
"Dear, we've seen the house already. Nopony except you has been here in years. Where are your parents?" Rarity asked in a motherly tone.
"I don't know what you're talking about." She said.
"Hey Squirt, what's the deal? We're only trying to help." Rainbow reassured her.
"I don't need your help, I'm doing just fine. When Mom and Dad get back they'll tell you too!"
"Crusader," Luna said sternly. "I want to speak with your parents immediately. I want to know where they are and I want to know now. Any pony who would leave their child in these conditions does not deserve to have them."
"Hey, my parents are great, you'll see! They'll be back any minute so just go away and I'll tell them to talk to you when they get home."
Sweetie Belle slapped her friend across the face with the back of her left front hoof. "Stop lying!" She shouted through the tears running down her face. "I saw you. I followed you home and I saw everything. You don't have any electricity. There's not even running water here. I saw you buy enough food for one lunch and one dinner and that was it. Do you even have any food in your refrigerator? Nopony should have to live like this. We're only trying to help you. Can't you understand that? Where are they? Why are you living like this?"
Scootaloo sat there holding a hoof to her face staring at the tears pouring from her friend's eyes. "They're dead." She said quietly as she began to cry as well. The other ponies just stood there, processing what the just heard.
Sweetie Belle didn't need to wait, she tackled her friend in a crushing bear hug. "I'm so sorry? Why didn't you tell us? We could have helped."
Scootaloo tried to pry the unicorn off her. Sweetie Belle released her but the young pegasus was soon enveloped in a pair of cyan forelegs and wings. She tried to struggle out of Rainbow's grasp but Dash just hugged her tighter. "Hey, let me go!"
"Calm down Squirt, I'm not letting you go. Believe me, I know how you feel."
"How could you know how I feel? You still have your parents!" She shouted.
"Yeah, Mom's still around but I lost my Dad in a training accident when I was about your age. I watched him fall out of the sky and die." Rainbow Dash admitted, tears streaking down her cheeks.
Scootaloo looked up at her hero, wiping the tears from her eyes. "Y-you did?"
"Yeah kiddo, I did. I know it's not the same thing but still, I understand." Rainbow said.
"Why are you here all alone?" Luna asked her. "Please tell us what happened."
"Six years ago, my Dad took a job in Coltsburg. He said we'd come back to Ponyville every summer so we kept the house. Shortly after we arrived Mom got sick. Dad wouldn't let me see her. I couldn't even hug her. I had to talk to Mom through the door. As winter passed Mom got so sick that Dad started missing work and then he started coughing. Our neighbor called the hospital and they took my Mom and Dad away. I stayed in the hospital but the doctors; they wouldn't let me see them. Then, the third day at the hospital, they told me they died. They were so sick. They said it was something called enciph, encephi..."
"Encephalitis; we've lost so many ponies to that virus. I thought we had it handled." Luna said.
"Yeah, that's what the doctor called it. He said it was rare but it still happens. They told me I had to go to an orphanage since I didn't have any other family. Dad told me about those places. He said that some of them are really bad, like foals being beaten or worse. He told me that sometimes the colts and fillies are, uhm, touched in a bad way."
"Scootaloo, orphanages aren't like that. Maybe at one time a very long time ago but there are laws and policies to carefully screen everypony that works at them." Luna explained. "From what I read, my sister put those policies in place herself."
"I didn't know that. I was afraid." She said. "I didn't want to live in a place like that so when they came to take me away, I ran. I ran as fast as I could. I wanted to go home and get my things but I was afraid to go back. I ran to the only other place I knew I would be safe. I came back to Ponyville."
"You've spent the last seven years all by yourself? What about food? You haven't been stealing have you?" Spike asked
"No. Mom didn't think you should keep all your money in one place. She kept money stashed all over both houses." Scootaloo told them. "So, what happens now?"
"I'm sorry Scootaloo but we can't let you stay here all by yourself." Luna said.
"But I've been taking care of myself for seven years just fine."
"Be that as it may, it's not right nor is it legal. You're still just a filly. You need somepony to look out for you whether you know it or not." Luna said.
"You're not going to take her away to one of those orphanages are you Princess?" Sweetie Belle asked, concerned.
"No, she's not. Scootaloo, how would you like to come live with me?" Rainbow Dash asked. "My house has lots of room and you wouldn't have to hide anymore. Not to mention that being up in the clouds, you'd get lots of flying practice. We'd get you ready for the Speedsters Team in no time flat."
"Really, you'd let me come live with you?" Scootaloo's hero worship was going into overdrive.
"Yeah Squirt. I can't promise that I'll never lose my temper or I won't forget things until we get used to living in the same house. And I know I'll probably mess things up from time to time, and I can't cook worth a darn but yes, if it's okay with Princess Luna."
Scootaloo looked at her pleadingly. "Yes. If you both find the arrangements amenable then I see no problem with it, but I will be checking in from time to time." Rainbow Dash had the air squeezed out of her lungs when Scootaloo hugged her, tears streaming down her face.
"I'm happy this could be resolved." Rarity said. "Spike, we should really be going, I don't' want to leave Garnet with Pinkie too long. Who knows how much sugar she's given him."
"Okay. Belle, don't be too late, remember it's a school night." Spike reminded her.
Spike and Rarity left the home leaving Scootaloo alone with Luna, Rainbow, and Sweetie Belle. "Would it be okay if the other girls came to sleep over once in a while?" The young pegasus asked Rainbow Dash.
"I don't see why not but they'll have to get a cloud walking spell from Twilight." Dash told her. "Squirt, I'm going to have to spend a little more time at work now so I'm gonna have to put trust in you to be by yourself while I'm gone. But hey, don't worry we'll still have weekends to practice your flying okay?"
"But why?" She asked. "You never work more than six hours a day unless there's an emergency."
"Well, caring for another pony cost money and if I'm going to be responsible for you, I'll need to be bringing in more."
"Not necessarily." Luna said. "Now that Scootaloo doesn't have to hide anymore, she can claim the funds her parents have in the bank and all the property and assets that have been held in trust for her. As soon as you sign the legal paperwork, you'll be her legal guardian which means until Scootaloo is eighteen you will be in charge of those funds and can access them but only on her behalf."
"Is that okay with you?" Rainbow asked her.
"If it means you don't have to work longer just to look after me then sure."
"With that, we should be going as well." Luna said. "You two have a lot to discuss and like Spike said, it's a school night so I'm sure Sweetie Belle should be getting to bed as well."
Sweetie Belle and the Princess were about to walk out of the room when Scootaloo rushed towards them and embraced the young unicorn tightly. "Thanks for snooping and telling the Princess."
She hugged her friend back. "Anytime."