Late Bloomer (Story!)

Finally finished this about two months after I started it.

Warning: Long story is LOOOOOOOONNNNNNGGGG

Late Bloomer

“Excuse me?”

Twilight startled. She swore there hadn’t been anyone else in the library a minute ago. “Where did you come from?”

The strange unicorn was tall and gangly, though of about adult pony height, she had obviously yet to fill out. “Trotston. Originally,” she said. Her straight, brown mane hung over most of her face as she hung her head.

“Trotston, Maressechusetts?” Twilight Sparkle grinned in spite of herself. The other hub of intellectual pursuits and high culture.

“Yes. Maressechusetts.” A nervous, dull aqua hoof pawed gently at the floor. “I -um- came here to… help.”

“Thankyou, I already have an assistant. Spike got really upset the last time I got another helper.”

“Oh. Sorry. Um. I actually meant I was looking to help someone specifically. The -uh- crusaders?”

“The cutie mark crusaders?”

“…‘es…” the stranger’s head dropped so low that her horn nearly touched the floor.

“I think they were helping make deliveries for Mr and Mrs Cake over at Sugarcube Corner.” Twilight busied herself with some books. “Why do you want to–?” but once she turned back, the aqua pony was gone.

Twilight looked for her outside, but only briefly. There was no sign of the stranger anywhere. “Wow,” she said finally, “that was weird.”

*

Pinkie was bouncing. She loved to jump because of the tickly way her tummy felt. And it was a fun way to get to the top shelves in Sugarcube Corner’s bakery.

“Vanilla!” she cheered, adding way too much to the mix.

“…excuse me…?”

Pinkie stared and gasped. A new pony! She’d certainly never seen this pony before and that had to mean she was new in town. And if she was new in town, that meant she couldn’t possibly have any friends! And that was so horrible that she, Pinkie Pie, had to fix that immediately!

Pinkie ran off at warp seven to tell everypony about the new pony and the surprise welcome party so she could make some friends!

*

“Pinkie, dear. We’re back,” sang Mrs Cake. She never liked leaving Pinkie alone in the kitchen. What Pinkie lacked in cooking skill, she made up for with joyous enthusiasm.

Unfortunately for the Cakes, that enthusiasm extended to baking at every opportunity. Which meant yet another batch of baked bads.

“Something smells… good,” said Carrot in amazement. “You think Pinkie actually read a recipe, Cup?”

“Anything can happen… I guess…” she tentatively crept into the kitchen, as if anticipating an earth-shattering kaboom.

What she found was a stranger. A dull aqua unicorn with a straight brown mane and an equally straight brown tail. She wore an apron over a rather austere pink dress. “Oh, hello,” said the stranger. “The pink earth pony left a batter half-made, so… I thought I might help? I made a rather lot, fixing up the batter, so…” she gestured at a three-tiered cake and three boxes of cupcakes. “I think I went a bit overboard. Sorry. Um. Only… The order was a bit smudged where it was supposed to say what quantity…”

“This… is… perfect,” said Mrs Cup Cake. She sampled a spare cupcake. Bliss. Even her own grandmother couldn’t have done better. “If you want a job, dear, you can come by and bake with us any time.”

“Thank you, ma'am, but… I was hoping to help out the cutie mark crusaders. Do you know when they’ll be back from making deliveries?”

“Oh dear. They already went to help Fluttershy at her cottage.”

“Oh. Okay. Thank you anyway.”

“Aw no, thank *you*, miss…?”

“Um. Star Wishes.” She sidled out the back door, tidying up after herself all the way. She came back in, briefly, to return the apron. “Sorry.”

Carrot nibbled some of her cupcake. “Mm! Think we could hire her, dumpling?”

*

Fluttershy counted the ducklings as they entered the pond. “…five, six, seven…” no number eight. “Where’s Peepers?”

“Um. Is this him?” the stranger was tall and skinny and awkward, with Peepers sitting on her back like a Princess in her carriage. “He was lagging way behind with a limp, so… I gave him a lift. Was that okay?”

“Was that trouble leg hurting again?” she asked the duckling.

He nodded vigorously, showing his weaker, webbed foot to her.

“We both know you need to exercise it, Peepers, but hurting yourself isn’t going to help you get better. You’re allowed to call me if it’s painful.” Fluttershy helped him into the pond. “You take your time in this pond, now. Swimming is really good therapy for your leg.”

“Aaaaawwww...” cooed the stranger. “I wish I had that knack,” she sighed.

“Um. I didn’t catch your name, miss…?”

“Star Wishes. I… came looking to help…” the rest of her sentence was an inaudible mumble.

“Well, I’m always glad to welcome a helping hoof. There’s so much that still needs to be done…” Fluttershy rattled through a lengthy list.

“Always glad to be useful,” said Star Wishes.

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

“Um. No. I originally came from Trotston.”

“Maressechusetts?”

“That’s where it was the last time I looked…”

*

“Nothing else?”

“That’s everything,” said Fluttershy. “Thank you very much.”

“Oh, it’s nothing special. Do you know when the girls will be back, perchance?”

“Back?”

“From wherever they’re off to. I… sort of came looking for them and… got caught up.”

“Oh. I didn’t mean to impose.”

“It’s not a problem, honest. Just… point me in the right direction, if you please.”

“I think they went off to help Rarity in the Carousel Boutique. It’s on the other side of town, though.”

“Not a problem. I have long legs,” cheered Star Wishes. “I’m certain I can catch them up. Thank you so much, miss Fluttershy. Ta-ta-aa!”

She certainly could run very fast.

*

Rarity picked up the last of the mess. She didn’t mind teaching the girls, really, but her own little sister had two left hooves when it came to sewing the more complicated garments. As in, anything more tricky than a belt.

Someone came galloping up to Carousel Boutique, and skidded to a dignified trot just lengths before the door.

Oh dear.

Rarity could see exactly why this pony needed to be here. She needed a makeover tout suite!

“Welcome, miss…?”

“Star Wishes. I came–”

“I know exactly why you came, darling. Right this way.”

“I’m actually looking for–”

“–a fresh new style that suits your personality? Of course. Did nopony *tell* you that fairy pink is completely wrong for the aqua hide? You need something that accentuates the real you.”

“Oh. Um. That’s very kind of you, but–”

“And that dowdy old thing just *has* to go this *minute*!”

“No I’d really rather–”

“And by the way, sweetheart, do I detect a trace of Trotston in your accent?”

“Um… Yes?”

“Trotston, Maressechusetts? *The* hub of everything stylish and witty?”

“Unless it’s moved…” allowed Star Wishes.

“How could you be raised there and not know the most basic rules of style?”

“I was… kind of isolated. No, please don’t–”

The almost frumpy pink dress flew away from Rarity’s grasp as she saw the truth.

The dress was hiding a horrible secret.

Her latest client was… a blank-flank. Completely without a cutie mark.

And she was starting to cry. Very genteelly. Trying to be brave and stifle all hint of emotion. And completely failing at it.

“Well. Bang goes that last hope. I know how ponies gossip, it’s going to be all over town before sunset….”

“Dear, it’s only a handful of minutes until sunset…”

“My point, precisely.” She cowered in place. “I can’t afford your fashions, anyway. I spent my last bits just getting here.”

“Nonsense. I consider it a service to attire you in something more flattering. You can pay me back at your convenience, later. But for now…” her tape measure flew - literally - as she took the filly’s measurements. “Something simple, elegant, flattering but not *too* revealing, of course. And your secret is safe with me.”

“Forgive me if I don’t trust that statement,” said Star Wishes, cowering behind the modesty screen. “I’ve been mislead before.”

Rarity observed everything she could about the young newcomer in that instant. This was a hurt and betrayed soul. Building some level of trust would be difficult, if not impossible. “Is there a particular style you admire?”

“Just… Practical, thanks. I’ve already been doing a rather lot of running around. Something hard-wearing and -er- concealing.”

“Of course,” Rarity compared some fabric samples against ms Wishes’ hide. As with all aquas, blues made her look green and greens made her look blue. And different shades of aqua were completely out. Reds clashed and yellows showed the dirt, as did white and cream. Aha! Just the right shade of violet.

Night had barely begun by the time she’d finished the simple frock. Simple, elegant and refined, and yet Star wishes regarded her reflection with timid doubt.

“Mama always said that purple was a royal colour and not for… More common ponies,” she said. “Are you certain this style isn’t… fast? Mama always said a lady should be decently attired…”

“The question, dear,” said Rarity, “is, do you like it?”

Star Wishes stared into the mirror. Not at herself, but at the dress. Then her gaze went to the door, then the ceiling, then her own hooves, then the window and finally, to Rarity. “…yes…?”

“Then it’s perfect, isn’t it?”

Mirror, door, ceiling, hooves, window, Rarity. “…yes…?”

“Then *I* am glad to have another satisfied customer. We can discuss payment when you have a job. Now… I’m terribly sorry I overrode you, earlier, I simply couldn’t help myself. What did you really come here for?”

Mirror, door, ceiling, hooves, window, Rarity. “…um… I came to help the Cutie Mark Crusaders.”

“Oh, of course. Yes. They’re all sleeping over at Sweet Apple Acres. It’s down Horseshoe Lane, right at the end of the road, you can’t miss it.”

“Well, if they’re sleeping there, I’m bound to catch them,” cheered Star Wishes. “Thank you so much for the dress, I’ll make sure to repay you as soon as possible.”

“Of course you will,” she said. “See you again soon?”

“I hope so,” was all Star Wishes said before she genteelly trotted outside… and then galloped like hell for Sweet Apple Acres.

*

Applejack breathed a sigh of relief. Good beans and butter, those fillies were hard to get settled down. Now all she had to do was help Granny to bed and close up the farm for the night.

Big Macintosh was already out like a light. He’d done a whole passel of heavy lifting and moving, so Applejack didn’t blame him one bit. She just tucked him in and kissed his brow before moving on.

Granny was asleep in her chair. Applejack gently helped her up onto her own back.

“C'mon, Granny,” she whispered, “Y'all don’t gotta go to bed, but'cha can’t sleep here.”

Granny halfway woke, but fell back to snoring. She was almost as light as a Pegasus pony, these days. Applejack took the grand old lady to her bed and carefully tucked her in.

“G'night, Granny,” she whispered, and turned out the light.

Applejack checked on the fillies - still fast asleep - then the pigs and the chickens and sundry other critters around the farm. She was just about to close the gates when she heard somepony galloping closer.

From the sound of things, they were pushing themselves awful hot.

Applejack squinted into the darkness to try and figure out who it was. A unicorn. Too tall and thin to be anypony Applejack knew. And there was nothing chasing her, so why…?

The stranger realized she was being observed and slowed to a trot. “Sorry to be such a bother. I didn’t want to keep you up.”

“Well, if you’re hurryin’ to get here, ah reckon ah can hold th’ gate 'till you does,” countered Applejack.

She returned to a canter, taking the hint, and was soon inside and almost automatically assisting Applejack. “Are the Cutie Mark Crusaders here? I’ve been trying to catch up with them all day.”

“Well, they’re here, but I just got them rambunctious fillies to sleep. Is it urgent, miss…?”

“Star Wishes. No. Not exactly urgent per se… Just… Important. I can wait until tomorrow.” She looked around. “I believe the traditional emergency bunk is in the barn?”

“Not on this farm, missy. Why, Granny Smith herself’d have my guts for garters if she found out I let a guest sleep in the barn. You just follow me. Name’s Applejack, by the way. Where’d you say you was from?”

“Uh. Trotston.”

“Trotston, Maressechusetts?”

“Everyone’s been asking me that… Now I don’t know if I should be so sure…”

Applejack laughed at her joke. “Don’t you mind us. Old bean town has a bit of a reputation. Next to Canterlot, it’s pretty fancy-schmancy. Lots o’ folks kinda admire it 'n’ all.”

“Ah,” said Star Wishes as she followed. “All right. Um… I have to confess that I didn’t see much of the -uh- Trotston scene.”

“Don’t worry yourself none,” Applejack smiled. “Just be yourself and folks’ll warm right up to you.”

“Oh. Thankyou. Mama always said to do what she said. I’ll have to think about that.” She looked around to discover they were in a guest bedroom. “My goodness, this looks lovely. Is all this hoof-made?”

“Yyyup! Granny does most of it, now, but Maw and Paw put that there quilt together on their anniversary.”

Star Wishes bit her lip and blinked away tears. “It’s beautiful… Thankyou. I’ll… I’ll do my best not to mess it up.”

Applejack had to wonder what the living heck that was about. “It’s made to be used, Sugarcube. Wouldn’t be right for all that work to sit there and go mouldy…”

The aqua unicorn gave a weak, watery smile. “I’m certain it will be extra warm, tonight. Thankyou.”

“Goodnight,” said Applejack. “We get started pretty early around here.”

“I’ll try to be prompt.”

Applejack left her to her own devices and tucked herself in. There was something odd about that pony…

*

“Good morning, Starshiiiinne… The earth says 'hello’. You twinkle above us. We twinkle below…”

Somepony was in good spirits.

Applejack extracted herself and followed her morning ablutions before stumbling downstairs to the delicious smells.

“Eggs, milk or butter,” Star Wishes’ voice was lecturing. “They’re binding agents. They turn the flour into the gooey batter, and the batter is what we need to turn into something yummy.”

“Whoah,” said Applebloom, “Pinkie never mentioned that…”

“Some ponies do tend to leave out important steps, sometimes.” Star Wishes had added Granny’s apron to her dress and was busy mixing up a feast. “I like to be thorough. Oh, good morning! Did I… go overboard? I think I made the mistake of assuming there were more hungry mouths…”

There she went, apologizing again. “Aw, don’t you worry, none. There’s two more little fillies upstairs with empty legs, ah reckon. And anything they can’t handle, me an’ Big Macintosh’ll take care of for ya.”

Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo almost floated down the stairs, borne aloft by the enticing aromas.

“Mmmhhh… Almost makes up for getting up so early.”

“I’d say it already has…” said Scootaloo.

“Well, if all a'y'all had gone to sleep when I tole ya…” Applejack grinned. “Well, there’s plenty. Dig in!”

“My… How informal,” murmured Star Wishes. She edged onto a seat and gave herself a tidy sampler. “Mama would be appalled. I think I like the idea.” Then she giggled.

Applejack watched the younger pony as she worked her way through a more generous portion. If there was any trait she could pin on the aqua unicorn, it would be - nervous.

It was little things. The way she quickly checked behind her as if it were a matter of habit. The flinch at loud noises - or rude ones. Star Wishes almost ducked and covered when Applebloom let loose a championship-winning belch.

“What are those ones?” said Big Mac.

“Apple scruffs. Granny Smith told me the apples needed eating up, and scruffs are ideal for leftovers. Try one? Mama says they’re passable.”

Applejack tried one. They were way better than passable. They were the best things she’d ever tasted. “Your mama must have some high standards, bless her heart.”

Flinch. Twitch. “Oh. Yes. Mama does have a perfectionist streak. Um. Bless her heart.” Duck, shoulder check, window check. “At least I learned how to do things correctly.”

“Ah s'pose I’d better introduce ya. Star Wishes, these fillies are the girls you’re looking for. My li'l sister, Applebloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle here is Rarity’s sister. Fillies, this here is Star Wishes. She’s come all the way from Trotston to help y'all out.”

“No way,” said Applebloom.

“Cool,” said Sweetie Belle.

“Awesome,” said Scootaloo.

“Trotston, Maressechusetts?” said Granny.

“Everypony’s been saying that. Is there another Trotston, somewhere, I’m not aware of?”

The table burst into laughter. Star Wishes joined in only after she recovered from her flinch.

“So why’d you wanna help us?” said Scootaloo.

Now she looked downcast. “Um. That’s… kinda personal? I don’t want it getting around. Um. One pony knows… I suppose you fillies can know. Um.” She looked around. “After breakfast? Maybe we could go somewhere? The crusaders and I? Somewhere… um… private?”

“There’s the clubhouse,” offered Applebloom. “That’s plenty private.”

*

“Whoah…” Star Wishes smiled tentatively as she looked around the clubhouse. “Who fixed this place up? It… sort of feels older than it looks.”

“Oh, it weren’t nothin’ special,” Applebloom dismissed. “Just a few tools and a lick o’ paint. Some of the ole wood had t’ be replaced. Nothin’ big.”

“Awright, so what’s this big secret?” said Scootaloo.

“Um,” Star Wishes glanced out the door, out the window, down to her hooves, behind her, and then faced the fillies. “I… want to join…”

“What?”

“Join?”

“Us?”

Door, window, hooves, behind, fillies. “I’m…” door, window, hooves, behind, fillies, “…also a blank-flank.” She lifted her skirt so they could see.

A bare. Unadorned. Aqua rump.

“But…. you’re old.”

Star Wishes lowered her skirt again. “Too old for your group? I’d hoped…” she sighed, hanging her head. “Mama said I was chasing rainbows. I should have known there was no hope.”

“Great beans and butter, filly,” Applebloom blurted, “were you raised by Dragons?”

“Um. Just one. Does that matter?” Twitch.

The fillies’ jaws dropped.

“You were really bought up by a dragon?” said Sweetie Belle. “A full-grown fire-breathing scales and spikes *dragon*?”

“There’s a dragon being raised by a pony right here in Ponyville,” said Star Wishes. “Why is the opposite so shocking?”

“They eat meat!” Sweetie Belle yawped.

“And other stuff…” added Applebloom.

“You coulda been et up,” said Scootaloo.

“Well, obviously, I wasn’t.” Star Wishes waved a thin leg. “Maybe I was too scrawny.” She smiled in the watery, nervous way of someone who was hoping they just made a joke and everyone would laugh, now.

“Aheh, heh, heh,” Applebloom managed politely. “We need to discuss a few things, if'n you don’t mind.” She whisked her friends into a corner.

“…m'kay…”

“How could someone that old not have a cutie mark?”

“She was bought up by a dragon, guys…”

“Wouldn’t it look… Y'know… Weird?”

“She wears a dress all the time for a reason. It’ll just look like she’s helping us out.”

“We don’t have to tell anyone she’s a member…”

“She obviously needs our help.”

“It’d be jus’ plain mean t’ turn her away…”

“We have to help her. One more Crusader is one more angle to help us all get our cutie marks.”

“Agreed.”

“Agreed.”

“Awright miss Wishes, you are officially–” they turned to find the clubhouse empty of tall, thin unicorns. “…gone?”

They rushed outside.

Star Wishes was walking slowly towards the track that lead to the gate out of Sweet Apple Acres. All the same, she was quite a long way away.

“Hey!”

“Wait up!”

Scootaloo sped past on her scooter, faster than the other two could gallop. She raced in front of Star Wishes and blocked her path. “Don'cha know it’s *rude* t’ leave without sayin’ g'bye?”

Star Wishes stumbled backwards. “I… I know. I do know. I’m so sorry, I just… I… I…”

Applebloom caught up first. “Take a breath. Take your time. It’s okay, now. She ain’t here.”

A deep, shuddering breath. “I wanted to leave before I could get thrown out. I’ve been all over Equestria, and there’s no help anywhere. You were my last chance and… And…” tears fell.

“We were just about to welcome you in,” said Sweetie Belle. “We agreed.”

Star Wishes stared at her. “I’m… I’m sorry. I thought you said you were going to welcome me in.”

“I did.”

“We are.”

“Welcome to the Cutie Mark Crusaders, miss Star Wishes!”

“Just like that?”

“Ah-huh.”

“No tests? No initiations? No… Hazings? No oaths? No rituals?”

“None of that stuff…”

“We’re not up to any of *that*…”

“We’re sorta new.”

“You’re absolutely certain? Just like that, I’m in?”

“Yyyyyup,” said Applebloom.

Star Wishes sat, gently twitching, on the pathway. “Mama always said… She never wanted… Just like that… Just like that…”

“What’s wrong with her?” winced Scootaloo.

“Dragons are lots of things,” said Sweetie Belle, “but many of them are just plain mean. There’s a treaty? But it only does so much. We help their babies hatch and help them learn we’re not bad to dragons. They… let us. And they try not to be mean to us.”

“Huh?”

“You were absent, that day,” said Applebloom. “There used to be wars. Now… There aren’t.”

“I guess one dragon thought she’d try to even the score…” Sweetie Belle did her best to soothe Star Wishes. “You can guess it doesn’t turn out well.”

Scootaloo crept up to Star Wishes. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I didn’t know.”

Star Wishes swallowed and pulled herself together. “It can’t be helped. Can’t be undone. We move on knowing better, hm?”

“I… guess. Am I forgiven, though?”

“Um. Yes?”

Scootaloo breathed again. “Okay. So where do we start?”

“I’d be happy to accompany you on your plans for today… If that’s all right.”

“It’s better than all right,” said Scootaloo, “today, we’re helping the coolest Pegasus pony in all Ponyville!”

“She means Rainbow Dash,” hissed Sweetie Belle.

“Thankyou,” said Star Wishes. “I haven’t met all the Pegasus ponies, yet.”

Applebloom finished fixing the cart to Scootaloo’s scooter. “Oops. We don’t have a spare helmet.”

“I can keep up,” breezed Star Wishes. “Long legs come in handy for running.”

“We’ll meet up at Misty Mountainside. That’s near to where Rainbow’s cloud castle is.”

“…misty mountainside, cloud castle. Got it.” Star Wishes nodded. She stretched as the crusaders boarded their usual travel arrangements.

“You gonna be okay?” said Scootaloo.

“I’m not good for much, but I can run,” grinned Star Wishes.

*

Rainbow Dash stretched when she heard the low rumble of Scootaloo’s rapid wingbeats. Showtime.

For a Pegasus foal with Stumpy Wing, she sure got around fast enough. Maybe if she got Fluttershy, some hummingbirds, and a few bumblebees together…

Meh. That could keep for if Rainbow’s other ideas didn’t pan out.

She flew down to Misty Meadow, setting up the last of the cloud obstacles, and almost freaked out when a strange pony nearly galloped into her.

“Whooops!” The stranger leaped over Rainbow, barely clearing the cloud hoop before tumbling to a halt. “Terribly sorry about that. Wasn’t expecting low-flying Pegasii…”

Scootaloo came to a halt, the other two fillies cheering.

“Whoah!”

“Cool!”

“That was awesome!”

“Dumb luck I didn’t wreck anything,” said the gangly unicorn as she straightened herself out. “You must be miss Rainbow Dash. This is certainly an impressive set up, you have here.”

“You can call me Rainbow,” said Rainbow. “Or RD if you want to be informal.”

“Um,” the stranger checked behind her, above, to the left and to the right before admitting, “…idon'tthinkican…”

Great. *Two* Fluttershys in one town. “Whatever suits you best,” she breezed. “I’m a pretty informal filly, myself. By the way, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Um.” Behind, up, left, right. “I… Um.”

“This is Star Wishes,” said Sweetie Belle.

“She’s helpin’ us out,” added Applebloom.

“She’s from Trotston,” said Scootaloo.

“Yes… Trotston, Maressechusetts,” said Star Wishes in the tired tones of someone who was weary of being asked.

“Pfft. I know where Trotston is,” Rainbow dismissed. “Come on, we got a lot to do.”

“So what are we doing?” Scootaloo bounced up and down in eagerness.

“I’ve been asked to help out with the Fairy Flyers group in Flight Camp, next year. You know, inspire them, boost their confidence… That sorta stuff.” A suitable camouflage for the real purpose, help exercise Scootaloo’s stumpy wings and help her actually fly. Something Rainbow had been roped into by Scootaloo’s family because the younger filly idolized Rainbow. “I need to make sure this set-up’s perfect for them and you–” she indicated Scootaloo, “–seemed to be the coolest tester I could find.”

Scootaloo practically glowed. “Really?”

“Really-surely.”

“So what do we do?” said Applebloom.

“You three can be my ground crew. Run along under the track and be ready to lend some help. Not that we’ll need it.”

Scootaloo sized up the course and started for her scooter.

“Not so fast, young lady. The Fairy Fliers won’t have vehicles, so neither should you.”

“But… I…” she hung her head. “I can’t go up. Just along.”

And here came the confidence part. “Did I ever tell you I met Cloudrip at the Grand Galloping Gala?”

Scootaloo instantly cheered up. “The Cloudrip? From the Wonderbolts?”

“The one and only! He told me a little secret,” Rainbow’s voice fell to a whisper, “He used to have the same trouble. In fact,” a theatrical look around the meadow. “He still has stubby wings.”

“No way!”

“He showed me his secret to getting maximum air. Want to try it?”

“Do I?”

Hook, line and sinker. Oh yes. Rainbow quickly got her new protege to accept the lessons she’d frowned upon from her teachers and parents. Cheered on by her friends. It was only a matter of minutes before Scootaloo was flying - weakly at first - around the gentle obstacle course.

Five laps was plenty for her, right now. Rainbow let her rest up. “What do you say? Will the Fairy Flyers have any trouble?”

“That last triple hoop’s a bit tough,” admitted Scootaloo.

“Yeah? I thought it should be challenging… but it shouldn’t be *too* challenging… How would you fix it?”

“Maybe… Put the middle hoop lower? So they can swoop?”

“Great idea. I’ll tweak that and you can test it for me tomorrow.” And tomorrow, Rainbow will have added another, subtle tricky part to exercise Scootaloo’s wings.

“There you are!”

Star Wishes yipped and shrank in on herself.

“Oh, hey, Pinkie,” said Rainbow.

“I’ve been trying all yesterday to throw you a welcome-to-Ponyville party at your place and I just can’t find where your place is. How am I supposed to throw you a welcome home party when there’s no home to welcome you *to*?”

“I’m sorry,” said Star Wishes. “I’m sorry. I… I haven’t earned a place to stay, yet. I hadn’t even thought I was inconveniencing anyone. I’m terribly sorry.”

“You have nowhere to go?” Pinkie’s eyes wobbled with unaccustomed sadness.

“I’m sorry,” said Star Wishes.

“That’s even worse than not having friends, yet…”

“I’m sorry.”

“There’s only one thing to be done!”

“Th-there is…?” stammered Star Wishes.

“We have to find someone who wants to share *their* house! Any preferences?”

“Please don’t throw me out?”

“Silly filly! Who’d want to do that?”

“Um…” behind, up, left, right. “Nobody you’d know?” Flinch.

“Great!” Pinkie grinned. “I’ll have everything together at Pioneer Park by the time you’re done here!”

“…really…?” Star Wishes boggled.

Sweetie Belle whispered in Star Wishes’ ear.

“Oh. Sorry. Um. Thank you, miss Pinkie Pie.”

“It’s no problem at all! All you have to do is be there and have fun!” Pinkie literally bounced away.

Star Wishes was checking around herself again, huddling up and subtly trembling.

Rainbow landed beside her. “Are you okay?”

“Um. I don’t know. I don’t know.” Her breaths started getting faster. “I’ve never been to a proper pony party, previously….”

“What. Seriously?” boggled Rainbow.

“Her mom’s a dragon,” said Scootaloo.

“What?” Rainbow stared at her. “Seriously?”

“It’s not so bad as everyone seems to think,” said Star Wishes. “Mama loves me. She fed me and clothed me and cared for me. She tried her best to teach me all the good things. It’s not her fault I always got things wrong.”

Rainbow shared a Look with the other three fillies. It said: This filly is way too tense; we need to help her chill out for a while.

All three nodded solemnly.

“So… Anyone up for a game of Nonsense Tag?” offered Rainbow.

“What’s Nonsense Tag?” said Star Wishes.

“It’s a lot like regular tag,” said Applebloom. “'Cept you make a silly rule to catch the next pony.”

“And it’s gotta be something everyone can do,” added Sweetie Belle. “Or something you know the tagged pony can do.”

“Like this,” said Rainbow. “To catch the next pony, I had to fly upside-down.” She hovered upside-down to prove her point.

“And we should stay in the meadow,” added Scootaloo. “To make it fair.”

“Nonsense, indeed. Ponies play this?”

“Yyyup!” Applebloom grinned.

“We’ll give you a head start,” offered Rainbow, still Topsy-Turvy. “I’ll be 'it’.”

“Um. Shouldn’t… we… hurry up… to Pioneer Park?” Star Wishes cringed.

“We really should let Pinkie Pie set up,” advised Sweetie Belle.

“One quick game won’t hurt,” added Applebloom.

“It’ll get you into the party spirit,” said Scootaloo.

“Um.” Behind, up, left, right. “If you’re sure it’s okay….”

Four unanimous grins and nods answered her.

“All right,” announced Rainbow. “You’ve got until 'five’. One. Two…”

All four fillies ran.

“Threefourfive, readyornothereIcome!” Rainbow kept upside-down as she flew low above the ground. Star Wishes was fast, but Rainbow was faster. “Tag! To catch the next pony, you have to… Run backwards!”

“Ah! An equalizing challenge! Now I get it…” she turned her head and scurried backwards after one, then another filly. She finally caught Sweetie Belle. “Tag! Um. To catch the next pony… you… have to make a rhyme! Featuring their name.”

“Oo! Tricky!” Her first few attempts were marred by misses. “Rainbow dash, I’m on you like a rash. Oops. Scootaloo, I’ll catch you. Darn it!”

“Pity you can’t be chasing me,” Star Wishes singsonged, “I have tagger’s immunity…”

“Gotcha, little Applebloom. I caught you, even though you zoooooom!” Sweetie Belle sang.

“Oooh, niiiice,” cooed the aqua unicorn. “You have almost perfect pitch.”

“Thanks!”

“Ahem…” said Applebloom. “It’s my turn to do what?”

“Oh yeah. Uh. To catch the next pony, you have to… Jump everywhere!”

Laughter soon rang out in Misty Meadow. As did silly voices and the occasional yawp of mayhem.

The stranger from Trotston relaxed enough, Rainbow judged. “Okay, let’s pick it up tomorrow after Scootaloo tests my next setup. Right now, we have a pretty park party to play at.”

“Oh. Yes.” Star Wishes shrank in on herself again. “Um. Are there rules?”

“Just be yourself and enjoy,” advised Rainbow. “You’ll fit in in no time.”

“Race ya there?” challenged Scootaloo.

“But–”

“C'mon,” said Applebloom. “You know you can have fun.”

“Stay close to me?” Star Wishes begged. “I’ve… um… never been to a party… previously.”

“Sure thing,” said Sweetie Belle. “You’ll be fine.”

“I’m gonna win this time,” cheered Scootaloo. “Readysetgo!”

Star wishes chased after them with a yelp.

*

She knew she was getting close when she saw the balloons, but daren’t stop. The strange, pink pony would be angry at her. Star Wishes didn’t handle anger very well.

Oh no.

Crowds.

She’d never been around large groups of ponies. The largest number she’d encountered had been ten. And they were… mean.

“Stay strong, Star,” she told herself. “Sparkle, sparkle. Stay strong. Life is all an act. Play a part. Consider confidence.”

She no longer had the strength to run down the road, after her friends. She slowed to a canter. Then a trot. Then a walk.

She could feel her own heartbeat, thundering inside her chest. She could feel her legs trembling. Hear her own teeth chattering out of pure petrifying panic. Any instant, now…

“Hello.”

Star Wishes shrieked, jumped, and landed in a defensive ball with a mortifying blurt of, “Ididn'tmeanit!”

It was the yellow pony, miss Fluttershy. She’d moved so softly that Star Wishes hadn’t heard her land over her own cacophony.

“Oh my goodness,” cooed miss Fluttershy. “I thought *I* was nervous. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to be so frightening. It’s okay, now. Just take some nice, deeep breaths…”

Her gentle hoof reminded Star of Mama’s talons, and the alone togetherness that had filled their lives. “Thank you. I know I shouldn’t get so worked up, but I can’t help myself. I just know something’s going to go wrong, and I’m going to be in the centre of things. Messing it all up for everyone. Um. Every*pony*.”

“Now, now. You should try to think *positively*, Star Wishes. You need to remember, you’re a very helpful pony. And very nice. And kind. And thoughtful. Even if you *do* manage to get something wrong? I’m *certain* every pony there is going to forgive you.”

“Does it count if I’m not that certain?”

“It’s okay to be nervous. You can give every pony a chance, and when you do, you’ll find they’re all nice in their own way.”

“…when you walk through a storm,” Star mutter-sang under her breath, making each foot move towards the party through sheer strength of will, “hold your head up high… And don’t be afraid of the dark…”

“That’s the spirit,” encouraged miss Fluttershy. “You can do it.”

“…at the end of the storm…” her feet were beginning to obey the tempo. “There’s a golden sky… And the sweet, silver song of a lark.”

Sweetie Belle walked on one side, having found her again, and miss Fluttershy kept her company on the other. Not boxing her in. Not forcing her forward. Just walking with her.

And singing along.

“Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown…”

Star shut her eyes, trusting her friends to keep her walking straight, so she wouldn’t have to keep staring at the growing circus of a party in front of her. Other voices joined in as well, making her feel bold enough to sing out loud.

“Walk on. Walk on… With hope in your heart,” thousands of voices joined the swell. For the first time in a long time, Star felt like she belonged. Like she was part of something bigger. “And you’ll never walk alone!”

Like she was making the bigger thing better, just for being part of it. “You’ll ne-veeeerrrr waaaaaaaaalllk alooooooone!”

And then she realised that her untrained Alto had rang out across the clearing unassisted.

Star Wishes opened her eyes, an apology ready to fly from her lips, to find the pink pony grinning at her.

“Wooooooowwwww…. Now *that’s* what I call an *entrance*!”

The surrounding ponies apparently agreed, cheering and stomping their hooves in evident approval. Star cringed in spite of herself. She couldn’t help feel like she was boxed in. No escape.

_Breathe. Smile. It is impolite to faint._ Star breathed. Smiled. And tried her best to remain well-mannered and vertical. _Do one’s best to prevent perspiration. It’s ugly to sweat._

“…sparkle, sparkle…” she reminded herself, just under her breath.

“What was that?” said the pink pony.

Star tried to say, “Good evening, miss. My name is Star Wishes, late of Trotston, Maressechusetts. I’m afraid I failed to catch your name,” but all that came out was a barely audible squeak.

“My name’s Pinkie Pie! You don’t have to be shy, now! Everypony wants to meet you!”

Star found her voice. If not the entirety of her courage. “Pinkie Pie. When miss Rainbow Dash called you 'Pinkie’, I was under the mistaken assumption that it wasn’t your actual name. I’m–”

“Star Wishes, I heard from Twilight! And you’re from Trotston. Didja really walk all the way here from Maressechusetts? Did it take long?”

“Pinkie,” said Fluttershy, derailing the bouncing pony’s flood of questions. “You have to let her answer.”

Star, subtly backing away since she’d first come face-to-face with miss Pinkie Pie, backed into somepony. She yipped and turned, trying desperately not to collide into someone-somepony else as she moved to apologize.

“I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t mean… any… tall…”

He was the biggest pony she’d ever seen. Red and huge and muscular. A blond-maned Titan in a horse collar.

“Ain’t no trouble,” he said. “Ah get mistaken f'r scenery all the time.”

“I wasn’t looking where I was going, I am so very sorry.” Belated recognition dawned. “Big Macintosh, am I right? I didn’t know you lived up to your name so… well.”

Big Macintosh just had a friendly smile for her.

His enormous presence actually helped her relax in the face of so many. His quiet nature made him a living shelter to huddle against in the face of so many… well… faces.

She did her best to be friendly and tried her hardest to be companionable and polite, just like Mama taught her. But things were going wrong. Slowly, by spread of distant chatter, each friendly face was turning pitying.

Did they know?

She sought miss Rarity out of the crowd - not difficult, as she was one of the few ponies wearing a full-on dress.

Star apologized all the way through the crowds to meet up with her. Remember Mama. Start with something nice. Don’t be brash. “Miss Rarity. I don’t believe I thanked you properly for my lovely dress. It’s doing admirable service.”

“I’ve had quite a lot of buzz about the design,” miss Rarity smiled. “Romance and simplicity melded with practicality. You’ve sent quite a lot of business my way, just being seen.”

“May I have a quiet word apart, miss Rarity? Tete-a-tete?”

“You’ll have to excuse me, gentlecolts. Customer service. I promise not to be too long.”

Together, they walked to a quieter spot away from the throng.

“Miss Rarity… I know you promised me you wouldn’t gossip, but… everypony’s been starting to act… differently. I’m not accusing you of anything, I just… wanted to make… certain. Nothing was let slip.”

“My lips have been sealed, my dear,” said miss Rarity. “The only gossip going around is concerning your -ah- parentage.”

“My mama the dragon,” clarified Star.

“Yes. Everypony’s more than a little concerned. Dragons have a multitude of virtues, I’m sure, but… nurture isn’t one of their primary concerns.”

Star stood up for her mama like a proper dutiful daughter. “You’ve been misinformed, miss Rarity. My mama did her very best to look after me. Its not her fault I was such a disappointment. It was *my* failure to understand her lessons.”

“I see. She was a good 'mama’ to you?”

“Of course. I’m here, aren’t I?”

“She cared for you when you were sick?” miss Rarity seemed more confused about the issue than interrogative.

“Naturally. Mama made a positively vile soup out of all the right herbs I needed and made certain I ate it all. And she’d wrap me up in her tail if I needed to stay warm or hold me in the stream if I needed to cool down. One summer, she even flew up to the very top of her mountain to fetch snow. She sang songs to help me sleep.” Star smiled at a memory. “When I became convinced there were monsters in the shadows of our cave, she blew fire into every last one. She told me they’d never dare come back.”

Miss Rarity giggled in spite of herself.

“Mama’s not bad just because she’s a dragon, miss Rarity. There’s no need for sadness on my behalf. I’m doing just fine.”

“Dear, you apologize for almost everything you do.”

Star bit hard on an “I’m sorry,” to stop it coming out of her mouth. “Mama’s a very precise individual. Caring for me has been an effort and a trial for her, but it’s one she never surrendered. When I told her I was leaving to find… meaning… ┬áMama instantly worried about my welfare.”

And the less miss Rarity knew about the heated discussion of that event, the better.

“Mama didn’t have to look after me,” Star told her. “She had the option of dropping me off at any one of three villages at the bottom of her mountain… And she never did.”

“There you are!”

Star yipped and cringed out of pure reflex.

“Everypony’s got welcome gifts!” Miss Pinkie Pie cheered. “Come on! You’re missing out on the party!”

“Seems I must leave you, miss Rarity,” Star managed as miss Pinkie Pie dragged her away.

There must have been thousands of residents of Ponyville, and it looked like every last one of them had bought her a gift. So many smiling faces. And it was past due for them to start laughing at her.

“This is… very impressive. Given the short notice.” She felt compelled to correct herself. “I think it would be impressive with long notice, too.”

“They’re all for you! Go ahead! Open one!”

Star leaned close to the pink pony’s ear. “Is there a system?” she whispered. “I don’t want to offend anypony…”

“Just start where you want to start,” said miss Pie. “We know you’ll get to them all in the end.”

Almost the exact opposite of everything Mama had drilled into her. Star checked the sky for her angry figure. Nothing but a few Pegasii showing off. She bit her lip and floated out an oblong rectangle.

It was a recipe book. Empty, for her to fill up.

The next was a boxed set of plates, bowls and cups.

Then cutlery.

Then pieces of furniture in several parcels. Some assembly required.

Then a rather more spectacular outfit from miss Rarity.

And plenty more. Everything a pony could need to start a house.

Star started to cry. Rare, happy tears. “Thank you, everypony. I… I truly appreciate all of this, but… I don’t have a home to put it all in.”

The Mayor herself stepped forward. “This is where my gift will come in handy,” she announced, drawing a scroll from her saddlebag to pass to Star.

“Thank you.” A little magic unfurled it.

The deed to a place called Creepy Shack.

“It’s a historical landmark in Ponyville,” said the Mayor. “And since I’ve been hearing how helpful you are, Star Wishes, it struck me how you would be the ideal pony to care for the old house.”

“Bless you, bless everypony,” said Star, a blush invading her face and threatening to take over her entire body. “This is far more than I expected. Thank you.”

*

“Still sure it’s more'n you expected?” said Applebloom.

Creepy Shack was actually a house. Age had wearied it and the years had almost condemned it. It looked, in brief, like every stereotypical haunted house in any book Applebloom had read.

“You are talking to a filly who was bought up in a cave, dear. And having seen how you fixed up your little clubhouse… I thought I might beg your help.”

Applebloom sighed. The last time she and her friends had tried reconstructing something, it had turned out very wrong. “You sure we won’t mess it up on you?”

“Almost. Better to try and fail than never try, eh?”

There had been worse calls to a challenge. None came readily to Applebloom’s mind. “Awright. Let’s have a look-see.”

Inside was just as gloomy and run down as the outside. The floor groaned with every step. Most of the beams looked sound, and the ones that were rotten could be kicked out and replaced. All the floorboards upstairs would have to be re-done. And the thatch. At least the stairs were sound.

“Decent size basement,” Applebloom allowed. “Ah’d like t’ take a better look at this wall, here.”

“Right on down,” cheered Star Wishes. There was a slight thrrrmmmm as she turned on her unicorn light and illuminated the entire basement. “Oooh. That’s not a wall. Well, it’s not just a wall. See the arch? That used to be a door.”

“Cooool…” Applebloom lined herself up and bucked just the right brick. Beyond was a dark and gloomy labyrinth almost as foreboding as the Everfree forest itself. “Euw…”

“Wow,” Star Wishes breathed. “Clear out the cobwebs and it’ll be almost homey! I could set up my bedroom in here. After I make sure it’s legal, of course.”

“Ya *do* know that could be considered peculiar, right?”

Star Wishes grinned. “I am a pretty peculiar pony.”

Applebloom decided to leave that one alone. “Basement looks sound enough, anyway. We can start with the ground floor.”

“Can we leave specific creaky boards?”

“…why…?”

“I think I’ve worked out how to play _These Endearing Young Charms_ on most of the floor.”

Applebloom sighed. Today was going to be a long day.

*

Scootaloo, utilizing some of Rainbow Dash’s lessons, was in charge of demolishing the old thatch and helping Mr Thatcher with the new roof. Sweetie Belle did a majority of the fetching and carrying. And pretty much most of the singing.

Applebloom, Star Wishes and Mrs Lattice worked on the rest of the house. The young, aqua unicorn could turn her horn to most things, but preferred to assist both Applebloom and Mrs Lattice.

“Don'cha ever take th’ lead?” Applebloom asked while they hauled a heavy beam into place. “Y'know? Do stuff on your own?”

“Well… To be honest… I’m still learning how ponies do things. Draconian management is… vastly different.”

Dragons could be greedy. And selfish. And self-absorbed. And vainglorious. And sometimes, she had to remember, noble. Her own sister had met a river serpent who, though vain, was generous and gracious. And Spike was practically a pony.

All the same, Applebloom didn’t dare ask how dragons managed things.

*

For a Crudaser venture, there was an astonishing lack of disaster. Creepy Shack fast became resplendent and as good as new.

Star Wishes danced on her tuned floor. She had, indeed, figured out how to play _Those Endearing Young Charms_ on the floorboards. “Thankyou, Thankyou, everypony! I don’t know how to repay you!”

“Take your time,” smiled Mrs Lattice. “Honestly, I loved the chance to restore this old place.”

“I’d be glad to assist in any other big projects you might have,” Star offered.

“I’ll be certain to think of you.”

“Wow,” Scootaloo grinned. “That’s the first time we didn’t get a disaster from helping anyone.”

“I’m kinda shocked, too,” said Sweetie Belle. “We were… good.”

Now alone, all four checked their rumps. Still blank.

“Darn it.”

“We’ll find a way,” cheered Star. “I already have a few plans in mind.”

*

The plans, by the next meeting of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, covered a majority of the clubhouse. The walls, the floor, and even the ceiling.

“What in tarnation?”

“I cherry-picked the best. I think. I’m in no real position to judge…”

“An’ you think Ah am?”

“You have a definite knack for constructions,” said Star Wishes. “You spotted everything Mrs Lattice did, and you helped tune my floor.”

“T'weren’t nuthin’ special…”

“Whoah! What happened here?” demanded Scootaloo as she entered.

“Uhm. A direct hit by a brainstorm?” offered Star. “My ideas tend to breed like bunnies.”

“More like parasprites,” said Sweetie Belle.

“Ooh! I remember catching a mess of those for Mama. She said they were rather like unsalted, unbuttered popcorn.”

“TMI, Star,” said Scootaloo, while Sweetie and Applebloom made a face.

“Oh. Um. Sorry.”

Scootaloo found a design with ramps and loops. “Oooh, this looks like it’ll be *fun*…”

“No offense, Scoot, but Ah’d rather start on somethin’ a little more simple,” Applebloom pointed out a platform with backing and a lot of maths in the margins. “Least Ah know we can manage a box.”

“Basically a box,” allowed Star. “With bits on.”

*

What it was, when it was finished, was a small stage. Star Wishes had insisted on facing it in a certain direction, but that was the only interference she gave.

“Now what?”

“Now, we take turns.”

“Not it,” said Sweetie Belle.

“Not it,” said Applebloom.

“Not after last time,” said Scootaloo.

“Cowards,” Star mocked as she stepped up onto the stage. “It’s just us. Look, I’ll even have a go.” She cleared her throat. “Klokleda partha menin klatch, haroon haroon haroon, Klokleda sheenah tierra natch, haroon haroon haroon…”

“What was that?” Sweetie Belle made a face.

“Just a lullaby Mama used to sing,” Star stepped off the stage. “Now is someone else going to volunteer or am I going to have to pick someone?”

Scootaloo got thing over with by singing a brief ditty about how she couldn’t sing.

Applebloom sang _These Dear Green Hills of Mine_ passably well.

Star positioned Sweetie in the exact middle of the stage with a sly smirk and a, “Your turn.”

“I can’t.”

“Close your eyes and pretend it’s just you,” advised Star. “Sing any old thing that comes into your head. Or pick a song that gives you joy.”

Sweetie took a deep breath. Eyes tight shut. Knees knocking. Then she started to sing, _Can’t Make Me Sad_

Applebloom felt her jaw drop. She saw, from the corner of her eye, StarWishes sit in stunned amazement. She felt more than saw other ponies gather in the little clearing, since her gaze was transfixed by her friend.

When the song ended, the whole hill thundered with applause and hoots for an encore.

Sweetie, stunned that so many could like her singing, obliged with her version of _Hush Now_.

Applebloom almost cried when Sweetie’s cutie mark appeared. A heart-shaped music note.

The day ended in hugs and tears, but they were all the good kind.

“I’d like to stick with you,” said Sweetie Belle. “Help the rest of you gain your cutie marks.”

“Fine by me,” said Applebloom.

*

The construction of Scootaloo’s stunt ramps took place downhill of Misty Meadow. While she “tested” the training track, Applebloom, Star wishes and Sweetie Belle brought all the disparate parts together.

With Sweetie doing a majority of the fetching, it went together astonishingly well. Almost as if it were meant to come together.

Applebloom caught Star before she could begin hammering a nail. “Not like that. Y’ gotta put it at more of an angle so’s it holds. Like this.” Her hoof tilted the troublesome nail just so. “That way it gets a better bond with the wood.”

“Ah,” said Star, very obviously taking mental notes. “Something you picked up from Mrs Lattice?”

“Nope. I - it just… Seemed right, is all.”

“Hm.” Star Wishes made no further comment and continued helping.

Scootaloo stopped for a drink - a long one - after her training/testing and grinned at the construction. “This. Looks. Awesome!”

“If you want, I could set fire to the hoops,” offered Star.

“Ix-nay on the ire-fay…” hissed Sweetie.

Scootaloo had a scarily speculative expression, but evidently remembered too many times covered in tree sap. “Nah. I’ll just pretend they’re on fire for the first run.”

“Uhm. Just out of interest… How much do you and your scooter weigh?”

She told them and added, “Why?”

“I just have to go reposition the landing net. Be right back.” Star galloped away with some urgency.

Applebloom bit her lip. “Ya know. If'n you ain’t sure about it…”

“I got enough left it me to slow a fall,” she assured. “And RD’s on my back. Even if I miss and fall, she’ll catch me for sure.”

Sweetie had her hooves clasped together and her eyes tight shut, “Dear Celestia, look down on us in kindness and benevolence…”

Scootaloo snorted. “It only *looks* lethal. Knock it off.”

“…the safety of our friend, Scootaloo…” Sweetie hadn’t even stopped for breath.

Applebloom backed away as Scootaloo and her scooter ascended to the launch ramp. She felt a little need of Sweetie Belle’s prayer, herself.

Her heart was hammering fit to bust out of her chest. _Pleasemakeit, pleasemakeit, pleasemakit…_

Vertiginous fear gripped her knees as Scootaloo launched herself through loops, hoops, teeter totters and sundry stunts until she landed - completely safely - in the net.

Applebloom took the first breath in a subjective eon. It was paradise.

“I did it! I did it! I felt it!” Scootaloo launched into the air and swooped down to meet them all as they ran up. “See?”

Three interlocking spirals now graced Scootaloo’s rear, all uncurling from a central source.

“I’m a stunt pony!” Scootaloo pranced, wings and head high.

Applebloom was happy for her. Really. But she was sadder for herself. “And Ah’m still last to get my cutie mark…”

“Not *the* last, dear,” reminded Star Wishes.

“Oh. Right. Sorry.” She dashed tears from her eyes. “Ah kinda forgot.”

“It’s easy to forget, sometimes,” she said. “What I don’t understand is how you can’t see yourself.”

“…huh?”

Star sat down. “Who tuned my floor?”

“Ah did…”

“And who built the little stage?”

“You an’ me?”

“But mostly you. I just assisted.” Star gestured to the ramps. “And who built all this?”

“…me?”

“And you never once noticed that you were good at it?”

Realization hit like a falling anvil. She couldn’t stop staring at the stunt ramps. “Ah *am* good at it.”

“Now. If you were to build this sort of thing again, on your own… What would you change?”

Such an innocent question. Floods of ideas barreled through her mind - including prettifying the entire set-up. And along with the confidence to do so… her cutie mark flared into life.

It was a branch of apple blossoms twined around a T-square.

“Ah… Ah’m a handy-horse…”

Star Wishes was tearing up a little, herself. “Congratulations.”

The three friends exchanged very talkative Looks. It was an entire debate in less than a handful of seconds.

“You helped all of us,” said Sweetie Belle.

“It’s only fair we help you,” said Applebloom.

“Have you tried zip lining?” offered Scootaloo.

“Ha. I think after some of Mama’s wild rides, zip lining might seem a little… tame.” Star straightened herself out. “We have plenty of time to plot and plan, and I do believe miss Pie was planning a celebration in Sweetie’s honour at Sugarcube corner. Mustn’t be late.” Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, “I don’t want to make her angry…”

*

The party sort of spilled out onto the main road. Family and friends of all three Cutie Mark Crusaders gathered to celebrate their good fortune.

“A handy horse?” sneered Diamond Tiara. “What kind of talent is *that*?”

“A useful one, I thought,” said Star, turning up right behind the crusaders’ favourite foe. “But your talent seems to be… wearing a decorative hat.”

“So?”

“So I happen to have observed that the more useless an individual is, the more concerned they are with appearances and what everypony thinks.” Star didn’t seem to notice the effect she was having. “But I could be wrong. What else do you do?”

Steam could have escaped from Tiara’s ears. Since she had no answer, she fled in a high-nosed huff.

Applebloom grinned. “That was right masterful.”

“Mama taught me a few things.”

“THERE YOU ARE!”

Star cringed while everypony else looked up. “Oh mama…”

It was a dragon. A fairy pink dragon almost twice the size of Celestia herself. Quite small for a dragon. She landed in the main square and glared at Star Wishes, who had huddled into a ball.

“Do you have any idea what this little jaunt of yours has put me through?” the dragon plucked Star Wishes from the crowd like Spike would pluck a flower. “Every last one of my friends has been rubbing this nonsense in my face for two months. Two! Months! Do you have any idea how much this effects my status?”

“…some…”

“Some, she says. As if that’s any consolation after my ordeal.”

Fire lit in Star’s eyes.

“I thought *I* was your ordeal, Mama. Cramping your style. Forcing you to stay in one place. Never finding enough of the right kind of gems for your hoard. At least, that’s how you put it when I left.”

“How dare you speak to your mother like that!”

“I’m not your daughter, I’m more like your pet.”

“Like you’d ever belong anywhere else. Little misfit!”

“I found a place to belong!” Star Wishes stomped at her Mama’s hand.

“Really,” the dragon put Star down. “And how many of them would stand up to a dragon with you?”

“Ah would!” Applebloom announced at the exact same moment that Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo stepped forward to announce the same thing.

“Same with us,” said Mr and Mrs Cake.

Most of the party stood by her, with variations of, “And me,” as they did so.

“Ha. You found your place. In a town full of idiots. At least you still have the sense to hide your -ah- figure flaw.” A claw gestured at the dress Rarity had made. “And with some style, no less.”

Star Wishes fumed silently.

“Oh. Don’t they know? My poor disabled daughter has no talent at all. She’s been lying to you.” The dragon grinned as if to say, _Beat that._

“Well, she’s certainly gifted in baking,” said the Cakes.

“And building,” said Applebloom and the Lattices.

A volume of other ponies each volunteered their own talents. They finished with Twilight Sparkle, who added, “She even cleans windows.”

“Gifted,” dismissed the dragon. “Easily distracted. And not. Talented.”

“That’s *it*!” Rarity’s dress went flying into the air. “So I’m a blank flank, that doesn’t make me untalented, it just makes me less defined. I never lied to anyone - to anypony! I… just… decided not to make it known.”

“A lie by any other name…” the dragon shook her head.

“Jackerlain!”

“I am your mama and you will address me as such.”

“I am staying here in Ponyville and nothing you do or say will stop me. You’re too small to breathe proper fire, so you fall back on hot air! So I don’t have a talent! So what? I am going to stay here and I will help every last pony achieve their dreams because that’s what I. Love. To do!”

A cutie mark appearing at its appointed time makes a barely audible sound. A tiny little 'fssh’ accompanies the little flash of light accompanying the magic inborn into every little pony.

A cutie mark that’s been delayed by various causes…

Well.

They saw the flash as far out as Burpengallop.

*

“Ow…”

“I second that emotion,” Applebloom sighed. There were still glares in her vision, every time she blinked. “What in Celestia’s name happened?”

“She blinded me,” complained Jackerlain.

“I suspected this,” said Twilight. “For every need, there is a talent to match. And sometimes… Rare times… Ponies need help just to discover their talent. They’re always late discovering who they are.” She paused to survey the damage. Ponies moaning and rubbing their eyes laid everywhere. “Though I’ve never heard of an emergence as… spectacular as this one.”

“…sorry,” murmured Star Wishes. She was staring in bemusement at her own rear. Three grinning five-point stars peeking out from behind a cloud lay on a far more brilliant aqua hide. “…my mane’s gone all… shaggle-y…”

Star’s mane and tail were halfway between curly and straight. And, apparently, couldn’t decide on a direction to go. No other word fit it better.

“You found your talent,” said Twilight. “And you’re a talent scout. You help other ponies discover their own talents. Or help others achieve their highest dreams.”

“You said when I found my talent, Jackerlain,” Star Wishes said, pulling herself up. “Are you going to go back on that word?”

Jackerlain deflated. “You found yourself… after all I taught you…”

“I found myself despite all you taught me,” mumbled Star. Applebloom was certain she was the only one who heard it. She said, more audibly, “I found out where I belong. It’s only fitting I stay. Isn’t it?”

The dragon rolled her eyes. “We did agree. And. If you visit?”

“Yes, Mama?”

“Do something about your hair?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“And I never thought of you as my pet.”

Star Wishes grinned. “Thankyou.”

“I won’t know what to do without you,” Jackerlain added.

“Have you tried zip lining?”

*

Dear Princess Celestia,

Family can be important, but when that family stands between you and your fondest dreams… Sometimes a difficult decision has to be made.

In order to go forward, sometimes something important has to be left behind. Standing up to your family to show them that is the most difficult thing I have ever done.

However, I am pleased to report that that special something doesn’t have to remain out of reach forever. With care, one can go visit, but I know one can never truly go back.

Your loyal subject,

Star Wishes.