Scootaloo sat under the downpour of steaming hot water flowing from the shower at the Apple's house. It was almost too hot, but after a long day digging latrines, it felt good to let the excessive warmth cascade over her. Every muscle was being soothed at once. Glorious as this was, it could only do so much to lift her spirits. In a way, she felt as if she had let her friends down. If she hadn't let her anger get the best of her, she could be helping them get signatures to recall the mayor. As it was, she was stuck doing hard labor for the next month. That would have been bad enough even if she hadn't had a sprained ankle. She examined the injury near her front right hoof. It definitely felt better than it had two weeks before, but it was still mending. She'd found that she was able to put a little weight on it, but the doctor had cautioned her to take it easy, and she had no intention of causing any further damage. Most of the cuts and scrapes from the fighting she'd been through were better, and her hearing was completely normal again. All that was left was the ankle, and one particularly deep gash. She couldn't even remember where she'd picked it up. The clearing, perhaps, or the fight in the cave. Maybe it was during the siege of Ponyville. It was probably during that explosion. The explosion. For a long moment, her heart felt heavy, and the lone mare was nearly reduced to a sobbing heap as she remembered Pibs, but as abruptly as it began, it passed. In any case, it didn't matter where the gash had come from. The important thing was that it was mending nicely.
A shiver of delight ran up Scootaloo's spine as the temperature of her shower fluctuated hotter for a moment. She had already finished washing the grime away from the day, but the temptation to just bask in the blazing water had been too strong to resist. This was also the one place she could be alone and have time to think. It had become her favorite way to unwind after digging in the dirt all day. New latrines were the best ones. Filling in the used variety was a most unpleasant proposition, but it went with the job. Her thoughts always eventually drifted back to her friends, those that were here, and those that were... absent. While it was a relief that Cloud Blazer still lived, Scootaloo ached inside over his disfigurement. He would never fly again. She didn’t know how he’d be able to continue. Then there was Pibs. While Scootaloo seemed able to function normally most of the time, waves of grief would occasionally overwhelm her. In those moments, it was as fresh as when it had happened, and she would find herself reduced to a blubbering mess. She hated it, but had managed to keep it together when she was observed. That was another thing about the time alone in a hot shower that she had grown to love so much.
She swallowed anything that passed for the sadder emotions and turned the water off just as a loud thunderclap shook the house. Scootaloo was a bit startled, but she recovered quickly. She grabbed a towel and dried herself off. That was one nice thing about having a shorter cropped mane and tail. They were much easier to wash and dry. Her filthy uniform lay discarded on the floor. She picked it up, trying to keep as much of the dirt off of the floor as possible, and put it into the "wash bucket", as Apple Bloom had called it. With cleanliness restored, Scootaloo exited the bathroom into the cooler and drier house. Walking down the hallway, she made a brief stop in Apple Bloom's room, where Scootaloo herself was now staying. She took fresh bandages for her ankle and the one cut, carefully wrapping them the way she'd been taught. Once this was accomplished she went back to the hallway to go downstairs. She could hear talking in the living room.
Upon entering, Scootaloo felt like a small party had unfolded since she went to get cleaned up. There were the Apples, of course, Pinkie Pie, and the Cakes. Sparklefly, LD, and Lightning Dasher were there. Finally, Java Chip and one other. The black earth pony that worked for General Mane Crusher. Clyde, of course, sat in the corner. The room was packed.
"Come on in," Applejack said cheerfully.
"I saved you a seat," Apple Bloom said, making room between herself and Sparklefly.
As Scootaloo sat, a bright bolt of lightning lit up the windows, and the thunder boomed immediately on its heals. Half the ponies in the room jumped. LD and Lightning Dasher began laughing. Swiftlight vanished. Uneasy laughter soon followed, and the captain looked up from behind the couch, wide terror in his eyes.
"You alright?" Java Chip asked Swiftlight.
He didn’t answer, but his eyes darted back and forth in a frenzy. Sparklefly and Scootaloo stood and slowly approached.
“Captain,” the lieutenant addressed him.
The manner in which he acted gave Scootaloo a shiver of fear, stopping her approach. He didn’t seem to recognize any of them. It was almost as if he had gone somewhere else.
“Captain, Swiftlight,” Sparklefly said as she drew closer, almost face to face.
He seemed to hear her, “Report.”
“Stand down,” she said. “It’s thunder. We are safe here.”
Scootaloo wasn’t sure if she should do something to help. She stood there, ready but uncertain.
“Thunder,” he repeated vacantly.
Everypony else sat silently while Sparklefly stood in front of him, calmly staring back and speaking softly.
“Yes, sir. Just thunder, no sign of the enemy. There is nothing to fear.”
Slowly, he seemed to come out of it. Scootaloo breathed a sigh of relief. He returned to sit by Java Chip.
“Are you okay?” she asked him as Sparklefly returned toward the sofa.
"Affirmative," he said, sounding a little uneasy.
A loud bang on the door became a fast knocking, again startling everypony. Sparklefly was already up, so she went to answer the rainy night. The door pushed open, and Sweetie Belle burst in, practically shouting.
"He's awake! He's awake!"
She was completely drenched from the rain, her mane was a mess, and she was already shivering a little.
"Whoa, slow down," Sparklefly said.
Sweetie Belle pushed past her when she saw Scootaloo, trying to catch her breath.
"He talked to me; Cloud Blazer is awake," she said.
An exuberant cheer went through the room, and Scootaloo felt warm inside. Everypony was on their hooves now, crowding around Sweetie Belle. The storm raged outside as Sparklefly shut the door.
"What did he say?" Scootaloo asked.
"Not much, but he recognized me. He said my name," Sweetie Belle answered.
Happy faces were seen all around; they looked like Scootaloo felt. Apple Bloom was wearing a wide grin, and a few tears had escaped from her eyes. Sweetie Belle suddenly was aware that she was dripping on the floor.
"I'm making a mess," she apologized.
"Don't think nothing of it, sugar cube,” Applejack said. "Apple Bloom, how about you fetch a towel?"
With a quick nod, Apple Bloom trotted away. There was a great deal of murmuring and cross discussion about Cloud Blazer. Scootaloo saw Sweetie Belle glance at Swiftlight and Java Chip, and realized that they might not have met before.
"Sweetie Belle," Scootaloo began, "had you had a chance to meet Java Chip yet?"
“We pushed trees together. Nice to meet you properly,” Sweetie Belle said, still shivering.
"Likewise," Java Chip said.
Scootaloo gave a glance to Java Chip, which she read perfectly.
"This is my friend, Captain Swiftlight," Java Chip said.
"Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom have been my close friends since we were little fillies," Scootaloo said to Java Chip.
"Well, any friend of the Apples is a friend of mine," Java Chip replied.
"Oh, oh, new friends!" Pinkie Pie shouted. "Best gloomy-rainy-thundery-scary-night-time-storm ever!"
Thunder crackled outside as Apple Bloom returned with the towel. Everypony returned to their seats as Sweetie Belle cleaned up the water she'd been dripping everywhere. In spite of how pitiful she looked just now, freezing cold and soaking wet, there was a bright joy behind her green eyes. Clyde was the only one who didn't move, even when the good news came. Scootaloo accidentally caught his gaze, and his look surprised her. Normally, he was just sarcastic and combative toward her. At that moment, he looked genuinely sympathetic.
"I'm glad your friend is doing better," he said to her.
Caught off guard, all she could manage was, "Thanks."
A flash of lightning came simultaneously with the deafening boom of its landing, causing the lights to flicker and go out. Somepony screamed in the darkness, which was punctuated by another flash of lightning. This one was much farther away, but it was still loud. A general commotion had erupted, but Applejack was soon heard calling over the shouting.
"Just settle down, everypony," she began. “I got some lanterns around here. Big Mac, did they get put back in the wash room?"
"Yep," he replied.
"Okay, okay, I'm on my way," Applejack said.
"Ouch!" Mrs. Cake yelled.
"Sorry, sugar cube," Applejack replied.
With a bit more fumbling, the mare made it out of the room, and felt her way through the kitchen. Scootaloo couldn't see anything. Her eyes were adjusting to the dark, but only the faintest outline of the windows could be seen.
"It's too quiet," Java Chip said.
"What? Where's quiet? I can't hear it!" Pinkie Pie said.
"Seriously?" Clyde asked.
"Never! Don't be silly," Pinkie Pie replied.
"Anypony know any good jokes?" Mr. Cake asked.
"Oh, oh, oh! Pick me, pick me!" Pinkie Pie said.
"I do hope the little ones don't wake up," Mrs. Cake sounded concerned.
With excitement, Pinkie Pie asked, "What does a glabberdoodle’s nose smell like?"
"What even is a glabberdoodle?" Swiftlight asked; he seemed completely restored.
"It's a mythical creature that has the head of a dog, the body of a walrus, and a tail like a snake. They roam the woods in Equestria stealing pies that have been left out to cool!" Pinkie Pie answered. "So what does a glabberdoodle's nose smell like?"
Clyde sighed in the darkness.
"Pie?" Sparklefly suggested.
“Snot?” Mr. Cake offered.
“Honey!” his wife chided.
"I don't know," Scootaloo said.
"No pony knows," Pinkie Pie said with a chortle as she pointed at her own nose, only just visible as eyes adjusted to darkness. "Get it? No pony nose?"
There was groaning throughout the room as Pinkie Pie giggled. A light pierced the darkness from the kitchen. Applejack appeared in the doorway with a firefly lantern.
"Here y'all go," she said as she brought it in, setting it on a small table.
The lantern just provided light to see the room dimly, but it was enough to lift Scootaloo's spirits as the storm continued outside. She felt safe inside the house; it must have been well built to feel so solid during such inclement weather.
"So, Swiftlight, tell us a bit about yourself; how'd you and Java Chip meet?" Applejack said.
Sitting up a little bit straighter, Swiftlight said, "Well, I'm from up north. Java Chip and I come from Van Hoover. My parents took me hiking a lot when I was little, and that wasn't my favorite thing until I discovered climbing."
"You mean mountain climbing?" Sparklefly asked.
"Oh dear, that sounds dangerous," Mrs. Cake said.
"It definitely can be. Rock climbing is not for the faint of heart. It's best left for those of us that have the natural ability," Swiftlight replied.
Scootaloo wasn't sure, but Swiftlight sounded like he was full of himself.
"There's nothing like working your way to the top of a rock face, the wind in your mane and nothing but your own wits and strength keeping you alive. Inexperienced climbers can get in over their heads, but that would never happen to me; I'm a natural," he continued.
Now she was sure.
"Anyway, there was a big group rock climbing trip one day. It was on one of the smaller peaks, so not much of a challenge, but I was eager to take any chance to climb. That's when I met this one," he said as he gestured at Java Chip. "I practically saved her life."
"You did not save my life," Java Chip replied lightly.
"Your harness was compromised."
"You took a pebble out of it," she said, almost playfully.
"It was more like a rock," he defended.
"Annoying, yes, but hardly life threatening."
There were sporadic giggles about the room. The storm continued beating against the house. The rain was a pleasant sound, but the thunder was exhilarating. It boomed and clapped in rapid succession. The lightning lit up the room in strobes of varying intensities.
"In any case," Swiftlight continued, "that's how we met. She’s the only pony I’ve ever met that has as much drive and almost as much talent for climbing as I do. Afterward we must have climbed every single peak and cliff-face around Van Hoover."
"Solo climbing is fine, but I found that it's much better to share the experience," Java Chip added.
"Now that's a truth," Applejack said. "Most things are better when shared with friends."
"Even a power outage during a lightning storm?" Apple Bloom asked playfully.
"Definitely!" Sweetie Belle said, giving Apple Bloom a big hug.
Apple Bloom, now damp, pushed her sopping friend away.
"I agree," Sparklefly said cheerfully.
"Much as I hate to break up a party," LD began.
"I know where you're going with this; I'm tired too," Lightning Dasher finished.
"I guess... we're, off to bed," LD spoke with a hint of annoyance.
Following their lead, the Cakes, Pinkie Pie, Big McIntosh, and Applejack all retreated to the rooms after two more lanterns were retrieved to light the way.
Looking out at the storm, Java Chip said, "I hope my shop is doing okay."
"I'm sure it's fine," Apple Bloom said. "The buildings around here are pretty sturdy."
"Remember the old town hall?" Scootaloo asked.
"Oh, when it was falling apart, and Rainbow Dash crashed through the floor?" Sweetie Belle added.
The three of them giggled.
"That doesn't make me feel any better," Java Chip said.
“Either way, there's nothing that can be done until the storm blows itself out," Sparklefly said.
Thunder crashed in the wind outside, as if to punctuate that last comment.
"Don't you fret about it," Apple Bloom said reassuringly. "We'll be able to find some good strong hooves to help you fix any damage."
Java Chip smiled and glanced back out the window, still a little uneasy. They stayed up only a little longer before sleepiness came for them. Java Chip slept on the couch, and Swiftlight said he was fine on the rug, so they let him sleep there. As Scootaloo went up to the room and laid down, she was already dreading the next day. Even if the rain stopped now, she'd be digging in the mud. It was bound to be an entirely new kind of misery. She thought on these things as the sound of the rain singing against the tin roof lulled her into the sweet embrace of dreamless sleep.