Chapter Thirteen - A New Beginning
It had taken Riley several hours to get back to sleep after waking from her nightmare. Rainbow had fallen asleep on her own quickly enough after they had both climbed back up onto the bed, but Riley had stayed awake scratching the filly's ears as dark thoughts and memories filled her head. Daybreak couldn't have come soon enough.
Sometime in the night, Riley had managed to doze off, only to be roused by Firefly announcing that breakfast was ready. Rainbow eagerly scampered into the kitchen, Riley following at a much more sedate pace behind.
Firefly had laid the table out before coming to get her daughters, and Riley was slightly surprised to only see three plates. She looked to Firefly, who quickly got Riley's silent question and answered her.
"Prism and David went out to get our tickets booked for the flight back to Equestria."
With that little question out of the way, they sat down and began to eat. Rainbow dug in with a gusto most often saved for younger members of the opposite sex, noisily munching down on her stack of pancakes like there was no tomorrow. Syrup was quickly matted over the fur of her muzzle, but the filly paid no mind to that. There was breakfast to eaten after all.
Riley took her own, much more sedate pace. Her stomach felt ill and empty thoughts churned restlessly through her mind. She barely even tasted the food, going through the motions. The memories were stuck in her head, no matter what Rainbow might tell her. There was no way that she could run from herself, no matter how much she wanted to. The blood of her little sister Jane, who never put the cap back on the toothpaste and always broke into her room to steal her books, had stained her hands as she cradled the girl's dying body. The gurgling gasps for air and the mindless fear behind her blue eyes, Riley had watched her die, felt her heart beat its last.
She had watched as her father was torn to pieces, and her mother was shot dead. The blood of her whole family stained her, and Riley was beginning to accept that she might not ever be able to free herself from that. It was her fault, and no amount of lies would change that.
Firefly carefully watched Riley as her two girls ate breakfast. The teenager just stared down at her food, only bothering to take a bite whenever Rainbow happened to be loud enough to surprise her. She silently thanked her filly's graceless eating habits for once. Anything that could get through to the traumatized girl was Celestia sent as far as Firefly was concerned.
As she sat there, taking a long drink from her glass of orange juice, Firefly started to think of what would need to be done once they got back to Equestria. There was no question in her mind that they would have to find the best healers in all of Equestria to give Riley the chance of getting back to normal. A dark part of her mind wondered if it was even possible to be normal after seeing such horrors.
She simply didn't know.
Riley looked physically exhausted, but Firefly was glad to note that there was a lightness around her shoulders that had simply not been there the day before. She wondered if there was any relief in knowing that she didn't have to worry about being torn away once again from everything that she knew. All of the drama was over, and Riley could begin healing now, at least if she let herself.
Firefly frowned to herself, hiding it from Rainbow's far more attentive gaze with a bite of her much smaller stack of pancakes.
Rainbow hummed happily to herself as she munched on her eggs, happily clueless to her mother's worried thoughts and her new sisters own dark imaginings.
When the hotel door opened, the three all turned to look and watch as Prism and Anderson walked in. Rainbow waved happily as she polished off the rest of her pancakes.
Prism smiled and gave his wife a quick kiss as Anderson took one of the seats at the table between Riley and Rainbow. Prism eased himself onto one of the seats next to Firefly.
"We got the tickets," he told her, stealing her orange juice. He downed the rest of the glass and gave her a cheeky grin. "We're leaving for Equestria tomorrow."
"Good." Firefly nodded, giving Prism a slight glare for taking her juice. She didn't say anything further on the matter, instead turning to Riley. "That will give us some time."
Riley looked up at that statement in confusion.
"Time for what?" She asked, her voice quiet.
"We need to make sure that you have everything that you need before we head home," Firefly explained. It was something that she had thought through during the trial, and had brought up to Prism the night before.
"What do I need?" Riley cocked her head, having no clue what they were talking about.
"An entire wardrobe, for one." Prism nodded his head. It had been much to all of Equestria's surprise when they learned that it wasn't the norm to go about one's business naked. They certainly weren't going to force their human daughter to do the like. It wouldn't be proper. "We also need to get anything else that might not be available for humans on Equestria."
"Oh." Riley ducked her head, understanding. She hoped that the blush on her cheeks wasn't too obvious. "Alright."
"It sounds like a plan, then." Firefly pushed the rest of her breakfast in front of Prism, letting him finish off her leftovers. "We can do all the shopping today, after we finish breakfast."
"I am afraid that I won't be coming with you." Anderson gave a deep sigh, looking down at the table for a moment, a sad look crossing his face. He had already spoken to Prism about it when they had gone to secure passage back to Equestria.
"Ya' won't?" Rainbow looked up, paying no mind to the crumbs of pancake sticking to the syrup on her mouth. "Why not?"
"I've been ordered to meet up with the Third Fleet at Arcturus before it leaves for patrols." Anderson shook his head, watching Riley for any sort of reaction. He was disappointed when all she did was just stare down at her plate. "I'm taking charge of an N7 squad."
The enthusiasm that was present in the room moments before took a massive nose dive after Anderson's announcement, but Anderson was quick to try his best to see that it didn't sink any further.
"There's no need for any sadness," Anderson said. He knew that he needed to back out and give them a chance to move past everything."You are all going to have a lot on your plates without worrying about having me around."
"We like have you around though." Rainbow nudged him with a smile.
"And I like being here." Anderson smiled at Rainbow, reaching over to ruffle her mane. "But I've been away from my job for far too long now and it's time that I get back to it."
"Well..." Prism pushed his plate away, easing himself out of his seat. Trailing off, he glanced over at Firefly, who smiled at him encouragingly. "We should get going. I'm sure that we're going to end up spending the entire day out shopping."
"I'm ready." Firefly got out of her own seat.
"Me too!" Bouncing out of her own seat, Rainbow almost knocked her plate off the table with the furious flaps of her wings. She grinned, prancing over to her mother. She tried to nuzzle up against Firefly, but the older mare stopped her.
"You're a mess, Rainbow." Firefly laughed. Taking a napkin from the table, she wiped Rainbow's face clean.
"I'm ready," Riley murmured, standing up and ignoring her own plate.
Firefly glanced at Riley's plate and frowned. The girl had barely eaten anything. She didn't say anything though. There was no point to raising an argument at the moment. If it continued though, she would definitely confront her about it.
If you needed to buy anything from toilet-paper to body armor, Hyland-Sorah was the place to go, at least on Earth. Founded in the mid-21st century, Hyland-Sorah started its life as a weapons developer, but it quickly expanded outwards with the advent of ever cheapening space travel. It was only thanks to their veritable army of lawyers that Hyland-Sorah managed to keep its doors open despite cries of monopoly and ethics violations too long to list. The corporations super-store in New York was considered to be one of the must-see places of the entire city.
It was thanks to the suggestion of the hotel's front desk that the Rainbow Family even bothered to travel to the infamous store. Whatever they had been expecting, this store exceeded each and every one of them.
Taking up the entire first fifteen floors of the tallest skyscraper in New-York, the store was designed perfectly to entice customers to buy, buy, buy. It would be easier to list things that they did not sell, which mostly just included vehicles larger than an aircar.
The store existed solely for customers to get lost in its elegantly designed labryinths of aisles and show-rooms, with glimmering display cases and absolute top of the line products all placed ever so carefully to seperate consumers from their hard-earned money. You could purchase absolutely everything you needed with no reason to ever shop elsewhere. Food, clothing, electronics, and absolutely everything else, it was a true one stop shop.
The Rainbow family just stood in the entrance for a long moment, overwhelmed and unsure of where to even begin.
"Whoa..." Rainbow was the first to speak, her voice impressed beyond belief. "That's a whole lotta' stuff."
"Yeah..." Prism nodded, his eyes wide as he agreed with his daughter.
"Oh my Celestia." Firefly wanted badly to swear, but with her daughters present she kept mindful of her language.
"You can say that again," Prism murmured to her.
Riley was silent, but she was just as impressed as the rest of them. There was nothing like this back on Mindoir. There simply wasn't enough of a population to ever support a store of that size, and that was before...
Shutting her eyes, Riley stopped that line of thinking as quickly as she possibly could.
"I..." With wide-eyes, Firefly looked over the store. "I don't even know where to begin."
Anderson smiled, taking a moment to appreciate the simple naiveness of his companions. Equestria was a much more innocent place, without the greed and corruption that filled the larger corporations of Earth and humanity. He looked up at the directions hanging above the entrance and quickly gathered his bearings together, glad that he would be able to help. "It looks like the department for teenage girls is on the tenth floor."
"What?" Firefly looked up at the man in surprise and more than a little relief. "Where did you see that?"
Anderson pointed up at the signs and Firefly promptly face hoofed, a deep red blush shining through her fur.
"Right." She looked over sheepishly at Prism, who shrugged, just as overwhelmed as her. "We should have seen that."
"Yes." Prism nodded. "Yes we should have."
Anderson gestured towards an elevator that sat in the center of the building. "Come on. Let's go."
Stepping out of the elevator and onto the tenth floor, the Rainbow family steps was met with a barrage of visually stunning displays, with mannequins modeling the latest fashions, posed to draw as much attention to them as possible. Smiling clerks filled the entire floor, dressed in flattering skirts and tight blouses, all with bright smiles on their faces searching for customers to help part from their money.
Firefly took a deep breath, not used to shopping on this level. Clothing was really only worn on special occasions in Equestria, and they were sold tailor made by boutiques and small businesses. A mega-corp was so far outside of her frame of reference that the closest she could even compare it too was the factories that built the ships for the Royal Guard.
One of the clerks quickly spotted their unease nearly from the moment they stepped out of the elevator. Smiling and cheery, she bounced over to them, greeting them happily.
"Hello there, my name is Yara." She gave a little wave, meeting eyes with the three females of the group. "Is there anything that I could help you with?"
"Yes!" Firefly nearly shouted, sagging ever so slightly in relief, her wings shuffling against her sides. "We have no idea where to even start. This is all new to us."
"Well." Yara smiled even wider. "I can certainly help with that. What is it that you need?"
"We are looking to get her everything that she needs for at least for years away from any human stores." Firefly gestured at Riley. There were simply some things the girl would need that just weren't available on Equestria, and she wanted to be sure that Riley had everything she would need.
"Do you have a budget in mind?" Yara's eyes widened and she had to stop herself from squealing in excitement. Making commission on something like this would definitely make her month, if not her year.
"We would like to keep it reasonable, but we aren't looking to be stingy." Prism didn't want to imagine the bill for this little trip. Firefly was the one making the big bits in the family, and he would let her faint at the price. Being a Wonderbolt wasn't a low-paying job, but it didn't pay like being a ten-time Canterlot Times Bestseller.
"Excellent! Why don't we start over this way?" Yara's grin stretched almost painfully. She gestured towards the underwear section. Anderson and Prism blushed nearly as one, and the two of them glanced uneasily at each other.
"Fly, David and I will be back in an hour or so," Prism said, turning to his wife. "We're going to go look at... stuff."
"We'll see you in an hour. Go have fun." Firefly giggled at the two of them, waving them off.
Prism and Anderson rushed away as fast as they possibly could, but tried to look as smooth as possible while doing so, beating a hasty retreat to the elevator. Yara led the girls towards their destination, ignoring the mens uncomfortableness with the situation.
"Firefly," Riley murmured, shuffling closer to Firefly. She looked a whole lot more unsure with everything now that reality was settling in. "You and Prism don't have to spend anything on me. I'm sure we could just go to a thrift shop or something. Maybe we could get all of my stuff from home..."
"There's no need to go to a thrift store, Riley." Firefly nudged against Riley's hip comfortingly, smiling up at her daughter. She was sure to keep her shoulder against Riley's thigh, hoping that the physical contact would give the poor girl a sense of ease. "We have more than enough for this. Don't worry about it."
She nearly stopped though, looking up concerned at the girl when she realized something. "We can still get all of your stuff if you want too. It's not a problem."
Riley thinks about it for a moment, ducking her head before nodding. "Yeah... Yeah, I would like that."
It turned out that the section was all the way in the back of the store, and they still hadn't reached it yet. Rainbow's attention began to wander, and she wasn't really paying attention to her families conversation. She started bouncing along in Riley's footsteps, weaving back and forth to a tune that only she could hear.
Firefly thought for a moment, before deciding to reassure Riley. There was no need for the girl to think that she was being a burden for any of this.
"Riley, I think that you should know something about our family, but I don't want you to freak out."
Riley looked down at her, waiting for her to continue.
Firefly took a deep breath before charging forward.
"Our family doesn't hurt for bits." There she said it. Firefly didn't like to discuss with other ponies about her families financial situation, but Riley was family now. There was no reason to hide anything from her.
"Like a horse bit?" Riley raised an eyebrow, trying to figure out whether or not that was demeaning for Equestrians. She couldn't imagine that having a bit in their mouth wouldn't be a wonderful way to go about their lives.
"What?!" Firefly felt a jolt of electricity rush down her spine and she blushed. There was no way that she or Prism ever used bits like that. "No! Prism and I are..."
She shook her head as realization hit her and she understood where Riley was coming from. "Right, different meanings and things. On Equestria, our currency is called bits."
"I am an author, Riley, and I have had a fair bit of success." Firefly guided the conversation back on topic. "Please understand, Prism and I are not trying to buy your love. We just want to make sure that you have everything you could need. We want to take care of you."
Riley thought about it for a moment, but she still wasn't sure about it. Her family never struggled to get everything that they needed, but there was never much left over. The life of a colonist was one of living with the bare necessities and stretching every dollar as far as possible.
"Alright." She nodded her head, giving a small smile to Firefly. She wasn't fully comfortable with everything, but she had a feeling that would grow to get used to it. It would become normal to her.
"Alright." Firefly nodded with Riley, smiling at her compassionately.
"Now, do you know your size?" Yara asked, coming to a stop at the edge of the section.
"Hey, that lady is naked!" Rainbow exclaimed happily, pointing a hoof as she giggled loudly.
The other three all turned to see that Rainbow was short enough that she could see into the dressing rooms with no problems whatsoever. Firefly blushed, rushing over and pulling Rainbow away.
"Rainbow!" Firefly glanced around, noting thankfully that none of the other customers had heard the filly's exclamation. "Don't be rude."
"Mooommm!" Rainbow whined, trying to duck out from under mother's leg. She cocked her head in confusion. "What did I do? We're naked all the time. We're naked right now!"
"I'll explain it to you later." Firefly face hoofed, turning her daughter until she was facing away from the dressing rooms.
"Fine." Rainbow sulked, scowling as she dropped her head to the ground.
Neither was quite sure how, but Prism and Anderson had found themselves in the jewelry section of the store after beating their hasty retreat. They wandered through the glistening jewelry aisles, randomly looking over the outrageously expensive baubles and trinkets inside. They didn't care so much where they were so much as long as they didn't have to be around such awkwardness. Even as a pony, Prism got that there was just something strange about a father helping their daughter pick out her underwear.
Prism instead figured that now was the best time to talk to David.
"How are you doing with all of this, David?" Prism watched the man for his reactions.
David glanced at Prism, then looked back over at the display cases he was studying a moment before. He hummed in his throat for a moment as he gathered his thoughts together. "I wish that so many things could have been different, but I am happy that Riley is getting such a wonderful family out of all of this. You and Firefly are going to be amazing parents to her."
"Well, we do have Rainbow. She pretty much was all the training we ever needed." Prism laughed. Rainbow had caused more property damage than he had ever known that a single filly ever could.
"She certainly is a hand-full... hoof-full." Anderson laughed, looking back at Prism. He pushed down the sadness that struck at his heart. No wasn't the time for it.
"You have no idea." Prism was glad that the older she got, the more restrained Rainbow was becoming. "We're lucky that we have such a great insurance plan."
Glancing at one of the display cases, Prism stopped. A single bracelet caught his eye, and he felt drawn to it. He could never have imagined that he would have found such a thing in on Earth. Taking a closer look, he smiled. Raising a hoof, he waved over one of the clerks.
"What can I do for you?" The clerk only looked partially interested in the way that people who knew their pay-check depended on the spending habits of the customer.
"I want to buy that." Prism pointed at the bracelet.
"Certainly, sir." The clerk pulled it out from the display case, quickly going about packaging in a small jewelry box.
"Well, that's certainly a lucky coincidence." Anderson walked closer and gave a nod of approval at what he saw as the worker pulled the bracelet out of the case. "She's going to love it."
"I know." Prism was sure that Riley would appreciate it. "Why do think I bought it."
It only took the clerk a few moments to package the bracelet up and for Prism to make the purchase. Anderson was kind enough to place the small box in his jacket. The two of them wandered around for another hour or so before returning to meet up with the female side of the Rainbow family.
Much to their relief, they found them venturing forth into the rest of the clothing sections. Both let out a small sigh of relief and picked up their pace to rejoin them.
"Hi dad!" Rainbow perked up when she saw her father, waving at him. She galloped forward and rushed at him.
"How are you girls doing?" Prism gives her a quick hug, throwing a foreleg over her shoulder.. He turned to Firefly and Riley, noting that Riley was pushing a small hand-cart with her, stuffed with clothes.
"Well, we got all of the awkward parts over," Firefly grinned at them, her eyes twinkling with amusement. "We're just starting on the rest."
"Well, we can take a break for lunch and come back for the rest after." Prism was getting hungry, and if he was hungry, then he knew that Rainbow must be starving. He had learned that through trial and error and many long hours of keeping the filly from bothering her mother while she wrote.
"Lunch! I'm hungry." She got an intense look of concentration as she thought through what exactly she wanted to eat. It was an important matter after all, and she didn't want to make the wrong decision. Rainbow brightened when she figured it out. "I want spaghetti!"
"I think we should let Riley decide, Rainbow." Firefly was sure that at least until she was better, Rainbow's untempered enthusiasm would outshine any wishes that Riley might have. She was determined to make sure the girl at least got some of the things she enjoyed.
Eagerly, Rainbow looked over to Riley, giving her the widest, most vulnerable stare that she could muster. She even threw in a bit of a lip wobble, because she had learned that her father caved to nearly all requests with a little bit of lip wobble. Her mother, not so much.
"I like spaghetti." Riley shrugged, not really moved by Rainbow's display despite how adorable she thought it was. Still, she liked spaghetti, and it certainly sounded good.
"Yeah!" Rainbow leaped up, punching her hoof in the air in excitement. "Spaghetti!"
As he watched the family, Anderson felt an aching in his chest that he had never felt before. The pang of loneliness though, was much more familiar.