Thanks to the collective help of Twilight and some of her friends, that year’s Zap Apple harvest was the largest and most successful ever, a fact which would have resulted in jubilation had the day not been overshadowed by worry. First Silver had gone, and Applejack followed shortly after. She would be gone at least two days, and nopony had any way of knowing if and when Silver would ever return, and thus there was very little speaking. The only things that could be said would be superfluous, as they all shared the same thoughts and fears.
Big Macintosh displayed perhaps the most faith, asking for their help juicing some of the Zap Apples to fulfill Silver’s order upon his return, since the Zap Apples would rot overnight if left in their current state. They willingly obliged, eager to do anything that might help the situation. Silver couldn’t have known how deeply he had ingrained himself into the Ponyville community, and as news of what had happened spread through the town, not even the beautiful sunny day could pierce the cloud of depression that settled in the wake of his departure.
Perhaps it was for this reason that the tavern was packed to the brim that night and, in desperate need of assistance, Twilight and Rainbow Dash volunteered to help as servers while Berry worked the bar. When she finally found a moment to rest, nearly two hours after opening, she noticed Big Macintosh making his way over and braced for a conversation that was to be unpleasant at best.
“What’ll it be, Big Mac?”
“Ah’ll have some cider. Royal gala kind, please.” She quietly complied, offering him a mug which he drained half way in a single, massive gulp.
“What, you’re not going to get mad at me for hitting your sister?” Big Mac paused with the mug halfway to his lips before slowly lowering it back to the counter.
“Nnnope. Ah didn’t know you smacked her until just now, she didn’t say nothin’. But ah’d say she deserved it.” He studied her shocked expression which only lasted for a few seconds before she moved away, collecting empty cups and doling out refills before standing before Big Mac once more.
“Do you have any idea... what she did to my cousin, Big Mac?”
“Nnnope. An’ to be honest, ah don’t need to. Ah’ll ah know is ah’ve never seen my sister in a sorrier state in her life. An’ if it’s by her own actions, then it must ‘ave been awful. An’ that’s why ah wanna say ahm sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, Big Macintosh.”
“That may be. Berry, ah know you’re mad, an’ ah have no right to tell you not t’ be. But ah will ask that you don’t hate Applejack for what she’s done. At least don’t spread it around. She’s pretty tore up by the whole thing too, an’ she has had her share o’ troubles, if you catch mah meanin’.” He drained the last of the cider, paid his bill, and left, leaving Berry alone to digest the information. It was difficult for her to imagine that the Applejack Ponyville had come to love for her honesty and work ethic would even consider doing what she had to her cousin, so maybe there was some truth in Big Macintosh’s words as well. Frustrated that his words were succeeding in dispelling some of her pent up aggression, she focused her mind to the serving of the full house.
Seeing Rainbow Dash wave from a table in the back as her two impromptu servers took a well deserved break, Berry loaded a platter and served another round of drinks to the ponies gathered around, doing their best not to make eye contact with the mare. They were Applejack’s friends, and they felt as worried as they did guilty that things had gotten to this point without them noticing or stepping in. They fell silent until Berry left, whereupon they resumed speaking just loud enough to be heard over the hubbub.
“I still can’t believe Applejack would just tear apart such a brilliant vest. I know she doesn’t have the highest appreciation for fashion, but that is simply barbaric.” It was hard to tell if Rarity was being serious about the vest or trying to alleviate the situation with a dose of humor, but either way it failed. She was, in fact, attempting both at once, though as with everypony else, mirth was a lost cause that evening. Even Pinkie Pie recognized the gravity of the situation as she stared sullenly at her half finished rainbow cocktail, her usually poofy hair hanging straight down without an ounce of energy to sustain the frizz.
“I can’t believe we didn’t catch on sooner. I feel like I’ve failed the loyalty test,” Rainbow Dash muttered, smacking the table with a hoof and leaning into Storm’s chest.
“I don’t think we should be blaming ourselves. She internalized everything, and while we did notice the signs, I know that my attempts to pry were unsuccessful.” Everypony nodded their agreement at Twilight’s sage words, but how could they take any comfort that they were innocent? One of their closest, strongest friends seemed to be crumbling by the day, and nopony had any idea how to help, or even what was causing the transition. All save two.
“She’s afraid.” Everypony turned to look at Cerulean as he spoke, and Twilight gave him a nod as he continued. “Storm, you weren’t present for this, but the night that we both got drunk at Applejack’s, something very nearly happened between me and her.”
“I still don’t remember most of the night, so even if I was you’d likely have to explain it.”
“I don’t think it’s any secret that she had very real feelings for me, feelings that I couldn’t return.” They all nodded slowly. “That night was the night she forced herself to let go. Everything, all the changes that we’ve seen, started the next day.”
“But she seemed fine for a while! Remember how happy she was at your wedding?”
“That was likely because she thought it would help her move on,” Twilight said slowly. “Friends, there are two things that Applejack is struggling to overcome right now; fear and loneliness. I think, if she can fix this, Silver may be able to fill the hole in her heart, but only if she can overcome her fear of letting him in.”
“But, Twilight, how can you know that? They’ve barely spent any time together, I think,” Fluttershy asked.
“I think there are a lot of ways that Applejack and Silver are alike, based off of what I’ve seen and heard from him,” Twilight replied before shaking her head, staring at the tabletop. “But after this... nothing is certain.”
Berry cleared the last of the glasses from the counter, waving goodbye to the last few ponies as they left. Twilight and Rainbow Dash walked over to Berry as they finished clearing tables, apologizing for the way things had turned out.
“We know it isn’t technically our fault, but still...”
“Rainbow Dash, Twilight, it’s ok. I don’t... hate Applejack, all right? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to say I’m sorry for hitting her the way I did, and I’d do it again. But if what Big Macintosh said was true, and she really does have something going on that could prompt her to do something so stupid and cruel, then maybe she’s more deserving of pity, not my scorn.”
“Thank you, Berry. That’s about all we can ask for, right now. How is Ruby doing?” Berry turned away, clenching a hoof as she fought to control herself.
“She wants her Shiny back.” Whether they knew each other well or not, Twilight couldn’t stand seeing Berry so distraught over her child, being a mother herself and knowing full well what kind of punishment she’d give anypony who hurt her daughter in any way. Berry tensed as Twilight drew her into an easy embrace, but soon relaxed, accepting the comfort for what it was. The two mares made their exit, and Berry didn’t even have the strength left to pound down some alcohol, making her way up the stairs towards Silver’s room where she found Ruby asleep in his bed. Berry gently lowered herself down beside Ruby who instinctively rolled towards her, and she draped an arm around the filly as she waited for sleep to come.
Either the town wide depression had manifested itself physically, or the weather pegasi had a cruel sense of humor, as the next morning was totally overcast and blocked out most all of the sunlight. The weather did match the collective mood though, so in that regard, a pony may consider the pegasi quite adept in their planning. While completely unfazed by the gloom, Storm was somewhat disturbed by the utter lack of spunk that had come to define his fillyfriend. And thus, he made a gamble. It was risky, it was daring, and he had no idea what the outcome would be, but he had somehow managed to find a way to say the right things, and he prayed that his luck would continue as he led the sulking cyan mare above the dense cloud coverage and towards sunnier skies.
“Storm, come on, I don’t feel like practicing right now. Applejack’s in Manehatten right now trying to fix things and I can’t do anything to help.”
“You know, I think there is something you could do to help. Besides, I think the ponies here in Ponyville could use some hope too.”
“Somehow, I doubt my pranks are going to bring any laughs today.”
“Perhaps not, but a Sonic Rainboom might. She might see it, all the way over in Manehatten.” Rainbow Dash paused to consider this. Storm was probably right, as Applejack had mentioned the she saw Dash’s first ever Rainboom from her uncle’s house.
“You’re probably right, but I don’t think I have the strength to do one right now.” He ceased his ascent, leading them onto a cloud just big enough for them to sit comfortably before gently taking a hold of her right forehoof. She was utterly confused by the motion before he brought a wing around, revealing a small box that he had hidden in his feathers, and he opened it to reveal a beautiful ring that shone with all the colors of the rainbow. As Rainbow looked up at the stallion who was now bathed in many hues, he asked the question she’d been longing to hear for months.
“Rainbow Dash, will you marry me?” The space she had once occupied was empty in an instant, and Storm barely had time to look up before the jubilant mare broke the speed of sound, the ensuing magical wave expanding and drenching the clouds below with dancing lights. Storm, who was assuming the reaction was positive, sat waiting with the ring still outstretched. Rainbow Dash, realizing she had forgotten something important, screeched to a halt and dropped like a rock, accelerating as she returned to claim her prize. Storm had been tackled several times at high speeds before, so he stood, watching her descent and dropped into a dive right as she came near, her imminent approach preceded by a growing squeal that, to the best of his abilities, sounded like, “Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!” He would have confirmed this, but as she wrapped her arms around his waist, the sound barrier was broken a second time, dispelling the clouds and radiating hope to the ponies below.
“Quakehoof, come take a look at this,” Flying Grace said excitedly, pointing outside. He was instantly at her side, and while he feared it had something to do with her fast approaching day of delivery, he let forth a mighty laugh as rainbows graced the skies. “I do believe we will officially have our daughter-in-law soon.”
“Indeed. Scootaloo?” he called out, and the little filly galloped into the room, preparing to ask why she had been summoned before all but gluing her face to the window.
“A Sonic Rainboom! That’s so cool! Wait, does that mean Storm finally asked her?”
“Can you think of any other reason for such a display?”
“Woohoo, I get a sister! I get a sister!” Scootaloo’s ecstasy was soon cut short as her parent’s plied their trade of chronically turning any happy moment upside down.
“How long would you expect before she’s carrying our grandchild?” Scootaloo was immobilized by the thought. It wasn’t that she didn’t know they were doing... that kind of thing, but she dutifully kept such details tucked away where they weren’t being flaunted. Her parents, perceiving her discomfort, promptly continued.
“Oh, I would say four months, at the most.”
“Now that is optimistic of you. I say two months at best.”
“Ewww, mom, stop! That’s so gross!”
“Then again, as active as they are, there’s always a chance the contraceptives will...” The rest of Flying Grace’s statement was drowned out by the ear piercing wail that filled the room before swiftly carrying out the door and through the streets. “That’s no fun, I didn’t even get to remind her that she’d be able to look forward to similar treatment when she’s older.” Quakehoof chuckled softly as he draped a hoof around his wife’s shoulder, beaming as he watched son and future daughter-in-law dart through the skies.
“Twilight, I think something is bothering Dawn. It’s not normal for her to be this fussy, and she won’t stop looking out the window.”
“I know, I’ve noticed. What do you think we should do?” Cerulean walked up to the foal, following her line of sight outside and into the early night sky.
“I think we should do a little stargazing. Is that alright with you, Dawn?” With a flash she dropped onto his back and yanked his mane like reigns, urging him to hurry. “Come, Twilight, it’s going to be cold out. You know I don’t like the cold.”
“And yet you love the snow. Explain to me how that makes sense again?”
“Likely the same logic that prompted you to slather your ice cream in tartar sauce.”
“Hey, I was pregnant. What’s your excuse?”
“I’m a stallion?”
“That explains a lot.” She met his indignant look with a kiss, and he followed her downstairs and outside. They wandered outside the city limits a ways, laying back on a grassy hill and looking up at the sky as the first stars began to appear. Dawn stared entranced at the sky, and Twilight snuggled closer to Cerulean as a light spring breeze brought a slight chill to the air. “Cerulean, we can’t let Applejack slip into despair. So, regardless of what happens in Manehatten, let’s try harder to be there for her.”
“We will, Twilight. Ponies don’t realize the need for a special somepony all at the same time, but once somepony does, there’s only so much one can do to fill the void. For Applejack... that void has been growing for far longer than this last year.” Twilight nodded, returning her gaze to the stars.
“It started all those years back where she is now, in Manehatten. Maybe that’s where she’ll find her answer.”
Applejack stood in front of the bar, dreading the idea of seeing Silver in such a public place but knowing she had no right to hesitate. Even with what had happened that very morning, nothing could be so terrifying for her that it could match what the stallion must be feeling. The atmosphere of the bar was much different than the first. Everypony seemed to know each other, and the sound of cheerful laughter rose above the murmur of the conversations. The barkeeper noticed her glancing around the room and flagged her down.
“Hey there, miss. I know just about everypony in this room, but I don’t believe we’ve met. What’s your name?”
“Applejack,” she said flatly as her guard rose.
“I thought it might be. Silver told me about you earlier.”
“Is he here?”
“And why should I tell that to the mare that broke his heart, huh?”
“Ah didn’t mean to...”
“But you did, Applejack. Did you know he’s never liked a mare, never shown any romantic interest in anypony?”
“Ah thought he’d be right popular in a place like this.”
“Oh, make no mistake, he was. But he didn’t care. He didn’t want any of the mares that other ponies would die for a shot to be with. No, Applejack, he wanted you.” Applejack was speechless as her misconceptions crumbled to dust. She had him figured for the suave smooth talker that knew his way around a mare’s heart, but Applejack was finally forced to confront the truth; all her assumptions were wrong.
“Oh Celestia...” The barkeeper watched as the mare sat down hard, ignoring the odd looks as her mind reeled. Every passing hour, the full weight of her betrayal of his trust weighed down more heavily upon her. If she had just taken the time... “No!” she suddenly shouted, causing several ponies to turn and stare as she launched herself upright and slammed a hoof down on the counter top. “I ain’t gonna let it end like this! Ah messed up bad, but dangit ah’m not gonna let him go before ah can at least apologize. Please, ah’m beggin’ ya, if you know where he is, tell me!”
“He’s likely outside the city, somewhere quiet, somewhere alone. Somewhere with a view.” The stallion’s words confirmed Good Spirits’ second guess, and Applejack wasted no time, tearing out of the door and barely managing not to bowl anypony over. She was quite far from the northern exit, but she urged her legs forward, passing the gate fifteen minutes later and into the countryside. She didn’t slow down until the stars came into view, finally moving far enough away from the city lights to behold the natural lights twinkling above.
A quick scan of the area revealed he wasn’t in sight, and she continued at an easy trot, searching all around. After another full hour, she was about to give up hope when a small, white blotch appeared on her vision. Determination spurred her onwards, and as she drew close she slowed to a canter. Silver lay on his back, staring up at the sky. His clothes lay on a rock nearby, his mangled chest displayed in stark contrast with the celestial beauty.
Silver sat up with a start as she approached, not expecting anypony to find him so far away, much less the mare that was slowly making her way towards him. The rage that he had been seeking to quell ever since he awoke flared as she sat in front of him, and he prepared his tirade should she even mention the words, “I’m sorry.” To his surprise, she slowly reach up and set her hat on the ground before reaching back and untying her mane and tail, letting the hair flow freely. She looked like a completely different mare, her tough exterior gone, leaving a beautiful country flower in its stead.
“That look,” she started slowly, “is why ah wear this hat.” Silver clamped his jaw shut, having accidentally let it hang open at her transformation. In truth, he had wanted to see her again, but the pain of being violated like he had been fought it tooth and hoof for dominance. “You asked me once why I wear mah hat, so ah’ll tell ya. When ah was a little filly, I came to Manehatten t’ live with mah uncle and aunt. It didn’t work out too well, ah couldn’t stand the city. On the way back home ah... ah got taken by somepony. Somepony rescued me before anythin’ happened, but ever since ah’ve been scared o’ colts.” Applejack couldn’t say for sure if he were listening or not, as he sat motionless and dead silent. The fear of losing somepony that could have been a friend, the anger at herself for being so cruel, and the guilt for becoming the source of his trauma overpowered the last of her strength, and Silver watched as the mare began to cry, softly at first but growing as she continued.
“There’s so much ah want t’ say, so many things about all this that ah’ve done terribly wrong. It ain’t enough to just say ah’m sorry, but what else can ah do, Silver? Ah’d do anythin’ for another chance, even if it’s just bein’ friends...” Unable to stand the maelstrom of convoluted emotion that was tearing at her mind, she threw her hooves around Silver’s neck and buried her face in his chest. He waited as he expected her to recoil in disgust, but she didn’t. He placed a hoof to his head as a million voices seem to scream out at once, before a sudden shift landed him on the back, looking up that sky.
Applejack’s tear stained face blocked the view of the stars, and the tumult within grew louder as he watched her lips draw close to his own. It was the only thing Applejack had left to give, herself, and it made sense to her. “Please, Silver, come back...” Silver wanted to accept, more than anything, but with everything that was going on, the fear shouted the loudest. She snapped her eyes open as Silver caught her muzzle, pushing her back and sitting upright.
“I’m sorry, Applejack, but no.” Silver couldn't have understood the full extent of his error as the mare backed away as if stricken. He reached out his hoof but she flinched and backed away further, giving him one last terrified glance before galloping off into the night. He couldn’t hold back the streams from his eyes as a meteor shower lit the skies above, the flashing lights illuminating the stetson that lay abandoned in the tear-stained grass.