A/N: Major, major, MAJOR, shout out to ADashofLoyalty! He created a lovely little song based on this chapter!
Those who wish to view it may do so be clicking here.
Anyway, on to the story!
"Ah...." You say, releasing a sigh. "This is the life."
With your back propped up against a tree, you watch Celestia's sun slowly descend beyond the land. It portrayed its cascade of colors across the darkening sky as it slowly vanished from view. Only a few clouds lazily drifted through the sky, but nothing too severe to block the sky from view.
Same as the last time you came out here, birds were chirping, cicadas were singing, and a light breeze blew through the area. With your body not being as fatigued as last time, however, it felt even better to just relax here.
Today was an unusually good day. You never thought in your life you would play the role of 'relationship mender' for a brother and sister, but it felt good to do just that. Judging from their laughter you saw earlier, it looks like it was for the best that you stepped in. It warmed your heart to see them happy together.
It was strange...you had been some kind of catalyst for their relationship with each other. You had only known them for a few days, yet you really felt like you were becoming a part of the family. Despite what had brought you here in the first place, you actually began to feel like you belonged...
Of course, with Applejack, that might not be entirely true. Then again, even after your introduction with her, she really seemed to be warming up to you. For whatever reason, she seemed to actually not mind you being here. Not that you were complaining, of course. If it makes your life here easier, why would you?
Yet you knew that you would have to leave eventually. You couldn't pawn a free room and food off of them forever. A shame, seeing as they could cook circles around you.
You take a deep breath of the crisp, country air. It was quite refreshing. A much better change of pace from the stuffy city air you grew up in.
The city...you remembered all the hardships you faced back in the day. It was back in those days that you became a thief, all because of the action of a single stallion. Every day, you wish you could go back, and change the series of events that led to what happened back then...
Shaking your head to rid yourself of those thoughts, you lean back and sigh, taking in the sun's rays.
You begin to count under your breath.
"I figured I would find you up here."
Right on cue. You crane your head around to see Applejack approaching. This time, she looked much more relaxed and pleased to see you up here.
"Am I that easy to read?" You ask.
"I wouldn't say that, but you seem like a guy of habit." She replies.
"Ponies naturally hate change, right?"
"I suppose, though you could do with a few."
"Heh, tell me about it." You lean back onto the tree, folding your hooves behind your head.
"Hey, I brought ya a little somethin'." You turn to face her, and see she is holding a muffin in her hoof.
"A muffin? What's this for?" You say, taking the morsel from her hoof.
"Just a little somethin' Granny and I whipped up. Think of it as my thanks for helpin' Big Mac."
"Gee, what flavor is it?" You ask sarcastically.
"Just try it. What, ya don't trust me?" She asks, teasing.
Shrugging, you remove the muffin from its wrapper. With it off, you see the muffin is incredibly colorful, with a rainbow pattern on it. Having never seen such a muffin, you can't help but ask again.
"Okay, seriously, what flavor is this?" You ask, slightly skeptical now.
"Just eat it!" She says excitedly.
"Alright, alright." Reluctantly, you bring the muffin up to your teeth. Taking off a small chunk, you begin to chew tentatively.
As expected, it tasted like apples. The tastes of sugar, cinnamon, and what you expected of a muffin were there. But suddenly, you mouth begins to tingle. Not from the flavor, but from something more tangible. It almost tasted like the muffin was...electrified?
"Seriously, what flavor is this!?" You plead.
"It's made from Zap Apples. Ya like it?" She asks, tipping her hat back a bit.
The tingling intensified with every chew. It wasn't painful, but it was...something. It was almost like Pop Rocks. As with everything else you had eaten in your time here, it was quite delicious. The muffin itself was very soft, and almost melted in your mouth. The taste of apples was there, but it was slowly being drowned out by the electrical feeling. The shocking sensation was slowly sending a strange, pleasuring feel through your tastebuds. Your mouth was almost being numbed by the sensation, but not to the point where it stopped feeling. It just felt incredibly good.
Easily the weirdest muffin you've ever had.
"Okay, what kind of sorcery did you use to make this?" You ask.
She laughs a bit before answering. "Sorcery nothin'! It's just the magic of the Zap Apples! I don't right understand it myself, but I know it works!"
"You don't say..." You reply, before taking another bite.
"If ya like that, we got more like it up in the house. Pies, cakes, turnovers, you name it."
"I take it these are popular?" You ask between chews.
"Yup. Since the Zap Apples don't come around so often, ponies scoop 'em up right when they get the chance."
"I can see why, this is pretty damn good."
"Thank ya kindly. We're the only farmers in Equestria who harvest and sell Zap Apple products. Ponies come from all over just to get a batch!"
"I see..." It made more sense as to why she was that upset with you for having lost a cart of them. Perhaps these Zap Apples were one of their staple products.
After a few moments, you finished the muffin, and the two of you simply sat in silence, admiring the view. The sun was slowly losing it's glow to the land, and was vanishing from view.
Looking over to Applejack, you see she was glowing again in the sunlight. The glow coming from her body was magnified by her orange coat once again, and her eyes were sparkling in the fading light. Her mane and tail were also glowing even brighter than her coat.
This time, however, something was different. You don't know why, but she just seemed...well, more attractive than last time. Perhaps it was because of how she had changed towards you. With her attitude about you being more positive, she just seemed...nicer. You struggled to put a word to it.
After a few moments, she suddenly turns, and her gaze meets yours. Turning your head away quickly, you feel a slight warmth in your cheeks.
"What is it?" She asks.
"Er, nothing, nothing..." You reply, somewhat shakily. Why were you so nervous all of a sudden?
Either way, she didn't press on it, and simply turned her gaze back to the sun. Your eyes met with the same object of her attention. The two of you simply sat there and admired the view for a few moments.
After a bit, you hear her shift. Looking over, you see she is nervously rubbing her foreleg.
"Something wrong?" You ask.
"Well, I..." She turns her head away. "I just wanted to apologize for yesterday...I shouldn't have stormed off like I did..."
Images of the previous day's conversation came back to you. Namely, how she suddenly stormed away after you mentioned her parents.
"Oh, it's nothing, really." You say, trying to reassure her.
"You may think it was nothin', but I feel downright silly fer havin' done that..."
"It's nothing, seriously. Besides, I shouldn't have asked about..." You stop yourself mid-sentence, wincing slightly. You were afraid to hear her response.
"...my parents?" She asks with no emotion.
"...y-yeah." You reply, rubbing the back of your neck.
She lets out a long sigh. "Well, if you're thinkin' what I think you are, then you're right."
Your eyes grow wide. "You...you mean they're..."
"I..." It suddenly became harder to force words out. "I'm sorry, I didn't..."
"It's fine...I ain't mad at ya or nothin'...not like you knew..." She lets out another sigh.
"...Was it recent? Or..." You really wanted to stop yourself from prodding, but couldn't.
"No, it was years ago...Shortly after Applebloom was born, actually..."
"Oh..." You wanted to stop asking about it. You really wanted to just end it there, and spare her the pain of bringing back the memories. But something in you just wanted to know. Some strange curiosity that just had to know.
"If you don't mind me asking...how did it happen?"
She suddenly looks a little more distraught. You knew you had just made a big mistake, yet you couldn't stop yourself from asking. You prepared for a severe lashing.
"...Years ago, when I was just a little filly..."
Wait...she was actually answering?
"It was during...June, I think. I don't right remember the date. It was late at night, and my Daddy, Ma, and I were in the barn. Big Macintosh was up in the house with Granny and Applebloom. Applebloom had just been born, ya see, and we didn't take her out much. Not yet, anyway.
"Anyway, the three of us were doing a little bit of maintenance on...somethin', I can't remember. It wasn't that important, but it was what we were doin'. I think Daddy was teaching me somethin'. Well...Ma was out there with us, just watchin' us work. I would look over to her every now and then, just to see her smilin'...
"Well, we were workin', fixin' up whatever it was we were doin'. None of us noticed that somewhere, one of the lanterns we had lightin' up the barn had fallen over. By the time we realized it..." Applejack begins to visibly shake.
"T-The fire, it had already started burnin' everywhere. It spread like crazy...In a split second, we were all trapped...So my Daddy, he scooped me up, and ran fer the door. I just covered my eyes and hoped we would make it. Over the flames, I could hear my Ma s-screamin'...
"We did, Daddy and I got out. He carried me away from the barn, and set me down. He took off his hat..." She takes her hat off her head and looks at it. "...he put it on my head, and he told me...'Wait right here, and hold on to this for me. I'll be back in a flash, I promise!'" She hangs her head low and closes her eyes.
"...And?" You ask, concern in your voice.
"...Of all the promises he decided to break...that was the one I wish he never did..." You begin to hear her sniffling. Looking closer, you see a tear running down her cheek.
She suddenly leans towards you, and buries her face in your shoulder. Her hat presses up against your chest, and you can feel her tears soaking your fur. Her sobbing shakes your body, and you can hear her whimpering.
Of all the things you could have imagined taking place on this farm when you first arrived here, this was definitely the last of them. You never thought you would be consoling a mare, Applejack nonetheless, over a topic like this. Bringing a hoof up, you wrap it around her shoulder, and rub her gently.
"It's okay..." You say, attempting to reassure her. "It's alright..."
"I'm sorry...I sh-shouldn't have told y-you all that..." She says, her voice muffled in your shoulder.
"It's fine...you sound like you needed to get all that out, anyway." You reply, attempting to lighten the mood.
"After everything that had happened, we had the farm rebuilt. There wasn't much of anything left after the f-fire...I left for Manehattan for a while when it was done. I just wanted to get away from it all, y'know?" For the next few moments, the two of you simply sit there, her sobbing into your shoulder.
"I can understand..."
"D-do you know what it's like? To lose your parents like that? Ponies who are so close to you?"
You quietly sit there. You're not sure if you should respond honestly or not out of respect for her plight. If this mare is as good at telling liars as she is, you might not get away with it either way.
She suddenly looks up to you. "Wh-What? OH!" She backs of and clamps a hoof to her mouth. "I'm sorry...your..."
"If that's what you're thinking, no...my father didn't die when I was young...though I wish he did, in a way." You reply, already knowing her motivation for that action.
"W-what do you...no, I shouldn't ask." She is very shaken.
"And I shouldn't have asked about you." She stares at you for a second before looking to the ground. "I at least owe it to you to let you know."
She simply sits in silence with a pleading look on her face, wanting you to proceed to tell her. Your childhood, your parents...and her.
"Like I said. I lived in Manehattan for most of my life. I grew up with my mother, and...my sister..."
"You have a sister?" AJ pleads.
"Yeah. Well, I...anyway...her name was Sky Line. She was a pegasus. My mother was an earth pony, and, from what I gathered from her, dad was a pegasus too. Guess my genes came from mom.
"We lived in a crappy house, from what I know. I don't remember it, I was just a foal. My sister, she had just been born, and I was only a little older than her. The place was rundown, and we couldn't afford much furniture, or much of anything, really. It wasn't much, but it was home.
"But...from what my mother told me, everything changed one day. She had taken me and sis to a shop across the city. We were gone for several hours, apparently. When we got home...everything...was gone."
"...Gone? What happened?" She asks.
"...Apparently, my father happened. He took everything, and left. Literally, everything. Furniture, our money, all of it. He left absolutely nothing, and just vanished without a trace. No one has ever seen him since. Mom always did say he was a slimy bastard.
"With no money, we struggled to get by. My mom tried forever to find a job, but no one would take her. Eventually, we got evicted from the house, and were forced onto the streets. Mom managed to keep us going for awhile. At least until I was old enough to function on my own. My sis, she was still pretty young at the time. I felt so pathetic, being reduced to begging on the streets of the city. Back then, I never knew why we had to live that way. It wasn't until I was a teenager that mom told me everything...
"It was then that...I started my 'career.' I started to steal. I knew it wasn't right. Even with how we lived, my mother was a righteous pony. But I just...I wanted to help all I could. Her and sis were the only things I cared about, and I had to provide as much as I possibly could for them. The few bits and loose change I got from begging weren't enough. So I started doing what my mother hated...
"It started small. Taking a fruit or two from the local vendors. Then, as I got more experienced, I expanded my views. I started stealing from small general stores. And when I got really cocky, I started taking from ponies directly. I did this for years, and years.
"But...even with all I was doing, it wasn't enough. One autumn, I noticed my mother was starting to become ill. It grew worse everyday. I could see her life ebbing away with each passing day. One day, at the beginning of winter...I woke up one morning, and....she didn't."
Pausing to look over at Applejack, you see she has a horrified look on her face. Not waiting for commentary, you continue.
"It's not like I could slow down, though. I still had my sister. I loved her more than anything in the world. That morning, when mother...passed, I carried Sky to another part of the city while she was still asleep. I didn't want her to see what had happened. I told her that mother had just left for awhile, and that she would be back one day to make everything better...I regret not telling her the truth...
"I kept up my career, and kept taking, and getting more daring with what I did. I started taking greater risks for better rewards. I nearly got caught a few times, but it was worth it to see my little sister grow up. After a few months, this appeared." You gesture to your Cutie Mark. "Turns out, I did have a natural knack for it...heh, I say that like I should be proud of it.
"Then...one day...Sky found out. She was so disappointed in me. I told her that it was for the best of the family. I had to do it to keep us going. Scraping for cash would only get us so far, and I had to do something to help alleviate the stress. She didn't buy it though. I remember her telling me that I shouldn't do that. Even for her.
"With as much as she hated it, I had to keep doing it. It became second nature to me after awhile. Even when I wouldn't think about it, I would go 'home' to notice somepony's purse in my hoof. It became a curse, and I couldn't quit. Soon enough, I was addicted to it, in a way. But still, at the heart of it, it was just me trying to provide for the filly closest to me.
"Yet...it was all for nothing one day. I was a teenager by then, and she wasn't far behind. Winter came one year. That winter...was absolutely brutal. I don't know if the weather pegasi lost their minds that year or what, but it was crazy. The streets were covered in snow, and virtually everything was frozen.
"She...she started to get sick, Sky Line did. I had dealt with her being sick before, but...this was different. No matter what I did, she wouldn't get better. I put more effort into stealing than I ever had before, and even risked my life a few times, just to see her get better.
"But...it didn't come. She wouldn't recover...And one day, she...she..."
A tear runs down your cheek.
"...she passed away in my hooves..."
Silence passes for a few moments.
"I...felt so guilty. I never told her the truth about our parents...I never got to see her earn her Cutie Mark, and never got a chance to teach her how to fly...I just...there are so many things I never got to truly experience with her..."
Your lip began quivering, and tears were now rolling down your face.
"Do you know why I came up here on the first day?"
"...No..." AJ responds.
"Sky Line...she loved sunsets. I never understood why, but she did. Almost everyday, I would take her to the outskirts of the city, just so we could watch it happen." You look down to the ground. "It's the only thing we cherished together that I have to remember her by now..."
For what felt like an eternity, you two sat there in silence. Even the birds and insects had seemed to silence their songs. The only noise was the wind, and the crying of two ponies.
"...Is that why you've been so nice to Applebloom?" Applejack asks cautiously.
"To be honest? Yeah...she reminds me so much of my kid sister, of my little Sky Line...she even has the same...eyes..."
With that, the dams burst. You lose all control over your emotions, and just let it all flow.
You didn't even care anymore. You had pent this up inside of you for years, and it had to all come out. The painful force of the memories finally caused the gates to cave in, and you were fine with that. You didn't care about the events that brought you here, or what AJ probably thinks of you now. You just had to get it all out.
Suddenly, Applejack leans into you, pressing her head against the bottom of your chin.
"A-AJ?" You ask. You wince slightly at having called her the name she specifically told you not to use.
"It's alright...it's alright..." Even as she says this, you can feel her tears falling onto your body.
"I-I'm sorry...I shouldn't have told you all that..." You reply.
"It's alright...sounds ta me like you needed to get all that out anyway..." She says back.
The two of you sit there like that for several minutes, finding solace in one another.
Perhaps the two of you aren't so different. Despite all you had been through in the last couple of days, and despite all of the ideas and impressions you've gotten of her, you feel like you are more alike than you knew. Two broken souls, devastated by the actions and fates brought upon by those close to them.
It was like you said. Despite your ways of getting by, you two aren't so different. The paths the two of you took were direct results of the struggles you faced with your parents. With your families. What happened to the both of you was entirely out of your control, yet you had to accept what had happened and strive on.
It was just how the two of you emerged from the ashes.
The sun had vanished from view. At this point, it was entirely invisible, and only it's last few rays were painting the sky.
You and Applejack had sat there for who knows how long, leaning into one another. It's hard to imagine that in one day, you two would grow closer than what you ever thought possible.
After what felt like an eternity, Applejack finally breaks the ice.
"It's gettin' late..." She starts.
"Yeah...it is." You reply.
"We should be gettin' back to the house..." She pulls herself off of your shoulder and stands up. "And, uh...please don't tell anyone about what we talked about today..."
You stand up with her and give a smile. "Yeah. And don't worry. I won't." You reassured her with all the sincerity you could muster.
The two of you walked back to the house together, with heavy hearts, and new bonds.