"Alright," you say to yourself. "Let's see how this goes."
After having returned to the Apple Family home late last night from your little treasure hunt, you quickly tucked yourself back into bed for the next day, though you didn't get much sleep. The nightmare didn't return, if only because you hardly slept at all.
Luckily, the following day wasn't so eventful. You and Applejack had spent most of the day fixing up some equipment in the barn. You nearly nodded off several times, both due to boredom and fatigue. However, you kept yourself going solely to chat with her. She had a strong desire to talk about her friends for most of the day. Mostly gossip, but quite a few nitpicks about her fashionista friend were thrown in as well.
Applebloom hung out in the barn with you two for most of the time you worked. She had been going on and on about her new schemes to get her Cutie Mark, most of which Applejack forbade her from trying. Knowing how stubborn that filly could be sometimes, you figured she probably wouldn't listen. She left after a while to go find her friends to discuss some crusading options.
As was your custom, you and her enjoyed another sunset viewing at the end of the day. You contemplated presenting her gift to her then, but then it would have felt...awkward. You don't know how she would have reacted to that, and didn't want to risk it.
Instead, you waited until now. The sun was now entirely set, and the family was getting ready to hit the hay. You wanted to give the gift to her now, and spare her the pain of living another day without it. Bringing yourself over to the desk in your room, you pull out a drawer you had stashed the trinket in.
You lift the trinket out and take a look at it. Yup, still the same one you put in there last night. Satisfied, you wrap it around your hoof to prevent it from jingling before you surprise her with it. Closing the drawer, you step out in the hallway, and begin to walk towards AJ's room.
You contemplated how she would react. There were a couple of possibilities. One such possibility, is that she will be infuriated. She might end up thinking you stole it from her. Considering how you two met, this is a pretty likely scenario. You could only hope she could believe you when you tell her you didn't steal it, and that her whole being the "Element of Honesty" will kick in and help her see the truth in your words.
Another possible scenario would be that she will be overjoyed. She would break down in tears and thank you for having held onto it for all these years. She would be so deliriously happy that she might even drop what's left of your debt! She might even give you a kiss, and-
Woah. Where did that come from? Applejack, giving you a kiss? You shake your head. There's no way. Sure, you find her attractive...and she's incredibly nice, once you get to know her. And she's generous, funny, adorable, and...Is that why you were doing this? Was it more than some deep-rooted desire to see her happy that she got her necklace back? You risked getting caught sneaking out last night and being reprimanded for it. More so than what Big Mac had done, that is.
When you thought about it, you really did care for her. It's crazy, the same mare who held you hostage when you first met her was now the same mare you were smitten with. Ever since you had started seeing eye to eye with her, things just developed inside of you. You no longer held any resentment over your meeting, and you began to see her in a different light. She really was kind, and generous, and just about perfect in every way. Except her math skills, but you looked past that.
Considering everything, she had done more good for you than anything else. She had given you a home, meals that had yet to be rivaled, comfort in your darkest moment, and at the end of it all...a friend. A true friend. You hadn't had a true friend in years. Sure, you had a few buddies here and there, but no one to share your darkest secrets with. No one to tell about your deepest woes. No one who would be there to listen when you needed them to. You had never been comfortable enough around anyone to tell them everything you had told AJ.
Perhaps it was because she understood your plight. She had been through a similar scenario. She knew what it was like. Because of that, you admired her. She listened, and she comforted you. No one knows what it's like to be the bad guy behind the lines. Yet she took a chance, and listened. Something no one had ever considered doing for you before. On top of it all, she understood. She was willing to put your differences aside, even your quarrels from the past. Anyone else would never let that go. Whether or not she would be willing to admit it, that mare really did care about you...
Okay, you admit it. You like her. More than you initially thought. But considering the events that led to you knowing one another, there's no way she would ever go for you. Not in that way. Though she could put your little incident behind her, she couldn't have simply forgotten about it. You only hoped that this action you were about to take would not jeopardize what you two had managed to forge between you.
Coming back to reality, you realize you had just been standing right outside Applejack's door the entire time. Looking around, no one had seen you just standing here. Taking a quick, deep breath, you hide the necklace behind your back and knock on the door.
"Hey, AJ? You in there?" You call out.
There's a short pause before she answers. "Yeah, c'mon in!"
Turning the handle in your hoof, you push the door open and trot inside. Applejack was rooting through a drawer in her dresser, rearranging some papers and photos inside. Her hat was hanging on the wall, and her hair was undone. This was the first time you had seen her without those bands binding her mane and tail.
She turns around, tossing her mane. "What's up?"
You can't speak for a second. Though her appearance was only changed slightly, you found yourself dumbfounded by her look. Her hair was draped over her shoulders and flowed freely as she turned. Something about it just mystified you. She was incredibly beautiful without those bands. Something you never would have guessed.
"Uh...you alright there, pardner?" She asks, concerned.
Snapping back to reality again, you blink a few times, breaking yourself from you trance. "Oh, uh, sorry...so, whatchya doing?"
"Just gettin' ready to hit the hay." She says, as she goes over to a small shelf to your left. She begins to pick up some books and starts setting them on the shelves.
"Heh, I never took you for an egghead!" You tease.
She rolls her eyes. "I ain't on Twi's level, I can say that much." She steps back and examines her work. "But I do like to take some time to crack open a good book every now n' then."
"Eh, probably more often than I do, so there's that." You joke back.
"I wouldn't have guessed with how well ya are with words." She teases. At this point, she begins to take notice of your leg behind your back. "Say, whatchya got there?"
"Ah ah, no peeking!" You say, waving your free hoof. "It's a surprise."
"A surprise? Like, a gift? Fer me?" She asks with disbelief in her face.
"No, for Winona!" You say sarcastically. "Of course you!"
"Well, what is it! Lemme see!" She cranes her head around, trying to get a look at the object in your hoof.
"Settle down, just close your eyes!" She does as you tell her, and waits patiently. A small, cute smile is formed on her lips.
You take but a few seconds to observe her. With her hair unbound, it draped all around her shoulders and neck. It made her look...wild. Untamed, like a free spirit. You liked that. You've always like the unpredictable. It made things thrilling for you.
Looking back, you bring the necklace around, and hold it out in front of you. The necklace jingles slightly from the movement, and the sound causes Applejack to smile a little bigger. Something you were glad you could invoke.
"Alright," you say. "You can look now!"
Applejack removes her hooves from her eyes and looks right at the trinket. Her smile slowly begins to fade. She lowers her hooves and her lip begins trembling.
"I...Is that..." She begins to say.
"Your necklace? Yes, it's not just any replica. I'm certain this is your necklace, from all those years ago." You reply, bristling with confidence.
"I...how did you...why do you..." Her face is in complete disbelief. Slowly, she stretches a hoof out and takes it from your grasp. She merely stares at it for a few seconds, unable to speak. At last, her eyes widen and she gasps.
"Well?" You ask. "What do you-OOF!"
You suddenly find yourself being forced against the wall, her foreleg pressing very hard on your throat. You struggle to stand on your back legs, and you find your breathing to be constricted.
"Why the hay do you have this!?" She yells. Well, there goes the chance at a happy reunion.
"Applejack," you squeeze out through a constricted windpipe. "Please, let me explai-"
"DID YOU STEAL THIS FROM ME ALL THOSE YEARS AGO!?" She made no attempts to hide her anger.
"No, I didn't!" You say, trying to defend yourself. Your neck begins to ache at the pressure she was forcing onto it. "If I had stolen it, I would have sold it right away, I guarantee you! Look, I found it at that carnival! You must have dropped it, or something! I found it, and held onto it. Okay, I'll admit, I had initially planned on selling it, but I didn't! Call it fate, call it luck, call it whatever you want, but please, believe me when I say I did not steal this from you!"
She merely glares at you, examining you and mulling over your words. You hoped that her sense of trust and lie-detector skills would kick in before you suffocate under her foreleg. Her eyes pierced right through you, examining every corner and inch of your soul, searching for any sort of evidence that should raise doubt in your claims.
After what felt like an eternity, her expression very slowly begins to soften. "You...you really are telling the truth..."
"Of course I am!" You say through forced breaths. "I've learned to not lie to you! Doesn't work!" You joke, trying to lighten the mood.
"But...why did you keep it...?" She asks.
"Air...air..." You wheeze. She immediately lets off and you fall to the floor. Coughing violently, you try to pull as much air as you can into your strained lungs. After taking a few moments to bring your oxygen levels back to normal, you continue. "Like I said...I never stole it from you, I swear. I found it at that carnival, the same one you went to."
She merely stares at you in disbelief. Her eyes darting back and forth between yours, as if she was unsure whether or not this was all true. Bringing her eyes down to the locket, she stares at it, as if she were authenticating it.
After a few seconds, she sits down on her haunches, and brings her hooves to either side of the locket. She places a hoof on each wing, and presses them downward. With that, the front half of the heart sprung upward with an audible click. The moment it opens, Applejack gasps, and clamps a hoof to her mouth.
"...Applejack?" You ask concerned. She doesn't respond, and keeps her gaze fixed on the locket. You can see tears welling up in her eyes. Curiosity taking over, you trot around her and look over her shoulder into the contents of the necklace.
You gasp slightly at what you saw. Inside, was a small picture, worn with age. A family photo, it seems. In front was a young Applejack and Big Macintosh. Behind them were two ponies you hadn't met. One was a large, dark red stallion. He was incredibly built and sported a traditional, brown Stetson cowpony's hat. The other was a light yellow mare. She had a long, flowing mane of orange and her belly was noticeably large. Her green eyes had bags underneath them.
With no need for words, you had no trouble figuring out who they were. Stepping back slightly, you look at Applejack. Tears were now flowing freely down her face, and it looked like she was fighting back sobs.
"...Applejack?" You start. "Are you-"
Your sentence is cut off as she throws her arms around you, bringing you into a tight embrace. Your heart rate suddenly increases, and you feel a warmth in your cheeks.
Despite how strong she had been forcing you to that wall, her embrace was surprisingly gentle. Firm, but gentle. You could feel her breath on the back of your neck, and her fur intermingled with yours. Her warm body pressed up against yours, and as she pulled you in tighter, you couldn't help it as your heart rate increased some more.
"Th-Thank you..." She whispers. "I don't know how I can ever repay you..."
At a loss for words, you merely let her cry into your shoulder. Sitting down on your own haunches, you wrap a hoof around her shoulder and lightly return the embrace. This action causes her to pull you in tighter.
Finally, you manage to find your words again. "Think nothing of it." You decided to keep it simple. No need to spoil the moment with some silly demand.
You close your eyes and enjoy the embrace. She leaned her head into your neck a little more, and cried softly. She was no longer sobbing, and was just resting against you. You rub her back gently trying to comfort her. She sighs lightly at the action.
Slowly, her breathing returned to its normal state, and you simply cradled her in your forelegs. After a moment, you feel her shift. You open your eyes just in time to see her lean forward and give you a soft kiss on the cheek.
It was short, but the moment couldn't have possibly been any less enjoyed. You were dumbstruck, and lost your voice again. Your heart rate shot through the roof, and your cheeks were as warm as the sun. She had just kissed you. Sure, it was on the cheek, but she had just kissed you. You couldn't move as she slowly slid out of your embrace. The spot on your cheek tingled slightly where her lips pressed.
After a short moment of silence, she looks to you and smiles, a rather noticeable blush on her face. "I...thank you...I don't know what the odds are that this happened, but..." She looks away for a second before continuing. "...Thank you."
"...I-It's nothing...r-really." You reply lamely.
She merely looks at you. The two of you merely stare into each other's eyes for the longest time. It almost looked like she was expecting you to do something. You could lose yourself in those beautiful, green eyes.
After a few awkward minutes, she finally speaks up. "W-Well...we should probably be gettin' ta bed..." She sheepishly rubs her foreleg.
"Er, yeah...w-we should." You reply, your voice cracking slightly.
The two of you stand up in unison, and you begin to walk to the door. Just as you open the door and begin to trot out, she speaks again.
"Hey." You turn to face her, only to find yourself being pulled into another, quick hug. "Thanks again."
You pat her on the back slightly. "It's nothing."
Slowly and reluctantly, the two of you pull away from your embrace. Giving her a slight nod, and her returning the gesture, you exit her room and close the door. In the hallway, you fail to resist the urge to pump your hoof slightly. Smiling like an idiot, you trot to your room to begin your slumber.
You groan slightly as you lay in bed, unable to begin your slumber.
You had been lying awake in bed for several hours, unable to sleep. You didn't know the exact cause of your sudden insomnia, but whatever it was, it was growing to be annoying. Tossing and turning, you tried to find some kind of position that would be at least somewhat more comfortable and sleep-inducing, but no dice.
You had given up at some point, and just settled on lying there. At some point during the night, you thought you heard hoofsteps in the hallway. Somepony must have just been going to the bathroom, so you ignored it.
Turning towards the wall, you look to the clock. It reads 2:36 AM. Great, you think to yourself. Tomorrow's gonna be brutal.
Perhaps you would get a day off, however. Maybe AJ would consider giving you some time to yourself after your little gesture from earlier. You felt a little bad, thinking about trying to pawn something off of her like that. You immediately dismissed the idea.
Turning again, you fruitlessly try to fluff your pillow, attempting to make it slightly more comfortable. There's no point, you're well aware of that. But with as exhausted as you were, you at least wanted to try.
Your mind was still mulling over the events of earlier. You had no idea that Applejack was THAT torn up over losing that necklace. Considering what was inside, it wasn't too much of a surprise. That necklace may be one of the very last items she has to remember them by...
No matter how you went about thinking of the scenario from earlier, your mind always managed to drag you back to that kiss. Your brain was abuzz with questions surrounding that little action. Does that mean she does consider you more than a friend, or was it just an act of kindness? Did she harbor feelings for you, or was it an on-the-spot action? You had no idea, and your mind couldn't stop mulling over it.
Turning again, you press your pillow over your head, trying to dispel all the images and thoughts of that kiss. It was to no luck, however, and you can't quit thinking about it. You kick off your covers, suddenly feeling like they were constricting you.
You just wished Celestia would send you some kind of sign. Something to tell you what to do, where to go next. You had no idea how you would greet Applejack in the morning tomorrow, or how the relationship and friendship you shared had changed. You wished that there was something that would point you in the right direction.
You turn again to face the window next to your bed. Looking out the window, you see something. It looked like...a light? There was an orange light far in the distance. It seemed to be...glowing. It started glowing brighter and brighter. Was this that sign you were looking for?
Rubbing your eyes, you sit up in bed and try to get a better examination. Your eyes focusing on it stronger, you realize that it's no ordinary light. You begin to feel horrified, knowing the implications of the sight before you.
It was the barn. And it was on fire.
You immediately shoot out of bed. With no concern for stealth or delicacy, you haphazardly crash through your door, and dart right for the stairs. Quickly making your way down, you hastily burst through the front door and turn right to the burning building.
The barn was fast approaching, and you now see how severe the situation is. The entire building is engulfed in flames, and it is spreading rapidly. A million questions were flying through your mind at rapid speed, but you couldn't focus on any one of them for even a second.
You mentally berate yourself for not having woken up the rest of the family. This is probably something they would want to be aware of. With no time to dwell on it, you focus only on getting to that barn.
As you approach, you see two small figures about forty feet from the entrance of the barn. Getting closer, you can easily identify them as Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. You have never seen them without Applebloom around them. You fear the worst.
Running right up to them, you waste no time with introductions. "What the heck is going on!?" You yell, trying to keep your voice audible over the inferno behind you.
Scootaloo raises a hoof and points it to the barn. She speaks in a very shaken voice. "A-Applebloom is s-s-still in there..."
You turn your gaze to the burning barn. She's...in there...no...NO!
You don't know what came over you. The next thing you know, you're running headlong into the blaze.
Running right up to the doors, you bash your shoulder into them and send them flying out of your way. You are immediately hit with a wave a burning heat. You can already feel yourself sweating.
Bringing yourself into a crawling position, you hug the floor. The air above was thick with smoke. You could feel your hairs being singed. You could barely breath already on the floor of the barn. You can only hope Applebloom is on the ground floor...and still breathing.
Shuffling forward, you yell out her name repeatedly. Each time, you are only greeted with the sound of burning wood. You continue to move forward. Parts of the ceiling begin to crash down around you. One piece of burning lumber very narrowly avoids crushing your leg. Not wasting time to count your blessings, you keep moving forward.
You can hardly see in front of you through the flames. Applebloom wouldn't respond to your calls. The building was burning at an incredible rate. Your hope slowly begins to fade. You fear the worst has come for that filly...
As you shuffle forward, you finally see a glimmer of hope. Through the blaze, you can see a pink bow. Doubling your efforts, you crawl toward the bow as quick as you can.
At last, you come upon Applebloom. Her eyes are closed, and she's not moving. Her hind leg is pinned beneath a large piece of lumber. You immediately take the wood into your hooves, only to retract them right away. The wood is still incredibly hot, and burned your hooves slightly. You fear it may be too late...
In a sudden moment of adrenaline, you put your hooves back on the lumber to try again. You wince in pain as the wood burns your skin, but you grit your teeth and bear through it. Lifting with all your might, you toss the wood aside. Looking down to the poor filly, you can see her leg is quite damaged from the fallen plank.
With no other options, you pick up her body and lay her across your back. You can feel her chest expanding very weakly. You let loose a slight sigh of relief, knowing she was alive.
But you weren't out of the fire yet. Turning back the way you came, you bolt for the exit. No longer crawling, you feel your head growing dizzy from the increased smoke intake. You try to keep your gaze fixed on the exit, but it grows more and more difficult to do so.
As you run, you stumble over a newly fallen piece of lumber. You force yourself to fall in such a way that Applebloom wouldn't be injured by the impact. With a new pain in your chest from the fall, you try to force yourself back up and begin for the door again.
Before you even get the chance, another piece of the building's foundation comes down and nails you right in the skull. A searing pain shoots through your head and neck. Your vision falters and you nearly black out. Looking up, you see the exit is right there! It's so close, yet you can't move. You aren't paralyzed, you can tell that much, but your body won't respond. You can feel your consciousness fading...
In your mind's eye, you can see the horrified face of Applejack. She was about to lose yet another pony close to her to flames. You feel a powerful guilt, knowing that you may have just let her down...
Looking back, you can see Applebloom's face. She wears a strained expression, as if she is on the verge between life and death. Something about looking at her sparked something inside of you.
You suddenly hear a small voice in the back of your mind.
Don't give up! You can do this! Do it for me!
Suddenly, you find yourself with renewed energy. Your eyes shoot open, and you look back to the exit. With a new found strength in your legs, you pick yourself back up and begin to limp for the exit. You were not going to go down without a fight.
The door grew closer at a surprising speed. You were on the verge of collapsing where you were, but you absolutely refused to do that. You weren't giving in, not yet. The door was right there. You were going to make it! Putting all of what you had left in reserve into your legs, you make the final push, and bolt out the door.
You carry yourself for a good twenty feet or so before you collapsed. You had made it. Against all odds, you and Applebloom had escaped the inferno.
With the satisfaction of having succeeded in your mind, your vision rapidly begins to fade. All feeling in your body begins to numb, and you can feel your consciousness slipping from you. You quickly succumb to the darkness invading your senses.
The last thing you saw before you passed out was an orange blur, rapidly approaching you.