Warm afternoon sunlight streamed though a tidy farmhouse window, dust motes drifting in the golden beam before it fell on a pony shaped lump beneath the quilts. The embroidered bedspread rose and fell gently with the quiet snores of the bed's occupant, slowly drifting as the sun sank slowly in the fall sky.
Outside, a blonde-maned mare whose coat matched the brilliant orange of the orchard's fall finery adjusted her hat as she cast a proud eye over the last of the fall harvest. It had been a great harvest for the Apple family this year, and Applejack couldn't help but smile at the results. After all the problems during last year's harvest, she'd had a long chat with Big Macintosh and Granny Smith, and they had come up with a plan.
Bits were still a touch tight around the farm, and hiring more help would have cut deeply into their slim profit margins, but her granddame had a better idea. All it had taken was a few well-placed suggestions at the spring's Apple Family Reunion, and all was set. Several of the younger cousins who hadn't managed to find or start places of their own yet had volunteered to come for a visit and lend a helping hoof this fall in exchange for some practical experience. It certainly didn't hurt that Applejack knew several other ponies in the area who'd be harvesting other crops this fall, and wasn't shy about putting in a good word with her neighbors.
All in all, it had worked out pretty darn well, as far as Applejack figured. Her cousins got a bit of work and made some good references, and the harvest that had taken her two weeks of mind-numbing exhaustion was accomplished in three days hard work. As she looked out over the blessedly empty orchards, a pair of ponies coming out of the western hills caught Applejack's eye, and her smile widened at the sight.
Big Macintosh's red coat was a perfect match for the apples crowding the bushel baskets on either side of his working harness, but her dependable workhorse of a brother wasn't what brought a smile to Applejack's face. Beside him a little yellow filly was gamely trotting to keep up with Macintosh's strides, smiling up at him with cheerfully as she balanced her own small basket of apples on her back. Applebloom was so proud that she could help with the harvest this year.
The creak of the screen door behind her turned the farm pony's attention away from her siblings, but her smile widened a bit more at the pony who was slowly but surely crossing the porch.
"Heck of a nice day, ain't it Granny Smith?"
"Sure is, sugarcube." The old green mare settled herself in her battered and weathered rocking chair, closing her eyes in pleasure as sun warmed her faded coat. "Good day to soak up a bit of sunshine, 'fore winter comes and it gets too chilly for my old bones out here."
Applejack settled herself comfortably on the porch by her Granny's hooves, and the two chatted about the day's work as they watched the other two siblings head into the barn. As they got closer, Applebloom's cheerful chatter and her brother's deep, calm responses joined their conversation on the wind. It brought a tear to the old mare's eye, and she smiled down at her Stetson-wearing grandfilly.
"Sounds just like another filly I used to know, don't it? " Granny Smith's words were teasing, and she chuckled as Applejack blushed. "It does my heart a world of good to see you three taking such good care of this place, and of each other."
Applejack laughed along with her granddame, still blushing a bit to remember her own first applebuck season. "That's what Apples do, ain't it? We take care of what needs takin' care of."
"Suppose that explains why you're out here and there's still snoring coming from your room then, eh?" Granny Smith waved a hoof as a wide-eyed Applejack started to stammer out an explanation. "I'm just pullin' your leg, dear. Applebloom told me about your friend's little accident last night, and you know I'm not one to begrudge anypony hospitality."
The younger Apple shook her head and let out a breath, pulling herself together. "Your sense of humor's gonna send me into conniptions yet, Granny. Rainbow Dash's going to be staying with us for a spell, leastways until Doc clears her to fly."
"Oh my, was she that badly hurt?" Concern was obvious on Granny Smith's face, joking forgotten.
Applejack was quick to reassure her. "Nah, just a sprain, but I didn't want Dash hurtin' herself worse being too dang stubborn to rest and let it heal." She grinned, a bit ruefully. "What with me being an expert on stubborn and all."
"Just like your Daddy. It only comes naturally to us Apples, stubborn and patient as the trees we're named for." The old green mare rocked in her chair, thinking. "The boys lit out this mornin' for the Pies' place, said they'd drop back by ta press cider in a couple weeks before they headed out to Appaloosa. So we've the space, and you just tell her she's welcome."
"I surely will, Granny." Applejack climbed back to her hooves, eyeing the way the sun stood close to the western treetops. "Well, it's getting on in the afternoon. Think I'll go see if Rainbow is up and around yet. Don't want her getting stuck to sore to get to the painkillers."
"You just go do that, dear, and I'll get started on some dinner here in a while." Watching her grandfilly head into the house, Granny Smith settled back in her chair with a contented murmur.
As the screen door banged closed behind Applejack, her granddame rocked comfortably in her rocking chair, a slow grin spreading on her face. Her grandfoals were the light of her life, and it gave her no end of amusement watching the patterns of the past play out again in them. Especially when it came to trying to keep secrets.
It hadn't passed Granny Smith's notice that of all of Applejack's friends, Rainbow Dash was the one she'd heard the most about. The orange earth pony was always offhandedly mentioning some contest or other she'd gotten into with her pegasus friend, and her sudden keen interest in the weather schedule had not surprised the old mare. Nor had she missed how often a certain tree out on the hill tended to pick up a colorful tenant right about the time her grandfilly was usually out taking her afternoon stroll to check on the orchards. The old green mare smiled to herself as she rocked in the warm sun. This would make a good chance to get the measure of this Rainbow Dash.
She'd known Macintosh was walking out with that shy little pegasus friend of Applejack's for a couple weeks now. Although the stallion had been careful not to mention it anywhere it could get back to his sister, he hadn't figured on the way gossip flew around the social circles of Ponyville. After all, old mares love nothing more than gossip, and Granny Smith had long established herself as the grand dame of the baking circle. She was content to hold her peace, though, and not press him as to why he was suddenly so willing to run the family's apple stand in the afternoons.
After all, there was no rush. They'd tell her when they felt the time was right, and in the meantime the matriarch of the Apple clan would do what she always did best. Help the good things in the world to grow.
Applejack was careful not to make too much noise as she climbed the stairs towards her room. If Rainbow Dash was still asleep, she was inclined to let the sore pegasus sleep herself out. When she opened the door to her room with a careful hoof, the sight in front of her brought a smile to her lips.
The afternoon sun had apparently gotten on the nerves of the bed's occupant, and she had moved to keep it out of her eyes. By this point, all that was visible beneath the old quilt was a splash of rainbow-striped mane against the pillow which had now migrated to the foot of the bed. The tip of a cyan ear poking out of the messy hair was the only other visible sign that there was actually a pony somewhere under the rumpled blanket.
Taking the few steps across the room, Applejack busied herself for a moment pulling the curtains to block out the worst of the afternoon sun before turning back to the bed as the sheets rustled. A moment later, the quilt shifted and Rainbow Dash blinked sleepy rose eyes up at orange earth pony.
"Mmm." Dash yawned, her nose crinkling delicately, before looking back up to Applejack. "G'morning."
Applejack chuckled, folding her forelegs on the bed to put herself on the other pony's eye level. "More like afternoon, sugarcube. You slept straight through the day."
Rainbow Dash blinked once more. "Aww, you should have got me up!" Her voice was still a bit rough from sleep, but carried a bit of annoyance at being left to snooze. When Dash moved to climb out from beneath the quilt, annoyance faded with a wince as the muscles in her back and wing gave her a sharp reminder of just why she was sleeping in a bed instead of on her usual clouds.
Applejack helped the pegasus untangle herself from the blankets, careful not to let the cloth catch on the bandages wrapping Dash's right wing and holding it against her side. "Nah, you needed the sleep. You were asleep on your hooves last night at Fluttershy's. Ended up carrying you halfway here once the drugs kicked in, so I figured you'd sleep 'em off."
Wincing again as she pushed herself to sit on the bed, Dash hung her head at the mention of being carried. "Yeah, that stuff always hits me like a brick. Sorry you got stuck hauling me around, AJ."
"Not like you weigh anything to speak of anyway, sugar. Compared to what I'm usually hauling around in applebuck season, one pretty little pegasus ain't nothing." Leaning in, the orange mare pulled Rainbow Dash into a careful hug. "Besides, you'd do the same for me and you know it."
"Well yeah, of course I would. But…" Dash broke off her doubtful words as Applejack laid a gentle hoof on her lips.
"But nothing. I'm just glad to have you here with me in one piece after yesterday!"
The rainbow-maned pegasus nodded, remembering all too well the fear and panic while Applejack's voice as she had kept up a steady stream of reassuringly optimistic chatter to distract her from the pain of an injured wing on the way to the clinic.
"You and me both. I was dead sure I'd busted something until Doc gave me the good news. Sprains may take a while to heal, but at least I'll be back in the air in a couple weeks instead of a couple months." She shivered at the thought. "If at all. Wing bones don't always heal well."
"Well, that's two good things, then. I talked to Granny Smith a bit ago, and you're more than welcome to stay here until you heal up." Applejack grinned as she switched to a more cheerful topic, determined to keep Dash from dwelling on what could have been. "If you want to, of course. Now that the apples're bucked, we've got a couple weeks 'til cider season, then it'll be a quiet month or so before the winter market season goes into swing."
"Well, if I'm not in the way…" A pony that was usually fiercely independent, Rainbow Dash was always uncomfortable having to rely on others. She never had been one to stay where she wasn't wanted.
"Shucks, Rainbow, I'd be mighty glad of the company. Oh, Twilight stopped by this morning to pass on her best, and let you know that Cloud Kicker's coming down from Canterlot to shore up the weather ponies here." Applejack chuckled. "So you don't have to worry about the weather. From the way Twi was talkin', it seems like Princess Celestia was sendin' her down here to prove a point."
The cyan pegasus perked up at the news, sounding much more like herself. "That's priceless. I went to flight school with Cloud Kicker. She was always sure that little farm towns like Ponyville were for putting old pegasi out to pasture."
Drawing herself up, Dash affected an overblown Canterlot accent. "'No interesting weather ever happens out in the sticks, after all!'" Shaking her head, she giggled. "Let's see her say that after the first winter storms roll off Everfree Forest."
"Well then, sounds like this accident ain't gonna turn out all bad after all. You get a little much-deserved time off to heal up; Cloud Kicker gets to learn a good lesson…" Applejack glanced at the open door, just to be sure, and then leaned in and kissed Rainbow Dash softly, pulling away with a smile and a blush. "And I get to spend my favorite time of year with my favorite pony."
An equally blushing Rainbow Dash smiled back. "Suddenly being grounded isn't so bad."