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With a groan, you stumble across the arbitrary finish line that you agreed upon. You had stamina, but she had speed, and so you had lost, but only by a hair. In hindsight, a sprint, rather than a distance race, was a bad idea. Applejack wasn’t bragging, though. She was far too busy trying to catch her breath after the sprint.
The two of you stood there, panting, for a few minutes before you finally let out a laugh. Applejack just looked at you for a moment, before she joined in. The two of you simply laugh for a few minutes, the exertion of the run seemingly forgotten for the moment. As the laughter finally fades, you sit down, and then rollover, looking up to the skies above.
With your heart still pounding you try to calm yourself down by relaxing a bit on the hilltop that marked the end of your race. It’s been almost an hour since lunch, and, other than some words shared about the race, it’s been silent. You feel something brush your side, and you glance over to see Applejack lying next to you. Your heart continues its fast pace, although this time from something other than physical exertion.
You do your best to stay calm, but Applejack’s presence pushes you away from the relaxation you had been hoping for. You knew that she’d never do anything to make you uncomfortable; she’d learned her lesson during the first few weeks you had worked on the farm. Since then she’d always been so respectful of your private life, and today had been the first time since then that you’d shown any of the turmoil locked within your heart.
“So… Looks like I won the race.”
“That you did, AJ. That you did. Winner calls their prize, so name it.”
She doesn’t say anything for quite some time, and you enjoy the silence. The clouds slowly pass by overhead, and you try to identify some shapes hidden within their puffy white forms. A rainbow colored blur plows through most of the clouds as you identify a shape, but you don’t mind. You know that she’s just doing her job, and she’s still leaving behind a good number of clouds.
Skies like this were a rarity back in Manehattan. The only good place to watch the skies above was in the massive park in the city, but it was usually filled with tons of ponies, and it was hard to find a good spot to just lie down, and watch the skies. A brief flash of anger runs through you, but you stop it before it can go anywhere. Genetics weren’t fun, but there was no arguing with them. The doctors had explained to you that you were a blessing, but you only saw it as a curse.
A pegasus mother, and a unicorn father, and yet you had been born an earth pony.
You had been born plain.
There was nothing special about you. You were of average strength, and not particularly fast. The only thing you had was a stamina that could put any pony to shame.
“I have an idea what I want for winning the race.” Applejack’s voice is a good deal shakier than you were expecting, so you look over to her, and see that she’s looking right back at you. Her emerald colored eyes are looking right at you, and you could tell that there was something wrong right away. The spark that usually rested in her eyes was replaced by a blazing inferno. You wanted to back away, but there was something about her gaze that held you in place, almost against your will.
“I want to know who you really are. Ever since you moved to Ponyville I’ve been curious about you. I never said anything, since I figured that it was your business, and I had no right to meddle. But earlier, at lunch, I saw something in your eyes. What are you hiding?”
A nervous chuckle passes from your throat, into the world. Its sound is quickly swallowed by the vastness of the world, and you suddenly feel alone. Not alone in the sense that you’re by yourself, since you have Applejack right next to you, but alone in the sense that you don’t have anypony to turn to when things go really bad. You don’t have any family that you’re close to, and the truth of the matter comes rushing in, trying to stifle you.
“That’s a pretty hefty request, AJ.” Her gaze is unwavering, and you can’t help but smile at her stubborn nature. “You sure you want to know more about me? It’s not a pleasant story.” She simply nods, and so you let out an explosive sigh. “Fine.”
“I was born in Manehattan, to a pegasus mother, and a unicorn father. When I was born the doctors, and my parents, were flabbergasted that I was born an earth pony. The doctors ran dozens of tests on me, to see if I had developed properly, and when they found that I had developed properly they came to my parents with the news. It turns out that I had less than a one in a thousand chance of coming out the way I did.”
You climb to your hooves, and you take a few steps, before stopping and looking back at Applejack. From what you had heard her parents were both earth ponies, so she never wondered what could have been.
“My parents always thought of it as being lucky, but I could never shake a tiny hint of resentment towards them. I’ve long since gotten over it, but every so often there’s a pang of anger. Anyway, I spent my youth the same as any other colt, or filly. I went to school, played the silly games, and grew up. When I was around thirteen my parents gave me my first journal, asking me to start keeping track of my days, so that I’d be able to see how I’ve changed over the years. My sister had been doing it for seven years when I started, since she was that much older than I was.
“Just a few months later, though, my life changed.” A humorless chuckle escaped you, as you pondered just how to phrase the next part of your life story. “I was no longer an innocent pony, like so many others. The police investigated the ‘accident’ for a few days before it was declared just a freak coincidence. I still can’t recall everything that happened for a few months after that. All I can remember is that my sister became more of a parental figure in my life. She’d already started working, so she managed to support the two of us till I got a job of my own.
“Things were okay for a while. She was always so calm, and in control for those first few years. It was about a year ago that she really started to show the changes that had been taking place for longer than I thought. Looking back I can see the signs, but at the time they were happening I couldn’t quite make them out. I was too young to see it, and right before me I saw…” You stop for a moment. Applejack hadn’t moved from where she was, but she was watching your every move. You could see some tears forming in her eyes.
“I saw my sister pregnant. I can’t believe I was so naïve, but I didn’t know at the time what it meant, and my sister just passed it off as weight gain. When she gave birth, I remember a tiny orange pegasus around the house for a few weeks before it disappeared.”
You stop speaking for a moment, to allow yourself some time to think. As you open your mouth to continue you hear the sound of shouting voices. You turn to look down at the bottom of the hill, and you see the Crusaders making their way up the hill, and towards you and Applejack. With practiced ease you bring your emotional mask back up, and Applejack does her best to hide her tears.
The trio stops at your hooves, and all three are panting heavily from their sprint up the hillside.
“Hello girls. What brings you by? More crusading, I assume?”
“Yeah, we were heading to the clubhouse when we saw the two of you on this hill.” Sweetie Belle answers your question with glee, but soon Apple Bloom jumps in.
“Do either of you two have any ideas for things we could try? None of us can think of anything…” You turn to look at Applejack, and you are surprised to see that she doesn’t look at all like she was crying a moment ago.
“I’m not going to encourage any of this crusading. You’ve caused enough trouble for a dozen fillies.” Applejack’s response brings a smile to your face, and you turn to look at the Crusaders. All three are looking up at you with expectant looks on their faces.
“I’m going to have to go with Applejack on this one. Sorry, girls, but I can’t afford to upset my manager.” The three frown for a moment, but then Apple Bloom jumps up.
“Come on, girls! I’ve got an idea!” The other two quickly follow Apple Bloom back down the hill, and towards the club house, leaving you and Applejack alone atop the hill once more. You watch the trio leave, and your gaze lingers for a moment on the small orange pegasus running down the hill.
You turn back towards Applejack, and there’s a strange look on her face. You raise a hoof, to stop her questions. “I’m going to finish my story, then you can ask any questions you have. I want to get through this before I come to my senses.
“About a year ago I finally started putting the pieces together. Her behavior, and the way she’d come home from ‘work’ started to make more sense. Every night she’d promise me that she’d get me out of there before it was too late. Her body was being destroyed by what she was doing to it, but she was always promising me that she’d make it better for me.”
You sit down again, looking anywhere but Applejack’s face. “Just a few months before I came here it all came crashing down around me. You see, my sister came back from work with some stallion that I had never seen before. He was big, almost as big as Big Mac, if I remember correctly. He was shouting at my sister about some money, and she was just crying. That stallion shouted at my sister more and more, until finally he snapped, and hit her.”
You looked down at your hooves, and a shudder ran through your frame. You felt your entire body begin to shake more forcefully, and you quickly planted both of your hooves on the ground. You did it so forcefully that your legs began to hurt, but it helped, since it distracted you from the feelings of disgust running through you.
“I don’t know what came over me, but I attacked the stallion and I beat him to a pulp. My sister had to pull me off of him. I really wish she hadn’t. I really do wish that she hadn’t pulled me off of him…” A humorless laugh breaks the silence that chased your words, and your mind is filled with the images of the stallion’s broken face.
“I really thought I killed that stallion. All that blood on my hooves, and he didn’t die. I don’t know whether I am glad that I didn’t kill him, or whether I am angry that I didn’t. After my sister pulled me off, she gave me the biggest bag of bits I had ever seen. She looked at me, tears in her eyes, and she spoke to me more clearly than I could remember her speaking in months. She told me to run. She told me to run, and never come back home. She told me not to look back, because if I did, I might not be able to leave.”
You meet Applejack’s gaze once more, and you can see the question she’s dying to ask. “I did run. I ran, and I’ve never once gone back home. But I looked back. I looked back, and I’ve never forgiven myself for doing so. I looked back, hoping that she would be in our window. That she’d be there, watching as I left forever. But she wasn’t there. There was nothing there. At least, there wasn’t anything when I first turned to look.
“There was a flash in our window, and a loud bang. Then there was blood on the window. After I left the city…” Your voice trails off, as you can no longer continue speaking. Applejack moves from where she was seated, next to you. She wraps a hoof around your shoulder, and that pushes you over the edge.
For the first time since the day you left Manehattan you cried in the presence of another pony. Applejack kept a hoof around you the whole time, and after some time your tears finally begin to slow. You draw in a ragged breath, and then you finish what you started.
“After I left the city I wandered for a while. I roamed the countryside, going from town to town, working odd jobs, and earning some bits for myself, but I never settled down anywhere. I always kept moving, hoping that I could outrun my past. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Sure, I don’t have anyponies chasing me, but I do have it all locked up in my head. And hardly a week goes by that I’m not reminded of what I lost, and what was taken from me.
“And that story, AJ, is why I hide so much. I’m not pleased with what I’ve done, and what happened to me. The journals that I keep tell the tale more clearly than I ever could. It’s been almost a decade since my parents died, AJ. It’s been almost a year since I last saw my sister. And it’s been nine years since my sister gave birth.”
As you finish speaking you feel a strange weight being lifted from your shoulders. With the completion of your tale the depths of your emotions seem a bit less bleak. You finally feel like everything’s going to be okay.
“That little orange pegasus that your sister had… Is it…” You just nod, and continue to sit where you are.
Without warning you turn, and embrace Applejack. At first her surprise at your action is evident, but after a moment she returns the hug. You simply hold her, and enjoy the sensation of being held. It didn’t matter to you that it was Applejack. It could’ve been anypony at that moment. All that mattered was that you weren’t alone anymore. You finally had somepony that you could talk to without having to pretend.
“AJ. I want to thank you.” You push her back and look her in the eyes. “I want to thank you for asking me to tell you all of this. I’ve kept this inside for so long, and now I have somepony that I can be myself around. For the first time since Manehattan I can be myself!”