Sleep would not come easily for Applejack that night. After the past few days, she had grown used to sleeping with Twilight Sparkle, and to be deprived of it was jarring. She tossed and she turned, and though she even tried to hold her pillow close to herself to give her some semblance of normalcy, it just wasn't the same. She certainly didn't remember when she managed to eventually fall asleep, but it certainly took far too long - the light of Celestia's sun was a harsh awakening for her, and the earth pony grimaced and turned away to try and shield herself from it. When it soon became evident that her efforts weren't doing much good, Applejack let out a huff and sat up in bed.
"AJ, you up?"
She sighed and slowly nodded, even though nopony could even see her. "Yeah, Twi. I'll be down in a bit."
As she slid out from beneath the covers and planted her hooves upon the floor, Applejack walked towards the mirror and frowned. Last night had certainly been a sleepless one, and it showed - with dark circles beneath her eyes and an especially messy mane, she certainly didn't look 'well'. She took a seat upon the floor and began to attempt to clean up her mane, only to hear a voice call out from below once more.
"Applejack, come down here please. We need to talk."
We need to talk - it was those four words that nopony in a relationship ever wanted to hear. It almost always meant that bad news was inevitable, and the earth pony hesitantly turned towards the stairs and began to make her way down. As reluctant as she may have been to head down towards the kitchen, this was something she needed to do. She had always been one to fess up to her mistakes, and last night had certainly been a doozy of a mistake. With the last of the steps behind her, Applejack continued to slowly walk along, and leaned around a corner as she looked into the kitchen. Twilight sat seated at the table, a faint frown upon her face, and two glasses of apple juice at the table, no doubt for her and Applejack. The earth pony cleared her throat and gave a hopeful smile to her girlfriend. "Uh... mornin', Twi."
Twilight's own expression softened somewhat, though the frown stayed firmly upon her face. She gestured towards a chair next to herself and spoke softly in return. "Have a seat."
Applejack's ears quickly flattened, and she slowly made her way towards the table, hopping up into the chair and avoiding any and all eye contact with the unicorn. She knew quite well just what the talk was about, and yet she didn't want to say anything about it. It wasn't like she even needed to - her body language alone made it quite clear just how guilty she felt.
The lavender mare eyed her briefly and let out a sigh. "So, about last ni-"
"Twi, I'm so sorry about last night. What I did was wrong of me, an' I shouldn't have done that to ya. It was stupid of me ta put you on th' spot like that, and accuse you of th' things I did, an'... I'm an idiot, Twilight, an' I just... I hope you can forgive me." Applejack hung her head and slowly shook it, her voice barely above a whisper as she spoke once more. "...I don't like havin' you mad at me. S'not a good feelin'."
Twilight hadn't quite been expecting such a response, and she blinked momentarily before leaning over towards the earth pony. "Applejack, I'm not mad at you. I'm just... disappointed. I thought you knew better."
"Yeah... so did I." Applejack idly scratched at the back of her neck with a hoof, and she briefly glanced towards the unicorn. "Sorry, jus'... this whole week has been rough an' all, an' I haven't quite been mahself."
"AJ, look at me." She placed a hoof beneath the earth pony's chin, drawing her gaze towards herself. "It's been a rough week for both of us, and you can't blame yourself for anything that's happened. Like I said, I'm not mad at you or anything, I just... need to know some things."
"Well... the alcohol. I know you like drinking, and I'm fine with that - a drink every now and then is okay. But if you're gonna go out and get drunk like this every time we hit a rough patch, I don't know how long things are gonna last between us. It's... not exactly conducive to a relationship."
The earth pony blinked at her and raised an eyebrow. "Conduwhat?"
"Conducive. When something is conducive, it's helpful, and when it's not-"
"I get it, Twi. Gettin' drunk ain't good fer th' both of us. I uh..." Applejack coughed and smiled sheepishly. "I 'spose I had too many drinks last night, huh?"
"...alright, I had too many drinks."
"And you'll cut back on it?"
"I'll cut back on it, Twi."
Twilight smiled faintly at that, and leaned a bit closer. "Pinkie promise?"
With a groan, the earth pony nodded and began to go through the necessary motions. "Cross mah heart, hope ta fly, stick a cupcake in mah eye."
"Good. And the only other thing I need to know is... well, it's something a bit more personal..."
Applejack leaned towards Twilight and attempted to intertwine her tail with the unicorn's, a faint smile appearing upon her face when she managed to succeed. "C'mon, hun. You know you can tell me."
"What I'm getting at is... I'm not ready. Um... sexually, that is." Twilight was quickly beginning to blush, and she sighed and shook her head. "Oh Celestia, this is embarrassing..."
"Can't be as bad as when ya got drunk off cider an' started hittin' on mah brother."
"Sorry, Twi. Had ta be said."
"Right, well... all I'm saying is, I just need to know that you understand that, and that I'll be ready when I feel ready."
The earth pony slowly nodded. "Yeah, I know. S'partly why I feel so stupid about last night. I knew perfectly well that ya weren't ready, and yet I-"
"AJ, I already forgave you for that."
"I know, I know... I don't feel any better about it, though."
With a grin, Twilight leaned over and gave Applejack a kiss on the cheek. "What about now?"
"...well, that helps."
"Good." The unicorn hopped off her chair and looked towards the earth pony. "Go get cleaned up, and I'll get started on breakfast. We'll also need to pack later."
Upon hearing that, Applejack hopped off her own chair and quickly trotted over to Twilight's side. "Pack? We goin' somewhere?"
"...I told you about that, right?"
The earth pony simply stared at her and slowly shook her head.
"Well, uh... we're going somewhere!" Twilight did her best to feign enthusiasm, but it was clear that Applejack wasn't buying it. Upon realizing that, she quickly cleared her throat and eyed her girlfriend. "We're gonna be going to Canterlot, so you can meet my parents. Princess Celestia wants to see us anyways."
"Seems kinda fast for us ta be doin' that, especially with how well things went with Granny..."
"It'll be fine, Applejack! My parents have always been awfully supportive, and I'm sure they'll love you! Besides, I've been sending them some letters, so they know all about you and the rest of the girls. It's not like you're gonna be a complete stranger or anything."
The orange mare slowly nodded, though she already seemed rather apprehensive. "Sounds... fun. When are we leavin', anyways?"
"Oh, that?" Twilight was already in the midst of preparing breakfast, and had two bowls and several oats floating above her head as she turned to face Applejack. "We leave tonight - midnight train and all. Why?"
Applejack huffed and tilted her head. "A lil' late ta be tellin' me that, Twi."
"I doubt it'll take you long to pack. We're both light travelers, anyways." The unicorn giggled and grinned, then quickly returned to her work. "Now go get cleaned up. I can help you pack after breakfast, kay?"
"I'm goin', I'm goin'. Just... wanna know one thing mahself."
Twilight turned back around, her head tilted. "What is it, AJ?"
"I uhh..." The earth pony chuckled faintly and glanced about before looking towards the unicorn, a grin upon her face. "Do I get somethin' if I behave?"
"...I'll admit, I haven't really thought about that."
"But now ya are?"
The lavender mare gave Applejack a sly grin, and she began to steadily approach her, speaking in a sultry tone. "Well, if you're a good girl..."
Within her mind's eye, everything was working out flawlessly - Applejack was completely and utterly entranced by her, and she could've sworn her own hips were swaying in just the right way as she sauntered towards the earth pony. The art of seduction was certainly Rarity's forte rather than her own, but several talks with the fashionista and a great many romance novels had essentially made her an expert as well...
...or so she thought. From Applejack's perspective, Twilight looked more like Berry Punch attempting to walk a straight line. The unicorn's steps were rushed and unsteady, and as she placed one hoof in front of the other, she wobbled about, attempting to regain her balance. It soon became evident that Twilight Sparkle had reached the tipping point, and her steps continued to increase in both speed and lack of grace, until she eventually managed to tumble over herself. Next thing she knew, she was sprawled on her back upon the floor, and Applejack stood over her, grinning from ear to ear. "And what th' hay was that 'sposed to be?"
Twilight grinned rather sheepishly in return, her embarrassment made obvious by her reddened face. "I was... trying to saunter."
"I think 'tryin' is th' keyword there, hun."
"...how bad was it?"
"Do ya want me ta speak to you as a friend, or as yer girlfriend?"
"Twi, Blueblood's got better moves than you."
The unicorn frowned and glanced off to the side. "Ouch."
"Aw, c'mon! 'twas a joke!" Applejack giggled faintly, but quickly leaned down to offer Twilight a hoof. "As cute as ya look on th' floor, we should probably get ya back up."
"Yeah... probably." She wrapped a foreleg around the one that had just been offered to her, and quickly found herself being pulled back up - Applejack was a rather strong pony, after all, and it was hardly surprising that she could easily lift Twilight's weight. With a faint sigh, the unicorn shook her head and smiled appreciatively towards the earth pony. "Thanks, AJ."
"Any time, darlin'. I'll hold you ta that offer, though."
Applejack soon trotted off towards the stairs, no doubt to clean herself up, and Twilight Sparkle giggled to herself as she returned to her own work.
"Sounds good to me, Applejack... sounds good to me."
Night had long since fallen upon Equestria, and as Luna's moon continued its nightly trek across the sky, a lone train rumbled north to Canterlot. From her spot within their car, Twilight Sparkle stared out the window and sighed - packing had been a rather simple affair, and their entire day had been extremely quiet. All that remained was their train ride to Canterlot, and though she had originally imagined it as being a relaxing trip, it had soon proved to be anything but. As much as she knew that her parents would no doubt accept of her relationship with Applejack, she couldn't help but find herself stressing out over it. Sure, it was likely that they would be fine with things, but what if they weren't? The unicorn frowned as she thought back to her own meeting with the Apple family, and the fallout of such an event. It certainly hadn't been pretty, and the emotional aftermath had been rough on both her and Applejack. To have it happen again would likely be disastrous.
Twilight Sparkle briefly closed her eyes, then turned towards the bed they had been given. The darkness made it a bit hard to see, but she could still catch the glint of moonlight off a pair of emerald eyes. "Yeah, AJ?"
"You comin' ta bed? It's an overnight trip an' all, and I don't want ya dead on yer hooves when we get ta Canterlot. Still gotta meet your folks, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. Just... ugh." She huffed and walked over, quickly sliding beneath the covers and cuddling up against the earth pony. Even as she felt herself being pulled into Applejack's embrace, she didn't find herself feeling any better. "I'm just... stressing out, I guess. Worried something might go wrong."
"It's not gonna go wrong, darlin'. Yer parents sound like awful nice folks anyways, an' I doubt it could go as badly as it did with mah family."
"But what if it does go wrong?"
The earth pony sighed and brushed a bit of the unicorn's mane aside, giving her forehead a kiss. "Twi, I've known ya for years now, an' ya always do this. You start stressin' out over somethin', then ya start tryin' ta plan fer every possible result, an' then it all spins out of control. Just relax a lil'."
"I would if I could."
"How 'bout we read a book together, like at th' jail?"
Twilight slowly shook her head. "Not really in the mood for reading, AJ."
Applejack frowned and idly rubbed at the back of her neck with a hoof. "...well, definitely makes things harder when th' bookworm doesn't wanna read. Lemme think."
"It's fine, I'll just... fall asleep eventually."
"We both know I ain't gonna let that happen. How about I... sing you a lullaby, Twi? To make up for the whole bar thing?"
"I already forgave you for that."
"I didn't forgive mahself, though. Just lemme do this, hun." The earth pony pulled Twilight a bit closer to herself, giving her a hug. "Please?"
In return, the unicorn sighed and buried her muzzle in Applejack's chest. "...if you want."
"Thanks, Twi. It's... been kind of a long time since I've heard this or sung it, so I might get some of th' words wrong, but I'll do mah best."
Twilight simply giggled at that, and smiled up at her girlfriend. "Oh, I know you will."
There were a few moments of silence as Applejack began to prepare herself, and when she did begin to sing, Twilight Sparkle found herself rather surprised. She knew the earth pony could sing - she and the rest of the girls could sing, after all - but she hadn't been expecting this. Applejack musical contributions tended to be hearty and boisterous, but this was more akin to a true lullaby, sweet and quiet.
Lay down, your sweet and weary head
Night is falling, you’ve come to journey's end
Sleep now, and dream of the ones who came before
They are calling, from across the distant shore
The mention of a shore quickly caught Twilight's attention, and her ears perked up as she continued to rest her head against Applejack's chest.
Why do you weep? What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see, all of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms, you're only sleeping
Applejack gave the unicorn another squeeze and looked down towards her, a faint smile upon her face. It was clear from Twilight's perspective that there was a great deal of affection hidden behind that smile, and despite how simple it may have been, it sent her heart aflutter.
What can you see, on the horizon? Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea, a pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home
And all will turn, to silver glass
A light on the water, all souls pass
As the lullaby took a bit of a melancholic turn, the lavender mare found herself somewhat saddened by it, yet it was clear that the song wasn't finished just yet.
Hope fades, into the world of night
Through shadows falling, out of memory and time
Don't say: "We have come now to the end"
White shores are calling, you and I will meet again
And you'll be here in my arms, just sleeping
It still seemed just as depressing as the previous stanza, and yet there was something within it that also comforted her, something that gave her the feeling that this life was not the end of things, nor would it ever be. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking on her part, but the way Applejack had sung it and the way she had looked at her all made it seem as if their bond would be capable of transcending death itself. It soon became evident that the lullaby was drawing to a close, and as it did, Twilight Sparkle listened intently.
And all will turn, to silver glass
A light on the water, grey ships pass
Into the West
As the song came to a conclusion, Twilight took another look up towards Applejack, and to her surprise, saw that the earth pony's eyes were brimming with tears. With a frown upon her face, she quickly leaned up to place herself at eye-level with her girlfriend. "AJ, what's wrong?"
"Sorry, Twi." Applejack chuckled quietly and wiped away her own tears, giving the unicorn another smile in return. "Singin' the lullaby brought up some memories, is all."
"...What kind of memories, if you don't mind me asking?"
The orange mare remained quiet for a moment, then gave Twilight a quick hug. "That was a lullaby mah mom used ta sing ta me, before she passed away."
Twilight's own eyes lit up, and she leaned a bit closer to Applejack, nuzzling the earth pony's neck. It hadn't taken her long to realize the gravity of the situation - the topic of Applejack's parents had always been an incredibly touchy subject for her, one she never wanted to talk about openly. Not wanting to risk making things any worse, the unicorn instead decided to play it safe. "I won't ask any more questions about it, Applejack. I know it's a bit of a painful topic for you."
"Nah, see..." Applejack sighed and brushed a bit of her mane away from her face, sitting up in the bed slightly. "After havin' that little talk with Granny, I realized somethin' - mom an' pop always loved me, Mac, an' Apple Bloom. Everythin' they did was for us, and if somepony thinks they're gonna try an' use mah own parents against me as a weapon, that just ain't right. I've spent too long mournin' them, an'... I don't think they would've wanted that."
"Still sorta hurts ta talk about, but... I feel a little better about it, and you helped with that. I know you wouldn't leave me, no matter what." With a faint grin, the earth pony leaned down and gave Twilight a quick peck on the cheek. "I think she would've really liked ya."
The unicorn nervously chewed on her lip, but gradually worked up the courage to ask another question. "What was she like?"
"Quiet. Soft-spoken. Definitely th' more patient of th' two, compared ta pop. She was always th' voice of reason in our family. Pop's side of the family never cared much for her, though. Granny Smith didn't care much for her either - thought she was too 'different'."
"...Different? Different how?"
Applejack quickly hopped out of the bed and walked over to her own suitcase, opening it up and hastily digging through. She eventually returned with a rather large book, and as she slipped back into bed, it soon became obvious that it was a photo album of sorts. "Mind givin' me a little light, darlin'?"
A brief spurt of magic later, and the candle over the bed was aflame, bathing the room in warm light.
"Thanks." The earth pony cracked open the album and began to flip through several pages, until coming to a stop at one of them. Despite its small size, a single photograph was placed upon the page, and below it was a written name - 'Sea Spray'. Within the picture itself was a mare of average size, her body toned and mane tied back in a ponytail.
"Guessing that's your mother?"
"Mhm. I know th' picture's in black an' white, but notice anything special 'bout the photo?"
Twilight took a closer look at the picture, then tilted her head. "...is that the ocean behind her?"
"Eeeyup. Ya see, mah mom an' her family were kelp farmers. Staple for ponies livin' on th' coast, but a bit of a delicacy further inland."
"That's why your father's side of the family didn't like her?"
"Pretty much. She was a farmer, just like pop, but she had th' sea instead of th' land. Made her just different enough for them ta not like her. Pop met her while deliverin' some apples ta Baltimare, an' both of 'em kept in touch. Eventually ended up movin' in together and started a family. From what I've been told, Granny wasn't happy about it, but pop didn't care." Applejack flipped a few more pages, stopping at what appeared to be a wedding photo. Pictured within it was the same mare as the previous photograph, but with a stallion by her side. He was rather tall and heavily built, and bore an uncanny resemblance to Big Macintosh - it seemed rather fitting, given that this stallion was the father. "Sea Spray an' Cortland. Made fer a good couple, huh?"
"They did." Twilight sat up in bed as well and leaned against Applejack, resting her head on the earth pony's shoulder. "Have you ever met your mom's side of the family?"
Applejack slowly shook her head and placed a hoof on the wedding photo. "Nah. Like I said, pop's family didn't care much fer her, and when they both passed away, we got left in their care. So... we never heard anything out of 'em. I dunno if they ever tried ta stay in touch with us or anything."
"And your Aunt and Uncle Orange?"
"Pop's side of th' family."
"Oh..." The lavender mare frowned and quickly looked up at Applejack, her expression hopeful. "I could try and help you find them when we get back. I mean, I could pull a few strings, and-"
"Twi." Applejack sighed and shut the photo album, setting it aside. "I'm just now gettin' over this. Diggin' any further into things... I dunno if I'm ready fer that. Maybe another time."
"You'll at least keep it in mind?"
"'course I will." The earth pony sat up a bit further and blew out the lone candle, then pulled Twilight close as she settled down once more. "We've got a big day ahead of us tomorrow. May as well get some sleep."
Twilight Sparkle slowly nodded and cuddled up against Applejack, giving her lover's neck an affectionate nuzzle and a kiss. "Right. Thanks for telling me about your parents a bit, AJ."
"And thanks for listenin', hun. Was nice to talk to somepony about 'em." Applejack gave the unicorn's forehead a kiss, a content sigh escaping her lips as she closed her eyes. "G'night, Twi."
As the train continued its journey northward, Twilight Sparkle buried her muzzle in the earth pony's coat and let out a sigh of her own before slowly drifting off to sleep.
"Sweet dreams... my love."