Applejack stared at the bottle and gave it a gentle poke, tipping it over onto its side. She leaned over, giving the label a quick read. "One ta two pills per night before sleepin'. Do not exceed two pills within twenty-four hours."
She sighed. Had it really come to this? Forced to take medicine just so she could get a decent amount of sleep? The earth pony glanced over at her bed and then back to the bottle, staring at it once more. Reluctantly, she popped open the bottle and dumped out two pills, throwing them into her mouth and swallowing. After placing the top back on it, Applejack undid her hair bands and climbed into bed, pulling the covers tight over herself. Maybe tonight would be different, and she would actually get some rest.
She stood in a field, stalks of wheat gently blowing in the breeze and shimmering ever so slightly as the sunlight bounced off them. It resembled an ocean of amber, and Applejack slowly began to wander through the field. Blue skies and not a cloud in sight, along with a slow, steady breeze and the warmth of Celestia's sun - it was beautiful day. Off in the distance, however, something caught her eye. A lavender form, sitting in solitude. Curious, she began to walk towards it, and with every step Applejack took towards the waiting figure, a soft and somber melody played within her mind. She didn't recognize the voice, but it sounded warm and friendly.
I set my sail
fly the wind it will take me
back to my home, sweet home
The earth pony continued her trek forwards, the song never ceasing as she pressed onwards.
Lie on my back
clouds are making way for me
I'm coming home, sweet home
"Twilight?" With every step she took forwards, the figure seemed to slip farther away, and she picked up her pace to a trot.
I see your star you left it burning for me
Mother, I'm here
As the sun slipped behind a rogue cloud, the rest of the field darkened, yet the lavender figure shone just as brightly as it did before. It was a beacon, burning brightly compared to its surroundings, and it continually beckoned Applejack to come closer and closer. Her trot sped up, becoming a canter.
Eyes open wide
feel your heart and it's glowing
I'm welcome home, sweet home
The sun returned once more, but the lavender figure upon the horizon didn't appear any less faint. If anything, it blazed brightly, and the orange mare couldn't help but look as she chased after it. Such a sight didn't hurt to look at it, but was instead surprisingly beautiful. She simply had to see who this being was, and her canter become a determined gallop.
I take your hoof
now you'll never be lonely
not when I'm home, sweet home
The lavender shape no longer continued to slip away, but instead began to draw closer. She pressed on, a faint smile beginning to spread across her face as the figure drew near, and as she did so, she saw who it truly was. Twilight Sparkle sat in the midst of the field, staring out at the horizon as it stretched into the infinite, and she slowly turned as Applejack arrived, a smile upon her face. "I'm glad you could come, AJ. I wouldn't want you to miss this."
Applejack took her place beside her companion, and the unicorn scooted over until their bodies pressed against one another, though the earth pony hardly seemed to notice. She took off her hat and set it aside, slipping off the hair bands as well and grinning as her mane billowed in the breeze. To feel the wind like that, to know that she could share such a wonderful view with someone so close to her... it felt so wonderful, so free. The orange mare turned towards Twilight and gave her a warm smile, leaning over to give the unicorn a playful nudge with her muzzle. "I wouldn' miss this fer th' world, Twi."
I see your star, you left it burning for me
Mother, I'm here
She groaned as she slowly awoke, finding herself on the floor and her sheets tangled around her body. True to what they said, the sleep aids had indeed kept her asleep the entire night, and the dream, despite being a very different change of pace, hadn't entirely been unwelcome. As the morning sun danced across the walls of her bedroom, Applejack slowly got to her hooves, wiggling her way out of the sheets and making her way over towards her dresser. Even as she picked up the brush and began to run it through her mane, she couldn't help but notice how good she felt. Having a good night's rest had left her remarkably refreshed, and the cider sampling later on would simply add to her good mood.
The earth pony chuckled to herself and slowly shook her head, even as she smoothed out her hair - 'cider sampling' was a bit of a fib. She and Big Macintosh had every intent of having a few drinks to celebrate a successful applebucking season thus far, and now Twilight would be showing up too. She hadn't personally seen the unicorn ever drink anything, but she knew that Twilight had stayed in Canterlot during her studies. At the very least, she had to have had some wine at one point or another. Applejack slipped the first band around her mane and moved on to her tail, thinking to herself as she brushed.
Wonder how well Twi holds her liquor? It's gotta be better than what Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash can manage. Those two are serious lightweights, but that might jus' be 'cause they're pegasi.
With the knots in her tail gone, she slipped the last band on and set the brush atop her dresser once more. Pleased with herself, Applejack stepped out of her room and made her way downstairs and into the kitchen. Big Macintosh had managed to get up before her this morning, and was in the midst of making breakfast - he had deviated from his usual cup of coffee, and instead had a glass of apple juice set aside for himself. The stallion finished throwing together some sandwiches and set them down upon the table. "Sorry, AJ. Had ta use daisies. I know they aren' yer favorite. Yer lookin' awfully happy this mornin', though. Sleep well?"
"Like a baby. Woke up on th' floor, but I ain' gonna complain." Applejack took a seat at the table and picked up the sandwich, taking a quick bite out of it. "Dream kinda helped with that too."
The older brother took a seat beside her, taking a quick drink from his glass. "Did it now? What about?"
"Nothin' too big. Jus' me an' Twi doin' stuff." The earth pony shrugged slightly and took another bite of her sandwich, quickly chewing and swallowing. "Was kinda peaceful, really."
"If I didn' know any better, I'd say that with all th' time yer spendin' with Miss Twilight, ya gotta have quite th' crush on her. Yer even dreamin' about her now too." Unfortunately for Applejack, she had been in the middle of taking a drink of apple juice, and had promptly spewed much of it all over the kitchen table upon hearing her brother. The red stallion chuckled and slowly shook his head while his younger sister coughed.
It took longer than she would have liked to catch her breath, but when she did, she mustered up the sternest glare she could manage. "Big Mac!"
"Jus' a joke, little sister. Nothin' else."
"Well har har. Yer pretty damn funny, ain'tcha?" Applejack glared at him a bit longer and slowly returned to her meal. "Honestly, Macintosh... we're friends. That's it."
"Watch th' language - yer gettin' awfully defensive over this, lil' sis. But hey, if ya say ya don' got a crush, ya don' got a crush. I'mma go get everythin' set up fer when Miss Twilight comes along. Help me out when ya get done." Big Macintosh let out another chuckle and quickly ate his sandwich, leaving the table and giving his sister a playful poke. Applejack grumbled and continued to scowl at him even as he was leaving. It had been awfully low of him to try and say such a thing, and the earth pony was almost sure that this would ruin her good mood, and yet...
Now that she was alone, she thought back to the dream once more. The endless sea of wheat, the sunshine and picture-perfect day. Her and Twilight spending time with one another, just the two of them. It had been wonderful to be able to spend time alone with the unicorn, and she certainly enjoyed any amount of time they got to spend together. That's what friends did, though, right? They spent time with each other and they enjoyed it. The melody danced through her head once more, and she smiled as it brought back memories of the dream with it.
Eyes open wide
feel your heart and it's glowing
I'm welcome home, sweet home
With her mood restored, she finished up her meal and put her glass and plate away, softly humming to herself as she headed out the door to help her brother set things up. Nothing was going to ruin this day for her.
"Well... they said it would be in the cellar."
Twilight Sparkle stood at the top of the stairs leading into the cider cellar and slowly made her way down the stone steps. From within, she could already hear Applejack and Big Macintosh talking to one another, and the occasional clatter and clink of glass. The unicorn reached the bottom and rounded a corner, smiling as she saw the two earth ponies seated at a makeshift bar, coughing softly to catch their attention.
Applejack quickly looked over her shoulder and smiled upon seeing her, hopping off her stool and walking over to give the lavender mare a brief hug. "Good ta see ya came, Twi. Me an' Big Mac got started a lil' early, but it's nothin' major - only on th' first bottle. Ya ever had hard cider before?"
"Uh... yeah! Long time ago, though!" Twilight nervously laughed as she took a seat at the bar, and before she could say much else, Big Macintosh already had a bottle opened and sitting in front of her. Under the watchful eyes of both Applejack and her brother, she picked up the bottle and threw caution to the wind, taking a quick drink. Much to her surprise, it wasn't bad at all. The cider was sweeter than she had expected, with a very smooth finish. Twilight took a few more drinks, all smaller than the first, before setting the bottle down. "That's... actually pretty good, AJ."
"Hah! Knew ya'd like it! Don' tell nopony else, but a healthy chunk of th' business Sweet Apple Acres does is fer our cider. Strongest drink in Equestria." Applejack had already taken a seat beside Twilight and thrown a foreleg around the unicorn's shoulder, even as the earth pony took a drink from her own bottle. "It's th' little stuff that makes th' hard work all worth it."
Big Macintosh nodded in agreement and took a brief drink as well, setting his bottle down and leaning over towards Twilight. "Brief word of warnin' for ya, Miss Twilight. AJ's an angry drunk."
"I swear, Big Mac, keep this up an' I'll..." Applejack scowled at her brother and shook a hoof at him before taking another drink of cider. "I oughta just pop ya in th' mouth one of these days."
"Naw, ya wouldn' be able to. Ya never could beat me when we wrassled as kids." The red stallion chuckled and shook his head as he glanced around the cellar. "Jus' keep on dreamin', lil' sis."
For Twilight Sparkle, it was a bit of a shock to see Big Macintosh in such a talkative mood. His characteristic 'Yyyyep's and 'Nnnnope's were often the only forms of speech a pony could squeeze out of him, and anything else was usually met with a simple nod or shake of the head. He had always been an extraordinarily quiet pony. She pushed the thought aside and returned to the conversation, and the rest of the day gradually began to bleed away. The first bottle disappeared, and a second was brought out. The trio talked, danced, sang, and drank as the hours continued to drain away. The second bottle was gone, and then a third retrieved. She had already been feeling a bit lightheaded by the second bottle but had continued anyways, and the third had only exacerbated the problem. The lavender mare felt dizzy, her face was flushed, and she had been leaning on Applejack more and more as the day had gone on.
Twilight was, for lack of a better term, drunk. Her own goofiness in such a state might have even rivaled what Pinkie Pie was capable of, and she began to regale her friends with all manner of tales. "Hey. Hey you. Heeeeeeeey you. Ehehe."
"Whatcha need, Twi?" Applejack turned and looked at Twilight, an eyebrow raised. Both her and her brother were seasoned drinkers, and the cider hadn't affected them nearly as badly as the unicorn.
"Okay, so... so, this one time, waaaaay back when I was in Canterlot, I was... I was practicin' some spells, yeah? An'... an' I tried a teleport spell, an' the next thing I know, I'm in Celestia's tub! And she's there too! Aaaaah you should've seen the look on her faaaaace!" Twilight took another drink from the bottle, now her fourth, and set it down onto the bar. "Hey Big Mac. Heeeeey Big Mac."
The red stallion was in the middle of a drink of his own and carefully set the bottle down. "Yeah, Miss Twilight?"
"So whyyyy do they call you 'Big' Macintosh anyways? I mean... you're tall, but there's gotta be another reason!" Twilight had already climbed up out of her stool and was now crawling across the bar until she was nose and nose with Big Macintosh. "Oh! Wait! Is it because of how big your-"
Applejack grabbed the unicorn by the tail and quickly yanked her back onto her stool, clearly embarrassed by what had just happened. "Settle down there, sugarcube. Ya told me when we were on our trip that ya weren' gonna hit on mah brother."
Twilight turned and blinked at her before bursting into a fit of giggles, leaning over on the earth pony and repeatedly poking her with a hoof. "Whaaaat? Noooohohohoho... I wouldn't do that! That's just... that's silly. I'm just curious is all!"
"Right, jus'... try an' stay-" Before she could say anything else, the lavender mare had already left her stool again, and Applejack sighed and rubbed her face as she saw what her friend was up to. "-put this time, Twi. What th' hay are ya doin' on mah brother's back?"
The unicorn was currently perched on Big Macintosh's back, though neither he nor his sister knew how she managed to get up there so quickly. Twilight gently rocked back and forth, giggling and grinning. "Ahaaaaa, Applejack, look! I'm riiiiiding your broooother! Get it? It's a double entendre!"
Applejack groaned and shook her head as she retrieved her friend once more, though by that point, she seemed to have greatly calmed down. Twilight was leaning against her friend once more, looking much more tired than she did before. She yawned quietly, leaning over to give Applejack's neck a quick nuzzle and whispering to her. "AJ... I'm sleepy."
The orange mare did her best to hide her blush from such a show of affection, but Twilight was just drunk. This sort of thing happened, after all. Applejack glanced down at the unicorn and smiled faintly - Twilight Sparkle had already dozed off and was softly snoring. "Looks like she'll stay quiet this time. Mind doin' two things fer me, Big Mac?"
"Sure thin', lil' sis." He had already collected and disposed of most of the cider bottles, and was planning on finishing clean-up in the morning.
"Firs', help me get Twi on mah back. I'm gonna go give her a bath and then put her ta bed. Ya can smell th' cider on her awfully easy." Applejack carefully got down from her stool and continued to keep her slumbering friend propped up.
Big Macintosh chuckled and slowly shook his head. "A bath? Ya sure there ain' nothin' between the two of ya?"
"Shut up, Macintosh. Second, run over ta Twi's house an' tell Spike that she'll be stayin' with us for th' night."
The red stallion nodded and moved from his place behind the bar, carefully helping his sister move the sleeping Twilight Sparkle onto her back. With the first favor taken care of, he quickly left the cellar to carry the message to Spike, and Applejack slowly made her way up the stone steps, her friend's body gently bouncing with every step. She seriously doubted that much of anything would manage to wake Twilight up at this point, but she still didn't want to risk it. Even after leaving the cellar and making their way into the farmhouse and up the stairs to the second floor, Applejack still threw several cautionary glances over her shoulder to see if the unicorn was still asleep.
She pushed open the door to the bathroom and shut it behind herself, carefully sliding Twilight off her back and into the tub. Considering she would be working by herself, this would take a bit of time, but... this was her friend, after all. And friends watched out for one another, didn't they? After adding a bit of warm water to the tub, Applejack grabbed the nearest washcloth and bar of soap and began to gently scrub. Throughout it all, the unicorn quietly murmured in her sleep, though Applejack couldn't catch any of it. A soft knock on the door signaled Big Macintosh's return and subsequent trip to his own bed, but Applejack pressed on. Her work wasn't finished just yet.
With the last of the suds washed out of Twilight's mane and her lavender coat, the earth pony piled several towels on the floor and pulled her sleeping friend out and onto them. She began the arduous task of drying off the unicorn, working slowly and carefully as she steadily dried both Twilight's body and her mane. Even after all that, she didn't consider herself finished - a member of the Apple family never left a job half-finished. Grabbing a brush in her mouth, she began to run it through the unicorn's mane, slowly working out the kinks and smoothing it out. It must have taken an hour or more, as Applejack had to stifle several yawns during her work, but she had managed to finish nonetheless. She hefted Twilight Sparkle onto her back once more, leaving the bathroom and traveling to her own room, and it was a simple matter of getting her into bed at that point.
Applejack pulled the covers back with her mouth, rolled Twilight into bed, and then pulled the covers back across her once more. Through it all, she had managed to stay asleep, and the earth pony let out a small sigh of relief. Though she was exhausted and wanted to sleep in her own bed, Twilight needed it more - the floor would have to do for tonight. Applejack slowly approached her dresser and undid her hair bands once more before giving the pill bottle a stare. For a minute or two, she glanced between the bottle of sleeping pills and the slumbering Twilight Sparkle, but she soon made her choice. She shoved the bottle away from herself.
"Nah, not tonight."
Her work finished, Applejack gathered up some spare pillows and a blanket, creating a makeshift bed for herself on the floor. The orange mare gently laid herself down upon them and let out a soft sigh as she rolled onto her side and closed her eyes. It might be difficult, but she was determined to get some sleep of some sort.
Applejack's ears twitched, and she let out a soft groan as she woke up once more. A cautionary glance around the room showed that it was still the middle of the night, but something had managed to wake her up. She remained quiet as she listened for the sound once more.
Soft, faint murmurs, with whimpers mixed in between.
The earth pony slowly got to her hooves and made her way towards the source of the sound - Twilight Sparkle. Bathed in the light of Luna's moon, it was easy to tell that the unicorn was not sleeping soundly at all. Her brow was creased, her eyes closed tightly, and she repeatedly turned to bury her face in the pillow, as if she were trying to hide from something. Applejack pondered what to do for a moment, and though the solution was obvious, she chewed on her lip and avoided it for as long as she could. Still, it pained her to see someone so dear to her in such a state, and she pushed her own worries aside.
Applejack slid into bed as carefully as she could, taking a place behind Twilight and wrapping her forelegs around the lavender mare. She pulled the unicorn close against herself, whispering softly as she tried to ease her friend's troubles. "Shh... s'okay, Twi. I'm here. Yer not alone..."
Twilight relaxed within the embrace, reflexively moving to place herself closer to Applejack. The unicorn's expression softened and she murmured once more, loud enough this time for the earth pony to hear. "...App... ack..."
In that single moment, as the moonlight shone into the farmhouse, Applejack watched as Twilight slept and couldn't help but remark how calm and serene she looked. How beautiful she looked. A smile upon her face, the orange mare laid down beside the unicorn and gave her another hug, sighing softly and whispering again before drifting off to sleep.
"Sweet dreams, Twilight."