Carry Me Home

by PropMaster


Applejack

Spike followed Applejack down another row of apple trees, pulling a large cart laden with baskets of apples. He kept his head low, avoiding the lowest branches of the orchard as he worked alongside the older earth pony. Applejack's hair had been pulled back and braided, and Spike took a moment to admire how her blonde mane had been shot through with white strands and streaks, adding an almost platinum sheen. The older mare walked with a slow confidence, striding down the lines of apple trees and whistling a tune to herself as she paused, coiled her back legs, and launched a careful buck as she passed a tree laden with fruit. The tree trembled and the apples fell, and Applejack smirked and continued her measured walk. She paused in her stride only long enough to wipe the sweat from her brow, her cheeks red with exertion. Spike, for his part, positioned the cart beneath the tree, and collected any apples that fell. It was easy, considering he could pick up several apples in each hand. He'd had to learn to control his strength as he'd started growing larger, something that Applejack had been more than happy to assist him with. It wasn't a problem anymore, though: he'd gotten over that particular hurdle months ago.

Applejack cast a smile over her shoulder, pausing while Spike scooped up handfuls of fruit and placed them in the cart. As he worked, she spoke. "Those big mitts of yers certainly come in useful, Spike. I appreciate you comin' out to help with this year's harvest. Between Big Mac an' Sugar Belle out on the south orchard, and you an' me up here, we should have this harvest licked right quick!"

Spike chuckled. "I still can't get used to the fact that Sugar Belle sold her bakery to Twist and moved to the farm."

"Well, she got a good price for it, and now that Apple Bloom and the rest of her friends are working full-time for Princess Twilight, having an extra pair of hooves around certainly is nice," Applejack said, walking to the next tree and lining up a powerful buck.

Spike watched as Applejack's rear hooves slammed into the bark of the tree, the vibration and a bit of earth pony magic sending the apples to the ground. He glanced at Applejack as the mare exhaled slowly and took her hat off to fan her flushed face, smirking as she watched Spike work. Spike kept focused, but he continued to chat. "Speaking of extra hooves, what's the game plan for the next few harvests?"

"Well, we could certainly use the help if you're around. Apple Butter and Golden Belle are still finishin' their schoolin', and once Apple Butter is back he's planning on taking on a lot of the work from Big Mac and I, and Golden is hopin' to take up as junior partner at Barnyard Bargains, under Ms. Tiara," Applejack said, picking up a few stray apples and tossing them into the cart.

"Hmm, sounds like you'll be a bit short on hooves for a bit longer. What about Carrot Stick and Envy Apple? Are they still...?" Spike let the question hang in the air, glancing at Applejack with uncertainty.

Applejack chuckled wryly and walked over to the next tree, pointing to a spot underneath it where he should set the wagon. As Spike positioned the equipment, Applejack said, "Those two are pretty set. Carrot Stick's graduating from the academy, and he's trying to get a position up in the Crystal Empire, on account he thinks that all 'the action' is up in the snow. Envy, on the other hand, is still down in Manehattan, working for Coco Pommel. She wrote me last week, and wouldn't ya know it, I think she's taken' a shine to some city slicker." Applejack turned and ferociously bucked the apple tree next to her, sending the apples cascading down around her.

"Oh?" Spike chuckled, his laugh a deeper bass than it had ever been.

Applejack let out a huff, her face darkening for a moment, before she shook her head and shrugged. "Ain't nothin' wrong with choosin' your own life. I'm happy that they're both happy... it's just..."

Spike leaned down, picking up an armload of apples and stacking them. "Mm?" he hummed, tilting his head curiously.

"Well, shoot, Spike," Applejack said with a sigh,"It's just hard, seeing them scatter off to the far corners of Equestria while Big Mac's foals are stayin' around here."

Spike nodded. "Yeah, I... can't say I understand, but I certainly sympathize."

Applejack shrugged. "Thank ya, but ain't nothin' that can be done. They come and visit, and I'm right proud of both of them for following their hearts. I love Big Mac's half of the family dearly, and you know that, but..." Applejack took off her hat and ran a hoof through her mane, blowing out a long breath, "... it's hard."

"Yeah, I can appreciate that," Spike said gently. Applejack looked up at him with curiosity, and he continued, "I've spent my whole like watching things change around me. I've gotten bigger and older, but I'm still young by dragon standards. It's... weird, staying the same while the world flies past."

Applejack's eyes widened in comprehension, and she laughed, "Well, I can't say I expected t' find a kindred spirit for my mommy-worries with you, Spike."

Spike snorted and laughed as well. "I guess."

Applejack stared up at him, her neck craning as she approached him, and gently gave him a pat on his side. "I think it's... comfortin', knowin' that when I'm gone, you'll be around, Spike. It's good to know that somebody like you will be watchin' over my foals... and their foals... and the foals after that..." Applejack swallowed, and she fiddled with the brim of her hat. "You... will be around, won't ya?"

Spike smiled, reaching down and gently patting her back with his big claws. "Of course! I'm Ponyville's resident dragon, assistant to Princess Twilight. She's not going anywhere, and neither am I."

Applejack chuckled, sitting down and reaching both front hooves up to catch Spike's hand and holding it against her chest. She looked up into his eyes. "Good. Good to know that's somethin' I can count on, my kin always having a friend in you."

Spike stared down at the powerful mare, and he bit his lower lip as her green eyes watered with sudden emotion. She snorted in disgust, reaching up and wiping at her eyes with one fetlock. He spoke after a moment, feeling the unasked question. "C'mon, Applejack. Something's on your mind. Do I have to ask you to be honest with me?"

Applejack chuckled. "Honestly? It's a hard question t' ask, sugarcube."

"It's okay to ask, I promise."

Applejack glanced around the orchard, at the cart, the apples on the ground... anywhere but at Spike. Finally, she spoke. "Ain't you lonely, Spike?"

Spike blinked, staring at Applejack. "Lonely?"

Applejack looked up at him, finally. "Knowin' that you're gonna be around after... after all of us ain't?"

It was Spike's turn to look away from Applejack, and he stared out across the trees. "No."

Applejack scowled. "Hooey. Spike, I've been around four fibbin' foals for a good half of my run across Equestria, you can't lie to me."

Spike chuckled, "Sorry, Applejack... it just... it is a hard question to answer truthfully. I mean... of course, I'll miss all of you. I don't think I need to say that. But, it's hard to feel lonely. I'm a part of this community... a part of so many families. I know that a lot of ponies are happy, knowing that I'll be around for a long time. There's a lot of loss in my future, sure... but there's so much to gain, too."

"Ya think so?" Applejack asked him earnestly.

Spike looked back down at her and nodded. "Yeah. I really do."

Applejack let out a breath, and beamed up at him. "Good." She stood back up and started walking towards the next tree in line. Spike let out a snort of surprise, and Applejack looked over her shoulder at him. "What?"

"What do you mean, what? That's it? Conversation over?" Spike asked, raising an eyebrow.

Applejack nodded, stopping and mopping at her brow briefly. "Eeyup."

Spike shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Why?"

"Well, Spike, when you get t' be my age, ya start worryin' about what's gonna happen to the friends you're gonna leave behind. After that little chat, I don't feel like I've gotta worry about you."

Spike smiled at Applejack and hauled the wagon into place. Applejack lined up her hindquarters and let loose another powerful buck, sending the apples to the ground, but her balance wavered. She plopped down on her haunches, panting. "Whew. I'm feelin' mighty hot."

Spike paused in retrieving the fruit from the ground, looking down at her. "You look pretty red in the face, Applejack. You okay?"

"Yeah, just need a minute t' catch my breath," Applejack said, fanning her face with her hat. Spike noticed that her mane, which had been mostly hidden beneath the hat until just then, was matted with sweat. Spike frowned and reached into the back of the wagon, retrieving a canteen and passing it to her. She took it with shaking hooves. "Thankya kindly."

"Applejack?!"

Applejack stiffened in place, her eyes going wide as she nearly spat the water in her mouth out in surprise. Big Macintosh was trotting towards her, a stern look on his face. "Applejack, what are you doin' out here?" Applejack glanced around, searching for some explanation, and Big Mac glared at her. Time hadn't diminished his stature, even though his mane was a less vibrant orange. "You've been runnin' a fever for two days, and yet here you are, workin'! Are you tryin' t' send yourself to an early grave?"

Applejack glared right back at Big Mac. "C'mon, Big Mac. I got Spike helpin' me!"

Spike stared at Applejack, aghast. "You were sick and you didn't tell me? We've been doing all this tough work."

"Aw, come off it, Spike. Ain't like I've never worked while sick before! Ah'm fit as a fiddle!" Applejack kipped up to her hooves, and then wobbled unsteadily. "Woah, nelly..."

Spike reached out a hand and steadied the little pony, and Big Mac trotted closer, frowning with concern as he placed a fetlock to her forehead. "Yer burnin' up."

Applejack sat back down again, frowning. "Just stood up too fast is all!"

"Stubborn," Spike said, shaking his head as he bent down and scooped up Applejack, tucking her into his arm like a baby. "You gotta be more careful, Applejack. Working hard is one thing, but working stupid is another."

Applejack sighed, "I said I was fine. No need to carry me like I'm broken."

Big Mac shook his head, and Spike glanced down at him. "You want me to take her back to the farmhouse?"

"Eeyup," Big Mac said as he started picking up the last few apples and hitching himself to the cart. "I'll get these apples into the barn. Thanks, Spike."

"Of course," Spike murmured as he started walking slowly back towards the farmhouse. Applejack grumbled as she was carried, but Spike could feel her shivering through the chills of a fever as he held her close. Spike kept her against his chest, his naturally high body temperature making Applejack sweat, but she sighed as the heat soothed her chill. He couldn't remember a time where Applejack had been... weak. Not like this, at any rate. It hurt to see.

Applejack rubbed a cheek against his scales, her green eyes peering up at him from beneath the brim of her hat. "Sorry, Spike. Ah'm just worried about the farm."

"You always worry about the farm... or other ponies... but what about yourself, Applejack? Shouldn't you be more careful? Shouldn't you be trying to stick around to a ripe old age, like Granny Smith did for you?" Spike chastised her gently.

Applejack's eyes widened at the mention of Granny Smith, and then closed. A hot tear ran down her cheek, and she sighed, burying her muzzle in Spike's chest. "Yeah... you're not wrong. I just can't help it. I'm not one to take care of m'self... got other ponies relying on me."

"They're relying on you to be there for them for as long as you can manage, Applejack. Not just as a helping hoof on the farm, either. Your foals are gonna have foals someday. They're gonna need somepony to be there for them, to teach them honesty and the virtue of hard work. Are you going to work yourself to death before you can pass that on to another generation of good ponies? Apples that need to know what the Apple spirit really means?" Spike's voice was gentle, but his words struck with the hard ring of honesty that he knew Applejack could appreciate.

Applejack sniffled, pressing against Spike. "Reckon that'd be nice."

"Really nice," Spike said quietly.

"Ah'll... be more careful, Spike. Promise. Don't know what got into me," Applejack sighed, resting in Spike's arms as he brought her back to the farmhouse porch and set her gently down. Applejack cast a glance inside at the empty house, and sat down next to Spike, pressing against him. "Mind if I sit with you? Yer mighty warm... makes the chills less, uh, chilly."

"Of course." Spike lay down and let the little pony relax against his side until Sugar Belle and Big Mac returned to take care of her.