Apples at Sunset

by Wolfton

Your Eyes Swallow Everything They Touch

A knocking rings through your ears. Your eyes stay shut.

“C’mon, Fluttershy, this is important!”

Again, knocking. Your back protests the position you’re in, but you have no strength to adjust yourself.

There is a creak, followed shortly by a gasp.

“Somethings wrong with this fella. I didn’t know what kinda animal it was, so I brought it over. I figured you’d know more ‘bout it. It hasn’t moved since Rainbow beat the tar outta it.”

“Hey!” A second voice joins the conversation. “I thought it was coming after you, AJ!”

“Maybe you oughta think before acting next time, Dash!”

A third voice, more timid than the others, speaks up. “Um, could you two, maybe, not here..?”

“Sorry, Fluttershy.”

“Yeah, sorry.”

There’s a couple pokes at your side. You hear the fluttering of wings a feel a breath moving up and down you body. Someone—or something—is inspecting you.

“Is it... wearing clothes?” the timid one asks.

The thick country-scented voice, apparently ‘AJ’, answers her. “I don’t get it either. You think it’s, well, civilized?”

“That would make sense.”

Something soft and gentle touches your belly. It tickles, but you don’t laugh. Instead, your stomach replies with a growl.

The presence on your belly withdraws. “Oh, my.”

“What is it?”

“I think... I think it’s hungry.”


You raise your head with a start. Looking over to the source of the voice, you see Applejack staring at you, half annoyed and half concerned.

“It’s almost noon! You comin’ to the lake with me, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. Just dozed off.” You shake your head to clear the drowsiness. This wasn’t like you, but there’s no need to give AJ a scare. Standing up, you flash her a smile. “Let’s get going.”

The two of you walk to the door and you hold it open. AJ tips her hat to you as she steps outside and you follow shortly after. The light of the noonday sun bears down on you, reminding you of one of the reasons why you liked swimming so much. Most of the humidity has cleared and the air is filled with the smell of the orchard. You pull in a deep breath of fresh air, feeling it caress your tongue with the sweet scent of apples and earth. The last of your lethargy leaves you, though you still feel the sting of Equestria’s eccentricity. A great excuse for a swim.

Applejack and you have been walking for a short while, but you notice she hasn’t said anything while you’ve been reveling in the scenery. Perhaps she is doing the same, or maybe she has other things on her mind. Her attention is locked on your path, a razor gaze in her eyes. You’ve seen it before, though her eyes were a bit redder last time...


“Don’ wanna hear it.” She never shifts her attention to you.

Her reply surprises you. “Know what I’m going to say already?”

“Yeah, I do. And I know why you want to talk to me about it, but I’d rather not discuss it now. Today’s supposed to be relaxing, ain’t it? So let it be relaxing, save the talkin’ for tomorrow.”

“You forget, fair Applejack, I know you as well. You’ll just find ways to put this off until you’ve constructed some well thought-out response that has no sincerity behind it about why you’ve been avoiding talking with Apple Bloom as much as you normally do.”

She huffs. “Jus’ cause I don’t talk with her as much don’t mean I still ain’t lookin’ out for her.”

You put a hand on her shoulder and stop her. “Hey! Do you even realize what you just said?”

Her eyes narrow at you. “Yeah, I just said I still love my sis’, and avoiding her a little to keep my act together ain’t a bad thing!”

“You know, for being the Element of Honesty, you sure know how to twist the truth around.”

She leans inward and heaves a threatening breath. “What are you implyin’?”

Poking her chest with a finger, you reply, “You didn’t say, ‘I’m avoiding her for her sake.’ You said, ‘Just because I’m not a good sister doesn’t mean I’m a bad one.’ That does not sound like the Applejack I know.”

“I’m tryin’, okay!” She turns away and starts pacing. “Whaddya want me to do, tell Apple Bloom her sister is havin’ a crisis and start bawling in front of her? She’d lose all respect for me!”

Sitting down, you follow AJ’s pacing with your eyes. “I want you to talk with her. That’s all.”

“We talk plenty.”

“Not about the right things.”

Her pacing stops and she glares at you. She’s stomps a hoof in confrontation. “Well what in Equestria are ‘the right things’? Are there rules on conversations, now?”

“You’ve created some great image of yourself that you feel like you have to project to Apple Bloom; a strong, nearly invincible paragon of everything a pony could be, somepony that can protect her from anything and everything, somepony that never falters, even for a moment. That’s. Not. You.” You jab your finger at her, emphasizing each word.

AJ shirks back, wincing at your words. “You think I’m weak? That I can’t protect her?”

You shake your head vehemently. “No! That’s not it at all! I’m saying you can’t be perfect. Nopony is! But you’re trying so hard to be perfect for her that when you see your flaws you can’t handle it. As much as we all try, we will make mistakes. Lord knows I have.” AJ’s eyes follow you as you get up and walk over to her. With a tender gaze and a hand on her head, you continue. “Don’t be what you think her sister should be, just be her sister.”

Her eyes drop to the ground and her tail follows shortly after. “Apple Bloom deserves better than what I am. She deserves what I could be.”

You hook a finger under her chin and lift it back up so she’s looking into your eyes. “And with that statement, you’ve proven you’re exactly what she needs.”

She frees her chin from your grasp and once again looks away. “I just—I dunno.”

Smiling, you turn in the direction Applejack is now looking. “One week after you met me, you said something. It was a few days after I had moved in with Twilight. We were at the same lake we’re heading to right now. You remember what you said?”

“I-I’m not sure. Nothin’ in particular.”

“Well, I sure remember. It really stuck out to me. It’s one of the reasons why I came to work for you in the first place. I was having a hard time adjusting to this place and starting to accept I might not make it back home.”

“You were talkin’ ‘bout your friends back on Earth, weren’t cha?”

“About how much I missed them. About how I abandoned them.”

Applejack raises her head. “Yeah, I think I remember now.”

“‘You can’t put all that weight on your shoulders—’”

“‘—because they want to carry it, too.’”

You turn to AJ and she meets your gaze out of the corner of her eye. “Mmm-hmm. So, are you willing to put that weight aside? To accept you can’t do everything?”

Her hoof plays with the dirt a bit before she answers. “I still don’t wanna, but I think... I think I can try.”

You pull her over, embracing her tightly. “We all gotta carry that weight. Just don’t forget it’s not yours alone.”

She nods and you release her, ruffling her hat. With a growl, she ducks out from under your hand. “Stop that.”

Perhaps you’d have taken her seriously if you didn’t see a little grin flash across her face. You reach over, once again going for her hat, and again she dodges.

“I’m serious, now!” That grin has grown.

“Then why are you smiling?” Seeing her get defensive, you can’t help but smirk.

“Cause you’re tryin’ to mess with my head!” Lunging, you take another swipe at her head, but she deftly avoids you. “Literally!”

With a laugh, you start chasing her and she takes off toward the lake, shouting obscenities back at you.

The grin never fades.

You and Applejack have been lounging around at the lake for a few minutes when noon brings Rainbow Dash and Twilight to the outskirts of the lake. Rainbow looks pretty pumped; she’s got her headband on and is throwing punches at the air in front of her. Twilight seems to be trying to talk her down, or at least explain something. Doesn’t look like Twilight’s having much luck.

The two make their way over to you and AJ and you all exchange greetings. Rainbow doesn’t say anything to you, she simply offers her hoof and you grasp it and give it a firm shake. Her grip returns your iron shake in kind. Confidence is oozing out of her; her chest is puffed up, her gaze as sharp as any knife blade.

After the greeting, she hovers over to the side of the lake and starts stretching. Her motions reveal lines of corded muscles, a broad, study back, and flexible legs—legs she plans on using to leave you in the dust.

“Huh, that’s odd,” says Applejack. “I expected her to say somethin’.”

“Oh, I heard something. Respect.” You give your arms a good stretch before taking off your shirt. Shaking off your tension, you turn to Twilight. “So, what brings you down here? Rainbow drag you into this little competition?”

Twilight blinked. “Well, kinda. I’m the impartial judge. Rainbow said she wanted somepony else to watch her beat you, ‘cause AJ will just play it down,’ she said.”

Applejack was stuck between being offended and getting angry. You just laughed and headed down to the lakeside next to Rainbow, leaving Applejack and Twilight to watch you from the shade of a tree.

Your shorts come off, and you start stretching alongside your opponent. Rainbow does her best to ignore you, getting more immersed in her own limbering routine. She was very good at the mental game, you gave her that... but so were you.

“So, do ponies have any special swim strokes besides the ‘flail and hope I go somewhere’?”


“You should know, this isn’t the first time I’ve been around water. Years of swim practice. I even competed on my school’s swim team.”


You lean in, the breath of your words now grazing Rainbow’s coat. “I heard pegasus wings have some very sensitive spots.”

She jerks away and glares at you, but that glare very quickly turns into a gape as she tears her eyes from you.

Raising an eyebrow at her, you mentally question her reaction. Is she... intimidated by your body? You look down at yourself, uncovered except for your underwear. Working at the farm had been kind to you; your arms were practically bulging, your abs were well-defined and your legs—well, you no longer think Applejack’s nickname ‘Twig-legs’ applies.

“It’s okay to feel threatened by my physique, Dash. I know I would be.”


Rainbow’s wings stiffen with a sound not unlike a pillow striking the ground. Noticing her display, Rainbow quickly grabs her wings and attempts to force them back down, but the feathery appendages refuse to comply. You saw sweat starting to drip down her face, but what’s more interesting to you is the red tint in her cheeks. When she notices your inspecting of her, she immediately leaps toward the lake, entering it with a splash and spraying you with the cool water. Good thing you’d already taken most of your clothes off.

After dithering for several seconds underwater, she breaks the surface with a gasp, shaking the excess water from her mane. Whatever drove her to dive in was gone, replaced with an all-too-familiar confident smile.

“Gonna take more than that to get to this mare, buddy.”

“Heh, like I need to. My skills will speak for themselves when you find yourself with a great view of my feet.” You reach down and whisk off your underwear.

Now, back when you’d first come to Equestria, lack of clothes had been a serious concern. What you had on you was roughed up by your wandering through the wilderness before stumbling upon Ponyville, and later destroyed by Fluttershy’s animals after she’d disrobed you. It was an accident, of course, and she’d apologized for it a hundred times over, but it still left you naked. You ran around everywhere with a face redder than hot coals, but necessity demanded you lose your sense of modesty in a world where such a thing hardly existed—or die trying.

On your first trip through town naked, you thought you just might.

So losing your drawers in front of three mares, one of which you were having sex with, didn’t phase you in the slightest.

“Tally ho!” You cry as you leap into the air, curling up into a cannonball.

The water shatters underneath you, greeting you with a chilly wall of wet. The roar of the impact fills your ears for only a moment before you’re deafened, completely submerged in the azure sea. Once you get your bearings, you break out of your cannonball posture and swim toward the surface, piercing through it head-first. You shake your head much like Rainbow did, smiling at her when your vision clears. She returns your smile with a smirk, pulling one of her forelegs back.

“Got something on your face!” she hollers as she throws a swift wave of water at you. You turn away, closing your eyes as the water hits you.

Wrong battle to pick, Dash. Swinging your arms wide as if you’re going to give a hug, you hurl a torrent of water at the small cyan pony, who barely dodges it by dipping underwater. When she comes back up, there’s a pouty frown on her face.

“You and your armspread.”

You throw your head back and laugh. “You started it.”

She rolls her eyes and start swimming around you on her back. “So, we gonna do this or what?”

“You bet. Where is the finish line?”

Rainbow leaps out of the water for a moment, hovering above the surface while searching for a suitable starting line. When she’s unable to find something, she yells over to Twilight, “Hey, egghead!”

Twilight perks up, turning an ear to Rainbow.

“Can you magic up some kind of finish line?”

With a nod, Twilight’s horn starts to glow, creating a wall of purple light near the far edge of the lake. You estimate it’s about a hundred and fifty meters away. Yelling a thanks to Twilight, Rainbow ducks back into the water then turns to you.

“Twilight’s gonna give the signal. Ready to be put in your place?”

You playfully nudge your opponent. “Ain’t gonna happen, filly.”

Both of you take your positions and Rainbow nods to Twilight. You take the moment to regulate your breathing, keeping your heart from bursting from your chest. The race hadn’t even started; no reason to burn yourself out just yet. Your focus hones in on Twilight, waiting for the signal. Rainbow was fast, but you could beat her, you knew you could. Ponies weren’t made for swimming. This was your moment. Maybe she could run faster and longer, maybe she could fly, but you had her today. Just have to—

A brilliant spark erupts from Twilight’s horn and you instantly break into a freestyle stroke. Every muscle strains and flexes in time enough for only a single thought. You hear a roar of displaced water next to you, but you’re too focused on your own technique to pay attention to Rainbow’s. This isn’t your first swim; your movements are smooth and deliberate. Your head never leaves the water completely, your arms and legs move in exact patterns, pushing against the water with each repetition. There’s not an inch of you that doesn’t burn with purpose and tension.

Each time you turn your head for air, you check for Rainbow. And each time, she’s still there, right by your side. Not behind, but not leading you, either. You scrunch your face and dig deeper into your well of stamina, surging forward. The world soars by you even faster; there’s no time to pay attention to your competitor any more. Only two things exist: you, and the ominous purple glow ahead.

Out in the middle of the lake, however, you can’t tell how far it is.

You steam forward, demanding more and more from your body, taking every ounce of speed it can offer and then some. Your breathing is labored now, but you can feel the purple light coming closer. It was not acceptable to quit now. Your body screams in protest; you were never a distance swimmer. All you had to rely on now was your perseverance and will.

And your will was to win.

With one last explosion of vigor, you burn through the last of your reserves and surge forward, breaking through the purple barrier. As soon as you’re through, you raise your head and turn around, looking for Rainbow—finding her a half body length behind you. Rainbow lifts her head just as you did, but when she sees nothing behind her, she slowly turns around.

Dread was painted clear on her face. In the distance you can hear Twilight and Applejack cheering, declaring the winner to be you. As recognition washes over Rainbow, the dread turns anger—but only for the tiniest of seconds. If you weren’t looking straight at her face, you never would have seen it. The anger gives way to a more stoic visage adorned with a tiny smile, one beaming of pride. Rainbow offers you a hoof and you take it.

The gesture reminds you a lot of the one she offered only a few minutes ago when she first came to the lake. It speaks to your friendship, telling both you that nothing had changed. You never worried they would.

Through your heavy breaths, you say, “Good race, Rainbow. I wasn’t expecting you to keep up, given that ponies aren’t the best swimmers.”

She nods. “I actually had to practice for this. Learned how to use my wings while swimming.”

Ah, that explains it.

“You up for another? There’s no way I can leave this on a loss.”

You start to laugh, but your laughter is drowned out by coughs. Rainbow puts a hoof on your shoulder, concerned, but you wave her off. “I don’t have anywhere near your stamina. That wore me out. I think I’ll partake in the shade AJ and Twilight are sitting in.”

She shrugs. “Suit yourself. I think I’ll see if AJ wants a swim.” With a salute, she hops out of the water, intending to fly over to your friends. Before she takes off, however, you stop her.


Her head turns to face you. “Yeah?”

“How do you do that? Just shrug it off?”

“What, losing?”

You nod. “Yeah.”

She looks up and away from you, considering the question. “Practice.”

You can’t help but tread water, speechless, as she flies off. For the first time, Rainbow Dash has actually admitted to losing. Granted, everyone knows she isn’t perfect, but she never speaks of her lesser moments. You feel... flattered. You don’t even know if she talked with Applejack about it.

After getting out of the lake and drying off, you throw your clothes back on and head to the shade to sit beside Twilight. AJ and Rainbow had passed you heading the opposite way (“Last pony in’s a skeethin’ varmit!”) so it was just you and the bookworm. Which, speaking of, she actually has a book with her right now. You greet her with a wave; she returns the greeting with a smile of her own, then returns to her reading. Perhaps you had preferred a conversation, but you’re still exhausted from the swim so you revel in the silence, instead.

You lift an arm in front of you, closing your eyes and feeling the summer air run over your wet skin, drying off the last of the lake water. Goosebumps rush up and down your arm, giving you shivers that compel you to squirm where you sit. For a while, you watch AJ and Rainbow play in the lake, splashing each other and swimming back and forth. You imagine Rainbow was trying to get AJ to race her too. It made you a little envious, seeing your friend and your special somepony interact so naturally. They had a wealth of history you could only imagine. There was something between two people—well, ponies—with that kind of past; something unique, something irreplaceable.

And here you were, the human without a home. The only one of your kind.

You were thankful for Twilight’s presence, even if she chose not to speak. It held the strange aura of this land’s wilderness away.

She changed her mind about her silence, though.

“You know, I’m a bit surprised Applejack was so open to a relationship with you.”

If you had had something in your mouth, you would have done a spit-take. Instead, you just spin to Twilight and gape.

She takes your expression as a request to explain her comment. “Well, she is a very traditional pony. Her entire family is. I didn’t expect her to be so welcoming to somepony that isn’t, well, a pony.”

You bring up your hands as if offering something. “How did you even know about us?”

Her ears shoot up and her eyes fly wide open. “Oh, no, was I not supposed to know? I’m so sorry!”

With a wave, you dismiss her concern. “No, Twilight, it’s fine. I’m just surprised you know. Not many ponies do. Well, not many ponies did.”

“Heh, Rainbow told me about it on the way over.”

You smack your face. “Rainbow? Am I that transparent? We talked for all of one minute yesterday.”

Twilight turned away and blushed. “Well, she never said who she heard it from or if she figured it out herself.”

Shrugging, you lean back up against the tree. “No use crying over spilt milk, I guess. So... what was your reaction?”

“To the news?”


“Um...” She sets the book aside and starts fumbling with her hooves. “I didn’t really know what to think, at first. My mind kinda went blank. I mean, I know you’re a great pony—er, person—and I suppose I trust Applejack, but I guess I just didn’t expect it. Though, now that I think about it,” her blush returns, “it would be a good chance to study human relationship culture first-hoof.”

You can’t help but chuckle at Twilight’s reaction. Definite misalignment of priorities between you two. “Welp, here’s hoping I can provide you with study materials for a long time to come.”

“Oh, you’re that serious already? I guess I’ve missed on a lot.”

“You could say that.”

For the rest of the afternoon, Twilight and you share small talk beneath the shelter of the lone lakeside tree. Broaching the subject of your relationship seemed to break down whatever barrier kept her silent before, for now she couldn’t seem to talk fast enough. At first, it was all questions about the relationship, but she backed off soon enough. You couldn’t tell whether it was because she ran out of things to ask, or she didn’t want the conversation to turn into an interrogation.

Rainbow and Applejack trot up to the two of you, dripping with water and smiles. AJ ran up to you and gave your a sopping wet hug. You embraced her back, but when she released you, you shook your arms dry and looked with disdain at your now drenched clothing.

The two troublemakers burst out laughing.

“I told you the look would be priceless!” said Rainbow through her laughter.

“Oh, yeah. Totally worth it!” her accomplice confirmed.

You couldn’t help but be a little caught up with their mood. Their merriment was truly infectious. You played your part, though. “Oh, ha ha. Hilarious. Can we go back now so I can get into some dry clothes?”

Applejack approaches you, still giggling a bit. “Alright, I admit I’m plum tuckered. We best be callin’ it a day.” She sends a smirk back to Rainbow. “Don’t think I could spend another moment with this mare.”

“Oh, c’mon, I won fair and square!”

“Uh-huh. Sure. Next thing you’re gonna tell me you can bring the dead back to life an’ make ‘em dance a little jig.”

Twilight butts in. “Well, technically, it has happened before...”

Rainbow and Applejack look at Twilight, then at each other, then shake their heads and sigh.

Pouting, Twilight says, “What? It’s true!”

Applejack waves to Rainbow and Twilight, then turns around and starts walking back to the orchard. You mimic her actions and follow, listening to Twilight’s protests as the two of you head out on your journey back home

“So, the cat’s outta the bag.”

Applejack turns to you. “Huh?”

The fading sun bounces off of her drying coat with a fine sheen. The deep emerald seas of her eyes and the white spots outlining her cheeks look back at you. There’s an element of worry in that face, but it’s drowned out in curiosity. You’re just close enough to the orchard that you can sample the scent of apples in the breeze. A dust cloud rides the wind in front of you, curling in a wisp before dissipating.

The walk has given you a good chance to stretch your legs, though they’re still a bit sore. Goodness knows how Applejack was able to keep up with Rainbow through most of the afternoon.

“Rainbow knew about us and even told Twilight. Who knows how many ponies she’s told by now.”

The news hits her like a pillow. “Well how about that. S’ppose that makes breakin’ the news easier.” She turns back to the path.

“Huh. I kind of expected you to take it a little differently.”

“Wha’s that s’pposed to mean?”

You reply with a shrug. “You’re dating some alien from another world. I know I still get stares when I go into town. Aren’t you worried about how you’ll be treated?”

Your response is met with a snort. “Pfft. Apples are strong, lil’ human. Gonna take more than some funny looks to get one down.”

“And your family?”

“Now that one...” She puts a hoof to her chin briefly. “Granny might be a touch upset, Big Mac’ll probably try to buck your face in, and Apple Bloom would likely get real excited and tease us about it till’ she’s blue in the face.”

You can’t help but crack a smile at her response. She had no idea how right she was about the first two. “Well, Granny did have something to say about it.”

“She did?” Applejack raises an eyebrow at you. “How’d she know?”

“Something about ‘don’t fuck a screamer in the barn.’”

Your lover’s face matched the shade of a red delicious. “Heh. She heard that, did she?”

“Her and half the town.”

“You know,” said AJ, waving a hoof at you, “why don’t we change the subject? Let’s talk about you for a change. Like where’d you learn to please a mare? Or, whatever you call female where you come from.”

A knot curls up in your throat. You tug at the collar of your still-damp shirt in an effort to clear the knot. “Eh, just a little bit of experience. The place I’m called is from Earth, and we call females ‘women’.”

“Experience, huh?” Applejack nudges you with her flank. “Go on.”

“Really, it’s not any sort of story.” Sweat begins to drip from your forehead and you can feel heat rising within you. “I had a girlfriend before I came here.” You gulp. “Can we, uh, change the subject?”

“Woah, there, son.” Applejack steps in front of you and stops. “You know plenty ‘bout me, but you’ve been holed up like a turtle scared to death of leaving its shell. I think it’s time to share a bit.” Her glare told you that, in no uncertain terms, you’d bean spilling the beans.

Something you had absolutely no interest in doing.

“Look, I had a girlfriend back on Earth. We had sex and I really don’t want to talk about it any more.”

“What was her name? Couldn’t hurt to tell me her name.” Applejack’s tone had backed off, if only a touch.

With a defeated sigh, you relent the information. “Alice. Her name was Alice.”

You look deep into Applejack’s eyes, thinking back to the times you fought so hard to bury. It was ten years ago, it was yesterday, it would be tomorrow. It’s always and everywhere.

“She was a city girl, unlike you. One year older than myself, same height but with a punch that could knock you out cold if she wanted. Unrelenting. Absolutely unrelenting. Her eyes were like still water; a pure blue that you could drown in if you stared too long. Her hair was blonde as wheat and strong as steel. When she walked, you might think she was strutting, defying the world for whatever it did to her, but I never saw it that way. I thought it was unbridled confidence with just a touch of vitriol.

“She hated the city, though she could never get away from it. We spent so many days in the wilderness: hiking, camping, fishing... anything, really. She revelled in competition, but never sought it out. That always threw me for a loop. If you asked her what her favorite sport was on a Wednesday, she’d change her answer on Thursday. Her greatest ambition, she always told me, was to live. Simple, yet so difficult. It’s such a pity...”

Without realizing it, you had curled your hands into fists. Your fingernails dug into your palms so tightly you may have drawn blood. Applejack’s eyes fought to keep yours, but the sunset won out. There was still something you owed it.

“What am I talking about her so much for? You probably don’t care. She’s ancient history now, in a world you’ve never known. No, I think that she’s best left there. Sorry for going on about it.” Sidestepping Applejack, you forge down the path, picking up your pace. AJ protests, but it’s hard to hear over the sound of your own thoughts.

You expected to hear the gait of a gallop storming behind you, but the sound didn’t come. The path was dipped in solitude with only a human to keep it company. And so your trek is yours alone... until you come across another pony walking the opposite direction into town. To your surprise, he was familiar. The dark coat stuck out in your memory.

It was the stallion you’d seen yesterday morning.

When your eyes met, you were first greeted with surprise, then curiosity. The last thing you wanted right now.

“Oh-ho! You’re the new guy, are you not? Yes, I do think your body gives you away. What is it you’re called again?”

You grumble your name, and attempt to walk past him, but he jumps in your way.

“Just one moment, a single question, if you please.”

No, I do not please. It would be easier to let him ask, though. “Fine.”

“Do you actually feel like you’re here? No out-of-body experiences, oddities with the world around you?”

You face twists into a mixture of confusion and disgust. “I’m fine. Just fine, nothing weird. Can I go now?”

His visages scrunches up into a half-frown. “You sure?”

“That’s two questions.” You blow past him, almost knocking him over.

From his tone, he doesn’t seem to care. “Pleasure to meet you!” he shouts at your back as you storm off.

The pleasure is all yours.

The world is dark, the sun has set, and the brilliant moon is in view.

You stick your hands in your robe pockets as you gaze listfully at the heavens. Thoughts run in and out of your head like light through glass. The sky seeks to swallow your doubts and you’d like to let it... but something holds you back, holds you within yourself. These pains were necessary. Your past is part of you, and you like who you are. You never want to let that go.

Nopony had ever said whether ponies talk to the princesses for comfort. You wondered if Luna was listening right now, or if she was simply sitting upon the throne, attending throes of nobles and petty requests. At least, that’s how you pictured politics here. You didn’t really know how things went.

It felt wondrous to see the sky lit up and full. Such a sight was impossible in the city where you used to live, but when you went into the wilderness with Alice, you’d see the infinite sea of white speckles in all its beauty.

Your head sunk at the thought, but you didn’t cry. There were no more tears for her. They’d dried up long ago—her memories wandered a desert now.

A knock rings throughout your bedroom.

Turning to the door, you sigh. This was coming, you knew that much, but that didn’t mean you had been looking forward to it. Removing your hands from the wall, you shuffle over to the door and crack it open.

It’s Applejack. Her visage is tender, like she’s worried she could wound you with a stare.

“Can I come in?”

You say nothing, only nodding and opening the door just wide enough for her to enter. She walks all the way to your bed and turns to you as you close the door behind her.

“I just want you to know—”

You cut her off. “Don’t you dare apologize for my behaviour.”

A shallow snort escapes her mouth and her eyes narrow. “I pressed you on somethin’ you clearly didn’t want pressed! I shoulda known better.”

“And how was I any different?” You step over to AJ, leaning over her. “This morning, I did the same thing to you about Apple Bloom. I did it because I wanted to help, and when you offered the same help to me I threw it in your face.”

She straightens her stance, bringing her nose within inches of your own. “We ain’t the same pony. I didn’t respect your barriers.”

You knew that tone; you’d heard it a hundred times before. “Your intentions were pure. Don’t think you can win this by digging in like you always do. I messed up.”

Her glare thins to a sliver; you can hardly see the green in her eyes. Scrunching her mouth into a tiny frown, one you would have called cute under any other circumstance, she plops her rear on the floor. “Why don’t we see about that?”

Your frustration expels in a heavy breath. You reach down, trying to get Applejack to budge, but with little luck. “This isn’t fair, AJ!”

“Few things are, hun. Now are you gonna accept my apology or not?”

With a scoff, you tear away from her and start pacing the room. She was right, of course she was right. But did you really have to give in just because she was being stubborn about it?

Stupid question.

“Fine. I accept your pointless apology.”

She stands back up and gives you a nod you could almost call haughty. “I’m glad you could see sense.”

“Yeah, yeah.” You walk over to your bed and lie down. “I’m tired. Close the door behind you when you leave.”

Instead of hearing the sound of hooves on wood and the creak of your bedroom door, your bed is disrupted by the sudden addition of a new weight. Applejack walks to the head of the bed and lies down next to you, resting her head on your shoulder. You can feel her stetson scrape up against the hairs on your exposed neck.

“I feel like sleeping here tonight.”

The bed was big enough for the two of you; it had been made to fit you and then some. However, you were not expecting AJ to want to sleep with you so soon, and who knows what would happen if Big Mac walked in to find his sister in your bed.

“I’m not so sure about that, AJ.”

“Well, I am. You just waded through a tartarus of memories ‘cause I asked you too, and now you ain’t feelin’ so chipper. That means I’m stayin’. No reason for you to be alone tonight.” She dips her head and offers a dare with a look. “Unless you think you can remove me?”

The two of you share a gaze for a moment before you concede. You pluck her hat from her head, kiss her mane, then pat the hat back on. “Thanks.”

“Thanks? Don’t thank me, Twig-Legs. I’m expecting some mind-blowing ruttin’ tomorra for this.” She turns away and drops the stetson over her eyes, smiling like a mouse that just got away with stealing cheese.

Her smile puts one on your own mouth and you lie down, scooting up next to Applejack. Releasing all of your tension on a drawn-out exhale, you close your eyes and prepare to lose yourself to the embrace of sleep.

But there’s another knock on the door.

Applejack and you exchange glances. You just shrug and get up, walking over to the door. Whoever it is, you probably don’t want them knowing AJ is sleeping here just yet. You grasp the doorknob with a sweaty palm and open the door just enough to fit your head through.

The late-night visitor is Apple Bloom.

“Heya! I saw you looked kinda down earlier, so I made this for you!” The filly reaches behind her and presents you with a crude drawing, littered with excessive amounts of glue and glitter. It looks like three different ponies, you suspect the Cutie Mark Crusaders, holding up a stick figure version of yourself. Your doppelganger is sporting an exaggerated frown. “I hope I didn’t wake you up.”

You feel your heart turn to mush as you adore the atrocious art. “No, no, I was awake.” Lowering the paper, you give Apple Bloom a smile straight from your soul. “Thank you. It’s wonderful.”

She’s absolutely beaming. “Sis says you should always try to cheer ponies up when they’re feeling down.”

“Oh, really?” You raise your voice a touch. “Does she say anything else about helping sad ponies?”

“You should always be very understanding, ‘cause while their problems might not seem big to you, they are big to them.” Pride gushes from her words.

“Well, your sister sounds very smart. You’re lucky to have her.”

“Oh, I know! She’s the best sister in all of Equestria! Even Sweetie Belle’s jealous of her.”

“Best in all of Equestria, huh? Wouldn’t change a thing about her?”

Apple Bloom eyes you suspiciously. “Change? But then she wouldn’t be the best.”

“And why is that?”

“‘Cause she wouldn’t be her.”

A weak sniffle echoes throughout the room and leaks into the hallway. Apple Bloom’s ears perk up.

“What was that?”

You dismiss her concern with a smile. “That’s just a leaky faucet. I can fix it.”

“You shoulda told Big Mac your faucet was leakin’! He woulda fixed it right up!”

Patting Apple Bloom on the head, you retreat back into your room with the drawing. “I’ll do that next time. Good night, Apple Bloom.”

“Good night!” You watch her bounce down the hallway to her room and close the door, then turn to the leaky faucet. She’s dripping from two different places, making a mess of her pillow. The leaks are inflamed and puffy, attended to by an orange hoof. You walk over to the bed and lie down next to your faucet, wrapping your arm around her and holding her close.

She squeaks out a simple protest. “That wasn’t fair.”

“Few things are, hun.”