• Published 15th Feb 2012
  • 16,649 Views, 629 Comments

Tears in the Snow - Wintergreen Diaries

Twilight sees a vision after casting a spell to see the future and ends up saving a mysterious colt.

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Trial by Orchard

Chapter 11: Trial by Orchard

Cerulean had always counted himself a morning pony, but waking up when it was still dark out was torturous when he hadn't done it for several years. The urge to return to sleep flared strongly within, and was only worsened by the fact that Twilight had cuddled up to him at some point during the night. He carefully withdrew from her grasp, face still flushed from the prolonged contact with the world's best heater, and made his way to the bathroom. After staggering up the steps and into the shower, he half-heartedly attempted to adjust the temperature, still groggily blinking the weariness from his eyes. He walked into the cascade and gave a yelp of surprise as he quickly realized that he had chosen the wrong temperature dial. After a few moments of frantic scrambling to re-adjust, the water soon warmed and he continued his shower in peace.

After grabbing an apple to eat on the way and a small canteen of water, he made straight for Sweet Apple Acres. The stars were still shining merrily, though the first rays of sunlight had already crept over the horizon, softening the darkness of the night sky. He made it to the barn with a few minutes to spare, so he climbed onto a few bales of hay to watch the sunrise. A wave of nostalgia washed over him as he recalled sitting atop the clock tower at the univerity, watching the days first and last rays nearly every day. His thoughts drifted back to Lemon and Francis, and the lavender mare that...

He fell back as the realization hit him, tumbling off the bales and onto the ground below. The bales, irate from having their rest disturbed, proceeded to teach the rambunctious stallion a lesson, burying him under three or four good sized bundles. He could almost ignore the crushing weight as his mind was preoccupied on one startling thought; it was Twilight he saw in the bookshop! The bales were tossed effortlessly off as Applejack towered over him, his view of her approach having been obscured by the masses of hay.

"Makin' a mess already, I see." Her tone was devoid of any friendliness, and though Cerulean very much expected it, it was still hard to confront. He said nothing, knowing that any apology would be lost on deaf ears; this was a test, and he was already losing points.

"All right, let's get started," he replied, mustering as much courage as he could. Applejack snorted, motioning him to grab a wagon and follow her into the fields. Cerulean fixed the harness to himself and pursued, pleasantly surprised by how easy the cart rolled behind him. As they neared a region of trees that had yet to be harvested, Applejack removed her cart and began placing buckets in a circle around the base of a couple of the trees. Cerulean watched, impressed as a single good buck sent nearly every apple in the tree raining down into the buckets.

"Your turn, Cerulean. Get to it, these apples won't 'arvest themselves." Cerulean nodded and began arranging the buckets as he had seen her do. Satisfied that all was ready, he gave the base of the tree a tremendous buck, causing a shower of apples just as Applejack's had. He allowed himself a slight grin. "Well, what are you waitin' for? Load them apples into yer cart and move t’ the next tree." His grin quickly faded and he silently obeyed. He continued the routine until the cart was filled, at which point he found Applejack leaning against her own filled cart, observing.

"How long have you..." he started.

"A while." she stated flatly, cutting him off. Fixing herself in the cart's harness, she began to haul the load of apples to the cellar, motioning Cerulean to follow. His cart, however, had grown considerably heavier, and he had to strain to get it moving. Once it had some momentum he managed all right, and returned to the orchard after depositing the fruity cargo in the cellar with the rest of its brethren.

The sun had nearly reached its zenith before Applejack called a halt. She had to admit to herself, with great reluctance, that Cerulean was making an honest effort. He offered no complaints, asked questions only when necessary, and attended his work diligently without taking any breaks. Still, she wasn't convinced yet that he was fully committed; the day was only half over, and the second half is always worse.

Cerulean gratefully lay his back against the nearest tree, closing his eyes and enjoying the feeling of no longer being on his hooves. His back legs were throbbing from bucking, which felt all the world like kicking a wall, and the muscles in his back were tightening into knots that would make any young coltscout gawk. After an all too short reprieve, he could feel his limbs beginning to lock up, so he stood up again and cantered around the cart, trying to keep active. Applejack approached with some apple turnovers and cheese, which he eagerly accepted. She gave him a curt nod, and they both ate in silence.

This is quite possibly the most grueling exercise I’ve endured in quite some time, perhaps in my entire life. And it’s all for a mare I hardly know. But... I can’t say that bothers me. No, I really just want to get to know her more. She’s already saved my life twice, and even beyond that, she gives me hope. So I guess that’s...

"What do you want from Twilight?" Applejack's sudden question caught him off guard. He finished the bite of cheese he had been chewing for a while and drew silent, unsure of what she meant. The fact is he didn't really know what it was that drew him to Twilight, but responding with "I don't know" would be equivocal to shooting himself in the hoof. Applejack's intense green eyes seemed to be peering into his soul, and he somehow knew anything less than the whole truth would mean the failure of his test.

"I want to be whole again. And I think Twilight is the only one who can make that happen." Applejack blinked once, then resumed her stare. "This is going to sound crazy, but this isn't my whole cutie mark. I lost half of it four years ago." Cerulean sighed as Applejack's facial expression made it painfully clear that she didn't believe a word he had said. He trotted over and tapped her forehead with his horn, a brief image of when he got his cutie mark flashing in her mind. She shook her head and then examined his flank. Sure enough, the swords were gone without a trace.

"What in tarnation could possibly make somepony lose their cutie mark?" she muttered, turning back to Cerulean with an incredulous expression.

“If... you’d really like to know, I’ll show you.”

Ah know ah don’t trust this colt, but that look in his eyes... Whatever is on his mind right now must be right painful. An’ that ain’t somethin’ t’ lie about. “All right, Cerulean. Show me what’s got you all messed up in the head.” Ah could have said that nicer...

Cerulean closed his eyes as the memories began to bubble to the surface. He again pressed his horn gently onto her head, showing her through his own eyes what had torn his heart asunder. As the scene with Bangles unfolded, Applejack gasped and stepped back, breaking the connection and ending the feelings of resentment and sadness that had flooded through her a moment before.

"It may not be possible to reclaim what was lost that night..." Cerulean said slowly. "But if there's a chance I can find acceptance within the heart of another, and for me to truly be able to accept them in return, then I'm not letting go of that hope without a fight." Without a further word on the matter, Cerulean resumed gathering apples. Applejack watched him closely as she went about her work with newfound interest.

Ah hate t’ admit it, but this stallion ain’t gonna quit. An’ by the look o’ it, he’s been through more than me. Ah always thought ah had it rough, but that... that shouldn’t happen to anypony, not ever. And yet, here he is, optimistic an’ determined. Ah may not like ‘im, but ah sure can respect his determination an’ honesty. Yer somethin’ else, Cerulean.

At around two he started to slow down, the trees taking several bucks to yield their abundance and causing him to grimace with each kick. The cart had grown exponentially heavier, and it took a moment or two of straining just to get it to move. Even carrying the smaller buckets became quite a task, but never once did Applejack see him use his magic to ease the burden.

"Applejack, is that the pony that nearly destroyed city 'all?" Applebloom called out, walking over to where her sister was working and glancing at Cerulean with curious eyes. "He looks plumb tuckered out. He's gonna hurt 'imself if he keeps goin'!"

"You're probably right, Applebloom. But he and I made a wager, and I reckon he ain't 'bout to quit now." Applejack paused and watched as Cerulean painfully struggled to move the fully laden cart, muscles stretching taught and bulging as he forced every last bit of energy out of his already over-worked limbs. "He's got something to fight for," she murmured more to herself than to her sister. Applebloom offered to help him out, and stalked off in a huff when her sister forbade it.

Cerulean whimpered quietly as he bucked the tree for a third time, the stubborn giant finally yielding it's red treasures with great reluctance. Every buck sent sharp pains lancing through his legs and into his spine, and his head was playing an upbeat drum solo inside his temples. He glanced down at his hooves, where a fertile orchard of splinters had inexplicably decided to grow. As thoughts of Twilight filled his mind, he smiled through the pain, continuing to the next tree, and the next. Twilight... the pain I feel right now is... nothing. Nothing, when compared to the despair of hopelessness that you pulled me from. This... is a thank you far too small. Let my body be broken, that my heart may live. You’re worth this.

As the sun cast its final rays and bathed the orchard in a soft pink light, Cerulean's body gave out and he fell unconscious to the ground. The laden cart behind him continued its momentum, slowly rolling over his left forehoof before coming to a rest on the other side. Applejack rushed over, removed him from the harness, and slung his still form over her shoulders. She brought him inside and laid him in her bed, not wanting to have to deal with the other members of her rather large family bombarding him with questions should he be laid in one of the many spare beds around the house.

Grabbing his left hoof she felt it gingerly to see if the cart had broken it. Fortunately it had not, but there was a deep bruise around the entire hoof, and he had probably pulled nearly every muscle in his body. It took a full thirty minutes just to get all of the splinters out of his hooves, not counting the deeper ones that required digging with a needle. Upon finishing, Applejack sat staring at him for a while, remembering just how cold she had been towards Cerulean from the start. If she could transfer his pain to herself for even a moment, she would have, as each labored breath reminded her that she was the one who had put him in this condition.

Ah never expected... somepony could ever be this determined. Ah thought for sure he’d quit, that he’d choose comfort over Twilight, but ah... couldn’t have been more wrong. "I'm sorry, Cerulean. It seems you're not the devious colt I expected you'd be," she whispered, wondering if he could hear. She stood with a sigh and found Applebloom waiting outside the door. "Applebloom, I've got a job for you. Now I know it's gettin' dark out but I need you to make straight for Twilight's house and tell her that Cerulean won't be making it back tonight because he worked himself too hard. And tell her..." she hesitated. "Tell her that I've accepted him as a friend, with no reservations."

"You got it, sis!" she yelled over her shoulder, happy to have the privilege of being out so late on her own and not being punished for eavesdropping for the umpteenth time. Applejack made her way outside and sat atop the barn, laying back and looking at the stars. Twilight was gonna be furious when she saw the condition Cerulean was in, and she didn't having any satisfactory excuse to offer in her defense. Her worries were doubled when she realized that Cerulean had agreed to this challenge the day he was released from the hospital. He must have been in pain from the start, be he still said nothing and did as he was told.

"Applejack?" a deep voice called out from the ground.

"What is it, Big Macintosh? Did Cerulean wake up?" she responded, dreading the idea of having to face him so soon.

"Eeeyup." She sighed and hopped down from the roof and quickly made her way to her room. Upon entering she found Cerulean feebly attempting to pick up a glass of water from the nightstand by her bed, but lacking the strength to hold the glass it tumbled to the floor, where he stared at it thirstily before attempting to magic a few drops to his mouth. Applejack returned shortly with a new glass and gently lifted it to Cerulean's mouth and gave him a small drink, for which he sighed deeply and lay back with a groan.

"Did my flank fall off yet?" he inquired, grinning wearily and looking at Applejack through half lidded eyes.

"Yes sugarcube, ah’m pretty sure it did, which means ya passed. Ah sure am glad we weren't holding a contest in bein’ stubborn, ‘cause you'd 'ave won that too." Her tone was much softer than Cerulean was expecting it to be, and it was nearly as relieving as his inactivity. "I'm sorry for being so hard on ya, but I know now fer sure that you're not just taking advantage of Twilight's caring nature; nopony would do what you ‘ave today fer somethin’ so shallow. That mare may be sharp as a tac in all manner o' things, but relationships ain't one of 'em." Cerulean chuckled at this, nodding once before grimacing in pain at the seemingly simple action. "Sit tight, Cerulean, I'll be right back."

Twilight had grown slightly concerned that Cerulean hadn’t returned by sundown, but as she lay in his bed with a stack of books just a hoof length away, she had quickly lost track of time as she became entrenched in her studies. So it was that she looked up with surprise when somepony knocked on her door, setting down the book and coming alive as she remember that who she was expecting. Spike was upstairs, so she let the giddy excitement build a little before whipping open the door with a grin.

“Took you long en... oh, hi Applebloom. What are you doing here?”

“Mah sister sent me t’ tell you that Cerulean tuckered ‘imself out workin’ on the farm, an’ he won’t be comin’ home tonight.”

“Is he alright?”

“Ah think so, but he really worked ‘imself hard, even Applejack said so.” That was good, then. She could handle missing him for a night if it meant that he and Applejack would make up. She just hoped that he would sleep well enough and not have any nightmares, partly for his sake and partly because she didn’t like the idea of anypony else being in bed with him.

“Thanks for letting me know, Applebloom. Would you like to come in?”

“Sorry, Twilight, mah sister gave me special permission t’ come here an’ ah don’t wanna abuse it by stayin’ later than ah need to. Ah wouldn’t mind some water, though.” Twilight promptly fulfilled the request, and after downing the glass, the little filly took off into the night. Twilight closed the door gently, staring at it for a moment before returning to the guest bed that she was becoming more and more accustomed to sleeping in. Or rather, it was the tentative owner of the bed that she desired, and without it, the simple piece of furniture felt incomplete.

Before coming to Ponyville, I didn’t even know how much I wanted friends. I didn’t pay other ponies any attention, being content to spend my time with my books. But all it took was a taste of friendship, and I knew it was a missing piece of my life. And now, even though things are crazy... I feel like I’m finding out something else has been missing, too. This isn’t anything like the relationships I’ve read about in books; it’s frightening, because I don’t know how I’m supposed to act, what it’s supposed to be like... It’s painful because I care, and I know he’s suffered. But... I also know it’s real. Applejack, you said that it couldn’t be love so soon, but I... “I think you’re wrong.”

Applejack returned a short while later carrying a first aid kit. Cerulean raised a curious eye as she rifled through it and took out a smaller box, from which she pulled out what looked like large bandages. "Tis an old earth pony remedy fer sore muscles, works wonders." she mentioned as she began applying them to the key stress points on his body. The strips seemed to burn like fire when applied, but then turned soothingly cool after a time. She then wrapped his hooves with disinfectant bandages to stave off infection from the countless splinters that had pierced his skin.

When she was done Cerulean examined himself, allowing a small laugh; nearly seventy percent of his body had been covered in bandages. "You're gonna 'ave to take it easy fer awhile, so just rest for now. Ah'll see you in the morning, Cerulean." He offered no argument and allowed his senses a much needed vacation from consciousness, slipping into a deep slumber. Since one’s powers of observation and touch are both obscured by sleep, Cerulean was completely unaware of the obvious inner battle going on in Applejack’s mind.