• Published 14th Mar 2012
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Zestar Apple Flambe - Zyxx



Spike and Apple Bloom's relationship, their unorthodox family, and what it means for Equestria.

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Chapter 3: My Little Problem

Chapter 3: My Little Problem

“It’s been a while since you were in here, Apple Bloom. What seems to be the trouble?” Nurse Redheart asked, leading the younger mare into a quiet examination room.

“I’ve been feelin’ weak and achy, lately. I’m hungry all the time and not sleepin’ so good.” There were bags under Apple Bloom’s eyes, and her belly was slightly distended from three or four helpings at every meal.

“I see.” The white mare leaned in, examining Apple Bloom closely; listening to her heart, her belly; investigating her hindquarters. “And how long has this been going on?”

“Week an’ a half, two weeks I think. I thought it was just a cold, but it’s not gettin’ better.”

“Mm-hmm,” Nurse Redheart muttered, looking under Apple Bloom’s tail. After a second, she stepped back. “When was your last heat?”

“Um… well, I’ve been takin’, you know, those potions. Don’ they make your heats stop?”

“They make them weaker. When was the last heat you really remember?

She screwed up her eyes and thought. That day in the clubhouse. “About… almost four months ago. Yeah, I think that’s right.” A frightening thought leaped in her mind. “Is somethin’ wrong with my… y’know, my heats?”

“Not exactly. You’re pregnant.”

Apple Bloom’s mind went blank as it tried to process the word. Pregnant. Carrying. With foal. On the nest. Going to have a-

“I CAN’T be pregnant!” The words burst from her mouth before she thought about them.

“Oh, you definitely are. Almost four months along, I’d say.”

“No! It’s not possible!”

Nurse Redheart looked at her wearily. “Why? Did you think that just because you don’t have a cutie mark yet, you can’t get pregnant?”

“No… I knew about that, but…” She did know: Applejack had made a special point of warning her little sister about myths like that. “But the potions!”

“If you conceived before you started taking them, they won’t do much; they’re designed that way. Not that they’re completely effective in the first place.”

Apple Bloom had known that too; the recipe she’d been using had been very clear on that point, and she said so.

“So you knew all that, but still don’t see how you can be pregnant?” Redheart didn’t enjoy grilling her young patient like this, but she knew that the sooner Apple Bloom accepted her situation, the better off she’d be.

“It’s… it’s complicated.” Actually it was terribly simple, but explaining the identity – and species – of the father was something Apple Bloom simply wasn’t prepared to handle. She had no idea how the nurse might react, or how anypony else might react. Anypony like her siblings. Just coming to them with the news that she carried their niece or nephew would be bad enough, but… Panic and fear like she’d never known before welled up inside her, and she crumpled to the floor, sobbing. Nurse Redheart calmly and quietly approached Apple Bloom, put a leg around her, and held her as she wept.

Once the younger pony had calmed down a bit, Redheart took a more relaxed position, sitting beside her and gently touching her shoulder.

“Listen, Apple Bloom. Believe it or not, I’ve been right where you are now. I was just a little younger than you. I didn’t have my mark yet either, and I thought – like a lot of fillies do – that kept me safe. I was so scared, when I found out, and I felt completely alone.”

“What’d you do?” Nurse Redheart rarely talked about her past: she’d moved to Ponyville from Manehattan before Apple Bloom was born, and rumor had it that she’d grown up in one of the less reputable parts of the metropolis. She wasn’t looking at Apple Bloom any more, her eyes focused on another time and place.

“It was a complicated pregnancy. I was in and out of the hospital the whole time. But I made it through, and so did she – the baby, I mean. I knew I couldn’t raise her like she deserved, though. I was too young, and I still didn’t have my mark, and her father wasn’t any better prepared than I was. So I gave her to a couple I knew who couldn’t have children.”

A long pause, as Apple Bloom digested that idea. She knew a few adopted ponies: most often, a child of a different race than its parents would be given to a matching family. This was rare in Ponyville, as ponies of all races lived together and earth ponies, pegasi, or unicorns could all be tutored in their natural abilities by others of their kind. In less integrated communities, pegasus cloud-cities in particular, there were greater difficulties, and it was considered best for the child to be raised by parents similar to itself.

But in this case, there would be no parents similar to itself.

“I don’t know if I could do that. Give her up, I mean.” Apple Bloom had no idea if it was a ‘her’ or not; she just said the first word that came to mind. Nurse Redheart nodded, understanding her reluctance.

“It’s a big decision, but you’ve got at least seven months to think about it. The first thing you need to do is tell your family. You’re not going to be able to hide this much longer anyway, so it’s best to get the shock and crying part over with. And you need to tell the father, of course.”

They sat together for a while, the older mare telling the younger some things she could expect to happen to her body in the coming months, advising her on matters of health and nutrition. Again and again, Apple Bloom thought about mentioning the species of the father, but she was afraid of what the nurse might say or do. Besides, she knew the doctors didn’t know anything about dragons, nevermind dragon/pony hybrids. Twilight would be the wisest choice. If she didn’t know, nopony would.

Finally, the nurse stood up. “Are you ready to go, Apple Bloom? I have other patients to see, but you can wait in my office if you need more time to collect yourself.”

“No thanks, Nurse Redheart. I’m gonna go… let ‘em know. All of ‘em.”

The white mare gave Apple Bloom another hug. “I won’t tell you that everything will be all right, or that things will go back to normal for you, but I want you to know I’m here. This will change your life no matter what you choose to do, in ways you don’t expect. Being in the hospital so often, trying to understand what was happening to me, wanting to help other mares who might be going through the same thing – it’s what made me decide to become a nurse, and how I got this.” Redheart lifted a hind leg to display her cutie mark. That reminded Apple Bloom of one more question.

“Do you know where she is now? Your baby?”

The nurse pony smiled. “Last I heard, she was going to medical school in Fillydelphia. I couldn’t be prouder of her. ”

Apple Bloom steeled herself, took a deep breath, and walked out the hospital door. The tears were over, for now at least. Time to do what had to be done.

As Apple Bloom walked through Ponyville, heading towards the library, every laugh, whisper, and passing glance seemed to be directed at her. They knew, she thought, somehow they knew. Part of her realized that wasn’t possible, but she still felt ready to burst by the time she reached her destination. She saw Spike as soon as she entered the library, dusting the bookshelves.

“Spike? I gotta talk to you, right now.”

“Er… okay.” The urgency in her tone confused him. “Twilight’s out, so…” Apple Bloom turned and locked the library door.

“What is it? You don’t look so good.” He reached out a claw, felt her trembling.

“Spike… I went to see Nurse Redheart, an’… she told me I’m pregnant.”

Spike just stared at her. The silence stretched so long that Apple Bloom thought she might snap.

“Din’t you hear me? I said I’m - “

“Did… what? How? When? You said we couldn’t-?”

“I didn’t think we could, but there’s no other way. I’ve never been with anypony – anyone – else.”

Spike slumped to the ground. Denial, panic, fear, anger, uncertainty and even a bit of joy all fought for dominance in his mind. Excuses, exclamations, accusations lodged in his throat. “You told me we couldn’t!” was one, “Are you sure there’s nopony else?” another. But Apple Bloom’s face, full of fear and apprehension, stopped any recriminations. Didn’t he trust her? Hadn’t they spent all those days, weeks, months together, getting to know each other better? Though they hadn’t been able to see each other often since winter had ended – since that day – in their few encounters she had never given any sign that she might’ve found another, never been anything but honest and open and loving.

In the end, all that came out of his mouth was a single, numb question:

“What’re we going to do?”

“I gotta tell my family. I was gonna head straight there after I told you.”

“I’ll come with you,” said Spike, standing up.

Apple Bloom’s expression contorted into one of sheer terror.

“No! No! Big Mac’ll kill you! And then Applejack’ll kill you worse! Let me talk to ‘em first.”

Spike shuddered at the thought of the two older Apples enraged at him. He wasn’t sure even a fully-grown dragon could survive that.

“I’ll… should I tell Twilight?”

“Yeah, I think you should. See if she knows what this – what our baby might be like. I’ll be back just as soon as I can.”

She turned to go, and Spike gently grasped her tail, making her turn.

“It’s gonna be okay, Apple Bloom.” Spike wasn’t sure he believed that himself, but he felt like he needed to say something, anything, to reassure her. “We’ll make this work, whatever it takes. I love you.” He reached his arms around her, and she turned into his hug, nuzzling him. It wasn’t the first time he’d said it, nor the first time he’d meant it, but it was the first time he’d meant it quite like this.

***

Back at Sweet Apple Acres, Apple Bloom found her sister weedeating around some of the newer trees.

“Heya AB. What’d the doc say?” she asked through a mouthful of dandelions.

The younger Apple shuffled her hooves, thought of lying, changed her mind for the hundredth time in the past ten minutes.

“S-she told me I’m… pregnant.”

Applejack paused in mid-chew, swallowed, and slowly turned to look at her little sister. Apple Bloom started trying to explain, but Applejack slammed her front hooves into the ground and began yelling:

“Ohh-! What the hay is the matter with you?! Didn’t I tell ya? Over and over agin, I told ya! You can’t just give in to season, ya gotta keep yer head! You just couldn’t wait, could ya? You had to have it now, just like the cutie mark!” Apple Bloom stared at the ground and let her sister’s anger wash over her. She’d been through Applejack’s tirades before, and she’d known this was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier to hear. “It’s a good thing Granny Smith passed when she did, ‘cause this’d put her in the ground for sure! We thought you had more good sense than that! What were you thinking, letting some stallion-“

Minutes later, Applejack’s anger was spent. Neither spoke for a moment as Applejack caught her breath, then she said:

“Do ya love him, at least?”

“Who?” Apple Bloom started at the sudden shift in her sister’s tone: no longer angry, but resigned.

“The daddy. Do ya love him? It wasn’t just any ol’ stallion who happened by?”

“I think... I think I do. Love him. We haven’t been together all that long, but we’ve known each other for ages. ”

Applejack nodded, reluctant but accepting. “Ain’t much to that, but it’ll do. All my lecturin’ won’t do a bit of good now. Who’s the lucky colt then?”

Apple Bloom pawed at the ground nervously. “…wunnit a colt,” she mumbled.

“So what, a filly? A unicorn?” Applejack’s eyes narrowed. “Sweeti-“

“It was Spike.”

Applejack’s ears flattened and her eyebrows raised incredulously. “Come again?”

“Spike! Spike! Twilight’s friend! Him and me have been spendin’ so much time togedder lately, an there was this rainstorm, an’ we hid out an’… an’ I was in season… an’ I din’t think he could…”

Applejack stared at her little sister for a long moment. Then she turned and slowly walked away, towards town.

“Applejack!” She had expected shock, more anger, hysterical crying. This was worse.

“Apple Bloom, I gotta go work through this in my head right now.” Applejack’s voice was flat and tight. “You stay right here ‘til I get back. “

***

It took Twilight the better part of an hour to finish her errands, and she immediately noticed something was wrong. Spike was pacing around the library, scratching at himself nervously; fallen scales littered the floor.

“I’m ba- oh my gosh, Spike, are you okay?” Spike jumped, startled. He’d been rehearsing what to say since Apple Bloom left, but he still wasn’t sure if he could get it out.

“Twilight, I have to tell you something. It’s really important, and it’s really personal, and it’s really, really, really hard to say.” He gulped and wrung his hands together.

“You know you can tell me anything, Spike.”

"I think… I think I got Apple Bloom pregnant.” The words were out. The second before she reacted was the longest of Spike’s life.

“…What?” Surely he was joking. This was some sort of ill-conceived prank. Rainbow Dash, she probably put him up to this.

“We… well, we went through the motions of… m-mating, anyway... we didn’t think there was any way she could get… but now she is, and I don’t know what to do!” He was on the verge of tears. This was no joke.

“Spike!” Twilight’s horn glowed as she grabbed a book from the shelf, a thin tome from decades ago entitled What We Know of Dragons . Spike recognized it as one he had tried to read some time back but never finished, as it was mostly made up of obvious facts (dragons are scaly) and wild inaccuracies (dragons cannot speak). Twilight flipped through the book, scanning for a vaguely remembered passage, and began to read aloud:

“It is believed that a dragon’s innately magical nature allows to successfully hybridize with nearly any other living thing.”

Spike’s jaw dropped. “You never told me that!”

“I didn’t think it would come up!” cried Twilight defensively. “ Besides, half the stuff in this book is wrong!”

“You didn’t think it would come up? What about that crush I had on Rarity? And Moondancer?”

“I thought they were just crushes, I didn’t think they’d LEAD anywhere! I figured when you were ready, you’d find a female dragon!”

“Why would you think that? I’ve only ever been around ponies!”

That stumped Twilight, and for a long moment her mouth just opened and closed as retorts came and died in her throat. At last, she said:

“You’re right, Spike. I should’ve mentioned it. I should have warned you. That part’s my fault, and I’m sorry.” Spike opened his mouth to speak; Twilight raised a hoof to hush him. “But sitting here feeling guilty isn’t going to help. We need to deal with this calmly and logically, one step at a time. Where’s Apple Bloom now?”

“Sweet Apple Acres. She said she was going to tell her family.”

“Okay, let’s go meet her there. I’ll come along to back you up in case the Apples don’t take it so well. Once things are settled here, I’ll go dig through the Royal Archive. If there’s any information at all on dragon/pony hybrids, it’ll be there.”

A sudden knock at the library door made both of them jump. Before they could react, it swung open and a twitching, nervous Applejack entered. She started talking even before she saw who was in the room.

“Twilight? It’s Applejack, and I really gotta talk to – YOU!”

***

When Applejack saw Spike, everything she’d been thinking was suddenly drowned in rage. She leaped onto Spike, knocking him to the floor, and began to pummel him with her front hooves, screaming curses. She called him a monster, a foal-fooler, a heat-seeker, every filthy thing that emerged from the fog of hurt and anger and betrayal clouding her mind.

Suddenly she felt a lurching in her stomach and the extremely disturbing sensation of not having her hooves on the ground.

She could barely hear anything through the blood roaring in her ears; she could just make out Twilight yelling at her to stop.

“You put me down this second, Twilight!” shouted the enraged earth pony, twisting and writing in midair. “Do you know what he did to my little sister?”

“Yes, he just told me! But stomping him to death won’t help!”

Spike shook his head and opened his eyes. Applejack was strong, but he was a dragon, blessed with supernatural toughness. Instead of standing up, though, he drew in his arms and legs, making himself smaller.

“I’m sorry Applejack, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know it could happen, I swear I didn’t.” He was crying openly now, his words barely audible through his sobs. “I want – I want to make this right. I’ll do anything.”

“Too late!” spat Applejack.

“AJ, he’s promising to take responsibility. What else can he do?”

Applejack didn’t want to hear it, just wanted Twilight to put her down so she could get back to beating that filthy lizard’s head in, but something in Twilight’s calm reason reached her. Slowly, almost reluctantly, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and let it out, letting her rage and hurt flow out with it. When she opened her eyes, she saw Spike kneeling on the floor, Twilight with her horn glowing, grimacing with the effort of holding Applejack up for so long. A little bit of guilt ran through her, just beneath the rage.

“You swear you’ll help Apple Bloom? You’re gonna do the right thing, gonna stay with her and get married and raise this kid together?”

Spike could only nod. Applejack took another deep breath. Twilight made sense, as usual. Spike couldn’t undo what he’d done, and even if Applejack could hurt him it would only make matters worse.

“All right Twi, you can put me down now. I won’t try to hurt him anymore. Apple’s honor.” The unicorn did so, but watched her friend warily, ready to suspend her again if necessary. Spike stood up, slowly, and he and Applejack stared at each other. For a moment, Spike was afraid that even honest Applejack might break her word, but she finally spoke, turning her head away from him.

“You gotta… you gotta go talk to Big Macintosh. He’s head of the family, now, and if we’re gonna do this… this weddin’ thing proper you need his permission. I can’t promise he won’t buck you through a barn, though.”

“Applejack, if I’d known this could happen, I never would’ve… I care about Apple Bloom too much for that.” Spike wished he could open himself up and show her how sincere he was.

“Sorry don’ make it so, Spike. But if you’re gonna do the right thing, then I have to respect that.”

Spike nodded again, wiping his eyes. “Whatever it takes. I’ll go talk to Big Macintosh right now.”

“Hold on, we’re coming with you-“ started Twilight.

“Wait, Twilight. I wanna talk to you for a sec. Go wait for us outside, Spike.”

Spike went outside. He considered eavesdropping but decided that he probably didn’t really want to hear what they were talking about. Five minutes later, he was tired of waiting, and started towards Sweet Apple Acres.

***

Before her friend could speak, Twilight had a confession to make.

“Applejack, I have to take some responsibility for this. I read that dragons might be able to interbreed with ponies, but I never mentioned it to Spike. I didn’t think it was true, or that it would be an issue, and I guess I was wrong both times.”

For a brief second, AJ’s eyes took on the same enraged look as before, then she shook her head. “I can’t blame ya for that. None of ya. I wouldn’ a thought it possible myself.” She sighed. “An’ it ain’t like Apple Bloom din’t have a say. All while she was growin’ up, I warned her about season, an’ to watch out for heat-seekin’ stallions, an’ it ain’t nopony’s fault but hers for not listenin’.”

Twilight frowned. “You know Spike’s not like that. He wouldn’t just take advantage of any mare he found.”

“Yeah, I know.” Though her anger was still raw, she was beginning to realize just how badly she had acted. If Spike had been a pony, he could’ve been seriously hurt, or worse, and she hadn’t even let him try to explain. Hadn’t he earned more than that, over all these years? Even though she would later apologize, and Spike would forgive her easily and sincerely, she would count her actions a few moments ago among the greatest regrets of her life.

Right now, though, there was something else on her mind.

“Listen, Twi, there’s somethin’ else I wanted to talk about. I’ve heard that sometimes unicorns can… help a filly who’s in trouble the way Apple Bloom’s in trouble. That it’s the safest way, if she can’t handle a foal.”

Twilight’s head snapped quickly around, her mouth agape .

“Applejack! I can’t believe you’d even suggest that!”

Applejack raised a hoof defensively. “It’s only ‘cause she’s so young! And who knows what this foal’s gonna be like – if she can even carry it safely?”

Twilight shook her head. What AJ was proposing was a rumor, nothing more: she’d never known a pony to actually do it or have it done. It was certainly possible, with the right magic, but the very thought of trying it made Twilight’s stomach churn.

“No, Applejack! I can’t possibly do that! It’s still a life!”

“What about Apple Bloom’s life? How’s she gonna carry on with… with a thing like this?” Applejack wasn’t entirely fond of her own suggestion, but worry for her sister won out.

“What does she think about this idea?”

“I… I ain’t mentioned it yet. But she don’t know what she’s doin’! She’s scared and confused an’ I’m scared and confused an’ if it were a normal foal it’d be one thing but it ain’t!” Now it was Applejack’s turn to cry. Twilight moved forward to let the earth pony rest her head on her shoulder. “She’s just a filly!” wailed Applejack, her tears soaking Twilight’s coat.

“No, she isn’t. Like it or not, she’s a grown mare now, and she needs the support of her family and friends. “ Twilight stroked the earth pony’s mane gently. “It’s going to be all right, Applejack. We’ll find a way to make this work. We’ve made it through everything else, haven’t we?”

A few minutes later, Applejack lifted her head and sniffed.

“All right, Twi, I think I’m okay now. Let’s go get this over with.”

As they walked to the door, Twilight said, “Listen, I’m going to do some research on this. If it turns out that this foal’s really a risk to her, and she wants me to… I might think about it. Maybe. But she has to be the one to ask me, understand?”

Applejack nodded and pushed the library door open.

“Hey, where’s Spike?”

***

“Spike, what’re you doing here?!” Apple Bloom whispered frantically, her eyes nervously darting towards Big Macintosh standing in front of the house. She’d been staring at the road, waiting for Applejack’s return, but ran to meet Spike as soon as she saw him. “Applejack went into town a while ago, she looked really upset! You shouldn’t be here when she gets back!”

Spike put on a grin. He had no idea what he was doing. His brain felt like it had slipped off the tracks: he was barely thinking, just moving forward.

“It’s okay! I talked to her, and she said I needed to ask Big Mac for permission to get married.”

“Married?!” With everything else going on, Apple Bloom had completely forgotten. Of course they’d be expected to marry. Newlyweds whose first foal was a season “too early” might be met with a few knowing smirks and nods, but that was all. Unwed parents were another matter entirely.

“That’s what you’re supposed to do, right?”

“Spike, wait-“ Apple Bloom tried to get in front of him, but he moved to avoid her.

“I’m gonna lose my nerve if I wait.” He was already walking up the path towards the house.

“Please, I don’t think-“

“Big Mac? I’ve got something I need to talk to you about.”

The eldest Apple turned and gave a faint nod. Apple Bloom stopped a few feet away, cringing.

“I need your permission to marry Apple Bloom.”

The red stallion blinked slowly. “Why?”

Spike swallowed, unable to meet Big Macintosh’s gaze. His confidence from a moment ago was fading quickly. “Because she’s carrying our child.”

Big Mac turned his head towards Apple Bloom, asking the question with a look. She nodded. Her brother turned back to Spike, and the dragon nearly had to step back: the scarlet pony’s glare was like a physical wall. Apple Bloom broke out in a cold sweat. “Big Mac, please, it’s not just his fault-“

“Nope.” Apple Bloom knew her brother well enough to recognize the faint and dangerous tone of anger in his quiet voice. Spike did not.

“Look, it was an accident, and she’s – she’s taking responsibility. Trying to.” said Spike, stammering under the stallion’s angry stare. “We both are. That’s why I’m here. ”

Big Macintosh just stared at him. Spike shut up, stared at the ground and felt those intense green eyes drilling into his skull.

“Nope.” The big stallion turned away from him and started walking back towards the house.

“Please, Big Macintosh, just listen! I know you’re angry-“ Spike moved to follow him, and the crimson pony’s hind legs suddenly lashed out, knocking Spike straight backwards and into a tree.

“NO!” screamed Apple Bloom, running to where Spike had fallen. “Big Mac, don’t!”

Big Macintosh snorted angrily, went in the house and shut the door. Apple Bloom knelt next to Spike, who was already stirring. Even a powerful stallion like Big Macintosh couldn’t do more than stun him, but it still hurt. Just as he had stood up, a crackling flash of magenta light and a sudden rush of air nearly knocked him down again. When the light faded, Twilight and Applejack were standing there, the latter looking slightly queasy.

“What happened?” asked Twilight, looking around.

“Big Mac didn’t take the news so well,’ said Apple Bloom, steadying her lover with her muzzle.

Twilight made a frustrated noise in the back of her throat. “That’s what I was afraid of! That’s why you were supposed to wait for us, Spike!”

Spike touched the back of his head and winced. “It’s just a little bump. What took you two so long anyway?”

Twilight and Applejack exchanged a glance. “We can talk about that later. Where’d Big Mac go?”

“Inside,” said Apple Bloom. “He sounded really mad, sis.”

Applejack sighed. “Look, y’all. When my big brother gets like this, ain’t nopony can talk to him. You need to let ‘im sleep it off, an’ we can try to get through to him in the mornin’.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” said Twilight. “This has been a huge day for everypony. I think it will do us all some good if we sleep on this. It’s not like the baby’s going to be born tomorrow.”

Spike and Apple Bloom looked at each other, reluctant to part. Both felt a quiet fear that if they separated, they might not be allowed to see each other again.

“I’ll be back first thing in the morning” said Spike, as much to himself as to his mate.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, no matter what Big Mac says,” stated Apple Bloom firmly. After one more embrace, he turned and joined Twilight on the road home.

Once they were out of sight of Sweet Apple Acres, Twilight stopped and confronted Spike.

“Why didn’t you wait for us?! You could’ve really been hurt!”

Spike shrugged. In hindsight, he wasn’t sure what he’d been thinking. “I don’t know, I think I just felt like I needed to handle this on my own. I mean, if I’m going to be a, a father, I have to be willing to stand up for my family, right? I can’t just rely on somepony else to do it.”

Twilight shook her head. “Well, that’s very noble of you, but you took a real risk. Just because you can stand on your own doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let us help.”

“I know, Twilight. I’m sorry.”

The unicorn sighed and let it go. She couldn’t blame Spike for not thinking clearly at a time like this. “I’m going to have to write a letter to the Princess about this, you know. Why don’t you tell me how this whole thing got started in the first place?”

“Umm…” Spike blushed and scratched his head nervously. “Well, you know, she was in season, and-“

“I meant when did you two start seeing each other?” snapped Twilight. Then she chuckled, and Spike chuckled, and it was like a dam broke inside them and they exploded into laughter. They drew a number of odd looks as they walked down the road, sobbing with mirth, but they didn’t care: after today, they really just needed to laugh.

***

The next morning, Spike woke up full of nervous energy. He’d have skipped breakfast if Twilight hadn’t forced him to sit and eat; all he could think about was Big Macintosh, whether he’d calmed down, considered Spike’s request. As soon as she let him go, Spike hurried to Sweet Apple Acres. He first tried the door to the main house, but found it locked, which was very unusual. So he began to look around for any members of the family, and finally found Applejack selecting tools from the toolshed.

“Um… Morning, Applejack?” he called softly. Spike had no idea what to expect from her, and was relieved when she gave him a faint smile – not pleased to see him, exactly, but not angry at least. She looked like she hadn’t had much sleep.

“G’mornin’ Spike. “

“Where’s Apple Bloom?”

“In her room. She ain’t feelin’ so good; yesterday took a lot outta her.”

Panic leaped in Spike’s chest. “What? Is she okay?”

“Calm down, she’s just tired. Can’t say I blame her. I’d tell you to go see for yourself, but it’d just make things worse with Big Mac. This is the first time that door’s been locked in years. ”

“So you couldn’t convince him?” asked Spike, crestfallen.

“I tried havin’ a word with him, but I don’ think he’s ready to listen. He’s givin’ everypony the silent treatment.” Spike’s heart sank. Nopony gave the silent treatment like Big Macintosh.

“Do you think there’s any chance?”

Applejack sighed. “I just dunno. My brother’s stubborn as all getout, but he knows it’d be trouble for Apple Bloom if he din’t let her marry.”

“Where is he?” Spike clenched a fist at his side, preparing to go face down Big Macintosh again if necessary. Applejack raised a warning eyebrow.

“Don’ try to talk to him, Spike. This is just his way of workin’ through things. When he’s ready, me an’ AB will get through to him.” She grabbed a mouth-axe from a nearby rack and hooked in onto her saddle. “Now scoot. I gotta lot of work to do, what with Big Macintosh lockin’ himself and Apple Bloom in the house.”

Spike felt even guiltier, something he wouldn’t have thought possible yesterday. He’d never heard of Big Macintosh ever skipping work without being hurt or sick before. Sweet Apple Acres was almost too big for the three Apples to manage, even with occasional help from other ponies. Even once Big Macintosh got back to work, Apple Bloom would be unable to do any heavy work for at least half a year. Spike wasn’t sure how they’d make it through the season.

“Is there something I can do to help?

Applejack looked a little surprised, and then a certain knowing smile appeared on her face, as though a brilliant idea had occurred to her.

“Well, since you offered, could ya grab that saw an’ meet me ‘round the south orchard? We found waterblight on some of the trees and we need to get ‘em down before it spreads.”

The work was hard: as soon as Spike had knocked out some trees, Applejack put him to removing the roots and plowing the ground for new planting. For all his strength and vitality, by the end of the day he was sore and tired and the fine scales on his hands had been rubbed off. Still, the next day, he came back early and worked until dusk again. Applejack worked alongside and supervised him constantly. When Big Macintosh came out of the house, she made a point of keeping Spike far away from her brother, but the dragon and the stallion would see each other from a distance. At first Big Mac would always give a loud snort and turn away, but Spike caught him looking back once or twice, watching when he thought Spike couldn’t see.

On the third morning, Spike couldn’t find Applejack. Instead, Big Macintosh was waiting for him. He didn’t say a word, just stood next to his cart, and once he knew Spike had seen him he motioned at the harness with his head. Spike stared for a moment. Did he want help putting it on? Instead, Spike grabbed the harness with both hands and began trying to pull the cart himself. He’d only managed to pull it a few feet when the scarlet stallion nudged Spike’s shoulder with his nose, shaking his head. Mac again took up a position to be harnessed, and Spike complied this time, though he was still confused. Once the harness was firmly attached, the stallion started walking. In silence, Spike followed.

Today’s task was again in the south orchard, loading the trees Spike and Applejack had previously felled into the cart to be disposed of far from the main farm. Eager to impress, Spike started grabbing up and loading logs as fast as he could. Big Macintosh kept his usual slow and steady pace, and still didn’t speak at all until after they’d loaded as many logs as he could carry and were heading back.

“Spike.”

Spike was so surprised to hear Big Macintosh speak that he actually looked around for Applejack at first. “Yes?”

“D’ya love her?”

“Yes, absolutely, I do.” Big Mac had stopped walking, and Spike got in front of him. This time, he met the red pony’s eyes.

“You’re willin’ to stay with her forever?” His tone didn’t shift at all and gave away nothing of his emotions.

“Of course.”

“You’ll support an’ protect your family no matter what?”

“No matter what.” The words “even from you” ran through Spike’s mind.

Silence fell between them as Spike and Big Macintosh stared at each other, the dragon trying to determine what Big Mac was thinking, the stallion examining Spike for any sign of hesitation or deceit. Finally, the eldest Apple spoke again:

“Then you got my permission.”

Spike almost didn’t dare to believe it. “Really?”

“Yup.” Big Macintosh wasn’t smiling, but he didn’t look angry. “I know you’re not a bad person, Spike. You did somethin’ stupid, but if you’re gonna own up to it and do the right thing, then I got no right to stand in your way.”

Tearfully, cautiously, Spike put his arms around his future brother-in-law’s neck.

“Thank you, Big Macintosh. I swear I won’t let you down.”

“Promise Apple Bloom, not me,” said Big Mac. It was hard to see through his red coat, but he was starting to flush. “Go an’ see her. We’ll work out the weddin’ details later.”

Applejack opened the door to the main house as Spike approached, winked at him, and nudged him towards the stairs, whispering something. Spike wasn’t listening: he took the stairs three at a time, only stopping himself at the door to her room.

“Apple Bloom?” Spike slowly peered around the door, hoping not to wake her if she was sleeping. The yellow mare was in bed, but wide awake and flipping idly through a book.

“Spike!” his mate said cheerfully, carelessly dropping the book to the floor. She didn’t sound too ill: perhaps her breathing was a bit heavy, but that was all. “Sorry I couldn’t meet ya like I said. Stupid Big Mac kept lockin’ the door an’ I just din’t feel up to breakin’ it down.”

“Shh, don’t worry about that. Just worry about yourself and the baby.”

“Ah, I’ll be all right. Just got too worked up the other day. I’ll be up and around in no time.”

He kissed her, brushed a hand through her mane. “I got permission from your brother. We can have the wedding as soon as you feel up to it.”

“I know. I heard him an’ AJ talkin’ last night. He’s been plannin’ to give it to ya for a couple days now; he just had to find the words.”

Words. Spike suddenly remembered something, an important step he’d forgotten up until now.

“Apple Bloom,” he said, bending one knee and taking her front hoof in both hands. “This isn’t the way or the time or the place I wanted to do this, and I’m sure it’s not how you wanted it to be either, but I guess it better be now. Will you marry me?”

She smiled, tears shining in her eyes. It certainly wasn’t the way she’d dreamed her proposal would be; but somehow, right now, it felt all right.

“’Course I will, Spike.”

***

As Twilight watched Spike go that morning, she decided that she’d waited as long as she could. She laid out a scroll and began to write:

Dear Princess Celestia,

You may recall some of my previous correspondence mentioning a filly named Apple Bloom, the younger sister of my good friend Applejack. It seems that this young subject of yours has become unexpectedly pregnant…