• Published 28th Apr 2015
  • 2,952 Views, 80 Comments

Love and Other Bandages - Cold in Gardez

What is the best medicine? How do we respond when life challenges us? Six variations on a theme.

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First, Last and Always

Applejack woke in darkness.

The sky outside her window was still black as tar, with not even a hint of dawn on the horizon. The window panes rattled as the wind picked up, and she noted, absently, that half the stars in the sky were gone, and the rest slowly vanished as a high layer of clouds blew in to occlude them. In time, even the stars’ faint light faded, and the room she shared with her brother disappeared from her sight. Only the occasional flash of lightning evidenced that anything outside her mind existed at all.

That, and the scent of her brother. She turned and burrowed into his side, her eyes scrunched shut, and tried to hold back the sobs that shook her tiny body.

He woke – or, more likely, had always been awake – and rested a hoof on her shoulder. “It’s okay, AJ. Try to get some sleep.”

“I dreamed, I dreamed…” She hiccuped. “I had a dream. I had a dream that they came home.”

“It’s okay. Take some deep breaths. It’ll be alright.”

Liar. But she pressed her face against his side, and did what he said all the same.

* * *

When Applejack woke again, it was morning. The sky was sick with low, dark clouds, and rain beat against the glass. She blinked her gummy eyes, surprised she’d slept at all, and only belatedly realized she was alone.

Nopony would blame her if she stayed in bed, she knew. In fact, it would probably make it easier for everypony else. One less foal to deal with on a terrible day.

But another part of her, a small little kernel that already realized the farm needed a strong mare, urged her to get up. She rubbed her eyes and toppled out of her brother’s high bed, then stepped out into the hall. Somewhere on the floor below, a foal was wailing, and she heard her brother’s deep voice trying to calm it.

Sure enough, he was seated by the fireplace, gently bouncing a newly diapered Apple Bloom on his knee. He looked weary and impossibly old for such a gangly young teenager.

He also didn’t look like he’d eaten or bathed yet. Applejack trotted over and carefully took Apple Bloom from him. The foal calmed down almost immediately, and gazed up at her sister while suckling on her hoof.

“I got her. Go get some food.”

He nodded wordlessly and vanished into the kitchen. Applejack let out a breath and looked down at her new charge.

“I need you to be a good filly today, okay?” she said to her sister. “We all need to help each other. We’re gonna be fine.”

Big Macintosh returned a few minutes later bearing two bowls of porridge with sliced apples. It wasn’t her favorite breakfast, but her brother was never the best of cooks, and she knew better than to complain. Instead she took it with a smile and dug in. He did the same, and soon both their bowls were empty.

“Where’s Granny?”

“She’s in town,” her brother said. “She had to arrange some… stuff. Had to send a bunch of telegrams, too. Aunt and Uncle Orange should be here tonight.”

“Okay.” Applejack glanced around the living room, realizing for the first time how large it was. The whole house, in fact, was enormous by Ponyville standards, larger than the houses of the richest ponies she knew, though perhaps a bit more worn and ramshackle.

And now it felt even larger.

“What are… what are we gonna do, Mac?”

“We’re gonna do what we always do, I guess. We’ll be fine.”

Applejack looked down at her hooves. Apple Bloom was curled between them, fast asleep.

“I can’t,” she mumbled. “I’m not strong enough.”

Silence answered her. She looked up to see Big Macintosh staring down at Apple Bloom as well.

“Mac? I said I’m not strong enough.”

“I know. Neither am I.”

Applejack blinked. Of all the terms she’d ever thought to describe her brother with, ‘not strong’ never came close. He was already the size of most adult stallions and still growing.

“Huh? But...”

“I ain’t strong enough, sis. Neither are you, or Granny, or anypony. But maybe, together, we are. That’s what family is for.”

“Oh.” She swallowed soundlessly. “Big Mac?”


“Thanks. For everything.”

“‘Course.” He ruffled her mane with his hoof. “S’what family’s for.”