• Published 17th May 2012
  • 5,618 Views, 57 Comments

Honesty Lost - Fillydelphian

When Applejack falls gravely ill, her special somepony Anonymous deals with the consequences.

  • ...

Act 1

The sun hung low in the sky as I sat looking out the window. The summer breeze made waves in the grass while the trees whispered to each other with the rustling of their full branches. Summer birds were singing their songs; a jovial reverie for another day well spent, another hour or two in the sun before Luna's night swaddles the land in her dark blanket. Off to the left, almost out of sight, was the road leading to Ponyville. The town had been so good to me in the last five years; the ponies who lived there were ponies to whom I owed a debt of gratitude for accepting me so readily into their community. I sat at that window for an hour, looking out at the field, lost in thought and contemplation before a voice pulled me back to reality.

“Anon? What're you still doin' here? Shouldn't ya be out at work'r somethin'?” Applejack had just woken up. Her voice was soft and tired. In the four years I had been with her, I never heard her sound like she did then.

“It's seven, hon,” I took a seat next to the hospital bed where my Applejack lay and stroked her mane. “And besides, do you really think I'd let you be here alone?” She smiled weakly. The doctors were baffled. Such a sudden onset, they weren't sure if she'd make it. But she was a fighter; never let anything get in her way, never let anything bring her down.

“Ah guess yer right, sug.” She snuggled up to my hand as I sat there brushing her soft golden mane.

“And hey, when you get out of here, I found a nice plot of land out west. We can go take a look at it as soon as you get better.”

“Ah'd love that, Anon. It's a date.” Her brilliant green eyes shone with happiness before closing under the weight of sleep and sickness. “Ah'll be outta here in no time at all. Just you wait...”

“Goodnight, Applejack. I'll see you tomorrow.”

“Mmmph, o'course, sug, I love you...”

“I love you too...” I kept my hand on her head until she was fast asleep. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't have moved until I knew she had gone to sleep happy, knowing I'd be back to see her in the morning.

The sun was going down when I left the hospital; its fading light casting a rosy glow over the field as I walked down the road to Ponyville. The birds had finished their evening overture, leaving the summer's night quiet and serene. I had walked that path every day for the past week to see my Applejack. Often her friends and family would come, bearing stories, jokes, gifts, and good cheer, but I kept a vigil, as it were. I would stay by her side for as long as she needed me to. As I walked slowly down the road there came a sound of flapping wings ahead. I looked up to see the sky-blue pegasus Rainbow Dash approaching me. The last week had taken its toll on us all; as long as Applejack was sick the world seemed a darker place. Even Rainbow Dash, normally so full of life and youthful exuberance carried herself with melancholy as she came up the road.

“How is she?” Rainbow Dash looked up at me, her deep magenta eyes searching, hoping for good news.

“Not good, Dash. Not good...” I struggled to keep my composure. The pegasus picked up immediately on my state and lay a comforting hoof on my shoulder.

“Look at me, Anon. Applejack's gonna make it. She always makes it. You've gotta believe in her.” Her assurance was half-hearted. Behind her words floated a pony terrified for her friend, not knowing what would happen; as in the dark as I was, and as affected as I was by it.

“I know, Rainbow...just...” My voice wavered. Seeing my Applejack like that, with the machines and the tubes, smelling that astringent hospital smell that saturated the air... It was almost unbearable.

“It's OK, Anon. We're all worried about Applejack. You're not alone in this. No matter what happens, we'll all be here for you. Both of you.” Her eyes were full of sad determination, reflecting the waning light of the sun as she spoke to me.

“Thank you, Rainbow. Thank you...” Loyal even in the hardest times, Rainbow Dash was as strong a mare as Applejack, if more hot-headed, rebellious, and certainly more brash. She was the one who helped me realize my feelings for Applejack in the first place. As I walked back to my house I remembered part of the story.

It was six months since I arrived in Equestria. I had settled in to a modest house and started working at the library with Twilight Sparkle. In only a few months, I had become an accepted member of the community. The ponies took me in as one of their own, despite the clear differences between them and I. Not only that, I had become close friends with several of the pastel-colored mares, one of whom was sleeping off a night of drinking on my couch. Rainbow Dash stirred as I went to the kitchen. The deep aroma of brewing coffee soon pulled the cyan pony to the table as I poured it, steaming, into two mugs.

“Thanks, Anon. I seriously need a pick-me-up.” She drank happily as I took a seat, sipping from my own mug. We sat at the table for a while, basking in the spring morning light filtering in through the kitchen window.
Looking outside I spotted a familiar orange pony coming up the road, her hat bobbing in time with her stride, covering her golden mane. She was carrying a bushel of bright red apples. The orange pony came to my door, which, since I was expecting her, having seen her approach, I purposely opened as she was about to knock.

“Good morning, Applejack,” I grinned as she recovered from the surprise of my preemptive greeting.

“M-mornin' Anon, Ah was just er- passin' through, though you maht be in'ersted in some apples?” She lifted the bushel as she spoke.

“I'd love some. They look great, as always, Applejack.” I took a few of the red fruits from the bushel. “You want to come in? I've got a pot of coffee on.”

“Hey Anon,” Rainbow's voice echoed from the kitchen “pick me up some apples too, will ya?” Applejack's face flashed, for the briefest moment, a look of pain before a slight pink came over her cheeks.

“A-ah, really oughtn't. Lots a' work ta do today, y'know?” She looked away.

“Oh, alright, well, thanks for the apples. I'll see you later then?”

“A' course, Anon. Take care.” She trotted off, her strides more rapid than on her approach. Rainbow Dash floated to the door as I closed it. She cast me a suggestive look.

“Sorry, Anon, did I mess up your game?” She nudged my side with her marshmallowy hoof.

“What do you mean, Rainbow?” I looked at the pegasus, confused.

“Wow, you're really clueless, huh?”

“Whatever, grab something to carry these apples in. I got a couple for you before Applejack left.” Rainbow Dash shot me a knowing look before floating off to find a basket.

As I walked to the living room I happened a glance out the window. Amidst the dancing shadows of the trees I saw Applejack on her way down the road. She stopped and, almost as if she knew I was there, turned and looked back at my house. Before I could make out her expression she turned back and continued on her way. A small, familiar knot developed in my stomach and I went back to the kitchen, more to take my mind off of it than to actually clean up anything. Rainbow left later that morning, taking the apples with her and leaving me to think to myself about what she had said to me. What did she mean “mess up my game?” The knot in my stomach grew as I thought more about Applejack's reaction to hearing Rainbow in my house. The same knot that seemed to form whenever I was near Applejack. Of course, I always chalked it up to nerves, or my being tired, or wired.

It hit me when I held one of the apples she had given me. Its polished red surface shone in the light of Celestia's graceful sun and I found myself picturing Applejack, hard at work harvesting the fruits. The morning sun played off her flaxen mane as she knocked apple after apple out of each tree- I shook the thoughts from my head and felt the knot suddenly tighten as I realized what my friend's awkward behavior meant. I got up and went to the door. I had to catch up with Rainbow Dash. I had to find someone to talk to about Applejack. As I ran down the road, a teasing voice came down from a tree and nearly sent me to the ground in surprise.

“Where are you goin' in such a hurry, Anon?” I looked up to see Rainbow Dash lounging in the low branches as she looked down at me, a smirk on her face.

“Did- were you waiting here this whole time?”

“Well, duh” She took a bite out of one of the apples I'd given her from Applejack. “So did ya finally figure it out, Anon, or are you just running around like that for kicks?” The pegasus descended from the tree to face me. The confident drive I'd felt leaving the house failed me when I tried to speak.

“Er- “

“Oh come ON, Anon. Don't make me spell it out for ya.” Rainbow cut me off impatiently, her hoof in her face.


“-In you, yeah. Sheesh, I thought you'd never get it.” The cyan pony cracked a smile as she looked at my dumbfounded face. I'd realized it back at the house, but hearing it said aloud sent me into shock again. There was a minute of silence before Rainbow spoke up again. “So are ya gonna do something about it, or what?”

“I...guess? I don't know...”

“Geez, dude, you seriously don't know if you're into AJ? I've seen how you two are around each other. Just do it.”

“Why are you so keen on this, Rainbow?”

“Because Applejack's my friend, and she's been tryin' to get your attention for like, ever, Anon. It's getting painful to watch you totally missing the cues.” She got right up in my face as she spoke, the sun reflecting the determination in her eyes. “Go get 'er, Anon.”

I took off down the road after Rainbow's pep-talk. She was right, I was totally oblivious to my own feelings, let alone Applejack's. I hurried into town to find her before anxiety could get the better of me. Luck was on my side that day, and I found her walking down Mane Street, her head hanging low and her green eyes cast at the ground. An impish boldness came over me and I crept up behind the orange pony.

“Why so glum?” Applejack jumped in surprise when I spoke, losing her hat in the process. I reached down and picked it up, brushing the dust from the brim.

“Ah, er- Ah was just-” She stammered for a while before I interrupted by wrapping my arms around her. I could practically feel the blood rushing to her face.

“Sorry I didn't do this earlier, Applejack.” I let her go and set the hat back on her head. “I was never very good at social cues.” The orange pony stared at me, her face bright red, mouth open in total shock. “You still up for that coffee?” She nodded slowly as the blush began to fade and she regained her composure as she followed me to the cafe.

I awoke in my chair in the morning, the birds tweeting their collective song to herald the coming of a new day. I looked down to see in my hand the photo of Applejack that I kept on the mantle. It was her gift to me for our first anniversary. Applejack bore a face of quiet contentment and happiness as her visage looked at me from the frame. I had spent the evening recollecting how we had met. The story seemed to flood back into my mind when I held the photo. Winona bounded into the room, her tail wagging, excited for breakfast. Applejack had brought the dog with her when she moved in with me a year prior. She listened to everything Applejack told her to do, but seemed content to totally ignore my commands unless it was to do something she wanted. I got up finally, and placed the photograph back on the mantle before making coffee. After cleaning up and feeding Winona I decided to take a walk. It was still a few hours until the hospital opened for visitors and I needed to clear my head. I stepped outside into the morning sun and wandered to the park almost aimlessly before I came to an old tree. Its branches hung heavily, covered by summer dew while the grass, bent under the weight of the droplets, glinted in the sun. The tree was one of many that I had lain under with Applejack. When we weren't working or out pursuing other interests we'd lie under the trees of Ponyville, relaxing in the shade the leaves provided. Those moments of tranquility, the serene comfort we drew from having the other near, memories that, until recently, had brought me such joy, now tore at my chest. The inescapable shadow of anxiety hung over me as I turned to the road and made my way to the hospital.

The astringent smell of rubbing alcohol and disinfectant filled my lungs as I walked down the halls to Applejack's room. Doctor ponies trotted down linoleum-tiled floors, their hoof falls echoing over the quiet hum and beeping of medical equipment. A numb daze came over me as I walked, trance-like through the hospital. The noise of the staff became muted and I passed into the ICU like an automaton, no longer even thinking of where I was going. I came at last to Applejack's room and, mentally, back to my senses. The flowers that Fluttershy had left the previous day were still fresh in their vase, bathed in the sunlight that poured in through the window. Applejack lay asleep under the pale green sheets, her bundled form slowly moving up and down as she breathed. I sank into the seat by the window. It wasn't long before she stirred from sleep. I moved to the chair by her bed and kissed her forehead as she wearily opened her eyes.

“Good morning, Applejack.” She looked up at me. Her green eyes were as beautiful as ever, but they were tired. They were the eyes of a pony who had been fighting for her life in that hospital bed, knowing that it could very well be a futile struggle.

“Mornin', hon.” Her voice was quiet. She smiled weakly and sat up as I looked at her. I had to keep myself from breaking down in front of her. She didn't need to see tears. I wouldn't allow it. She saw it, though. “It's OK, sugarcube.” Even in her illness she was stronger than me. I fell forward and put my arms around her, burying my face in her mane.

“Please...” I couldn't take it. I felt hot tears running down my face as I clutched the mare whom I loved so dearly and whispered, pleading, “Please...I can't lose you...I can't....” She remained silent for a while, letting me hold her in my arms

“D'ya remember yer one-year annivers'ry a' comin' here?” Applejack asked, breaking her silence, “We'd bin together fer a few months 'n ya got so down on yerself you wan'ed ta quit on me?” It was a leading question, I knew, I composed myself as best I could.

“I remember.” I said quietly, recalling the scene in my mind. I didn't consider it one of my finer moments.

I had been in Equestria for a year then. By that time I had been with Applejack for about six months and I could feel myself falling for her. Her strong will and honest nature, which was her public face, covered up her sensitive, intimate side, the side I was so drawn to, and the more time we spent together, the more of ourselves that we shared, the greater and more passionate the bond between us grew. That day, though, I felt alone. Pinkie Pie had thrown a huge party for me the night before, her biggest ever. My friends saw that anniversary as marking the day I came into their lives, and they celebrated that, but for me it marked the day I had been torn from one world and cast into another without so much as a chance to say goodbye. So I walked through the woods, alone with my thoughts, trying to let the fiery autumn leaves take my mind off the nagging doubt that the anniversary of my arrival had brought on. The sense that my life in Equestria was temporary, that I didn't belong, that I could be expunged from this world and thrown into a new one at any time ate at me as I was reminded of those first days.

“Anon, what 'n the hay 're you doin' mopin' out here all bah yer lonesome?” Applejack's voice came up from the road behind me.

“How did you know I was here?” I turned around as I spoke.

“Ah've got mah ways a' knowin'.” She looked at me knowingly as her eyes met mine. I averted my gaze, unable to look into Applejack's strong green eyes. She could see straight through me, past the facades and the walls, down into my core. There was no hiding my feelings from her. “Now what's got ya down, hon?”

“As if you need to ask.” She looked hurt by my tone, sighing as I spoke.

“Ah know, Anon. Must be hard carryin' all that baggage by yerself.”

“Don't.” I was getting defensive; angry.

“Ah'm only tryin'a help, Anon. Ya don't need ta be-” I cut her off.

“I don't need help, Applejack. I just- I just need to be left alone.” Her pain at my words was visible on her face. I was pushing her away because I was scared. Scared of loss, of getting attached and then being torn away from everything I loved yet again...

“Consarnit, Anon!” Her hoof came down hard on the dirt path. “Why're you bein so buckin' difficult?” Her voice began to quake slightly. “Ah'm yer special somepony, aren't Ah? Yer supposed ta be able ta confide in me...” My heart sank with every word.

“I can't.” I tried my best to keep a confident tone “You all might see today as an excuse to party, but I don't. Today is the anniversary of the day I lost my old world, Applejack. No warning, no reason behind it, just one day 'poof!' and here I am. I don't even know if I got to say goodbye to anyone...if I had anyone to say goodbye to.” I stopped myself there. I had no memory of my previous life, only the pain of its loss. It was the pain of knowing that I had lost something, but not knowing what it had been. Applejack looked at me, her gaze softening as she listened before a new resolve came over her face.

“Anon, Ah unnerstand yer hurtin' but ya can't think lahk that. Ya can't just give up on everything ya get attached to just 'cause it might git taken away.” I walked to the side of the road and sank to the ground, my back against the trunk of one of the great oak trees. She knew me too well. I hadn't said it in my short tirade, but she knew. She walked up to me and placed her hoof in my hand, which lay open on the dusty ground. I closed my fingers around it while she spoke “...Ah love ya, Anon. Ain't nothin' you, 'r anypony else can do about it, so you best just pick yer head up and- wha?” She stumbled over her words in surprise as I pulled her in close to me. Her gold mane looked aflame under the bright afternoon sun filtering through the orange and red leaves above us.

“...I love you too, Applejack.” I ran my hand through her mane, my heart light and at ease having the orange pony resting against me under the oak. The words, the moment, everything felt right. We fell asleep under the great oaks, awaking to the brisk night breeze and making our way back to Ponyville together, my mind clear again thanks to Applejack.

I stayed by Applejack's bedside at the hospital all day, through all the tests and treatments. She bore them with tired strength. When she was wheeled out, I followed as far as the doctors would let me, and when she was wheeled back I was there waiting. She had always been there for me, even now, in her sickness, she had been there to reel me back in from the verge of a breakdown. I owed it to her to at least be by her side, to be there to support my Applejack. Around three in the afternoon we were visited by Applebloom, Big Macintosh ambling in after her. The yellow filly's usual levity was suffocated by the sight of her sister lying under those green hospital sheets. Big Macintosh bore a pained expression on his face as he looked from Applejack, to Applebloom, to me. I got up and went out of the room. Best to give the family their privacy. I sat in the hallway outside for the hour they spent there, feeling numb to the passage of time. Applebloom was the first to walk out. She was visibly upset after the visit with Applejack. When she stepped out, she turned to look at me, her eyes misty and pleading. Big Macintosh followed a moment later and nudged her to move down the hall. I overheard Applebloom as they walked away.

“Anon'll take care o' Applejack, raht, big brother? He'll save 'er, won't 'e?” I didn't hear his response. I wasn't sure I wanted to.

The end of visiting hours came quickly that day. There had been so much activity in Applejack's room that the time flew by. She looked to be in good spirits when the nurse came to tell me it was time to go, but I felt something was wrong, like she was hiding something. I pushed the thought from my mind.

“I'll be back tomorrow, Applejack. Get some rest, ok?” I held her hoof in my hands and kissed her forehead.

“T'marrah. And say howdy ta Winona fer me, will ya? Ol' girl must be might worried 'bout me.” The dog always sat watching the door since Applejack had been admitted. The only time she seemed happy was in the morning when I fed her. After that, she just stayed sitting, statue-like, waiting for her friend to come home to her.

“I will. Love you.”

“Ah love you too, Anon. Take care.” I left the hospital as the sun began to set, the evening birds again singing their vivacious chorus as their stage began to darken.

Winona was waiting at the door when I came in. She started wagging her tail excitedly as the door opened, but stopped when she realized I was coming home alone again.

“Sorry, girl...it's just you and me again...” Winona cocked her head to the side and let out a whine. “I know, girl, you miss your friend.” The house seemed empty with Applejack not there. I fixed the two of us dinner before going to the living room, opening a window, and picking up a book from the coffee table to clear my mind of the image I had of Applejack sleeping alone in that hospital bed another night. I read for a few hours as the moon rose in the sky, its cool light illuminating Ponyville in the night. As hard as I tried to concentrate on the book, to give myself a reprieve from the worry and the powerlessness, every now and then that creeping specter would work its way into my consciousness, forcing me to stop reading and calm myself down. The anxiety, the doubt, the feeling of weakness, all ate at me. The world around me seemed to grow smaller, tighter, constricting me until I could take no more.

“Pull it together, Anon. Applejack will be fine...You've got to believe in her...” I whispered to myself as I finally gave up on trying to read that night. “She'll be out in no time...” I only half-believed it. It was hard to stay positive with things such as they were. I put the book back on the table and shuffled unenthusiastically to bed. As I lay there I took in the sounds of the summer's night. The soft chorus of crickets and night-birds sang as the moon made its way across the sky; a sentinel, keeping watch over Equestria. For a moment I felt at peace as a chill breeze swept through the branches of the trees outside. The feeling didn't last, however, as I reflexively rolled over to put my arm over the mare sleeping next to me only to have it fall into the empty sheets. Anxious sleep slowly came over me as I lay alone in my bed.

The morning light roused me from my slumber. In my tired state I forced myself out of bed and went to the kitchen. I put a pot of coffee on, flopping into a chair at the kitchen table to wait for the blessed black nectar to brew. As the house filled with the aroma I cast a glance at the living room. The chair flew back and clattered against the tile floor as I stood bolt-upright, staring at the open window. The shelves underneath it were torn to hell, their contents scattered about the room like they'd been blown by a strong wi-

“Winona?” My eyes widened as I realized that the dog was absent from her usual post. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest as a sense of profound dread crept about me.

“Winona! Come 'ere, girl!” Panic was beginning to hit me as I went around the house calling for the dog. I found nothing. Looking again to the window I concluded that she must have run away in the night, making good her escape through the window I had so absentmindedly left open.

“Goddamnit, not this now...” I muttered under my breath. I grabbed Winona's leash and walked purposefully to the door.

The sun was shining brightly and I shielded my now wide-awake eyes from its glare as I stepped outside. No sign of the dog was to be found near my house. I searched around the yard, my wakefulness elevating with each passing minute to a state of frenetic worry. The birds seemed to play on my plight, their morning song building up to a frantic crescendo in my head as I gave up looking on my property for the dog and set off, mad with frustration and anxiety, into Ponyville. I got into town after five minutes of walking quickly, trying to keep myself from breaking into a frenzied run. The dog meant so much to Applejack, I couldn't let her down; couldn't show my face around her, look her in the eye and tell her I'd let her dog run away. No. I'd find Winona if it killed me. Panic turned to determination as I made my way through the market. This thing I could do. I couldn't help Applejack recover outside of emotional support, but I could damn well make sure everything was okay when she got out...if she got out...

A bark snapped my attention back to the search. It came from behind Sugarcube Corner. I threw caution to the wind and ran to the sweet shop. Ponies turned in confusion as I bolted past them. The sense of determination strengthened, pushing out the panic and dread in my mind. I weaved through a crowd of ponies in the market until getting at last to Sugarcube Corner. Arriving in the alley behind the shop I heard again the barking, coming from behind the dumpster. I peered behind to see Winona, covered in flour, looking up at me, her collar caught on a metal spur. I wondered to myself what had gotten the dog so excited, remembering that, for the past week, she'd hardly moved from her staring at the front door except to eat and do her business. As I worked the collar free, intending to then attach the leash, she bounded up and away from me, into the alley, and out down the street, leaving me staring dumbfounded, hands outstretched behind a dumpster, as ponies stared at me in utter confusion.

Shaking the surprise out of my head, I set out in pursuit of the unnaturally animated Winona, pushing past the ponies who had stopped to see what I was doing in the alley. The dog ran straight down the street, her head-start putting a great deal of ground between us; ground I was having increasing trouble regaining. By the time I reached the park, I was following Winona by the sound of her barking alone, having lost sight of her five minutes before. I toppled to the ground, wheezing after running full tilt for ten minutes on nothing more than adrenaline. As I lay there, feeling defeated, the sound of panting came into my ear. I looked up to see Winona's tongue lolling out right over my head. She sat down and cocked her head to the side, like she was waiting for me. I stared at her for a minute, looking at the dog's expression. She was animated and energetic, but there didn't seem to be any joy there. I sat up, puzzled, and slowly hooked the leash to her collar. The sound of the town clock striking noon tore me out of the frustrating episode.

“Is it already so late in the day?” I thought silently. Each toll resonated inside me. I must have woken up much later than I had thought. In my rush to find Winona I hadn't checked the time, and now I was late for visiting hours. I looked down at Winona, who suddenly started pulling hard in the direction of the hospital. Not in the mood to fight against the tugging dog, I picked her up and hurried to where Applejack was lying, waiting for me. I'd make up for being late by bringing Applejack her dog to visit her as well. The anticipation of seeing Applejack's face when I brought in Winona won out over the guilt I felt about being late. We got to the hospital fifteen minutes later and, after finally convincing the receptionist that Winona would behave, I made my way through the hallways that I had grown so very accustomed to navigating, carrying the dog in my arms. I noticed that Winona wasn't as animated as she had been earlier that day. She should have been happy to see her companion after such a long absence, but as I walked through the hospital her tail retreated between her hindquarters and she began to let out sharp, high whines. Dread began to again sweep over me as I continued towards Applejack's room. Rounding the corner I saw a group of nurses clustered around her door. I stopped cold, my chest suddenly feeling like great claws were tearing at it. Winona jumped out of my arms and bolted into Applejack's room before I could react. I ran in after her and came upon a doctor pony talking to a stricken-looking Rainbow Dash and Rarity.

“No...” The word barely passed my lips as I looked at Applejack, then back at the doctor. He looked up from Rainbow Dash, who had buried her face in Rarity's mane.

“I'm sorry, we did everything we could. If it's any consolation at all, she asked for you at the end.” He stepped out of the room, leaving me with Rarity and Rainbow Dash. Winona stood on the bed, sniffing and nudging Applejack's head and letting out piercing whines.

“Anon, I'm so sorry.” Rarity's voice was quaking, trying to hold back the tears. “Sh- she woke up for a bit while w-we were here and...oh, Anon, she was so strong...” She broke down as Rainbow pulled herself together. She looked at me with her deep magenta eyes for a full minute before speaking.

“She asked for you, you know. Like the doctor said. We told her you were on your way and to hang in there, but she... just faded away...” I was numb. I felt nothing, just sank to the floor, my back against the wall.

“Could you give me a minute? I can't...I...” the words stopped, falling into incoherency as I sat there, desperately trying to hold back the coming sobs. Rainbow led the tearful Rarity out of the room.

“Take as long as you need, Anon. We'll be right outside.” The door closed and I remained sitting on the cold linoleum for some time before I summoned the strength to sit by Applejack's bedside. The whirs and beeps of the machines were gone, leaving only peaceful silence as I looked at Applejack, lying under the covers with a look of serenity on her face. Her tired eyes were closed, as if she were asleep, having earned a much-needed respite from her fight. I took one of her hooves in my hand and held it as the tears came. There were no birds singing then. Applejack was gone, and I hadn't been there to say goodbye.

“I'm sorry...God, I'm so sorry... Applejack...” My apology came as a whisper; all I could muster. “...I'm so goddamn sorry, love...” My voice cracked and I held her lifeless hoof tight against my chest. “...I love you...”

I stayed with her until the coroners came in to take the body. Winona growled protectively, not wanting to let them take her companion away. Tearfully I picked the dog up and allowed the coroners to wheel Applejack out of the room. I followed, machine-like and insensate, holding Winona in my arms. Rainbow and Rarity walked with me, though none of us had it in us to speak as we left the hospital. I walked Winona back home after taking my leave of Rarity and Rainbow Dash.

After closing the door to my house and putting Winona down, I saw Applejack's hat hanging on its hook on the wall. I took it from its place and walked to the living room, where I dropped into my chair, holding the hat in my lap. More tears began to fall, leaving dark spots in the tan fabric as I sat, unable to do anything but give in to my grief.

The others heard the news from Rarity and Rainbow Dash later that day. They all came to my house to offer their condolences. I could see they had all been crying. Fluttershy could hardly look me in the eye without breaking down. Her voice trembled when she tried to speak and she kept her gaze at the ground. Rainbow was struggling to keep her composure as well. She hadn't flown since Applejack's passing and she held her wings low, almost slumped against her sides. Twilight had retreated into her books, looking for coping advice, an escape, anything, but she'd found none. Her normal optimism was tempered to the point of nonexistence. Rarity, the regular drama-queen, remained reserved and seemingly stoic, though I could see it was only a facade. The worst was Pinkie Pie. Her mane was deflated and hung flat from her head. There was no levity in her voice, none of the usual bubbly mirth. Her coat even looked to be off color. I met them at the door and, having no words, knelt to embrace them.

Applejack's funeral was held in the park three days later. The sun was shrouded by clouds as the citizens of Ponyville gathered to pay their respects, casting a uniform shadow over everything. I sat in the front row of seats, alongside Rainbow Dash and the others. Across the aisle were the Apples. As the ceremony started I clasped my hands, rested my arms on my knees, and listened. After the first day, when my friends had come to give their condolences, I had gone numb again. I was going through the motions, not really feeling anything as I did. Applejack's body lay peacefully in the casket, surrounded by flowers. Twilight gave her eulogy first. It was heartfelt, recounting Twilight's first day, how Applejack had been the first to show her Ponyville hospitality, how, when Nightmare Moon returned, Applejack had embodied the Spirit of Honesty, and how she had fought alongside her friends against Discord. As Twilight read her eulogy, I could hear in her voice the intense pain of loss. It was clear that they would all need time to come to terms, but I wasn't sure I ever would.

With that thought I retreated into myself, not paying attention to the service any longer. I had declined to give a eulogy, giving some excuse about the grief being too much, but in reality I didn't do it because I didn't feel I deserved to. I hadn't been there for her in the end, why should I be one to send her off, who failed in the one thing I could do to support Applejack? No, I tuned out and simply sat in silence as the service continued. Every so often I would hear somepony begin to cry. The speakers finally concluded and the ponies began to file down and out towards the cemetery for the burial. The cemetery lay at the edge of the Everfree Forest. It was a medium-sized burial ground, seldom talked about by the ponies. The subject of death was always a kind of taboo in Ponyville; not many were willing to bring it up, let alone discuss it. The funeral procession arrived there and grouped around the grave plot. As the casket was lowered I heard Applebloom burst into tears. Big Macintosh put a great hoof on her shoulder and bowed his head. The casket reached the bottom with a resounding thud, signaling the end of the ceremony.

As the ponies filtered out of the cemetery, I was met by a tearful Applebloom. She was holding her sobs back now, looking me straight in the eye. I knelt and put a hand on her shoulder, only to have her knock it off with her hoof, her expression reading anger.

“Wah didn't ya sav 'er, Anon? You were sapposed ta save mah sister! You were sapposed ta bring 'er back home!” Her words cut me deeply. Big Macintosh walked over, hearing her harshness, and put a hoof out to stop her.

“That's enuff, lil sis. Ain't nuthin' Anon coulda done past what 'e did. We've bin over this. Now git on home with Granny Smith.” It was the first time I'd heard him speak more than a few words. After Applebloom walked off, breaking back down into tears, he turned to me and gave me a look of silent understanding before slowly turning away and walking after the filly.

I walked home alone, Applebloom's words repeating in my mind. She was right to be angry. I might not have been able to save Applejack, but I could have at least been there for her at the end.

“I should have been there,” I thought to myself as I opened the door to my house and stepped inside. “I would have been there...” I looked at Winona, who was sitting in front of the door. “If it hadn't been for you...” I trailed off, saddened by the thoughts running through my head. After I brought her back home from the hospital on the day Applejack passed, she had gone right back to sitting, watching the door, waiting for Applejack to come back. I looked at Applejack's hat, hanging on its hook like always. She would never wear it again. It would never again cover her head, laying its shade on her face and golden mane, shielding her bright green eyes from the sun. I turned away quickly, a lump forming in my throat as the reality hit me yet again. Too late; the memories flooded in and I fell against the wall, my eyes welling up and my breath catching in my throat as I began to cry. I slid to the floor and sat there, my head in my hands, until the sun went down over the hills. As the room darkened I finally got to my feet and went to the kitchen. Grabbing a glass from the cupboard, I opened the bottle of Canterlot Special I'd been saving for when Applejack got out of the hospital.

“Here's to you, sugarcube...” The liquor burned as it went down, leaving a warmth in my stomach when it settled; a respite from the sorrow clutching at me.