• Published 17th May 2012
  • 5,634 Views, 57 Comments

Honesty Lost - Fillydelphian



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

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4
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Act 2

I awoke in the morning, slumped over the table in the kitchen, a pile of empty bottles greeting my eyes as I opened them, groaning as I reached up and clutched my head. Winona bounced into the room, looking for Applejack like she had done every morning for the last two and a half weeks. I turned my head to look at her as she looked around and, seeing that I was alone, drooped her ears and walked to the door before sitting down, a quiet whine sounding as she went.

“Why do you keep waiting for her to come home?” I grumbled to myself. “Don't you know she's gone?” Winona sat silently in front of the door. The dog was the picture of loyalty. As I looked at her I saw Winona's unyielding hope and faith in Applejack. It was a tragic hope, hers, but she held it close as she sat at the door, waiting to greet her companion upon her return. I couldn't look at her for very long anymore; not without feeling an overbearing resentment.“You just had to run away that one day, didn't you? Then I could have at least said goodbye...” Over the past week I'd all but stopped going outside for anything more than food. Everything reminded me of what I'd lost. When I came home, Winona's disappointment stung me, her very presence reminding me of why I hadn't been there for Applejack. I forced myself out of the chair and brought the empty liquor bottles to the sink to rinse. I had bought the bottle of Canterlot Special to surprise Applejack when she got out of the hospital. Every time we went to refresh our supply of booze she'd drool over the expensive liquor. I felt a knot of regret form in my stomach as I recalled drinking the entire thing a week before.

I set the bottles on the counter and went into the living room. Applebloom's words played back in my head. I sat in my chair and stared up at Applejack's picture on the mantle. The knot grew as her eyes seemed to bore through me. It became too painful to bear, looking at her picture. I cast my gaze down to the floor, my thoughts turning against me again.

“I should have been there for her.” I slumped forward. “She asked for me before the end.” My eyes stung as they started to well up again. “She died not knowing where I was...” I looked up at the picture again, guilt sweeping over me. I couldn't have saved her, but I could have at least been there to comfort her in her last moments. A hard knock at the door barely registered as I sat, paralyzed by guilt and sadness.

“Anon? You home?” Rainbow Dash's tomboyish voice came through my front door as she rapped her hoof against it. I remained in my chair, having no will to get up or answer my friend. “Anon, I know you're in there, open up...” Her voice began to falter. The loss of Applejack was still fresh in her mind as it was in the rest of Ponyville's. For a whole minute she fell silent, though I thought I could make out faint sobs, before she spoke again, her voice barely audible. “...please come outside...I can't lose another friend...not now...” I finally arose from my seat and made my way past Winona to the door. My hand stopped at the doorknob and I took a few moments to collect myself before opening the door. I saw Rainbow Dash standing there, looking up at me with worry in her eyes.

“I'm sorry, Rainbow, I was upstairs,” I lied, “What can I do for you?” I tried to keep an illusion of calmness, but it was quickly shattered when I saw Rainbow nearly topple over as the smell of my week-long bender wafted out of the house. She quickly recovered from the shock and the smell, doing her best to keep her own composure.

“I wanted to see how you were holding up, Anon. Nopony's seen you in a week...we're all worried about you...” She looked past me to the living room as Winona got up and walked away in disappointment, her tail slowing down from its wagging and hanging limp behind her. I took a step forward and closed the door, not wanting Rainbow to see the state of the place.

“I'm fine, really, Rainbow. I'm just coping...”

“We all are, Anon. You don't have to do it alone. Applejack i- was...our friend too. We all miss her...” The cyan pony was looking straight at me. I could almost feel the pain she felt as she spoke to me. There was a long pause before I could bring myself to reply.

“I know, Rainbow. I just... I need to be alone for a while.”

“You can't just shut yourself in like this. We're your friends. We want to help and get through this...together...” She was starting to choke up again.

“I'm sorry. I just need some more time to myself.”

“What, and drink yourself to death?” Her tone carried a building indignation. “Just because you lost somepony special, you think you can just give up?”

“It's more complicated than that...”

“No it bucking isn't, Anon.” Tears were beginning to well up in Rainbow's eyes. “You can't just abandon your life...your friends...” The word “abandon” struck me and I felt a clawing at my chest, my guilt creeping back, stronger than before.

“I wasn't there for Applejack in the end. I might as well have abandoned her,” I thought to myself.

“...ponies care about you, Anon,” Rainbow's voice went quiet again, almost pleading. “Please, let us help and move on...”

“I can't. Not now.” I opened the door again and stepped back inside. “I'm sorry, Rainbow. I just can't do it.” As I closed the door and walked back to the kitchen I heard Rainbow's hoof strike the door with enough force to make the bottles on the counter shake.

“This is no way to carry on her memory, Anon. Is this how Applejack would have wanted you to cope?” Her words came through between choked sobs. I slumped into the chair in front of the table as the sound of her hoof falls faded into to the distance.

I spent the day sitting in my kitchen, getting up every so often to re-fill my glass with whatever swill I had left in the cupboard. I had thrown out every bottle of Applejack Daniels the day of the funeral; looking at them was torture. Around 5 o'clock I moved into the living room and unenthusiastically opened a book. I scanned the pages with my eyes, not actually reading them, but trying to distract myself from the weight that had seemed to grow ever heavier after talking to Rainbow Dash that morning. I again got up, having sat for over an hour with the open book in my lap, and walked to the doorjamb where Applejack's hat hung on its hook. As I stared at it, Applebloom's words a week prior came back into my head.

“You were sapposed ta bring 'er back home!” The memory of the filly's tearful remark redoubled the guilt I felt staring at the tan hat. My thoughts were pulled into the past, recalling a summer's afternoon two years before. It was a fond memory, though in my guilt and sadness I found no comfort in it.

The summer sun beat down on Ponyville as I walked hunched over and low to the ground so as not to stand out amongst the trees. A breeze came through the orchard, providing a little relief from the heat as I wove between tree trunks. I stopped behind one of the larger trees and peered around it. On the other side of the tree was Applejack, hard at work bucking apples as always in the heat of the afternoon sun. I paused for a moment, transfixed by the sunlight shining off of her mane as it bounced in reaction to her body's motion. She was absolutely beautiful. In the year and a half we'd been together I had come to really see that beauty, though our relationship had not become sexual for reasons evident to and accepted by, it seemed, us both. I snapped out of my stare as Applejack finished filling her bushel and silently sneaked up behind her as she placed it on the ground. Making sure not to overturn the apples, I reached down and scooped the mare up off the ground, her hat falling off her head in the process.

“What 'n 'tarnation-?” the indignant surprise on Applejack's face quickly shifted to cheer as her green eyes met mine. Smiles came inexorably over us both as I held her face close to mine before putting her back down. “What're ya doin' here so early, sug? Ah've still got six more carts ta fill 'fore ah'm done.”

“Twilight let me go early today. She said something about needing the library to herself for some research.” I picked up an empty bushel as I spoke. “So why don't you let me help you out filling these bushels?”

“Ya think ya kin keep up with me?” Applejack asked me, playing coy.

“That a challenge?” I tossed the basket up in the air nonchalantly and caught it as I raised an eyebrow. Applejack's eyes narrowed and she let her mouth curl into a sly smile. After a beat, during which time we simply stared at each other, tensing our muscles in anticipation of the competition, we were off, making our way through the trees, baskets waiting to be filled and hauled onto the carts. Being, of course, unable to kick the apple trees to harvest the fruit, I set about trying to find a long stick with which to knock them down. Finding none, I decided instead to climb and shake the branches until the heavy fruit fell off. As I scrambled into the first tree I could hear Applejack making her progress. Through the branches I could see trees shake as her powerful legs struck out and made contact. Fruit fell from full branches and into the baskets waiting below. Applejack did her work with a look on her face of practiced determination; the face of a virtuoso. She might not have had the poise of Rarity, she might not have been as learned as Twilight Sparkle, she might not have had Fluttershy's way with animals, but when it came to her craft; her straightforward, down-to-earth trade, she was magnificent.

“Hey Anon!” Applejack had stopped bucking and was looking at me with a playful grin as she yelled into my tree. “You gonna help, or are ya just gonna sit up there gawpin?” I felt the blood rush to my face.

“Uhh, right, I was...uh...testing you to make sure you were focused!”

“Uh huh. Ah've got a hunch Ah'm not the one needs ta keep 'is focus,” Applejack shot back with a laugh before turning and walking back to the tree she was bucking. As she did, I noticed she gave a subtle shake of her hips, sending a rapid chill up my spine. I hastened to the fruit-bearing branches, eager to take my mind off the sudden aching in my chest.

We worked for a few more hours, harvesting the apples and hauling them back to the carts. Applejack was bucking and sending the red orbs falling into her baskets, moving from tree to tree like a well-oiled machine. I was climbing each of my trees and shaking the upper branches, working the apples loose and filling my baskets as fast as I could. Twelve trees down the line I was panting and heaving myself into the branches, determined not to be beaten by the orange mare. I looked up to the sky every so often to see the sun slowly making its way across the blue expanse and each time found my thoughts going back to Applejack, the image of her mane glinting and flowing in the sun, the way the light would reflect off of her green eyes, her kind, confident smile which assured me that everything would be ok, these thoughts crept into my mind whenever I let it wander. Each time I had to tear my attention back to the task at hand, having let several minutes slip by unconsciously sometimes, redoubling my efforts to give Applejack a run for her money harvesting her family's signature crop and wondering why my thoughts of her had become so decidedly sentimental and saccharine. By the time the sun was beginning to set, I had filled a whole two carts to Applejack's four. I stood in front of the last cart, placing the last basket of apples in it as Applejack walked up behind me.

“Guess I shouldn't quit at Twilight's just yet, huh?” I asked jokingly as Applejack's tan hat came into view in the corner of my eye.

“Yer no Big Machintosh, but Ah guess you'd do in a pinch.” She looked up at me and smiled softly. “Now c'mon. We've gotta git these apples down to storage 'fore the weather team start their downpour.” I looked up to see clouds starting to gather overhead.

“Gotcha.” I picked up the last of the leftover baskets and threw them in the cart, getting ready to help Applejack pull it to the barn. The setting sun, coupled with the ever-darkening clouds, meant that we had to move quickly if we wanted to make it before nightfall. Applejack stepped into the harness at the front of the cart as I prepared to push it. We were halfway down the path when the first raindrops began to fall.

“How much further is the barn?” I looked around the cart to see Applejack's hat bobbing up and down in time with her steps.

“What're ya 'fraid ta get a lil wet? Ah swear, sometahms yer worse than Rarity, Anon.”

“Hey, I just don't want to see that pretty mane of yours get soaked in the rain.” I couldn't see her face, but I could almost hear the blood rushing to her cheeks at my comment. Her pace quickened suddenly, nearly causing me to stumble as the cart lurched forward.

“...We oughta git a move on, if we're gonna beat this storm.” I'd obviously taken her by surprise. I decided to push a little harder.

“You're pretty cute when you're off guard, you know that...sugarcube?” I nearly hit my head against the back of the cart when Applejack broke stride, stopping the cart abruptly for a second before continuing on.

“Ah've no idea what yer talkin' about, hon.” She kept her face forward the whole while, but I could tell she was smiling to herself. I stifled a self-satisfied chuckle and continued pushing the cart as the rain picked up. We quickened our pace further in an effort to make it to the barn before the rain could come down on us any harder.
By the time we made it to the barn the sky was black. I quickly lit the antiquated gas lamps to give us some light to work with. Roiling clouds overhead heralded the lightning still to come as we heaved the doors closed and started unloading the cart. As we worked to get the apples into storage, the first low rumbles of thunder came from outside. It took us a half hour to finish and wheel the now empty cart in with the others, at which point the storm had started in force. Applejack looked out at the farmhouse through one of the windows in the hay loft.

“It's not THAT bad out. We kin make it ta the fahrmhouse if we hur-” A blinding flash of lightning followed by a thunderclap that shook the whole barn silenced her as we looked at each other, wide-eyed. “...'r we kin stay in here fer a while.”

“Agreed.” My reply came instantly. Applejack came down from the hay loft and tossed her hat onto a hook to dry. I considered doing the same with my shirt, but decided against it. I took a seat against the wall. Applejack followed suit, lying back against my shoulder. We sat under the gas light like that, listening to the rain and thunder for a good twenty minutes, taking a much-needed rest from the hard work of the afternoon. After a long silence, I noticed Applejack looking like she was about to speak, but stopping herself every so often.

“You look like you're about to say something. What's up?” I asked, looking down at her.

“It's...nothin'...nuthin' 't all...” She trailed off into silence again. I kept looking at her, puzzled, but turned back to staring at the rafters and listening to the storm rage outside. “Just...” She started again slowly. “Ah don't know where we're goin' with this...”

“With what?”

“With us... “ She spoke slowly, trying to choose her words. “Ah mean...what am Ah to you, Anon? Ah know Ah'm yer special somepony but...it just don't feel lahk it sometahms...” I didn't know how to react. If this was a long time coming, I had sure missed the signs. Either that or Applejack had been hiding it from me.

“Applejack....”

“We've bin doin' this fer two years, almost.” Applejack got up and started pacing around the barn in front of me. “What do you see when you look at me, Anon? Just somepony ta say 'Ah love you' to?” I took a minute or two to process what she had said.

“Of course not, Applejack. I'm looking at you right now and you know what I see?” She stopped pacing and looked at me, those green eyes reflecting the yellow light of the lamp. “I see a mare I want to spend my entire life with.” Applejack's cheeks had turned pink, and she slowly walked back over to me. When she got close enough I reached out and grabbed her about the neck, pulling her in close to me. “And that's something I wouldn't say to anypony else.” She wrapped her forehooves around my back and looked up at me as I stroked her mane. “I do love you, Applejack. More than anything.”

“Ah know, Ah love you too, Anon. Ah just wonder sometahms. Where're we gonna be in a few years?”

“Where do you WANT to be?” Applejack went quiet for a little while. We seldom talked about the future; we both went about our lives thinking about the present, it seemed.

“Well someday Ah think Ah'd lahk ta have mah own farm. Nuthin' too fancy, or too far from home, but one that's mahn. Somewhere Ah kin settle in...raise a family...”

“Applejack, I think that's a fine dream. It suits you..” I looked at her and smiled. We settled into a more comfortable position, but she kept her hooves around me the whole time. “I promise, I'll make sure it comes true for you.” Her eyes got misty and shone brightly under the gas light. “We'll save up, do what we do best and work for it, and we'll make it happen, together.” Applejack looked at me, a mix of joy and apology running over her face as I drew her in close again.

“Ah'll hold you to it, Anon.”

“I wouldn't have it any other way.” The storm raged on through the night. Applejack drifted off to sleep in my arms as I listened to the rain and wind as it mixed with her peaceful breathing beside me. I soon fell asleep myself, knowing that Applejack held me as preciously as I did her.

I hung the hat back up on the rack, new dark spots adorning it where tears had fallen, new wrinkles where I had clutched it in shaking hands as I recalled the scene in the barn.

“It's a fine dream, Applejack... I just wish we could have seen it through together.”

As the sun began to set I looked out the window at the road leading out of Ponyville. The sun was just beginning to set as I stared at the road, thinking every so often that if I could, just for the briefest instant, see Applejack walking up that road, I might have some consolation; some closure. But as soon as the thought would cross my mind, it was overtaken by the reality that she was gone. I turned back inside, making my way to the kitchen looking for another bottle and, finding none remained, felt an implacable welling up of anger. I lashed out, striking the wall with balled fist and feeling a warm trickle of blood from my knuckle. I sank again into the chair at the kitchen table and stayed there, cursing myself for descending into such a state. It was still early, but I couldn't will myself to do anything, so I shuffled up to my room and fell into the bed. Still half-drunk, I lay there trying to listen to the birds, but found that I couldn't. My thoughts were scattered and drifted in and out of focus as I tried to calm down. I was angry that I had run out of liquor, angrier that I was angry about that, and angrier still that I had let myself come to such a state. Eventually I was able to sleep, exhausted mentally.

I awoke in the middle of the night, having been overcome by an urge to get up and move around. I went downstairs and turned on a light in the living room. The clock read 1 AM and I groaned at the late hour. I sat in my chair for a few minutes, annoyed that I was so wide awake now. The night was quiet; not a cricket or cicada to be heard over the gentle breeze. I got up and looked out the window into the starry night. Nights like these I had used to spend with Applejack, lying under the stars and the moon together in the fields and staring up at the night sky. A lump formed in my throat before I was seized with resolve. I grabbed my jacket and stepped out into the brisk night air. I made my way quickly down the road, walking purposefully through the Ponyville streets. I walked through the market, the square, and on through the park, not a soul in sight, until I could see the edge of the Everfree Forest come into view. Before it lay the cemetery, and Applejack's resting place. My pace slowed as I approached, as if I were trying not to wake anypony from restful sleep. When I got close enough to see the gate, I noticed a peculiar form standing amongst the headstones. As I walked towards it, I saw that it was a pony, draped in a black cloak and heaving violently. Once I was within earshot I could make out tortuous, incoherent sobs. The pony was slouched in front of a fresh plot; Applejack's plot. I noticed the curly tip of a mane poking out from the hood and recognized the mare immediately.

“...Rarity? Is that you?” I spoke slowly and softly, not wanting to startle her.

“Wh- Oh...Anon...What are you doing here?” She looked up quickly, her eyes sparkling in the moonlight, full of tears. She spoke as best she could as she tried to regain her composure.

“Couldn't sleep. Decided to pay Applejack a visit...” The lump in my throat formed again. My resolve had brought me to the cemetery, but now that I was there, it was gone. “...What about you?” I sat on the ground next to Rarity, my back against Applejack's headstone. Rarity did her best to reign herself in, trying to keep the stoic facade she had put up before the funeral. It was quickly failing though, the tears that had been so recently flowing threatened to burst through again. “You don't have to hide it from me, Rarity. I saw you when I came up here.” I patted the ground next to me, half looking at Rarity, half staring blankly out at the night sky. She slowly came over and sat beside me on the cool grass next to Applejack's grave.

“I'm sorry, Anon,” She started, “I know she wouldn't have wanted us to cry for her, and I try, I really do...” Her voice started to quiver, but she held fast, keeping herself composed. “But sometimes it's just too much to bear. She was my friend. We didn't see eye to eye many times, of course, and she was always more concerned with work than with the finer things in life, but we were always close. Now she's gone and there are so many things I wanted to say...” Rarity trailed off. A weight of sadness overtook us both and we sat in silence for a few minutes before I spoke.

“I think there were a lot of things we all wanted to say to her, Rarity.” I kept staring into space. I couldn't face Rarity or look back at Applejack's headstone for fear I wouldn't be able to hold myself together. I went quiet again as Rarity picked up on the guilt in my tone of voice.

“You mustn't blame yourself, Anon. What happened wasn't your fault. There was no way you could have done any more than you did for Applejack.” She put her white hoof on my shoulder as she spoke, her posh accent betraying the telltale quiver of pain behind her words.

“I wasn't there when she died, Rarity,” I held my legs close to my chest as the words came out. “I stayed with her all through her hospital stay, every day for a week and a half, except the one day it mattered...” I cast my gaze towards the ground. “...I wasn't there for her when she needed me the most and it's killing me.” I hadn't truly talked to anypony about my guilt since Applejack had died.

“Anon...” Rarity's voice was markedly quieter.

“She asked for me in the end and I wasn't there. I should have been there, but I was out chasing after her stupid dog...”

“Is that why you brought Winona to the hospital that day?”

“Yeah, I wanted to make up for being late by bringing Applejack her dog to visit.” The feeling of resentment started to creep back into my head as I recalled that day. Rarity didn't say a word for a while after that and we both sat out under the stars, remembering Applejack for a time before another thought came to mind. “Rainbow Dash came by this morning to check on me. I pushed her away, told her I wasn't ready to come to terms. Today was the second time I've seen her cry...”

“You needn't do this alone, Anon. You have friends who care about you to help with whatever is wrong.” Rarity looked at me with new determination. I stood up after another minute of silence and walked a few paces away from the grave, my eyes on the stars overhead.

“I've been a terrible friend to all of you since this happened, and I'm sorry, I really am.” Rarity rose to her feet and walked slowly over to me before wrapping her forehooves about my waist.

“There's nothing to apologize for, Anon. We've all had our own share of trouble dealing with this.” I put a hand on her head, thankful for her kind words.

“Thanks, Rarity.” It was half-hearted. The guilt I felt wasn't one that somepony else could just assuage, but I didn't let on, for fear that Rarity would react as Rainbow had earlier that day.

“Not at all, Anon. We all need time to come to terms. We'll be here for you when you're ready.” She let go and made her way down the path out of the cemetery, leaving me standing alone next to Applejack's headstone. I watched her go until she was out of sight before I sat down in front of the grave. I looked at the grave marker blankly for a few minutes, searching for something to say. It was a simple headstone, nothing fancy, no elaborate relief carvings, just a name and an epitaph. Anything more wouldn't have been Applejack. She was always a straightforward mare. The headstone simply read:

-Applejack-
A strong mare, a caring sister, a loving friend.
Taken too soon from those who loved her.

“Hey, Love, sorry I haven't visited...” I paused, noting the absurdity of my talking to no one, but it felt right. “Things haven't been too good since...you know...” I felt the numbness that had taken hold of me that night begin to fade as the words came tumbling out. “I just... I can't do anything... God, you'd probably have a fit if you saw me like this...” The lump in my throat returned and I fought to keep it together. “But you were the one keeping me grounded, you know? Kept me on the straight-and-narrow, pulled me back from the edge more than once...You can't now...can you?” I felt tears start to well up in my eyes. “I'm sorry, Applejack...I'm sorry for not being there...I should have been, but I wasn't...” I took a deep breath to try to regain my composure, falling silent for a little while as I did. “I know I shouldn't blame myself, everypony keeps telling me it's not my fault...but it doesn't make it hurt any less...doesn't set anything right...” I paused again, trying to think of what to say. “I miss you, sugarcube...more than you'll ever know...” was all that I could muster as I ran my hand over the carved letters on the headstone. I got up and looked at the stars again. “The stars are beautiful tonight. You would've loved them.” I turned and walked down the path back to Ponyville, the weight in my chest lifted slightly by the night's events. I had lost my direction after Applejack passed away, but visiting her grave had allowed me to unload, if only a little, some of my guilty conscience.

I arrived home and heard Winona wake up and scurry to the door when I opened it. The dog cocked her head to the side, looking eagerly on before giving a disappointed whine when I again returned home alone. The nagging resentment that had followed me the past few weeks returned as I looked at Winona, remembering the reason why I had missed Applejack in her last moments.

“If I'd just been faster catching you, it wouldn't have happened like this. Or maybe if you'd just stayed put in the house, I wouldn't have had to go catch you at all.” My tone went from defeated to bitter as I talked down to Winona. She picked up on my tone of voice and, after I finished my rant, retreated into the other room, leaving me alone in the living room. I'd grown steadily more angry and harsh towards the dog in the week I'd spent indoors, and the constant reminder of my own failure she served as ate at me constantly. Whatever peaceful feeling I had had leaving the cemetery was gone, replaced my the old resentment, bitterness, and grief that had marked the past week. I sat in my chair and looked up at the picture of Applejack on the mantle. I remained there for an hour, unable to sleep, thinking about everything that had happened in the last few weeks. The sadness, grief, guilt, and anger welled up suddenly and I held back choked sobs. My thoughts turned from the loss of Applejack to my friends and my own shutting down. They settled themselves on Winona after a time, my resentment and bitterness towards the dog coming out in full. I eventually pulled myself back together and got up from the living room. I went to the closet, pulled out a large box, and began gathering everything of Winona's that I could find.

I woke up the next day at noon. The last night was fresh in my mind as I walked to the kitchen and cobbled together a late breakfast. Winona sat in front of the door and I watched her while I ate, my eyes eventually trailing past her to the box sitting squat next to the door and the dog. When I finished eating I pulled the package of dog food out of the cupboard and poured it into her bowl. She came running eagerly into the kitchen to eat her belated meal as I got up and set about picking up the last of Winona's things. I didn't like the thought of bringing her back to the Apples; after all, she was the last real tie I had back to Applejack, but the thought of keeping her around in my home, constantly reminding me of the loss and the guilt was more than I could bear any longer. By the time the dog had finished devouring her meal I had finished packing the rest of her affects into the box by the door. I looked back into the living room, at the picture of Applejack on the mantle.

“Sorry, Love. I have to move on and I can't do...this anymore.” The last day had made it clear to me that the only way to at least ease the pain of Applejack's loss was to take charge and start moving on, and this was the clearest way I could think of to do it. I turned back to the box and folded it closed before whistling for Winona to come. She bounced into the room, happy having eaten, and sat down staring at me. “C'mon girl, we're going for a walk.”

Winona cocked her head to the side, as she always did, and stared at me confused for a bit before getting up and, tail wagging, began to bark excitedly. Having no free hand with which to hold a leash, I wiggled the door open and allowed the ecstatic dog to bound outside ahead of me. The sun shone with its usual summer intensity and the midsummer birds' songs mixed with the faint endless drone of the cicadas as I walked up the road to Sweet Apple Acres, Winona in tow, circling around me, barking and wagging her tail as I went. Going outside had brought back the old enthusiasm that the dog had always had when Applejack was around. It was refreshing to see her so animated and happy, but at the same time, it brought up memories of my lost mare; memories that I wanted to bury to drive out the pain I now associated with them.

The farmhouse came into view after ten or so minutes of walking in the hot summer sun, and my pace slowed in anticipation of the exchange that I knew was coming. As if she could read my mind, Winona stopped her bouncing and barking the moment my pace slackened. A faint whine came up from the dog as she saw where we were headed. We continued up the path to the farm and I held my emotions in check so as not to make a scene. Winona's exuberant behavior hadn't lessened my resentment, but as we drew ever closer to Sweet Apple Acres, I felt more and more conflicted. At last we reached the front gate and I walked up to the front door, placing the box on the porch before knocking.

“Big Mac, can you get that?” I heard Applebloom holler to the stallion from inside the house

“Eeyup,” Came the response. I waited a minute in silence before the clopping of hooves came into earshot, followed by the opening of the door. Big Macintosh looked at me, a range of emotions running across his face as his eyes fell on the box sitting next to my feet and Winona scurrying around in the front yard, chasing a squirrel that had caught her attention.

“Afternoon, Mac.”

“Afternoon, Anon.”

“How are you all holding up?”

“Well enough, I s'pose. Yerself?”

“I'm fine, thanks.” We stood there in awkward silence for a few minutes before I looked down at the box saying, “I brought Winona's stuff to give back, along with her...I can't take care of her any longer. It's too much for me.” I lied. Whether or not Big Mac picked up on it, he remained silent. “So...yeah...I'll leave her with you guys. I think she should be with her real family, if that's alright with you?”

“Eeyup,” The simple reply relieved me. I had been expecting more conflict in returning Winona to the Apples, but Big Mac took her without any more questions.

“Alright, thanks for understanding. I'll see you around.” I turned and started walking back to the gate. Winona, having lost interest with the squirrel, began to follow me. I stopped when I heard the jangling of her collar behind me. “No. Stay, Winona. You're staying here now. Big Mac and Applebloom and Granny Smith will take good care of you, so don't follow me.” Winona let out another whine as I got up and walked out the gate, making my way back down the road, alone.

I returned home, still conflicted thinking about what I'd done. Winona wasn't there to remind be of my loss, but there was still plenty around the house and around town that kept bringing my thoughts back to the mare I'd loved and lost. Vague doubt set in as I looked around the house absentmindedly. I shook it off as hold-over doubt from the walk over to Sweet Apple Acres. I was all alone with no Winona to remind me of the day Applejack died, and I found some relief in that. I felt as though I might actually be able to start moving on from the loss of Applejack and looked at the picture of her on the mantle, a slight smile crossing my face. For the first time in over a week I sat in the yard and read, now able to focus on something other than my guilt and grief.

For a few days after dropping Winona off with the Apples I felt like my old self. I had stopped drinking, cleaned up the mess that was my house, and even started to go into town again. As the days wore on, though, and I watched daily life in Ponyville carry on as if nothing had happened, my bubble of relief became increasingly hard to keep from bursting. I saw business as usual return to the town and, while I knew that Applejack would have wanted it that way, I couldn't help but be a little saddened by it. Every so often at home I'd catch myself looking to the door, half-expecting to see Winona sitting there, waiting for Applejack like always. By the time a week had passed, I had begun to sink back into a depression. I had managed to stay away from the liquor, but I had lost all will to be active. Before it got out of hand, like it had the week before, I decided it was time to talk to Rainbow Dash.

It wasn't a long walk to Rainbow's cloud house. I followed the road through town and then a little past the park until I saw it looming into view. I walked closer to it until I could shout and get the mare's attention.

“Hey, Rainbow, you there??” I shouted, my hands cupped over my mouth like a megaphone. I got no reply. “You home, Rainbow??” After waiting for five minutes with no response, I turned to go back. After a few steps I felt the impact of something heavy against my back. I fell to the grass as I turned to see what had hit me. When I recovered from the surprise, I saw a pair of magenta eyes staring angrily back at me.

“What the buck, Anon?” She pinned me to the ground, her frustration clearly showing in her words.

“What, Rainbow? What did I do?” I had expected her to be frustrated and hurt from my behavior the past two weeks, but this was a bit much, even for her.

“You're doing it again! First you throw Winona out of your house, then you turn into Mr. Happy for like, two days, and then nopony hears from you for almost a week, again! What's the deal, Anon??” Her hooves dug into my chest.

“I'd -hurk- tell you, but you're going to need to get off me first...” I looked up at her and her features softened somewhat when she saw the state I was in. She flapped her wings and lifted herself off of me. I sat up and she landed next to me.

“Alright, so tell me what's going on. Because from where I'm sitting, it looks like you're doing something you'll regret.”

“I visited Applejack's grave last week. Rarity was there. We talked for a little and it just sort of clicked that I had to start moving on...”

“So you gave Winona back to the Apples? What kind of plan was-”

“So I went home and started thinking about a lot of stuff, and it all kept coming back to Winona.”

“Sheesh, Anon, you sound like you-”

“Rainbow. Just listen, okay?” She sighed and nodded as I went on. “I realized that I was constantly shoving my own guilt onto her. I haven't gotten over my not being there for Applejack and having Winona around to remind me of that only makes it worse. Frankly I'm surprised I'm able to say these things so openly right now, but they've been sitting for a while, festering.” Rainbow raised a hoof and paused before dropping it again. “I've gotten myself to the point that I can function again, but I've slipped back the last few days and I'm afraid if I keep going like this I'll have some kind of breakdown...” I looked over at Rainbow to see that her angry face had turned to one of concern. “Look, you're my closest friend, Rainbow. I don't like how things ended up with Winona, but I can't handle having her around anymore. I just need some time to think about what I'm going to do from here on out and I need you behind me on this. I promise, I'll keep you in the loop, alright?” There was a long silence while rainbow processed what I'd said. Aside from Rarity, I hadn't confessed what was going on with me to anypony, and even then, it hadn't been the whole story. Eventually though, she spoke up.

“Okay, Anon. But please, don't just drop off the face of Equestria like that ever again... You're better than that. Do what you gotta do, Anon.”

“I will, Rainbow. Thanks. And I'm sorry about last week. I shouldn't have done that to you.”

“It's alright, Anon.”

“I'm going to head back. I'll be in touch.”

“See you later...bro.” She put a hoof out and I met it with my fist as I got up. I was hit with a wave of unplaced anxiety as I left the cyan mare's company. Talking to Rainbow should have cheered me up; her loyal support in light of my revelation was a much-needed break from the feeling of alienation and separation I felt in the past week. Despite that fact, and despite all my friends' supportive behavior, I still felt a great weight upon me as I walked home, contemplating how I could come to terms with Applejack's loss and my own self-blame.

Back at my house, I took a seat in the kitchen and poured some water. I mulled over the talk I had with Rainbow and thought back to whether or not I had done the right thing regarding Winona. The thought kept creeping into my head, and the more it did, the more I agreed with it, that Winona hadn't been the problem. Clearly, looking around at the house, this was the case. Even with her out of the picture, I had managed to fall back into a rut, with the thankful exception of the drinking. The more I thought about it, the more the idea would come into focus. I sat there, thinking at length about what I should do, until around three in the afternoon when I finally found myself coming back, over and over, to the idea that I had been working over in my mind for the past week. I got up from my chair and headed out the door, determined to see where the idea would lead me, lest I fall all the way back into my earlier depression. My pace was quick and driven. I made my way through the town until I came upon my destination. Taking a deep breath, I stepped inside and approached the counter. A stallion with a haughty look on his face and a well-kept black mane watched from the counter as I entered and addressed him.

“Afternoon, Rich. Are you still dealing in real estate?”

The sun beat down through the window as I packed the last of my clothes into my suitcase. I closed the clasps on it and looked around the now empty bedroom. I'd sold most of my belongings; everything I couldn't fit in my two suitcases I had exchanged for bits, which I'd then put in the bank. Aside from my clothes, I packed enough carrying money for a few weeks, some toiletries, and the framed picture of Applejack that I had kept on the mantle. I raised a hand to my cheek, feeling the bruise that Rainbow Dash's hoof had left when I told her I was leaving Ponyville. I'd made the decision to go while I was depressed, but the two weeks leading up to this day had made it clear to me that I was doing the right thing. For all my friends and all the ponies who cared about me, I couldn't stay in Ponyville any longer. There were too many painful memories; too many regrets for me to face. I looked at the clock. Only four hours until the train to New Mareleans departed. I was filled with a sense of both apprehension and eagerness. A fresh start, I told myself, but I only half-believed it. Rainbow Dash had called me a coward and said I was running away from my problems, and part of me agreed with her. Part of me wanted to stay in Ponyville with my friends and honor Applejack's memory by living like she would have wanted us to, but I knew that it was a pipe dream. I couldn't carry on living there without Applejack. The whole town reminded me of her, her loss, and my own failings and that was something I couldn't live with.

Pinkie had thrown a going away party for me the night before. It wasn't a large one, and the mood of the evening was by no means as bubbly and positive as her regular parties, but we did our best to focus on the good and not to dwell on all that had happened in the month prior. Rainbow was markedly absent; she had turned down Pinkie's invitation point blank, saying that if I wanted to leave, she wasn't going to stop me, but she wasn't about to celebrate it either. I'd hurt her deeply, it seemed, with my decision to leave, and I regretted it, but I was determined to make a new start. Twilight Sparkle and I talked at length during the party. She had been researching New Mareleans ever since I told her I was moving there; research and study seemed to be her coping mechanism. She would retreat into her volumes and old tomes whenever something negative happened in her life. When Applejack first fell ill she had apparently spent two days locked in the library researching obscure pony diseases, to no avail. She was a good friend, Twilight. I promised to write as soon as I got settled in my new city when I left the party. I was moving on, but I wasn't about to leave my friends behind. I walked home and started to pack my suitcases.

At noon I looked up at the clock again. Three hours remained until the train departed. I looked to the door and saw Applejack's tan hat hanging on its hook. Taking a step forward, I steeled myself and took the hat from the hook. It was time to visit the Apples one last time.

I walked the path to Sweet Apple Acres slowly, Applejack's hat in my hands. I reminisced as I went, thinking back to the times my mare and I had walked that path together, the times when she would sneak up on me, the times when I would surprise her on her way back from the market, they were good times. I felt my eyes begin to water as I remembered a darker scene. I remembered carrying my mare, holding her head close to my chest and running towards the hospital. I remembered seeing her fall in the midst of working one day and seeing her struggle to get back up before she passed out. I looked up at the clear blue sky and stopped myself.

“Now's not the time, Anon. You've got something important to do.”
I took a deep breath and continued up the path. The gate was open when I arrived. Winona was out in the yard chasing squirrels and started barking when she saw me. The dog came running over and I knelt down to pat her half-heartedly. I got up after a minute and walked to the door. Applebloom answered my knocks and we stood, looking at each other silently for an uncomfortable few seconds before I spoke.

“I'm sorry for everything that's happened, Applebloom. I want you to know that I loved Applejack more than anything.”

“Ah know, Anon, she was yer special somepony”

“And she was your sister. I know how much she meant to you...how much you meant to her.” I lifted Applejack's hat to eye level with the filly, nearly grown now. Her eyes flitted around, searching my face for what I was getting at, before widening at the realization. I heard her breath catch in her throat as I continued. “So I know she would have wanted me to give you this.” I placed the tan hat on Applebloom's head and she stared at me for a moment before welling up and burying her face in my chest. Through her heaves I heard her speak.

“Ah'm sorry, fer what Ah said ta ya back then, Anon... Ah- Ah just din't want ta believe that-”

“Shh, it's okay. I understand. I'm sure if Applejack were here she'd be proud of you. Take good care of that hat, Applebloom.” I got up as the filly stepped back, still sniffling. I gave a weak smile and bid her goodbye as I turned and walked back into town. I had put on a strong face for Applebloom, but as I got out of earshot I felt my own breath start to catch in my throat and warm tears start to run down my face.

The station was nearly empty when I arrived to wait for my train. I laid my suitcases on the bench and took out a book to read while I waited. A little while before my departure time I heard clopping off to my side. I turned to see five pastel-colored mares standing a few feet down the platform from me. I got up and walked over to them. Fluttershy looked at the floor, her eyes meeting mine only briefly as she mumbled a goodbye. Twilight and Rarity remained relatively stoic. The two mares gave me some parting advice and reminded me to write from my new home once I arrived. Pinkie Pie dissolved into dramatic tears; her eyes becoming fountains as I said my goodbyes. The train pulled up to the platform at the same time I turned to Rainbow Dash. She looked everywhere but at me, her face revealing the betrayal she felt. I gave a final apology to the pegasus, wrapped my arms around the crying Pinkie Pie one last time, and thanked the mares for the time we had spent together. As I boarded the train I caught a glimpse of Rainbow Dash looking up at me, with tears in her eyes.

“Goodbye, Dash, maybe you'll forgive me someday.” With a loud whistle, the train lurched forward and I took my seat. Ponyville quickly receded into distance and I looked out the window, my thoughts turning to the mares and the life I'd just left behind. A sliver of doubt needled its way into my mind. As determined to move on as I was, I felt like New Mareleans was only the first stone in a long road back to a normal life. Whether or not I'd find my grounding there I didn't know, but I felt driven to try.