• Published 29th Nov 2011
  • 5,978 Views, 147 Comments

An Apple Alone - Blue Thrush



With her siblings out of town, Apple Bloom has to run Sweet Apple Acres all by herself. Is she up to the task of managing the farm?

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The Ties That Bind

Granny Smith’s eyelids fluttered open in the darkness. She blinked once to get the sleep out of her eyes and sat up. Already alert, the old mare got out of bed and started into a routine established many years ago. The sun had yet to rise, and the clouds from yesterday still hung dead in the air, preventing the night-time lights from encroaching on the slumbering farmland. With a couple flicks of the blanket and the fluff of a pillow the old mare’s bed was made. She moved to the foot of the bed and tossed on her apple-adorned shawl, tied it up, and adjusted it so that it sat correctly around her neck. Granny Smith crossed the dark room as if she had no trouble seeing where she was going and pushed opened the door. The resultant creak resonated throughout the first floor of the multi-generation home.

Sweet Apple Acres greeted Granny with silence, with her being the only soul on the farm awake. It was what she was accustomed to. After all, it had been quite a while since her son and daughter-in-law had inhabited this home, and they were the only other ponies to routinely awaken as early as she did. The thought of the two farmponies made Granny Smith sigh. She glanced sadly at the other first floor bedroom which lay dormant and empty. The elder farmpony was happy that the two had taken on the duties of managing all of the Apple farms across Equestria, but she still wished that they could spend just a little more time at home with their immediate family. If there’s one flaw runnin’ through the Apple tree, it’s our stubborn attitude when it comes to tha farmwork, the old mare admitted. It was that stubborn pride, however, that made the Apples one of the largest farm-owning entities in Equestria. Ah’m sure Applejack an’ Big Macintosh are helpin’ their parents out plenty, she thought encouragingly. Hope there won’t be any delays. Ah hate seein’ tha house this empty.

As she crossed the living room, Granny Smith heard a noise coming from up the stairs. The dissonant snores of Apple Bloom were barely audible, but Granny was still impressed that she could hear them from this distance. The exhausted Apple was sleeping like a log. Surprised half the farm ain’t awake with that racket, Granny mused. She continued her trek across the foyer and entered the kitchen. Her journey’s end was trumpeted by a vicious sneeze. “Goodness, that was loud,” she said to herself. “Don’t havta worry ‘bout wakin’ the tired lump upstairs at least.” She sniffled a bit, taking care of her running nose before starting to get breakfast ready. With the home containing only half its usual occupants, it didn’t take a whole lot of effort for the green mare to prepare the meal. It was a task, however, that she would have much preferred to do for six Apples instead of two.

* * *

A tremor-inducing roar shook the land beneath Apple Bloom’s hooves as she dove behind a boulder for cover. A second later she heard the sounds of many small objects ricocheting against the barrier that now sat between her and the creature. Once the bombardment ceased, she jumped from her hiding spot and raced towards the ancient beast. The dragon noticed its attacker fast-approaching and again assailed her with a barrage of apple seeds, the small projectiles spewing like angry hornets from its wide maw. The warrior mare closed the last few yards with a mighty leap, spun on her forelegs, and gave one of the dragon’s tree trunk legs a mighty buck. The creature howled in agony as bits of its apple-coated wings broke off and toppled to the ground below. “Ah’ll have your treasure yet, ein shemer! Yer loot is mine!” Apple Bloom yelled, kicking her forelegs up in celebration of landing a blow.

The dryad dragon roared and lashed out with one of its claws. Apple Bloom noticed the wooden arm descending and started to flee, but wasn’t fast enough. The branch-like claw raked across her leg, sending her tumbling through the air before landing with a dull thud several yards away. She got back onto her hooves, shaking her head to stop it from spinning, and made her way behind another large boulder just as a third hail of apple seeds came her way. She glanced at her injured leg. It had a couple gashes, with the hoof also suffering a crack from the beast’s swipe. The wounds stung fiercely, but the pain only spurred Apple Bloom on. The dragon, tired of the game of cat-and-mouse, flew over to where the injured pony hid, easily knocking the boulder aside. Triumph in its eyes, it dove head-first towards the mare. The undeterred pony tucked into a diving roll and maneuvered sideways away from the mythical creature’s trajectory. It flared its wings and landed with a massive presence on the ground, nearly costing Apple Bloom her balance and sending a spike of pain up her injured leg.

The legendary ein shemer turned its serpentine head to face Apple Bloom once more, lashing out with its sharp fangs. Before it could reach the pony, Apple Bloom, full of adrenaline, sped up to the dragon and gave the opposite leg a powerful kick, ignoring her leg wounds. The humongous beast roared ferociously as its entire being crumbled to the ground in a pile of green apples. Apple Bloom dove from the torrent of fruit tumbling from above her, barely escaping being buried alive. All that stood of the dragon now was a giant apple tree, stripped of all of its bounty. The threat dissipated, the entirety of the Apple Family, dozens in number, came rushing from their hiding places amongst the hills, shouting words of praise for their savior. Apple Bloom stood proudly, beaming at her family members.

“Ya did it, sis!”

“Ya got ‘im good!”

“Eeyup!”

“Ya got tha loot!”

“Wake up, Apple Bloom!”

One voice grew steadily louder than the rest, but Apple Bloom couldn’t find the source. “Time ta git up, young lady!” It spoke again.

“...mma hero.” Apple Bloom mumbled, shifting her head to find a more comfortable spot on her pillow and resuming her raucous snoring. Noting her refusal to budge, Granny Smith placed her forehooves on the dreaming pony and gave her a good shake. The physical jostling caused the drowsy mare’s eyes to open a fraction. “Wha...?”

“C’mon, up an’ at ‘em,” Granny continued with a sniff. “Ya made me come all th’ way up here tah git you up. Breakfast is gettin’ cold.”

“Ah’m up, Ah’m up,” Apple Bloom spoke into her pillow. “Quit bellyach... er... yes’m.” She amended quickly. Satisfied, Granny turned and headed back downstairs, emitting a small cough on her way down. Apple Bloom groaned, stiff as a board. She flipped her head back to the other side of the pillow, smearing the puddle of drool that had accumulated across the side of her face. “Eww...” she commented, quickly wiping off the saliva. She let a couple hooves drop to the floor, dragging the rest of her tired body out of bed on upper body strength alone. She stretched her mouth wide to let out a loud yawn as she walked over to the window. There was no sun to greet the exhausted mare this morning. Opening the window slowly, humid air blew into the cool room.

Not even the wind could fully arouse Apple Bloom. She turned away from the window and began her morning routine, barely able to see with half-open eyes. Each step took a lot of effort out of the mare: The crack in her hoof had healed a bit overnight, but still twinged painfully each time it impacted the wooden floor. Those sparks of discomfort were overshadowed by soreness spread throughout overworked pony’s body. There wasn’t a single part of her that didn’t ache. The brunt of the agony came from the muscles in her hindquarters and rear legs. She tried to keep most of her weight on her front hooves, but that didn’t last long. Finished with her routine, Apple Bloom struggled down the steps and into the kitchen, wincing all the way. The one benefit of being so sore was that the anguish managed to stir the young pony up, her eyes open slightly wider than before.

“‘Bout time ya made it down,” Granny remarked with a small smile. “Yer one tuckered-out pony.”

“Uh-huh,” Apple Bloom croaked as a way of greeting, yawning again. She offered a tired grin to her grandmother. “Thanks fer comin’ upstairs an’ gettin’ me up. Otherwise Ah’d probably’ve slept ferever,” she added, sitting down to eat.

Granny noticed Apple Bloom’s unkempt appearance. “Now just a moment, ya look like a train wreck.” Granny stepped over to Apple Bloom, licked a hoof, wiped a smudge off the young mare’s cheek and straightened out the stray hairs. She then used her mouth to align the tired pony’s bow atop her head. “There ya go,” the old mare admired with a nod, “now ya look respectable.”

If her siblings had been present, Apple Bloom would’ve had to endure much ridicule about being babied by their grandmother. Thankful for their absence, she thanked Granny Smith, rubbing away the bit of spittle still on her cheek before digging into her breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast. Despite being cold, she tore into the meal with a ravenous fervor. After a moment, she noticed something off about the older farmpony. “You alright, Granny? Ya don’t look so good,” she noted between bites.

“Oh, it’s nothin’, dear,” The sniffling pony replied, “jus’ got a bit of a cold is all. Nothin’ ta worry yer pretty little head over.” She took a sip of orange juice. “Never had one that orange juice couldn’t handle.”

The two farmponies finished their breakfast without saying much else to one another. Apple Bloom’s voracious appetite kept her busy while Granny’s ailment occupied her. The only things to break the silence were the occasional sneeze from Granny and a couple loud belches from Apple Bloom (followed by a meek “pardin” from the hungry pony). By the time Granny was finished with her breakfast, Apple Bloom had made her way through three plates of food and two glasses of juice.

After wrapping up their morning meal the two farmponies headed outside to begin the day’s work. Apple Bloom hurried out of the house, well-fed and full of energy, but still carrying a small limp. She was still quite sore, but the more she moved about and kept her mind off of it the less it bothered her. Granny started about her daily routine. The morning air out on the farm was doing her cold some good, as she wasn’t sniffling or coughing nearly as much. Apple Bloom, meanwhile, headed over to the doghouse aside the barn. Guess Ah wasn’t tha only one ta oversleep this mornin’. She thought, approaching the sleeping collie and giving her back a stroke with a hoof. “Time ta git up, sleepy head.”

Winona blinked her eyes open and noticed the yellow pony standing before her. She sprung up in an instant and kissed Apple Bloom, tail wagging furiously and starting to bound about as if she had been awake for hours.

“Aw, c’mon, Winona,” the young mare tried to chide the dog, but she was giggling too much from the display of affection. She wiped the offending drool off of her face. She looked around the barn, pinpointing all the spots where stray apples had been blown off trees from the night before. “We got some work ta do today, girl. Tha storm left us with plenty a’ grub ta gather fer tha pigs.” The collie barked happily, playfully chasing one of the chickens milling about. “An’ it looks like that’s not all tha storm did,” the redhead continued, growing a bit frustrated at the sight of the mess that lay before her. The pegasi’s storm had run wild. Despite Gale Force’s assurance, the storm had really done a number on the farm. No major damage had occurred at least: Trees still stood, crops weren’t uprooted, and the farm’s structures were still intact. Plenty of cleaning up needed to be done, though, which took time away from other necessary work.

“When will those weatherponies learn that tha less work they put into controllin’ the rain tha more we gotta do ta’ clean up after ‘em?” Apple Bloom griped. She stomped her hooves in anger only to immediately regret agitating her injury, recoiling in pain. “Ow! Not ta mention Ah wouldn’t’ve cracked a hoof if they hadn’t made it so darn strong.”

Granny Smith was also annoyed. “There’ll be hay ta pay fer this,” she scoffed, spreading out some chicken feed about the ground laden with leaves and some small branches. “Ah’m gonna give that weather captain a piece of mah mind when I git inta Ponyville.” She navigated carefully around the fallen debris and the flock of chickens hopping about her, all trying to get at the feed. Winona had found her way to the old mare, attempting to cheer her up. Granny stopped to offer her a quick petting before getting on with her chore.

“Well don’tcha worry about any of this mess,” Apple Bloom offered, “Ah’ll have it taken care of in no time.”

“Don’t spend all mornin’ sweatin’ over this mess,” Granny replied. “This ain’t nuthin compared ta what you and yer friends did tha other day.” Her face grew slightly concerned as she noticed her granddaughter limping about. “‘Sides, the less strain ya put on that hoof tha better.” She approached Apple Bloom, discarding the bag of chicken feed and pulling a list out from her shawl. “These’ll be yer chores fer tha day,” she said through clenched teeth.

Apple Bloom took the list and looked it over. Today’s work load appeared to be considerably lighter than yesterday. “Wow Granny, Ah was kinda expectin’ more ta do than this. This ain’t much more than what I usually do ‘round here.”

“Ya need a lighter day after what ya went through yesterday,” The elder farmpony explained. “Ya can’t do much buckin’ right now, an’ there’s no need ta go upsettin’ yer injury further.” She smiled. “Take it while ya can, Apple Bloom. This’ll be tha only easy day yer gunna get. ‘Sides, if ya git bored you can always get ahead on cleanin’ this place up.”

Apple Bloom returned the smile. “Sure thing, Granny. A slower day sure sounds nice.”

“Well go on,” Granny ordered, “tha hogs ain’t gunna feed themselves.” The younger pony nodded and set off to the orchard, where she’d find the most bruised fruit eligible for hog food. Winona abandoned the pursuit of a chicken and followed Apple Bloom. “Don’t be too long, now!” Granny called. “Gotta start packin’ tha cart up fer market!”

* * *

Apple Bloom hadn’t ventured to all parts of Sweet Apple Acres to rectify the mess left in the storm’s wake. Doing so would have taken too much time. Only the main section around the house and barn where hoof traffic was more frequent and the animals lived had to be taken care of immediately. The young pony made short work of the mess under the cloudy skies, Winona again keeping her company. She raked up leaves and dead branches and gathered up more bruised crops for hog food. All of the farm’s buildings weathered the storm without being damaged - even the recently-repaired silo remained completely intact.

The young mare collected all the dead foliage and branches into a sizable pile in a barren part of the farmland, separated out from any crops, buildings, and trees. The soil here was infertile, so the Apples used it for burning away dead wood, fallen leaves, and the like. Apple Bloom nosed a moderately-sized stone up next to the pile and began swiping at it with a forehoof. The impact of iron on stone sent sparks flying into the heap. Amongst the usual reasons for having horseshoes, they also served as a convenient tool to start a fire. Since everything was still wet from the previous day’s downpour, however, it took some effort in getting the fire started. Winona sat nearby, offering an encouraging bark every now and again but staying well-away from the flying sparks. Several minutes and a few burnouts later, some of the leaves started smoldering again. The farmpony blew expertly on the burning foliage, causing the flames to spread. After a moment of tending to the small fire in this way, the rest of the pile finally began to burn. Satisfied, Apple Bloom stepped several feet away from the blaze and lay settled down nearby. Her foreleg, already sore from the previous day, ached a bit after repeatedly hitting the rock to cause the sparks. Laying down took the pressure off of both her foreleg and injured hoof. Apple Bloom couldn’t leave the flames unattended lest it start to spread, so she took advantage of the duty and relaxed. While there wasn’t much of a chance of the flames getting out of control considering how drenched the entire area was, she knew better than to not keep an eye on it.

The sore mare enjoyed the warmth emanating from the flames. It flowed over her, massaging her aching muscles with the comforting heat. Winona rested beside her, snoozing contently. She sighed happily and lay her head down, staring deeply into the fire and absentmindedly stroking the collie’s back. The soothing warmth continued to wash over the two, causing Apple Bloom’s eyes to droop. Her consciousness began to falter beneath the comforting fire, the sunlight glinting off of the wet ground...

Apple Bloom snapped out of her trance. Sunlight? She wondered. The clouds had been blanketing the sky all day long, preventing the sun from shining through. She turned her head upwards and saw that a few clouds had disappeared, letting the sun’s rays reach the ground. She scanned the skies and spotted the source of the vanishing nimbi: A certain cerulean-maned pegasus danced about the welkin, bucking the expired clouds away with a series of excessive aerial maneuvers. The sight of the weatherpony angered the young mare. There’s that lyin’ pegasus, she thought venomously. “Hey! Hey, Gale Force, ya varmint, git down here!” She yelled, neglecting any show of respect for her elders. The flying stallion was too wrapped up in his moves and his work to notice Apple Bloom’s shouts, though. Consarnit, why ain’t he answerin’ me? She growled. Looks like Ah’ll need ta git his attention some other way. She pondered a moment, looking around the farm. Sighting some suitable attention-grabbers along the ground, she grinned insidiously.

Up in the sky, Gale Force blasted through a cloud, disintegrating it into nothing. I really should bring Scootaloo along on weather duties one of these days, he thought idly. She’d have a blast clearing the clouds! He rocketed through another white ball of fluff. The proud pony smirked at the thought of racing alongside his daughter, seeing who could clear the skies faster than the other. His brow furrowed as he took a small dive, somersaulted, and rocketed skyward, taking out several more clouds in the process.

The pegasus’ concentration was interrupted by a small red object flying by the side of his head. He swiveled to look downward just in time to be pelted in the side by another piece of flying fruit. He yelped at the impact but maintained flight, squinting down and spotting his assailant. He saw a small fire burning brightly on the ground. Next to the flame stood Apple Bloom, who reared up and launched another apple with a well-placed kick. What’s gotten into her? He thought. He dived down expediently, waving his front hooves frantically to try to get the mare to stop her barrage. “Hey hey hey! What’s the big idea?” He smacked the last apple out of his path with a forehoof and completed his descent, landing beside Apple Bloom. “What’s gotten into you, young lady?” He said, striking a tone usually reserved for reprimanding Scootaloo. “You could’ve knocked me out of the air with those things!”

The earth pony stopped bucking apples and scowled. “Just what were you intendin’ on accomplishin’ by lyin’ ta me?” Winona mirrored her frustration, growling at the pegasus.

The weatherpony’s eyes shifted about. “What do you mean?”

“Ah’m talkin’ about the storm,” Apple Bloom answered slowly. “Practically flooded all of tha farm with that much rainfall! It was bright as day what with all the lightnin’ flying around, and Ah could barely stand up against tha wind.”

The stallion winced as the accusations accumulated. “Oh right, that.” He laughed nervously, rubbing a hoof behind his head. “I did say we planned on a lot of rain. As for the rest, well... seeing as we had a lot more clouds to play with for a change, it was decided that we try out a few new weather patterns. It’s not like us weatherponies actually moving the elements into place dictate what weather’s to be had, you know.”

“So yer sayin’ because ya had more toys ta play with y’all went an’ messed around with our weather?” Apple Bloom asked incredulously. “Doesn’t sound real responsible-like ta me.”

“There’s only so much you can theorize before putting ideas into practice, though,” the orange-coated pegasus countered, shifting his weight back and forth between his left and right hooves nervously. “Yeah, it got out of hoof. Once the storm went out of control, though, it was deemed too dangerous to fly up and change the patterns. We had to let the storm run its course.” He rolled his eyes. “Why am I trying to defend myself from a filly...”

Apple Bloom was beside herself. “Ah’m not a filly!” She hollered. Winona started barking to echo her outrage. “Ah got hurt because of the storm,” she turned and showed him her cracked hoof, “an’ now Ah’m fallin’ behind on mah work!” She gestured at the burn pile. “An’ on top of all that, I had ta spend all mornin’ cleanin’ up a mess that y’all caused! An’--”

“All right all right, I get it,” Gale Force interrupted. “Look, I’m sorry about all that you had to go through because of this. The storm damaged other parts of Ponyville too, and we’ve been getting complaints all day long.” He grimaced. “There aren’t a whole lot of weatherponies on duty today, and we’ve been sending assistance out to anypony who calls for it. Why’d you think I’m the only one they sent out here to clear the clouds up?”

“Figured y’all were just kickin’ back with it bein’ tha weekend an’ all,” the farmpony replied sarcastically, though her anger had burnt out. She shook her head. “Ah didn’t mean ta go off on ya like that, but yer tha first weatherpony I saw and I sorta snapped.” She sighed. “It’s just frustratin’ that more work keeps pilin’ up when Ah have enough on mah plate as it is.”

The pegasus smiled. “Don’t worry about it. We all have to vent our frustrations sometimes. My daughter seems to fly into tantrums more so than most, I think...” he added, getting lost in thought for a moment. “Anyway, do you need some help around here? Sounds like you could use a helping hoof.”

Apple Bloom was taken aback by the request. “Ya have time ta lend?” She asked.

“Of course. I just said the weatherponies were helping out those affected by the storm, didn’t I?” He answered. “Just tell me what needs to be done and I’ll do it.”

“If I got you ta do all that needs’ doin’ you’d be here for days,” Apple Bloom said, “but I’ll gladly take you on.”

“Cool. Just let me clear up the rest of this sky first. I’ll be back before you know it!” Gale Force crouched down and leaped, soaring back up into the sky.

Apple Bloom followed him up with her gaze. Well at least some good came out of all of this, she figured. At least they admitted they did something wrong an’ are tryin’ ta do somethin’ about it. She then thought about what Gale Force mentioned about complaints and wondered if Granny had been one of the participants. Bet she gave ‘em a real verbal thrashin’, she thought, wondering if the old mare would forgive as quickly as she had. Apple Bloom laid down again, continuing to watch the blue-maned pegasus flip and spin about the zenith. She occasionally glanced back the fire which had all but died out at this point. Once the sky was a clear bright blue again, Gale Force swooped back down and landed. This time he was greeted by a much-happier Winona, who bolted up to the pegasus and leapt up to try and reach his face. “Well, Apple Bloom, you sure look hard at work,” he commented sardonically.

“Oh hush, you,” she responded. He gave her a patronizing glance. “I mean, I gotta keep an eye on the fire, Mister Gale Force,” she said, briefly recalling her manners. “Now with all tha formalities outta tha way, it’s time ta boss you around. Ah’m in charge, now.” She grinned mischievously.

Gale Force sighed. “Just don’t tell Scootaloo about this, alright? Please?”

“Oh, I promise!” She drawled, resting her hooves on her face with her smile growing wider.

“...You’re gonna tell her, aren’t you?” The mare nodded, flashing a toothy grin. “I’m never gonna live this down.” He sighed, rubbing a temple.

* * *

Apple Bloom grunted as she yanked a particularly stubborn carrot out of the ground. Her aches and pains had dissipated, save for the occasional spike of discomfort coming from her injured hoof. She placed the carrot aside and moved on to the next buried vegetable. Winona picked up the discarded carrot, ran to the basket sitting nearby, and dropped it in. After the farmpony harvested the next carrot, she glanced up at her new flying assistant. Since Apple Bloom had already cleaned the farm up, there wasn’t a whole lot more weather-related damage to deal with immediately. The farmpony had instead tasked the weatherpony to do something she currently couldn’t - harvest apples. Flying along the top of an old yellow delicious tree, Gale Force delicately picked one piece of yellow-green fruit off of a branch and dropped it into an awaiting basket below.

The young mare rolled her eyes at the sight: She had tried to teach Gale Force how to buck a tree properly, but he just didn’t seem capable of landing the kicks with any sort of finesse. The pegasus couldn’t get more than a couple apples to drop on each attempt. It didn’t help that Apple Bloom couldn’t show how it was done; she had to explain it all verbally. After about 30 minutes of practice the two gave up, the weatherpony taking wing and picking apples one at a time. Progress was slow with Gale Force moving at a fraction of a pace of an apple bucker, but it was steady. At least he’s not tryin’ ta get “creative” ta save time, Apple Bloom mused, thinking back to when Sweetie Bell and Scootaloo pitched in. Tha last thing Ah need is another hole in a silo.

Catching her focus slipping, Apple Bloom returned to her task at hoof. She tried to yank the next carrot out of the ground to no avail. Speakin’ of gettin’ creative, she thought annoyingly as she recalled Sweetie Belle attempting to magic the carrots out of the ground. Somehow the process had caused several carrots to become more tightly wedged into the ground. Apple Bloom planted her forehooves and gave the plant a mighty tug. She pulled with so much force that when the stalk relented she flipped head over hoof and landed on her back. She shook herself out of a daze and righted herself. The young mare looked at her prize and frowned when she discovered she only held the petiole between her teeth, having separated from the rest of the plant.

Being one not to waste anything, she chewed up the green stem and gulped it down. This had happened several times already: Apple Bloom was getting used to having to dig the carrot up after having removed the only good focal point to yank from. Besides, she never missed an opportunity to get something to eat.

Damp dirt clung to Apple Bloom’s forelegs and face. Even her bow had managed to become soiled. She was about to start driving her hooves into the damp earth again when an idea crossed her mind. “Hey Winona. Dig this here carrot up, girl!” She commanded the collie who was sitting patiently waiting for the next carrot to be produced. Winona obliged, digging feverishly at the dirt surrounding the stuck carrot. Wish Ah’d thoughta that sooner, the mare thought as she moved on to the next orange crop.

As she did, something else orange in color caught her eye, descending from above. Apple Bloom double-checked to see if Gale Force was still in the orchard, and he was. Glancing back she saw that this pegasus had purple hair and was smaller than the stallion. Scootaloo? She puzzled.

The flying mare zoomed into Sweet Apple Acres, a concerned look on her face. Gale Force noticed her flying in and started to fly up to her. “Hey Pumpkin, what are you--”

“Hi Dad can’t talk in a hurry bye!” The smaller pegasus spoke rapidly as she bypassed her father entirely and shot straight for the earth pony, who was about to give her a greeting of her own. “Apple Bloom! You gotta get to town right away!” Scootaloo said, her voice laced with worry.

“What’s the matter?” The yellow mare replied, picking up on the other mare’s tone. Gale Force joined the two to find out why his daughter was so troubled.

“It’s your grandma,” Scootaloo answered, “She had to be taken to Ponyville Urgent Care.”

Apple Bloom’s eyes widened in horror. “What?!” She exclaimed. “Is she okay?”

“I dunno,” Scootaloo responded. “I was passing by the market place when I saw her being carried away by a couple of paramedics. She... she looked like she was in a lot of pain, Apple Bloom.”

“Well what’re we waitin’ for?” The panicked earth pony snapped. “We gotta get there an’ quick!” She started to take off when she was stopped by the older pegasus.

“No sweat, Apple Bloom,” Gale Force said, a serious expression on his face. He lowered his body down slightly. “Hop on. I’ll get you there in no time.”

“Thanks,” she gasped out, quickly climbing onto the stallion’s back. She wrapped her legs on either side of his wings so as to not restrict his movements. “Stay here Winona!” She said to the collie, who wore a concerned expression. The dog obeyed, however, no longer trying to also hitch a ride on the pegasus. “Let’s go!” She said, voice thick with concern.

Without another word, the two pegasi took off, moving as fast as their wings would allow. Their muscles strained as they flapped fast and hard, carrying the trio out of the farmland. Apple Bloom clutched the older pegasus tightly, her thoughts mired in fear. Oh please be okay, Granny, she pleaded silently. She thought back to this morning, recalling signs of her grandmother’s illness. In all appearances it looked to be nothing more than a cold. The worried pony couldn’t help blaming herself. I shoulda’ stopped her from workin’ today. She needed ta rest! She moaned aloud. Scootaloo said she was hurtin’ terribly... Can a cold really get that bad? AJ an’ Big Mac aren’t even here right now.

Thinking of her siblings triggered the memory of the day they departed. The Apple sisters were saying their goodbyes to one another. Something the older sister had said stuck out in Apple Bloom’s mind. ...Ah promised Applejack that Ah’d take care of Granny while they were away. What if she gets worse before they come back? What if she... if she...

Gale felt something wet hit the back of his mane, feeling the young mare on his back start to shiver. He was positive it wasn’t due to the cold air. “Don’t worry, Apple Bloom, your grandma’s gonna be okay.” He called back. Scootaloo was not sure what to say to comfort her friend. She flew along silently, giving the troubled mare a look of concern.

Apple Bloom swallowed hard, resting the side of her head against the blue mane. “No, Ah can’t be thinkin’ like like that,” she whispered, her voice inaudible over the wind. “Ah gotta stay strong.” Tears still flowed and she still worried about her sick grandmother, but she was able to quell the pessimistic thoughts.

“Ah gotta stay strong...”

* * *

The curtain of Ponyville Urgent Care was drawn open where three troubled ponies waited, standing impatiently outside the confines of the health care facility. Apple Bloom rushed inside and started frantically searching the beds. Scootaloo started to follow, but was held back by her father, wanting to give Apple Bloom some privacy. The outer area of the clinic sported a dozen beds, ringing around the edge of the property. Some sat near open areas that looked out on the rolling hills of Ponyville. Others bumped up against the peaceful blue walls. Most of them lay empty, only two of them being occupied: One contained a sleeping unicorn mare with a bandaged horn; the other, arguing with a nearby orderly, was--

“Granny!” Apple Bloom shouted, dashing over to the ill mare. “Yer okay! Scootaloo said you were in lotsa pain an--”

Granny Smith turned to her granddaughter, placing a hoof over her mouth. She grinned, shooing away the orderly who was happy to oblige the fussy patient. “‘Course Ah am, dear. Ah was just havin’ a mite trouble breathin’ is all.”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that, I’m afraid,” a voice spoke up from behind. Apple Bloom turned to see a white pony with a pink mane tied up in a bun approaching the two. She had on a nurse’s cap which bore the same symbol as her cutie mark: A red cross surrounded by hearts. She gave the worried young mare a comforting smile. “Good afternoon, Miss Apple Bloom. How’s the knee?”

“Oh...” the yellow pony was taken aback at the sudden inquiry into her own medical history. “It’s swell, Miss Redheart. Hasn’t ached fer some time now.” She glanced back at the infirm pony and noticed for the first time an IV running into a foreleg. “But what’s wrong with mah grandma? Why’s she got a tube stickin’ out of her?”

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing serious,” The nurse reassured her, skimming over a chart hanging at the foot of Granny Smith’s bed. “That IV’s just giving her some medicine. It appears that Mrs. Smith had contracted pneumonia. She was having some trouble breathing and complained of having moderate chest pain. The--”

“Is she gonna be alright though?” Apple Bloom interrupted. “That pneumonia-whatsit sounds really bad!”

“Let her finish, Apple Bloom,” Granny chided the young mare. Apple Bloom fell silent as Nurse Redheart continued.

“We’ve been keeping a close eye on her, and she seems stable enough to leave. I was just about to remove the tube, in fact. It’d be best for her to stay in bed for a couple of days. Apple Bloom, I expect you to take good care of your grandmother while she’s recovering.”

“Now just a minute,” Granny objected. “Ah can’t be loungin’ around the house that long, there’s work ta be done! Apple Bloom here’s up to her neck in chores as it is, an--”

“If you don’t get enough rest, you could very well end up sicker than you already are,” Redheart politely informed.

“Granny, stop!” Apple Bloom pleaded. “If Miss Redheart says ya need ta slow things down, ya gotta slow down. I don’t wanna see you any worse off than ya already are,” she added, fraught with distress. “Please?”

Granny calmed down at her granddaughter’s intervention. “...Alright, Apple Bloom, if ya say so.”

Apple Bloom breathed a sigh of relief and addressed the nurse. “Miss Redheart, we’ll be able to take Granny home. We gotta cart here in Ponyville that she can ride in. Ah just gotta go pick it up. Will she be ready ta go when I git back?”

“Of course, Apple Bloom,” the white pony replied. “She’ll be ready by the time you get back.”

“Thanks.” The yellow mare turned to her grandmother and gave her a hug. “Don’t’cha go runnin’ off now. Ah’ll be back in a bit.” She looked the green mare in the eyes. “Ah’m glad yer okay,” she whispered.

Granny smiled down on her, tussling her mane. “Don’t ya worry, Apple Bloom, Ah’m not goin’ nowhere. Now git along. Tha sooner we get home tha better.”

The young mare disengaged from her grandma and headed out of the health care center, thanking Nurse Redheart along the way. She ran into Scootaloo and Gale Force, who were both carrying anxious expressions. “How is she?” The stallion asked.

“She’s fine,” Apple Bloom replied. Relief flooded the pegasi’s faces. “Just gotta keep her in bed fer a coupla days. That’s gonna be the real trial.” She didn’t mind having to tend to her ailing relative, but she knew that Granny was not going to go along quietly. “I gotta go grab tha cart and bring it back here so we’ll have a ride home.”

“Oh, alright!” Scootaloo was glad to be off the hook, her mind already racing ahead to other activities she planned on doing that day. “Well, I gotta go now and--”

An unsubtle nudge from her father interrupted her. She gave him an annoyed look. He responded with a stare of his own, nodding his head towards Apple Bloom. Realization dawned on the one-track-minded pegasus. “Oh! I mean, I’ll go get it for you, Apple Bloom,” she offered. “Stay here with your grandma.”

“Ya would?” She asked happily. She pounced on her friend, wrapping her hooves around her. “Thanks, Scootaloo!”

“Er, no problem.” The orange mare said, awkwardly returning the hug and trying to squeeze out of her friend’s embrace. “See ya in a few!” She called, now free and taking off.

Apple Bloom looked up at the older pegasus. “An’ thank you, Gale Force. Not just fer that,” she pointed at the younger pegasus flying off, “but fer flyin’ me here an’ stickin’ around this whole time.”

The orange stallion beamed down at the complimenting pony. “Don’t sweat it, kid,” he replied. “What do you plan on doing after you two get home?”

“Well, I gotta finish up harvestin’ carrots and git started on mah other chores,” the young mare answered. “Then there’s tha matter of tendin’ ta Granny and cookin’ supper an’ all that.”

The stallion nodded thoughtfully, an idea growing in his mind. “Say, I never did finish my work at your place, technically. Since your grandmother’s ill, how about Scootaloo and I come over to chip in some more? And tonight I can cook you all up something real good for dinner. Interested?”

Apple Bloom wasn’t sure what to make of the offer. “Oh, I dunno about that Mister Gale Force,” she said. “Ah’m not sure how’d Granny’d feel about a non-Apple feedin’ us, or Scootaloo tryin’ ta ‘help’ on the farm again.” She paused a moment to consider. “On tha other hoof, she knows ta accept help when she knows she needs it. Seem ta remember a certain other farmpony learnin’ that after a few hard knocks.” The mare smiled at the memory. “We’d be delighted, ‘slong as it ain’t too much trouble.”

“It’s no problem at all,” he assured the earth pony. “Families help one-another out in times of need.“ He spat onto a hoof and held it out to Apple Bloom. “Right?”

Apple Bloom’s face spread into a grin as she stuck out a spit-covered hoof in kind. “Right,” she agreed, bumping hooves with the older pegasus. “Er, ugh.” She reacted to her now saliva-drenched hoof, wiping it off on the ground. “Usually this don’t bother me none, but Ah seem to have been covered in slobber an awful lot today.”

Gale Force snickered as he stretched his wings out to their full span. “Listen, I gotta head back and finish up my work day. I also have to swing by home and tell the missus where we’re going to be tonight. Just have Scootaloo follow you home. I’ll see you out in the farm in about an hour?”

“Sure thing!” Apple Bloom replied jovially. “See ya then!”

He lifted off the ground, but turned and said something before flying off. “And don’t worry about Scootaloo. I’ll keep her in check.”

Apple Bloom giggled and waved as the cerulean-maned father soared into the sky before shooting back under the curtain to spend some more time to prepare her ill grandmother for the trip home. Nurse Redheart gave the two some bottled medicine for Granny Smith to take in lieu of the aid delivered via IV. “Thanks fer everything, Miss Redheart. We really appreciate it.” Apple Bloom said.

“Food coulda’ been better though,” the ill mare griped, “but all tha same, y’all did good fixin’ me up.”

“You can thank me by staying in bed,” Nurse Redheart reminded her, holding the curtain open for the departing ponies. “Get better soon. Take care you two!” She called out before dropping the curtain and getting back to her other duties.

Scootaloo arrived moments later, grunting as she hauled the half-laden cart behind her. “I’m... back.” She managed to say before collapsing. The two farmponies wondered why the pegasus had such a hard time pulling the light cart across town. When they saw the reason the two shared a laugh, which unfortunately sent Granny into a fit of coughing.

“Ah’m fine, Ah’m fine,” she assured the two younger mares between a couple final coughs. “Jus’ don’t make me laugh no more. Apple Bloom, help the poor girl out, would ya?”

Still snickering, Apple Bloom trotted over to the cart and unlocked the individual wheel brakes. “Y’know these are ta keep tha cart from rollin’ away when we want it stationary, right?” She teased.

Scootaloo blushed. “...Oh. No wonder it was giving me such a hard time.” She got out of the harness and gave her previously-confined wings a good stretch. “So are you headed back home? Where’d Dad head off to?”

Apple Bloom relayed the stallion’s plans to her friend. She jumped for joy. “All right! Don’t worry Apple Bloom, this time I won’t make a mess of things!” She chanced a look over at Granny Smith. Apple Bloom now realized that she had now just revealed this for the first time to her as well.

“So Scootaloo and Mr. Force are comin’ over ta cook an’ clean an’ help out, are they?” She asked her granddaughter.

“Yeah, about that,” Apple Bloom started. “Ah thought it’d be good fer us since we’ve lost some time today and yer--”

“That sounds like a great idea,” the old mare finished with a smile. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo exchanged glances and returned the grin. “Ah reckon Ah need a rest anyway, on account of tha nurse’s orders.”

The three ponies set out for Sweet Apple Acres. Granny was nestled between the unsold crops in the cart. Scootaloo again volunteered to pull it, having a much easier time with the brakes deactivated. Apple Bloom trotted alongside the cart, keeping an eye on her grandmother who had fallen asleep. They arrived at the farm without incident, Winona running up to greet the trio. Scootaloo entertained the pet while Apple Bloom led Granny inside the house and into bed. “Git yerself some shuteye, ya hear?” She said quietly, covering the sick pony up. “Ah’ll git ya up when supper’s ready.” She kissed her grandmother on the forehead and followed it with a small hug. “An’ get well soon. I love you, Granny.”

“Love ya too, darlin’,” the green mare whispered before immediately falling asleep again. Apple Bloom drew the window’s curtains closed and crept out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind her and heading outside to finish her day.

The two young mares and the family dog got into a working rhythm quickly. After putting the cart up, Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Winona worked to finish harvesting carrot patch she’d started on earlier in the day. By the time the baskets were full and the patch was harvested, Gale Force had arrived on the scene. Apple Bloom directed the two pegasi to continue the work the stallion was doing prior to the impromptu hospital visit. She trusted the father to instruct the daughter ably enough in the simple task of picking apples and to keep her from trying anything fancy. She still kept an eye on the two orange ponies as she went about her other chores, though, knowing how Gale Force could be less mature than other stallions his age at times at the expense of entertaining his daughter.

Apple Bloom realized that she hadn’t felt a twinge from her injured hoof in hours. While her mind was occupied with the other events of the day, it didn’t hurt even though she was actively thinking about it now. Curious, she sat down to take a look at her injury. Inspecting the crack, it looked a lot better than it had yesterday, but it still was a fair bit larger than other similar wounds she’d gotten before. Determined, Apple Bloom decided to give bucking a shot. The yellow pony approached a tree that had already been picked clean of its fruit. She turned and gave it a solid kick.

The resulting agony she felt was all the data she needed to realize that her hoof was not yet ready for bucking again. She groaned as pain fired through her hind leg, limping back over to the barn. Looking back at her hoof, she was relieved to see that she hadn’t caused any additional damage, but it was still screaming in pain. She concluded that she would not be able to buck for a while longer, kicking herself for having been impatient.

As the day wore on, the three ponies and Winona continued working, making great progress. When the sun was beginning to set, Gale Force retired to the kitchen to start cooking dinner. Apple Bloom told Scootaloo to go catch some air and take a break. Relieved, the pegasus took flight to relax and enjoy the evening air. The yellow mare, meanwhile, fed and exercised the farm animals. She and Winona just finished herding the sheep back into their pen when Gale Force called from the house, announcing that dinner was ready. Scootaloo sailed down at her father’s beckon, starving from the day’s work. Apple Bloom led Winona over to her doghouse, pouring some food into her bowl and refreshing her water dish. “Bon appétit!” she told the collie, who immediately dug into her evening meal. The hungry earth pony then made her way inside the Apple family home, eager to start in on her own dinner. She had one other task to do, however.

Granny Smith was sleeping soundly when a creaky door woke her up. “Time fer supper, Granny,” a familiar voice said quietly. “An’ don’t ferget ta take yer medicine first.”

“Okay, Apple Bloom,” Granny replied wearily. “Thanks. Ah’ll be out in a moment.” She pulled herself out of bed, flicking the cover more-or-less back into place. She hacked and coughed a few times, taking a sip of water from a glass on her nightstand, which sat next to the bottle of medicine prescribed by Nurse Redheart. The sick mare used the light coming from outside the bedroom to measure out a dose of the antibiotics, pouring the liquid into a medicine cup. She downed it in one gulp, not bothered by the bitter taste, and washed it down with another drink of water. Granny then made her way out into the kitchen where three ponies were busy getting ready for the evening meal. Gale Force was stirring up something over the woodburning stove. It smelled like something involving carrots and potatoes. The two mares, on his direction, were busy setting the table. The stallion ceased stirring and greeted the old farmpony. “Evening, Mrs. Smith,” he said. “Feeling any better?”

“A little,” she admitted, another cough escaping, “but still got ‘ways ta go, Ah reckon.” She seated herself in her usual spot at the end of the table. “So how’d these two do today, Apple Bloom? If Ah were ta peek outside would Ah be greeted with another disaster?”

The three smiled at her. “No worries, Granny,” the yellow pony answered. “They all did just fine. Must’ve picked a dozen bushels of apples by day’s end.”

“Well, that’s better than nothin’ Ah suppose,” Granny muttered before adding, “but still. Thank ya both kindly fer helpin’ out today.”

“No problem!” Scootaloo said brightly.

“Your very welcome,” Gale started, “but enough chit-chat. It’s time to eat!”

Vegetable soup was what the older pegasus had cooked up. He figured it would suit the four of them well, as it was a good hearty meal to enjoy after a hard day’s work and was also a great option for a sick pony to fight an illness with. Gale ladled generous portions of the soup into each of the four bowls spread across the table. The three younger ponies quickly dug into their meal, engaging in various threads of dinner conversation. Granny took small bites, enjoying the rousing discussions silently. Now this is a swell sight, she thought, smiling softly the view of the lively group. Ah wish the rest o’ the family were here, but as far as suppers go, this ain’t so bad. She sighed. Tain’t bad at all.

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