• Published 26th Jul 2016
  • 4,052 Views, 189 Comments

Sick Little Ponies (And One Dragon) - Estee



Seven sick Ponyville residents. Seven short stories. Six Bearers. One dragon. (Bring your own hoof sanitizer.)

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Applejack: The Sweet Apple Acres Infirmary Blues

"Ah'm fine."

"You ain't," Big Mac told her. He put his hoof down: the left forehoof, hard enough to produce a small echo.

Applejack glared at him from the bed. "Ah'm tellin' you, Ah'm fine. Ah can get out there an' get back t' work. Everythin' back t' normal. No fever, no sneezin', no night sweats, no nothin'. Ah know mah own body. Ah am the world's greatest authority on mah own body, an' Ah don't see how anypony else could ever claim t' be qualified. So Ah'm getting out there, an' Ah'm gonna --"

Big Mac stomped again, cutting off the words. Large hooves carried him to the window, and nimble teeth yanked the curtains open, revealing morning Sun glinting off their little mostly-hidden part of the world.

"Applejack, what do you see out there?"

A stupid question from her supposedly-smart big brother. "Snow. Duh. What, you're checkin' for double vision? 'cause Ah didn't have that as a symptom at'tall, so you're wastin' your time an' mine --"

"-- it's winter. The Acres are asleep, AJ. Y'aint gonna work because there's no real work to be done. Look -- I know you're tired of being in bed. Getting stuck sick for five days isn't easy on anypony. But I talked to the doctor, because you and I are sort of, you know, related, and I figured that after you spoke to her, you'd only tell me the parts you liked. Eyup, it's five days for the illness to break, like you said -- but then she said you've gotta spend one more resting, because your body's still weak and you shouldn't be pushing too hard, too fast. One more day, AJ."

The younger of the siblings in the room, half-propped up on pillows, crossed her forelegs over her rib cage and fumed. Refused to look at her brother.

"Am so better," a sulky voice insisted in a tone which shed at least a decade. (Better than she'd been, anyway.)

"You ain't."

"Ah can work." Still not meeting his eyes.

"Not when the work's already been assigned. I'm doing the snow patrol around the Acres. Granny will do the cleaning and cooking. Apple Bloom's gonna check on the tenants -- except for Cloven, because I'll do that personally. And that's all there was to do, AJ. Every last tenth-bit of labor is pushed out and accounted for, with none of it going to you. You've got one job: finish getting better. And that's the one you don't want to do."

"Ah'm sick of this bed."

"One more day."

"Ah'm sick of you tellin' me what to do." Nearly two decades lost now.

"One more --"

"-- Ah'm sick of everythin', except being sick, 'cause Ah ain't sick no more --"

"-- AJ?"

An equal mix of fury and frustration. "What?"

"I changed my mind. Apple Bloom's gonna do the patrol and all the tenants, Cloven included. Because my work assignment for today is sitting on you until tomorrow."

Green eyes locked on the matching hue.

"Y'wouldn't dare."

Softly, "Try me."

She flipped over, pushed her snout into the pillows.

Muffled by fabric-rendered apples, "Ah'm gonna get you for this. Next time you're sick, yer mine..."

"That's nice, AJ," Big Mac calmly said, and began to trot out of the room. "Granny's downstairs. You try to sneak out and she just might hear you. She doesn't and you'll leave hoofprints in the snow. Stay out in the snow long enough trying to cover them up, you'll get sick again and then it's five days on top of the one, plus another where you just might not try something stupid again. See you later. Probably around lunch."

The sound of the door closing behind him was absolutely nothing like a prison cell slamming shut. But it should have been.


[/hr]

There had been a day during the recently-passed autumn in which Twilight had mentioned a time-travel spell, something which could only be used once by any given pony. Applejack had, for a rare once, found herself instantly driven to learn about the casting, far more than enough to spend a few minutes eagerly asking for the details on how it worked -- but in the end, had sadly found herself at the conclusion she'd expected to reach all along: moving backwards gave the traveler a few seconds in a frozen past, with no way to alter what had come before. What she wanted most was forever beyond saving, and so in the end, she'd managed not to blame Twilight for getting her hopes up, even for a few minutes, and moved on with her life, because going forward still contained possibilities -- at least when trotting down the slow road, one moment at a time. And up until now, she'd never thought about the working again.

Of course, now it had turned into a new source of frustration.

He's jus' lucky Ah can't go back an' get mahself born first.

Applejack sighed, shifted onto her back, and stared at the ceiling. Wood. Nails. Familiar angles. She knew every hoofwidth of the ceiling. She'd probably had it memorized before entering kindergarten, and... she just didn't think about that much, because it was her ceiling and so full knowledge of every knot in the planks was a casual sort of thing.

It was her ceiling.

She'd never realized how boring it was.

Onto her side, staring out the window. Fresh snow covered the visible portion of the Acres, would have reached up to her knees if she'd been able to go out in it. Hard to move in, requiring either plowing or so much trampling down as to require four ponies to clear a path for one. Or just a single determined pony who wanted to go outside...

She sighed, flopped over, found herself staring at the little reading table on the other side of the room. The books stacked on top of it.

Ah've read all those.

She twisted her body a little more, looked up at the painting behind her hoof-carved headboard.

Ah've looked at that plenty of times. Switched to the picture on the nightstand. Seen that, too.

Her left foreleg stretched out, and her hoof tapped the enchanted lamp. The light came on. Again. The light turned off.

After that, she spent some time in varying the tap rate, trying to find a degree of beat to it, using one forehoof for activation and the opposite while the other weaved in random patterns over the convenience, trying to see what kind of shadows could be created. She only paused when the lamp began to flicker, and stopped at the exact moment it started to smoke.

A closer examination was made of her bedroom (which meant having to get up, but it wasn't as if Big Mac was anywhere in sight). There were no books under her bed, or at least, there weren't any which hadn't been there before. There was no point in trying to clean the little patch of carpet, because she'd need to beat it and that would mean going outside, or opening the window and -- well, she could do that, couldn't she? Open the window and drape the carpet over the ledge. Of course, that would mean beating the half which was outside because otherwise the dust and dirt would just fall back into her bedroom, but maybe if she somehow attached the beater to her tail, stood with her rear to the window, and just whipped carefully...

She got the window open, shivered in the blast of cold, then got the carpet edge between her teeth -- it did taste dusty, which justified everything -- and carefully hauled it to the window. Hooves pressed the edges against the lower part of the wall, and then it was just a matter of alternate hoof-by-hoof scooting, sort of like Rarity did on her sewing devices, until the edge was over the top and outside, she kept pushing and scooting and nudging the fabric, more and more was flowing over the ledge, she just about had it balanced and then she could find the beater and get some work done --

-- the goal had been 49% outside, 49% inside, and about 2% balanced across the ledge. Applejack achieved that goal, plus one unwelcome outside percent.

She stared at where the carpet had fallen into the snowdrift for a while, and wondered if there would be enough wind to cover it up in time. Closed the window.

More looking around.

There's a lot of apples in here.

Ah mean, Ah've got an apple over the door, apple at the foot of the bed, apple on the door, apples on the pillow...

It's kinda... boring.

Been in the same bedroom all mah life, least since Ah was old enough t' get mah own room. Every one of these apples was here when Ah showed up. Ain't been nothin' new on the walls or bed or nightstand or door since... since ever.

Ah care 'bout apples. Gotta, t' work on the Acres at'tall. But nopony said Ah had t' live in one.

She lowered her head, began to push furniture around. The nightstand went in front of the bed, with the lamp's curls of smoke showing the trail. The reading table was near the door for a while. Then it occupied the open doorway for a few minutes, because it had occurred to Applejack that having to hurdle it every time she entered or left might be good exercise and shortly thereafter, it occurred to her that the first occurrence had been idiotic. The painting came down, was hung off the end of the bed. Moved in front of the window. Placed back on the wall, but flipped around just in case the frame turned out to be an improvement and when that didn't work out in the original setting, she used it to cover up the apple on the door. The pillowcase was turned inside-out, followed by congratulating herself for already having gotten rid of the carpet scrap.

(She didn't move the picture on the nightstand. Some things were sacred.)

Applejack looked around. The room was somewhat less applely. Also considerably more disorganized, inexpertly redecorated, and kind of -- stupid.

A glance at the clock on the far wall, just to see how long it had been since Big Mac's departure, not to mention taking the first step in finding a new home for that too, something which just might make everything work together --

-- forty minutes.

Applejack softly groaned, then threw herself onto the bed, face-first. Several weary breaths were taken through the inside-out pillowcase.

"Ah'm bored," she told the world, or at least that portion of it which could hear her through a pillow.

The world didn't care.

"Read all those. Can't redecorate by just movin' stuff. Been in here too long. It's mah room, mah farm, mah home, but when Ah can't leave..."

The world displayed total disinterest in her pain.

"An' can't go outside."

The world snidely went on without her.

She blinked.

"Maybe Ah don't have t' go outside..."


[/hr]

Granny was cleaning on the ground floor, and for the purposes of Applejack's sneaking around, that was practically another country. She'd been sliding her hooves to avoid grandparent detection for years, and before that... well, the point was that she'd had a lot of practice. And it took no effort to get back into old habits, slowly shifting from room to room in search of entertainment. Staying silent wasn't a problem at all.

The problem was that there wasn't any entertainment to be found.

Big Mac's room... there were books, all right, and they fell into two categories. The first was an extensive set of farm journals which recorded the history of the Acres over generations: crop production patterns, projected sales, income and outgo. It was possible to spend a quiet hour curled up with one of those volumes, especially the older ones, but... that wasn't the sort of distraction she was looking for. And the other books were... something she didn't like looking at, because when Big Mac had decided not to attend college after all, right after -- it had happened -- he had kept the texts. Sometimes he still paged through them, and she knew he didn't like anypony seeing him doing it. There was nothing which could make her touch them, let alone attempt any degree of reading.

Granny's room: no books at all. Just a private gramophone, and a collection of ancient records from the first days when such pressings had been possible at all. But there had been sound recording devices before that -- and so there was another hoof-wound device next to that one, and it played wax cylinders, magically hardened to stand against time. The sound quality was -- less than perfect, the music itself far too old for her taste even when she factored all the scratchy noises out, and playing anything would have alerted Granny that Applejack was out of bed.

She still thought about it for a while. But she'd heard all of them already.

Apple Bloom... well, here she had to be truly careful, because her little sister was always on alert for signs of intrusion. Portions of the stupid Crusade were planned in that room, and this sometimes meant taking notes, which would later be hurried to the clubhouse for further inspection in order to make the upcoming disaster complete. But such plans still spent some time in that bedroom, as did pieces of prospective equipment which could, post-mark-finding-attempt, occasionally be identified from the remaining fragments, and so Applejack occasionally attempted a covert search, just to be ready for whatever nightmare the trio was about to unleash or more frequently, in desperate hopes of finding a way to stop it.

Her sister had a special, frequently-altered way of layering the toys at the top of the chest. It was always best to memorize the exact arrangement before moving anything.

Applejack began to look around. Books... schoolbooks, and nothing else: Apple Bloom only used magazines and stories as inspiration for Crusades, and frustratedly kicked the results back into the living room or library immediately after the most recent failure wrapped up, muttering over Twilight's vocal protesting of the indented covers. And for the school year she was currently attending...

Applejack decided she was exactly that bored, and nosed one open. The first few pages were familiar. Then she started to spot some things she'd forgotten, and her amazement over that led her to recall pretty much all of them, which made the rest of the text into a rather moot point.

A ball got pushed around for a while, and was then put back.

No evidence of Crusades in near-future progress. Nothing to read. She felt as if she was too old for the toys. The bed was not for bouncing on, if only in the name of keeping her sister from finding out she'd done it. Spending a few minutes trying to lasso herself as a new stunt meant using the lasso in a very confined space, along with the terrifying chance that she might succeed. She was down to a bathroom, emergency secondary pantry which was only used for family reunions, and linen closet. Anything else meant downstairs, and while there was every chance that Granny was asleep on her feet, there was every other chance that she wasn't --

-- hoofsteps, coming up the ramp.

Applejack froze.

Apple Bloom's bed. There was enough room to hide under it: Apple Bloom had tried getting away from her that way a few times. She got low, pushed --

-- there was enough room for Apple Bloom to hide under it.

Applejack stayed low, listening. The hoofsteps were moving towards the junior bedroom, and they were light enough to be those of her little sister. Getting caught in here was something she could make an excuse for, mostly based on age -- but being ratted out to Big Mac was a fresh, and suddenly very major, concern.

The sounds were still approaching, and it seemed as if there was some effort involved in softening those noises, but her sibling wasn't anywhere near getting a mark in that either. They seemed to pause in front of the doorway --

-- moved on.

And then there was the sound of a jump, or at least the end of one: four hooves solidly impacting the floor. This was followed by a creaking noise, a familiar one. More hoofsteps. The creak came again. And then silence.

Applejack blinked.

Did she jus'...

Oh, great. No wonder Ah ain't found anything in here for the last few weeks! She's switched it up! Ah'm doing the same thing an' she's...

But Ah jus' bet that if Ah go up there right now...

Yes, it would mean her sister catching her out of bed, and ratting out would undoubtedly commence over lunch. But it was also a chance to catch Apple Bloom before the next explosion went off, and that was something Applejack couldn't pass up.

Carefully, she straightened, slide-hoofed her way into the hall. Stared up at the length of rope hanging from the ceiling, the one her sister had to jump so high to reach -- but for her, it was just a casual neck tilt. And she knew a special way to pull, that little yank to the left which prevented any creaking from sounding at all...

The ramp silently came down, and Applejack made her quiet way into the attic.

It was oddly warm in the low-set space: heat moved up, and the interior insulation trapped most of it, making the place summerlike in winter and almost unbearable once the swimming holes began to call, especially given the staleness of the air. It was also hard to move in: Applejack had to walk with an almost-painful knee bend just to make any progress at all, and Big Mac did everything he could to avoid entrance. One more factor that made it her sister's new pre-Crusade haven.

There were beams directly over her lowered head, passing at regular intervals. She could barely made them out in the shadows, for there was only a single light source, and it had been moved. The hanging lamp had been fetched by careful teeth and shifted to an isolated corner, where the carrier sat among old boxes, eyes looking down.

Moving around containers. Trying not to hit anything, trying to be quiet. But nopony had heard her, and she was starting to wonder if anypony was even listening. The other occupant of the attic just sat in place and -- looked down.

Applejack closed in. Three body lengths left. Two...

"Whatcha up to, Apple Bloom?"

Her sister jumped, and somehow managed not to hit a beam. The midair half-rotation left the siblings facing each other.

"Nothin'." The denial was automatic, and was just as automatically disbelieved.

"Don't give me 'nothin''. If it was nothin', y'wouldn't be sneakin'. You're doin' somethin' up here, an' it's got somethin' to do with the Crusade, don't it? 'cause that's what everythin' is with you --"

Desperately, "-- Ah ain't! AJ, Ah swear, Ah ain't, not this time!"

And just like the records and wax cylinders, she'd heard it a few too many times before. "Why am Ah supposed t' believe that, after all the other times it was a lie? Move out of the way an' let me see what you were doin', or Ah'll move you and look mahself. Wouldn't hide somethin' if y'didn't think it was wrong, if y'didn't want me t' see, an' that always means you're plannin' trouble, Apple Bloom, trouble that comes with the other two attached an' maybe this time, you'll get so hurt that y'won't --"

Her sister, eyes staring at the floor, silently shifted half a body length to the right.

Applejack looked.

Kept looking.

Softly, "...when?"

A near-whisper. "When what?"

"When did y'find these?"

Oddly tired now. "Couple of moons ago. Thought there might be some things up here that we could... anyway, Ah found these. An' Ah've been comin' up here t' -- look."

Applejack stared at the old photo albums. The open one, which displayed the wedding...

Her body slowly settled onto the attic floor. It left Apple Bloom looking down at her, if only a little.

"Why didn't y'tell us?"

Her little sister's eyes closed.

"'cause you remember. You, an' Big Mac, an' Granny -- y'all remember. An'... an' Ah don't know... if Ah..."

The lamp was behind her sister. It lit the pictures perfectly. But the light could not pass through bodies, and so Applejack was barely able to make out the reflection of the first tear.

"Apple Bloom?"

With no conscious awareness from the younger, the right forehoof slowly scraped across the wood.

"Ah... kind of remember the funeral, Ah think. An' shiva. Maybe Ah hid under one of the tables a lot, ''cause Ah mostly remember hooves goin' by. But when Ah think 'bout them... it's harder. Gets harder every year, 'cause... nopony remembers from when they were a foal, except maybe Pinkie. An' it wasn't that long after that, not that long at all, an'... there's pictures downstairs, Applejack, pictures all over the house. Ah've seen those pictures, an' Ah remember 'em, Ah know 'em by heart. But... that's most of what Ah know now. Pictures. Ah remember -- pictures. It's hard to remember 'em, it keeps getting harder an' Ah can't stop it, an' when Ah found these, Ah thought... that maybe at least... Ah'd have something new t' remember, maybe even something that could make it stop being so hard..."

The words ran out. The tears did not.

Slowly, silently, Applejack eased her body forward, until her snout made contact with her sibling's wet face. And then she nuzzled, the nuzzle meant for family, and wondered how long it had been since she'd last done it.

"Ah'm... hard on you sometimes," she heavily said. "Part of that's 'cause Ah have t' be, since nopony else can be. 'cause -- an' Ah already know you're gonna ignore this part -- Ah'm worried. Worried 'bout you, worried that you don't listen an' everythin' that could come from that. An' it means... y'don't talk t' me as much as y'used to. Ah... kinda miss that. But when it's family, Apple Bloom -- no matter what happens... no matter how much trouble y'ever get in, groundin' or reparations an' all the rest... y'can always talk t' me 'bout family. An' Ah -- Ah hope y'heard that, truly heard it. Ah hope y'remember..."

There was no nuzzle coming back. Just moisture flowing into her coat.

"Still gonna yell at you," Appejack whispered. "Still gotta be the one who punishes when y'go too far an' just won't listen. Still -- still love you, Apple Bloom. An' Ah don't know if y'always believe that, these days. But Ah wanted t' say it. 'cause we're still family, an'... y'shouldn't be up here like this. No way, not ever again."

The softest whisper she'd ever just barely heard. "Ah ain't done nothin'... not this time... y'can't take this away, take them..."

"Not up here," Applejack said. "They'll look better downstairs, where there's more light."

Silence.

A sniffle.

And then a wet nuzzle against her coat.


[/hr]

As promised, their brother came in around lunch.

"What happened in here?" was the immediate first question as he stared at the rearranged bedroom.

"Decoratin'. Didn't take," Applejack smoothly replied.

"So you were out of bed."

"Yeah!" And that was from a suddenly-defiant Apple Bloom, who was next to her on the bed. "An' what are y'gonna do 'bout it? Sit on us or somethin'?"

He blinked at both of them.

"Ah woulda had t' use the bathroom sometime," Applejack pointed out. "Jus' lookin' for books, Mac. Apple Bloom found some."

"Oh?" He trotted a little closer. "What did you find, AB? Anything --" and he saw.

Five heartbeats, and then his eyes closed. They stayed that way for some time.

"Do -- do you mind..."

"Mind what, Mac?"

"Applejack... do you mind scooting over a little? If you don't mind the extra company."

"Naw, Ah don't. But get on slow. Y'take up a lot of room."

Rearrangement occurred, of a type Applejack was willing to live with. But then her brother paused.

"I should go get Granny."

"In a while," Applejack told him. "In a while."

He looked at her. Then Apple Bloom. Back to the book, and up again.

"Why?"

"'cause she remembers more," Applejack steadily said. "An' we don't. 'specially not the wedding, since Ah wasn't exactly born an' you weren't quite 'round yet. 'though Ah'm pretty sure Ah can see you puttin' a serious bulge on that dress. So can it be jus' the three of us for a while, or are you in some kind of hurry t' get somewhere?"

He thought it over for a while.

"Nope," he finally said. "You're on a sick day. I think I'm gonna take a personal one."

They slowly went through the books, which made for perfect entertainment as they openly imagined the stories which must have gone into each picture. And there were truly too many apples in the room, and Applejack was going to do something about that, soon. But for now...

...for a little while, she could pretend there were two more.

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