• Published 31st Jan 2017
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Creeping Happiness - LanceOmikron



Applejack is happy, but something feels off.

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Chapter 2: Life is Bittersweet

Applejack’s father chuckled.

“Well yep! That’s us as usual, sugarcube.”

He was a rugged and powerfully-built stallion with a bright green coat and eyes to match, a blonde mane and tail, and his flank adorned with the image of a bountiful apple tree. His wife stood beside him, a stunning orange-coated, blue-eyed beauty. Her mane, atop which sat a Stetson hat, was mostly deep orange-red with lighter streaks of orange and yellow within. Her cutie mark was of an orange quarter next to a glass goblet full of the fruit’s juice.

AJ’s father raised an eyebrow at his daughter’s silent wide-eyed stare, looking slightly concerned.

“What’s the matter, Jackie’? Did'ja have a bad dream?”

Applejack hesitated. Something felt very off about this. Despite the simplicity of her father’s question, she was having difficulty in finding an appropriate answer.

Did I?

“Well!” said Applejack’s mother, half-laughing, “Judgin’ by the state of the bedside, our lil’ filly had quite a battle with her alarm clock. I bet she’s still tired, Bloomberg.”

Bloomberg Apple followed his wife’s gaze and let out a full laugh when he spotted Applejack’s sheets and blankets spilled all over the floor.

“Ha! Ah’m thinkin’ you’re right about that, Clementine,” Bloomberg said, “Nothin’ a hearty breakfast won’t fix, right? Ah made apple pancakes and haybacon!”

At the sound of the proposal, Applejack’s stomach rumbled loudly, snapping her out of her daze.

“Heh, that does sound pretty nice right about now,” Applejack said, blushing, “Mom’s right, I’m probably just groggy. Let’s eat!”

***

Entering the dining room revealed a downright picturesque scene. The table was neatly set for six, with three of the places already occupied. Macintosh was chattering up a storm between bites, regaling Granny Smith at length with some tale or another. For her part, Granny smiled and listened politely to her grandson’s story while she ate, nodding and murmuring in acknowledgement at key moments. Seated in a high-chair nearby was a small yellow foal who gurgled happily as she devoured a bowl of applesauce. Granny Smith and Macintosh turned around upon hearing their family’s returning hoofsteps.

“Mornin’ Sis! Ah gotta say, you actually gettin’ up with yer alarm is a right ol’ surprise! I was sure you were gonna sleep well past noon, like usual. We’ve already started eatin’, but there’s still plenty left for ya.”

Granny nodded and gestured to the table with a hoof. Lo and behold, there was absolutely no shortage of food. A gigantic stack of apple pancakes was the centerpiece, surrounded by a mountain of haybacon, several different fruits and vegetables (including plenty of apples, of course), a bottle of pure maple syrup, and a large pitcher of orange juice. The very sight of the morning feast set Applejack’s mouth watering, which did not escape her parents’ notice.

“Heh heh! Whatcha’ waitin’ for, sugarcube? Have at it!” said Bloomberg.

Applejack needed no further prompting. While Bloomberg casually resumed his place at the table and Clementine helped little Applebloom eat her applesauce, Applejack practically flew to her seat, which already had a fully-loaded plate. She licked her lips and bit into the apple pancakes. To say it was delicious would be an incredible understatement. The taste simply wasn’t possible to describe with words like “sweet” or “savory”. The pancakes tasted like nostalgia. They tasted like home. They tasted like togetherness and love. She proceeded to take several more bites, the beautiful flavor pervading her senses as she listened to her family happily chatting and laughing around her.

“So have I ever told you kids why I wear this hat?” Clementine asked.

“No ma, I don’t think ya rightly have!” said Macintosh.

“Well you see,” Clementine began, adjusting the hat in question, “Back when I lived in Manehattan, my older sister Valencia was in charge of strikin’ deals with farms and orchards across Equestria. One day, she was busy with other assignments, and we needed somepony to close our deal with Sweet Apple Acres. I volunteered. But while Valencia was typically all business, I wanted to really try and fit in with our new country clients. So I bought this hat to try and look the part, but I had never actually been out to the country before and… well...” Clementine sighed, smiling sheepishly, “Bloomberg, do you wanna tell ‘em this part?”

“Ah’d be delighted to!” Bloomberg replied eagerly, taking a quaff of orange juice, “So here ah am, waitin’ to meet with this business representative, when all of a sudden this mare- clearly from the city -walks up to me wearin’ this big ol’ hat right out of a Calamity Mane show. Then she says, and ah quote,”

Clementine rolled her eyes, bracing herself for Bloomberg’s re-enactment.

“Well howdy there, pardner! Clementine Orange’s th’name, an’ Ah’m lookin’ ta see if’n y’all’d be amenable ta circlin’ our wagons an’ strikin’ a bargain with us Oranges to have a rootin’ tootin’ shindig of a time sellin’ yer vittles!”

Bloomberg and the others cracked up as Clementine half-smiled and half-cringed, putting a hoof over her face.

“And so Ah just looked at her and said ‘Uh… you do know that we speak Equestrian here too, right?’”

A second wave of laughter burst forth, and even Clementine couldn’t help but giggle.

“I certainly had a lot to learn back then,” Clemetine said, “It’s funny now, but back then I was absolutely mortified when I realized how off the mark I was. I thought our deal was over before it began. I’m still amazed you were able to laugh it off the way you did.”

Bloomberg smiled. “Well when Ah saw how embarrassed ya looked, Ah knew ya couldn’t have meant any harm by it. Wouldn’t have made sense to get mad.”

Applejack gulped down her latest bite of food, “So ya kept that hat to remind ya of when you first met?”

“That’s exactly right, Jackie! It kinda became our own little in-joke from then on, we had a lot of laughs about it. Of course…” Clemetine gave Bloomberg a half-lidded gaze, “Eventually though, it stopped being a joke.”

Bloomberg grinned widely, “And judgin’ by the state o’ things today, that deal went better’n either of us expected!”

The whole family chuckled with mirth, sharing in the heartwarming memories. Applejack was at home, surrounded by all the ponies she loved most as they enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at the start of a promising new day.

Applejack was ha-

“Jackie? Why are you crying?”

Applejack blinked. Still giggling, she lifted a hoof to her face. Sure enough, there were tears. Quite a lot, in fact. She tried to stop laughing, but her breath caught in her throat.

“Sugarcube? What’s the matter?”

Applejack looked left and right at her family’s concerned stares. Nothing had gone wrong. Everything was perfect. And yet, tears were streaming out of Applejack’s eyes, her chest was tightening, and her laughs were becoming more and more anxious. This situation wasn’t at all strange, and yet it felt impossible. A thought suddenly entered her mind.

With a strangled gasp, Applejack’s laughs morphed into hysterical sobbing, her parents rushing to her side.

***

“Now are you sure you’re alright, darlin’?”

Having brought Applejack out to the porch of their home in the wake of her episode, Bloomberg and Clementine Apple comfortingly sat on either side of their daughter. Applejack nodded. Her eyes were red and her nose was slightly runny, but she was otherwise calm.

“Yeah. I’m not too sure what got into me. I think… I think maybe I really might’ve had a bad dream, and it just caught up with me.”

Clementine gently nuzzled her.

“There’s no shame in that, Jackie. Happens to the best of us every now and again.”

Bloomberg nodded in agreement.

“Still, you gave us quite the scare, Sugarcube. How's about you take the day off from your chores? The farm won’t suffer if you just take one day to relax.”

At this suggestion, Applejack furiously shook her head.

“No! I’m tellin’ ya, I’m fine! Lemme do my chores with you. I’ve gotta learn to pull my weight if I’m to run this farm someday!” She felt a pang as she said this, though she hid it.

Clementine and Bloomberg looked at one another and smiled.

“Alright, Sugarcube,” Bloomberg stood up and started walking towards the fields, Clementine following suit, “But ah’d like you to take one of the less-strenuous chores, just to be safe. How's about you follow us as we’re applebucking and de-weed the orchards?”

AJ nodded, jumping off the porch and onto the grass.

“Sounds good to me! Where’s the weeding equipment?”

“It’s in the barn, Jackie. In the cupboard behind the big stack of hay bales. We always keep it in the same spot.”

***

Sweat rolled down Applejack’s brow. She certainly wasn’t complaining though, as it was the result of very satisfying work. She used her small, mouth-held sickle to cut away excess plant matter, giving her the access she needed to pluck out the offending weeds, and then apply herbicide (all-natural, of course) to prevent it from regrowing. And the orchard definitely needed it; dandelions, ragweed, and small creeper vines were out in force. But AJ’s efforts gradually lessened them, tossing them into a sack to be used as compost later.

Nearby, heavy thumps and the pitter-patter of falling fruit could be heard as Bloomberg and Clementine harvested the apples from their trees. Applejack and her parents worked in tandem in comfortable silence as the sun shone through the trees overhead and a soft breeze rustled the branches. Bloomberg wiped his own brow after he bucked the last tree in the immediate area.

“Alright, that does it for this group. What say we finish up one more and then take some rest?”

“Sounds good to me, Bloomberg,” said Clementine, “Might be nice to go into town, too. I hear the Ponyville Fair is going on for the next few days. How does that sound, Jackie?”

“That sounds great! Let’s go, time’s a’ wastin’!”

Applejack cantered over to the next area and recommenced her weeding as her parents went back to applebucking. Quickly dispatching several dandelions, Applejack looked around for her next target and spotted something odd amongst the shadows of a denser group of trees. Trotting closer for a better look, Applejack saw plants like no others she had seen before. The bases had shiny, purple-black leaves above which sat clusters of black rose-like flowers. From among the flowers emerged light-purple vines which either crept along the ground or wound tightly around the roots of any nearby apple trees.

“Mom! Dad! Come take a look at this! What sorta weeds are these?”

Following their daughter’s call, Clementine and Bloomberg quickly cantered to her side. Upon inspecting their daughter’s discovery, Clementine put a hoof over her mouth and Bloomberg let out a low whistle.

“Boy howdy… good eye, Sugarcube. We’ve gotta get rid o’ these, pronto.”

“But what are they?”

“They’re called Une weeds, Jackie,” Said Clementine.

Applejack raised an eyebrow at the unfamiliar word. “Oo-nay?” she attempted.

“That’s right, Sugarcube, Une. These lil’ buggers wrap around a tree’s roots and make it produce way more buds, flowers and fruits than usual. We got here just in time.”

Looking up, Applejack could indeed see that the affected trees were practically bursting with apples.

“Ah, I getcha! But wait a minute… if they make the trees put out a bumper crop, ain’t that a good thing?

Clementine shook her head. “No, Jackie. It ain’t good at all. The Une might make the tree feel real good, but it drastically reduces their lifespan. If they go unchecked, these trees’ll be dead within the year.”

“They make the trees feel good, but they’re killin’ ‘em? Why?”

Bloomberg shrugged. “Well, Ah’m sure some egghead from Canterlot could go on a spiel ‘bout the exacts, but Ah really think it comes down to this: sometimes the most dangerous things in life… are the ones that don’t really seem all that bad at first.”

“That’s right, Jackie,” said Clementine, "It’s easy to tell if something’s hurting you if it makes you feel bad, but by makin’ them feel good, the Une tricks the trees into thinkin’ nothing’s wrong. That’s where the Une gets its other name: Creeping Happiness.”

Applejack fell silent, drinking in her parents’ words. Looking grave, she nodded softly a few moments later before speaking up again.

“So... how do we get rid of ‘em?”

“Oh, well luckily that’s easy as apple pie,” Bloomberg said, “Just cut, pluck, and spray, like what you’ve been doin’ this whole time. A weed’s a weed, after all. In fact, give yer mother an’ me some o’ those sickles, let’s do this right.”

Passing out the weeding tools, the three set to removing the Une weeds from the grove. AJ looked unusually solemn as she worked, cutting the vines, uprooting the plant, and spraying any leftover roots, being very thorough in the extermination. After an hour or so, the grove was free of any Une weeds. The sun even seemed to show through the trees much more brightly than before.

“And that, sugarcubes, is what I call a good day’s work. What say we get to that fair?”

“Sounds good to me, Bloomberg! Come on, Jackie, let’s have some fun!”

“...Alright,” said AJ with a half-hearted smile.

***

Bloomberg and Clementine talked animatedly as they followed the road to town. Applejack trailed a little bit behind, lost in thought. Nothing seemed to make any sense. The day had been wonderful, and it was set to get even better. By all rights, Applejack should have been happy.

So why wasn’t she?

Reaching the edge of town, the fairgrounds full of bustling happy ponies was on full display.

“Boy howdy!” said Bloomberg, “Looks like it’s gonna be one heck of a fair this year!”

“You’ve got that right! Come on Jackie, let’s join ‘em!”

“...No.”

Bloomberg and Clementine blinked, turning around to focus on their daughter. She looked oddly dejected.

“What’s the matter, Sugarcube? We’ve walked all this way already. Now let’s go to the fair, you’ve earned it!”

“Your father’s right, Jackie, it’s okay. Plus, I know you want to try and break your record at apple bobbing. If you win, I’ll even give you my hat!”

“No, no!” Applejack shouted, trembling, “It ain’t okay at all! You two… you aren’t supposed to be here!”

“What?!” said Clementine, taken aback, “That’s crazy talk, AJ! We’re your parents, and we’ll always be here for you.”

Tears began to fall from Applejack’s eyes as her trembling intensified. She could barely believe what she was about to say, and felt ready to choke on her words. But finally, she gave voice to the thought that had entered her mind earlier that morning.

“N-no… y-you two… y-y-you died! You’re not supposed to be alive!”

Bloomberg and Clementine stood very still. Save for Applejack’s soft weeping, silence reigned for several minutes. Finally, Bloomberg broke the silence.

“...It doesn’t have to be that way, sugarcube.”

Applejack’s tear-stained face looked up at his in utter surprise.

Clementine nodded. “He’s right. We… we didn't get to spend nearly as much time with you as we should have. But… now we have all the time in the world.”

Applejack’s crying had ceased. She fell silent again as the gears turned in her head.

“...I’d like that. My whole life, I’ve wanted that so badly. I wanted to share so many things with you. Hear all sorts of stories from you, and tell some of my own. I've wanted to introduce you to my friends, help raise 'Bloom with you... All I've ever wanted is to see you two again.”

Bloomberg and Clementine’s eyebrows raised.

“Then…?”

Applejack cut them off, shaking her head.

“But… no. I can’t have that. Not ever.”

In the blink of an eye, Applejack’s gangly teenage form disappeared. In her place was a full-grown mare.

“Because as things stand… I’d be living one great big lie.”

Silence reigned once more as Applejack’s parents beheld their daughter. But after a moment, they smiled, positively beaming at her.

“Now there’s the filly we raised!” exclaimed Bloomberg.

“I know it’s been difficult, what with us leaving so soon,” said Clementine, “but you’ve grown up into such a strong and beautiful mare, Jackie. I couldn’t be more proud.”

“Mom… Dad… I-I have to go,” Applejack was fighting back her tears, but managed to hold herself together.

“We understand, Jackie. It was so nice to see you again. Oh, and I believe this is yours.”

Clemetine reached up and removed the Stetson hat from her head, placing it atop Applejack’s. A single tear escaped AJ’s eye.

“Go get ‘em, sugarcube. We’ll always be right with you. Say hi to your friends for us.”

Tears flowed freely from Applejack’s eyes, but she was smiling.

“You betcha. Mom, Dad… goodbye.”

And slowly, the world around them faded to white.

Author's Note:

Special thanks to Tarbtano, Corona_Blaze, Smjames, and SkullShip for pre-reading/advice. Thanks guys!

This incarnation of AJ's parents was heavily inspired by this version of them, by the wonderful Lopoddity, though I clearly took a few liberties with the details.

Incidentally, I heard the news about Season 7 bringing info about AJ's parents while I was writing this. I decided to stick to my guns, though. I figure this is the last chance to do this interpretation. ^_^