• Published 11th Sep 2017
  • 2,227 Views, 42 Comments

Spectrum of Gray - Amber Spark



Something is wrong with Rainbow Dash and Applejack, and Twilight Sparkle is determined to figure it out. But not even the Princess of Friendship is prepared for the possibility that, sometimes, love alone isn't enough to keep a marriage going strong.

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Gray Curtains

Applejack didn’t feel a lot of things.

Not lately. She knew that should worry her… but lately, she was too tired to rightly care about it. Everything was just… numb. She knew that worried Granny Smith. Ponyfeathers, that worried Granny enough she’d taken the long train down from Markstown to Ponyville to spend time with AJ while Rainbow had been showing off to a bunch of griffons and dragons. Seeing Granny again had managed to make Applejack feel a little. Unfortunately, the only thing it made her feel was guilt.

Granny shouldn’t be worrying about Applejack. Granny was a great-grandmother now. And little Amber Apple was almost as cute as Apple Bloom when she’d been born. Anyway, Big Mac could help Granny better than Applejack these days. Heck, he had a whole town to help Granny out. The few times Applejack had managed to make it up there, she’d been satisfied. Not happy. Not really. She hadn’t felt really happy… well, she hadn’t felt anything like happiness in a long time.

She stared at the ceiling of the big bedroom. Just like every other time she was in here alone, the empty space beside her felt like a giant block of invisible ice. Didn’t matter that she’d put Rainbow’s pillow lengthwise there. She’d come up with the idea halfway through Rainbow’s big show a few years back in Saddle Arabia. It had been the first time Applejack hadn’t been able to come with her. Eight days without the mare she’d loved. Felt like a lifetime. Putting her pillow there didn’t replace her. Tarnation, it tended to make her feel worse. But at least she could sleep. Tricked herself into thinking somepony slept beside her. Hadn’t worked tonight.

Applejack shivered, but she still didn’t pull the blankets over her. She was too tired. Land’s sake, she was always too tired. Every day. Every night.

But the worst nights? The worst nights were when no matter how tired her hooves—not to mention the rest of her—were, sleep just wouldn’t come. Happened a lot when Rainbow had been overseas. Happened a lot of other nights too. Applejack had almost asked Twi to send a letter to Princess Luna asking for a bit of help, but that seemed like cheating somehow. Nah. She didn’t deserve an easy way out. Not with what she was doing to poor Rainbow.

Her head turned and she glanced out the window of the balcony double doors. In the moonlight, she could make out the gray clouds of Rainbow’s old home, floating up on the outskirts of Sweet Apple Acres. Only a smudge against the night sky, but she could see it.

Applejack couldn’t bring herself to look any closer. Hurt too much.

She sighed and went back to staring at the ceiling. A few minutes passed. She turned over. Few more minutes wandered by. Turned over again.

Bed was still too cold. Too empty.

Like she had every night, Applejack thought about asking Rainbow to come back in. Just to be there. It’d help her sleep. She needed it, because she would be up before dawn, just like every other day. But she couldn’t do that to Rainbow. Not anymore. Applejack had put the poor mare through enough, jumping through all those hoops for months, trying to fix things. All to find out the problem weren’t Rainbow at all.

Applejack was the problem. And there wasn’t a damn thing anypony could do about it.

A creak came from just outside her door. She bolted upright in bed, every hair on her coat sticking out like a scared cat. Had Rainbow decided to come in anyway? She didn’t think her wife had it in her to do something like that. Yeah, she was a prankster and about seven apples short of a bushel on her best days, but Rainbow wasn’t gonna try to sneak in. Not with something like this going on. It wasn’t her style.

“AJ?”

Applejack blinked a few times as her door slowly swung open. Luna’s moon shone barely enough so Applejack could see Granny Smith’s bright orange eyes reflecting in the hallway. Applejack couldn’t figure out what to say to her. They hadn’t said much since she’d arrived two weeks ago. At least, they hadn’t said much that mattered.

“Ya ain’t sleepin’,” Granny said as she slowly stepped inside the room. “Ain’t really a surprise. But ya should be. In a few hours, Celestia’s gonna wake up the sun.”

“I know, Granny,” Applejack replied. But she didn’t lay back down. She sat up in bed and dangled her hooves off the side. Her eyes drifted to the letter on the nightstand before wandering back down to the plush rug Auntie Applesauce had given them as a wedding present. “I know.”

Granny tsked and shook her head. “Ain’t right, young’un, seein’ ya like this.”

Applejack could have pretended she didn’t know what Granny was talking about. She knew better. She also didn’t know what to say. So, she shrugged.

Granny headed for the worn old rocking chair Applejack’s Pa had made a long while back. The old mare settled down and watched her granddaughter. Applejack stared back.

Applejack broke first.

“What am I supposed to do, Granny?”

“Well, that depends, Applejack,” Granny replied.

She stopped and looked thoughtful for a moment, but Applejack had long gotten used to Granny’s pauses. No matter how much her face aged, her eyes were always bright. When Applejack was a filly, she used to think that having Granny around was like having her own little version of Princess Celestia. It had been a comforting thing. She needed some timeless wisdom right about now. Maybe Granny could come up with something she hadn’t said before. Something special. Something to fix this mess. Something to fix her.

Granny let out a little sigh. “Well, young’un, Ah know it ain’t nearly this simple, but Ah gotta ask. Do ya want that little rainbow filly in yer life?”

Applejack leaned back as if she’d been slapped across the muzzle. She sputtered for a few moments… but Granny kept staring at her. Even did that single-eye-stare thing. Granny wasn’t messing around tonight. Only the truth would make her happy. It was funny, those words popping up in her head, but there they were. And there weren’t a dang thing she could do about it, save tell Granny exactly what she wanted to know.

There was a catch, though. Mighty big one at that.

“I don’t rightly know.”

“Seems a right strange answer, young’un.” Granny rubbed her chin a little, but she nodded a bit, too. “After all, ya did say ‘yes’ to that little filly way back when. And Ah know it took some time fer it to stick, but Ah didn’t raise ya to say things ya didn’t mean.”

“I did mean it, Granny!” Applejack protested. “I meant every word!”

Granny’s expression didn’t soften. It didn’t need to. She’d had nothing but kindness in her eyes since she came in. After all, she’d seen everything for herself. Ever since Rainbow came home. She’d been upstairs when…

Applejack swallowed and glanced back out the double doors to the balcony. In the dim moonlight, the curtains were a solid gray. Just like the small cloud home behind them.

Just like everything.

“Ah know ya did, child,” Granny whispered. “Ah know ya did. Ya ain’t lyin’. Ah know ya ain’t. But Ah can’t say it’s easy to see ya like this. Yer hurtin’ and ain’t a thing anypony can do about it.”

Applejack’s eyes wandered back to Granny, still rocking slowly in the shadows in the corner of the big bedroom. The hoof carved rocking chair didn’t even squeak as it moved back and forth. Granny Smith had brought it out of the attic after the wedding. It was supposed to be a gift from her Pa, always meant for her. It’d been meant to help rock AJ’s own little foals to sleep when they were up fussing and crying.

Applejack swallowed hard and looked down in shame.

“What would they say if they saw me now, Granny?” Applejack whispered.

“Who’s that, young’un?”

“Ma and Pa.”

“Oh, child…” Compassion laced every word. Applejack didn’t think she’d ever heard Fluttershy herself sound so pained. “That ain’t somethin’ ya should be thinkin’ about. Ain’t nothin’ down that road but pain and heartache.”

“They’d be so ashamed of me,” Applejack said, trying to fight back the tears. For all the jokes that she cried on the inside, she knew herself better. It took a lot to get her to cry. She figured she was about due. “So ashamed, Granny. Pushing away my wife? Ruining the family farm? Ma ended up giving up her whole family to be with Pa. And I can’t even make it with the pony I love more than life itself. Can’t even sleep beside her.”

“Ya ain’t sleepin’ without her either, child,” Granny replied. Her chair rocked a few times. “Ya ain’t got more than a few winks of sleep since Ah came here.”

“Don’t matter,” Applejack mumbled. “I’ve put her through so much, Granny. So much, all because… because… I gotta do this. I can’t let this farm die. I can’t lose it. It’s our farm… It’s… it’s…”

Applejack looked up at Granny. At those kind eyes. At that rocking chair where AJ should be sitting right now, cradling some little foal in her hooves with Rainbow smiling at her in bed. She could almost see it. Almost.

Something inside of her broke. That last piece of stubborn willpower that had kept her going all these months. All these years. All of it. The spring just snapped right off inside her and the pieces flew into the darkness. Right into that big pit where the pony named Applejack used to be.

Applejack slid from the bed to the floor, sobbing like a little filly. Time went strange.

Through the haze of tears, she could see all the little moments that had led up to her getting hitched to that rainbow-maned pegasus. Every little second. Every little smile. Every little laugh. Every little blush. Every little flutter of her heart. She didn’t think about the big adventures, like taking on Tirek, Discord, the changelings… all those big moments didn’t really matter in the end. Big things didn’t mean squat. Long ago, she’d learned that if a pony lived the little moments right, they would do right by the big ones. So many little moments of good… and so many little moments that slowly had turned into nothing but a gray blur.

The gray suffocated her, wound around her throat until she couldn’t breathe. But the tears kept coming. They wouldn’t stop. She couldn’t breathe and they wouldn’t stop. Maybe it would be better if the gray never stopped—

Surprisingly strong forehooves wrapped around the weeping mare. The scent of old applewood and aged spices flooded over her. The quiet murmur of the mare who’d been there after Ma and Pa had passed slipped around her flattened ears, but Applejack continued to sob.

Time went strange again, but the gray slowly slid away, giving her enough room to gasp for air. Applejack didn’t know how much time passed until her body was too tired to cry anymore. Felt like a few lifetimes. Felt like a few more before Granny spoke again.

“Child, ain’t right fer ya to be hurtin’ like this,” Granny murmured beside her. “Have ya… well… Ah know ya ain’t gonna like this. Ain’t gonna like it one bit. But ya ever think it might be time to put this life out to pasture?”

Applejack reeled back from Granny and stared at her as if she’d just revealed herself to be that dang Chrysalis.

“You… you can’t mean that!” Applejack could barely get enough air. Suddenly, the gray was everywhere again. She couldn’t see anything aside the pity in Granny’s eyes. “Your Pa! Your Pa made this place! This town became what it is because of Sweet Apple Acres! I can’t throw that away! That’s… that’s… that would be betraying everypony! Ma, Pa, you, Apple Bloom, Big Mac, Sugar Belle and Amber Apple! Every other Apple out there! Even my friends! Everypony! I can’t! Granny… please… I can’t. It’s all I have left. It’s the only thing I know how to do anymore! Without this farm… I ain’t got anything. Nothin’ left.”

She didn’t think about the letter. She refused to think about the letter.

“Ya got that pretty little wife of yers,” Granny pointed out.

“Ain’t even sure I got that anymore.” Applejack shook her head. “Please… Granny… don’t make me do this…”

“Ah ain’t makin’ ya do anythin’, child,” Granny Smith said as she patted Applejack with a hoof. “And Ah never said ya should close up the farm. Ah saw the letter, AJ. Grand Pear told me about Pear Wood.”

Applejack couldn’t meet Granny’s eyes. Instead, she looked over at the letter on the nightstand. A friendly thing. A cheerful message sent from one cousin to another. Pear Wood didn’t know what Applejack was going through. He had no way of knowing. Didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.

“I can’t sell our home, Granny,” Applejack whispered, ignoring those tiny little daydreams saying otherwise. “Not even to family. It’s… It’s… Granny, I hate myself every day for even keeping that dang letter. I can’t. It would be like… it would be like Rainbow quitting the Wonderbolts.”

“Hush, child.” Granny pressed a hoof against Applejack’s shoulder. “Ah told ya. Ah never said ya should give up Sweet Apple Acres. But this ain’t the same farm y’all grew up on. Big Mac’s doin’ important things up north. Ah’m mighty proud of him and that sweet little Sugar Belle. He made the hard call. Went to help other ponies. But yer carryin’ on like he’s still around to help shoulder the load! He ain’t.”

“I know that! I don’t hate him for it either! After what Chrysalis did to that poor town… I swear if Starlight, Sunset and Twi hadn’t dealt with that damn bug, my brother would have bucked her into sludge for what she did to Sugar Belle. Ain’t right.”

“Yer still holdin’ onto the spot where he was, young’un. He made the hard choice. And Ah don’t think for a moment he made the wrong one, neither.” Granny nodded in approval. “No, Ah think he’s done right by ‘em folk up there.”

“I never said he didn’t!” Applejack protested.

“Then why ya tryin’ to run this place by yer lonesome, child?”

“Because I don’t have a choice!” Applejack shouted. “Granny! We tried the hired help thing! It was a disaster! I turned into everything I hated. I hated telling all those folk what to do. I ain’t no manager! I’m a farmer. Helping organize family? That’s one thing. But managing strangers? Whole thing… it just made me sick. And we were losing bits! Whole thing was a cotton-picking mess! And I can’t just… I can’t… I can’t depend on the girls! They ain’t farmers! It…” Applejack trailed off with a choked sob.

“Ya can’t keep doin’ this to yerself either, child. Gotta be another way.”

“She’s probably telling her the same thing…” Applejack mumbled, looking back out into the night sky.

“Who’s that now?” Granny followed Applejack’s gaze.

Applejack’s gaze landed on the small floating home. It looked so gray in Luna’s light without a single rainbow. It looked dead.

“She’s up there right now,” Applejack murmured. “She’s watched this here room every night until she’s fallen asleep. Before I turned off the lights, I saw Twi flying to the front door.”

“What do ya think she’s tellin’ her, child?” Granny asked.

“I don’t rightly know anymore,” Applejack admitted, hanging her head in shame. “I wish I knew, Granny. I wish I knew. I’m a lonely shadow of a mare… only one thing in the world I still know how to do. And that’s run this farm.”

“And what about her?”

“Rainbow?”

“Mmhmm.” Granny nodded.

“She’s got so much life in her. Granny… I remember when she first got into the Wonderbolts. She was so excited, practically turned into Pinkie Pie for weeks. Then? After the first few bumps were worked out, even Pinkie couldn’t keep up with her.”

Granny snorted.

“Okay,” Applejack admitted with a very small smile. “Maybe not quite that bad. But still… She was so full of life, Granny. Her head was always in the clouds. She could take me flying in the living room just by talking about her latest show. I loved her for it. I still love her for it… but I… I’m so tired. Every day. Every day, Granny. I’m so tired… I can’t keep up with her anymore.”

“Ya ever tell her that?”

“Too many times,” Applejack muttered. “There’s so many times where I wanted help, but she was so tired herself. I know what the Wonderbolts cost her. She’s as dead tired as me when she gets home. Add in all those away shows? Granny… without her, we’d have already lost the farm. We need those bits.”

“Happiness is more important than bits, child. Ah taught ya better than that.”

“I can’t lose this place, Granny,” Applejack’s voice cracked. She knew she was begging. Made her feel ashamed, but not ashamed enough to care. “Can’t do it.”

“Ah know, child.” Granny let out a long sigh and nodded. “Ah know. Yer soul’s part of this here land. Just like every Apple before ya. When ya become an Apple, this turns into home. Even Apples who ain’t never seen this place… this is their home. Always will be. Ah ain’t gonna lie. It’s a mighty big thing ya got on yer shoulders.” Granny cracked a little smile. “But ya got the shoulders to do it. Yer Ma and yer Pa… they made right sure of it. Ah did my best to keep those shoulders nice and strong. Ya’ve done right by ‘em. By all of us.”

“Except Rainbow,” Applejack whispered. “Except having little… the little… ones…” Her voice died away like a whisper in a lost cave.

Granny didn’t reply to that.

“Who am I, Granny?” Applejack rasped. “Who am I anymore? The Map never calls Rainbow or me anymore. Not for anything. I can’t remember the last time I had one of Pinkie’s cupcakes. For Pony’s sake, what I wouldn’t give to have Rarity chasing after me to get me all gussied up. Ain’t nothing left in me but the work. Always the work.”

“Yer Applejack, child.” Granny poked her in the chest with a hoof. “Yer that girl Rainbow married. That girl that pretty pegasus adores. And Ah think yer pushin’ her away ‘cause ya don’t want her to get hurt no more.”

“I’m pushing her away because I don’t even know what I am anymore. I just exist to do chores. Ain’t good for nothing else.”

“That ain’t true and ya know it!” Granny’s voice cracked like a whip. “Yer plenty good for plenty, young’un. Ya know that. Ah know that. No, ya ain’t ready for foals yet. Ain’t somethin’ ya want to hear, but it’s true. Ya once held that fancy necklace of yers sayin’ ya were the spirit of honesty. Just because ya don’t wear it no more don’t mean ya still ain’t that pony.”

“But—”

“No buts!” Granny interrupted. “Ah know yer hurtin’ child, but this talk about ya bein’ good fer nothin’ but chores ain’t somethin’ Ah’m gonna put up with! Ah also know it’ll be yer turn to have young'uns of yer own when the time is right. And y’all have ‘em with that pretty little pegasus gal out there.”

“I…” Applejack swallowed. “I’m not ready, Granny. I can’t… I can’t have her back yet. I… I gotta figure this out. I gotta find some part of that pony I used to be. That pony that Rainbow fell in love with. Gotta find her.”

“Ever occurred to ya that maybe instead of lookin’ fer somethin’ in the pony ya were… maybe ya should try to find somethin’ in the pony ya are?”

Applejack opened her mouth to respond… but nothing came out.

“Ah’ve seen the way that filly looks at ya, AJ. Ah’ve seen her up there, starin’ down at this here balcony. Watchin’. Hopin’. Waitin’. She’d wait until the end of time, child. After all… while my memory ain’t what it used to be… Ah think she used to wear a pretty necklace, too. Somethin’ about loyalty. She’ll wait fer ya.”

“Are you sure, Granny?”

Granny slowly got back to her hooves with an assortment of creaks and pops.

“As sure as Celestia raises the sun, young’ un. Even if ya send her away… ya ain’t ever gonna leave her heart. She loves ya with every hair on that crazy multicolored head of hers. She ain’t gonna give up on ya.”

Applejack’s eyes slid back to view beyond the gray curtains. For a moment, she thought she saw a lavender form disappear into the night, but she couldn’t tell which direction it went.

“Even if I give up on myself?”

Granny chuckled lightly. “Especially then, child. Ah know ya got a lot restin’ on yer shoulders. And Ah know y’all never let this farm die. And right now… yer killin’ yerself to make this place work. But y’all make it work, child. Y’all make it work.”

“How do you know, Granny? How can you be so sure?”

“Because there ain’t just one Apple here, child,” Granny said as she slowly headed for the door. “There’s two. Only difference is… one’s got wings. Y’all both belong here. Always have. Always will. Ya just need another chance to find yerself again. Her too. That filly needs that chance. Then, y’all really get that second shot, together. Y’all find a way to make it work. Ah got faith in y’all. Even if ya don’t. Even if she don’t. Y’all make it work. Won’t be easy. Be right hard.” Granny paused and took a breath. “But y’all make it work.”

Applejack didn’t turn to watch Granny leave. Instead, she watched the night sky. Especially a little smear of gray, a spot where she knew her wife was right now. She’d probably fallen asleep already. She didn’t get angry about that. She didn’t mind. Rainbow deserved her sleep. Naw. Instead of getting angry, Applejack grabbed a pillow from her bed and settled down next to the window. It took about a minute or so until she managed to get situated so she could lay down and watch the little cloud home. But she made it work.

Applejack didn’t feel a lot of things.

Not lately. Tonight, though… tonight was different. Tonight, she felt that great gaping hole inside of her. Even from the other side of the room, she still felt cold. She still could feel Rainbow’s empty spot on the bed. That invisible block of ice that wasn’t anywhere save for her heart. Her eyes began to close, more of a weary soul than anything else. She was just… out. She didn’t have anything left.

As she spied a tiny spot of color in that gray house… she wondered if she would ever find anything to replace all that she’d lost. Granny hadn’t offered her any solutions… save one that she couldn’t use. Granny knew that. Applejack was sure of it. Rainbow would spit her bit if she tried. She’d probably do something stupid like quit the Wonderbolts to stop her from doing it. All in a desperate attempt to make Applejack happy.

It was a silly thought… Rainbow would never leave the Wonderbolts. But even as her eyes fluttered, somewhere deep inside, she knew that Rainbow actually would do it if she thought it would help Applejack. It wouldn’t make Applejack happy, but she knew Rainbow would do it. She knew because she knew the mare she loved. The mare she’d married. And if she still knew that about Rainbow… well…

Maybe there was still a tiny spark of hope left after all.

Author's Note:

"[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

- 1 Corinthians 13:7