• Published 2nd Jan 2024
  • 2,409 Views, 272 Comments

Warm - CrimsonWolf360

Returning to the past, Twilight does what is necessary to save Cooper from his fate. The consequences for such choices, however, are not to be underestimated. Only time will tell if it was worth it...

  • ...

Chapter 12

Upon coming to his senses, Cooper stumbled back toward the way he thought he'd come from. However, it was almost immediately clear that the vegetation was too dense and random to give him any real clue as to the path he traveled to get there. His head swiveled back and forth, looking for any kind of trails or roads that he might have missed, but his efforts proved fruitless as he simply found himself surrounded by thick forest.

With drops of sweat dripping from his brow, Cooper glanced up to the sky, finding the sun still rising toward its apex.

"I can't have gone too far..." He muttered, shaking his head.

The vivid images of the frozen tundra reapeared in his vision as he closed his eyes, making him clench them shut in frustration as the screams of his loved ones echoed in his ears once more.

"Mia... Sarah..." Cooper grunted through grit teeth.

It took a few more moments for him to refocus on his current objective of returning to Twilight and Ponyville. He hastily put together a plan, following the sun's path in the sky and heading due North, based off of it its position. However, before he could walk so much as a hundred feet in the woods, he heard leaves rustling behind him.

Cooper spun on his heels and whipped out his pistol, aiming at whatever could be behind him, but found nothing. Only more of the same greenery greeted him as he hastily scanned the area for any signs of life. He heard a few distinct bird calls off in the distance, but aside from that, everything appeared normal before him. He hesitantly lowered his pistol before turning back around and heading forward.

Cooper was startled by the sight of a zebra just a dozen paces ahead of him, her head tilted to the side and a curious look on her face. She wore a series of golden rings around her neck and forelegs, as well as a set of golden ear-rings that dangles from her fuzzy ears. Her deep cerulean eyes appraised him with a sense of wonder and intrigue, but she said nothing as Cooper's first instinct was to aim his pistol at her and migrate his finger to the trigger.

"Fuck... Jesus." Cooper muttered, lowering the pistol and clenching his chest with his left hand.

"I'm sorry if I startled you. I was just passing through." The zebra replied, giving him a gentle smile.

Her voice was deep and melodic, much like the rhyme she spoke in. The very sound of her voice eased Cooper's nerves somewhat, allowing him to catch his breath as she slowly approached.

"It's... alright. Just been a long day, is all." Cooper replied.

The zebra looked up at the sky, tilting her head to the side in slight amusement, "I'm not sure you should speak so soon. It is not even noon." She replied, giving him a smile.

Cooper raised an eyebrow, "Uh..."

"I've seen many creatures in my travels, old and new, but I've never seen a creature as strange as you." She stated, giving him an appraising look.

Cooper pursed his lips as he slowly placed the gun back in his pocket, though he kept hold of it in his hand, "I'm a human... I doubt you'd have seen or heard of my species since... I'm the only one here." He explained.

"That is quite a shock, to be a bird, without a flock. I am saddened to hear of your situation. Could you tell me what has caused such separation?" She asked, giving him a look of genuine concern.

"First, can you tell me why you're speaking in rhymes?" Cooper replied, placing one hand on his hip.

The zebra chuckled, "Ah, my apologies, I know some creatures aren't used to Zebrican methodologies. We rhyme in our speak, to keep our minds from growing weak. It is a practice that goes back centuries, as far as our species' memories." She explained.

Cooper slowly nodded, "You know what, a rhyming zebra is probably the least crazy thing I've seen since I got here so I guess it's fine." He replied.

The striped equine giggled into her hoof, "Tell me, do you have a name, or perhaps know from where you once came?"

Cooper sighed, "The name's Cooper. Cooper Slait. How about you? Do you have a name, miss 'rhyming zebra lady'."

She nodded, "Zecora is my name. It was the first thing I could ever claim."

"Zecora? That's an interesting name." Cooper remarked.

"When it comes to the matter of a name, you and I are very much the same. I have never met a creature like you, though it is a pleasure to say 'how do you do?'." Zecora replied, holding out her hoof.

Cooper eyed the offered hoof for a moment before releasing his hold on the pistol and taking her offered hoof. He gently shook before quickly returning his hand to his pocket and grabbing the pistol once more.

"I was on my way to make a new brew, but I would be remiss to not offer to help you. Are you by any chance, in need of somewhere to go? I live only a brisk walk away, you know?" Zecora offered.

Cooper owlishly blinked at the offer for a moment before glancing up at the sky once more. He let out a low sigh as he struggled to get any sort of bearing on his location.

"Alright, I guess that'd be fine. I don't suppose you know how to get back to Ponyville though, do you?"

Zecora nodded, "I can show you the way, but please, come with me for a short stay." She replied.

Cooper sighed but relented and nodded for her to lead the way. She happily took the lead, directing him in the opposite direction of the forest that he had been going. Cooper followed after the strange zebra, his guard still noticeably up, but his entire body much less tense than previously. After nearly ten minutes of walking through the dense and confusing terrain of the forest, Cooper soon arrived at Zecora's home.

From the outside, the structure appeared as nothing more than a rudimentary hut with some glass windows and tribal masks or trinkets posted up all over the outside of the structure. Cooper raised an eyebrow at the nature of the little dwelling, but opted not to say anything, lest he offend the kind zebra offering to take him back to Ponyville.

Zecora opened the door with a flourish, extending her foreleg and bowing her head ever so slightly as she ushered Cooper inside, "Please, do come in. Would you like water, tea, or gin?" She asked.

Cooper froze mid step, quickly turning his head to look down at the little zebra with a shocked expression, "You have gin?" He responded.

Zecora nodded.

"It's been almost five years since I've had any alcohol. I'll... take you up on that... maybe mixed with something though." Cooper responded.

"Hmm... I do have some green tea that I made this morning. For almost two hours, it's been warming. Would you like tea mixed with Gin and tonic? It's a brew from my home, and the taste is quite iconic." Zecora offered.

Cooper shrugged, "That... sounds like it might actually be pretty good. Thanks." He replied.

Zecora gave a quick nod and trotted off into her home to get the necessary ingredients. With her heading inside, Cooper now had the opportunity to take in the décor and design of her abode more readily. Sitting in the center of the hut, almost as if to act as a centerpiece, was a large cauldron sitting atop a decently sized fire pit. More masks and trinkets from the zebra's homeland were littered all over the ceiling and over other parts of the living area, making the otherwise empty space look quite full and furnished.

Cooper could see a decently sized bed at the opposite end of the single room, though more of the wall was clearly hollowed out to add extra room for the bed. Cooper's gaze drifted over to the walls, finding dozens and dozens of bottles, flasks, or what appeared to be mixing glasses on shelves that absolutely filled the walls. If the giant masks and trinkets weren't enough to make the room feel full, the bottles littering every inch of shelving space almost made it feel cramped.

Lost as he was in his observations of the home, Cooper didn't fail to notice the zebra as she worked in the kitchen-area. He quietly followed in after her, his head tilting to the side ever so slightly as he watched her preparing the drinks. While a large part of him was concerned about the possibility of Equestrian gin being a completely different brew, and much less drinkable than Earth gin, the clear liquid he saw Zecora pouring out into the cups before her gave him some measure of comfort.

At least it isn't radioactive green or something... Cooper thought to himself.

What captivated his attention far more than the drinks, however, was the mare before him as she effortlessly handled bottles and flasks with her hooves. Cooper's brow furrowed as he focused entirely on watching her work, her magical hooves somehow gripping and releasing object as small as mixing spoons.

"You are not a very trusting creature. I assure you, this is not my first time doing this procedure." Zecora teased, smiling at him over her wither.

Cooper snorted in mild amusement before holding up his hands in mock surrender as he slowly backed away, "Sorry. Just... not used to seeing you guys doing things with your hooves. I saw Twilight and her friends doing it but their hooves look more... I don't know, squishy? Yours look more like actual hooves from back home." He explained.

Zecora raised an eyebrow, before glancing down at her hoof, "I have never noticed anything special about my hoof. Perhaps you can shed some light with some proof?" She inquired, curiously glancing back up to Cooper.

Cooper awkwardly scratched the back of his neck, "Uh... nevermind, it's kinda hard to explain. Is... all this stuff yours?" He questioned, clearly attempting to change the topic of conversation.

Zecora smiled as she finished mixing the drinks and hoofed one over to Cooper, "Indeed, these are reminders from my home. I still remember playing on the beach, rolling around in the sea foam." She fondly recalled.

Cooper absentmindedly nodded as he took the offered drink. He glanced down at the liquid, finding that it now bore a light brown coloration inside of the wooden cup. He hesitantly brought it up to his nose to sniff the concoction, finding that the scents wafting from the drink were immediately familiar.

"It won't bite, I swear. You watched me make it from right there." Zecora teased, pointing to the spot Cooper was standing just a few moments earlier.

Cooper gave a reluctant nod, "Yeah, I know. Just... been a minute since I've smelled gin. Can't believe you guys actually have this stuff." He replied, before taking a small sip.

The fresh, piney flavor with hints of citrus and spice hit his palette instantly, making Cooper softly sigh in satisfaction. Hints of green tea were clearly present in the flavor, along with the slight bitterness of the tonic. There was no mistaking it, the drink was exactly what he hoped it was, prompting him to take another, longer sip of the beverage.

"Call it a suspicion, but I believe you have been suffering from some malnutrition. Don't drink too fast, as your tolerance won't be what it was last." Zecora cautioned.

Cooper nodded as he wiped a small amount of excess from his lips, "Yeah, good point. So... out of curiosity, why do you live out here in a hut instead of in town with everyone else?"

"The forest reminds me of home. It is much like the place I used to roam." Zecora replied, nodding slightly.

Cooper snorted in amusement, "Would you believe me if I told you that it kinda reminds me of my home, too?"

Zecora tilted her head to the side in curiosity, "Oh? Is that so? Please, continue. I am sure you have many stories within you."

Cooper sadly chuckled and nodded, "Well, it used to, at least. Now it's just a frozen wasteland. There used to be forests and green all over the damn place. Now all you see is white... white and gray." He reminisced, taking a swig of his drink.

"It is clear that your world has become quite depressing. Your arrival here must have been such a blessing." Zecora responded, a soft look in her ocean blue eyes.

Cooper's gaze fell down into his drink, almost half of the amber liquid gone, "Yeah... Twilight really did save my life." He muttered, frowning slightly.

"Ah, Princess Twilight. Meeting her was quite a highlight. She's a good friend, though were she hurt any worse, I fear she might have met her end." Zecora shivered at the thought.

"Yeah... she was pretty messed up when we got back... wait... oh shit! Twilight!" Cooper exclaimed, jumping out of his seat.

"What about her? Was it something I said, er..." Zecora started, hopping out of her chair as well.

"No, not you. I ran away from Ponyville and left her behind. She's probably worried sick about me right now. I need to get back to town as soon as possible." Cooper instructed, placing the cup on the chair arm and heading for the door.

"The Everfree forest is a dangerous place. Your tracks would be impossible to retrace," Zecora stated, trotting after him, "I said I would show you the way, so please, follow me and let's not delay."

Cooper opened the door and stepped outside, ensuring to hold it open for his zebra host. She quickly trotted ahead of him and headed for a narrow path that zig-zagged off into the brush around her hut. Cooper quickly followed behind, and soon enough, they were hastily making their way through the forest.

Within twenty minutes of seemingly easy navigation for the eccentric zebra, the forest around them began to thin, allowing them to see much easier. A trail of sorts materialized before them, allowing for much easier and faster travel, the closer they got to Ponyville. Cooper glanced up to see that the sun was slowly starting to head down toward the horizon, indicating that he'd been gone for at least a few hours. He shook his head and continued walking alongside Zecora, hopeful that Twilight wouldn't be too distraught or scared for his sake.

Not another ten minutes of travel passed by before they both heard some commotion coming from straight at the end of the trail. While there were many voices speaking over each other, one voice distinctly stood out among the rest to Cooper's ear. It was Twilight's voice, and she was absolutely furious. Without so much as a word to his zebra companion, Cooper ran toward the source of the commotion, quickly finding himself at the edge of the forest and in front of a large field of plain grass that separated the town from the woods.

"-and what do you do?! You set off a bucking canon right in front of us!? What the hay is the matter with you!? You have no idea what that sounds like to us! You have no idea how much that sound terrifies us! Now my friend is in the bucking forest, and it's all your fault!" Twilight's booming voice echoed over the open field, allowing Cooper to hear every word.

As the town of Ponyville came into view, Cooper saw dozens and dozens of ponies all standing around in the field, most of them circled around Twilight and Pinkie, as the former practically screamed at her. The rest of the ponies were organized in something that could have resembled a search party, if it weren't for the fact that more and more of them were moving in to attempt to separate the seething alicorn from her earth pony friend.

"Princess! Stop! It was an accident!" Sky exclaimed, having to fight with all of his strength to restrain Twilight.

"She didn't realize it would cause Cooper to run! We need to focus on finding him!" Midnight added, also using her magic to hold Twilight down.

Even in her weakened and injured state, Twilight was a force to be reckoned with. Less than a week of recovery was all it took, it seemed, for her to regain most of her earth pony strength. Across from her, being consoled by no less than half a dozen ponies while she bawled her eyes out, was Pinkie. The party pony's usually fluffy and poofy mane was limp and flat against her head. Tears streamed from her tightly closed eyes as she profusely apologized again and again for her transgression. The sight alone was enough to make Cooper's heart sink.

"He's back!" One of the townsponies shouted, pointing at Cooper and turning the entire crowd's attention back to him.

Instantly, Twilight's mood shifted, and her attention shifted toward the human standing not even a hundred paces away. Suddenly, all hostility and anger left her eyes, hope and excitement taking their place in a heartbeat. She teleported away from the crowd, reappearing just a few feet away from Cooper in a flash.

"Cooper!" Twilight cried out, flinging herself at him and wrapping her forelegs around his waist.

Cooper gave a start at the sudden appearance of the lavender alicorn, but quickly accepted the hug and returned it with one of his own. He dropped to a knee as he pulled Twilight close to him, his arms wrapping tightly around her as she cried into his shirt. Cooper ran his hand through her fur, quietly whispering into her ear as he held her close.

"It's okay, I'm alright. I'm here." He whispered.

"I was so worried... you just ran off and... I..." Twilight choked up, harsh sobs wracking her body.

Cooper continued to gently run his hand down her back while he held her close, the rest of Ponyville slowly and cautiously approaching as Twilight continued to cry into his shirt.

Author's Note:

Now that's just a whole can of worms that needs to be aired out now, isn't it? Twilight has a lot of issues to work through, herself. It doesn't take four years to traumatize someone.