• 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 16

Several Hours Later

Cooper wiped a bead of sweat from his brow as he picked the final apple from orchard grounds. Dozens of baskets were filled to the brim with ripe, juicy apples, completely filling the barn and front yard. As AppleJack carried the last of the baskets in on her back, depositing it on the ground just as Cooper walked over to her side and tossed his apple onto the pile.

"Hoowee! That was great work out there, Cooper. We got the entire orchard done in one day. Usually it takes at least two. I knew those hands'a yers would be great for this." AppleJack announced, taking her hat and wiping her own brow.

While there was a distinct soreness present in Cooper's body, most specifically his back, he couldn't deny that the feeling of finishing a hard day's work was quite nice, especially in the evening sun as it made its slow descent down the horizon.

"Great work out there, mister Cooper. Ah' didn't think you'd be as much help as you were but we got a lot more done today than expected." AppleBloom beamed, trotting up to Cooper's other side.

While the compliment was a little backhanded, Cooper simply smirked and nodded at the little filly, "Glad I could be somewhat useful."

"You were a hay of a lot more than useful, partner. I think a proper reward is in order for yer hard work today. Tell ya' what, Granny Smith is making some of her famous crabapple Rangoon's tonight for supper. I think we'd all be mighty honored if you'd join us and shared a meal." AppleJack offered.

The offer, generous and heartfelt as it was, made Cooper blink in surprise, but before he could utter a response, AppleBloom practically bounced in the air from excitment.

"Oh! Crabapple Rangoon's?! They're amazin'! Oh, you gotta stay and try em', Cooper. You just gotta!" AppleBloom pleaded, giving him puppydog eyes.

As if the offer itself wasn't tempting enough, the sight of the little yellow filly looking up at him with those big, bright eyes made it impossible for him to say 'no'.

"Alright, alright. I'll stay for dinner. Should probably tell Twilight though..." He replied.

"Good choice, Coop'. Don'tcha worry none. Twilight knows yer in safe hooves over here. We usually invite anypony in for dinner if they help out on the farm, so she's probably not expectin' you anyway." AppleJack explained.

"Ah can't wait! I'ma go wash up and get ready for dinner." AppleBloom announced, bolting away from Cooper and AppleJack.

"Don'tcha go gallopin' inside the house now, ya hear!? Wipe yer horseshoes off first!" AppleJack called after her, before shaking her head, a mirthful smile on her face, "She's full of energy, that one."

Cooper snorted in amusement, "She seems like a typical kid, just bustling with energy."

AppleJack nodded, "Yep, she's always out with her friends, tryin' to get her cutiemark. I swear, the shenanigans that filly gets up to would put most adult ponies to shame."

Cooper slowly nodded, "Cutie... marks? I think I remember Twilight talking about those... aren't those the emblems on your guys' flanks?" He asked, curiously.

AppleJack beamed, "Yessir, they are. As you can see, mine's a trio of apples. Ah don't think I need to go into detail as to why." She chuckled.

Cooper shook his head, "No, I guess I could piece that together pretty quick. Your whole family is pretty much all apples, aren't they?" He asked.

"Not all, but most of us. We've got a few cousins here and there that have special talents that have nothin' to do with apples, but we still love 'em all the same. A cutie mark ain't nothin' but a sign of what yer good at. Nothin' more." AppleJack explained.

Cooper nodded in understanding, "I see... so how do you know if your cutie mark is going to be something you really want? Does it just... always happen like that?"

AppleJack shrugged, "In my experience, these things always work themselves out... but anyway, enough about cutie marks fer now. AppleBloom will talk yer ear off about 'em at dinner anyhow. Would'ya mind heading back into town with me to get Big Mac and bring the stand back here? No heavy liftin' or anything like that. I'd just appreciate the company for a bit. Big Mac is great and I love him to pieces, but he doesn't always make for the best conversation." She chuckled.

Finding himself with little else to do in the meantime, Cooper gave a noncommittal shrug, "Eh, why not?"

The walk back to town went by quickly, and though some pleasant conversation was shared between them, the majority of the short jaunt was spent in peaceful silence. Unfortunately, despite the gentle breeze blowing the warm, sunset air over them, Cooper couldn't help but continue to glance back and forth, searching for some sort of threat that never appeared. AppleJack gave him a concerned look as they reached the bridge leading into Ponyville, her ears flattening against her head as Cooper subtly checked under the bridge.

"Uh, you alright there, Sugarcube?" She asked, the worry in her tone conveying her point well enough.

"Y-yeah, sorry. Just an old habit." Cooper sheepishly admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.

AppleJack gave him a warm smile, "Well ain't nothin' to fret over. Ah promise there ain't nothin' under the bridge that's gonna getcha."

"Yeah, thanks." Cooper responded, giving a quick nod.

With that, they quickly found themselves standing before the Apple family stall. Big Mac was nearing the end of the tear-down process for their cart, and glanced up as they both arrived.

"Howdy, Mac. How was the stall today?" AppleJack inquired, giving her brother a friendly nod.

"Decent enough. Sold all our apples fer the day." Big Mac replied, simply.

"Well I'm glad to hear it. You ready to head home?" She asked.

Big Mac nodded, "Eeyup."

"Then let's get movin'. Help me pack up the stall, will ya, Cooper?" AppleJack prodded, moving to assist her elder sibling with the packing.

With a small shrug, Cooper moved in and assisted in whatever small capacity he could, given his injury. With the three of them working together, the regularly lengthy task of tearing down and packing the stall was finished in less than ten minutes. With that accomplished, the trio made their way back to the farm in peaceful quiet as the twilight hour approached.

Big Mac was nearly completely silent the entire walk, opting to respond with simple gestures such as nods or grunts of affirmation, while AppleJack provided the majority of the conversation. Though Cooper continued to scan the surroundings, his posture tensing every so often as he saw shifting shadows in the fading sunlight, he was noticeably more relaxed than the previous journey. It was a change that AppleJack was happy to mentally note as they arrived back at Sweet Apple Acres.

Once Big Mac and AppleJack finished off-loading the cart, the siblings escorted Cooper back to their family home. The quaint little farm house stood at two stories tall, though for him, it might as well have been one and a half. Cooper ducked in through the front door and immediately found himself in a spacious living room, furnished by a cozy set of chairs and a well worn couch. The red coloration of the d├ęcor blended quite well with the worn hardwood floors and walls. Overall, the interior of the house seemed like a perfect midwestern abode.

"Granny! We're home! Brought some company for supper!" AppleJack called out.

"AppleBloom told me! Come on over fer supper! The Crabapples er' done." A creaky voice called out from the kitchen, somehow carrying an even deeper southern accent than the apple siblings beside him.

"We'll be right over." AppleJack replied.

Cooper followed after the orange earth pony and her brother into the dining room, finding a rustic looking table with four small chairs sitting around it. AppleBloom was just finishing with helping set the table as Granny Smith deposited the crabapple rangoon onto the lazy suzie. Said granny was a clearly elder mare with deep wrinkles that drooped all over her aged face. Her lime green coat did little to hide the wrinkles coursing all over her leather-like skin. The short hairs of her snout were grayed and aged with time, much like her snow white mane and tail.

However, despite her weathered and aged appearance, there was an undeniable kindness in her warm ginger eyes. She looked over to Cooper with the kind of smile that only a grandma could muster, and somehow, he found himself instantly put at ease just from the look in her eyes.

"Well, howdy there. You must be that fella, Cooper. AppleBloom's been singin' yer praises all evenin'. Said you helped pluck up a whole bushel a' apples an hour. Normally it takes us a day and a half to get them all." Granny Smith greeted.

Cooper nodded, giving a small smile in return, "Thank you. Just trying to be helpful."

"Aw, don't be so modest, Coop'. You were mighty helpful. More so than even Ah' expected." AppleJack complimented.

Cooper gave a small nod of thanks while Big Mac and AppleJack took their seats at the table. He awkwardly looked around at the only available seat as Granny Smith took the seat at the head. When it was clear where he was intended to sit, Cooper took his respective seat, though the chair was notably small compared to his large frame. The chair creaked under his weight, but held firm, much to his surprise.

The spread in front of him looked absolutely delicious, and Cooper instantly found himself taking in the scent of freshly baked apples and other vegetables. A Caesar salad was prepared, laid out in front of him, alongside a bowl of green beans and mashed potatoes. All in all, the dinner looked and smelled incredibly delicious, making Cooper's mouth water just from proximity.

"Well, don't wait too long now, it'll get cold. Dig in!" Granny Smith announced, a chipper tone in her voice.

"You ain't gotta tell me twice!" AppleBloom chirped.

"Let me get som'a that rangoon before Big Mac eats it all." AppleJack ordered, gesturing for the food from her little sister.

"Ah only did that once." Big Mac frowned.

"And we didn't get to eat anything that night. Ah'm not taken' any chances, no more." AppleJack teased, scooping some fritter onto her plate.

"Lemme get the mashed taters'. Ya'll know my teeth ain't what they used tah be." Granny Smith chided, grabbing said mashed potatoes from Big Mac.

"Once you get some salad, gimme the bowl, Coop'." AppleBloom said, glancing over to Cooper.

Cooper nodded and scooped some salad onto his plate with the provided utensils before acquiescing and passing the salad bowl over. Each respective foodstuff was passed around the table in quick succession, and before long, all party's plates were fully loaded with all types of food. The orders and instructions quickly quieted down in favor of chewing and voicing quick words of approval at the taste of the dinner.

Cooper found himself focusing on the food in front of him until most of his plate was cleaned. The taste was everything he'd ever hoped for, and the texture was amazing as well. However, as the meal progressed and the delicious food was consumed by all, the idle chitchat soon returned. Cooper's ear perked up on several topics of conversation, though most of them seemed to center around the pursuit of AppleBloom's cutiemark. Though he found himself still slightly confused by the mere concept of a cutie mark, he couldn't help the nagging feeling of nostalgia he felt from hearing a young voice describing her day.

"-and then we tried to get our cutie marks in fishin', but... well, Scootaloo lost all the bait we bought so we had tah try to improvise. That didn't go so well.." AppleBloom trailed off with a chuckle.

"Well shoot, Ah don't know why ya'll were even tryin' fishin' in the first place. It ain't like you were gonna eat any of it." AppleJack chuckled.

"Yeah, ponies don't eat fish, silly." Sarah said, giggling in her seat.

Cooper's eyes snapped over to the familiar voice of his daughter, his jaw falling ever so slightly. Mia walked in with a glass of wine in one hand and a bottle in the other. She daintily walked over to Cooper's side, ignorant or unseeing of his wide-eyed look. She leaned down and kissed his cheek, her soft lips sending a shiver down his spine as their velveteen texture registered on his skin.

"M...Mia?" Cooper whispered, so quiet that even he could barely hear it.

"So, how was school, honey?" Mia asked, looking down to Sarah.

"Ooh! Today was great. We went to a petting zoo and I got to pet a llama!" Sarah chirped.

"You did!? That's amazing, honey. What was that like?" Mia inquired.

"It was soooooo soft and fuzzy! I want one!" Sarah smiled.

Mia snickered as she placed her hand on Cooper's shoulder, "Oh, I don't know about that, sweetie. You're gonna have to get dad's approval for that one." She impishly smirked, glancing at him through out the corner of her eye.

"Daddy, can we? Can we, pleeeeeeeeeeeeease!?" Sarah begged, clasping her hands together.

Cooper dryly gulped, his mind racing in circles to comprehend what he was seeing. He looked over to his wife, finding her conveniently looking away from him as if the wall were suddenly the most interesting thing in the world. He looked back to his daughter to find her giving him puppy dog eyes that no parent could possibly hold out against. He closed his eyes and shook his head as a small smirk found its way onto his face.

"Maybe-" He began, but was swiftly cut off by a gasp from his wife.

"What's that?" Mia questioned, pointing to the window.

Cooper followed her finger to the window in question and squinted as thin trails of white smoke appeared in the distance. The city of Houston obscured much of the view he had of the surrounding area, tall buildings and the like getting in the way as usual. However, there was something odd about the smoke trails. They didn't appear to be trailing overhead like the usual flights that passed by every few hours.

Rather, the trail appeared to be converging on the city from multiple directions, almost as if they were arcing toward Houston. Cooper's eyes squinted as he watched the somewhat deliberate approach of the unidentified objects, his mind reeling as he remembered just what they were. Before he could say anything, however, they arced downward into the city and speared into the center of town.

Several brilliant flashes of light nearly blinded him, making him wince, but that paled in comparison to the complete and utter quiet that followed for several seconds. It was as if the entire world was stunned silent by the sight he'd just beheld, but that silence was soon smashed to a million pieces as an ear shattering crack and boom suddenly hit the window, blowing the glass out and showering Cooper in tiny glass shards.

The hot wind whipped at his skin, sending a burning sensation through to his very core, but he could not look away as the orange, red, black, and yellow mushroom clouds appeared off in the distance. His eyes stayed wide open, scared utterly still as the sight of utter Armageddon filled every corner of his vision.

"Cooper?" He heard Mia say.

"Coop'?" He heard another voice ask.

"Cooper!" AppleJack called, startling him.

Cooper blinked several times as he looked back over to the Apple family all sitting at the table with him, various looks of concern on their faces.

"You alright, Coop'? You spaced out for a few minutes there." AppleJack pressed, giving a disarming smile.

Cooper dryly swallowed, his mind still reeling from the sights he'd witnessed. The terrible sound of the explosions still echoed in his ears over and over as he desperately tried to focus on the table in front of him. The rest of the Apple's gave him increasingly worried looks as he failed to respond for a few seconds.

"Cooper, are you feelin' alright?" AppleBloom inquired.

Cooper glanced up from the table, his heart beating fast in his chest. It took all of his strength to keep from breaking down, but he took a sobering breath and spoke up, regardless.

"I... I'm sorry. I have to go." He announced, pushing out his chair.

"Go? Ya barely even ate anything yet?" Granny Smith replied, a puzzled look on her face.

"Yeah, you didn't even try the Apple Fritter we made fer desser!" AppleBloom exclaimed.

However, despite their arguments, Cooper quickly exited the dining room and made his way out the front door. AppleJack hopped off of her seat and followed after him, her brow furrowed in concern and slight offense.

"Coop', what the hay's gotten into ya? We were just talkin'. Where are you going?" AppleJack questioned, following after him as he left through the front door.

"I just... I can't be here right now." Cooper responded, only turning back for a moment.

"Whatdo'ya mean? What's wrong with here?" AppleJack pressed, some hurt slipping into her voice.

Unfortunately, Cooper failed to respond, and simply walked faster until AppleJack had to maintain a comical pace to keep up with him. After less than a minute of pursuit, she gave up and came to a halt, watching as Cooper quickly left Sweet Apple Acres and headed in the direction of Ponyville. As the darkening skies grew blacker and the moon rose in the horizon, AppleJack frowned.

"What in Tartarus is with him?" She asked aloud.

"Dunno." Big Mac replied, walking up beside her.

"Was it something we said?" AppleBloom worriedly asked, glancing back and forth between her siblings and the retreating form of Cooper.

"Ah don't think so, sugarcube... Ah think Cooper's just a bit more hurt than we all realized..." AppleJack muttered.

Author's Note:

So this was a difficult chapter to get out. I hope I did the scene justice here, but hell, unless someone with actual PTSD comes in to critique me, I won't know for sure lol.

This story will definitely have moments like this going forward. Trauma is quite a fickle thing, after all. Always wants to rear its head at the worst possible times.