• Published 2nd Jan 2024
  • 2,518 Views, 302 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...

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Chapter 22

Cooper softly sighed to himself as he poured a cup of coffee in the gentle warmth of the early morning sunshine. Even though the coffee maker was situated in the kitchen, he found that the pleasant sensation of the sun's rays made the time spent outside all the more worth it. The smell of fresh coffee wafted to his nose, making him smile, and he wasn't the only one.

"Mmmhhh... that smells wonderful." Twilight murmured, before a yawn forced its way past her lips.

Cooper nodded, "I never used to have a taste for it... but it's grown on me." He replied, gently cupping his mug in his hands, savoring the warmth.

"Mind if I get a cup?" Twilight asked.

"Help yourself." Cooper answered.

"I would ask if you brought the creamer out here but I already see that you did." Twilight teased as she retrieved a mug from the kitchen with her magic and poured herself some coffee.

Cooper shrugged, "I didn't feel like making two trips."

"Fair enough," Twilight giggled, "So, you sleep as well as I did?"

Cooper smiled, "You know what... I think I did." He said, taking a sip of his drink.

"Well you two are certainly up early." A familiar voice spoke out, prompting Cooper and Twilight to glance back over to the doorway.

Spike smiled at the pair as Sky and Midnight walked up behind him, both adorned in their royal guard uniforms, save for their helmets. Their normal coat colors shown under their armor, giving them a much different appearance than Cooper was used to seeing on them.

"Had a good night's sleep for a change." Twilight responded, smiling.

"Well that's certainly good to hear!" Spike cheered.

"I imagine a certain princess had something to do with your good night's sleep?" Midnight teased.

Twilight chuckled, "Yeah, Luna came and saw us last night. It was really nice of her to help both of us with our nightmares." She noted, giving a confirmatory nod to Cooper.

"While... it's definitely something I still need to wrap my head around... it was nice of her to help with that..." He replied, a fond smile on his lips as he recalled his wife and daughter.

"Well that's great to hear. Hopefully she can continue to help you both sleep better." Sky offered, kindly.

"Fingers crossed." Cooper snorted.

"So what's the plan for today? Going out anywhere or are we hanging out in the castle again?" Sky asked, curiously.

Cooper shrugged, "I was gonna head out to see Zecora again, actually." Cooper replied, shocking almost all of the creatures present.

"Zecora? I didn't even know you knew her." Spike responded, tilting his head to the side.

"Uh... when I had my little... episode... I saw her." Cooper explained.

"She lives out in the Everfree Forest... are you sure that's a good idea to go out there, sir?" Sky asked, cautiously.

"Not that we want to get in the way of you and a friend spending some time together, but the Everfree is pretty dangerous. It's a miracle you weren't hurt worse the first time you went in there." Midnight offered.

Cooper nodded, his lips pursed in thought before he took another sip of his coffee.

"Well, I think it's a great idea. Zecora is a great friend to have and I'm happy to see you socializing, Cooper." Twilight beamed.

Cooper snorted in amusement before sipping his coffee once more, "Yeah, I guess that's the scientific way of putting it."

"So... I guess we're going into the Everfree then?" Sky asked, no small amount of dread in his voice.

"Looks that way, Sky." Midnight replied, comfortingly patting his wither.

"After I finish my coffee." Cooper smirked, taking yet another sip of his drink.

.

.

.

.

.

Cooper walked through the soft rays of morning sunshine with a surprising amount of happiness on his face. While most ponies had grown used to seeing him frowning or grimacing everywhere he went, he finally wore a soft smile on his face. It was noticeable enough for his guards to snicker to themselves while they walked through town toward the forest.

"You ever seen him this happy, Sky?" Midnight asked, teasingly.

"Can't say I have... and it's to go to the Everfree Forest... yaaaaaay." Sky rolled his eyes.

"You know, you don't have to come with me if you're so scared." Cooper playfully rolled his eyes.

"Oh no you don't. You're not getting rid of us that easily." Midnight replied.

"No why would I wanna do tha-" Cooper began to reply, before a young, feminine voice called out to him.

"Cooper!" Scootaloo called, waving excitedly as she buzzed her scooter over to him, both Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom tied to her.

The trio came to a screeching halt just a few feet in front of Cooper and his guards, all three fillies quickly rushing over to him.

"Are you okay!?"

"We haven't heard from ya' since that incident with the sonic rainboom!"

"Are you feeling better now?"

The three voices questioned him at once, their adorable voices quickly speaking over one another, making it almost impossible for Cooper to discern what they were saying. He held up a hand to slow the torrent of prepubescent gibberish being slung his way, gradually getting the three fillies to quiet down and let him respond.

"I appreciate the concern, but I'm alright, girls. Thanks." Cooper announced, earning looks of relief from the trio. Naturally, the obvious following questions made Cooper's nerves fray slightly.

"What happened to you?" Scootaloo questioned.

"Yeah! Are you two still friends?" Sweetie Belle asked, glancing back and forth between Cooper and Midnight.

"Everything's fine between us, fillies." Midnight chimed in, making all three of said fillies glance over at her.

"But he tackled you for like, no reason!" Scootaloo exclaimed.

"And that was because he thought he saw a Rock swooping down to get me and tried to protect me from it. He's a very kind human for that." Midnight explained, pointedly ignoring the confused look on Cooper's face.

"Really?" Apple Bloom asked.

"A Rock?" Sweetie Belle tilted her head to the side.

Sky nodded, "You fillies probably haven't seen one yet, but trust me, they're nasty. Big ol' birds that want to gobble up anything smaller than they are." He offered.

While the explanation was sufficient for two of the crusaders, Scootaloo immediately adopted a scrutinous look as she pondered over what was told to he.

"Now hang on... if this 'Rock' was swooping down to get you, why didn't Rainbow Dash notice it and kick its flank?" She inquired, seemingly pleased with herself for finding the hole in the older pony's logic.

"Well she was a little busy with the sonic rainboom, now wasn't she?" Sky grinned.

Scootaloo opened her mouth to protest, but quickly closed it. After taking a moment to consider the response, she weakly spoke up once more, "W-well, why didn't anypony else see it? I didn't hear anything about a Rock from anypony else in town, and none of us saw it that day."

"Well, honey, that's because the Rock was flying low to the ground. Ponies aren't going to be able to see it with all the tall trees around Ponyville, now are they?" Midnight sweetly replied.

"Yeah, not to mention how fast those things are. Why, that one was in and out of our airspace within a matter of seconds. It's a miracle Cooper even saw it at all to begin with!" Sky exclaimed, making all three fillies look up to the tall man with wide eyes.

"Wow!"

"That was really heroic of you!"

"First you save Princess Twilight and now you save your own guards... that's so awesome!"

The three fillies immedaitely circled around Cooper, singing his praises for saving his own guard from such a monster. They didn't even notice him mouthing 'thank you' to his guards, followed by a quick wink and smile from the pair.

"Oh! Cooper, we were planning on trying to get our cutie marks in jungle navigation! Do you wanna come with us?" Scootaloo questioned, freezing midair while her wings buzzed with excitement as she slowly sunk to the ground.

"Jungle navigation?" Cooper raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah! Scoot's parents do all kinds a' explorin' and subdoin' dangerous critters." Apple Bloom replied.

"It might run in her blood!" Sweetie Belle added.

"And if it's in my blood, maybe it's in my friends' blood too!" Scootaloo finished, as if they'd practiced their little speech.

Cooper slowly tilted his head to the side as he looked up at the surrounding forest, "Uh... where exactly are you guys planning on finding a jungle?" He asked.

"Well, there ain't any jungles nearby, but the Everfree Forest is basically a jungle all by itself!" AppleBloom explained.

"Yeah! There's all kinds of monsters, and creepy trails, and plants that don't grow anywhere else in Equestria!" Scootaloo added.

"Just like a jungle!" Sweetie Belle cheered, her voice squeaking in a way that made Cooper's heart melt.

"Fillies, you really shouldn't go into the Everfree. It's dangerous in there." Sky protested, glancing to the aforementioned forest.

"Besides, what would your sisters say if they knew you were going into the Everfree? They'd have half a mind to tan your flanks if they knew you were going somewhere so dangerous." Midnight chastised.

"Hey! We've been in the Everfree plenty of times!" Scootaloo rebutted.

"Yeah! I went in by myself when I was just a foal and met Zecora when nopony else would!" Apple Bloom defensively explained.

"You know Zecora?" Cooper asked, looking down at Apple Bloom with slight surprise.

"Well a'course I do! She's a great friend! She helped cure my cutie pox and ah always try to go see her whenever she's in town." Apple Bloom replied.

"Huh..." Cooper brought his hand to his chin and scratched it in thought.

"Uh oh." Midnight mumbled.

"I don't like that look..." Sky muttered.

"I'm actually heading to Zecora's right now. There's no way in Hell I could let you kids go into the forest all by yourself, but if you want to come to Zecora's and do your adventuring right in her area, I'm sure she'd be happy to have you all." Cooper suggested.

"That sounds perfect!" Apple Bloom beamed.

"I'd love to go see Zecora!" Sweetie Belle smiled.

"I was actually gonna suggest we go and see her after we were done exploring anyway. Let's go see Zecora!" Scootaloo cheered.

"Cutie Mark Crusader Jungle Navigation Experts Go!" The trio cried out, clapping their hooves together in a team hi-five.

Cooper snickered and shook his head at the display while Sky and Midnight both shared concerned looks with each other.

"Cooper? Are you sure? They're just fillies and... if they get hurt in the forest, you'll have to answer to AppleJack, Rarity, or Rainbow Dash..." Midnight quietly cautioned, so as not to let the trio of fillies overhear.

"That's why I want the faster of you two to go tell their sisters what we're doing and where we're going." Cooper replied, just as quietly.

"And if they don't want their younger sister out in the Everfree?" Sky pressed, already unfurling his wings to take flight.

"Then come get them and take them home," Cooper shrugged, "But I don't think they'll mind too much."

"If you say so..." Sky hesitantly replied, before flapping his wings and heading off into town.

The sudden flight of the pegasus stallion was enough to snap the crusaders from their celebratory dancing and turn their attention back to Cooper.

"Where's he goin'?" Apple Bloom asked, curiously.

"He's just heading off to go run an errand for Cooper real quick. He'll be back by the time we make it to the forest." Midnight replied, before turning back to Cooper and nodding in the direction of said forest, "Ready when you are."

Cooper nodded in thanks, "Alright, let's get over to Zecora's house." He announced, leading the way.

The three fillies quickly fell in line, Scootaloo riding her scooter while Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle trotted along behind. The curious minds of the little equines had absolutely no shortage of questions for Cooper as they slowly made their way through town, ranging from all manner of general questions about humanity, to more personal questions that narrowly avoided being just a tad 'too personal'.

"-so, I heard that you almost ate Princess Twilight when you found her in that box!" Scootaloo exclaimed, looking back at Cooper with a mix of awe and slight fear.

"You almost ate her!?" Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle squealed.

Cooper chuckled as he slowly shook his head, "No, no. I mean... the thought did cross my mind for a minute, but as soon as I found out she could talk, I took her back inside and gave her some of my food." He explained.

"Even though you were basically starving already?" Sweetie Belle questioned.

Cooper nodded, "Yeah... just didn't feel right when I saw her. She was so thin..." He trailed off.

"Why didn'cha invite her to come on down with ya'?" Apple Bloom asked, curiously.

Cooper shrugged, "I did offer, but she said she had some things she had to take care of. Apparently being a princess doesactually come with responsibilities. Who'd have thought?"

The trio of fillies giggled at the response as the group reached the edge of the Everfree forest. The trail leading into the forest was partially obscured by the trees looming overhead, adding the eerie vibe that filled the air of the forest, itself. While Midnight shivered slightly in her armor, Apple Bloom trotted ahead as if there was nothing out of the ordinary, followed closely by Cooper. It was only when the man and filly were nearly twenty feet into the forest that they both realized they were the only ones walking and turned around to see the rest of the group.

"Uh, ya'll coming?" Apple Bloom questioned, raising an eyebrow.

Albeit with a noticeable gulp, Sweetie Belle took a step forward, only to halt as Scootaloo spoke up, "Uh... w-we were just waiting on Cooper's other guard." She offered.

"Y-yeah! We don't want to leave him behind." Sweetie Belle quickly agreed.

A smug look quickly formed on Apple Bloom's face as she stared her friends down, "Ya'll are still scared of the forest, ain'tcha?"

"No!" Both fillies cried out in protest.

"Midnight, what about you?" Cooper spoke up, looking at his guard, curiously.

"Well somepony has to stay with these fillies and make sure nothing bad happens to them." Midnight replied, though her voice was ever so slightly shaky.

Before Cooper could reply, the sound of flapping wings filled the air and Sky landed with a *thump* behind Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle.

"Whew, I made it just in time. I was really worried I was gonna have to go into the forest looking for all of you all by myself." Sky chuckled, trotting up to his fellow guard's side.

"Well, looky there. Looks like we're all here so you two should have no problem followin' us to Zecora's house." Apple Bloom smugly teased, taking immense satisfaction at the fearful looks her friends gave her.

"It'll be alright. Come on. Just stay close." Cooper instructed, turning and heading further along the trail.

The rest of the group quickly -albeit fearfully- fell into step behind him, and the group made their way into the forest. It became apparent almost immediately that while Cooper had been in the forest before, that he did not remember the path to Zecora's house particularly well, prompting Apple Bloom to take the lead in directing them all there. With her knowledge leading the path, they were able to find the familiar shape of Zecora's hut in the dense forest within ten minutes.

As they approached on the outskirts of the grove leading up to the striped equine's hut, they were all surprised to find her not twenty paces away, in the middle of a pond, no less. However, rather than swimming or bathing in the water, she was resting on to top of her head, almost as if she were meditating. What truly confused Cooper more than anything else, was how she was balancing on her head on top of a wooden stick.

Cooper's jaw dropped slightly at the seemingly impossible physical act for an equine body, but Apple Bloom was barely fazed by the incredible show of balance and skill.

"Zecoraaaaaaaaa!" Apple Bloom cheered, happily trotting over to the zebra in question.

Unfortunately, such a sudden and loud exclamation from the little filly startled the zebra from her concentration, making her lose her balance and quickly fall into the pond with a splash. While the initial reaction of the trio of fillies was to wince at the sight before them, Scootaloo couldn't help a small chuckle at Zecora's expense.

Breaking out of the water, her mane slickened against her face yet a frown still visible all the same, "Apple Bloom! What did I tell you about surprising me! I was as calm as a tree! Now my heart is racing toward an early tomb." Zecora chastised, glaring at the source of her embarrassment and impromptu bath.

"Uh, sorry, Zecora. Ah was just excited to see you again, is'all." Apple Bloom sheepishly replied, an apologetic look on her face.

Though her ire was still there, Zecora's glare quickly softened as she got out of the pond, "It is alright. You just gave me quite a fright," She replied, brushing her soaked mane out of her face and nearly doing a double take at the sight of Cooper, "Ah, Cooper, welcome back to my abode! It is good to see you remember the road." She greeted, a warm smile forming on her face.

Cooper returned the smile as he kneeled down to be more eye level with her, "Good to see you again too, Zecora. Sorry we startled you."

Zecora dismissively waved a hoof, "It is quite alright. Just the sight of you has made my day that much more bright." She responded.

Sky and Midnight quickly shared a look while Cooper smiled and chuckled at the compliment.

"So, think you have an afternoon to spare?" He asked.

Author's Note:

What's that? A certain zebra is very happy to see a certain human? Now I wonder what that could mean...