• Published 1st Mar 2013
  • 2,105 Views, 62 Comments

No Regrets - Ficta_Scriptor

After Twilight becomes an alicorn, the notion of immortality dawns on her and she is plagued by doubts. Distressed, she finds solace with the Element of Honesty. To have no regrets would mean the world.

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Chapter 3 - A Way Out

Chapter 3 – A Way Out

It was just another normal day. The sun hung in the sky, a few rays peeking out from behind greyish cloud clusters. Groups of pegasi dotted the heavens, some darting their way to or from Cloudsdale. A cool breeze blew across Ponyville, rustling the petals and leaves of surrounding flora. A group of foals in the distance ran alongside one another, chatting animatedly with smiles plastered on their faces. Closer to view, a family of squirrels made a break from the treetops to forage hickory nuts that had tumbled across the dirt path leading towards Sweet Apple Acres. Stores would open. Friends would meet. Lovers would kiss and hold hooves, staring dreamily into each other’s eyes. School-foals would play while their mothers reminded them to be careful lest they graze their knees. Somewhere else, a stallion would be walking his dog. The sprockets and cogs that lay beneath the town kept on turning. It was just another normal day.

Applejack peeled herself away from her bedroom window, too grief-stricken to look out for another second. It wasn’t as if she’d expected anything different. “Life goes on,” was what ponies always said, and in a sense it was a comfort. Nothing could ever truly come to an end. What was left behind from a pony’s life would go on to inspire those around them, and they would in turn find solace in having known them. And yet…

Granny Smith was dead. She was gone from this world, and nothing had changed. Daily life would continue as it did, and most ponies wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the news. Things were as they had always been, and always would be. The world wasn’t going to stop and stare for some old crone who'd kicked the bucket. And Applejack couldn’t take that.

Things would have been different if she’d been there in Granny’s final moments; that much she was certain of. But there was no use dwelling on it. There was no changing that fact (Ah should’ve just stayed, Ah could’ve been there.) no matter how many tears she shed. There was simply the task of taking the past in her stride and moving on. Towards the way life used to be. Towards just another normal day.


Big Mac’s call cut Applejack sharply from her reverie. “Yeah?”

“Breakfast is nearly ready. Applebloom is makin’ pancakes.” Mac pawed at the floor for a moment. “Ah’m sorry, AJ.”

Applejack sighed, slowly turning to her brother. “For what?”

“What Ah said. Ya didn’t know what was gonna happen. Ah never should’ve…” Mac clenched his eyes shut and took a deep breath. “Ah’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Applejack replied half-heartedly. “You were right.”

Big Mac tip-toed over to his sister and wrapped a foreleg around her neck, pulling her into a tight hug. And yet, Applejack didn’t reciprocate. She didn’t even look at him. As a fresh wave of sadness washed over, Big Mac felt a tear trickle down his cheek and drop to the floor. He planted a kiss on Applejack’s forehead and pulled her closer, yet she still didn’t react. “Forgive yourself, AJ,” he finally whispered. “Granny would want you to.”

“Ah know.”

Applejack felt weak. Useless. Pathetic. She was supposed to be the most dependable pony ever. She’d gotten past the death of her parents and moved on to form a new life. She was strong and confident. She was braver than just about anypony. But Ah’m not, Applejack wanted to scream. She didn’t feel like the Applejack that everypony always referred to, the one they all adored. She was lost. She’d been losing little pieces of herself for the past few years, but now that she’d missed Granny’s final moments… Ah’ve lost too much, croaked a voice inside her head. Ah ain’t even mahself anymore.

“C’mon,” Mac said as he brought his hoof back to the floor. “Can’t leave Applebloom waitin’.

The enormous stack of pancakes that awaited was ridiculous enough to almost make Applejack crack a smile. Almost. Applebloom had wasted no time in serving up one of the biggest breakfast feasts of any Apple family meal. She looked contented as she impaled the close-to-toppling pile with six inches of birch and lathered on a generous helping of syrup.

“Just in time,” Applebloom said with a small smile, planting three plates on the table as her siblings approached. “Ah thought it’d be nice to, you know… We ain’t had Manehattan style pancakes in a while.”

“They look delicious,” Applejack said. Applebloom nodded in response and pulled up a chair for herself. Oh how much she’d grown.

A few bites in and Applejack started to feel a little better. The taste reminded her of a little excursion to Manehattan that she and her family had taken a few years back to pay their distant relative Toffee Apple a visit. They got a few odd stares for being the stand-out ‘country bumpkins’, but most ponies there were more than welcoming. They stopped in at a little restaurant at Toffee’s recommendation and were treated just a coin’s toss from being royalty. There they had gargantuan meals that even Big Mac would struggle to get through, so they each settled on pancakes. The owner (who Applejack assumed was of Chevalian descent) paid Granny Smith much attention, which she took as gracefully and maturely as a country mare could be. By blushing profusely and talking about ‘hoe downs.’ Those were good times.

“You like ‘em?” Applebloom asked, looking on somewhat worriedly.

“They taste even better ‘n they look,” Applejack replied, flashing a grin before shovelling another piece into her mouth.

So… What was there to be so upset about? She and Granny had parted on good terms, and there was plenty that they’d done for one another. These feelings would fade; that much was certain. But against everything that made sense, in this moment, things were worse than when her parents passed.

Mama and Papa. They were the world to Applejack. She would never forget them. Some ponies — the ones who were fortunate enough to not have lost anyone beloved — might wonder if one would ‘get over’ their loss. But it wasn’t quite like that. It was like a great weight being planted on your shoulders. The weight never got lighter; you just got stronger, until eventually that weight was a part of you.

How long since Ah visited Mama and Papa?

With her parents, it was different. Things were different. That foalish belief that they were just beyond the clouds listening to everything she said. All she had to do was go to school, talk about what she’s learned, help with apple-picking, clutch on to her father’s Stetson day and night, and that was enough to make them proud. Everypony else showered her with presents of all kinds. Winona was one of ‘em. She was a real cutie when she was just a pup.

Would Ah even remember their faces if it weren’t for all them photos on the walls?

What had she accomplished since then? Sure, she’d played her part in protecting Equestria as the Element of Honesty, but was that really what she’d always wanted? Peace reigned nowadays, and bolshie bravado in the face of ‘evil’ was surplus to requirement. And maybe that was the crux of her dilemma, the one that had plagued her for so long.

Won’t it be the same with Granny?

What would she have said if she’d been there in Granny’s final moments? That she’d make her proud? How? She wasn’t even proud of herself. She hadn’t been for years. Everypony she knew had progressed with their lives as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Perhaps it was. But now wasn’t the time to dwell on self-loathing and jealousy. The funeral wasn’t far off, and Granny deserved the best service they could provide. As for what lay beyond that…

Ah miss her. Ah miss her so much…

“That was mighty tasty,” Applejack said courteously as she pushed away the empty plate.

“Ah can make more if ya like.”

Applejack shook her head. “Nah, Ah’m practically fit to burst as it is.” She wiped at her eye instinctively and let out a yawn. It was then that she noticed a lone plate smeared with batter in the sink. Applebloom had cooked for four.

“AJ?” Big Mac muttered from behind. “We should prob’ly get some work done ‘fore anypony gets here. Ah think Fluttershy’s gonna be ‘round soon.” Applejack nodded solemnly, just managing to crack a smile. “Applebloom? Wanna give us a helpin’ hoof?”

“Why sure!” Applebloom dropped her fore-hooves from the kitchen side and hopped to the door. “Ah’ve been getting’ better with mah apple-buckin’, y’all see!”

“S’long ya don’t hurt yourself,” Big Mac said with a grin.

Together, the three ponies walked side-by-side towards the north side of the orchard. Regardless of the fact that their smiles were forced and their cheeriness faked, Applejack did at least feel her spirits rise a little. She was hurting — oh Celestia, she was hurting — but she knew that all was not lost. They were still a family, and families were there for one another. Big Mac and Applebloom meant more than anything else in the world. Together, as siblings, as a family, they could get through this. Despite the pain that had built over the years, despite her regretful failure to be there for Granny’s passing, despite her lack of self-worth, despite the torrent of emotional breakdowns just waiting to happen, despite…

Applejack took a deep breath as she felt a tear trickle from her right eye. One thing at a time, sugarcube. “So how’s about you show me your apple-buckin’ skills? After all, you did learn from the best.”

Applebloom lined herself to the nearest tree and bucked it as hard as she could. The apples fell. Just as they always had, just as they always would.

Applejack cried once more.

“How’s she holding up?” Twilight asked. She and Rainbow Dash were soaring just above the eastern edge of the Everfree forest. The entire flight had almost been like a dream, but nearing Ponyville made it immediately apparent just how real it was.

“Applejack? It’s hard to tell.” Rainbow Dash furrowed her brow. “I only saw her briefly yesterday when she was busy writing up the funeral invites. She tried to make out that she was fine, you know how she is, but I’m betting she’s not doing so good.”

She’s going to hate me, Twilight thought. If I hadn’t have… She would’ve at least been there for her. “Yeah, I expect you’re right.” Twilight spent a few moments staring pensively into the distance, the signature windmills and thatched roofs of her once hometown coming into view. “I’ve never done this.”

“Hm? Never done what?”

“I’ve never had to be there for somepony who lost a loved one.” And that’s all you’re going to experience year after year after year after… “I don’t know what I should even say.”

“It’s never easy,” Rainbow Dash said with a sigh. “Main thing is just to be there for them, I guess. Just don’t ask ‘how are you doing?’ It mean, it’s what we all want to know, but once you say it you realise how stupid it is to ask that. I’m talking from experience with that one.” Rainbow Dash hung her head, looking dejectedly into the distance. Twilight refrained from conversing any further.

It didn’t take long for the two friends to reach Sweet Apple Acres. Twilight felt another pang of guilt as she tried to remember the last time she’d even visited the Apple family, noticing how different it seemed from her last memory. Sure, the layout was the same, but drifting in from above she could see new patches that were fuller, more teeming with life. Presumably the sections of the orchard that were home to the saplings, but they weren’t saplings anymore, and given the approximate growth of apple trees at the current climate… Twilight bit her lip. It had been too long.

Rainbow Dash dove towards the ground first, doing so more slowly and deliberately than would usually be expected of the athletic mare. Twilight followed seconds later, her mind tearing through possible things to say like a foal speeding through the pages of a flip-book. The night of the Gala was still fresh in her mind, the emotions of both herself and Applejack spilling out onto one another. The two ponies that everypony thought of as strong and reliable, the most hard-working mare in Ponyville and an Equestrian Princess no doubt, reduced to scared little fillies crying in pain. And then there was a moment of unadulterated bliss as Applejack curled up next to her, wrapped a hoof around her body and told her that everything was going to be alright, that they could help each other through everything. Above all, Twilight felt loved. She hadn’t felt so happy in years. But all that was at the cost of one of her best friends (and maybe something more) losing her only chance to say goodbye to Granny Smith, the mare that had raised her for most of her life. Twilight almost vomited. In fact, she nearly wished she had.

Rainbow Dash and Twilight landed just shy of the front door, both giving each other an affirmative expression to venture onwards. Rainbow Dash tapped gently on the front door and quietly called through. “Hey, it’s Rainbow and Twilight.” She paused for a moment. “We can come back later if you want.”

A steady clip-clop of hoof-steps could be heard from inside, and eventually the door opened. Big Mac’s head peered out. “Hey Rainbow,” he said with a fraction of a smile. “Twilight.”

The sound of her own name made Twilight’s stomach turn in knots. There was something about his voice. Not just from the grief of his loss, but something else. He knew. He definitely knew. “Hey Mac,” Twilight replied, feeling her heart cartwheel inside her chest under his penetrating glare.

“Hello again, big guy,” Rainbow Dash said as she gave the bulky stallion a hug, running a hoof caringly through his mane. Mac had his eyes clenched shut as he reciprocated, forcefully holding back the tears.

“Thanks for stoppin’ by,” he said as they both dropped to their hooves and Rainbow Dash stepped inside.

Twilight moved forward, ready to greet Big Mac as her friend had done. For everything she was guilty of, she owed Mac something. A lot could be said through a simple embrace, and she had so much to say, so much to apologise for. But as she stepped forward Big Mac’s eyes met hers and his stance shifted, if only a little. Twilight stopped in her tracks.

“Applejack is in the livin’ room,” he said stoically as he pushed the door open and gestured for her to enter. It sounded like an order.

Twilight walked past him, feeling tears about to emerge. “I’m… I’m sorry,” she whispered, placing a hoof on his shoulder. She wanted to say more but the words never came.

“Thank you,” he finally muttered. It sounded sincere enough. He placed a hoof of his own atop Twilight’s crest, if a little reluctantly. “Ah do appreciate you bein’ here. Just… Take care o’ AJ.”

“I will,” Twilight replied. In fact, I’m going to do everything I can for her, just as I promised.

With that awkward encounter over, Twilight walked down the hallway towards the living room. Pictures of various Apple family members plastered each wall. Some were from the days before she’d even lived in Ponyville, an adorable picture of Applebloom at just a few years old catching her eye. Most had been taken during an Apple family reunion, it seemed. And many, by no coincidence, showed a happy old mare by the name of Granny Smith. Twilight steeled herself, took a deep breath, and opened the living room door.

On the opposite side of the room was a rocking chair. Granny Smith’s rocking chair. Twilight looked away the instant she set eyes on it. A pony is dead, she said inwardly. Applejack and Rainbow Dash sat beside the now roaring fire, the pegasus’ foreleg wrapped around her distraught friend. Applejack looked up.


Twilight let out an involuntary gasp. Applejack’s face said it all. The fur on her cheeks and shoulders were matted with tears. There were bags under her bloodshot eyes, far worse than anything she’d suffered from overworking herself. Her mane splayed out messily beneath her Stetson; even her ponytail appeared frayed and dishevelled. Her bottom jaw quivered as their eyes locked, and she burst into tears. Unable to hold herself back any more, Twilight followed suit, charging forward and wrapping herself around her friend. It didn’t take long before Rainbow also succumbed to the waterworks.

“I’m so sorry,” Twilight gasped, stroking a hoof across Applejack’s mane. The orange mare was holding her so tightly it hurt, but that was good. She deserved to let it all out. “If I hadn’t—”

No,” Applejack hushed. “Don’t you dare.”

At that statement, Rainbow Dash recoiled, looking curiously between them. Twilight didn’t know how much she knew, but she must have known something. Every one of her other friends — along with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo — had taken the train back to Ponyville together. They all knew that Applejack had gone back to the palace, and it was more than likely that they knew she hadn’t made it home in time for Granny Smith’s passing. So then, did they know why? Rainbow Dash’s confused expression answered in the negative.

The three ponies sat wordlessly for the next few minutes, huddled up next to each other. It reminded Twilight of the night she and Applejack spent together, but this was far less comforting. Neither pony had an ounce of joy to their being. There were no musings on what great things might lie ahead, no hypothetical futures to wonder at, nothing to cast aside the cold, harsh reality.

Rainbow Dash broke the silence. “She was a good pony.” Her hoof met Applejack’s. “That’s one thing we can all agree on, right?”

Applejack nodded, a nervous laugh escaping her lips. “Ah reckon so. Certainly the most stubborn mare who ever lived.”

Twilight couldn’t help but chuckle. Not so much because of what Applejack said, but because she’d smiled. It felt so good to see Applejack smile. The sad part came when that smile faded just as quickly as it had appeared, when Applejack’s lips wobbled uncertainly before growing taut, signalling yet another downpour. Twilight kissed Applejack’s forehead and pulled her even closer. It just felt like the right thing to do.

Applejack blushed and wiped at her eyes with a free hoof. “Ah feel so silly,” she mumbled, shaking her head disdainfully. “But thanks. Ah need this more than ya’ll know.”

She doesn’t hate me. Twilight repeated those words over and over, desperately trying to push away the guilt still boring through her thoughts. She doesn’t hate me. “I’m… We’re here for as long as you need us,” Twilight whispered, shooting Rainbow Dash a quick smile. The pegasus mare appeared agitated, but took the recognition with a matching grin of her own. “That’s what friends are for, right?”

Applejack clung onto Twilight’s neck, a maelstrom of emotions ripping through her with incomprehensible force. Every ounce pent up anxiety and sadness came gushing out, only to be replaced by a seemingly endless supply, dropped off just as fast as she could expel it. However, there was also a sense of joy and relief pulsing and flat lining somewhere in between. She could feel the same nurturing care and understanding that she felt when she let loose her deepest anxieties in the Canterlot Gardens. Twilight was there for her. Really there for her. Not to discredit Rainbow Dash – who sat to her left, gently caressing her shoulder — or any of her other friends, but Twilight had been a source of help since before she could even admit to needing help. All those years pushing stress and anxieties deeper beneath the surface, only for Twilight to pry them open with little more than a few words. That had to count for something.

“Is Applebloom around?” Rainbow Dash asked out of the blue. “I couldn’t stop by without seeing her for a while.”

Applejack cleared her throat, finding her voice more quickly than expected. “Pro’ly in her bedroom. Ah expect she’ll be happy to see you but Ah’d suggest knockin’ just in case.”

“Of course,” Rainbow Dash said, slowly getting to her hooves and flicking back her mane. She paused for a few seconds, eyeing the two mares with an air of examination. Pressured by the silence, she smiled apologetically. “You take of yourself.”

“Ah will.”

Applejack watched as Rainbow Dash left the room, catching a quick glance over her shoulder before she shut the door behind her. Twilight squirmed beside her. “Did you want me to check up on Applebloom too?” the alicorn asked nervously.

“If ya want to,” Applejack replied curtly. “Though Ah reckon a few things ain’t been said yet.” She straightened herself up, readjusting the Stetson that had slipped from its rightful place.

“Right.” Twilight tapped her hooves together like a disciplined foal under a teacher’s gaze, her ears flattened. When she spoke, she became the Twilight of days gone past, long before she’d ascended to royalty. It was both endearing and terrifying at the same time. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. Not least of all because I begged you to stay in Canterlot on the one night you should’ve been with your family. If you didn’t want to see me because of that, I’d completely understand. But obviously, you do. So…” Twilight trailed off, bashfully wiping sweat from her brow. “I have no idea what else to say,” she muttered lamely.

“What you’ve said is just fine,” Applejack said with a generous smile. “But Ah’d like to add somethin’. You weren’t at fault, Twilight. Don’t you dare think otherwise.”

“I know. I understand, rather.” Twilight chuckled nervously, but her demeanour grew serious in a flash. “It’s just easier said than done.”

“You’ll get there,” Applejack soothed.

“Now you’re the one comforting me? I can’t have that.” Twilight precariously unfolded her left wing and wrapped it around Applejack’s torso.

“Ah’m glad you finally found a use for them things,” Applejack said, flinching as the feathers tickled her fur. She rested her head against Twilight’s shoulder. “Twi?”

“Hmm?” Twilight responded with, feeling her heart melt as Applejack’s eyes closed, the beautiful farm-pony relaxing her warm body against her completely. Her heartbeat quickened as Applejack trembled beside her and exhaled slowly, taking her emotional fervour down to a mere simmer.

“Ah remember Granny had this old sayin’. Sure, she had a lot of ‘em. Some were a little off the wall.” Applejack paused for a moment as she reminisced. “She used to say that the importance somepony has ain’t what you can do with ‘em, it’s what you can’t do without ‘em. Mah Granny meant a lot.” On the cusp of crying again, Applejack reined in her emotions and continued. “But there’s some things Ah can do without her. One o’ them things is make her proud.”

“She was already proud,” Twilight murmured. “She still is.”

Twilights words didn’t appear to have the desired effect, as Applejack’s face grew even more solemn. The alicorn felt sweat forming across her forehead as she questioned her mistake. Had Granny Smith said something to her some time before she passed? Something about being disappointed? Was that why Applejack was so emotional at the Gala? Or was it the notion that she’s still with her? I only meant to… I don’t believe, but I thought Applejack might—

“Ah guess you’re right,” Applejack said softly, her expression unchanging. “Maybe this’ll give me the motivation Ah need to get mah life movin’.”

“There’s no rush,” Twilight said. “No matter how much you feel pressured into changing your life, who’s to say it needs to happen right away? You’ve got time…” Twilight croaked unintentionally, an image of a worn, tired Applejack in her twilight years flashing before her eyes, greyed hair drooping from her mane. With an effort, she banished that thought into the deepest recesses of her mind. She has time.

The fire beside them had started to die down as silence reigned once again, both mares suffocated by their own dark thoughts. For Applejack, her mind wandered back and forth between her dearly departed Granny Smith and the future that awaited her. Discovering the missing piece that had started her depression was key. The problem was knowing where to look. The obvious answer would be to find a husband, but that was a depressing notion in itself. Was she really just lonely and pathetic? A common mare whose only purpose was to couple with a stallion and do her duty as bearer of the next generation? Part of her did want to have foals. The concept of being a mother was alien, but also heart-warming. But if the answer was really that simple, why didn’t it feel that way? It was all so confusing.

Twilight held a mental battle of her own, wracking her brains for a way to give Applejack the happiness and self-satisfaction she so desperately craved. The hard-working farm pony deserved more than just about anyone. For her to live the rest of her life in sadness (while it passes me in the blink of an eye) would be criminal. But there was something else that Twilight couldn’t help but think of as the two shared a tender embrace. They were together. And it felt so right. Their friendship had seen some surprising turns over the years. After setting up permanent residence in Canterlot, the days of old when six friends revolved their lives around each other had ended. They were close, yet ever so distant. And now Twilight wanted nothing more than to close that gap. Applejack was important. Too important to ignore. Too important for something she’d spent her entire adult life believing to be utterly sacrosanct. Too important for mere friendship.

Fear and confusion. The two emotions Twilight wanted to feel the least of all as a princess of Equestria, and here they were in full force. Holding them back was either too difficult or too pointless. She wasn’t sure which. Her eyes flicked to the barren rocking chair on the other side of the room and a flurry of visions entered her mind, the most prominent depicting Applejack at the end of her life, with nothing but an abandoned chair to represent her. All the while, Twilight would live on. Years would pass. Centuries would pass. And the mare that meant so much would just be a part of history. But worst of all, what if Applejack never found that little something in life? Time’s up. You had your chance, and now it’s gone.

Was it selfish to dwell on such scenarios? She wasn’t the only alicorn alive today, and even then, there were others facing a similar fate. Like Spike. The average lifespan for a dragon was roughly five hundred years, but records showed some dragons to have lived as long as six hundred and fifty years. They’d never spoken of such things before, but Spike was most likely aware of it. So then, having known for so long, did he accept that fact? Had he been suffering in silence, too embarrassed to talk about it? Twilight’s guilt rose to new levels. She made a mental note to speak with him as soon as she got the chance. Hopefully, they could both find solace beyond suffering.

The fire died out.

“Thanks for bein’ here, Twi,” Applejack mumbled, letting out a relieved sigh. “Don’t think Ah’ve forgotten what we talked about the other night. Ah can tell you ain’t.”

Twilight blushed, a smile forming. “You really can read me like a book, huh?”

“Ah wouldn’t say that.” Applejack took a deep breath before pulling herself away from Twilight and clambering to her hooves. She stretched out her weary limbs and wrenched her neck with an almighty click. “Well Ah’ve got a real hankerin’ for a drink. Cider sound good to you?”

“If I’m planning on getting to Canterlot in one piece, I probably shouldn’t. Despite what Rainbow Dash says, alcohol and flying don’t mix.” Twilight extended her wings, wobbling them erratically in demonstration.

“You could always stay.”

Twilight retracted her wings in surprise. “S-stay?”

“Oh! No, it’s alright, sugarcube.” Applejack shook her head dismissively, a warm smile on her face. “Ah forget it ain’t that easy anymore. You’ve done more than enough in comin’ here, an’ Ah wouldn’t wanna impose on your… erm… princessin’. Darn it, what’s even the right term here?”

I have to, Twilight said inwardly. I can’t go yet. I have to be here for her. In a flash, any concern over her royal duties fell by the wayside. Right now, she was working on a different kind of logic. “No, it’s quite alright, actually!” she said in a panicked voice. “It’d only be fair, really. You stay at mine when I’m feeling blue, I stay with you when you are.” Twilight smiled anxiously, knowing all too well how strange she’d sounded.

Applejack cocked an eyebrow. “And you’re sure you don’t need to get back?”

Twilight nodded. “Celestia already said she’d offer me a reprieve considering the circumstances. I don’t think she’d be at all surprised. And anyway, my wings are aching from my journey here. So… if it’s alright with you?”

Applejack shot her a cheeky grin, sending Twilight’s pounding heart into overdrive. “Ah wouldn’t have offered if Ah didn’t want you to. Besides, drinkin’ alone ain’t healthy. You can prob’ly stay in Mac’s room tonight. Ah think he’s goin’ back to the cottage with Fluttershy this evenin’. Can’t really blame him. Oh, though Ah should check with Applebloom first. She might want to be alone with me tonight, all things considered.”

She’s not the only one, Twilight mused, quickly snapping herself out of it. What’s gotten into me? I’m here as a friend. I’m not falling for Applejack, I just really like giving her hugs. To make us both feel better! Yes! That’s it! Twilight knew that everything could be rationalised appropriately. “I completely understand.”


The two mares left the living room to find Rainbow Dash sauntering downstairs. The cyan mare stepped towards Applejack and pulled her into a hug. “Sorry, AJ. I should really get going.”

“No worries, sugarcube. You got places to be. Ah understand.”

“We should both be there next week. You take it easy until then.”

Applejack let out a nervous chuckle. “Ah’ll do mah best.”

“Of course.” Rainbow Dash let go of Applejack and turned to face Twilight. “Hey, could I speak to you for a moment? In private, I mean.” Rainbow Dash directed her eyes to the front door.

“Umm… sure,” Twilight replied curiously.

“We won’t be long,” Rainbow Dash assured Applejack. “I’ll have her back inside in a jiffy.”

“By all means.”

Twilight followed Rainbow Dash outside, wondering what in Equestria was so important. It wasn’t like Rainbow Dash to be subtle, which only increased her worry. As they stepped onto the path, Rainbow Dash closed the door firmly behind them and began flying upwards. What is she doing? Twilight thought to herself. Has she forgotten I’m even here? Mentally shrugging, Twilight followed her friend into the sky, the two ponies eventually landing on a white, fluffy cloud about a hundred feet or so off the ground. Rainbow Dash ruffled her wings restlessly and shot Twilight an amused grin.

“What did you want to talk about?” Twilight asked.

Rainbow Dash’s grin simply grew wider.

“What? What is it?”

Still, her friend gave no answer.

“Honestly!” Twilight snapped, delivering a stark frown. “This is hardly the time for your foalish mind-games! Did you need to speak to me or not?”

“I did,” Rainbow Dash said with a nod. “I was about to say I’m happy for you.”

Twilight blinked. “Happy? For me?”

“For both of you, really.” Rainbow Dash flexed her wings casually as she kept on speaking. “I mean, everything between me and Soarin’ is great right now, Fluttershy and Big Mac are properly married and I’m betting Pinkie and Chocolate Chip are gonna follow suit soon enough. Rarity? She’s had half the stallions in Equestria.” Rainbow chortled, seemingly not put off by Twilight’s icy glare at insulting their friend. “So like… This is good.”

“What’s good?”

“Are you seriously not on the same page? I can understand if you’d be embarrassed, but we live in an age of equality. Quite frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t figure it out sooner.”

Twilight opened her mouth to refute her friend yet again when suddenly it all fell into place. She gasped, clutching her front hooves to her muzzle. “Me!? With… With Applejack!? Are you actually saying this? Right now!?”

“Listen, I’m totally cool with it,” Rainbow Dash said with a shrug. “Sure, you’re an egghead princess and she’s a hard-working cowgirl, but I can totally see it happening!”

“But I like stallions!” Twilight barked defiantly, feeling immediately embarrassed. She’d never expected to have to make that kind of statement in her life. “What? So just because I gave her a hug I must be attracted to her? What kind of logic is that!?”

“Right,” Rainbow Dash snorted. “Just a hug. For just one moment, Twilight, stop worrying about what everypony thinks of their ‘precious princess’ and talk to me about this!”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Twilight harrumphed, becoming increasingly aware that her cheeks were growing hot. Oh darn it, that’s all I need. She’s getting completely the wrong idea!

“We all know she stayed with you in Canterlot,” Rainbow Dash said in proclamation, like a detective revealing their trump card against a prime suspect.

“Why are you bringing that up at a time like this? Granny Smith just died, if you hadn’t already forgotten.”

“Hey, I’m not being insensitive!” Rainbow Dash fumed. “I just want my friends to be happy. Is that a crime?”

Twilight merely glared in response.

Rainbow Dash sighed dejectedly. “So what did happen between you two after the Gala?”

“It’s none of your business, actually,” Twilight said scornfully. “It’s entirely between me and Applejack, and no, not in the way you’re envisioning it.” Twilight cleared her throat, feeling confidence flow through her as she rightfully commanded the conversation. “Applejack and I both required some assistance from each other, and through an unfortunate twist of fate she had no choice but to stay in Canterlot, missing out on the one chance to say goodbye to her grandmother. How you can turn such a tragic event into a bout of scandalous accusations is beyond me, Rainbow Dash.”

As Twilight’s monologue came to a close, the previously cocky pegasus dipped her head guiltily, her ears flattened and her energy sapped. “You’re right,” she squeaked. “I’m so sorry. All this has happened, and… Well, you must feel awful.”

You don’t know the half of it, Twilight muttered silently. “I do feel guilty about it, but what’s done is done. Apology accepted.”

“And I shouldn’t have sprung this on you so soon,” Rainbow Dash continued hurriedly, her eyes wide and apologetic. “I was making assumptions based on things I thought were true, but they obviously aren’t. It’s such a shame, though.”

“A shame? What do you mean by that?”

Rainbow Dash recoiled as if she was an unruly puppy about to be punished by its master. “You have to promise you won’t get mad.”

Twilight sighed. She knew she couldn’t possibly turn down her friend’s request, even if she had no idea what was coming next. “Alright. I promise.”

Rainbow Dash took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “So when I was talking about me and Soarin’, Fluttershy and Big Mac and the rest of us, I didn’t mention you or Applejack. Because, you know. Neither of you are, how can I put this? Neither of you have been in a committed relationship.”

Twilight felt an involuntary pang of annoyance at her friend’s statement but refused to let it show. She was right, after all. “Go on.”

“When I said all that stuff about you and Applejack, I was kind of hoping that you two were together. When you guys disappeared after the conga line I made a joke about you making out, and when you came back together I almost blurted it out in front of you. And then when she didn’t catch the train with us, I got that same feeling as before. Rarity and Fluttershy got all anxious when she didn’t show up, but I was the one who told them not to worry, because I thought maybe my hunch was right. So when Fluttershy told me Applejack hadn’t come home that night, I really believed it. Heck, I didn’t even think for a second that it could have been something else.”

Twilight held back a blush as she remembered waking up the morning after the Gala, Applejack’s foreleg wrapped around her. It was weird, wasn’t it? They weren’t little fillies anymore, snuggling at slumber parties to stave away the cold or protect themselves from the big bad ghosties that lived under the bed. But Applejack had acted as if nothing was out of place. Nothing really was out of place, Twilight considered. It was different, but not completely devoid of normality. Did that mean something? She shook those thoughts away as the silence dragged on to uncomfortable levels. “Well I can understand why you might have thought that.”

“Guess I shouldn’t have assumed. I’d gotten all excited that Applejack might have found a way out after all.”

“A way out from what?”

“From… From this.” Rainbow Dash gestured her hoof down towards Sweet Apple Acres. “I know you won’t tell her I said this, but I’ve been waiting so long for her to find a special somepony. She’s been on dates with a few stallions, but a minute later and she’s back where she started. So when I thought you might be her special somepony, I got crazy happy, because I knew that out of anypony you’d treat her the way she deserved to be treated. I even imagined an enormous wedding in Canterlot, like the one your brother had. Only, you know, without the changelings.” The pegasus mare finally perked up, a smile spreading across her face. “Seems kind of silly now, huh?”

Twilight shrugged, trying to ignore the chill that ran down her spine. All this time she’d been a princess, her life in Ponyville becoming but a memory, had Applejack been lonely? All of Applejack’s friends had found special someponies with such relative ease. Oh, but that wasn’t entirely true. There was one exception. “It’s not so silly when you put it like that,” Twilight admitted with a sigh. “Who wouldn’t want their friends to be happy?”

The two mares fell silent again, the gravity of the situation dawning on them. How easy could it possibly be to make Applejack happy at a time like this? The thought of Applejack getting married made Twilight smile. She remembered Fluttershy at her wedding, crying tears of happiness as Big Mac held her at the altar. Ponies whooped and cheered as they kissed. Even Big Mac beamed from ear to ear. It was the happiest Fluttershy had ever been. It was the kind of happiness that all good friends deserved. That Applejack deserved.

“I think I’d better split,” Rainbow Dash announced, spreading her wings. “Scootaloo is probably wondering where I am. You gonna be alright flying all the way back by yourself?”

Twilight let out a nervous chuckle. “Actually, I’m staying here tonight.” Rainbow Dash had already started grinning like a Cheshire cat. “But no grand assumptions this time, understood? I’m just here for some friendly support.”

“Loud and clear, Princess Apple-lover!” Rainbow Dash cried with a fake salute.

“That’s enough of that,” Twilight said, rolling her eyes. “And don’t spread any scandalous rumours, understand? The last thing I need is for something like that to hit the front page of The Canterlot Times.”

“Alright, alright. I was just kidding around.” Rainbow Dash floated upwards. “In all seriousness, take good care of Applejack, will you?”

“I will, don’t worry.”

“Then later!”

With that, Rainbow Dash darted off in a flash, making a beeline for the other side of Ponyville and leaving Twilight to straighten her mane after the living blue hurricane had blown it asunder. Still quite the exhibitionist, I see, Twilight thought to herself as her friend became just a spec in the distance. She knew where she would end up, though. It had been about a year since Rainbow Dash had moved from Cloudsdale to Ponyville, mainly to look after Scootaloo, who was entirely incapable of flying. It was quite the sacrifice considering how proud she was of her hometown, but one that Rainbow Dash didn’t seem to regret. Or was it two years ago? Twilight asked herself. A wave of fear passed over her as she realised how unsure she was. Had time really passed so quickly since she’d moved back to Canterlot?

Coming back to her senses, Twilight leapt from the cloud and glided towards the Apple family home. There were more important matters to attend to. Coming to a quick stop just outside the half-open door, she knocked politely before stepping inside. Applejack and Big Mac were waiting for her at the other end of the hallway.

“Hey, sugarcube. What was that all about?”

“Don’t ask,” Twilight replied, letting out a sigh. Judging by Applejack’s expression, that answer was more than enough.

“Well alright. By the way, Applebloom says she’s fine with you stayin’. Matter o’ fact she’s excited to show you some stuff she’s been workin’ on.” Applejack glanced towards her brother. “An’ Big Mac was just leavin’.”

Big Mac hesitated for a moment, nodded, and gave Applejack a quick hug goodbye. As he walked down the hallway towards Twilight, he stopped for a moment. Twilight smiled at first, ready to say her own goodbye, but her smile slowly disappeared. Mac’s demeanour was pensive, focused as he stared into her eyes. His jaw was clenched in what Twilight could only decipher as anger. It was similar to his appearance earlier that day, but… Something was wrong.

“You be good to AJ,” he said dryly, barely above a whisper. Twilight tried to mumble something in return but found herself overpowered, almost threatened by the hulking stallion in front of her. “Ah don’t want—”

Mac!” came Applejack’s voice all of a sudden. She stared at her brother accusingly. “Ah said, you were just leavin’.”

Twilight shrunk back apprehensively as the two siblings stared at each other for a few seconds, Applejack shaking her head ever so slightly. The atmosphere grew heavy, nothing but the consecutive tick of a wall-mounted clock and Twilight’s own racing heart disturbing the deathly silence. Just as she found herself ready to apologise for whatever wrongs she may have done, Big Mac exhaled, creeping towards the front door and shutting it behind himself without another word. When Twilight looked back to Applejack, she noticed a tear ready to fall down the mare’s cheek.

“What was that about?” Twilight asked tentatively.

Applejack shrugged, wiping at her eye in the process. “Don’t ask.”

Twilight didn’t think she had to. It was obvious since her arrival that Big Mac blamed her. How could he not? But still, even considering the circumstances, Mac had always been a thoughtful, gentle giant, hadn’t he? He was as kind and understanding as any of the Apples, which made his actions all the more unnerving. So perhaps the loss of Granny Smith had hit him harder than she could ever understand, to the point where he couldn’t bear the fact that Applejack had missed out on that final goodbye. Twilight may have bested all powerful tyrants like Discord and King Sombra, but never had she felt so small and powerless than in the moment just passed. But that didn’t make Mac a bad pony. No. Not at all. It was merely a testament to his suffering. To their suffering.

As if on cue, Applebloom came sauntering down the stairs, an adorably wide smile across her face. It was almost enough to hide her tear-stained cheeks. Both Twilight and Applejack put on a cheery façade as the teenage filly leapt towards Twilight with her forelegs outstretched.

“Twilight!” Applebloom exclaimed, hugging her tightly.

“It’s good to see you, Applebloom.” Twilight stayed silent as she searched for some appropriate words. Like Rainbow Dash had pointed out earlier, asking ‘how are you doing?’ seemed almost insulting at this point. Would mentioning Granny Smith be hurtful? Possibly, but pussyfooting around the subject might be disrespectful in its own right. “I’m so sorry about what happened, Applebloom. You’re a brave little filly.”

“Thanks, Twilight. Ah’m sad, but… Ah think Ah’ll be okay.”

Applejack cleared her throat from behind them. “Applebloom? Didn’t you have somethin’ you wanted to show Twilight?”

“Oh right!” Applebloom released her grip and began dragging Twilight up the stairs by the hoof. As much as she’d grown, there were still remnants of that ten year old filly Twilight could remember as clear as day. “It’s up here. Ah’ve been workin’ on it for weeks!”

Twilight smiled back. “Lead the way.”

As the mare and filly traipsed upstairs Applejack let out a desperate sigh, her smile dropping in an instant. Grabbing a tankard from the top shelf, she depressed the pump on the cider barrel that lay on its side by the far wall, supported by a makeshift rack fashioned from leftover logs. She sat at the table and brought the tankard to her lips, drenching her throat in the sweet golden liquid. It was tepid, but delicious.

Just like Granny used to make.

The temptation was there to simply drown her sorrows, drinking into oblivion. If Applebloom and Twilight weren’t here, she’d likely do it. Alcohol was a depressant; everypony knew that. But that hardly mattered right now. It would be easy enough, and considering all that had happened, who would blame her? But she knew she couldn’t. Not yet, at least.

Big Mac’s words circled around her mind. Never had she remembered him being so… cruel. He was sympathetic, but also angry. So very, very angry.

“Ah hope she ain’t just clingin’ onto you, takin’ advantage.”

“Mac, Twilight has done nothin’ but support me.”

“So coercin’ you to stay in Canterlot was her way of supportin’? Almost feels like she was preyin’ on you.”

“Why are you even bringin’ this up again? So… what, she’s not allowed to have problems of her own? Is that it? Ain’t like she’s bringin’ ‘em up now, anyway.”

“That ain’t the point. All of a sudden she wants nothin’ more than to spend time with you, right at the point she hits the tiniest bit o’ trouble. ‘Cause she knew you’d listen.”

“Do you remember who this is? Mac, this is Twilight we’re talkin’ about. Don’t give me crap ‘bout her not bein’ a true friend.”

“Everythin’ she got was practically handed over to her, an’ yet she turns to you for help.”

“That ain’t true!”

“Two years in Ponyville, a few friendship lessons after never havin’ friends before and all of a sudden, princess. Master o’ friendship, no doubt. Top o’ the world, just like that. And now she ain’t satisfied? She even know what hard work is? What loss is?”

“What kind of friend would Ah be to not help on just account o’ that? An’ she’s worked hard to get where she is. Has done since the beginnin’.”

“She was privileged an’ still is. Livin’ the high life in that palace, an’ now she gets depressed? Enough to beg you to stay, to stop you from seein’ your family?”

“Please don’t do this, Mac. Ah love you, but you’re makin’ me hate you right now. It ain’t fair of you to disrespect mah friends like this. What the hay has gotten into you!?”


The orange farm pony was startled from her reverie as Twilight and Applebloom came into the kitchen. Looking down, she noticed a now empty tankard. She’d only remembered taking two sips. “Oh, right. You two want somethin’ to drink? Ah’ll even let you have some cider, if you’d like.” She motioned towards Applebloom.

“Thanks a million, sis!”

Applejack set down another two tankards and filled each up in turn. “So what did you think?”

“Very impressive,” Twilight answered. “Honestly, the craftsmanship is better than most professionally made sculptures I’ve seen, and the way it’s been polished almost makes it look alive.”

“It’s actually lacquer, not polish,” Applebloom corrected, taking a small sip. “Ah’ve wanted to make sculptures for a long time now, rather than just stickin’ to DIY. Ah was kinda put off at first, mostly ‘cause some ponies think only unicorns can do that kinda stuff.”

“And I think you’ve proved them quite wrong, hasn’t she, Applejack?”

An’ even Applebloom has found somethin’ in life. “She sure has,” Applejack replied, swigging back another mouthful. She eyed her two companions still hesitantly lapping at their drinks. “Don’t be shy, sugarcubes. There’s plenty more.”

The next hour or so passed by in a slight haze, like a dream steadily being forgotten, piece by piece. It was hard for Applejack to concentrate; so many things still buzzed around her mind like indecisive bees. Thankfully, Applebloom did most of the talking, detailing Twilight on things she’d been up to in the past year. A few little escapades with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, some stories about her college work… Twilight seemed genuinely intrigued, even throwing a few yarns of her own into the mix. It was nice, not talking about death. Normal, even.

It was at this time more than any that Applejack wanted to be involved, but felt utterly incapable of doing so. Sitting at the table, chatting away (or at least, getting by with occasional remarks and conversational autopilot) served only as a means to pass the time. It had been one thing after another, and the pain had only grown with each passing minute. Big Mac hadn’t helped. He’d been by her side for longer than she could remember, but now all he’d done was cast doubt in her mind.

Another empty tankard. Rinse and repeat.

She was at least glad to have Twilight there with her. Out of all of her friends, she embodied everything she needed right now. Was it immoral to consider the others unfit for helping her? She wasn’t sure. All she knew was that she no longer feared being wholly honest with her. Ironic, of course, considering her Element. But there were limits to everything; there could be no denying that.

It was when Twilight began looking at her worriedly that Applejack shepherded Applebloom to bed. It wasn’t particularly late, but Applebloom didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she readily welcomed the idea of rest at the expense of missing out on ‘grown-up talk’, if one could even consider it that. Twilight spoke first.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way.” She moved her seat closer. “But I think you should make that one your last.”

Applejack looked down at her cider, not sure at this point how many she’d even had. But Twilight was probably right, after all. “Alright. Ah… Ah’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Twilight said softly, clinging onto one of her hooves. “I’m just looking out for you, that’s all. Call it excessive worrying.”

“Well you always were famous for that,” Applejack replied, garnering a small chuckle.

“I guess you could say nothing’s changed in that regard.”

Applejack smiled for a moment, but then it was gone. Precariously, (yet rather clumsily considering her inebriated state) she rested her head on Twilight’s shoulder and felt a large purple wing wrap itself around her. It was a selfish thing, she considered, to beg a princess to stay for the sole purpose of being a shoulder to cry on. But words felt useless. She was tired, getting drunker by the second and desperate for happiness. What else even was there?

What happened next was another, more distant mirage of shattered memories. She could remember Twilight’s voice. Not her words, but certainly her voice. She talked about how things would eventually get better, that she was going to make them get better. It might have just been a case of altered hearing from the cider, but Twilight seemed scared. No, perhaps that wasn’t the right word. Torn seemed to fit a little better. Applejack remarked at the amazing things a pony could truly hear if they closed their eyes and loosened the grip on their consciousness. And listening to Twilight helped.

At some point Applejack spoke back, but what of, she ceased to remember. Probably something along the lines of how much this all meant to her, and maybe some things Granny Smith used to say when times were tough. She might have shed a few tears, but it was far from her previous balling.

It was hard to say how long they spent together in the kitchen. It could have been minutes; it could have been hours. Eventually though, Twilight helped her to her hooves and led the way upstairs. “Thanks, Twi. Ah’ll be fine.” That was all she could remember saying for sure. Soon enough, she found herself in her own bed, tossing and turning as her head grew heavy, refusing to settle. There was the faint glow of moonlight from the window and a smattering of stars surrounding it. It briefly reminded her of the nights she’s spent talking to her parents. Not long after mumbling a prayer in memory, darkness took over and she fell into a restless slumber.

Twilight sat alone in Big Mac’s room, concentrating on meditative breathing exercises as tears streamed down her cheeks. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. She had no idea what had just happened. After taking Applejack to her room and closing the door behind her, everything had come crashing down. Fifteen minutes later and her crying still hadn’t stopped.

Part of it had to be the seclusion she felt of being in Big Mac’s room. Considering his earlier behaviour, she was the last pony he’d want anywhere near his home, let alone his bedroom. The claustrophobic experience of walls closing in had forever been a mere hypothetical concept in Twilight’s eyes, until now. It was almost suffocating.

The culmination of events so far also played their part, but the real kicker was Applejack. Three sheets to the wind or not, the mare she spoke to downstairs was unlike the Applejack she knew. And the things she said (Ah need help, Twi. Ah beg you. Ah love ya so darn much. You’ve always been good to me.) painted Applejack as a helpless mare that Twilight knew she wasn’t, (Ah love ya, Twi.) that deserved to find her footing once again. She deserved a way out.

Like a puppet on a string, Twilight found herself pulling back the bed-sheets and slowly sneaking her way along the hall, heart thumping loudly inside her chest and shivers of fear at every creaking floorboard. Silence and darkness accompanied her as she stood before Applejack’s room, her breathing shallow.

What are you even doing here? scolded a voice from somewhere. What are you going to do? A minute or so passed, and the voices subsided. Maybe they were too confused to even continue. Twilight cautiously twisted the doorknob with her magic, half-expecting a loud clack to emanate throughout the house. There wasn’t one. With that done, she pushed open the door with the utmost care. Bathed in moonlight, she could see Applejack twisted among the sheets, snoring quietly. Her Stetson had fallen at her bedside. She looked… somewhere between peaceful and troubled. It was impossible to tell. But one thing was for certain; she looked beautiful.

Okay, so now what? Twilight thought, finding a unified voice in her mind this time. What did you expect? Her forelegs outstretched, welcoming you into an embrace? What are you doing here?

Twilight thought she knew, but hadn’t decided whether she couldn’t admit it or simply couldn’t believe it. Regardless, there really was nothing she could do. Sighing quietly in defeat, Twilight closed the door back up and crept into Big Mac’s room. From there, she sat upright in bed for a while, trying to piece everything together. Different things sprang to mind. The promise she’d made to Applejack, Big Mac’s glare, the Canterlot Gardens, Celestia’s advice from years gone by, the sunlight pouring through the palace windows, and Rainbow Dash’s confession. Rainbow Dash…

What if Applejack’s way out… is me?

Twilight buried her head in her hooves. Nothing was any clearer. But one thing had changed. Twilight felt something rise up inside her, something both she and Applejack desperately needed.


And then she closed her eyes until morning.