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Apple Hospitality

By Maonyman
Created: 29th October 2020 04:06:23 AM

  1. AiE,explicit,romance,anon,applejack,long,on haitus,slice of life
  2. >"Oh howdy, Anonymous! You're a bit early, we're still settin' up for the day."
  3. "Hi Applejack. Uh... Twilight did tell you I have no idea what I'm doing, right?"
  4. >"Yeah, but hay that's alright! C'mon, I'll show ya the ropes."
  5. >She trots away, waving a hoof at you to follow.
  6. >"Official Sweet Apple Tours, right this way!"
  7. >You fall in step next to her as she trots through a nearby field and approaches Big McIntosh.
  8. >He's working with some kind of big... wagon-looking... machine thing.
  9. >Man, you really don't know anything.
  10. >Applejack calls out in a sing-song voice.
  11. >"Big Maaaaac! Say hi to Anonymous, our new minion."
  12. >The red stallion glances up at you.
  13. >"Howdy."
  14. >He returns to his work.
  15. >You sigh.
  16. >You don't know how or when you upset him so much, but he never seems to want to talk to you.
  17. >Applejack however, only chuckles and nudges you with a hoof.
  18. >"Oh don't y'all worry, he likes you, promise. He just ain't much for talkin'."
  19. >He doesn't even look up.
  20. >"Eyup."
  21. >You shuffle awkwardly, not quite sure you believe her.
  22. "Well, uh... I guess in that case, it's good to see you again, Big McIntosh."
  23. >"Mac."
  24. "Huh?"
  25. >"Just Big Mac."
  26. >"Oh shore, an' y'all can call me AJ! We're all friends here, ain't we?"
  27. >Seems southern hospitality exists in Equestria, too.
  28. >That's good... maybe you might finally befriend somepony.
  29. >At least, somepony other than Twilight.
  30. >You're pretty sure she's only nice to you because she feels bad about accidentally pulling you from Earth in the first place.
  31. >You told her you didn't mind and actually liked it here, but she didn't seem to believe you.
  32. >Your attention suddenly snaps back to the present.
  33. "Oh, uh... I guess call me Anon, then."
  34. >"'Course."
  35. >She smiles and continues walking, waving a hoof ahead of her.
  36. >"Now we got a lot to go over 'round here, so listen up. First up here in front is the main apple orchard and 'course up ahead there's the farmhouse where we all live."
  37. >That must be the fancy barn you saw earlier... which you suppose makes sense, them being horses and all.
  38. >You idly wonder why ponies in town have normal-looking houses.
  39. >Maybe it's just a country-pony thing?
  40. >"An' over here's the pig pen, chicken coop, and sheep pasture."
  41. "Huh? What do you need pigs for?"
  42. >Applejack gives you a funny look.
  43. >"What d'ya mean?"
  44. >You grimace, realizing you probably shouldn't talk about why pigs are raised back on earth.
  45. "Uh... I mean, chickens for eggs, sheep for wool... I just dunno why you'd raise pigs."
  46. >"We don't raise 'em, Anon, we take care of 'em cause they needed a place to stay outta harm's way. They'll find us truffles from time to time as thanks, an' every now an' then there's a big competition for best pig. They love gettin' all dressed up for it."
  47. >You hesitate, still a little confused, but you nod anyways.
  48. "Okay, just curious."
  49. >She gives you an amused look, then shrugs and trots up a nearby hill.
  50. >"Right, so over yonder are the rest of our fields."
  51. >She stops and points a hoof at each field in turn.
  52. >"We grow barley, oats, some grass for hay, celery stalks, taters, carrots, grapes, pretty flowers for the mares in town, an' when the time's right, zap apples grow in that field over there."
  53. "Wow... I thought all you grew were apples."
  54. >"Most everypony does assume that at first, what with our name an' our fame thanks to zap apple jam."
  55. "Plus your apple orchard is right in front for all to see, while your other fields are out of sight back here."
  56. >"Yeah, reckon the layout might be encouraging the idea a bit, but most everypony in town knows the truth."
  57. >She waves a hoof in a wide arc, gesturing to the farm as a whole.
  58. >"What ya see here provides food for... well, darn near all of Ponyville."
  59. >You whistle appreciatively and Applejack looks at you sharply.
  60. >"Wha...? Did you do that?"
  61. "What, whistle?"
  62. >You whistle again, a short and simple melody this time.
  63. >"Well I'll be! You monkeys are full of surprises, ain't ya?"
  64. >You frown.
  65. "I thought Twilight told everypony... Look, I'd really appreciate if you didn't call me that. You wouldn't like if I called you a donkey now, would you?"
  66. >Applejack's looks down sheepishly, her ears drooping.
  67. >"No, 'spose not... Bein' honest, Twilight did tell me, but uh... well, it kinda caught on when you popped outta that there portal an' uh... I just ain't quite broke the habit."
  68. >You sigh.
  69. "It's alright, I understand. Honestly it isn't even that big of a deal, I just wanted to try and keep it from getting too popular, y'know? Nip it in the bud, so to speak."
  70. >"Mighty sorry, Anon. Won't happen again, an' I'll try an' tell off anypony else I catch sayin' it too."
  71. "Thanks, Applejack."
  72. >She turns away and trots toward the farmhouse.
  73. >"Well anywho, let's go inside and meet the rest of the family."
  74. ...
  75. >You're a bit surprised to find the inside of the farmhouse looks like any other pony house.
  76. >You were kinda expecting the inside of a barn or stables or something.
  77. >In the front room is a withered green husk of a pony slumped in a rocking chair, snoring loudly.
  78. >"Now this 'ere's Granny Smith, my granddam on my sire's side."
  79. "Uh... should we be quiet?"
  80. >Applejack chuckles.
  81. >"Naw, ain't nothin' gonna wake Granny from her nap. Hey Granny! GRAAANNYYYYY!"
  82. >The old green pony shifts and mumbles a bit, then snores again.
  83. >"See?"
  84. >You laugh.
  85. "Alright, I get it."
  86. >You hear a high voice call down the stairs.
  87. >"AJ?"
  88. >"An' that there's my lil' sister, Apple Bloom."
  89. >A tiny yellow pony gallops down the stairs, then in her rush, stumbles and lands in a heap at the bottom.
  90. >She immediately hops up unharmed and beams at Applejack.
  91. >"AJ! Ah thought ya'd already gone an' started work! Ah wanted to show ya something 'fore you did, but ah woke up late an--"
  92. >The filly's eyes suddenly lock onto yours, then she squeaks and scurries behind Applejack's legs.
  93. >Applejack chuckles quietly.
  94. >"Aw don't be scared, sugarcube. This here's Anon. Y'all heard about the human that fell through Twilight's experiment? Well he's a fine fellow an' he ain't nothin' to be a feared of, promise."
  95. >She grins and leans her head down, speaking in a stage whisper.
  96. >"Though he does look purty weird, don't he?"
  97. >Apple Bloom giggles nervously, her tail twitching rapidly.
  98. >You smile gently, drop to one knee, and lean forward so your head is about at Applejack's chest level, almost as low as Apple Bloom's head.
  99. "You must be Apple Bloom, then. I've heard a lot about you... you and the other Crusaders are the talk of the town since you got your cutie marks. Can I see it?"
  100. >Apple Bloom cautiously steps out from behind her sister and turns a bit sideways.
  101. >You reward her with a loud gasp.
  102. "Wow, that's even cooler than I imagined!"
  103. >"Ya... think so?"
  104. "Chyeah! Makes me wish I had one! I'd be happy if mine was even half as cool as yours."
  105. >Apple Bloom breaks into a huge grin, then blushes and dashes back up the stairs.
  106. >You stand up again and both you and Applejack chuckle.
  107. >"Ain't she precious?"
  108. "She's adorable. Go ahead and see what she wanted, I'll wait here."
  109. >Applejack trots up the stairs and you take a look around the living room.
  110. >A painting on the wall catches your eye and you see two ponies you don't recognize lying under a tree on the farm.
  111. >There's a stallion with colors like Apple Bloom wearing a hat similar to Applejack's, and a mare that looks a lot like Applejack, only the colors of her fur and hair are swapped and her hair is fluffy, like Pinkie Pie's.
  112. >There's a small red foal across the stallion's forelegs, and a tiny blond filly curled up against the mare's chest, who is turned slightly to her side and looks like she might be pregnant.
  113. >You mumble quietly to yourself.
  114. "These must be their parents..."
  115. >"Eyup."
  116. >You nearly jump out of your skin at the stallion's voice, then laugh nervously, turning to face him.
  117. "Shit! Big Mac, you scared me!"
  118. >You shoot him a mock glare.
  119. "How can you even BE that quiet with hooves on a wooden floor?"
  120. >He ignores you and stares at the picture, his voice low, almost reverent.
  121. >"That's m'sire Bright Mac and m'dam Pear Butter."
  122. "They look really cute together."
  123. >He turns and looks you in the eye.
  124. >"They died not long ago."
  125. >Your smile vanishes.
  126. "Oh... oh man. I'm so sorry. What happened?"
  127. >He shakes his head, "Long, painful story. Granny might tell ya one day. Don't mention 'em 'round the girls, 'specially AJ. Apple Bloom was too young to remember, but Applejack..."
  128. >He trails off and sighs.
  129. "Shit, man... Well, thanks for the warning, Big Mac. I was probably gonna ask when AJ came down."
  130. >"Eyup."
  131. >You hear hooves on the stairs and hastily step away from the painting.
  132. >As Applejack comes into view, you realize her hat isn't just similar, but the very same as her sire's.
  133. >...Damn.
  134. >You must look pretty glum because Applejack comes up short and whinnies.
  135. >"Maaac, what'd ya do to him?"
  136. >He shakes his head and you wave your hands.
  137. "Oh no, nothing, we're fine. Just a bit of a chat."
  138. >"Wow, ya actually got him to talk? Must'a been important!"
  139. >You look back to the stallion.
  140. "Yeah... it was."
  141. ...
  142. >You spent most of the day trying various jobs AJ and Big Mac usually do, but you quickly learn most of the work on the farm takes far more strength than you can muster.
  143. >You may be stronger than unicorns and pegasi, but earth pony magic is in their strength, and even small earth ponies like Applejack are apparently as strong as full sized horses were back on earth.
  144. >And Big Mac...
  145. >Damn that bro can lift.
  146. >You make a mental note to try and never get on his bad side, even if he seems like he wouldn't hurt a fly.
  147. >Hours later, after trying and failing miserably at 'hard earth pony work' as Applejack puts it, you find yourself in their main barn with Applejack.
  148. >As it turns out, the barn is mostly just used for storage, since there are no animals to keep in there.
  149. >There's a lot of hay but more important are the various tools and simple machinery used around the farm.
  150. >Applejack steps up to a large plow.
  151. >"So these 'ere help us push snow 'round while we clean up winter an' they can also be used to plow the fields."
  152. >She walks up behind the device and pushes her chest into a wide bar, rolling the device forward a step.
  153. "Looks like a nifty device, but its construction is pretty crude."
  154. >"Think so?"
  155. "Yeah, I mean these wheels are way bigger than they need to be and the supporting carriage is all very thick and heavy...
  156. >You rub your chin thoughtfully, then point at the machine as you speak again.
  157. "This could probably be half the weight and still be just as strong where it counts: the push bar and the plow in front."
  158. >She lowers her head and glares at you.
  159. >"Ya sayin' I ain't strong enough?"
  160. >You jerk your eyes away from the plow to meet her gaze.
  161. "What? No girl, I SAW how strong you are. You could probably pick me up with one hoof!"
  162. >She relaxes and grins.
  163. >"Darn tootin' I could."
  164. "No, what I'm saying is if it weighed half as much, you could push it longer. You're strong but you must get tired eventually, right?"
  165. >"I could push half the weight twice as far..."
  166. >She nods thoughtfully, then frowns.
  167. >"But y'see, the reason they're so big's cause it's real hard to make small stuff with just hooves. Unicorns can make real fine, fancy stuff with their magic, but Ponyville was founded by earth ponies, an' it's tradition to do as much as we can without magic."
  168. "Well maybe I can help, then. Human fingers don't count as magic, do they?"
  169. >"Well... 'spose not..."
  170. "I'm no engineer but I do understand basic physics, and I always liked machinery and stuff back home. I may not be as strong as you, but my dexterity trumps yours big time."
  171. >You wiggle your fingers in front of her face, making her go cross-eyed and giggle.
  172. >You turn around and look at the other tools.
  173. "I bet with some help from you to lift the heavy stuff, I could improve most of this equipment quite a bit."
  174. >"Say, now that's an idea!"
  175. "I guess I'd also have to do all the maintenance, too. If ponies can't build it, you probably can't repair it either."
  176. >You rub your chin in thought.
  177. "Plus I can continue trying to iterate and come up with even better designs."
  178. >"Now I see why you an' Twilight get along! Talking 'bout iteration an' stuff..."
  179. >She laughs, then gives you a look and mutters.
  180. >"Y'all oughta date or somethin'."
  181. >You shrug.
  182. "Eh... she seems too caught up in her studies for anything like that."
  183. >"Her loss."
  184. >Her grin widens, then she turns and you follow her out of the barn.
  185. >You follow her through a nearby field as she approaches Big Mac.
  186. >"Hey, Anon here's had an idea, wanted to run it by ya."
  187. >He pauses and casually shrugs the giant cart off his shoulders.
  188. >"Shoot."
  189. >"We were lookin' at the equipment in the barn and he was saying how with his nimble monkey hands-- ah!"
  190. >Her hoof flies to her muzzle, then she looks at you apologetically.
  191. >"Sorry... I'm tryin' really, it just slips out sometimes."
  192. "It's okay, I know you don't mean anything by it. It'll take time to break the habit, right?"
  193. >She grins sheepishly then turns back to Big Mac.
  194. >"Anywho, his human hands can manipulate things as nice as unicorn magic, but it ain't magic, so it oughta be fine, right? I was thinkin' maybe we let him do just that an' fix up our equipment.
  195. >Big Mac shrugs.
  196. >"Don't sound like magic to me."
  197. >"Right! Like he was talkin' how he can make the snow plows half as heavy an' still be just as strong, which would mean we could plow twice as long in 'em."
  198. >"Eyup."
  199. >"I 'spose we'll see how his ideas hold up in practice, but it sounds like a good job for him since he ain't strong enough for our kinda work."
  200. >She turns back to you.
  201. >"Course, you'll still help with the lighter work like what Apple Bloom and Granny Smith do."
  202. "Sure, I'll do anything you need me to. I am your minion, after all."
  203. >She turns away and you faintly hear her mutter, "Anythin', huh?"
  204. >You open your mouth to ask, but Big Mac snorts lightly at you and you hesitate.
  205. >Before you can ask, you're distracted by the clear sound of a bell ringing and a high, wobbly voice calls out.
  206. >"Come git yer food!"
  207. >Applejack's ears perk up.
  208. >"Ooh, I didn't realize how late it was! C'mon Anon, let's get some food an' y'all can meet Granny for real now!"
  209. ...
  210. >You follow Big Mac into the farmhouse with AJ behind you and are greeted by a mouth-watering savory smell.
  211. >Through an open doorway, you see Granny standing up and fumbling around in the kitchen, who turns as you all enter.
  212. >"Now y'all hurry up n' sit down, it's-- Ooh, y'all must be Anon!"
  213. >You give her a little bow of your head.
  214. "A pleasure, ma'am."
  215. >"Ohhh, don't waste yer manners on an old mare like me. If'n ya just get along with Applejack, all'll be fine and dandy. She's told me all aboutcha, y'know."
  216. "She has?"
  217. >Applejack's ears turn back as you give her a questioning look.
  218. >"Well, what little I know, at least. Twilight talks about you a lot an' you're a kinda big deal in town, y'know."
  219. >She chuckles nervously.
  220. >Big Mac sits on his haunches at the end of a short, wide, oval wooden table.
  221. >You try to make yourself comfortable sitting on the floor at the side of the table to his left.
  222. >Granny and Applejack start getting portions ready in bowls and placing them on the table.
  223. >As you're settling in, a burst of giggling and excited filly voices reaches your ear, and Granny calls out.
  224. >"There y'are, ya rascals! Git in here 'fore yer food gets cold!"
  225. >Three tiny ponies scramble through the front door.
  226. >Apple Bloom is first and hesitates when she sees you, then she puts on a brave face and trots up to the table, sitting down between you and Big Mac.
  227. >The other two freeze as soon as they see you.
  228. >You grin and turn to Apple Bloom.
  229. "And are these the famous Cutie Mark Crusaders?"
  230. >"Chyeah!"
  231. >She imitates the way you said it earlier, then giggles.
  232. >"We was just talkin' 'boutchu. C'mon girls, y'ain't scared, are ya?"
  233. >The orange pegasus scoffs and immediately trots up, head held high.
  234. >The white unicorn hesitates, then slowly walks up behind her.
  235. >They sit on the other side of Apple Bloom from you, forcing Big Mac to scoot over and make room.
  236. >Applejack walks over carrying three bowls of liquid balanced on one forearm held before her and, with a combination of her mouth and hooves, somehow maneuvers them onto the table without spilling a drop.
  237. >"Now don't y'all worry. Anon here's a nice fella and he's gonna be workin' on the farm for a while. A long while, hopefully."
  238. >The orange pegasus turns to face you.
  239. >"Hiya! My name's Scootaloo. My parents are away a lot, so I mostly hang out here and with Rainbow Dash!"
  240. >Her voice is surprisingly rough and scratchy, like she needs to lay off the Marlboros.
  241. >The white unicorn seems encouraged by her friends' confidence.
  242. >"Hello Anon, I'm Sweetie Belle. Rarity is my big sister."
  243. >"And y'already met me! Together, we are--"
  244. >Together, they stomp a hoof and chant in unison, "The Cutie Mark Crusaders!"
  245. >Fucking adorable.
  246. "You three are the cutest and coolest things I've seen in Ponyville yet. C'mon you two, lemme see your new cutie marks."
  247. >All three grin, stand and position themselves in an obviously rehearsed pose, facing the same direction in a diagonal line so each of their rumps is visible behind the others.
  248. "Wow... they really do match! Awesome!"
  249. >They all giggle and sit down again.
  250. >Scootaloo seems especially pleased with your comment.
  251. >Applejack returns with three more bowls and places one in front of you, then sits to your left with her own bowl.
  252. >Granny brings her own bowl and sits on Applejack's other side.
  253. >"Alrighty, dig in!"
  254. >All six of them lower their muzzles to their bowls and chow down.
  255. >You hesitate.
  256. >...Guess you'll bring your own fork and spoon tomorrow.
  257. >Applejack glances at you, probably wondering why you aren't eating.
  258. >You lift the bowl in both hands and tilt it into your mouth.
  259. >It's a wonderfully savory broth with hearty chunks of various vegetables.
  260. >You set the bowl down, licking your lips.
  261. "Oh man, that's really good, Granny."
  262. >You realize they're all watching you with varying degrees of interest and confusion.
  263. "...What?"
  264. >Granny waves a hoof absently.
  265. >"Oh don't mind 'em, they just ain't never seen a monkey eat before."
  266. >...And she has?
  267. >Applejack tries to say something but Granny continues loudly.
  268. >"What'd y'all expect? He's a monkey! His face is flat an' his tongue's short. Why he'd probably drown if he tried to eat like we do. Quit yer gawping an' get to eatin'!"
  269. >Abashed, they turn back to their bowls, but Applejack nudges Granny with a hoof.
  270. >You hear her murmur something about monkeys and Granny bangs a hoof on the table.
  271. >"Well sour apples, what'm ah s'posed to call him then? He ain't a monkey, he ain't whatever Tirek is, an' he shore as hay ain't--"
  272. >"Granny! He's a human, Granny. Ya call him a human."
  273. >Granny grumbles something and slurps noisily at her bowl.
  274. >Applejack shakes her head.
  275. >"Good gravy, Granny. I'm tellin' ya, you gotta learn to be more considerite an' polite, what with all these Yaks an' Hippogriffs, an' Dragons comin' an' going. 'Specially with the Yaks..."
  276. >You chuckle.
  277. "Thanks Applejack. I know I'm an oddity though and everything I do is weird and different, so you can watch if you want, ask me questions, whatever. I don't mind."
  278. >Sweetie Belle immediately raises a hoof.
  279. "...Uh, yes?"
  280. >You take another gulp of stew while she speaks.
  281. >"Why do you always wear clothing? Ponies usually only wear clothes on special occasions."
  282. "Ah. Well, mostly because I don't have fur and... well, let's just say walking upright like I do leaves you pretty... exposed without clothes."
  283. >She tilts her head.
  284. >"I don't get it."
  285. >Applejack snorts into her stew, suppressing a laugh.
  286. >"Wait 'til you're older."
  287. >Sweetie Belle pouts and opens her mouth but Scootaloo interrupts her.
  288. >"How d'you not fall over all the time walking upright on two legs?"
  289. >In response you twist around and show her your right foot, then unlace and remove the simple shoe and sock, revealing your pasty white toes.
  290. >The pegasus gasps and looks up at you incredulously.
  291. >"You have hands on your hindlegs too?"
  292. >You chuckle.
  293. "No, this is a foot. The things on the end that look like tiny fingers, those are called 'toes,' and they help me balance really well, but they can't manipulate things like my hands can."
  294. >To demonstrate, you get up and balance on one bare foot - which is already impressive to a four hoofed species - then you carefully lift up and balance on just the ball of your foot.
  295. >Big Mac leans around to see, Granny stares from under the table, and everypony makes various sounds of awe.
  296. >As you sit back down, Apple Bloom gives you a puzzled look.
  297. >"Hang on... why d'ya wear the shoe, then?"
  298. >You grin as you replace your shoe.
  299. "Cause I don't have tough hooves like you! My feet are only covered in soft skin like my hands here."
  300. >You hold out your hand to her and she gingerly touches your palm with the frog of her hoof.
  301. >The other two, not wanting to be left out, get up and reach over with a hoof as well.
  302. >Scootaloo rubs the back of your hand, and Sweetie Belle lightly touches your fingertips and murmurs.
  303. >"It really is soft, almost fragile even... If your feet are this soft too, how do you ever get around without shoes?"
  304. "Well, my skin might be soft compared to your hooves but it's tougher than you think. I can walk around barefoot for a while, it's just that if I do for too long, my feet will get sore, especially if I'm walking over sticks or rocks. With shoes I can walk as long as I want."
  305. >Scootaloo opens her mouth to ask another question but Granny cuts her off.
  306. >"Alrighty, y'all'll have plenty o' time fer questions another time. Hurry an' finish yer food 'fore it gets cold."
  307. >The crusaders chant, "Yes ma'am!" and turn back to their bowls.
  308. ...
  309. >It doesn't take long for everypony to finish the meal and the fillies run off as soon as they finish eating, their questions seemingly forgotten.
  310. >Granny gets up to take care of the dishes, leaving you, AJ, and Big Mac sitting at the table.
  311. >You arch your back, stretch your arms, and groan.
  312. "So tomorrow, we gonna get started improving the equipment?"
  313. >Applejack nods.
  314. >"I reckon. The next week or two should be pretty slow, so we'll have plenty of time."
  315. >"Eyup."
  316. >Suddenly you remember what Granny mumbled earlier.
  317. "Oh hey... Granny said something earlier about me not being Tirek? What's--"
  318. >At the mention of the name, Big Mac suddenly coughs, Applejack accidentally bangs the table as she raises a hoof, and Granny drops a bowl with a clatter.
  319. >You look around, startled.
  320. "Uh..."
  321. >Applejack waves her hoof.
  322. >"Sorry! That just... caught me off guard."
  323. >Granny turns to you.
  324. >"Ah'm sorry, Anon. Ain't never shoulda made such a nasty comparison."
  325. >You scrunch up your face in confusion.
  326. "Wait, huh? Nasty comparison? ...Can somepony explain what's going on?"
  327. >Applejack sighs.
  328. >"Tirek is some kinda monster an' was huge problem a while back, like... almost destroyed all of Equestria kinda problem. He's a... a centaur."
  329. >You take a moment to consider the implications of that, then carefully ask.
  330. "Applejack, how often do ponies see monkeys?"
  331. >She grimaces.
  332. >"Pretty much... never."
  333. "And other centaurs?"
  334. >"Not in ages."
  335. >You rub your forehead.
  336. "So... basically Tirek and me are the only monkey-looking things anypony has ever seen."
  337. >It was a statement, not a question, but Applejack nods anyways.
  338. >You groan.
  339. "Well at least now I know why everypony avoids me."
  340. >Big Mac quietly asks.
  341. >"Twilight didn't tell ya?"
  342. "Nope."
  343. >Applejack lays a hoof on your shoulder.
  344. >"Don't worry, Anon. I can already tell yer a good person an' I'm sure ponies'll love ya once they get to know you. If'n I notice ya come up in any small talk around town, I'll be sure an' put a good word in for you."
  345. >She grins broadly.
  346. >"The element of honesty's praise'll do ya wonders."
  347. >That's actually exactly what you were hoping she'd do when you took this job.
  348. >Relief floods through you and you suddenly break into a huge, goofy grin.
  349. "Thanks, AJ, that means a lot. More than you know."
  350. >She pats your shoulder in comfort, then gets up to help Granny with the dishes.
  351. >You just sit there for a moment, trying to gather your thoughts after the emotional whiplash.
  352. >Big Mac leans close and mutters.
  353. >"Y'all alright?"
  354. >You take a quick breath, then look up at his impassive face.
  355. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. I'll uh... I'll see you tomorrow."
  356. >Applejack turns and smiles at you.
  357. >"G'night, Anon."
  358. "And thank you for dinner, Granny Smith."
  359. >"Mighty welcome."
  360.  
  361. ...
  362.  
  363. >You spend the next few days planning and preparing various pieces of lumber.
  364. >Despite saying it would be slow, AJ apparently still had a lot of work to do on the farm, so you've mostly been alone, figuring out exactly what you want to do.
  365. >Occasionally she or Apple Bloom would come in to see what you're up to, but they never stayed long, either having other stuff to do or just getting bored.
  366. >You eventually settled on improving a machine AJ said is used to water the fields first, thinking it seems like something they'll need to use a lot.
  367. >It's big, unwieldy, looks uncomfortable to push, and is tedious to repair to boot.
  368. >You have big plans so far.
  369. >In the middle sketching and writing your ideas, the barn doors open and you are a bit surprised to see this time it's Big Mac.
  370. >You set down your tools as he approaches.
  371. >"Time for work."
  372. "Alrighty, lead on."
  373. >The two of your walk in silence to one of the smaller fields and you see Applejack and Apple Bloom standing near by, waiting expectantly.
  374. >As you approach, you recognize it as the grape field and Applejack nods her head in greeting.
  375. >You walk up to her and Big Mac continues trotting, leaving you there.
  376. >"Now Granny's in town for some errands an' me an' Big Mac got work elsewhere on the farm, but these grapes here need harvestin', an' I ain't havin' Apple Bloom do it on her lonesome, so lemme show you what to do an' you'll help her out today.
  377. "Sounds like fun."
  378. >Apple Bloom grins shyly up at you and Applejack continues.
  379. >"It's pretty simple, bein' honest. Just take these 'ere snips, cut off bunches of grapes all together an' put 'em in these baskets. Try an' snip as close to the grapes as ya can, don't leave a big stem danglin' off the end of the bunch."
  380. >She nods over at a pair of baskets that hook around a pony's barrel.
  381. >"Apple Bloom'll carry the baskets back and forth to the farmhouse where we'll finish up with 'em later."
  382. >She turns back to look at you.
  383. >"Your hands are fast enough you oughta get these bunches real simple, an' Apple Bloom's gettin' mighty strong these days, so she could prolly carry these baskets around all day if she wanted to."
  384. >Apple Bloom gives a little snort and stomps a hoof.
  385. >"Shore could!"
  386. >It's too cute, you can't help but grin.
  387. >Applejack ruffles her mane, then looks back to you.
  388. >"This way I think y'all're both doin' something yer well suited for. Any questions?"
  389. "Nah, seems pretty straightforward."
  390. >"Alrighty, I'll see y'all in a couple hours then!"
  391. ...
  392. >Half an hour in and Apple Bloom has hardly spoken, even though she just sits around for a couple minutes doing nothing while you fill the next bin for her to take.
  393. >Cutting these grapes off is really boring and you'd like some conversation, so you decide to ask her questions about herself, hoping she'll open up a bit.
  394. >As she trots up with the latest empty bin, you turn to her.
  395. "So, Apple Bloom... what exactly are the crusaders?
  396. >"Oh, uh..."
  397. >She wiggles out from under the bin before continuing
  398. >"Well, 'fore we got our cutie marks, me, Sweetie, an' Scoots would do anything 'n everythin' we could think of to try an' figure out what they'd be."
  399. "And now that you have them?"
  400. >"Now we go 'round an' help anypony we can find with cutie mark troubles an' help 'em understand what their cutie mark's 'sposed to mean."
  401. "Can't they figure that out themselves?"
  402. >She shoots you an adorable glare she probably intended to look angry.
  403. >"No! Well, not always at least. Some ponies have marks that're real uh... marks that ain't obvious, an' they don't know what to do with 'em."
  404. "You ever help older ponies?"
  405. >She shakes her head.
  406. >"Bulk Biceps had a real quick an' simple problem with his mark, but not really. We ain't found nopony much older'n us who needs help like we give to fillies and colts."
  407. >She tilts her head in thought.
  408. >"Well, unless ya count 'fore we even got our cutie marks. We helped this stallion named Trouble Shoes with his cutie mark..."
  409. >She trails off, then you toss one last bunch of grapes into the latests basket and she shimmies under it, trotting away.
  410. >A minute later, she trots up with a new bin and immediately asks a question.
  411. >"Hey Anon, what's yer cutie mark?"
  412. >You smile, glad she's opening up a little, then shake your head.
  413. "Humans don't get cutie marks. I think they're magical in nature and humans don't have any magic."
  414. >"Really!? Well this world's chock full of magic - since yer here, maybe one day you'll get a cutie mark too?"
  415. >You hadn't thought of that.
  416. "Hmm... do any other creatures besides ponies get cutie marks here?"
  417. >She thinks for a moment, then her face falls.
  418. >"No... Zecora has a weird lookin' cutie mark but ah never seen a cutie mark on nuthin' but a pony or zebra."
  419. >You shrug.
  420. "It's okay. Can't miss what I never had, right?"
  421. >"'Spose not..."
  422. >You both continue working in silence for some time.
  423. >Eventually Apple Bloom speaks up again, sounding a bit nervous.
  424. >"Anon?"
  425. >You glance at her and try to smile warmly, then reach for another bunch of grapes.
  426. "Yes, Apple Bloom?"
  427. >"Since ya came here to Equestria... d'you uh... miss yer folks back home?"
  428. >The question catches you off guard and you hesitate, snips about to close around a grape vine.
  429. >You inhale slowly, try to relax, and turn to smile again at Apple Bloom.
  430. "Oh not really, I just try not to think about 'em."
  431. >She tilts her head questioningly.
  432. >"Ya don't think about yer family?"
  433. "Nope. I'm stuck here, aren't I? No point thinking about people I'll never see again."
  434. >"Ah... guess that makes sense."
  435. >She shakes her head.
  436. >"But still! Ya must miss 'em a least a bit, right?"
  437. >You sigh and slump slightly.
  438. "Look, can we just not talk about this?"
  439. >"So ya DO miss 'em!"
  440. "...Huh?"
  441. >"Else you wouldn't mind talkin' 'bout 'em!"
  442. >You rub your eyes.
  443. "That's... no, I just don't want--"
  444. >"If ya miss 'em so bad, maybe Twilight knows a spell to let you see 'em?"
  445. >You grimace, cutting through a bunch of grapes and tossing them into the nearly-full basket with more force than strictly necessary.
  446. "No, it's alri--"
  447. >"Or maybe she's workin' on a way to return ya! Ah bet she is, since it's her fault yer here an' all."
  448. >You groan.
  449. >She's probably right and you definitely don't want to go back.
  450. >You'll have to convince Twilight to stop.
  451. >"Or maybe she could bring 'em here! I'd love to meet yer--"
  452. "No."
  453. >You spoke quietly, but something in your tone makes Apple Bloom stop dead and stare at you.
  454. >"Huh?"
  455. >You rub your eyes again.
  456. "Just... trust me, you don't want to meet them."
  457. >You sigh, knowing you have no choice but to explain further now.
  458. "My family was very mean, Apple Bloom."
  459. >Her ears droop.
  460. >"Gosh, really? Is that why ya don't think about 'em? They was so mean ya don't even miss 'em?"
  461. >You nod grimly, somewhat regretting this conversation.
  462. >"Oh Anon... Didn't ya at least have some friends or somethin'?
  463. >You shake your head.
  464. "Most everyone I met either didn't like me or I didn't like them."
  465. >"But... yer so nice! How could anypony see you an' not wanna be friends?
  466. "Yeah... the world I come from isn't always nice."
  467. >She pauses thoughtfully.
  468. >"Well... neither is this world ah reckon. We got dragons an' changelings an' whatever's in the Everfree Forest... an' all kinds a monsters in Tartarus. That don't mean we can't make friends."
  469. "But ponies are almost always good people, right? There's only a tiny number of mean, hurtful ponies, right?"
  470. >"Yeah... Diamond Tiara used to be real mean, an' ah heard Starlight Glimmer an' Trixie have done some awful stuff..."
  471. "Yeah, so imagine if half of everypony you knew was like that, if half of everypony in Equestria were lazy, greedy, selfish, and mean."
  472. >She gasps.
  473. >"That's what yer home is like?"
  474. >You chuckle grimly and toss one more bunch of grapes into the basket.
  475. "Okay well... maybe not quite that bad, but it sure felt like it sometimes."
  476. >You sigh heavily.
  477. "Bad people are louder and easier to notice than good people, so it can seem like there's a lot more than there really are."
  478. >Apple Bloom stares at you, ears limp, mouth slightly open, seeming lost in thought.
  479. >Then she slowly shimmies under the basket and trots away.
  480. >When she returns, she sets the empty basket down, steps up next to you, and pokes your side with a hoof as you squat by the grapevines.
  481. >You turn to her, a question on your lips when she lurches forward and wraps her tiny hooves around your waist.
  482. >The impact throws you off balance and you sit heavily on the ground.
  483. "Wha--"
  484. >"Ah'm glad yer here in Equestria, Anon. Ah hope you'll be happy here."
  485. >You pause awkwardly, unsure what to do.
  486. >Then you gently place a hand on the back of the filly's head and stroke her mane.
  487.  
  488. ...
  489.  
  490. "Alright, now lift."
  491. >Applejack heaves and raises the thick wooden beam into place.
  492. >You move the vertical supporting beam into the slot you cut and it slides in with a satisfying thunk.
  493. >You hammer a couple nails in place, then you both step back to admire your work.
  494. >You finally managed to figure out a decent design implementing your improvements to the watering pusher.
  495. >It's lighter, holds more water, is more comfortable to push, has a glass rod in the front of the tank so you can see how full it is if you look over your shoulder while pushing, and certain high-wear parts like wheels can be quickly and easily replaced.
  496. >What with your days off, days doing actual farm work with Apple Bloom, and days lost to failed trial-and-error runs, it's been about two weeks all told.
  497. >"Gotta say Anon, I'm impressed."
  498. "Thanks AJ, but remember, I didn't invent this stuff. I'm just copying what I remember from machines other humans made back home."
  499. >"Still, credit where it's due, ya done some fine work 'ere."
  500. >She pushes on the chest-shaped mold you added to the push-bar and the machine rolls easily.
  501. >"Let's fill it with water an' see how it performs."
  502. >You follow her as she rolls it out the barn door and down to the river, where a crude water wheel pours out of a tall spigot specifically designed to refill these watering machines.
  503. >While waiting, Applejack steps close to you.
  504. >"If this water pusher does half as well as I expect an' you can improve every machine this much, I reckon we could put out fifty percent more produce next year, easy. Honestly I'm really looking forward to more of your work."
  505. >She pauses and looks like she's going to say something else, but stops herself.
  506. >You've noticed her doing that a lot recently.
  507. "AJ... are you alright?"
  508. >She looks a bit startled.
  509. >"Huh?"
  510. "It's just... we've been spending a lot of time together and I've noticed sometimes you seem... uncomfortable. Like maybe you're afraid of saying the wrong thing to me. I'd like you to stop worrying and just be honest with me."
  511. >"Oh, uh... well. That's uh..."
  512. >She looks abashed and coughs awkwardly
  513. >"Anon... how much d'you know about... mares?"
  514. >You raise an eyebrow.
  515. "Not much, honestly. Only what I've learned since I came here."
  516. >"Oh..."
  517. >She sighs, then looks down and mumbles to herself
  518. >"Well how the hay do I even say this."
  519. >You step closer, kneel beside her, and lift her chin with a knuckle so she looks back up at you.
  520. >Her cheeks immediately turn bright pink.
  521. "Hey, I just wanted to make sure you're okay, I'm not trying to pry or anything."
  522. >You smile and move your hand to the side of her neck, scratching gently.
  523. "If you're okay, that's all I need to know. No pressure."
  524. >Her blush deepens and she takes a step back.
  525. >"Uh... I-It's full now, let's see how good this... this doohickey works."
  526. >Positioning herself, she heaves on the water pusher. It rolls slowly forward.
  527. >With her muzzle, she flips a lever you installed and water flows onto a spinning disc attached to the wheels, flinging water in a short arc behind the machine.
  528. >As she picks up speed, the spinning disc does too and flings a fine mist over a wide area.
  529. "So?"
  530. >She grunts and presses against the side of the chest mold, slowly turning the pusher around.
  531. >She executes a couple more turns, then slows, coming off the chest mold and pressing her rump against the rear bar to slow the machine.
  532. >As it comes to a stop, she hops out of the machine and trots happily in place.
  533. >"Hooey! This 'ere's better than an eight bit candied apple! Why it weighs less all full of water than the old machine weighed when it was empty, an' the front push bar is WAY more comfortable!"
  534. >You whoop and fist pump triumphantly.
  535. >"Imma go water the celery. Go find Big Mac and tell him to come look, I think he'll appreciate this."
  536. >You salute.
  537. "Yes ma'am!"
  538. >She sticks out her tongue.
  539. >"I told ya to quit that!"
  540. >She reaches up to buck you with a forehoof and you jog away, laughing.
  541. ...
  542. >You find Big Mac inspecting one of the apple trees.
  543. "Hey big guy."
  544. >He turns to face you.
  545. "We finished the water pusher. You should come check it out, I think you'll like it... well, AJ says you'll like it. She's heading to the celery field."
  546. >"Alright."
  547. >You look up at the tree he was inspecting.
  548. "How long before next harvest?"
  549. >"Few days."
  550. "Cool, cool."
  551. >He just stares at you expectantly after you trail off.
  552. "So... I wanted to talk to you about AJ."
  553. >He nods.
  554. "She's been acting strange recently."
  555. >He nods again.
  556. "I... don't quite know what to make of it. I asked her if anything was wrong a moment ago, and she kinda stumbled over her words, didn't seem to know what to say. I just told her not to worry and she doesn't need to talk about it if she doesn't want to."
  557. >You cringe and rub your neck awkwardly.
  558. "I'm not crazy right, not just imagining it?"
  559. >"Nope."
  560. "Alright... I know you're not much for talking, so just tell me if everything's okay or if I need to be worried."
  561. >"...She's okay."
  562. >.
  563. "Okay, good.")
  564. >"But y'all should probably be worried, too."
  565. "...Huh?"
  566. >Big Mac sighs and sits on his haunches.
  567. >"I'm guessin' ya don't know much 'bout pony biology, but once a year, mares go into heat an' their bodies prepare to mate."
  568. >Your eyes widen.
  569. "So she's..."
  570. >"Nope. Least, not yet, but it's a comin' soon. 'Nother week or two an' she'll start taking some medicine to keep it in check."
  571. >He looks at you awkwardly.
  572. >"It ain't really a problem, she'll just get mood swings an' be more sensitive to touch, so try an' avoid any unneeded contact."
  573. >You're feeling quite nervous now.
  574. "But... I shouldn't have to worry, right? I'm no... stallion."
  575. >His ears twitch and you hurriedly speak again, feeling incredibly awkward.
  576. "Oh god, I'm sorry, I know it must be so weird to talk about your sister like this, I just..."
  577. >You trail off and huff, frustrated at your lack of words.
  578. >Big Mac hesitates, his ears folding back, then grimaces.
  579. >"Since y'all work so close together, you'll have a hard time avoidin' touchin' her an' that might uh... excite her."
  580. >You shake your head, anxious butterflies in your stomach.
  581. "Okay. Okay no, this is fine. Okay. I'll just... We'll just work like normal and everything will be okay. I just won't touch her, easy. I won't touch her when I'm measuring her to make the machines or helping her lift a machine part into place or helping her load and unload produce or working the fields with her or helping her teach Apple Bloom or eating dinner or-or... oh god this isn't okay MAC WHAT DO I DO."
  582. >Startled, he rears up and neighs.
  583. >"Whoa! Calm, friend!"
  584. >You slump to the ground and take a few heavy breaths.
  585. "Mac... the hell am I supposed to do? I couldn't even handle HUMAN girls back home, I can't handle this!"
  586. >He grins sheepishly.
  587. >"Ain't gotta be THAT worked up about it... Maybe Twilight can help."
  588.  
  589. ...
  590.  
  591. >You tried stopping by Twilight's castle the next morning, only to learn from her pupil Starlight Glimmer that she's out of town and won't be back until at least tomorrow, so you're on your own for now.
  592. >You probably could have asked one of AJ's other friends, but you didn't really know any of them yet, and of course you couldn't ask AJ herself after saying she doesn't need to tell you.
  593. >Fortunately, the next few days were pretty uneventful.
  594. >You hardly even saw Applejack and were mostly left to work on your next experiment in the barn.
  595. >The next harvest coming up is barley, so at first you thought of maybe trying to build a harvester, but you figured that was a little too ambitious for now.
  596. >Instead, you decided to improve their scythe.
  597. >The current design was simply held in the jaw and swung similar to a hand-held sickle back home.
  598. >You've been working on one that loops over a pony's neck and hooks around their shoulders, which they can swing around with a handle clamped in their muzzle.
  599. >The main handle can have its length adjusted by squeezing a grip to release the lock and sliding the handle up or down to suit larger or smaller ponies.
  600. >The movement required to swing it should be similar to the large double-handed scythes back home and ought to be much more effective.
  601. >You tried to get Big Mac in to test it, but by the time you finished your prototype, Applejack had apparently finished whatever she's been up to the past couple days and leaped at the idea.
  602. >Thus, you find yourself alone in the barn with Applejack like many times before.
  603. >Of course, now you're all nervous around her.
  604. >Lost in your thoughts, you jump at Applejack's voice.
  605. >"Anon? You alright, partner?"
  606. "Oh, uh yeah! Let's try it out."
  607. >She eyes the oddly shaped length of wood, rope, and blade.
  608. >"How's this even work?"
  609. >You slip the loop over your head, tucking the wooden hooks around your shoulders, and grab the handle at approximately the distance your mouth would be if you were a pony.
  610. "I probably should have waited, but I've already sharpened the blade, so stand back."
  611. >You wait for her to step away, then use your whole body to throw the large scythe around.
  612. >It swings back and then forward in a quick cut over a huge arc, easily five times the size of the old scythe, and with less effort, too.
  613. >Applejack's eyes go wide.
  614. >"Whoa nelly, Anon, that looks great! C'mon, lemme try."
  615. >You lift the scythe off your head and hold it up for her to step into.
  616. >You really try not to touch her as you help her position her head within the loop, but the close proximity makes a few bumps unavoidable.
  617. >Fortunately, Applejack seems distracted and doesn't react.
  618. >In a moment, the scythe is in place, the length adjusted to fit her, and you quickly take several steps back.
  619. >She grips the mouthpiece and you marvel at how easily she swings the scythe left and right, hardly even leaning into the effort.
  620. >"Good gravy, it's so easy to swing! Why I could cut the whole field in a matter o' hours with this puppy."
  621. >She wiggles out from the scythe, it drops to the floor, and suddenly she's standing upright in front of you, her front legs resting on your shoulders, smiling broadly.
  622. >"I know it's yer job and all, but... I just can't tell you how much I appreciate this!"
  623. >She pulls you into a rough hug.
  624. >You awkwardly pat her shoulder and she pulls back, still standing and resting on your shoulders.
  625. >Try as you might, you can't help but glance down at her very exposed body.
  626. >Applejack's tenses, seeming to realize what she's doing, then her ears fold back, she blushes fiercely and steps back, dropping to all fours again.
  627. >"Aw shoot, I'm sorry, Anon. I know... I shouldn't do anything like that."
  628. >She closes her eyes and shudders.
  629. >"Really... shouldn't..."
  630. >She stands there panting for a few seconds before looking at you sharply.
  631. >"I uh, I gotta go talk to Granny!"
  632. >With that, she throws the barn door open and gallops full tilt toward the farm house.
  633. >You move to the open door and watch her go.
  634. >In the field, Big Mac raises his head, looking worried, his powerful voice easily carrying the distance.
  635. >"AJ!? WHAT'S WRONG?"
  636. >"NOTHIN'!"
  637. >She shakes her head as she runs and vanishes into the house.
  638. >Big Mac canters up to you.
  639. >"What--"
  640. "She just... hugged me. Fuck man, she just jumped up and hugged me out of the blue, then got all flustered and galloped away."
  641. >No way in hell you're telling Big Mac what you saw when you glanced down.
  642. >He shakes his head.
  643. >"Must be early. Stay here."
  644. >You stare after him glumly as he trots over to the farm house.
  645. >After what feels like ages, Big Mac trots back in through the barn door.
  646. >"She took her medicine. She'll be fine tomorrow. You're done for today. Good work on the scythe; despite all this, she won't shush 'bout how amazing it is. G'night, Anon."
  647. >He immediately turns and trots away before you can respond.
  648. >You take a few moments to digest your thoughts, then slowly walk down the path off the farm.
  649. >Halfway to the gate, Apple Bloom's little voice calls out from her treehouse.
  650. >"Anon! Hey, where ya goin'?"
  651. "Back home, I'm done for the day."
  652. >"So soon? Ya ain't staying for dinner?"
  653. "No... something's up with Applejack, Big Mac called it a day."
  654. >"Call... called it a day?"
  655. >She whinnies, then gallops over and skids to a stop before you.
  656. >You squat to approach her eye level, something she seems to appreciate.
  657. >"Is she alright!?"
  658. "Yeah, think so. Big Mac didn't seem worried. Said she's on her medicine now and I should go home."
  659. >She relaxes and sits down before you.
  660. >"Ohhh her cycle must be early! Aw hay, that's nothin,' she'll just be grumpy sometimes an' real friendly other times."
  661. >She looks down thoughtfully.
  662. >"Ah hope she ain't too worried 'bout it. This's her first time, y'know."
  663. "Wait, her first--"
  664. >Her head snaps back up to you.
  665. >"Hey! Since yer free now, how 'boutcha come hang out with us?"
  666. >You pause, then ruffle her mane, trying to act more relaxed than you are.
  667. "Sorry Bloom, there's something I gotta go do."
  668. >Her ears droop and she looks up at you with eyes so pitifully sad it's not even fair.
  669. "Aw come on, don't do that to me! I'll hang out another day, I promise."
  670. >She looks down and heaves a little sigh.
  671. >"Oh alright. Ah won't forget ya promised, though!"
  672. ...
  673. >After taking an hour or so to relax and get a hold of your racing thoughts, you head to Twilight's castle.
  674. >As soon as you open the huge doors, you are teleported to her castle library.
  675. >Twilight greets you warmly as you stumble, hand to your head.
  676. >"Anon! Hey, how are you? How is the new job coming? I haven't seen you in at least a fortnite!"
  677. >You give her a lopsided smile as you try to regain your senses.
  678. "Ugh... can't you warn me before teleporting me?"
  679. >She only giggles in response and you sigh.
  680. "...It's been going well, thanks Twi. You'd enjoy coming out and seeing what I've been doing."
  681. >"Oh really?"
  682. "Yeah... since I'm not nearly strong enough for earth pony work, I've been redesigning their tools and machines instead. I've already made the water pusher a lot better to use, and just today I finished a new and improved scythe to harvest the barley."
  683. >"That's great, Anon! I'm so glad you're finally settling in. I was so worried when I saw how much trouble you had making friends in town."
  684. "Yeah... we need to talk about that some time, but uh... right now I wanted to ask you about Applejack."
  685. >She looks to her side and, following her gaze, you realize Applejack is standing just a few feet to your left.
  686. >It's easy to miss your surroundings when you get teleported.
  687. "Oh, uh... hey. How are you feeling?"
  688. >Applejack sighs and lays down.
  689. >"Guess I shoulda just told ya, huh?"
  690. "Told me what?"
  691. >"Now don't be like that, I know full well Big Mac told ya what's going on."
  692. >You grimace.
  693. "Well, he told me a bit. I didn't want to push you after you got so flustered, but I was worried something might be wrong."
  694. >"That's sweet o' you, sugarcube... Twilight, can ya explain? I don't... really want to talk 'bout it."
  695. >Twilight nods and looks back to you.
  696. >"What do you already know?"
  697. "More or less... nothing."
  698. >She beams.
  699. >"Okay! Pony estrus cycle 101, here we go."
  700. >Applejack stands suddenly.
  701. >"Okay, yeah I'm gonna go. I can't sit 'ere an' listen to ya tell Anon about this."
  702. >Twilight pops in front of her as she starts to walk away.
  703. >"But Applejack, you should hear this too."
  704. >Applejack rolls her eyes.
  705. >"C'mon Twilight, I may not be as educated as you, but y'all know as well as I that mares are taught all 'bout the cycle since they're fillies. Just explain to Anon so he knows what to expect. He's still gotta work after all."
  706. >She grimaces.
  707. >"'Sides, I ain't gonna sit here and listen to you explain how my marebits work to a stal-- uh, man. That's just weird."
  708. >Twilight sighs.
  709. >"Oh alright."
  710. >Applejack trots out of the room and as Twilight turns back to you, you ask.
  711. "So wait, why do I even need to know this again?"
  712. >She trots back to her blackboard.
  713. >"Well, this is Applejack's first cycle."
  714. "Apple Bloom mentioned that... I thought AJ was older?"
  715. >She shakes her head.
  716. >"She's several moons younger than Big Mac."
  717. "Alrighty then... still doesn't explain why I need to know."
  718. >One of her ears flick.
  719. >"Well for one, you're probably stuck here for good, so you should really just learn about ponies in general... but I think more importantly, you should learn so you can help Applejack through this."
  720. "Uh... help her?"
  721. >"Well, yeah! This is a tough time for a young mare! She'll need all the support she can get from her friends."
  722. >Her tail swishes and she gently paws at the floor.
  723. >"Obviously the girls and I will help as much as we can, but we have work of our own to do, so we can only be there so much."
  724. >She points a hoof at you and grins.
  725. >" You'll be right there on the farm with her for most of the day, and I know you two have only known each other for a short while, but I hear you're getting along great! You'll be the perfect support!"
  726. >You rub your face, trying not to think about the implications.
  727. "...and why can't her family do this?"
  728. >She rolls her eyes.
  729. >"Well I'm sure they will, but come on, Anon. Granny sleeps most of the day and her other family members are a filly who's too young to even really understand what's happening, and a STALLION, who obviously won't be much help."
  730. "And I suppose a MAN is more help?"
  731. >Her ears flatten and she suddenly gives you a hard glare.
  732. >"Anon, are you looking for an excuse or just being dense?"
  733. >You open your mouth but find no words, taken aback by her sudden bluntness.
  734. >She just waits for a reply, tail swishing in agitation.
  735. >You pause to gather your thoughts, then sigh.
  736. "A bit of both, I guess... I still don't understand why you think I'm such a good choice for her support, but I'm also not exactly thrilled about the idea anyways."
  737. >Her gaze softens and she takes a step toward you, ears turning forward.
  738. >"Anon, if you really don't want to do this, no one's going to make you... but I would like an explanation why."
  739. >You rub the back of your neck.
  740. "It's just... it makes me uncomfortable is all."
  741. >"What's so uncomfortable about it?"
  742. "What's uncomfortable about being around a girl--er, mare that's in heat?"
  743. >She scrunches her muzzle.
  744. >"Anon, you're not a stallion, you're a whole different species. Surely you aren't worried about what I think you're worried about."
  745. >You shrug sheepishly.
  746. "She's... been acting pretty friendly--"
  747. >"Applejack is one of the friendliest ponies I know."
  748. "No it's... uh, I mean, like... little gestures here and there, sly comments muttered under her breath, being... y'know... friendly. Real friendly."
  749. >Twilight pauses thoughtfully, then looks skeptical.
  750. >"Uh... really? Are you sure?"
  751. >Your shoulders slump and you stare at the ground.
  752. "Well, no, of course not, not really. Not like I'm real familiar on the intricate nuances of pony body language."
  753. >Twilight steps closer to you.
  754. >"Look, Anon... I know you're nervous, but I don't think you need to worry about anything like that. At least... not yet."
  755. >You feel the tingle of her magic gently lift your chin so you look back at her.
  756. >"Even if you're right and maybe Applejack really has a crush on you, she's way too cautious to act on something like that less than a month after you just met."
  757. "But her heat--"
  758. >"--is almost entirely controlled by the herbal medicine we take for it. We're not animals, Anon. It's not like mares go into sex-crazed madness and hop on any stallion they can find!"
  759. >She blushes and giggles.
  760. >"I mean, just imagine how messed up pony society would be if we did!"
  761. >You chuckle despite the awkwardness of the situation.
  762. "And without that medicine?"
  763. >Her blush deepens.
  764. >"Well, it's still not that bad, but it can get pretty... distracting."
  765. >She shakes her head and takes a step back.
  766. >"But anyway, we're way off topic."
  767. "Are we?"
  768. >She giggles.
  769. >"Okay, well maybe not... but we ARE way off of my checklist!"
  770. >You groan as a huge scroll floats up from behind her.
  771. >"Pony estrus cycle 101!"
  772.  
  773. ...
  774.  
  775. >The next day on the farm is... weird.
  776. >You can tell Applejack is trying very hard to be normal, but... well, trying to be normal kinda defeats the purpose.
  777. >You're watching her use your new scythe on the barley, taking notes on possible problems or improvements.
  778. >She finishes a row and releases the handle in her mouth, letting the blade hang from her shoulders.
  779. >"Boy howdy, Anon! I'm mighty pleased you're improving our farm tools. I tell ya, this is takin' less'n half as long as usual."
  780. >As she steps up to you, you gesture at the freshly cut barley on the ground.
  781. "How do you collect it afterwards?"
  782. >"With another big ol' rolling machine I'm sure you'll make twice as good."
  783. >She chuckles at your startled look.
  784. >"Not right now, o'course! I know, takes time. Took ya a couple weeks to fix up that water machine."
  785. >You look up at the sky and rub your chin thoughtfully for a moment.
  786. >"You got another idea?"
  787. "More like I remember a video I saw back on earth..."
  788. >You look down at her.
  789. "Think you could pull a cart and swing that scythe at the same time?"
  790. >"Well sure, why?"
  791. "I remember seeing a scythe that had a little tray or bag or something that caught what it was cutting. If I can figure out something like that, you could cut some barley, then just use the scythe to toss it over your shoulder and into the cart."
  792. >She beams at you and gives you a friendly buck on the hip.
  793. >"Ah just knew you had a good idea! Ya always get this look like..."
  794. >She stands up on her hind legs and raises her hoof to her muzzle, obviously trying to imitate your thinking face.
  795. >...Apparently forgetting the scythe is still hooked around her shoulders.
  796. >The blade swings around awkwardly, aimed directly at your leg, and you lurch backward with a yelp.
  797. >Applejack, with a look of horror, tries to bat the scythe away with a foreleg.
  798. >She manages to redirect it and the blade misses you by inches, but the scythe's momentum throws her off balance and she crashes heavily to her back.
  799. >She screams in pain and your imagination immediately fills with ugly images of the blade sinking deep into her body.
  800. "Applejack!"
  801. >She neighs and thrashes wildly, clearly overwhelmed by panic and pain.
  802. >You rush forward, dodging her flailing hooves as best you can.
  803. >...And are intensely relieved to see the blade flat on the ground.
  804. >However, the handle and rope had somehow hooked around her fetlock and twisted it terribly, slamming it into the ground when she fell.
  805. >You hurry to lift the heavy scythe off her leg and slip the whole contraption over her head, tossing it away.
  806. >As soon as the weight is lifted off her leg, she pulls her forelegs to her chest and lays on her back, whimpering, eyes shut tight.
  807. >You kneel beside her and gently touch the side of her head, speaking softly.
  808. "Hey, Applejack, shh, it's alright, you're okay."
  809. >She looks up at you for a moment, then closes her eyes again and presses her cheek into your palm.
  810. >You stay like that for a minute, gently stroking her muzzle with your thumb as her breathing slows.
  811. >Finally, she opens her eyes again and you slowly move your hand to her injured hoof.
  812. >She whimpers a bit but doesn't resist as you carefully take her hoof in one hand, pressing gently on her fetlock with the other.
  813. >She immediately gasps in pain and you click your tongue.
  814. "Oh man... I'm no doctor but I'd say that's one hell of a sprain, might even be broken."
  815. >Still lying on her back, her head falls back to the ground and she groans loudly.
  816. >"Oh... what they hay are we gonna do now? I got way too many chores for this!"
  817. >You point at the sharp blade of the scythe.
  818. "Hey, it coulda been a whole lot worse."
  819. >She lifts her head to follow your gesture, then nickers agreement.
  820. >You sigh.
  821. "I'll go get Big Mac."
  822. >She stops you with her good hoof on your thigh as you start to stand.
  823. >"No... no, if he didn't hear my scream an' come gallopin' already, he's too far away to bother. I just need to get to the farmhouse. It ain't far anyhow."
  824. >You scoot back a bit as she rolls toward you onto her side and tries to stand on her good forehoof.
  825. >As she stands, you continue holding her injured foreleg, supporting her at the knee.
  826. >She snorts and wiggles her injured leg free and leans on it carefully, only to immediately cry out and pull her foreleg up close to her chest.
  827. >You grab it again.
  828. "Easy now. C'mon, let's get to the farmhouse."
  829. >She groans.
  830. >"Ponyfeathers... ya ain't gotta baby me like this!"
  831. "Hush. I ain't babying you, you're injured and probably couldn't even walk by yourself. Come on, move."
  832. >You pull her forward by her knee and she reluctantly takes a step forward, muttering under her breath.
  833. >"...be hay to pay if you tell anypony..."
  834. >You lightly flick her ear with a finger and it flicks back at you.
  835. "Quit your moping and walk."
  836. >You straighten up as she starts to walk.
  837. >As it turns out, Applejack is just the right height for you to stand fully upright and hold her foreleg at the knee with your arm just hanging straight.
  838. >After a few paces, you look down at Applejack, intending to ask how she's doing.
  839. >Instead, you notice how you two look.
  840. >You're walking normally, she's walking... mostly normally on three legs, her foreleg is in your hand, her head is turned slightly away, and her ears are back like she's embarrassed.
  841. "Uh..."
  842. >An ear swivels toward you.
  843. "Walking like this looks pretty uh..."
  844. >You trail off, but you guess she got your point from the way her ears flatten.
  845. >"Let's just go."
  846. >You couldn't see her blush before, but now it's spread all the way up her face and down the side of her muzzle.
  847. >Trying to spare your new friend some of her dignity, you distract her with a question.
  848. "Ok, so if I'm right and you won't be able to work for bit while this heals... is there anything I can do to help around the farm?"
  849. >Her ears perk up as she thinks.
  850. >"Well... not much, honestly. Everything comin' up is hard pony work: pullin' plows, buckin' trees, movin' carts around... Y'all can help Apple Bloom harvest the carrots but I was always gonna have ya do that, this don't change nothin'."
  851. >She sighs heavily.
  852. >"I... I guess you'll mostly be helpin' me recover. Granny, Big Mac, and Apple Bloom'll all be too busy pickin' up my slack to help me much."
  853. >You both continue walking in silence until you reach the farmhouse.
  854. >Granny Smith, awake for once, sees you enter and winks at Applejack.
  855. >"Wayyyyll now, ah thought y'all mighta hit it off, but if'n y'ain't gone an' caught him in near half the time ah thought!"
  856. >You jerk your hand open and she pulls her hoof to her chest.
  857. "Wha- but, no, it's..."
  858. >Your ears start burning and Applejack sighs.
  859. >"Gosh darnit, Granny, no! I told ya we ain't nothin' like that. I just went and hurt myself, Anon was helping me get back here."
  860. >Granny winks again.
  861. >"Y'ain't never been one for takin' help like that from nopony else!"
  862. >Applejack groans and starts to reply but Granny cuts her off and steps closer.
  863. >"Hush an' lemme see that there hoof."
  864. >Applejack tentatively extends her hoof and Granny supports it gently without pressing on the joint, mumbling as she twists her head to look at it from all angles.
  865. >"Can ya move it? Twist yer fetlock 'round much as ya can without hurtin'."
  866. >Applejack winces in pain as her hoof barely wiggles.
  867. >Granny steps back and nods.
  868. >"Alright, I'll go find Big Mac an' have 'im fetch a medical pony."
  869. >She turns to you.
  870. >"Anon dearie, if'n ya don't mind, help Applejack up the stairs an' into bed please?"
  871. >Applejack snorts.
  872. >"Ah don't need no help into bed!"
  873. >Granny smirks.
  874. >"Ah bet you'd like Anon's help jus' the same!"
  875. >Your ears must be on fire by now.
  876. >Cutting off another indignant reply, Granny continues.
  877. >"'Sides, ah mostly meant the stairs; y'ain't gettin' up them all on yer lonesome! Anon, help 'er up to 'er bedroom, if'n it pleases you."
  878. >Applejack grumbles but lifts her hoof for you to hold again.
  879. >As Granny trots out the front door, you and Applejack turn towards the stairs.
  880. >Halfway up, AJ lets out a little whinny.
  881. >"Tartarus... ah hate bein' babied like this an' I ain't got a darn choice 'til I heal."
  882. >You chuckle and tug her leg to get her to take another step.
  883. "Ah, quit yer whining, you'll be fine."
  884. >She gives you an indignant neigh and bumps your hip with her shoulder.
  885. >"I sure as hay could get up these stairs without help."
  886. "Yeah probably, but it'd be difficult and risky. If you slipped and landed on your bad hoof you could hurt it even worse. No point taking such a risk when I'm right here to help you."
  887. >She doesn't have a response to that and you continue to her room in silence.
  888. >Her room is mostly empty, with ropes coiled on the wall and a small reading niche where a cushion is sitting on the floor.
  889. >Her bed is just to the right of the door near the window with a cute little end table between it and the wall.
  890. >Despite her earlier protests, she doesn't react as you step up to the bed and half-support, half-lift her into bed.
  891. >She's surprisingly light for being more than half your height.
  892. >She pulls the blanket up to her neck and averts her eyes.
  893. >You consider offering to take her hat, then decide not to even risk it.
  894. "How do you feel? You want something to eat or drink, an extra pillow, anything?"
  895. >"Nah, I'm... fine."
  896. >You take a step back.
  897. "Alright... guess I'll see you tomorrow."
  898. >She nods and you turn to leave, but as you walk away, you hear her mutter quietly.
  899. >"Thanks."
  900. >You look back and see her on her laying on her side, facing away, her ears folded down.
  901. >Even if she can't see, you can't help but smile.
  902. "'Course, AJ. I'm happy to help you."
  903.  
  904. ...
  905.  
  906. >You jolt awake to a loud banging.
  907. >An old fear of being terrorized by your siblings seizes your heart and you scramble out of bed.
  908. >You stumble in the dark and slam your elbow into the end table.
  909. "Ah fuck! Ugh... wha-who izzit? Whatrya doin?"
  910. >You hear a muffled filly's voice.
  911. >"Anon? Ah heard a bang, y'all okay?"
  912. >You take a deep breath and try to calm your racing heart.
  913. >It's just Apple Bloom.
  914. >Not your shithead father or bitch of a sister... or that asshole Kevin.
  915. >You shout as you struggle into some pants.
  916. "Ugh... I'm alright! Just... not a morning person. D'you have to knock so loud?"
  917. >You can barely hear her reply.
  918. >"Well, 'course ah tried knockin' quiet first. Ain't my fault ya sleep like a rock."
  919. >You heave a great yawn and stretch, then open your bedroom door and call out.
  920. "What... time izzit anyways?"
  921. >As you approach your front door, you hear her mutter.
  922. >"Too darn early."
  923. >You open the door and rub the sleep from your eyes.
  924. "Agreed... why're you here, then?"
  925. >"With Applejack injured, we got way too much work t'do. Me n' Big Mac got up early to start workin'."
  926. >Apple Bloom sighs and you grimace.
  927. "Man, there's that much, huh? So you came out here to bring me to work?"
  928. >She shakes her head.
  929. >"Nah, we need ya to come take care of AJ all day. We don't wanna keep havin' to stop workin' to help 'er up the stairs an' such. Granny's takin' the early train to Appaloosa to try'n get some help so hopefully it'll be sorta back to normal soon, but for now we gotta work our tails off."
  930. >You sigh.
  931. "Alright, I'll be ready in a few minutes. Wanna wait inside?"
  932. >She nods and you return to your bedroom, closing the door behind you.
  933. ...
  934. >Apple Bloom was back to being quiet on the way back to the farm.
  935. >Well, maybe she's just sleepy.
  936. >Either way, you really want her to be comfortable around you, so you try to think of another question to get her to open up.
  937. "So... got any plans for after your chores today?"
  938. >She looks up at you for a second, then her ears droop.
  939. >"Not really... Mac n' I'll prolly be workin' till after sundown today, an' I'll likely be pickin' up some o' the heavier work ah don't usually do, so I'll prolly be exhausted."
  940. "What about school?"
  941. >She grimaces.
  942. >"Well, Granny said she's gonna talk to Ms. Cheerilee, so... guess ah ain't goin'."
  943. "Isn't that a good thing? I thought kids - er, foals love getting out of school."
  944. >She scoffs.
  945. >"Well yeah, but not t'do hard work all day!"
  946. "Ah yeah, I guess you got a point."
  947. >You chuckle, then reach down and rub behind her ear.
  948. "Listen, I'm sure helping AJ won't take all my time. You come get me if there's anything I can do to help. Make sure Big Mac knows too. I'll do everything I can to help make this right."
  949. >Your face turns sour.
  950. "This is all my fault, after all."
  951. >She looks up at you and veers away slightly, "What? It's yer fault AJ got hurt? What'd ya do!?"
  952. >You sigh.
  953. "My newest tool, that scythe. I designed it poorly, and when AJ moved wrong it swung unexpectedly and nearly chopped my leg off."
  954. >Apple Bloom gasps and you continue.
  955. "She panicked and flailed to get the blade away from me, which worked, but her flailing made it swing around, catch her foreleg, and slam her to the ground."
  956. >You stop walking and rub your neck, not meeting Apple Bloom's eyes.
  957. "It coulda been a whole lot worse. AJ could have easily fallen on the blade instead of the handle."
  958. >You sigh heavily.
  959. "I have to do better. I can't let this happen again."
  960. >Her small body suddenly thumps into your leg, startling you, and you look down at the little filly hugging you tightly.
  961. >"Anon... ya can't beat yerself up like that. Ah know it's hard, but everypony makes mistakes sometimes an' everythin' turned out alright in the end. It ain't yer fault an' ah know you'll do better next time."
  962. >You look away again, scowling.
  963. "Fuc-- Darn it, Bloom, don't you get it? My mistake almost killed your sister!"
  964. >She only hugs your leg tighter.
  965. >"But ya didn't! It's alright, Anon!"
  966. >You slump, shake your head and repeat.
  967. "I must do better. This can't happen again."
  968. >You open your eyes and see her enormous eyes looking up at you, glistening in the moonlight.
  969. >...Man, that pitiful stare should be illegal.
  970. >You cave instantly, unable to bear seeing her so miserable.
  971. >You squat, pull her up onto your knee and hug her back.
  972. >She buries her fuzzy snoot in your neck, resting her head on your shoulder and murmurs, "You'll be alright, Anon. Ya ain't a bad person just cause ya made one mistake."
  973. >You try to wrest control of your emotions as you stroke her mane.
  974. >Honestly you still feel like shit, but you do feel better for having voiced what had troubled all night.
  975. >You take a deep breath and swallow the lump in your throat.
  976. "Thanks, Apple Bloom. I... I needed that."
  977. >You pull back and look into those big sad eyes.
  978. "You're pretty good at this counseling stuff, y'know."
  979. >She smiles and sniffs, and you rub a tear from the corner of her eye.
  980. "I'm sorry for making you upset. I feel a lot better now."
  981. >She boops your nose with a hoof.
  982. >"Just promise me ya ain't gonna beat yerself up over this."
  983. >You sigh.
  984. "I've always been bad about doing exactly that... but I'll try."
  985. >She shakes her head rapidly.
  986. >"Nuh uh! Promise, Anon!"
  987. >When you don't respond, she latches onto your neck again.
  988. >"Ah ain't lettin' go 'til ya promise!"
  989. >You stand up and she hangs off your neck, letting out a little shriek as your supporting knee drops from under her.
  990. >She squeaks as her hind hooves scramble against your belly and her tail waves wildly.
  991. >"Hey, no fair!"
  992. >You swing an arm under her, folding her tail under her rump and supporting her weight on your forearm, then you start walking, chuckling.
  993. >A bit to your surprise, Apple Bloom stays like that as you walk, her fetlocks hooked around your neck, the side of her head pressed against your collar under your chin, and her hind hooves pressing lightly into your belly.
  994. >You continue walking in silence, just stroking the back of her head.
  995. ...
  996. >As you enter the farm, Apple Bloom finally releases your neck, twists around, and drops nimbly to the ground.
  997. >"Ah better find Big Mac an' get to work. Applejack's still in 'er room. Ah oughta see ya at dinner tonight, right?"
  998. >You smile and nod, so she canters away through the rows of crops.
  999. >While you walk up to the farmhouse, the moon smoothly lowers into the horizon and the sun rapidly rises to replace it.
  1000. >You're still weirded out by that sudden change from night to day here.
  1001. >Squinting hard against the abruptly sunny day, you open the farmhouse door, step inside and call out.
  1002. "Hey, Applejack? You there?"
  1003. >No response, so you you sneak up the stairs and gently knock on her bedroom door.
  1004. "Applejack?"
  1005. >You hear a groan and rustle, then a mumble for you to come in.
  1006. >You enter and see she had kicked the blanket mostly off and her injured hoof is now thoroughly wrapped in a cast up to just below her knee, holding her fetlock slightly bent.
  1007. >Her hat is hanging on the wall nearby and you realize this is the first time you've ever seen her without it.
  1008. >She looks... incomplete.
  1009. >Ignoring that, you kneel at the side of her bed and mutter.
  1010. "So, what did the medical pony say about your hoof?"
  1011. >She opens one eye at you, then rolls it and closes it again.
  1012. >"Hairline fracture in the cannon an' one hay of a sprain in the fetlock. Doc says I oughta be able to walk on it in a day or two when the fetlock's swelling goes down, but I can't trot or buck or do darn near anythin' till the fracture heals."
  1013. "So how do you feel?"
  1014. >She groans and pushes herself up onto her... elbow? Her foreleg's knee?
  1015. >Who'd have guessed horse biology would be so important in your future.
  1016. >"Bored as hay."
  1017. >You raise an eyebrow.
  1018. "But you just woke up. How're you so bored already?"
  1019. >She scoffs.
  1020. >"I been bored ever since I laid down in this apple-rotting bed yesterday. I ain't got up 'cept to relieve myself and eat, an' I needed Mac's help for both."
  1021. >Her ears droop and she closes her eyes.
  1022. >"Never felt so ashamed an' embarrassed."
  1023. >You grimace and lay a hand on her good hoof.
  1024. "AJ, please don't feel bad. This is all my fault."
  1025. >"What?"
  1026. >Her eyes snap open and she sits up and glares at you.
  1027. >"How the hay is it your fault I tried dancin' with a buckin' blade strapped to my chest an' darn near cut your leg off?"
  1028. >You groan and rub your face.
  1029. "If I had designed the scythe better, this never would have happened."
  1030. >"Oh ponyfeathers, your scythe is great, Anon. It ain't your fault I was bein' foalish with it."
  1031. "You could have died, AJ! If that scythe had twisted just a little more as you fell..."
  1032. >She tsks and reaches over, setting a hoof on your cheek and turning your head to meet hers.
  1033. >She doesn't say anything, just stares intensely into your eyes.
  1034. >You immediately feel awkward and try to avert your gaze, but she twitches her hoof on your cheek to draw your attention back to her, so you just sit there, staring into her big green eyes.
  1035. >Eventually, she taps your cheek and smiles.
  1036. >"Anon... I know this is tearin' ya up inside, but ya gotta forgive yourself. It ain't your fault, really. That scythe has gotta be dangerous - if you'd tried to make it perfectly safe, you'd'a just made a scythe that didn't work."
  1037. >Still pressing your cheek with her hoof, she leans even closer, her expression earnest.
  1038. >"Your scythe really is great, promise. It's my own darn fault for bein' a dumb foal an' messin' around while wearin' such a dangerous tool. I been 'round plenty o' dangerous equipment an' I shoulda known better."
  1039. >She closes her eyes and presses her forehead against yours.
  1040. >"Please Anon, I ain't just sayin' this to make ya feel better... I'm the element of honesty for Celestia's sake. I just hate to see ya beat yourself up over somethin' that I know ain't your fault."
  1041. >You close your eyes, sigh, and try to calm your racing thoughts, taking comfort in the gentle touch of her fuzzy head and hoof.
  1042. >After a moment, you pull back and meet her gaze.
  1043. "You're right, of course. I just... When you fell and cried out, I was so scared it was the blade that got you.
  1044. >You close your eyes and shudder.
  1045. "All I could imagine was Big Mac and Apple Bloom standing over your dead body... blaming me..."
  1046. >You take a long, slow breath.
  1047. >Just as you open your eyes, Applejack leans forward and boops your nose with her muzzle.
  1048. >You jerk back slightly, surprised.
  1049. >Applejack blushes, leans back and looks down.
  1050. >"Just... please don't blame yourself, Anon. I can't stand seein' ya hurt from the inside like that."
  1051. >You've no idea how serious of a gesture that muzzle boop is in pony culture...
  1052. >You decide to just chalk that up to her heat and try not to overthink it.
  1053. "Alright AJ, I'll try. Just for you."
  1054. >Still blushing, Applejack looks back at you.
  1055. >"I, uh... It's nice ya care so much, but we been talkin' about this too long. I gotta get downstairs and, uh... take care of a few things."
  1056. >You nod and smile awkwardly, extending a hand to help her out of bed.
  1057. ...
  1058. >The few things turned out to be taking her daily dose of herbal medicine for her heat - which looks like a murky brown tea - then going down to the river to... relieve herself.
  1059. >Thankfully she doesn't need help to stand in one place, sit in the water to rinse off, and stand back up, so once you had walked her over there, you were able to walk away and save both of you the embarrassment of you being present for that.
  1060. >Honestly though, you were a bit curious. You'd noticed long ago most pony homes don't have bathrooms.
  1061. >Is that what the river running through Ponyville is used for?
  1062. >...You make a mental note to never bathe downstream.
  1063. >Applejack calls out, so you step out from behind the tree and walk back toward the river.
  1064. >She hobbles toward you on her three good legs, but just as you come near, her good forehoof catches on a rock and she stumbles with a yelp.
  1065. >You lunge forward and grab her around the chest, supporting her weight as she instinctively reaches out with her injured hoof.
  1066. >She sits heavily and shouts.
  1067. >"Buckin' Tartarus, ah can't do nothin' myself!"
  1068. >She neighs angrily and shakes her head in frustration, flicking your face with her mane.
  1069. >You slowly release her as she settles on her good hoof and brush her mane out of your face.
  1070. "C'mon, girl... it's only for a day or two. Let's get to the barn. Maybe you can't work but you can still think. Let's work on improving another tool."
  1071. >She mutters something and stands up, holding her cast up for you to grab.
  1072.  
  1073. ...
  1074.  
  1075. >The day was frustrating for both of you.
  1076. >You must have drawn up fifty different designs for a dozen different machines and threw each of them away.
  1077. >Every time, you gave AJ some excuse about structural support or having a better idea or some random engineer-ish jargon you threw together to try and sound like you knew what you were doing.
  1078. >But really, you just kept imagining how each machine could hurt Applejack.
  1079. >Meanwhile, she kept fidgeting with various stuff around the barn, hobbling around and messing with this or that, then eventually tossing it away in disgust.
  1080. >She would often come back to you and sit heavily beside you, sighing loudly.
  1081. >You'd try and make conversation from time to time, but she was in such a sour mood it never went very well.
  1082. >Finally, her ears perk up and she turns her head.
  1083. >"Anon... I think I hear Granny!"
  1084. >You turn away from your latest hypothetical AJ-killing machine and try to grin.
  1085. "Alright! Let's see who she brought to help."
  1086. >You grab her cast as you stand and you both hurry outside.
  1087. >You see Granny walking toward the farmhouse.
  1088. >...and only Granny.
  1089. >You get a sinking feeling in your gut as Applejack calls out.
  1090. >"Hey Granny! How'd it go?"
  1091. >Granny turns and scowls.
  1092. >"Nopony! There ain't nopony! Them hay-brained appleworms 'parently can't even spare one Tartarus-lovin' pony t'help out. Whole darn town o'Apples an' not a one o'them can be spared to help m'little farm 'ere!"
  1093. >She stomps a hoof and snorts.
  1094. >"Weeell we'll see if'n any of 'em can make it over 'ere next family reunion! Why, if ah see even a one o'them, they'll be turnin' tail an' gallopin' away 'fore ah got halfway through what ah gotta say t'them buckin' selfish lil--"
  1095. >Applejack, shocked by Granny's vehemence, finally finds her voice and sharply cuts off Granny's rant.
  1096. >"Granny Smith! Good gravy, what's gotten into you? I ain't never heard ya say such awful things!"
  1097. >The old mare snorts and turns to walk away.
  1098. >Applejack looks to you.
  1099. >"Go find Mac an' Bloom. I'm thinkin' the whole family needs a talk, an' I'll be darned if I can't walk this short a way myself."
  1100. >You nod and release her cast, watching as she carefully waddles a few steps on three hooves.
  1101. >She seems to have learned her lesson at the river and is watching her forehoof's placement very carefully.
  1102. >She's incredibly slow, but at least she's capable of short distances alone.
  1103. >Satisfied, you hurry up the nearest little hill.
  1104. >Sure enough, from your heightened vantage point you spot the bright red of Big Mac's coat and Apple Bloom's points in a distant field.
  1105. >You jog over and both their heads turn to face you, immediately worried.
  1106. >Panting lightly as you slow to a walk, you quickly reassure them, knowing they'd immediately assume something happened.
  1107. "Don't worry, AJ's fine."
  1108. >They relax visibly.
  1109. "Granny's back from Appaloosa but it seems something went wrong, she's downright furious. AJ sent me to find you two, said the whole family needed to talk."
  1110. >Big Mac nods, deftly unhooks the cart he was hauling and immediately canters away.
  1111. >You and Apple Bloom follow but he easily outpaces you jogging and her in a full gallop.
  1112. >Soon you're both panting heavily and have to slow to a walk long before you return to the farmhouse.
  1113. >You hear muffled raised voices and gesture for Apple Bloom to stop.
  1114. "So uh... I know she said the whole family needed to talk, but now that I think about it, you might wanna keep away for now."
  1115. >Her tail lashes angrily.
  1116. >"What, why? I'm family too!"
  1117. >You grimace.
  1118. "I know, but... Granny was using some, uh... real colorful language earlier. From the sound of things, she hasn't calmed down yet."
  1119. >The filly snorts and looks like arguing, then stops and thinks for a few seconds, listening to the muffled shouts.
  1120. >Finally, her ears droop.
  1121. >"Oh, ah 'spose yer right. Ah prolly couldn't help much anyhow."
  1122. "And I'm not even family, so I'd probably just be intruding."
  1123. >Both of you wince at a particularly loud shout from Applejack.
  1124. >You take a step back and Apple Bloom turns to follow.
  1125. >"So... what'll we do?"
  1126. "I dunno... any chores I can help with?"
  1127. >She shakes her head.
  1128. >"Nothin' ah can do without Big Mac's help. He'd have to at least show ya what t'do."
  1129. >The shouting fades behind you as you slowly walk down the farm trail.
  1130. "I guess technically that means you don't have any chores."
  1131. >"Yeah..."
  1132. >You walk over to a nearby stump and sit down. Apple Bloom sits nearby, seeming uncomfortable.
  1133. "And you said you don't have to go to school either, so I guess you have some free time until they sort out whatever they're sorting out."
  1134. >"'Spose so."
  1135. >She just sits there, staring at the ground.
  1136. "Figured you'd be more excited."
  1137. >She shrugs her shoulders without looking up.
  1138. >"Ain't much for me to do without Scoots an' Sweetie. They're still in school."
  1139. >You wait silently. Not sure why, but you get the feeling she has more to say.
  1140. >Sure enough, after a moment she paws at the ground awkwardly.
  1141. >"Ah learned that the hard way after we got our cutie marks."
  1142. "...You wanna talk about it?"
  1143. >She glances at you out of the corner of her eye.
  1144. >"Um... nah. Hit me pretty hard back then, but the three of us talked it out an' ah don't feel so bad 'bout it anymore."
  1145. >She's obviously still uncomfortable, so you chuckle softly.
  1146. "You sure about that?"
  1147. >Her ears droop and she breaks away from your gaze.
  1148. >You scoot off the tree trunk, sit cross legged right next to her, and rub gently behind her ear.
  1149. "Look, Apple Bloom, it's alright if you still feel bad about it and you just don't want to talk about it, I won't pry..."
  1150. >You hook her chin with a finger and gently turn her gaze back to you.
  1151. "But don't lie to yourself and pretend you're okay when you're really not. Bottle up bad feelings like that and eventually the bottle will just break and you'll explode with all that pent up emotion. It's best to just let it out when the feelings happen."
  1152. >Apple Bloom tries to sigh, feigning casual interest, but her breath catches in her throat.
  1153. "Really, if you don't want to talk about, just say so and I won't ask, I promise..."
  1154. >She yelps in surprise as you snatch her up in your arms.
  1155. "But I'm still gonna give you a great big hug."
  1156. >You place her in your lap, wrap an arm around her tiny body, and press her close to you.
  1157. >She immediately twists around to face you, buries her head in her forelegs against your chest, and begins crying softly.
  1158. >You just hold her silently, stroking her mane and waiting for her to either say something or cry herself out.
  1159. >Her gentle sobs do eventually fade, but she doesn't break the embrace, so you just sit there and continue stroking her mane.
  1160. ...
  1161. >Some time later, it is like this that Big Mac finds you.
  1162. >He walks up so silently you'd never have even noticed if you didn't by chance happen to be facing the right direction.
  1163. >Even Apple Bloom, with her more sensitive pony hearing, doesn't seem to have heard him approach.
  1164. >He stops as soon as he sees you two and your eyes meet.
  1165. >His expression is odd... a bit happy, a bit sad, a bit concerned.
  1166. >Worried he might turn and leave, you make a small gesture with your free hand for him to approach.
  1167. >You look down at Apple Bloom and realize she actually fell asleep.
  1168. >Very carefully, you shift her around and slowly stand up, trying not to wake her.
  1169. >Big Mac walks up and you whisper in response to his questioning look.
  1170. "We agreed probably neither of us should intrude on your, uh... discussion. She realized she had some free time but apparently feels she has nothing to do without the other crusaders. She didn't explain further but she looked terrible, so I talked to her a bit, gave her a hug... then she broke down crying and I just held her 'til she fell asleep like this."
  1171. >Big Mac nods.
  1172. >"Thanks. Come on back, I'll go on ahead."
  1173. >He turns and walks away silently, accelerating as he gets some distance between you so the sound of his trotting doesn't disturb the sleeping filly.
  1174. >After a moment, you walk after him, stepping as gently as possible.
  1175. ...
  1176. >When you arrive at the farmhouse, Applejack is standing outside on her good hoof waiting for you.
  1177. >She sighs and lets out a little "Aww" at Apple Bloom's tiny form curled against your chest, but whispers once you get close enough.
  1178. >"Cute as she might be, we can't let 'er sleep."
  1179. "Why not?"
  1180. >She grimaces.
  1181. >"No help from Appaloosa... an' way too much work to be done 'round here."
  1182. >You look down at Apple Bloom.
  1183. "I don't think she was that sleepy, she just cried herself to sleep. She ought to be fine."
  1184. >"Big Mac told me what happened. We really gotta find that filly somethin' to do outside o' the farm."
  1185. >You nod, then look down and stroke Apple Bloom's mane, muttering.
  1186. "Apple Bloom? Come on, wake up."
  1187. >She stirs slightly and you tickle her ear, making it flick.
  1188. >A few more flicks and she opens an eye at you.
  1189. >"Quit it, 'non..."
  1190. "Sorry girl, but you gotta wake up. Your sister's cracking the whip, time for more work."
  1191. >Applejack whinnies in mock outrage.
  1192. >"Crackin' the whip? I'll show you crackin' the whip!"
  1193. >You wink at her and kneel to set Apple Bloom down, who gives you a little nicker, then stretches with a high pitched squeak.
  1194. >You stand and give Applejack a sly grin, noticing her faint blush, then change the subject.
  1195. "Alright, so what's going on?"
  1196. >Applejack sighs heavily.
  1197. >"Apparently Appaloosa is too busy to spare even one pony to help. Some big festival for the princess or somethin', I dunno. Granny didn't wanna talk much."
  1198. >She shakes her head sadly.
  1199. >"So we got too much work, not enough hooves, an' Big Mac's the only one who can do any heavy lifting. There just ain't no way we're gettin' everything done in time, so some of our crops'll over ripen... some might even die."
  1200. "Can we ask anyon--er, anypony from town help?"
  1201. >She shrugs her shoulders.
  1202. >"Maybe with simple stuff, but unless anypony is gonna help full time and stop whatever they normally do, we just can't waste the time teachin' them to do any more'n hauling carts around."
  1203. "But can't we have Twilight or some other unicorn help with magic?"
  1204. >"Nah, not really. Twilight helped once before, but that was just for a couple hours. This'd take days, maybe even weeks of constant work. I'm sure Twilight'd help if I asked, but she's way too busy for how much work we got."
  1205. >She shakes her head.
  1206. >"And ain't no way I'm trustin' nopony else to use magic 'round here. Gotta be gentle with these apples to get our kinda quality. Nopony else has Twilight's fine touch."
  1207. "I thought her student was just as good? Starlight something?"
  1208. >Applejack snorts and Apple Bloom giggles beside you.
  1209. "What?"
  1210. >"Starlight Glimmer sure is powerful an' talented, but she's about as gentle as a Yak. I'd sooner have Rarity fussin' over my trees than her."
  1211. >You shrug in defeat.
  1212. "Alright, then... what can I do to help?"
  1213. >"Well, in a bit you'll head on over to the main orchard an' help Big Mac. He'll give you instructions but honestly you'll probably just be carryin' baskets back n' forth. Apple Bloom, head on over the carrot field an' help Granny harvest."
  1214. >Apple Bloom nods and trots off.
  1215. "And you?"
  1216. >Applejack's ears droop.
  1217. >"An' I'm gonna lay in bed after ya help me up the stairs an' try not to die o' boredom."
  1218. >You open your mouth but she cuts you off.
  1219. >"An' don't you apologize, I told ya it ain't your fault."
  1220. >You close your mouth and slump, holding out your hand for her foreleg.
  1221. >Inside, you start helping her up the stairs and Applejack nickers quietly.
  1222. >"It ain't all bad. Couple o' the girls are comin' by later. Twilight's gonna bring some books she thinks I might like."
  1223. "Oh, you read much?"
  1224. >"Nah, not really... I gotta few books in my room, but I usually ain't got the time. 'Course, now I got nothin' but time, so figured I'd give it a shot."
  1225. "...I just had a thought: Aren't there some kind of healing spells or something?"
  1226. >Applejack pushes her bedroom door open.
  1227. >"Oh there are... they're just expensive as hay."
  1228. "Twilight can't do them?"
  1229. >You help her hop up into bed.
  1230. >"Nah... I don't know the details, but apparently they're so difficult it takes years o' study at a school in Manehatten that focuses on just medical spells to get good enough to risk using 'em on ponies."
  1231. "Ah... so they're expensive cause hardly anypony has the skill?"
  1232. >"Exactly. Payin' a Medicorn to travel--"
  1233. "Medicorn?"
  1234. >"Medical Unicorn, trained for years in Manehatten like I was sayin'... Gettin' a normal Manehatten-ite to travel to this 'quaint' little village is already a pain cause they're so darn snooty, so the rates Medicorns ask for comin' out 'ere are just absurd."
  1235. >She shakes her head in disgust.
  1236. >"Hay, we could hire somepony full time for the next two weeks while I heal then fire 'em with full compensation afterwards, an' it'd probably STILL be cheaper than a buckin' Medicorn."
  1237. "Wow... we had shit like that back on Earth but I never expected it here."
  1238. >Applejack starts to ask a question, then stops herself and her ears droop.
  1239. >"Much as I'd love ya to stay an' keep me... uh, from gettin' bored, y'all should really go an' help Mac."
  1240. >You grimace.
  1241. "Alright... you want anything before I go?"
  1242. >She mumbles something.
  1243. "What was that?"
  1244. >"Uh... nothin'."
  1245. >You wait a moment more, then shrug.
  1246. "Well then... I'll see you tonight at dinner."
  1247. ...
  1248. >You find Big Mac near a cart filled with baskets in the middle of a dense section of the orchard.
  1249. >As you approach, you watch him grab an empty basket, position it near a tree, buck the tree, and hurriedly try and grab the basket to catch the falling apples.
  1250. >He isn't quite quick enough, misses several and has to set the basket down to toss them in the basket.
  1251. >As he turns to another tree, he notices you approaching.
  1252. >"Wondered when you'd show up."
  1253. >You wince.
  1254. "Sorry man... Applejack was desperate to stave off the boredom, but eventually shoved me out."
  1255. >He shrugs his shoulders.
  1256. >"'Sokay. See what I was doin'?"
  1257. "Yeah. Grab an empty basket, catch the falling apples. I'm guessing each basket fits a few trees' worth of apples, then take the full basket back to the cart and swap with another empty basket?"
  1258. >"Eyup."
  1259. >You pick up the basket he started.
  1260. "I'll do my best... but please remember, I don't have earth pony strength or endurance. To be honest, I wouldn't even be considered very fit for a human back home..."
  1261. >You sigh.
  1262. "Point is, I'm sorry if I'm too slow or have to stop for breaks."
  1263. >He nods.
  1264. "Well, I guess let's go."
  1265. ...
  1266. >Turns out it wasn't as difficult as you worried.
  1267. >You've no idea how, but when he bucks a tree, somehow all the apples fall down roughly from one spot among the leaves, making it easy to catch in the basket.
  1268. >Even watching an apple on the other side of the tree doesn't give any answers. It seems to just shake off it's branch directly toward the same place all the other apples go.
  1269. >You suspect some magic is being used on the farm after all.
  1270. >What this means for you is the hardest part of the job is carrying the full baskets back to the cart.
  1271. >You do miss apples occasionally, but with your 'nimble monkey hands,' you collect the fallen apples quickly and easily.
  1272. >You know Big Mac doesn't like to talk too much, so you just work in companionable silence for a while.
  1273. >However, as the trees go on and on, you find yourself getting increasingly bored.
  1274. >You keep trying to think of something to ask Big Mac, but nothing seems important enough that he'd say more than five words.
  1275. >Besides, you keep having to step away to change baskets, so any conversation would be interrupted every couple minutes anyways.
  1276. >So you just continue working in silence and wind up lost in your thoughts.
  1277. >It's only when you set down your latest full basket that you realize Big Mac followed you to the cart instead of getting ready at the next tree to buck.
  1278. "What's up?"
  1279. >He walks around you to the front of the cart and hooks himself in.
  1280. >"Cart's full."
  1281. "Oh."
  1282. >You fall in step beside him and turn back and look at the cart.
  1283. >Each basket was heavy enough you struggled to carry it twenty feet back to the cart, yet Big Mac is casually hauling a cart with at least two dozen baskets like he's taking a leisurely walk through the park.
  1284. >You're thinking of asking him just how much weight he can really pull when he surprises you by talking first.
  1285. >"Listen, Anon. Y'know I ain't much for talkin' or expressin' my feelings... but well, I got a bit of talkin' to do, so bear with me here."
  1286. >You suddenly feel very worried.
  1287. "Alright, I'm listening... Is something wrong?"
  1288. >He shakes his head.
  1289. >"Nope. Just the opposite: wanted to say I appreciate whatever ya been doin' with Apple Bloom."
  1290. >You don't know what you were expecting, but it wasn't that.
  1291. "...Huh? Really?"
  1292. >"Eyup. Like I said a while back, Apple Bloom was too young to remember our parents, so I'm the only stallion she's ever spent real time with, an' well... I ain't exactly great with foals."
  1293. >He sighs heavily, still walking like he hasn't even noticed the thousand fucking pounds of apples hanging from his shoulders.
  1294. >"Now I don't know what you're really tryin' to do with Apple Bloom... but it looks to me like you're bein' a darn good substitute for a father figure."
  1295. >He looks away uncomfortably.
  1296. >"She could never see me as anythin' more'n her big brother... an' while I can't say I don't wish it was me 'stead o' you... well, I'm glad she's finally got someone like that in her life."
  1297. >Unexpected emotion wells in your chest and you find yourself at a loss for words.
  1298. >When you don't respond, Big Mac looks back to you curiously.
  1299. >Still speechless, you just give him a little smile.
  1300. >His ears droop and he looks away, "I knew I shouldn't a said nothin'. Now I gone an' got ya upset. I'm sorry, Anon."
  1301. >You struggle to find your voice.
  1302. "N-No, Mac. I'm not upset, really. I'm happy... really happy. Thank you for saying that."
  1303. >He looks back up, obviously surprised.
  1304. >You swallow the lump in your throat and continue.
  1305. "I, uh... I never got along with my family back home. Felt like I was the only normal person surrounded by new and inventive kinds of asshole. What few 'friends' I made weren't much better."
  1306. >You take a few quick steps and get in front of Big Mac, forcing him to stop.
  1307. >You meet his gaze, your head being about the same height as his.
  1308. "See, when I first came here to Equestria, it was like a new beginning for me... but I still couldn't really get along with any... anypony. Only pony that really treated me like a friend was Twilight, and I always figured it was just out of guilt for bringing me here in the first place."
  1309. >You rub your upper arms, trying to calm the shakes you always get when expressing your emotions.
  1310. "When I took this job, I hoped maybe one of you could be my first real friend here, or at the very least that spending time with you would improve other ponies' opinions of me in town, and maybe then I could make a friend indirectly thanks to you Apples."
  1311. >Big Mac just stares at you, his expression neutral.
  1312. "But since my very first day... the four of you have been nothing but welcoming. I, uh... At first I thought I'd just got lucky when Applejack befriended me so quickly, but then Granny welcomed me with open... uh, open hooves, and then Apple Bloom warmed up to me..."
  1313. >You groan impatiently.
  1314. "Sorry, I'm rambling. Point is, I thought I was lucky to befriend even one of you. With all four of you being so nice, I, uh... well, it feels like you aren't just friends... it's like y'all are the closest I've ever had to a real f-family."
  1315. >You choke on the last word and just stand there silently, trying to keep your composure in front of the stoic stallion.
  1316. >He stares at you impassively for a few seconds, then slowly steps back, sliding his head out of his heavy duty work horse collar and stepping under it where it hangs from the cart.
  1317. >Slowly, almost awkwardly, he steps forward and stops directly in front of you, smiling.
  1318. >Then suddenly, he hooks one hoof around your neck and pulls you into a rough embrace.
  1319. >He only holds it a couple of seconds before letting go and turning back to his cart.
  1320. >Stunned, you can only stand there as he gets back into his work horse collar.
  1321. >He nickers as he begins pulling the cart again, forcing you to come to your senses and step out of the way.
  1322. >As he passes, you turn and continue walking beside him.
  1323. >Seems he said all he needed.
  1324. ...
  1325. >You and Big Mac continue collecting apples until well after the sun sets.
  1326. >It takes about an hour to go through a cart of baskets, after which you and Big Mac head back to the farmhouse, dump every basket into their apple storage, then head back out into the orchard.
  1327. >By the second time you left the farmhouse with empty baskets, you were starting to get sore and, with Big Mac's permission, began riding the cart back and forth to rest.
  1328. >He barely even seemed to notice your extra weight among the thousand pounds of apples.
  1329. >By the fourth trip, your legs and shoulders were furious and you had loaded a bucket of water into the cart to drink and occasionally splash in your face.
  1330. >Big Mac had finally begun to seem a bit sluggish.
  1331. >The sun went down as you approached the farmhouse for the fifth time, and by your sixth time returning, your entire body glowed with pain, while your lower back and ankles were filled with what felt like liquid hellfire.
  1332. >Big Mac finally asked you not to ride the cart and his head bobbed low as he strolled along.
  1333. >When you return with the seventh cart and finished dumping its apples into the storage bin, you toss the last empty basket into the cart and sit heavily.
  1334. "Mac... I can't go out there again. I'm dying, man."
  1335. >The stallion flops to the ground, letting out a great sigh.
  1336. >"Hoped ya'd say that two hours ago."
  1337. >You laugh weakly and gently lay your aching body on the ground.
  1338. "Coulda fuckin' said something... I only kept going cause you were."
  1339. >He nickers and you both just lay there, breathing heavily.
  1340. >A few years later, Apple Bloom trots up.
  1341. >"There ya are. Y'all gonna come eat or what?"
  1342. >You laugh, then wince and groan at the resulting jolt of pain.
  1343. "If I can survive standing up, I'll eat everything you own."
  1344. >Apple Bloom giggles and trots back inside.
  1345. >Big Mac shuffles and slowly rises somewhere to your right.
  1346. >He steps over to you and nudges your shoulder with a hoof.
  1347. >"C'mon ya colt, I'll help you up."
  1348. "Colt!?"
  1349. >You swat his hoof away and focus on standing up, trying to groan as little as possible while your body ignites with fire anew.
  1350. >Having successfully climbed Mount Everhoof - or whatever mountains are called here - you smile, poke his snout, and imitate his accent.
  1351. "Ah ain't needin' no help from no pony!"
  1352. >Turning, you take a wobbly step toward the farmhouse and stumble against the cart.
  1353. >With a soft chuckle, Big Mac steps up next to you so you lean into him and start walking.
  1354. "This is fine though 'cause you're not a pony, you're a damn machine... How much can you carry, anyways?"
  1355. >"Not much more'n I just did."
  1356. "I mean all at once, on a good day."
  1357. >"Dunno. Ain't found nothin' too heavy yet."
  1358. "You oughta get with Bulk Biceps, find out one day."
  1359. >"Might just do that."
  1360. >You groan again as you reach out and open the farmhouse door.
  1361. >A sweet and savory smell envelops you and you see Granny Smith poke her head out from the kitchen.
  1362. >"There ya are, finally! Git over 'ere, food oughta still be warm."
  1363. >You wobble over and collapse at the short dining table next to Applejack, wincing as you twist your arm into your back pocket for your utensils.
  1364. >Applejack turns to you, looking worried, "Anon... have you gone an' overworked yerself?"
  1365. >Big Mac answers before you can.
  1366. >"Eyup."
  1367. >She gives the stallion a hard glare.
  1368. >"An' you let him!?"
  1369. >"Uh... yup."
  1370. >Her tail flicks and she opens her mouth, then her eyes dart to Apple Bloom across the table and she takes a slow breath first.
  1371. >"Mac, I know ya know better'n that. Doin' too much work one day means doin' not enough work for the next three while ya recover."
  1372. >He sighs and lowers his head.
  1373. >"Eyup... He hides it well, though. Didn't realize how tired he really was."
  1374. >He looks up at you.
  1375. >"Ya did good. Real good. Went a lot longer'n I expected, but AJ's right. No work for two days, at least."
  1376. >You grin weakly at him.
  1377. "Can't say I'm sad to hear that, but what about you? You worked your... uh, tail off, too."
  1378. >Applejack touches your forearm with a hoof and you turn back to her.
  1379. >"Meanin' no offense, Anon, but earth ponies are already a lot stronger'n more durable than you, an' Mac 'n I are especially fit 'cause of how much work we do here on the farm. Tomorrow ya won't even be able to tell Mac was tired."
  1380. > Granny interrupts Applejack by thrusting her head between the two of you and growls.
  1381. >"If'n ya don't eat yer darn food in front o'ya, I'll make sure ya don't never recover."
  1382. >She cackles at your terrified expression, then taps your cheek with a hoof, expression softening.
  1383. >"Relax, dearie, I'm jus' pullin' yer leg. Ah ain't 'bout to hurt the best thing's come to this farm since lil' Apple Bloom 'ere."
  1384. >Her hoof thrusts hard into your cheek and forces your head to turn to your plate.
  1385. >"But yer gonna eat right now or so help me I'll shove it down yer throat mahself!"
  1386. >The other three all laugh and Granny whips her head around.
  1387. >"That goes fer you too, McIntosh! Quit yer laughin'!"
  1388. >He shuts up and immediately buries his snout in his plate.
  1389. >Apple Bloom covers her muzzle with both hooves, trying to stifle her giggles.
  1390. >You pull out your fork and scoop up some of the sweet smelling mush.
  1391. "What is it?"
  1392. >You take a bite without waiting for an answer.
  1393. >Granny walks around the table to her own mostly-eaten plate.
  1394. >"Egg'n yam hashbrowns."
  1395. >You gasp and choke on your mouthful, coughing wretchedly and causing a fresh wave of agony to lance through your torso.
  1396. >Applejack immediately rubs your back, and as the coughing fit subsides, you force out a few words.
  1397. "Eggs and ham?"
  1398. >Granny's ears swivel uncertainly.
  1399. >"Ham? Naw, I said 'yam.' Y'know, sweet 'taters? What's ham?"
  1400. >Apple Bloom's ears perk.
  1401. >"Ah never heard o' ham. Is it good?"
  1402. >Applejack chuckles.
  1403. >"Apple Bloom might be small, Anon, but she's got the appetite of a horse. If there's a new food out there, she'll be dyin' to try it."
  1404. >Well shit.
  1405. "Uh... it's uh... w-well..."
  1406. >You trail off and sit there, staring wide-eyed at your plate.
  1407. >Granny turns to Apple Bloom.
  1408. >"Junebug, be a dearie an' fetch mah sweater from upstairs, if ya please? These ol' bones get cold too easy."
  1409. >"Sure thing, Granny!"
  1410. >She hops up and trots away.
  1411. >As soon as she turns the corner, Granny leans over the table.
  1412. >"It's meat, innit?"
  1413. >Your jolt of surprise as you look up at her is all the answer she needs and she sits back down.
  1414. >Applejack looks at you, surprised.
  1415. >"Meat? Ya mean... meat meat? Like dead animal meat!?"
  1416. >You nod dumbly and Granny taps the table lightly.
  1417. >"Monkeys eat meat sometimes, Applejack. Thought a human like Anon, bein' somethin' close to a monkey, might do as well."
  1418. >The old mare points a hoof after the filly.
  1419. >"She'll be while still - my sweater ain't even up there. Any o'y'all wanna say somethin'?"
  1420. >Applejack stares at you for a few seconds, then looks down, seeming lost in thought.
  1421. >"Ponies can digest meat an' I heard some ponies actually do eat it, but I ain't never known somepony that has. It's always seemed so... wild."
  1422. >She whispers the last word, almost fearfully.
  1423. >She lowers her head slightly and whispers to you, her face a mixture of fear and fascination.
  1424. >"...Is it good?"
  1425. >You look away to Granny and Big Mac, both mildly curious but not really seeming to care.
  1426. >You turn back to Applejack's intense, eager expression.
  1427. >You lean close to murmur in her ear.
  1428. "Like you wouldn't believe. I miss it every day."
  1429. >Her eyes widen.
  1430. >"What've you eaten?"
  1431. >Still murmuring, you begin naming animals, starting with animals that you're pretty sure are still dumb here in Equestria, uncertain how she'll take it.
  1432. "Shrimp, lobster, crab, alligator... a bunch of kinds of fish... chicken, turkey, duck..."
  1433. >When she doesn't react, you turn your head to watch her expression as you continue.
  1434. "Deer... pig... buffalo, sheep, and... and cows."
  1435. >As you speak, her eyes slowly widen and her mouth drops open, but at the word 'cow' she gasps and twitches her head back, turning to look you in the eyes.
  1436. >"You didn't!"
  1437. >Her tone is shocked, even hurt, but her eyes betray her burning desire.
  1438. >If you didn't know better, you'd swear that desire was for you, not the meat.
  1439. >She drops back to a whisper.
  1440. >"W-What was your... your favorite?"
  1441. >You grin wickedly, quite conscious of how that shows off your canine teeth.
  1442. "Shrimp is pretty damn good, and I always loved turkey... but my favorite is cow."
  1443. >"Granny!?"
  1444. >At Apple Bloom's voice, Applejack jolts upright just as the filly trots into the room.
  1445. >You turn to your plate and try to nonchalantly continue eating.
  1446. >"Ah couldn' find yer sweater so ah brought ya this blanket instead! Ah hope it'll be warm enough."
  1447. >"Oh, thank ya much, dearie. This's just right."
  1448. >Apple Bloom sits back at her plate, then looks up at Applejack, who is sitting very straight and staring blindly ahead.
  1449. >"Uh... y'all okay, sis?"
  1450. >Applejack jerks her head down to the filly and forces a nervous laugh.
  1451. >"Oh! Yeah, yeah, I'm just fine an' dandy! I'm, uh, pretty tired though, so I'm gonna head upstairs and turn in. See y'all tomorrow mornin'!"
  1452. >She gets up and slowly hobbles out the kitchen and you wolf down a few more bites, trying to hurry so you can help her up the stairs.
  1453. >Then, in your hurry, you forget your body hates you right now and try to stand too quickly.
  1454. >Your body locks up and you groan in pain halfway between sitting and squatting.
  1455. >Big Mac scoots closer and wraps his hooves around your torso, supporting you as you slowly stand up.
  1456. "Applejack, wait! Don't you climb those stairs alone!"
  1457. >"Ah, go buck--"
  1458. >Granny interrupts her harshly.
  1459. >"OY! Watch yer language, missy!"
  1460. >Apple Bloom stifles another giggle.
  1461. >"Fiiiiiine. C'mon, Anon. Let's hobble up the stairs together."
  1462. ...
  1463. >She wound up helping you up the stairs as much as you helped her.
  1464. >Fortunately, she was able to hop into bed by herself.
  1465. >She hands you her hat so you can hang it up, then you sit heavily on the edge of her bed, rub your face and yawn.
  1466. "Holy hell... I haven't been this tired in years... ugh, and I'm gonna be even more stiff and sore when I wake up.
  1467. >She scoots over to sit next to you.
  1468. >"Where do you hurt the worst?"
  1469. "Yes."
  1470. >She hesitates, then barks a short laugh.
  1471. >"Alright smart ass, where do you want me to start?"
  1472. >You turn to her, confused.
  1473. "Start?"
  1474. >She rolls her eyes and scoots behind you.
  1475. >You try to see what she's doing but you're way too stiff to look behind you.
  1476. "Wait, what're you--AH!"
  1477. >Something jabs into your shoulder, causing an explosion of pain, and you bend forward to get away.
  1478. "What the fuck! The hell was that?"
  1479. >Her head leans around you and into view.
  1480. >"Uh... a massage?"
  1481. "For what, a tree?"
  1482. >Her ears fold down and she turns away, looking hurt.
  1483. >"Just tryin' to help. Ain't like I've had much practice..."
  1484. >Fuck's sake, she's almost as good at that pitiful face as her little sister.
  1485. >It is absolutely goddamn impossible to stay angry at these ponies.
  1486. >You slowly sit back up and sigh.
  1487. "Ugh, sorry... you just surprised me, kinda freaked me out. You can try again if you want, just... be gentle, please. Very gentle."
  1488. >She hesitates.
  1489. >"Uh... ya sure you want me to try again?"
  1490. "Yeah, I'd actually love a massage. Haven't had one since I came to Equestria and I've probably never needed one more."
  1491. >She quirks her mouth and nods, her head pulling out of sight behind you.
  1492. >You twitch as a hoof lightly touches your back.
  1493. >...So lightly, in fact, you can barely even feel it.
  1494. >You chuckle.
  1495. "Okay, maybe a little less gentle."
  1496. >She digs her hoof in a bit, rubbing the top of your right shoulder near your neck.
  1497. >A groan escapes your lips and she immediately pulls her hoof back.
  1498. "...Huh? Wait, no, keep going, that felt incredible!"
  1499. >"But... that sounded like it hurt! If ya weren't, how am I 'sposed to know when to stop?"
  1500. >You laugh again.
  1501. "You're cute when you worry, but don't. Ease up if I wiggle away from you or say something like 'wait' or 'stop,' but otherwise, holy shit please keep going."
  1502. >She pauses for a few seconds and you consider outright begging her to continue, then her hoof presses into the same spot.
  1503. >You grunt and your neck immediately relaxes, head flopping down to your chest.
  1504. >Save for your soft, uncontrollable moaning, the room is quiet for several minutes.
  1505. >Applejack stops suddenly and you heave your incredibly heavy head back upright.
  1506. "What's... oh, hey Big Mac."
  1507. >The stallion was standing in the open bedroom doorway, looking very awkward.
  1508. >"Uh... I... I was just wonderin' what y'all were doin'."
  1509. >"Git yer mind outta the manure, Mac! Shut the buckin' door an' go to bed!"
  1510. >He snorts and as he closes the door you hear him mutter.
  1511. >"Was Granny's idea..."
  1512. >You turn your head as far as your neck will let you and can just barely see Applejack from the corner of your eye.
  1513. "What was that about?"
  1514. >She shifts away a little.
  1515. >"Never you mind. C'mere an' lay down so I can massage ya better."
  1516. >You bring your knees up onto the bed so you can twist around more to face her.
  1517. "Look, I appreciate you doing this, Applejack, but I should really be going. It's very late and I'm gonna doze off where I sit if I don't get going soon."
  1518. >She snorts, reaches out a hoof, and you suddenly find yourself laying face down onto her bed.
  1519. >You lift your head off her pillow, sputtering.
  1520. "Wha--Applejack? I need to go home!"
  1521. >She brings her face very close to yours and says in a low growl.
  1522. >"You ain't goin' nowhere 'til I finish my massage. Got it?"
  1523. >...Now that's a face Apple Bloom had better not be good at.
  1524. "Uh... y-yes ma'am."
  1525. >She grins and presses your shoulder down until your head is on her pillow again, then she continues where she left off and nickers gently.
  1526. >"Honestly, Granny was probably just gonna make ya sleep in the guest bedroom anyways. Doubt she'd let you try an' walk home in this condition... Shame I can't use both hooves though. This is gonna take ages."
  1527. >You just groan in response.
  1528. >She slowly moves across both shoulders, then up onto your neck.
  1529. >After she finished your neck, you had to apologize for drooling onto her pillow.
  1530. >She massages the arm closest to her, then shuffles over you and sits on your right side to do the other arm.
  1531. >There was less room on that side of the bed, so she kinda gets squished against your side.
  1532. >After finishing the second arm, she twists around and begins on your lower back, squeezing fresh moans from you.
  1533. >"Hey Anon?"
  1534. >You grunt in response.
  1535. >"You weren't lyin' when you said all that stuff 'bout meat, right?"
  1536. >You wrench your heavy eyelids open and turn your head to look at her.
  1537. "No? 'Course not, I don't think I even could lie to you."
  1538. >Her hoof stops.
  1539. >"Ya wouldn't now? How 'bout all them machine designs ya threw away?"
  1540. >You close your eyes and sigh heavily, but she just chuckles and continues her massage.
  1541. >"Nah, don't worry 'bout it. I know you're just worried after that scare with the scythe. I'll help ya work past that... I was just in a sour mood then an' didn't feel like confrontin' you 'bout it."
  1542. >You moan again as she presses into a particular spot, then open your eyes again.
  1543. "Well... I do still feel like shit about lying for that. Lying to the element of honesty's probably some kind of pony sin, right?"
  1544. >She laughs and moves further down your spine.
  1545. >"Naw, 'course not! Rainbow Dash woulda been thrown in Tartarus ages ago!"
  1546. "Well anyway, no, I wasn't lying about meat."
  1547. >A huge yawn overwhelms you.
  1548. "...It's very popular back on earth."
  1549. >She pauses her massage and leans closer to your face.
  1550. >"Even... even what ya said 'bout cows?"
  1551. "Yep. Beef is one of the most popular meats... uh, beef is cow meat."
  1552. >From her face, you start to worry you might have genuinely upset her so you struggle to speak through your sleepy fog.
  1553. "Should probably mention cows are dumb back on earth. Humans are the only animals that can talk and think. Not like we're eating Betsy or whatever that cow's name is. It's like eating a fish."
  1554. >She seems to relax at that.
  1555. >She skips over your butt and starts massaging your thighs.
  1556. >You're so relaxed you're finding it hard to talk.
  1557. "Uuuugh... y'said some ponies... do eat meat though?"
  1558. >"Eyup. Dunno where they get it from, though."
  1559. "Yeh... 'specially since most animals are sentient here... vegans'd lose their shit."
  1560. >She rubs your legs for another minute or two.
  1561. >"...You ever, uh... like, get your own meat? Y'know... hunted?"
  1562. "...Huh? Thinka dozed off... what'd y'say?"
  1563. >She stops massaging and you crack an eye open to see her lean into view and give you a gentle smile.
  1564. >"Nevermind. Go to sleep, Anon. I'll see you in the morning."
  1565. >You yawn again and mumble.
  1566. "But... 'm takin' ya bed... where're you gon' sleep?"
  1567. >She crawls over you to the other side of the bed, turns off her lamp, and snuggles against your side, her fuzzy snout tucked between your neck and shoulder.
  1568. >She whispers something in your ear.
  1569. >But you were already asleep.
  1570.  
  1571. ...
  1572.  
  1573. >Warm.
  1574. >This bed is heaven.
  1575. >Maybe if you don't open your eyes, you can stay here forever.
  1576. >Everything you feel is warm and soft.
  1577. >Warm air gently brushes your face and you crack one eye open.
  1578. >Then both open wide in shock.
  1579. >Applejack's face fills your vision, only inches from yours.
  1580. >You remember she's in heat and frantically struggle to remember last night.
  1581. >...Last thing you can recall is her massaging near your butt.
  1582. >You start to silently hope nothing happened.
  1583. >But then... is that really what you hope?
  1584. >Trying not to wake her, you slowly turn your stiff neck and look down at your bodies.
  1585. >You're both on your side facing each other, the blanket pushed down to your thigh.
  1586. >One arm is tucked under her, her head on your upper arm and your hand down her back.
  1587. >Your other arm is at your side, bent so your hand rests on her barrel, fingers dug slightly into her fur.
  1588. >Her cast is resting on your neck, her other foreleg tucked between you, fuzzy fetlock just brushing your chin.
  1589. >Her torso is pressed up against yours, one leg resting on your side, the other stretched out along your thigh.
  1590. >You're actually amazed at how warm and cozy this is.
  1591. >From what you can see and feel, you decide she probably didn't do anything more than massage you.
  1592. >...Are you relieved or disappointed?
  1593. >With her pressed against you like this, you feel her chest swell with a deep breath, bringing your attention back to her.
  1594. >She cracks an eyelid open, meets your eye, and her mouth quirks into a tiny smile.
  1595. >She lets out a faint, happy "Mmm..." then shuffles her head closer, tucking her muzzle under your chin.
  1596. >She mumbles something that sounds like "...a view."
  1597. >You consider trying to wake her... it must be time to get to work.
  1598. >Then you remember she's injured and Big Mac said you're off for two days to recover.
  1599. >You let out a soft sigh of relief, making her ear twitch, then close your eyes.
  1600. >You could get used to this.
  1601. ...
  1602. >You wake suddenly.
  1603. >Did you just hear the door open?
  1604. >You lift your head, ignoring the stiff pain in your neck.
  1605. >You see Granny Smith standing in the doorway.
  1606. >Your blood instantly runs cold, but the old mare just smiles.
  1607. >Surprised, you relax... marginally.
  1608. >She leans in close and whispers just barely loud enough for you to hear.
  1609. >"She still asleep?"
  1610. >You nod.
  1611. >"Now be honest, Anon. Ah promise it's okay if'n y'say yes, ah just need t'know: Y'all do anythin' last night?"
  1612. >You think for a moment and remember your sleepy conclusion from earlier.
  1613. >You shake your head and whisper as quietly as possible.
  1614. "I was dead tired and don't remember much, but I don't think so."
  1615. >She eyes you critically, then relaxes and nods.
  1616. >"Alrighty, ah believe ya. Be right back."
  1617. >She walks away and you slowly lower your head to the pillow, neck already throbbing.
  1618. >A moment later, you see Granny's head appear behind Applejack's and she whispers again.
  1619. >"Apple Bloom 'n Big Mac are already out workin', an' I'm 'bout to head into town. House'll be empty fer a good long while."
  1620. >She holds up a glass of murky tea.
  1621. >"Ah brought 'er medicine. Ah suggest ya make 'er take it as soon as she wakes up, 'cause if'n ya wake 'er up in a pose like that an' don't get 'er that medicine... well, ah don't doubt she'd get awful excited real quick."
  1622. >She sets the glass down on Applejack's end table, steps out the door, turns back to you and winks, then silently shuts the door behind her.
  1623. >...So that was kinda weird.
  1624. >You try and process what just happened.
  1625. >Bringing her medicine up here you can understand.
  1626. >...Especially after pointing out how easily Applejack could get excited.
  1627. >But why did she specifically point out that the house will be empty?
  1628. >Of course everyone will be out working.
  1629. >Unless...
  1630. >Your eyes widen.
  1631. >No.
  1632. >She couldn't have meant...
  1633. >A tiny incredulous laugh escapes your lips.
  1634. >Did Granny really just try and set you up with Applejack?
  1635. >Applejack mumbles a bit in her sleep and stirs slightly.
  1636. >Your heart begins to pound.
  1637. >What are you going to do?
  1638. >...Do you want to be set up with Applejack?
  1639. >Actually, you never thought of her like that before.
  1640. >Or... any pony, really.
  1641. >They're adorable, sure, but...
  1642. >You look down at Applejack again.
  1643. >Really look at her this time.
  1644. >You focus on her forehoof first, pressed against your chest, and notice her fur floofs up a bit around the base of the hoof.
  1645. >You gently wrap your hand around it and look at its underside.
  1646. >Despite how much Rarity pokes fun at her, it's quite well taken care of.
  1647. >It's no hooficure of course... the hoof is scratched up a bit from her work, but it isn't chipped and the underside is clean, even up to it's squishy frog.
  1648. >You carefully release her hoof and shift your attention to her body.
  1649. >Lying on her side like this makes her barrel sink in a little, which accentuates the curve of her hips.
  1650. >Your return your hand to her flank and gently stroke down her side.
  1651. >Moving with her fur like this, she feels incredibly smooth and you can easily feel the ripple of muscle under her coat.
  1652. >You stroke the other way against her fur and it folds up easily, soft and fluffy.
  1653. >You look back up to her face... and jerk your hand away in surprise.
  1654. >She's staring right at you, wearing a humorous smirk.
  1655. >"Enjoyin' the view, sugarcube?"
  1656. >You sputter, unable to even put two words together.
  1657. >She giggles and covers your mouth with her hoof, her frog pressing against your lips.
  1658. >You try to wiggle away but she presses down on you with her cast and her hindleg on your hip.
  1659. >"Hey, where ya goin'?"
  1660. >You pull your head back away from her hoof and manage to speak.
  1661. "Y-Your medicine is over... uh, over there."
  1662. >She twists her head to look at it, then looks back to you, looking suddenly uncertain, almost anxious.
  1663. >"Well... d'you want me to take it?"
  1664. >You hesitate, your mind racing.
  1665. "...What do you want?"
  1666. >Her ears turn down and she looks away.
  1667. >"Don't rightly know, if I'm honest."
  1668. >She bites her lip and meets your eye again.
  1669. >"That's uh... kinda why I asked you."
  1670. >God she's cute.
  1671. >You bring a hand to her cheek.
  1672. "I think your cycle is confusing you."
  1673. >She groans and pushes your hand away.
  1674. >"C'mon Anon, it ain't like my mind is messed up. Even off the medicine like this, I can still think clearly."
  1675. >She turns her head away and mumbles.
  1676. >"I'm just buckin' horny."
  1677. >You cough awkwardly.
  1678. "That's, uh... that's kinda what I mean, though. You shouldn't make such decisions in this state of mind. I, uh... well, I know what it's like to be so horny you'll take anything you can get."
  1679. >She doesn't respond for a moment, ears twitching, then suddenly she pushes against your chest and scoots away.
  1680. >"Any... anythin' I can get? I can't get nopony! I can't even get you!"
  1681. "Wait, huh?"
  1682. >She rolls away and starts mumbles angrily.
  1683. >"Jus' tryin to be myself like everypony says ya should, an' what's it gotten me? Hardly ever seein' stallions, ones I do're always chasin' Rarity 'cause she's so gosh darn gorgeous..."
  1684. >You struggle against your stiff muscles to sit upright.
  1685. "Uh... AJ?"
  1686. >She sits up on the edge of the bed, growing louder as she rants.
  1687. >"...or chasin' Twilight 'cause she's smart as hay an' a buckin' princess to boot, or hay even chasin' one o' all them other cute mares in town jus' ripe for the takin'..."
  1688. "Applejack."
  1689. >She rubs her leg with a hoof, yelling angrily now.
  1690. >"Dunno why ah even buckin' TRY anymore, oughta jus' stay 'ere on the buckin' FARM 'cause o'course nopony'd ever pick a buckin' ugly work horse like me!"
  1691. "HEY!"
  1692. >Ignoring your body's angry protests, you grab her around the torso with both hands and she yelps as you lift her into the air.
  1693. >You pull her away from the edge of the bed and plop her down in front of you, facing you.
  1694. >Her ears flip straight back, and she glares at you, furious.
  1695. >You glare right back at her.
  1696. "That right there was the biggest load of horse shit I've ever heard."
  1697. >She snorts, her tail flicks, and she opens her mouth to reply, but you cut her off.
  1698. "No, you fucking listen right now. I can't believe you, the element of honesty, can sit there and spout such utter shit. Don't you know you gotta be honest with yourself just as much as with everypony else?"
  1699. >She jabs your chest with a forehoof.
  1700. >"Ah AM bein' honest!"
  1701. >You grab her by the shoulders and shout back.
  1702. "No you fuckin' aren't! 'Ugly work horse'? You're the best looking mare in this whole damn town!"
  1703. >She takes a deep breath, looking ready to scream.
  1704. >Then she does a mental double take.
  1705. >All the anger seems to drain out of her and she just looks confused.
  1706. >You blush as you suddenly realize what you just said without thinking.
  1707. >"W-What? But... but you... I-I thought..."
  1708. >You let go of her and turn away, your ears burning.
  1709. >Applejack stops stammering and the silence suddenly looms over you.
  1710. >It quickly becomes unbearable, forcing you to speak.
  1711. "I... I don't know. I'm just so... I feel like I can't be certain about anything these days."
  1712. >You look back and see her watching you, mouth slightly parted, both ears focused on you.
  1713. "But Applejack, there is no chance in Tartarus you're ugly."
  1714. >Her lip quivers slightly and her tail twitches.
  1715. >"Ya... really think so?"
  1716. >You smile weakly.
  1717. "Lying to you is a pony sin, right?"
  1718. >Her laughter catches in her throat and she turns away to take a few slow breaths.
  1719. >Then she slides off the bed and grabs the herbal medicine, drinking it immediately.
  1720. >She sets the glass down and sighs.
  1721. >"You're right. I shouldn't try an' make such decisions like this."
  1722. >She meets your eye, then blushes and looks away again.
  1723. >"I'm, uh... I'll be honest, Anon. I like you... a lot. Enough that I really don't think it's my heat... but you're right, o'course I can't be sure. I won't try anythin' 'til my heat is done, promise. But, uh..."
  1724. >Her blush deepens and... did she just lift her tail a bit?
  1725. >"If there's anythin' YOU wanna do..."
  1726. "Whoa girl."
  1727. >She giggles nervously and you stretch your neck, wincing.
  1728. "Honestly... don't think I'm physically capable of that right now, anyway."
  1729. >She hops up onto the bed.
  1730. >"Here... lemme help. I never did finish your massage."
  1731. "You sure that's a good idea?"
  1732. >"Don't you worry, that medicine's fast. I'll be fine. 'Sides, I did say ya ain't leavin' 'til I finish my massage, right?"
  1733. >You lie down as before and she gives your shoulders, neck, and arms a quick once-over before giving your thighs and calves a longer, more thorough massage.
  1734. >She has you flip over and massages the top of your thighs, then your chest as well.
  1735. >You try to act like you aren't watching her and see she keeps looking over your body while she works, faintly blushing.
  1736. >Finally, she leans back and you sigh contentedly.
  1737. "Ooookay... back to sleep..."
  1738. >She pokes your side.
  1739. >"Nuh uh! If you got the whole day off, that means now I ain't gotta spend the whole day bored!"
  1740. >You eye her warily.
  1741. "Aren't I supposed to relax and recover?"
  1742. >"Ah, you'll be fine. I jus' wanna head into town, hang out a bit."
  1743. >She waves her cast at you.
  1744. >"Doc came by last night while you were still out with Big Mac an' said it's safe to walk on, just no trottin'."
  1745. >You reach up and boop her muzzle, making her eyes cross.
  1746. "Then go walk into town, don't let me stop you."
  1747. >She wiggles her nose and snorts, then refocuses on you.
  1748. >"No way! You an' I ain't done nothin' but work together. It's 'bout time we spend some time together as friends."
  1749. >She shoves your legs with her hoof and they slide off the bed, forcing you to catch yourself and sit up.
  1750. "Alright alright, fine! Lead on, Ms. Apple."
  1751. >She chuckles and hops off the bed.
  1752. ...
  1753. >"Ugh! Ah hate walkin' this slow."
  1754. >You turn away from the peaceful landscape to look at Applejack.
  1755. >She hobbles down the path beside you, stepping carefully with the cast around her foreleg.
  1756. >You chuckle and gently flick her ear.
  1757. "I think I enjoy this pace."
  1758. >"Well I don't! I'm used to always havin' stuff to do..."
  1759. "Then maybe you'd better learn to slow down and relax since we're off for a couple days."
  1760. >"And how the hay am I 'sposed to relax knowin' how hard my family's workin' back home 'cause o' my foalishness?"
  1761. "I'm sure you'll make it up to them once you've healed."
  1762. >You rub her neck and she looks away grumpily.
  1763. >...But she doesn't pull her neck away.
  1764. "Besides, you know as well as I they'd just refuse your help so you can heal."
  1765. >You hear her grumble something about Rarity, then sigh.
  1766. >"I just get antsy if I sit still too long. Always feel like I gotta be workin' on somethin'."
  1767. >You walk on in silence for a bit, trying to think of how you can help.
  1768. "Maybe... you can just think of this as another job. You did say you wanted to help me befriend ponies in town, right?"
  1769. >"An' just what kinda job is that?"
  1770. "The kind of job for the element of honesty and the nicest pony I've ever known."
  1771. >She nickers and turns away again.
  1772. >A few moments go by, but as you're looking up at a particularly nice looking tree, she speaks again.
  1773. >"So you're really enjoyin' this?"
  1774. >You look down at her, but her head is still turned away.
  1775. "Definitely. I walk this path every day to and from work, but with you it's... more relaxing."
  1776. >You set your hand on her withers and her skin twitches, but she doesn't respond.
  1777. >Ponyville comes into view as you crest the next hill together.
  1778. >The school Apple Bloom goes to is on the edge of town to your left.
  1779. >You pass the school, turn into the town and you gesture to the first house on your right.
  1780. "Oh, by the way, my house is right here, right by the path that leads to the farm. Can't remember if I ever told you."
  1781. >"That's pretty convenient."
  1782. >She looks up at you and grins.
  1783. >"Mind if I take a look inside? I'd like to see what yer place looks like."
  1784. >You aren't really comfortable with her in your house after her recent behavior, so you throw up the first excuse you can think of.
  1785. "Uh... it's kinda... messy."
  1786. >"Oh apple cores, I don't mind a little clutter, that just means it's lived in."
  1787. >You hesitate, but you can't think of a good reason to refuse.
  1788. >She sits in front of you, drooping her ears.
  1789. >"C'mon Anon, please?"
  1790. >You throw up your arms and turn toward your house, muttering under your breath.
  1791. "Damn ponies with your damn cute faces..."
  1792. >She nickers happily and hops up as you open your door and step inside.
  1793. >She follows you and shuts the door behind her, then laughs incredulously when she sees how empty your living room is.
  1794. >"This is messy!? Gosh, y'all must think my room's a disaster!"
  1795. >You sigh and sit down on your couch.
  1796. "Okay, no, it's not messy. There probably isn't even enough here to make a mess."
  1797. >She hops up on the couch next to you and scoots close.
  1798. >"There really ain't much here... don't ya get bored?"
  1799. "Of course I do! Why d'you think I've worked almost every single day since I started at the farm?"
  1800. >You slump back into the couch and she shuffles awkwardly.
  1801. >"If I'da known how little ya had to do..."
  1802. "What? What would you do? There's nothing TO do in this fucking town except read or hang out with ponies and we both know nopony wants to hang out with me."
  1803. >She sets a hoof on your thigh.
  1804. >"I'm hangin' out with you, ain't I?"
  1805. "Only 'cause the alternative is death by boredom."
  1806. >She chuckles.
  1807. >"Hey now, ain't just cause of that! I like hanging out with you."
  1808. >You turn and give her a skeptical look, a bit surprised by how close she is.
  1809. "How? You said it yourself, we haven't done anything except work together."
  1810. >"C'mon Anon, I was just messin' around when I said that. We been talkin' over dinner darn near every night an' what with all your help the past few days..."
  1811. >She snorts lightly and you feel her breath puff against you.
  1812. >"I been spending more time with you than my own family."
  1813. >She turns away and casually leans forward, dropping off your couch.
  1814. >"But anywho, why're we just sittin' here talkin' 'bout hangin' out when we can actually BE hangin' out?"
  1815. >You give her a tiny smile.
  1816. "Alright, fine. What do you want to do?"
  1817. >"Just follow me."
  1818. >As you follow her out your door, you hear a mare murmur faintly.
  1819. >"Oh my, Applejack!"
  1820. >You turn to see Rarity smirking, a hoof raised to her muzzle.
  1821. >Applejack's ears flick nervously.
  1822. >"Now don't you go gettin' any ideas. We only been in there a minute or two, I just wanted to look around."
  1823. >Rarity only grins and winks at her, then turns to you.
  1824. >"Good morning, Anon!"
  1825. "Hello, Rarity. I really appreciate the discount on the clothes, I can't thank-"
  1826. >"Nonsense, darling! I told you before, think nothing of it. Besides, putting together such unique shapes for your attire was truly inspiring. You should really visit Coco some day, she has been especially fascinated with the designs."
  1827. "Uh... I'll try."
  1828. >"But anyway, I'm not simply passing by. Twilight mentioned you were having some trouble making friends and I thought I would see if I could help, but I've tried stopping by several times and you're never here!"
  1829. "Oh, uh... I leave early to work on the farm with Applejack. Usually don't get back until after sundown."
  1830. >She turns to face Applejack.
  1831. >"I do hope you aren't overworking him, darling."
  1832. >Applejack chuckles.
  1833. >"If anythin', he's overworkin' himself! Why, the only reason we're here is 'cause he's gotta recover from pushin' himself too hard yesterday."
  1834. >"Oh? Did something happen?"
  1835. >"Nothin' serious, just he an' Big Mac were out collecting apples all day an' I think Anon had somethin' to prove. Must've worked eight hours straight out in the orchard."
  1836. >Rarity gasps.
  1837. >"I see why he needs to recover! I mean really, trying to out-work Big McIntosh? Bulk Biceps is likely the only pony who could feasibly give Big Mac a run for his money."
  1838. >"He did pretty well, bein' honest. Big Mac was definitely sweaty an' tired when they came in."
  1839. >"Really? That's quite impressive, actually."
  1840. >"Yeah, according to Apple Bloom they was both lyin' on the ground sweatin' like they'd just ran a marathon when she found 'em."
  1841. "Uh..."
  1842. >Both girls look to you and you feel uncomfortably like you're interrupting rather than participating.
  1843. "Don't, uh... don't give me too much credit for that. All I did was carry baskets of apples around. He did all the real work... y'know, bucking the trees and pulling that giant cart around..."
  1844. >Applejack gives Rarity a sidelong grin.
  1845. >"See that? Told ya he's anythin' but a bragger."
  1846. >Rarity giggles again and Applejack turns to smile at you.
  1847. >"I know he did most of the work, sugarcube, but I ain't exaggeratin' when I say ya did plenty o' work yourself. Ya went longer'n any of us expected an' the two of y'all went through twice the trees he an' Apple Bloom usually do."
  1848. >Her smile fades and she sighs.
  1849. >"Just... don't do it again, y'hear? Can't have ya so sore ya can't hardly move again."
  1850. >Rarity grins wickedly.
  1851. >"Oh no, Applejack needs you good and limber!"
  1852. >Applejack snorts and stomps her forehoof.
  1853. >"Shut yer snout!"
  1854. >"For clean, honest work on the farm, of course! Nothing more!"
  1855. >Applejack glares at Rarity like she's trying to set her ablaze with her mind.
  1856. >You shuffle awkwardly, your ears burning.
  1857. >Rarity only giggles.
  1858. >"But as I was saying, Twilight was worried you were having trouble making friends. Since my work is unseasonably slow at the moment, I thought I might come over and see if I can help."
  1859. >"I'm already doin' that, Rare. I got it covered."
  1860. >"Ooh, really? Well, we can work together! I can't imagine anypony would argue with both of us."
  1861. >Applejack's ears twitch and she opens her mouth but Rarity turns to you before she can speak.
  1862. >"What do you think, Anon? I know we haven't spent much time together but I think the three of us together could have quite an enjoyable day."
  1863. >You look to Applejack. Her tail flicks but she doesn't say anything.
  1864. "Well, I would appreciate some help getting Applejack to relax..."
  1865. >"Lovely! Applejack, was there somewhere specific you planned to go? If not, I already have several ideas."
  1866. >Applejack tries to look annoyed, but you see the faint blush around her muzzle.
  1867. >"Thought we were here to help YOU, Anon. Didn't think ya might try an' help me instead."
  1868. >You smirk and shrug your shoulders.
  1869. >She sighs.
  1870. >"I did have a plan, but let's hear yours, Rarity. Is it the spa again?"
  1871. >"Well, that would be very relaxing and I'm sure Anon would appreciate a massage, but I think we could help both of you by having a nice lunch together. How does the Caffhay sound?"
  1872. >"Aw, Rare, ya know I hate it there. Always feel so outta place. Can't we just go to the Hay Burger?"
  1873. >Rarity turns to you.
  1874. >"Which would you prefer, Anon?"
  1875. "Um... well do you like the Hay Burger, Rarity?"
  1876. >"I can't quite say I enjoy someplace so uncouth, but the food is quite good, if a touch greasy."
  1877. "So you just kinda don't like the Hay Burger and Applejack straight up hates the Caffhay? Sounds like an easy choice to me."
  1878. >Applejack grins and turns away.
  1879. >"Alrighty, sounds good to me!"
  1880. >Rarity sighs.
  1881. >"Oh alright, I suppose that is a reasonable decision."
  1882. >The three of you begin walking down the street and Rarity looks up at you.
  1883. >"You and I should really go to the Caffhay one day, though. I'm sure you would appreciate it, the cuisine is just divine."
  1884. >Applejack snorts.
  1885. >"Just make sure ya wear the fanciest clothes bits can buy..."
  1886. >"Oh come now, it isn't nearly as formal as all that."
  1887. >"The waiters wear tuxes! How much more formal can ya get?"
  1888. >Rarity's mouth drops in disbelief, then she scoffs.
  1889. >"How... how much more formal!? Applejack, please, have you even BEEN to Manehatten? Why, the most casual of diners there would make the Caffhay look like the kitchen in your barn!"
  1890. >Applejack's ears flip straight back as she shoots Rarity a harsh glare.
  1891. >"An' just what in tarnation is THAT 'sposed to mean!?"
  1892. >Rarity huffs and opens her mouth to respond, then pauses.
  1893. >After a few seconds, she looks down, her ears drooping.
  1894. >"I'm sorry Applejack, I didn't mean to offend. I only meant that your family kitchen is likely the most homely and down-to-earth place to eat in... well, probably all of Equestria. It's the polar opposite of a Manehatten high-society restaurant with three hooves from Zesty Gourmand."
  1895. >Applejack relaxes and smiles apologetically.
  1896. >"Guess I'm sorry too. I shouldn'ta snapped like that. I oughta know by now ya ain't tryin' to get under my skin on purpose."
  1897. >You chuckle quietly and both ponies turn to look at you.
  1898. >"Somethin' funny, Anon?"
  1899. >"Yes, I'm not sure what you could be laughing about."
  1900. "It's just... watching you two interact. You're both so ridiculously different, yet here you are, best friends, deeply caring for each other, apologizing at the drop of a hat..."
  1901. >You shake your head.
  1902. "Humans back on Earth could learn a lot from you two."
  1903. >Rarity tilts her head inquisitively.
  1904. >"Do humans not usually get along?"
  1905. >You laugh grimly.
  1906. "I hear it's possible, but not with any of the humans I knew. Right bunch of shit heads they were."
  1907. >Rarity gasps, her ears dropping back.
  1908. "Nah fuck 'em, they deserve it. Seriously, everyone I knew was an asshole, even my family. Twilight always felt terrible about bringing me here and was trying to figure out how to send me back..."
  1909. >You sigh.
  1910. "Few days ago I told her I didn't want to go back. Never want to see any of them again."
  1911. >Applejack jerks to a halt.
  1912. >With a soft "ooh..." you suddenly remember you've told Apple Bloom and Big Mac about this but hadn't gotten around to telling Applejack yet.
  1913. >Very few things are more important to her than family.
  1914. >...Maybe no things.
  1915. >You turn to look at her and wince.
  1916. >You could almost see her thoughts on her face, her inner turmoil of emotions fighting for control.
  1917. >Disgust, horror, pity...
  1918. >Relief... and affection?
  1919. >"Y-You... never want to see yer f-family again? They... They were that bad?"
  1920. >You nod your head solemly.
  1921. "I'm sorry, AJ... I meant to tell you, I just... I was pretty nervous about bringing it up."
  1922. >Applejack's muzzle quivers.
  1923. >The three of you are standing in the middle of the street, ponies occasionally walking around your little group, most looking concerned for Applejack and some casting suspicious glares at you, the human.
  1924. >Rarity looks around, then points to an empty bench a short distance from where everypony walks, speaking quietly but with a firm and commanding voice.
  1925. >"Come, you two. Go over there and sit. Now."
  1926. >She bumps your hip with her head to get you started, then pushes Applejack with a hoof similarly.
  1927. >You walk to the bench and sit down in silence and Applejack sits directly next to you.
  1928. >Rarity stands and strokes your knee, giving you a reassuring smile, then turns to nuzzle Applejack's cheek.
  1929. >"I'll give you two some time alone. I'll be just over there."
  1930. >She walks across the street and into what looks to be a smoothie shop.
  1931. >Applejack takes a slow, deep breath and you sigh.
  1932. "I really am sorry... I didn't mean to just drop that on you all of the sudden. I know how important family is to you and I was so worried about upsetting you... I just never got up the courage to bring it up."
  1933. >She shakes her head slowly and mumbles.
  1934. >"I can... can't even imagine it."
  1935. "Imagine what?"
  1936. >"Hating... well, hating anyone really, but... yer own family?"
  1937. >She slowly turns to look at you, her eyes damp.
  1938. >"How terrible ya gotta be to get hated by yer own kin?"
  1939. >You grimace and mutter.
  1940. "You really want to know?"
  1941. >She hesitates, looking uncertain, then nods.
  1942. >"I th-think I need to... so I can understand."
  1943. >You nod, look down at your hands in your lap, and begin to speak.
  1944. >No emotion or expression, just a dull, matter-of-fact tone.
  1945. >You describe your father's alcohol fueled rage.
  1946. >How he basically killed your mother.
  1947. >Finding your sister's used heroin needles... and hearing her with a new guy in bed every other night.
  1948. >You talk about getting ridiculed for actually trying at anything.
  1949. >About your first and only love.
  1950. >Only for her to cheat on you just four days later.
  1951. >...And that fucking asshole Kevin.
  1952. >Your best friend, Kevin... who dumped the blame on you, got you expelled, and then got you beat half to death.
  1953. >Overall, you keep it pretty concise and to the point, with almost no elaboration.
  1954. >In fact, you manage to summarize the first twenty years of your miserable life on Earth in less than five minutes.
  1955. >You expected to get more emotional.
  1956. >Last time you told anyone you bawled like a little girl.
  1957. >Now you only feel cold and empty.
  1958. >You calmly look up to meet her gaze again.
  1959. >Applejack just stares at you with those green eyes glistening in the sunlight.
  1960. >You can see faint dark lines in her fur where tears have rolled down her muzzle.
  1961. >She takes a shuddering breath.
  1962. >Then she lurches forward and hugs your side, tucking her snoot into the crook of your neck.
  1963. >Her stetson hat bumps into the side of your head and slides down her neck.
  1964. >You wrap your arms around her and lay your head on hers.
  1965. >She feels warm.
  1966. ...
  1967. >You hold each other in silence for a moment, then Applejack sits up.
  1968. >She takes a few slow breaths to collect herself, repositions her hat, then turns to face you.
  1969. >"Gosh... you're such a nice person, I'd never have guessed your home was so terrible."
  1970. >You grimace and shake your head.
  1971. "It's really not that bad. I was just unlucky and everyone I knew was an asshole. There are tons of great people, too."
  1972. >"If everyone ya knew was so terrible, how'd you know there were any good people at all?"
  1973. "Well I knew OF good people, they just never seemed to want to hang out with me. Besides, there were tons of good people online and on TV."
  1974. >"...Huh?"
  1975. "Ah, heh... uh, it's a fancy technology back on earth - a way to talk to people and share information over huge distances. Like, imagine a little box that showed a moving picture of somepony on the other side of Equestria."
  1976. >Applejack tilts her head in thought, then shakes it.
  1977. >"Nah, I'm not even gonna try an' learn how that could work without magic."
  1978. >You shrug.
  1979. "Probably for the best... I don't think I could explain it anyways."
  1980. >"Is it real complicated or somethin'?"
  1981. "It is. See everything I've been doing to the farm equipment is like... super basic engineering stuff that humans figured out hundreds of years ago. It's nothing compared to modern technology."
  1982. >"Shucks... Us ponies must seem awful primitive then"
  1983. >You shake your head.
  1984. "Not really. The pictures I've seen of your cities look pretty similar to human cities. Y'all have plastic, glass, metal... Ponies just replace technology with magic."
  1985. >Applejack starts to reply, then pauses, looking out at the street.
  1986. >"Rarity's wavin' at us... guess we oughta invite her back."
  1987. >You raise an eyebrow at her tone.
  1988. "You sound like you don't want to."
  1989. >Her ears twitch and her muzzle scrunches up slightly.
  1990. >"It's fine."
  1991. >She lifts a hoof to wave Rarity over, but you grab it out of the air and Applejack looks at you, surprised.
  1992. "If there's one thing I learned back home, it's when someone says 'it's fine' with a face like that... they definitely are not fine."
  1993. >Her ears fold back.
  1994. >"Ya callin' me a liar?"
  1995. "I'm saying there's something you aren't telling me."
  1996. >She jerks her hoof out of your hand.
  1997. >"Ah jus' thought WE was gonna spend time together, but ah guess y'all'd rather hang out with Rarity."
  1998. "Huh? But... we are spending time together."
  1999. >"With her!"
  2000. >Applejack shuffles like she's about to get up but you stop her with a hand on her withers.
  2001. "Wait, AJ, please! What's going on? I thought you liked Rarity?"
  2002. >Her tail lashes.
  2003. >"Ah didn't know y'all did too!"
  2004. "What? I barely even know her! We've hardly spoken before today!"
  2005. >Applejack starts to shout a reply, then freezes.
  2006. >She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, then raises a hoof to her head, slowly shaking her head.
  2007. >"Sorry, just... give me a moment here."
  2008. >You gently rub her neck to try and comfort her, still very confused.
  2009. >She takes a few deep breaths and relaxes visibly.
  2010. >You wait another moment, then guess it's safe to speak again.
  2011. "You okay?"
  2012. >She nods slowly.
  2013. >"Sorry, Anon. This buckin' cycle is messin' with my head or something."
  2014. "But you're okay now, right?"
  2015. >"Think so..."
  2016. "Good, 'cause that was weird as hell. What happened?"
  2017. >She hesitates, then shakes her head.
  2018. "Applejack, I want to try and avoid whatever that was happening again, but I can't help if you don't explain."
  2019. >She grimaces and looks down, mumbling.
  2020. >You raise your hand to ruffle her mane.
  2021. "Yeah no, can't hear you."
  2022. >Her tail lashes again.
  2023. >"I thought ya liked her more'n me an' got jealous, alright?"
  2024. >You pause, a bit surprised, then chuckle softly.
  2025. "C'mon, don't be silly. You're the best friend I've ever had."
  2026. >She groans and rolls her eyes.
  2027. >"Like I said. Messin' with my mind."
  2028. >A deep voice startles both of you.
  2029. >"Ma'am, is the monkey bothering you?"
  2030. >You both look up and you see a dark grey pegasus stallion with a light blue mane cut very short, reminding you of a military buzz cut.
  2031. >You take a breath to apologize but are cut off by Applejack shouting.
  2032. >"No, Thunderlane, he sure as hay ain't! We were havin' an important talk between friends 'til you butted in!"
  2033. >The stallion's ears flop back and he takes a step away from her, obviously surprised at her reaction.
  2034. >"I... I just thought you looked upset, and I was worried the monkey might have--"
  2035. >"HE AIN'T A MONKEY!"
  2036. >He takes another step back, his wings shuffling awkwardly.
  2037. >"Y-Yes, okay, sorry!"
  2038. >He shakes his head and tries to collect himself.
  2039. >"I was just worried about you. You looked upset and we don't know if the human is safe yet."
  2040. >Applejack snorts.
  2041. >"Safe? Anon's been here for months an' he ain't even been mean, much less dangerous!"
  2042. >The pegasus shakes his head.
  2043. >"It could just be an act to gain our trust! Tirek and his--"
  2044. >Applejack leaps off the bench and gets right up in the stalloion's face, growling in a low, intense voice.
  2045. >"Don't you EVER compare him to Tirek. They are NOTHING alike."
  2046. >His wings partially open and he stammers.
  2047. >"Y-Yes ma'am! Sorry ma'am!"
  2048. >You stand up and try to get Applejack's attention.
  2049. "Uh... hey, AJ?"
  2050. >She whips her head to look back at you, then at your gesture, she looks around her.
  2051. >Her shouting had started to attract a small audience.
  2052. >She groans and takes a step back from the stallion, then calls out to the group.
  2053. >"Sorry for causin' a scene, everypony... just don't y'all forget: Anonymous ain't a monkey and he sure as hay ain't no Tirek. He's been workin' on our farm for weeks now an' most ponies I've met ain't even half as nice and hard workin' as he is. He an' I have become good friends an' even now he's helpin' me around town cause of my injury here."
  2054. >A blue mare calls out.
  2055. >"How did you get hurt? Did the monkey do it?"
  2056. >Applejack shoots her a glare, tail lashing furiously.
  2057. >"Quit callin' him a buckin' monkey! He's a human! Would y'all wanna be called horses?"
  2058. >The ponies murmur quietly and Applejack continues.
  2059. >Several passing ponies stop by as they walk past to see the commotion.
  2060. >"An' no, it weren't his fault. I was tryin' out a new tool he made, did somethin' stupid, fell over, an' it slammed down on my foreleg. Anon helped me calm down an' get back to Granny so she could get a medical pony. Why, if Anon hadn't been there I mighta jus' laid there with a broken leg 'til somepony came a lookin' for me."
  2061. >You hear a stallion's voice.
  2062. >"If he hadn't been there, he wouldn't have made the tool that hurt you!"
  2063. >They murmur again and Applejack stomps her good hoof.
  2064. >"Now wait just a darn minute, it ain't his fault I did somethin' stupid! His tools are amazing an' work way better than our old ones, lettin' us do our work in less'n half the time it took before. I was the foalish idiot who tried to dance while I had a buckin' blade strapped to my shoulders."
  2065. >The crowd mutters again, but nopony speaks up.
  2066. >You guess Rarity has been watching the commotion, because she walks up through the now sizeable crowd, speaking loudly.
  2067. >"I can personally attest that Anonymous here was a perfect gentlecolt when I had him in my shop. Any pony should be delighted to spend time with him. Similarly, any pony should be ashamed for using such uncouth language as... monkey."
  2068. >She raises her head snootily as she says the last word.
  2069. >The murmuring continues and someone from the back shouts.
  2070. >"When's he getting sent back where he came from?"
  2071. >Applejack snorts.
  2072. >"He ain't goin' back, he loves it here! He don't wanna go back an' ah don't want him to neither!"
  2073. >Rarity waves a hoof for you to step forward and you step up between them, feeling extremely awkward.
  2074. >She rubs your leg with a fetlock comfortingly as she speaks to the crowd.
  2075. >"I admit I haven't talked to him much, but I've learned a lot about him through Applejack, and his behavior so far today has been outstanding. He's humble, kind, thoughtful, and overall a wonderful friend."
  2076. >A pony calls out.
  2077. >"It's all Applejack! She's been telling everypony he's wonderful... He's tricked her!"
  2078. >Angry muttering follows.
  2079. >Applejack starts to respond but Rarity cuts her off.
  2080. >"How could you even think the element of honesty herself would lie to you!?"
  2081. >"She's only lying because of his magic!"
  2082. >Rarity scoffs.
  2083. >"Come now, both Anonymous and Applejack have spent a lot of time with Princess Twilight. Don't you think she would have noticed if he was using magic?"
  2084. >When the angry murmuring doesn't stop, Rarity continues.
  2085. >"Do you doubt your Princess and the very element of magic? Come now, ponies, this is silly! The element of honesty herself is telling you Anonymous is a good person."
  2086. >This crowd is getting pretty large, now.
  2087. >A different voice shouts.
  2088. >"Maybe he tricked you too! He worked his magic on you in your shop!"
  2089. >Rarity groans and rolls her eyes, but as she starts to reply, Princess Twilight suddenly pops into existence in front of you.
  2090. >The crowd cheers and somepony shouts.
  2091. >"Princess! Save them from the monkey's evil tricks!"
  2092. >Twilight murmurs to you three just loud enough to hear over the commotion.
  2093. >"Spike saw the crowd. What's going on, quickly."
  2094. >Rarity stammers and you don't want to talk for fear of making things worse, but fortunately Applejack speaks up.
  2095. >"Me an' Anon was talkin' on the bench about something serious, Thunderlane thought I was upset an' asked if I needed help, then I blew up on him for callin' Anon a monkey an' comparin' him to Tirek, an' my shoutin' attracted a crowd that 'parently thinks Anon has evil magic that's tricked me an' Rarity, an' don't matter what we say, it just keeps makin' everythin' worse!"
  2096. >Twilight nods curtly and turns around.
  2097. >A hush falls over the crowd as she spreads her wings wide to indicate she is speaking formally as Princess.
  2098. >"Hello, everypony! There seems to be some concern over the human, Anonymous. I just wanted to take a moment to reassure you all."
  2099. >A faint murmur ripples through the crowd and Twilight smiles broadly before continuing.
  2100. >"I have done numerous tests both magical and scientific which prove Anonymous is incapable of even the most basic magic. I have also magically confirmed he has no ill feelings toward pony kind or in fact, any living creature... well, except for other humans, surprisingly."
  2101. >You furrow your brows. When did these tests happen? You don't remember any of them.
  2102. >Also, ouch... you had kinda hoped you might develop some magic over time.
  2103. >"He has been nothing but kind and helpful and would only like to be your friend. He just wants to live here in peace and harmony. Please give him a chance."
  2104. >She looks over her shoulder at you three, then turns back to face the crowd again.
  2105. >"If you have any more concerns, please meet me at my castle and I will be happy to answer any questions you have. For now, please leave these three to enjoy their friendship in peace."
  2106. >She folds her wings and turns away.
  2107. >Everypony begins talking to each other, but none seem to be walking towards the four of you.
  2108. >The crowd slowly disperses and the clamor gradually dies down.
  2109. >You heave a great sigh, step back, and sit heavily on the bench again.
  2110. "Thank you, Twilight. That was... intense."
  2111. >Applejack hops up next to you and rubs your back comfortingly.
  2112. >"I agree. That crowd was startin' to get a bit too ornery for my tastes."
  2113. >Rarity daintily wipes some dirt from a hoof with a levitated handkerchief... or hooferchief?
  2114. >"Really, I thought between me and Applejack, ponies would respect us and understand Anon is no threat, especially considering Applejack is the element of honesty, but trying to handle a crowd of that size is just..."
  2115. >She shudders.
  2116. >Twilight smiles and steps close to you.
  2117. >"I'm just glad Spike saw the crowd. Who knows what would have happened if I hadn't gotten here. I had no idea ponies had become so hostile to you!"
  2118. >You look up from your lap and glare at her.
  2119. "Oh, you didn't? You didn't know they've been comparing me to Tirek?"
  2120. >Applejack, still rubbing your back, rests her head on your shoulder.
  2121. >Twilight's ears droop and she takes a step back.
  2122. "Yeah, I learned that one from Applejack. Couldn't have at least told me so I know what to expect?"
  2123. >"Anon, I... I'm sorry. You're absolutely right, I should have told you."
  2124. >You look away grumpily.
  2125. "And what's up with those tests you mentioned? When were they done?"
  2126. >Applejack pulls away, sitting up again.
  2127. >You look up and see both Twilight and Rarity look very uncomfortable.
  2128. "Well that's reassuring."
  2129. >Twilight sighs and sits down in front of you.
  2130. >"I really am sorry Anon, but when you first came through that portal... we first thought of Tirek as well. I... I actually froze you the instant I saw you."
  2131. "You froze me?"
  2132. >"Magically frozen, a sort of stasis or limbo. Coming through a portal like that, you'd be disoriented for a minute or so, so I used that time to quickly cast a spell to contain you."
  2133. "...Contain me."
  2134. >At your disgusted tone, she groans and her ears droop.
  2135. >"Anon, please! You have to understand, I had no idea what had just happened. My spell was only supposed to LOOK at your world, not pull something through! I knew nothing about Earth, had no idea if it was safe or if it was filled with monsters I'd never even dreamed of!"
  2136. >She stands and steps closer to you, her eyes pleading.
  2137. >"I tested you while you were frozen. Once I knew you were safe, I felt so guilty for assuming the worst and freezing you... but I had no choice! Please Anon, you have to understand I just couldn't risk it!"
  2138. >Her tail swishes nervously and her lip quivers.
  2139. >Rarity steps closer.
  2140. >"Anon, you don't know what kind of monsters we've had to deal with. Any one of them could have destroyed Equestria... and some of them very nearly did."
  2141. >Applejack mutters from beside you.
  2142. >"We ain't exactly quick to trust when we find a new species, since all this trouble started a while back."
  2143. >You raise a hand to inturrupt her, then place it on Twilight's cheek.
  2144. "You really do feel terrible, don't you?"
  2145. >She nods and sniffs, her wings shuffling slightly.
  2146. "It's okay, Twilight. I understand."
  2147. >You smile and she closes her eyes, drawing a shaky breath.
  2148. "I only wish you had told me."
  2149. >She takes a step back, her voice just a bit thick with emotion.
  2150. >"You're absolutely right. I should have told you as soon as I knew you were safe and trustworthy. I'm sorry, Anon."
  2151. >You nod seriously and she heaves a little sigh.
  2152. >"Well... I should get back to the castle. I'm sure at least a few ponies will have questions. I wish I could hang out with you, but... well, you three have fun, okay?"
  2153. >You exchange your goodbyes and Twilight vanishes with a pop.
  2154. >Rarity sighs wistfully.
  2155. >"Well that was definitely not the sort of fun I had in mind."
  2156. >She looks to you and Applejack, still seated on the bench.
  2157. >"Are you two okay or do you still need a moment?"
  2158. >You look to Applejack and she shrugs her shoulders.
  2159. "I think we're okay. I'm hungry anyways, let's get some lunch, finally."
  2160. ...
  2161. >You gotta be honest.
  2162. >Lunch is pretty boring so far.
  2163. >The fries were great, and you're halfway through your hayburger-minus-the-hay... but all the flavor must be in the hay because it's pretty bland.
  2164. >After the incident earlier, neither Applejack or Rarity seem eager to try and make you new friends so they talk amongst themselves and you just sit there, occasionally pitching in a sentence or two.
  2165. >At least Applejack seems to be enjoying herself... or at least, she's enjoying herself now that you and Rarity gave in and let her fix the wobbly table.
  2166. >The two ponies fall silent and you focus your attention on them again.
  2167. >...Oh shit, they're both looking at you.
  2168. "Wh-huh? What?"
  2169. >Rarity giggles, crosses her forelegs, and leans forward over the table.
  2170. >"I asked you if you were enjoying yourself."
  2171. "Oh... yeah, I guess. The food was pretty good and the seat is comfy."
  2172. >Applejack rolls her eyes.
  2173. >"C'mon Anon, be honest now."
  2174. >You glare at her and she glares right back.
  2175. >"Pony sin, remember?"
  2176. >You almost resist cracking a smile and she grins back.
  2177. "Fine... This is relaxing, but I'm bored. It's alright though, really. I've gotten used to being bored since I came to Equestria."
  2178. >Rarity pouts.
  2179. >"Come now, that should be a crime! Why, there's loads to do here!"
  2180. "I'm all ears."
  2181. >"We could watch a play! Or perhaps the comedy club, instead?"
  2182. "Are they even open this early in the day?"
  2183. >"Hmm, I suppose not. Maybe we could go bowling, then?"
  2184. "That does sound fun but I'm sore and she's injured."
  2185. >"Oh yes. Well there are plenty of shops, shopping is enormous fun!"
  2186. "I'm broke."
  2187. >"What, you are? Applejack, darling, don't you pay the poor dear?"
  2188. >"Well 'course. It's a job, ain't it?"
  2189. >"So why are you broke, then?"
  2190. "Mostly 'cause I insisted on paying back Twilight for all the money she lent me."
  2191. >"B-But, Anon, she's a Princess! She has no shortage of money!"
  2192. "Yeaaaah I know, but paying her back means it wasn't charity, it was a loan. Better for my pride, y'know?"
  2193. >Rarity scoffs and rolls her eyes.
  2194. >"Stallions and their pride. Honestly, they'd suffer through Tartarus itself if there was pride on the other side."
  2195. >Applejack snorts.
  2196. >"Like yer one to talk about bein' proud!"
  2197. >Rarity daintily flicks a curl of her mane with a hoof.
  2198. >"A lady is not proud, she is confident and dignified."
  2199. >"Oh shore! An' majestic, an' noble, an' illustrious..."
  2200. >"Yes, yes! Oh, Applejack, I never thought you'd understand!"
  2201. >Applejack gives her a flat stare.
  2202. >"Rarity, all them words were just synonyms for proud. I might be a farm pony but I ain't no simpleton."
  2203. >Rarity stammers for a moment, then crosses her hoofs.
  2204. >"Hmph! Well I'd like to hear your suggestions, then."
  2205. >"Well I actually planned on comin' here first, but then afterwards I was thinkin' we could go out on a little nature walk. There's so much beautiful land 'round these parts."
  2206. >"A nature walk? That isn't fun!"
  2207. >"Shore it is! It's just a slower more relaxin' kinda fun. It's like yer spa days 'cept more up my alley than yours. What'd'ya think, Anon?"
  2208. >You swallow and set down your drink, some light juice that reminds you of pears.
  2209. "Well, despite living here a couple months now, I still haven't seen much except what's on the way to your farm. Even just that is beautiful and relaxing, like I was saying on the way into town."
  2210. >You pause to think and Rarity makes a little incredulous whinny.
  2211. >"You aren't seriously considering her nature walk, are you? I thought we were here to make you friends! Walking alone on a secluded - not to mention filthy - path is no way to find new friends."
  2212. >You give her an apologetic shrug.
  2213. "You two are the ones who wanted to try and make me some friends. I just wanted to help AJ relax without dying of boredom in her bed. Besides, I like nature... or at least, I like Equestrian nature. Never was very interested back on Earth. Too many video games I guess."
  2214. >Applejack leans her... foreknee? Fuck it, you'll just call it her elbow... she leans her elbow on the table and smirks at Rarity.
  2215. >"Face it, Rare, he an' I share more interests than you do."
  2216. >Rarity gives her a confused look.
  2217. >"Well... yes, okay. Was that supposed to upset...?"
  2218. >Suddenly her eyes widen.
  2219. >"Oh... oh dear. Applejack, surely you didn't think I'd... well..."
  2220. >Applejack grimaces and breaks eye contact, and Rarity gasps.
  2221. "Wait, didn't think you'd what?"
  2222. >Rarity doesn't answer answer but after a moment, Applejack sighs.
  2223. >"Just my buckin' cycle makin' me stupid an' emotional again."
  2224. >You almost press the issue but Rarity meets your eyes and you catch her subtly shaking head.
  2225. >She relaxes when you drop it and stay silent.
  2226. >"Well, I doubt you would want me following along and whining about your nature trip, so you two go enjoy yourselves. If you're still sore and tired afterwards though, please consider stopping by the boutique. I'd be delighted to bring you to the spa!"
  2227. >Applejack scoffs and Rarity continues quickly.
  2228. >"I know, I know, not exactly your cup of tea, but remember how wonderful you felt last time I convinced you to try it? Besides, I'm sure Anon would appreciate a revitalizing massage. Please at least consider it, it would be my treat."
  2229. >Applejack shrugs her shoulders in defeat.
  2230. >"Alright, alright. I'll think about it. No promises."
  2231. ...
  2232. >As the three of you leave the Hayburger, you feel something touch your leg.
  2233. >You look down to see a little pink filly with purple hair poking your leg with a hoof.
  2234. >You look up at Applejack and Rarity, slightly worried, but they just smile and nod at the filly.
  2235. >You crouch down like you do for Apple Bloom and the filly takes a nervous step away.
  2236. >You try to smile reassuringly.
  2237. "Hi there."
  2238. >She tries to meet your eyes but keeps averting her gaze.
  2239. >"Um... Hi."
  2240. "Do you need something?"
  2241. >She shakes her head, still not meeting your eyes.
  2242. >"My... my dam says you're day...dag... not safe, but Twilight s-says you're friendly."
  2243. >It takes you a second to remember 'dam' is 'mom' in Equestria.
  2244. >"I was w-watching you with Applejack and R-Rarity... you seem nice."
  2245. >Your smile becomes more genuine.
  2246. "Well thank you! You seen nice, too."
  2247. >She finally looks up at you.
  2248. >"You looked sad earlier... are you okay?"
  2249. >You hesitate, then boop her gently on the snout.
  2250. >She goes cross-eyed and wiggles her nose.
  2251. "It's really sweet of you to ask, but don't worry. I'm not sad, I was just a little bored."
  2252. >Still wiggling her nose, she suddenly sneezes.
  2253. >Across the diner, a pink mare's head snaps up.
  2254. >"Petal?"
  2255. >The filly quickly takes a step back and turns back to her dam, but not before the mare whips her head around to see you.
  2256. >She neighs in terror and scrambles out of her seat.
  2257. >"PETAL BOW! GET AWAY!"
  2258. >Rarity gasps.
  2259. >You hastily stand and back away, hands up in front of your chest.
  2260. >Applejack walks in front of you and stands beside the terrified filly.
  2261. >The mare knocks over a table in her mad rush to get to her filly.
  2262. >Petal Bow whines and raises both hooves.
  2263. >"No dammy, it's okay! He's nice!"
  2264. >Just as the mare gets close enough to try and scoop her filly up, Applejack slaps her across the muzzle. Hard.
  2265. >She gasps and falls to her rump, a hoof raising to her stunned snout.
  2266. >...You and Rarity are equally shocked.
  2267. >Applejack gets right up in her face and shouts.
  2268. >"Quit bein' a buckin' narrow-minded foal! Anon ain't never hurt nopony, he ain't GONNA hurt nopony, an' he sure as hay ain't gonna hurt yer sweet little filly after she trotted on over here an' gave 'im a compliment all by 'erself!"
  2269. >The mare stammers but Applejack growls over her.
  2270. >"I'm tellin' ya as the buckin' element of honesty that Anon's a good person an' a wonderful friend. Hay, Princess Twilight herself just announced to darn near the whole town that's he's safe!"
  2271. >She glares around her, furious tears in her eyes.
  2272. >"Why can't nopony just see how nice he is!? Just look! JUST..."
  2273. >She tries to scream in frustration but only a choked sob comes out, then she whips around and gallops out of The Hayburger, nearly knocking over a passing stallion as she exits.
  2274. >The mare watches her go, then slowly shifts her still-stunned face to you.
  2275. >You take another step back, hands still up, mostly trying not to shit yourself.
  2276. "I-I'm sorry. I never... never wanted... I just wanted to relax with my friends."
  2277. >You sidestep toward the door.
  2278. "Petal is... very sweet and caring. She saw me earlier and was just... just worried I looked sad."
  2279. >You gulp and look around nervously.
  2280. >The restaurant is eerily silent as everypony stares at you.
  2281. "I-I'm... I'm gonna... g-go see if AJ's okay."
  2282. >You spin and jog out the door after Applejack.
  2283. >Unfortunately you are still sore and very clumsy.
  2284. >You knock over that stallion.
  2285. ...
  2286. >Well shit.
  2287. >You're lost.
  2288. >After apologizing to that poor stallion, you couldn't see Applejack anywhere and nopony would answer when you tried asking which way she went.
  2289. >You thought maybe her galloping would leave marks in the path, but there's way too many hoofprints to tell trot from canter.
  2290. >So, despite your sore muscles, you tried to run the direction you saw her turn out the door and just hoped she stayed to the main path.
  2291. >You're mostly worried about her emotions running wild, but you're also concerned she'll hurt her fetlock even worse.
  2292. >...But either she didn't stay on the path, or she kept running a lot longer than you.
  2293. >Ponyville is a lot bigger than you thought, and yeah...
  2294. >Now you're lost.
  2295. >Exhausted, you try asking a couple ponies for direction, but they just hurry past or turn and trot nervously away.
  2296. >You keep trying, but after about the twentieth pony that scurries off without a word, you groan and flop onto a nearby bench to try and catch your breath.
  2297. >The hell do you do now?
  2298. >Guess you can just sit here and hope a pony who already knows you will pass by.
  2299. >So that'd be either Rarity, Twilight, Pinkie, one of the Apples, or one of the Crusaders.
  2300. >...Not very likely.
  2301. >You quickly hop up again and start walking down the main road, looking between and over houses, trying to spot Twilight's castle.
  2302. >You must be in a dense residential area because the houses around you are packed pretty close together.
  2303. >Eventually, a space opens up and you catch a glimpse of the castle in the distance.
  2304. >...Fuck.
  2305. >That's further away than you expected.
  2306. >You turn down the first road that heads roughly in that direction.
  2307. >Now that you're not desperately trying to find the castle, you pay more attention to your surroundings.
  2308. >As you walk down the path, most ponies simply ignore you.
  2309. >Some eye you warily.
  2310. >A few hastily step inside and shut their door.
  2311. >...Friendship is magic, indeed.
  2312. >You sigh inwardly and keep winding through the streets, trying to keep yourself pointed towards the castle, but none of the roads are straight and most don't even intersect at right angles.
  2313. >You keep walking for some time, but somehow the houses never seem to look any different.
  2314. >As you approach another little plaza between some houses - or possibly the same one you've already passed several times - you slump into a bench.
  2315. >So yeah...
  2316. >The hell do you do now?
  2317. ...
  2318. >You wake up with a jolt.
  2319. >The sun hasn't moved of course, so you've no idea how long you slept.
  2320. >Could have sworn you heard something though...
  2321. >With a loud woosh, something slams into the ground before you, spraying you with dirt and making you flinch.
  2322. >As you cough and brush the dirt from your face, you hear a rough mare's voice laugh excitedly.
  2323. >"Aw YEAH! Twilight thought she could find you first? AS IF!"
  2324. >You open your eyes to see a blue pegasus with a multi-colored mane and tail.
  2325. "Oh! Hey, you must be... Rainbow, right? Rainbow Fast or something?"
  2326. >"Rainbow DASH, and don't you forget it, 'cause I'm the one that just saved your monkey hide!"
  2327. >She leaps into the air and prances in place a little, then suddenly looks down at you.
  2328. >"The hay are you even doing over here, anyway?"
  2329. >You groan and stand up, bringing your head up to her height.
  2330. "Well I WAS looking for Applejack, but this 'little town' is a lot bigger than I thought and I got lost."
  2331. >"Ha! You're gonna have to learn your way around quick. I won't always be here to save you!"
  2332. >She waves a hoof.
  2333. >"Come on, pokey! Lets go!"
  2334. >She flies off and whips around a corner, leaving a rainbow streak in the air behind her.
  2335. "H-Hey! WAIT!"
  2336. >You run haggardly after the rainbow streak, but it fades as quickly as she disappeared.
  2337. >Still, you're pretty sure it went this--
  2338. >"WHAA--"
  2339. >A blue blur slams into your chest and you fall heavily onto your back.
  2340. "Uhhhgh... what--"
  2341. >"What the buck was that, Anon!?"
  2342. >Rainbow Dash is standing over you, looking furious.
  2343. >"I just sprained my wing 'cause of you!"
  2344. "What, because of ME?"
  2345. >She knocks your forehead with a hoof.
  2346. >"Well, duh! You just ran right into me."
  2347. >You shove her hoof away.
  2348. "Bullshit, you're the one who slammed into my chest at mach one!"
  2349. >She snorts, steps back, and you stand up.
  2350. "Can you not zoom off way faster than I can run this time so I can actually follow you?"
  2351. >She stomps a hoof.
  2352. >"I can't fly at ALL now, you jerk! I gotta wait for this wing to heal! What am I gonna tell the Wonderbolts?"
  2353. "Ain't my fault you flew away and back so fast you couldn't even see where you were going."
  2354. >She groans and spins around, whipping you with her tail.
  2355. >"Come on, dummy. Let's get you back to somepony you haven't hurt yet."
  2356. >She sneers over her shoulder.
  2357. >"Oh wait, you hurt her too, didn'cha?"
  2358. >You scowl.
  2359. "The fuck is your problem!?"
  2360. >She smirks and gallops away.
  2361. "Hey! Don't fucking leave me again!"
  2362. >"Keep up, monkey!"
  2363. >You roll your eyes and groan.
  2364. >As annoying as she is, she's probably your only way home.
  2365. >It's strange though... Applejack always said Rainbow Dash is fun to hang out with.
  2366. >You chase her at a light jog, wincing at the angry burning in your legs.
  2367. >Hopefully this is fast enough, 'cause if you try and push any faster, your legs might just shut down completely.
  2368. >You catch up to her at a corner, but she smirks again and takes off at a gallop just as you start to slow down.
  2369. "Wait, dammit!"
  2370. >"Show me whatcha got!"
  2371. >She vanishes down a side path and you jog wobbly toward it.
  2372. >Turning the corner, you see her already sitting at the far end of the road, lounging like she's already been there for an hour.
  2373. >You're already out of breath and your legs have begun to burn.
  2374. >As you get close again, she rolls her eyes.
  2375. >"Come ooooonnnnn, is that the best you can do?"
  2376. "I'm supposed to be taking it easy to heal."
  2377. >"Ugh! Alright fine, c'mon."
  2378. >She hops up and trots away, keeping just barely ahead of you and occasionally flicking you with her tail.
  2379. >You try to ignore her and pay attention to where you're going.
  2380. >You turn down a couple more roads and they still all look identical.
  2381. >Suddenly you realize she has been slowly accelerating until you're nearly at a full sprint.
  2382. >Your legs feel like you're waist deep in molten lava.
  2383. >You stop immediately and Rainbow Dash skids and spins around.
  2384. >"Hey, what gives? You were starting to do pretty good!"
  2385. >You collapse to the ground, gasping for breath.
  2386. "Fuck off... making me... run faster..."
  2387. >"Ah come on, exercise is good for you! Nothing better for sore muscles than working 'em twice as hard the next day."
  2388. "You're insane."
  2389. >She lunges and whips around behind you, shoving hard into your back.
  2390. >"Up!"
  2391. "What the--"
  2392. >You lurch forward and your face slams into the ground.
  2393. >You push yourself up and spit out some dirt.
  2394. "--FUCK is your problem?"
  2395. >"Well obviously you're too slow! Get moving ya lazy bum!"
  2396. >You scoot to the side and press your back against the wall of a house.
  2397. "I'm sitting right here... until I have my breath back."
  2398. >"Oh, okay."
  2399. >She walks up and sits as close to you as possible, her forelegs actually pressing into your thigh near your butt.
  2400. >You raise an eyebrow.
  2401. "What are you--"
  2402. >She heaves and tosses you up into the air.
  2403. "--doaaAAAH"
  2404. >You scramble to catch yourself and are surprised to land on your feet.
  2405. >She somehow threw you exactly up to standing height.
  2406. >A hoof shoves into your lower back.
  2407. >"MOVE!"
  2408. "Jesus!"
  2409. >You lurch forward, catch yourself, then spin around.
  2410. >She has that stupid smirk again.
  2411. "No!"
  2412. >You sit back down again.
  2413. "You can fuck off and fetch Applejack or Twilight. I'm not taking another step with you."
  2414. >She tries to lunge forward and get her forehooves under you again but you put a hand on her chest and hold her back.
  2415. >She just presses her chest against your hand harder and harder, growling slightly with the effort.
  2416. >Quickly realizing she will overpower you, you change tactics and suddenly slip your hand under her.
  2417. >She lurches forward with a yelp.
  2418. >You lift between her forelegs, grab a hind hoof with your other hand, and toss her over your shoulder.
  2419. >Thank god ponies are so light.
  2420. >You look behind you to see her wings snap open as she rights herself.
  2421. >She lands and whips around, lunging at you again.
  2422. >You throw yourself to the side, pulling your legs out of the way just as she gallops past.
  2423. >As she spins around again, you scoot back frantically against the house and shout.
  2424. "Why are you doing this!?"
  2425. >She doesn't answer and charges you again, nostrils flaring, ears pinned straight back, teeth bared.
  2426. >You've never seen a pony angry before, but you guess it looks like that.
  2427. >You curl up and try to protect your head with your arms.
  2428. >You tense and brace for a tackle or hoofblows.
  2429. >You notice you are shaking slightly.
  2430. >You realize nothing has happened yet.
  2431. >You wait another couple of seconds.
  2432. >Slowly, cautiously, you look up.
  2433. >Rainbow Dash is sitting right in front of you with a nervous, almost apologetic smile.
  2434. >You sit up again and slump back against the house, panting heavily.
  2435. "The fuck...?"
  2436. >Rainbow Dash paws the ground lightly, looking uncomfortable.
  2437. >"Yeah, so... sorry about that Anon, really. It was... I guess you'd call it a test."
  2438. "...The FUCK!?"
  2439. >"Yeah... wanted to see how you responded to stress, anger, attacks, you know."
  2440. "Why do you even care!?"
  2441. >"Oh, I don't. It was Twi's idea."
  2442. "Twilight's... the fuuuuck."
  2443. >You can't even think of more creative swears.
  2444. >You rub your eyes.
  2445. "Explain... please."
  2446. >She grimaces and shuffles her wings.
  2447. >"I don't know the specifics... you'll have to ask her about that."
  2448. >A hoof touches your knee and you look up.
  2449. >She looks pretty upset.
  2450. >"It's like this... Twi told me to be really mean and try to push you over the edge, see if you'd get mean or violent back. She said to stop before it got too serious. AJ says you're a good person and I trust her, but Twi promised doing this was important and... I trust her, too."
  2451. >You feel like your head was just put through a blender.
  2452. >She withdraws her hoof and looks away.
  2453. >"I'm really sorry we had to meet like that... I told Twilight you'd hate me 'cause we've never met, but she says it has to be me BECAUSE we've never met."
  2454. >She turns back to you, her tail twitching nervously.
  2455. >"So... do you think we could maybe start over, do it for real this time?"
  2456. >She gives you a small smile and holds out a hoof, her ears perked up.
  2457. >"Hey, I'm Rainbow Dash. I'm pretty awesome, I hear you're pretty awesome, and I've actually been kinda stoked to meet you."
  2458. >You're still reeling from the emotional roller coaster of the last few minutes.
  2459. >You rub your face with both hands and take a deep breath.
  2460. >When you drop your hands and look at her again, she wiggles her hoof and whines.
  2461. >"Come on... you're not gonna leave me hanging, right?"
  2462. >You take another deep breath, your heart still pounding madly.
  2463. >Then you lift your hand and bump her hoof with your fist.
  2464. >She curls her hoof, looks down, and faintly whispers, "Yes!"
  2465. "I'm..."
  2466. >You swallow hard, trying to ease your dry throat.
  2467. "I'm Anon. I'm a human... AJ said good things about you. I was looking forward to meeting you."
  2468. >Her ears droop again.
  2469. >"Was?"
  2470. >You drop your head in your hands.
  2471. "Fuck! Just... give me a second, alright?"
  2472. >Concentrate on your breathing, Anon.
  2473. >Just sit here and breath for a moment.
  2474. >You hear a faint rustle and something brushes your shoulders.
  2475. >You turn your head to look and blue feathers fill your vision.
  2476. >Startled, you bolt upright, and Rainbow Dash's wing instantly folds up.
  2477. >"Sorry! I just... it always helps Fluttershy when she's freaking out."
  2478. >Yet again, you take a deep breath to try and calm your heart.
  2479. "It's... it's fine. Just surprised me."
  2480. >You slump back against the house and try to relax.
  2481. >She tentatively extends a wing again, reaching out with more confidence when you don't react.
  2482. >She scoots a little closer and the feathers envelop your side like a downy blanket.
  2483. >Her wing is soft, fluffy, and surprisingly warm.
  2484. >You immediately begin feeling better.
  2485. >Some tension releases in your shoulders.
  2486. >This is seriously cozy.
  2487. >In fact...
  2488. ...
  2489. >You jolt upright.
  2490. >Again.
  2491. >"Helloooo? Anypony there?"
  2492. >You look around, confused.
  2493. >"Welcome back. Jeez, not even I can fall asleep that fast."
  2494. >Rainbow Dash is smirking at you again.
  2495. >You arch your back and yawn.
  2496. "Sorry... I was already sore and tired before your damn chase. Now I'm completely exhausted."
  2497. >She grimaces.
  2498. >"Sorry again about that..."
  2499. "Yeah well, sorry about spraining your wing, I guess."
  2500. >Her grimace gets even worse.
  2501. >"Oh, uh... my wing's fine, actually. That was just part of the act."
  2502. >You sigh.
  2503. "Look, don't beat yourself up about it. I... I don't blame you."
  2504. >She tilts her head, her ears perking.
  2505. "I'm gonna have some big questions for Twilight, but you were just doing what she told you."
  2506. >"So... we're cool?"
  2507. >You sigh.
  2508. "I mean, that was one hell of a first impression. I don't think I can forgive you yet... but I'm willing to try and work past it."
  2509. >"Well, I guess that's probably better than I deserve."
  2510. >She sighs, then stands up.
  2511. >"Come on, dummy. Let's go."
  2512. >She grins and holds out a hoof to help you up.
  2513. ...
  2514. >"Ooh ooh, and over here is where Applejack's grandsire lives!"
  2515. >You look down at Dash in disbelief.
  2516. "What, Granny's ex-husband?"
  2517. >She looks up at you, stunned, then guffaws so hard she almost falls over.
  2518. >Which of course means you also almost fall over since she's helping you walk.
  2519. >Your legs are NOT happy.
  2520. >"No no no, hay no! Granny is Bright Mac's dam. Grand Pear is Pear Butter's sire."
  2521. >She chuckles some more.
  2522. >"They HATED each other when they were younger. Grand Pear only just recently came back to Ponyville."
  2523. "What--"
  2524. >"Don't ask me, it's her story to tell."
  2525. "Uh... alrighty."
  2526. >You've been hobbling along and leaning on Rainbow Dash for what feels like ages.
  2527. >Fortunately, she's a lot more fun to be around when she's not actively being as mean as possible.
  2528. >You turn a corner and suddenly the road opens up ahead of you.
  2529. >"And here we are! Out of the housing district, back into shopping central, Rarity's third favorite place in Equestria."
  2530. "Third?"
  2531. >"Her boutique and the Spa, of course."
  2532. >You laugh, then groan at the pain that shoots through your abdomen.
  2533. "I told you to stop makin' me laugh!"
  2534. >"Just quit laughing, dummy!"
  2535. >You flick her ear with your free hand and she jerks her head away violently.
  2536. >"H-Hey, don't do that!"
  2537. "Why not?"
  2538. >Your hand chases her head and you scratch her ear with one fingertip.
  2539. >Her entire neck tenses up and the ear twitches madly.
  2540. >"Stop it! I-I'll drop you I swear!"
  2541. "Daaaash, are you ticklish?"
  2542. >She whinnies.
  2543. >"NO!"
  2544. >You try to contain the giggles bubbling up inside you as you tickle her ear.
  2545. >She shakes her head violently and stops dead, dropping flat on the ground.
  2546. "Wh-OOF"
  2547. >You slam forward into the ground like your legs aren't even there.
  2548. >Rainbow Dash's worried face fills the half of your vision that isn't dirt.
  2549. >"Omigosh Anon! Are you okay? I didn't think you'd actually fall like that!"
  2550. >You groan loudly and slowly lift your face off the ground.
  2551. "F-Fuck... you."
  2552. >She sighs and sits down.
  2553. >"Yeah, you're okay."
  2554. >You laugh, cough, then groan in pain again.
  2555. "Help me up, you asshole."
  2556. >"Promise you won't tell!"
  2557. "Huh? Tell what?"
  2558. >She looks around nervously, then leans close and whispers in your face.
  2559. >"That I'm ticklish!"
  2560. >Her dead serious expression makes you bust out laughing again.
  2561. >...Then groan in pain again.
  2562. >She continues whispering urgently.
  2563. >"I'm serious Anon, this is important! Do you have any idea what would happen if Pinkie found out?"
  2564. >Still trying not to laugh, you just shake your head.
  2565. >"It'd be a disaster! She'd attack me literally every single time we met!"
  2566. "Sounds... terrifying!"
  2567. >She lays down in front of you, her ears flat, eyes huge.
  2568. >"Anon, please! I'm beggin you!"
  2569. >Still lying on the ground, you reach up and ruffle her mane.
  2570. "You're not as good at that face as Apple Bloom is... but fine, I promise."
  2571. >She beams and shoves a hoof under your arm to help you up.
  2572. >As you two stand, you hear Twilight's voice.
  2573. >"There you are!"
  2574. >She glides over and lands in front of you.
  2575. >"Honestly Anon, if I have to put a magical tracker on you..."
  2576. "Where's Applejack?"
  2577. ...
  2578. >If Twilight is annoyed by your interruption, she doesn't show it.
  2579. >Not that you would care very much if you did annoy her.
  2580. >You have quite a lot to say to the Princess of Friendship, but you're still thinking about exactly how you want to approach the subject.
  2581. >Applejack is more important right now anyways.
  2582. >Twilight turns to face Rainbow Dash.
  2583. >"Take him to Applejack, please? She hasn't moved since you last saw her a few hours ago. Afterwards, can you please meet me at the castle? I could use your help."
  2584. >"Kay."
  2585. >Twilight flies away without another word.
  2586. >You lean on Rainbow Dash as she silently helps you across the plaza and around the corner of the building.
  2587. >Applejack is sitting on a little mat in a cozy looking alley between the restaurant and the shop next to it.
  2588. >She looks up at the sound of hoofsteps and her face lights up when she sees you.
  2589. >"Anon! Wallop my withers, you've been missin' for hours! What happened?"
  2590. >Dash opens her mouth but you tap her neck and shake your head when she looks back at you.
  2591. "Let's talk about it tomorrow, I'm exhausted. Can we just go home, AJ?"
  2592. >Rainbow Dash brightens.
  2593. >"Do you want some help? I wanna help!"
  2594. "Doesn't Twilight need your help?"
  2595. >She rolls her eyes.
  2596. >"Yeah, but I already know what she wants and it can wait. I just... I wanna make this right."
  2597. >You smile and ruffle her mane.
  2598. "I appreciate it Dash, but it's okay. I hope we can hang out again soon."
  2599. >Her eyes light up.
  2600. >"Really?"
  2601. "Really."
  2602. >She eases you to the ground, then steps back and rustles her wings as Applejack walks over.
  2603. >"You really are awesome, Anon. No way I'd be nice to somepony that did what I did."
  2604. >Applejack sits next to you and you shrug.
  2605. "It's not that I'm being nice, it's that I don't blame you."
  2606. >She rubs her head and blushes slightly.
  2607. >"Yeah, well... whatever, I'll leave you two alone. See ya!"
  2608. >She zooms off rapidly and you turn to lay a hand on Applejack's withers.
  2609. "So... are you okay?"
  2610. >She smiles sadly.
  2611. >"More or less I 'spose."
  2612. "You didn't hurt your leg, did you?"
  2613. >"No, pretty sure it's fine. I only galloped right around the corner here to sit down for a breather."
  2614. >You suppress the urge to groan.
  2615. >All that trouble you went through and she only ran twenty feet.
  2616. >"Rarity musta gone an' fetched Twilight 'cause she popped on over here not long after. I was still pretty upset an' I reckon I wasn't makin' a whole lotta sense."
  2617. >She sighs.
  2618. >"I think she mighta got the wrong idea an' thought I was upset 'cause of somethin' ya did. She got all flustered, then she got angry, then flew off at top speed 'fore I could stop her."
  2619. "Yeah... I really don't want to talk about it right now."
  2620. >Applejack looks concerned but you shake you head.
  2621. "Don't worry, it's not that bad. What's important is I was running and just about killed my legs, so we're gonna have to hobble around together."
  2622. >She groans.
  2623. >"They hay were you runnin' for?"
  2624. >You grimace.
  2625. "Please... can we just do this tomorrow?"
  2626. >She gives you a long stare, then sighs in resignation.
  2627. >"Alright well, guess we oughta get goin' then, it's gonna take us ages to get back to the farm. Wait 'ere a tick."
  2628. >She walks slowly down the alley looking this way and that, then turns out of sight.
  2629. >When she returns a moment later, she's carrying a fallen tree branch in her mouth.
  2630. >You give her a questioning look but she just sits down and rapidly strips it of leaves and twigs, tossing the debris into the bushes along the alley.
  2631. >Seconds later, she passes you a knobbly walking stick.
  2632. "Oh... right. 'Cause of your cast."
  2633. >She nods.
  2634. >"C'mon, up you get."
  2635. >You grab her good hoof and she helps you to your feet without even needing to stand up.
  2636. >You stand shakily and carefully put some weight on the stick.
  2637. >It seems sturdy enough.
  2638. >Applejack stands up on your other side.
  2639. "We're gonna have to match strides."
  2640. >"Eyup."
  2641. >It takes a few awkward moments to get used to stepping with your stick at the same time she steps with her cast.
  2642. >You'd probably laugh at the two of you fumbling around if not for the sharp pain in your legs whenever you make a mistake.
  2643. >Still, once you get used to it, the two of you are able to hobble along at a slow walk.
  2644. >You aren't sure you'll be able to make it all the way to the farm, though...
  2645. >You've only been walking a few minutes and your legs are already protesting.
  2646. >You're still worried about Applejack after the Hay Burger, so you decide to risk bringing up what happened today.
  2647. >Though, if you're completely honest, you're mostly just trying to take your mind off the burning pain in your legs.
  2648. "Hey Applejack?"
  2649. >"Yeah?"
  2650. "...Are you okay?"
  2651. >One of her ears twitch.
  2652. >"Didn't ya ask that one already, partner?"
  2653. "Yeah, but I mean for real. You were really, uh... emotional today. Is something wrong?"
  2654. >She doesn't respond.
  2655. >You'd like to let her answer at her own pace, but the lack of a distraction means your mind immediately focuses on the fire in your legs.
  2656. "I don't mean to pry and I really hope I'm not upsetting you by asking... I'm just worried about you."
  2657. >Her ears flatten but she still says nothing.
  2658. "Look, if you want me to drop it, just say--"
  2659. >"Yes."
  2660. >Caught by surprise, you freeze, mouth still forming your next word.
  2661. >Honestly, you weren't actually expecting her to ask you to drop it.
  2662. >Still, she respected that you didn't want to talk about your problems, the least you could do is extend her the same courtesy.
  2663. >You sigh heavily.
  2664. "Okay, I'm sorry. I won't bring it up again."
  2665. >She looks confused for a second, then shakes her head, seeming tense.
  2666. >"I mean yes, somethin' is wrong, Anon."
  2667. "...Oh."
  2668. >"Somethin's wrong with me, somethin's wrong with Twilight, and somethin's wrong with all them buckin' ponies that can't see you as nothin' but a threat."
  2669. >She huffs and stomps a little with each step.
  2670. >"Me an' the girls do our best to teach everypony that 'friendship is magic,' then I look around and see there's still all this pointless hostility an' bickering... 'specially around you."
  2671. >Your foot catches and you grunt in pain.
  2672. >Guess you were a little too distracted by what Applejack is saying.
  2673. >You had no idea she was so frustrated with everypony.
  2674. >"An' our Princess of Friendship ain't exactly takin' it too well, either. It's like she just HAS to keep everypony perfect friends, an' if she sees somepony ain't gettin' along, she goes a little mad tryin' to live up to the title she chose for herself."
  2675. >You stumble painfully again and you realize Applejack is walking a lot faster and your poor legs can hardly keep up.
  2676. "Uh..."
  2677. >"An' it feels like all this manure's comin' to a point right when I'm in the middle o' this buckin' heat that's messin' with my head so bad I can't hardly even talk like normal, nevermind figure out how to help my friends!"
  2678. "Applejack? Hey!"
  2679. >You jerk to a halt and lean heavily on your stick.
  2680. >Applejack slows to a stop just ahead of you and turns around, looking confused.
  2681. "Ugh... You were nearly trotting by the end there..."
  2682. >You slump heavily to the ground, wincing in pain.
  2683. "I guess you tend to walk faster when you're upset."
  2684. >She sighs and sits in front of you.
  2685. >"I'm sorry, Anon... You're right, I tend to work myself up an' get carried away. I just wish--"
  2686. >"Hey, there y'are!"
  2687. >Apple Bloom's happy voice inturrupts her as the filly trots up from the edge of town.
  2688. >Applejack does her best to make her expression pleasant.
  2689. >From Apple Bloom's worried expression, either she fails to do so or you must look worse than you thought.
  2690. >"Uh... y'all okay? Ya look pretty beat up."
  2691. >Applejack sighs.
  2692. >"Don't you worry 'bout it, sugarcube. What're ya doin' in town?"
  2693. >The filly stares at you for a second, then smiles uncertainly at Applejack.
  2694. >"Ah was lookin' for you! Y'all've been gone for hours an' the sun'll be settin' any minute now."
  2695. "Did Granny send you or did you come looking on your own?"
  2696. >"On my own! Ah was worried 'bout you two!"
  2697. >You look to Applejack, who grins proudly, then you turn to give the filly a reassuring smile.
  2698. "Well, don't worry. We're on our way back now... my legs are just even more sore than yesterday, so we're going pretty slow."
  2699. >The filly relaxes and nods happily.
  2700. >"Alrighty! Imma head on back then t'help Granny with dinner."
  2701. >She hops up but Applejack reaches out a hoof to stop her.
  2702. >"Simmer down, sally. I don't think Anon's comin' to the farm tonight."
  2703. "Huh, what?"
  2704. >Applejack turns to you.
  2705. >"Well it's just... beggin' your pardon, Anon, but y'all really don't look too good. How's about 'stead of tryin' to make it all the way back to the farm, I just help you to your place, then trot on home myself?"
  2706. >You chuckle softly.
  2707. "Right, right, I have a house of my own. I've been spending so much time on the farm, I'm starting to feel like I live there."
  2708. >Apple Bloom covers her mouth and giggles, then blurts out.
  2709. >"Home's where the heart is!"
  2710. >Applejack shoots her a nasty glare and she scurries away, giggling even harder.
  2711. >"Anywho... Look Bloom, just head on back an' tell Granny that Anon won't be comin' for dinner tonight."
  2712. >"Okay!"
  2713. >Apple Bloom turns and walks a few steps, then shouts back over her shoulder.
  2714. >"Betcha won't be home tonight, neither!"
  2715. >She immediately gallops away before Applejack even responds.
  2716. >"Huh? Apple Bloom!? Hey! YOU COME BACK HERE RIGHT NOW, YOUNG MARE!"
  2717. >Applejack snorts angrily and scrambles to her hooves.
  2718. >You snatch up her tail and hold on tight as she rears to give chase.
  2719. "Whoa girl, hold up! Applejack!"
  2720. >She whips her head around and her glare makes you cringe, but you don't let go.
  2721. "C'mon, don't look at me like that. You know you can't gallop on that leg."
  2722. >She rolls her eyes and grumbles, but she steps back and sits again.
  2723. >You release her tail and it immediately twitches in annoyance.
  2724. >"She knows full well I can't chase her right now..."
  2725. "Next time we see her, I'll hold her down and you can tickle her for ten minutes straight as punishment."
  2726. >She cracks a smile despite her sour mood.
  2727. >"Now you're just bein' cruel, Anon."
  2728. >You chuckle and try to struggle to your feet, leaning heavily on your stick.
  2729. >She hastily stands up so you can lean on her and the two of you continue walking in silence.
  2730. >A moment later, the sun begins to lower smoothly into the horizon.
  2731. >You and Applejack turn the last corner and see your house just a few doors down.
  2732. >As you approach in the fading light, you notice a large package in front of your door.
  2733. "Huh?"
  2734. >"Ya order a delivery or somethin'?"
  2735. "No..."
  2736. >You carefully lean over to open the note on the package without upsetting your legs too much.
  2737. >There was a surprisingly long block of text written in a slightly messy flowing script.
  2738. >'Dear Anon: I thought about what Applejack said and talked to my filly... and I wanted to say I'm sorry for my behavior earlier today. The more I think about how you've acted since you came to ponyville, the more embarrassed I feel that I ever doubted your intentions, especially since Applejack calls you her friend. Please accept this gift as a token of my apology. My filly and I would like to meet with you and Applejack to get to know you properly. Sincerely, Lily.'
  2739. >You look up at Applejack, who sat patiently while you read.
  2740. >"So who's it from?"
  2741. "It's signed a name I don't recognize: Lily."
  2742. >She gasps.
  2743. >"That's the mare I told off at the Hay Burger? Y'know, Petal Bow's dam?"
  2744. >Your eyes widen and you gaze falls back to the package.
  2745. >Applejack shuffles a little closer.
  2746. >"Lily Valley runs the Ponyville Florist along with Daisy an' Roseluck. They're friends of the family, since we grow all their flowers... 'side from what they import, o'course."
  2747. "Wow... and you just smacked her upside the head and yelled at her in front of everypony?"
  2748. >She rubs the side of her head awkwardly.
  2749. >"Well, she was acting pretty foalish... an' I was pretty upset. I know her an' she oughta know better'n that, which just made her behavior seem even worse."
  2750. >She shakes her head and stands.
  2751. >"But anyways, what're we doin' just sittin' out here? Let's get inside an' see what's in this box. Bet it's just a bunch o'flowers..."
  2752. >You open your door and Applejack shoves the package over the step and into your barren living room.
  2753. >You wobble over and collapse onto your couch, sighing deeply as your battered body finally begins to relax.
  2754. >"Wanna open it now or wait 'till later?"
  2755. >Without lifting your head from the back of the couch, you can just barely see her when your eyes look down.
  2756. >You lift your hands in a weak shrug.
  2757. "May as well open it now. I'm not getting up for a while if I can help it."
  2758. >She pries the top of the box open, popping the tape off easily.
  2759. >Applejack pulls out a small blue pouch and tosses it into your lap, then pulls out a half dozen more pouches of different colors.
  2760. >You open the pouch and lift it to your face to see a colorful blend of crushed leaves and dried flowers with a sweet, fruity scent.
  2761. >Applejack also pulls out a white kettle with pink and yellow flower-print, a pair of matching tea cups, a simple tea strainer, and finally a small card, which she passes to you.
  2762. >Aside from a simple 'I hope you enjoy,' it's just a list of which color pouch is what kind of tea.
  2763. "Well... I guess it really is just a bunch of flowers."
  2764. >Applejack snorts at your dumb joke as she peers closely at one of the tea cups.
  2765. >"This is pretty high quality stuff... Lily must feel just awful for her to get ya somethin' so nice."
  2766. "Guess so..."
  2767. >You trail off and Applejack looks at you curiously.
  2768. >"Bit for your thoughts?"
  2769. "It's just... Isn't it kinda sudden? I mean, she was absolutely terrified of me, now suddenly she's giving me some expensive gift and saying she wants to hang out and is even gonna bring her filly along? Why such an extreme change of heart?"
  2770. >She carefully picks up the two tea cups and a few pouches of tea, then takes them to your kitchen.
  2771. >"Well like I said, they're friends of the family, but Lily an' I are especially close. She knows I'm goin' through my cycle an' my emotions are runnin' hot, but even so, she knows I only get that upset when I really care about--"
  2772. >She freezes suddenly as she places the teacups on your counter, then her ears fold down and steps back, blush spreading across her face.
  2773. >You search desperately for a change of topic before your own ears start burning.
  2774. "You know, this uh... this tea actually smells pretty good. I didn't know ponies even drank tea."
  2775. >With a poorly concealed sigh of relief, Applejack walks back to Lily's gift.
  2776. >"We do, but it ain't all that popular. Most ponies like everythin' either real sweet or mild an' salty. Ain't too keen on bitter."
  2777. >She carefully picks up the kettle and scoops up the rest of the pouches.
  2778. "I was wondering about that... Ponies eat so much cake, sweets and candy, but what little else you eat is kinda bland, like what I had at the Hayburger. Doesn't anypony want something with real flavor?"
  2779. >She slides the kettle onto your counter and shrugs, then starts walking back toward you.
  2780. >"Ain't sure what ya mean by real flavor. The Hayburger is said to be pretty darn tasty 'round town. There's a reason it's so popular, y'know."
  2781. >You sigh as she hops up onto the couch a couple feet away.
  2782. >Out of the corner of your eye, you see her turn sideways so she sits facing you.
  2783. "Man, I wish I was better at cooking. If you could taste one burger the way they made 'em back home... ok well, actually I guess that'd be pretty terrible."
  2784. >"Why's that?"
  2785. "Well... burgers back home aren't made with hay, the patty is made of ground meat."
  2786. >"Hold up... you sayin' y'all can grow meat right outta the ground?"
  2787. >You hesitate and lift your head to give her a confused look, then suddenly you snort with laughter.
  2788. >You're relieved to find your abdomen barely hurts anymore.
  2789. "Oh, no no no, ground as in grinding the meat up into a sort of paste."
  2790. >You expected her to react with disgust, but instead she just raises her eyebrow, silently asking the question.
  2791. >You relax again, your head rolling back into the cushion.
  2792. "It smooths the texture and you can mold it into any shape. It means you can make a round patty and every bite will have the same taste and texture. Then you toss the patty into a pan and the heat liquifies some of the fat so you can fry it in its own grease."
  2793. >She murmurs faintly.
  2794. >"Isn't the fat gross?"
  2795. "Hell no! The more fat the better, that's where all the flavor is! The best cuts of meat have the fat spread evenly through the whole slice."
  2796. >You swallow and mutter.
  2797. "Fuck... what I wouldn't give for some bacon right now..."
  2798. >"Bacon?"
  2799. "Oh man, bacon. It's like... get a really good fatty cut of pork belly, rub salt and some seasoning into the meat, then let it cure for a few days. The salt dries out the meat and over time the flavor of the seasoning permeates it."
  2800. >It's been so long since you've had anything savory, you describe the meat you've been craving with hardly a thought of how Applejack might react.
  2801. "After a few days, you rinse off the excess seasoning and smoke it for a few hours. You'd think smoke wouldn't taste good, but actually it enhances the savory, salty flavor of the meat wonderfully. After the meat is dried and smoked, it can be stored for a long time without spoiling."
  2802. >You swallow again and your stomach growls.
  2803. "Then you slice it into thin strips and throw them in a frying pan or the oven and it fries in it's own grease like the burger meat I was talking about before... except bacon grease tastes so much better. It's one of the most wonderfully salty and savory meats ever and the only thing I like more is a nice cut of steak cooked juuuust right."
  2804. >You sigh wistfully, then lift your head again to look at Applejack.
  2805. >Her mouth snaps shut and she quickly looks away, shuffling her body to turn away as well.
  2806. >Her ears and tail won't stop twitching and she just stares blankly ahead with wide eyes.
  2807. >You realize how horrible and disgusting that must have been for her and are suddenly terrified you may have just ruined your friendship.
  2808. >The possible consequences flash through your mind.
  2809. >Applejack is your closest friend, the pony you get along with best out of all you've met, but more than that, nearly all of the other friends you've made were through her.
  2810. >If you scare her off, it will probably mean losing the entire Apple family, any chance of making amends with Lily Valley... you might even lose Rarity and Twilight, too.
  2811. >Not to mention how much more difficult it would be to convince the townsponies you mean no harm if you alienate probably the most loved pony in all of Ponyville.
  2812. >Losing Applejack's friendship would be a disaster!
  2813. >You try to keep your hand from trembling as you gently reach out and touch her shoulder with your fingertips.
  2814. "Hey... you okay?"
  2815. >Her head droops and she groans softly.
  2816. >You force your exhausted body to sit up and shuffle around to face her.
  2817. "Oh, AJ... I'm so sorry. I didn't even think about how that would make you feel. I never meant to upset you."
  2818. >"N-No, it... it's--"
  2819. "Please, you're my best friend. I can't lose you, I don't know what I'd do if I scared you away. Just say the word and I'll never talk about meat again, I swear."
  2820. >"That's n-not..."
  2821. >She lays down and covers her face with her forelegs.
  2822. >You lay a hand on her withers, hoping to comfort her, but she shudders so violently you jerk your hand back.
  2823. >Your voice trembles slightly.
  2824. "A-Applejack?"
  2825. >"I... I like it."
  2826. >You hesitate, confusion adding to the turmoil of emotions in your head.
  2827. "You like... like what?"
  2828. >She shivers slightly then shakes her head.
  2829. "AJ, please talk to me. What's going on?"
  2830. >She takes a long, deep breath, then mumbles from under her forelegs.
  2831. >"I like... when you talk about meat."
  2832. >You open your mouth, then shut it again, wondering if you heard that right.
  2833. "...Wait, really?"
  2834. >"It's..."
  2835. >She sighs, then uncovers her head and stares at the ground, blushing fiercely.
  2836. >"It's buckin' hot, okay?"
  2837. >You blink.
  2838. >Your eyes widen.
  2839. "You... huh?"
  2840. >Her ears droop and she begins to talk slowly, staring at her hooves.
  2841. >"Most ponies don't eat meat. We can, but it's some sorta huge taboo, like we ain't 'sposed to be... I dunno, savages or somethin' no more. Ain't told nopony this, not even Granny... but I've always been a mite curious about it anyway. Then you come along an' describe it like it's the best food y'ever ate..."
  2842. >She rubs the cushion nervously with a hoof.
  2843. >"On top of that, I'm always eager to jump into danger. Goin' through the swamp or the Everfree forest... hay, just thinkin' about it gets me a bit giddy... makes me feel alive. Then ya sit there an' just casually talk about cuttin' up meat like carving up some animal's flesh is just everyday life..."
  2844. >Finally, she looks up and meets your eye.
  2845. >"Then you smile an' I see those buckin' teeth that plainly belong to a carnivore an' a part of me wants to just bolt in terror, but another part of me wants to... uh, well..."
  2846. >She closes her eyes, lowers her head and shivers again.
  2847. >You rub your forehead, trying to wrap your head around this.
  2848. >When she doesn't continue, you slowly speak.
  2849. "So... just to make sure I got this straight... Me talking about meat makes you want to try it even more, and when I talk like some dangerous predator or you see my sharp carnivore's teeth, you feel a bit scared like you're in danger... but you actually kinda like it?"
  2850. >"Eyup."
  2851. >Relief floods through your chest as you realize that, if anything, you just made your friendship even stronger somehow.
  2852. >You take a long slow breath and try to relax the tension in your shoulders.
  2853. >You'd never realized just how important her friendship was to you.
  2854. >Now that you're past the initial shock and fear, it's actually kinda funny.
  2855. >You stare at her silently for a moment.
  2856. >When she finally looks up, you give her a huge, toothy grin.
  2857. >Her ears fold back and she bites her lip.
  2858. "Good thing the big scary predator is too weak to even stand!"
  2859. >"K-Knock it off, Anon!"
  2860. >You laugh, then suddenly whip your hand up and lightly touch her neck just under her chin with a finger.
  2861. >She winces and shoves your hand away with a hoof, but you lash out with your other hand and gently tap her snout.
  2862. >She jerks her head back and wiggles her muzzle.
  2863. >You chuckle again and she lowers her head and growls.
  2864. >"Gon' be like that, huh?"
  2865. >She rears up and aims a hoof at your forehead, but while your legs are sore and useless, your arms are mostly fine.
  2866. >You casually grab her fetlock and extend your arm, lifting her foreleg and pushing her upper body back.
  2867. >She yelps and waves her cast at you, but the back of the couch gets in her way on that side, so she just winds up awkwardly tapping your upper arm.
  2868. >She yanks on your grip around her hoof and, when you don't let go, hangs from your hand, lifts up onto one hind hoof, and aims the other at the side of your torso.
  2869. >You grab it with your other hand and are surprised at the force behind it.
  2870. >That would have actually hurt!
  2871. >Her eyes go wide and her hind leg thrashes in your grip.
  2872. >With a deep grunt, you lift her by her foreleg and throw her hindleg out in front of you.
  2873. >She neighs wildly as she twirls on one hindleg and, once she faces away from you, you thrust your palm into her back just above her tail, causing her torso to swing out from under her while you pull her foreleg down and toward you.
  2874. >She screams as she falls backward, but you catch her head with your free hand before it slams into your thigh.
  2875. >Just as her rump hits the cushion, you release her foreleg and bring your arm around so you can use your elbow to jam it into the thick cushions of the couch and simultaneously grab her other foreleg by the cast.
  2876. >You then pull her cast toward the side of her head so you can pin her neck between your wrist under her chin and your other hand on the back of her head.
  2877. >She curls her body to try and get her hind hooves under your forearm, but your elbow is squished into the back of the couch, protected by its thick cushions, and with your forearm so close to her neck, she can barely reach and just scuffs your arm a little with her hooves.
  2878. >You look down at her and she snorts in your face, straining her neck, foreleg, hindlegs, anything she can against your hold, but as strong as she is, she lacks the leverage to really do anything but wiggle.
  2879. >You grin wickedly.
  2880. >Her hindlegs plop to the couch as she falls limp in your arms.
  2881. >Her enormous green eyes stare up into yours as her chest heaves, mouth slightly open, her breath hot against your face.
  2882. "So, you give--"
  2883. >Her rear hooves thrust down into the couch and her upper body swings around your grip on her forelegs.
  2884. >Her lips press against yours.
  2885. ...
  2886. >Stunned, you immediately fall limp, her foreleg slips free, and her head falls away.
  2887. >She stares up at you from your lap, your arm still resting across her chest and neck.
  2888. >She licks her lips and shoves her foreleg under your armpit, hooking the back of your shoulder to lift herself back up.
  2889. >You don't even try to stop her.
  2890. >Your lips meet again, the soft fuzz around her muzzle brushing your face.
  2891. >Almost without thinking, you press your hand against her cheek, digging your fingers into her fluff.
  2892. >She responds with a soft moan that you feel as much as you hear.
  2893. >A moment later, she gently breaks the kiss and pulls back to look up at you, lips curled in a slight smile.
  2894. >You just stare at her, your mind blank and your expression slowly mimicking her small smile.
  2895. >She pulls herself up again and nuzzles your cheek, pressing herself into you.
  2896. >She whispers gently into your ear.
  2897. >"You need a wash."
  2898. "...oh."
  2899. >She pulls back again, smirks, and you watch her dumbly as she rolls away.
  2900. >She drops nimbly to the floor then grabs your hand and pulls you to your feet.
  2901. >The next few moments are a dull blur as you lose yourself in your thoughts; shock, exhaustion, and concern battling for dominance in your mind.
  2902. >You can't quite believe what just happened, and you feel both surprised and confused that you didn't - no, *couldn't* resist.
  2903. >You don't even think of her like that, she's just a friend!
  2904. >Except...
  2905. >You remember a warm bed, examining her hoof, stroking her fur, feeling the muscles down her core... and you remember how she practically pounced on you when she caught you.
  2906. >Then you remember you both agreed to wait until her cycle passed to avoid any regrets.
  2907. >That's pretty important right?
  2908. >At least, assuming you didn't fall asleep on the couch and are just dreaming all of this.
  2909. >You have to stop her from going any further before it's too late.
  2910. >You jerk back to awareness as Applejack starts fumbling with your shirt.
  2911. >Apparently you'd just mindlessly followed her as she led you into your bedroom and sat you on the edge of your bed.
  2912. >She brought you to your bedroom and now she's trying to undress you?
  2913. >You have to tell her she needs to stop and wait, that this is a mistake, that she isn't thinking clearly.
  2914. "Applejack, you--"
  2915. >She immediately gives you a cute little glare.
  2916. >"Shush."
  2917. >You start to protest, but she just covers your mouth with her own and for several seconds her tongue is the only thing you can think about.
  2918. >Finally, she pulls back and strokes your cheek.
  2919. >"Anon... not another word now, y'hear?"
  2920. >You nod dumbly, your jaw still hanging limp.
  2921. >She lowers herself to your chest and begins yanking impatiently at your shirt buttons.
  2922. >You hastily reach up and start unbuttoning it, so instead she moves lower and fumbles with your pants.
  2923. >The kiss was exciting enough, but her face in your lap quickly brings you to full attention as her teeth yank on the fabric around the button at your waist.
  2924. >You finish unbuttoning your shirt just as she manages to release her button and she immediately yanks on the zipper with her teeth.
  2925. >Wait a minute, what are you doing?
  2926. >This has gone far enough.
  2927. "AJ, really, we can't--"
  2928. >She looks up from your lap and growls.
  2929. >She actually growls!
  2930. "But you said!"
  2931. >"The hay are you so nervous about? I'm just gonna help ya wash."
  2932. >You freeze.
  2933. "O-Oh..."
  2934. >"What'd ya think I was doin'?"
  2935. >Your cheeks start to burn.
  2936. "Uh, w-well, with the... the kissing, and your... y'know, your cycle..."
  2937. >She snorts derisively.
  2938. >Stupid! Of course she didn't want to... well, do that. Obviously!
  2939. >"Ya look like y'all wrestled a pig an' lost, Anon. You didn't think I was gonna let ya dirty up your bed, did ya?"
  2940. "N-No, of... of course not. Thanks."
  2941. >She shoves your shirt off one shoulder with a hoof and you shrug it the rest of the way off, then she bites your pants and hooks a hoof around the other side, dragging you halfway off the bed in her attempt to remove them.
  2942. >You lift yourself awkwardly to let them slide down your legs, then sit again and kick off your shoes as she drags your pants down and off, tossing them aside with a lazy twitch of her muzzle.
  2943. >She comes back up to reach for your underwear and she looks up at you when you hastily cover yourself with your hands.
  2944. >"Don't tell me ya wear these even in the shower?"
  2945. "Well, n-no, but--"
  2946. >"Well c'mon! I ain't got all night."
  2947. "Applejack... no. Really, I can't."
  2948. >She straightens up and looks you in the eye.
  2949. >"Look, Anon. Maybe humans wearin' clothes means ya feel weird bein' naked around anypony, but in case ya didn't notice, ponies are naked pretty much all the time."
  2950. "It's not the same!"
  2951. >She sighs.
  2952. >"Okay, maybe not, but unless ya wanna get them inner clothes wet, they'd better come off quick. I ain't lettin' ya sleep all filthy like that, so you're gettin' in that shower whether ya take 'em off or not."
  2953. >You hesitate.
  2954. >You hadn't quite... 'calmed down' from earlier, and you might just die of embarrasement if she realizes what she did to you.
  2955. >You seriously consider just wearing them in the shower, but you learned the hard way this fabric chafes like hell when it's wet.
  2956. >Applejack, getting impatient, rolls her eyes and grabs your hand.
  2957. >"Alright, in ya get."
  2958. "W-Wait! ...Alright. I'll take them off."
  2959. >"See, that weren't so hard."
  2960. "Just... Applejack, you need to understand, humans are *never* naked around others unless they're being... well, intimate."
  2961. >She tilts her head in thought for a moment.
  2962. >Then her eyes widen and her ears twitch.
  2963. >"So... hang on, you mean to say bein' naked makes ya think you're bein' intimate whether ya want to or not?"
  2964. "...Yeah."
  2965. >She hesitates, then glances down at the lump in your underwear and her eyes hurriedly snap back up to yours, a slight blush forming across her cheeks
  2966. >"I guess that... does make it a lot more awkward, 'specially with my cycle an' all."
  2967. >She looks up at you for a few seconds, then sighs.
  2968. >"Well still, I said I'd help ya wash. If you wanna wear them inner clothes, I won't complain."
  2969. >Now you sigh.
  2970. "No... I shouldn't. These things chafe like hell when they're wet."
  2971. >She shuffles on her hooves awkwardly and you rub your neck.
  2972. "Uh... Can you turn away or something while I take them off?"
  2973. >"I... 'spose, but what difference would that make? I'm gonna have to look once you're in the wash."
  2974. >Damn, she's absolutely right.
  2975. "I mean... I'll probably be fine by myself."
  2976. >You don't even sound confident to yourself and she just rolls her eyes.
  2977. >"C'mon Anon, I just watched ya try an' walk a moment ago. You can't hardly stand, nevermind movin' around to clean yourself an' all."
  2978. >You grimace and try to think of another excuse, but she groans.
  2979. >"Anon, please, I know it's weird an' all - I feel the same way, honest - but you're gettin' in that shower whether you're wearin' them or not an' ya just said ya can't wear them, so we might as well quit wastin' time an' get on with it."
  2980. >You sigh in resignation and slowly slide your underwear down your legs.
  2981. >Despite saying it wouldn't matter, you notice Applejack still turns her head away, looking uncomfortable.
  2982. >She looks back at you and she seems to be carefully keeping her eyes up high and her expression neutral.
  2983. >"Well come on, then."
  2984. >She grabs your hand and pulls you upright, pointedly not looking at your dangling member as she supports you while you walk.
  2985. >She leads you into the bathroom and activates the magically heated shower tub.
  2986. >Now that's something you really love about this world: since the water is heated by a magical talisman built into the shower, adjusting the temperature is nearly instantaneous.
  2987. >Applejack checks the temperature and nods, then turns to help you.
  2988. >Still deeply embarrassed, you take great pains - literally, due to your sore legs - to avoid sticking any body part in Applejack's face as you step into the flow of water.
  2989. >You turn your back to the water, and the heat and massaging pressure instantly clears your mind.
  2990. >You heave a great sigh of content and hear Applejack giggle quietly, but you don't mind.
  2991. >You drop heavily to your butt and rest your forearms on your knees.
  2992. >With the showerhead beating on your back from high above, you relax utterly and completely, your head drooping sleepily.
  2993. >You hear some faint rustling but don't bother looking up, then a moment later, something soft but firm begins rubbing small circles into your hair at the base of your neck, slowly moving around and up onto your skull.
  2994. >You're dully aware of the scent of your shampoo but the soothing massage on your head makes it hard to focus on anything.
  2995. >Eventually, a hoof presses on your forehead and your head is pulled back into the flow of water, then gently set back down again, water dribbling around your ears and dripping off your chin.
  2996. >The water pounding on your back suddenly stops and you crack an eye open, turning your head to see the water pouring down the wall beside you.
  2997. >Just as you open your mouth to ask, a hoof rubs into your shoulder and releases a tiny bit of tension you weren't even aware you still had, causing your head to droop again immediately.
  2998. >You realize she's lathering you with her hoof rather than using your soft brush, the closest thing you could find to the loofahs you used back on Earth.
  2999. >Focusing is hard with how relaxed you are, but you try to pay attention so you can understand what she's doing.
  3000. >It feels like she lathers with the soft frogs of her hoof first, then angles her hoof and scrubs with the hard wall.
  3001. >Her hoof digs into a particularly sore spot and you groan involuntarily, your focus shattering.
  3002. >She scrubs the back of your neck and your shoulders, then slowly moves down your back, both massaging and lathering as she goes, frequently drawing more grunts and moans from you.
  3003. >The scrubbing finally ceases and a moment later you feel her hoof press into your chest.
  3004. >Applejacks' voice calls out as if from a great distance.
  3005. >"Scoot back, Anon."
  3006. >With a slow and painful heave, you stretch out your legs and slide your butt backwards along the tub, your arms resting limply by your side.
  3007. >A second later the wonderful hot water pours down your back at a sharp angle.
  3008. >You begin to doze off in the short quiet that follows, but then you hear a faint rustle in front of you and feel something wedge between your calves, pushing your feet to the side of the tub.
  3009. >You briefly consider the momentous effort of lifting your head to look around but quickly deem the task impossible.
  3010. >That magical hoof begins its work again and, barely conscious, you're distantly aware of your arms being massaged, followed by your chest and a light scrubbing of your belly and sides.
  3011. >You almost stir in fear of the pain when the pressure suddenly jumps down to your knee, but the hoof of wonders knows exactly how much pressure to apply to your aching legs.
  3012. >You rapidly sink back into oblivion as it slowly moves up your thigh, hardly even noticing when it jumps to your other knee.
  3013. >You'd have dozed off ages ago if not for the way the massage stimulates your bloodflow, and even so you're barely conscious.
  3014. >You thought you felt as good as was physical possible, but somehow the feeling radiating through your body rapidly strengthens, and a particularly sudden jolt of pleasure makes you shudder and gasp.
  3015. >"O-Oh..."
  3016. >Something in her quiet voice immediately snaps your mind back to the present and you open your eyes.
  3017. >You were absolutely rock hard and she was slowly stroking the underside with the frog of her hoof.
  3018. >You gasp and jerk your head up.
  3019. >She gasps and jerks her hoof back.
  3020. >Both of you stare at each other in shock.
  3021. >"I-I was just... just latherin' it up!"
  3022. "You were stroking it!"
  3023. >Her blush rapidly darkens around her muzzle and her ears fold down.
  3024. >"I... I just..."
  3025. "What, Applejack? What were you doing?"
  3026. >She turns her head and closes her eyes, blushing even more.
  3027. >"I'm sorry, Anon. I swear I was just gonna lather it up..."
  3028. "Well, what'd you think was gonna happen?"
  3029. >She shoots a sideways glare at you.
  3030. >"I ain't a filly, Anon. I figured that was gonna happen."
  3031. >You should probably be more upset, but you're way too relaxed for anger.
  3032. "Why'd you keep going, then?"
  3033. >She looks away again.
  3034. >"'Cause it's just so..."
  3035. >She closes her eyes and shudders, practically moaning the last word.
  3036. >"...hard."
  3037. >You twitch.
  3038. >You try not to think about that twitch.
  3039. "Wait... what?"
  3040. >She takes a deep breath and mumbles.
  3041. >"I figured you'd get an erection... be stupid not to, so it didn't surprise me when you did... but I dunno, I guess my cycle really does mess with my head, 'cause I... I couldn't stop myself."
  3042. >She clenches her eyes tight and whispers, barely audible over the water.
  3043. >"It just kept gettin' harder an' harder, just so... so hard."
  3044. "Uh... don't stallions get hard?"
  3045. >She gave a tiny shake of her head, her voice still quiet.
  3046. >"Not like that... they get big... REAL big."
  3047. >Great, so you're pathetically tiny compared to a stallion.
  3048. >"...but it's still pretty soft an' flexible."
  3049. >She finally looks up at you.
  3050. >"But you... you're so hard it's like a bone or a claw. It's like a... like a buckin' weapon."
  3051. >Now you're not sure how to feel about your manhood.
  3052. >She looks down at it, almost in trepidation.
  3053. >"How long does it stay like that?"
  3054. >You shrug, feeling oddly calm.
  3055. >That massage was fucking fantastic.
  3056. "Until I'm not aroused anymore or until I... well, finish."
  3057. >She just stares at you expectantly so you continue.
  3058. "I mean, it lasts at least a couple minutes and can--"
  3059. >She squeaks, her eyes wide and her ears flattening.
  3060. >"A... A c-couple... at LEAST a couple minutes?"
  3061. "...Yeah? Why?"
  3062. >She stares at you in stunned silence for a bit before finally muttering.
  3063. >"Anon, a stallion with very high endurance MIGHT go for two whole minutes."
  3064. >Now your own eyes go wide and you laugh incredulously.
  3065. "No way! Really?"
  3066. >She nods seriously, eyes still wide and you shake your head, bemused.
  3067. >"So... what's a long time for humans, then?"
  3068. "I dunno, like thirty minutes?"
  3069. >Her hooves fly to her muzzle, then she just blurts out around them anyway.
  3070. >"THIRTY?"
  3071. "Maybe more if I'm careful."
  3072. >She just shakes her head, giving you an odd look, both fearful and eager.
  3073. >Still staring directly into your eyes, she slowly lowers a hoof and touches your tip.
  3074. >You gasp and twitch, and she smiles faintly.
  3075. >She slowly strokes down the underside of your shaft and a tingle rapidly builds and shoots up your spine.
  3076. >Your eyes close, your back arches slightly, you try to suppress a moan but still let out a short, strained grunt as a shudder explodes up your back, rattling your entire torso.
  3077. >You grab her hoof and stare into her hungry smile.
  3078. "AJ... you promised."
  3079. >Her face turns to confusion.
  3080. "This morning when I woke up in your bed."
  3081. >And then rapidly shifts to a scowl.
  3082. >"I told ya, Anon, I can still think straight just fine."
  3083. "You promised."
  3084. >She gives you such a pout you nearly break right there and then.
  3085. >"Anon... why're you so against this?"
  3086. "We can't, AJ. Not until after your cycle."
  3087. >"But why? Why does it matter so much?"
  3088. "Because... I can't lose you."
  3089. >She just tilts her head and looks confused again.
  3090. "If we do... that, and it IS just because of your cycle... when your cycle is done, it... it'd just be weird. We'd both be awkward and uncomfortable around each other. We couldn't be friends anymore... and AJ I can not let that happen."
  3091. >She gives you a long, thoughtful stare.
  3092. >It goes on long enough you start to get a little fidgety under it.
  3093. >Then suddenly, she shrugs.
  3094. >"Alright well, all that's left are your lower legs, then you can go to sleep."
  3095. >You open your mouth, confused by the abrupt change, but she stands and twirls around before you even get a word out.
  3096. >Her back now facing you, she sits directly between your thighs and her water-laden tail settles directly across your groin.
  3097. >She immediately begins scrubbing your calves and her body rocks gently with the motion, causing her tail to wiggle in your crotch, rubbing lightly against almost your entire length.
  3098. >You hurriedly grab her tail and lift it away from you.
  3099. >Instantly, her head snaps up and stares straight forward, her ears turned back to you.
  3100. >"Uh... Anon? What're ya doin'?"
  3101. "Just holding your tail up so it doesn't--"
  3102. >You freeze mid sentence, suddenly realizing exactly what you're doing... and what you're exposing.
  3103. >You drop her tail and it quickly tucks down between her legs and twitches.
  3104. >She turns to look back at you out of the corner of her eye.
  3105. >"I'm gonna chalk that up to you not knowing that lifting a mare's tail is about as blunt a way possible for a stallion to say they want some flank."
  3106. >She smirks over her shoulder at you.
  3107. >"'Cause otherwise, you're givin' me some awfully mixed signals here."
  3108. >You stammer and feel your ears start burning again, then you finally find your voice.
  3109. "You're the one that was rubbing me with your tail!"
  3110. >"Aw, shucks, was I really? I swear that thing has a mind of its own."
  3111. >Still smirking, she wiggles her rump and flicks her tail so it brushes against you again.
  3112. >You suppress another violent shudder and cross your arms, frowning at her.
  3113. "Well if you're gonna send mixed signals too, we may as well both cut the shit and just be honest with each other."
  3114. >"...Well I'm always up for bein' honest."
  3115. >She sets a hoof on your thigh and twists around so she can stare right at you.
  3116. >"So y'all wanna do this or what?"
  3117. >You furrow your brow.
  3118. "Huh? Do what?"
  3119. >Her ear twitches nervously
  3120. >"Uh... well hay, how blunt do I gotta be?"
  3121. >You just shrug and she rolls her eyes with a little smile.
  3122. >She shuffles and turns even more, now sitting more or less sideways in your lap.
  3123. >She sets a hoof on your cheek and leans close to stare into your eyes.
  3124. >"Anon, d'you wanna fuck me?"
  3125. "Do I..."
  3126. >Your eyes widen.
  3127. "...What?"
  3128. >She giggles.
  3129. "B-But you... I-I just said..."
  3130. >She taps your cheek and smiles warmly.
  3131. >"Calm down, sugarcube. It's just a yes or no question."
  3132. >You take a slow, deep breath.
  3133. "We shouldn't."
  3134. >Her head tilts and she clicks her tongue.
  3135. >"That ain't what I asked, Anon. Do you want to or not?"
  3136. >You just stare at her dumbly.
  3137. >Her smile slowly fades to a more serious stare.
  3138. >She eventually lowers her hoof, starting to look a bit worried.
  3139. >Finally, you manage a faint whisper.
  3140. "Yes."
  3141. >Her eyes widen with a little gasp and she breaks into a smile.
  3142. >She leans forward and presses her chest against you as her lips touch yours.
  3143. >Her hoof presses against the back of your head and she moans softly.
  3144. >Then she breaks the kiss and stares into your eyes, whispering breathlessly.
  3145. >"Me too, Anon."
  3146. >Then she slowly turns around and returns to scrubbing your calves.
  3147. >...Wait, what?
  3148. >She's just gonna stop?
  3149. >She isn't even teasing your with her tail.
  3150. "Uh... Applejack?"
  3151. >One ear swivels back to you but she continues scrubbing.
  3152. "What are you doing?"
  3153. >"Finishin' what we came here to do, 'course."
  3154. "Are... are we not...?"
  3155. >She snorts a little laugh and just swivels her ear forward again.
  3156. >Did you do something wrong?
  3157. >You just sit there, feeling awkward and worried, while she finishes scrubbing your calves and feet.
  3158. >Finally, she turns around again and rinses her hoof behind your head, her wet mane brushing your cheek and filling your mind with her scent.
  3159. >Of course she smells like apples, but there's a definite musk about her too... and a faint spice, like cinammon or maybe cider.
  3160. >She leans back again and raises an eyebrow when she sees your concerned face.
  3161. >"Somethin' wrong?"
  3162. "...Well I was gonna ask you."
  3163. >"Why might somethin' be wrong with me?"
  3164. >She pulls her hoof back and sits in front of you.
  3165. "I just... it seemed like you wanted..."
  3166. >She presses her hoof to your lips and smiles.
  3167. >"I do, Anon... but you're right, we shouldn't."
  3168. >She leans forward until her face is only inches from yours.
  3169. >"I'm real glad ya said yes, though."
  3170. >She leans in and places a quick kiss on your lips, then turns to climb out of the tub.
  3171. >"Like ya said, I promised."
  3172. >As she walks away, she looks over her shoulder and flicks her tail.
  3173. >"You DO wanna wait 'till after my cycle, right?"
  3174. ...
  3175. >For several minutes you just sit there and try to process the emotional rollercoaster of the last half hour.
  3176. >The last thing she said echoes through your mind and you're a bit surprised at how hard it is to answer her question.
  3177. >...It's just all so sudden.
  3178. >A week ago you couldn't even imagine yourself in a relationship with a human, and now... what, maybe you'll date a pony?
  3179. >Hell, a week ago you hadn't even thought a pony could be attractive at all, much less beautiful as...
  3180. >You struggle to cut off that chain of thought, trying not to imagine her kneeling between your legs, her wet mane accenting the curve of her neck and shoulder...
  3181. >You grimace and struggle to your feet, hoping some movement will help distract you.
  3182. >You're pleasantly surprised at how little it hurts to move around and you even towel yourself without much trouble.
  3183. >She may have simply been scrubbing you clean, but it was almost as effective as a massage for your sore legs.
  3184. >You can still see her eager face as she sits between your legs and slowly reaches down with a hoof...
  3185. >Dammit!
  3186. >You shake your head and hurry into your bedroom, finding it empty and the door closed.
  3187. >For a moment you wonder if Applejack simply left, but then you hear some clinks from the living room.
  3188. >She must be putting away your new tea set or something, bless her.
  3189. >You pull out some fresh underwear, a plain black shirt, and your favorite flannel pajama pants, then slowly walk out into the living room.
  3190. >Your legs may be feeling better, but they're still incredibly stiff and a bit sore.
  3191. >Surprisingly, your tea set is still sitting on the counter and you look into the kitchen to find Applejack standing over a pan on your stove instead, her back to you.
  3192. >As you watch, she takes one wide step to the side and your eyes are drawn down as her tail flicks to the side.
  3193. >You hurriedly wrench your eyes back up and watch her deftly chop some mushrooms on a cutting board.
  3194. >Wait... how the hell does she hold and use a knife with one hoof?
  3195. >She finishes chopping before you can figure it out and grabs the board in her teeth, tilting the contents into the pan.
  3196. >Then, without even looking, her hoof whips out to the counter beside her and flicks a clove of garlic up into the air.
  3197. >She catches it between both hooves and smashes it against the cast in one smooth movement, examines her hoof, and picks the papery skin out with her teeth.
  3198. >She drops the clove into the pan and takes another wide step to the side with another alluring swing of her tail.
  3199. >A bit amazed by her display of dexterity, you look down without thinking and catch a glimpse of...
  3200. >Your breath catches and her head whips around at the sound.
  3201. >You pray to the goddesses you jerked your eyes up to meet hers quickly enough.
  3202. >She gives you a huge, friendly smile, but her mischevious eyes still make you nervous.
  3203. >"Well howdy, Anon! Enjoyin' the show?"
  3204. "W-What?"
  3205. >She just giggles and continues.
  3206. >"Y'ain't got so much in your pantry, but I oughta be able to whip up somethin' decent anyhow."
  3207. "You didn't have to--"
  3208. >"Quiet, you. I know that, I just wanted to."
  3209. >She grabs a nearby bowl and dumps its contents into the pan.
  3210. >You carefully walk up beside her and she grins sidelong at you.
  3211. >"How're ya feelin'?"
  3212. "Well, I'm walking on my own, aren't I?"
  3213. >"A bit o' hard scrubbin' is near as good as a massage, huh?"
  3214. "Yeah... thanks."
  3215. >Her ears droop slightly from your tone and she eyes you nervously.
  3216. >"Hey now, somethin' wrong?"
  3217. "Huh? Oh, no, just..."
  3218. >You sigh and lean back against the counter to give your legs a rest.
  3219. "What now?"
  3220. >She tilts her head questioningly.
  3221. "I mean, what... uh... just, us I guess. What's next for us?"
  3222. >She shrugs her shoulders and stirs the pan idly.
  3223. >"Reckon that's up to you, least 'til my cycle's over."
  3224. >You just sit there and watch as she tosses some spices you didn't even know you had into the food.
  3225. "...And then?"
  3226. >She continues cooking in silence for a moment before shrugger her shoulders.
  3227. >"I dunno, Anon... It's real hard for me to tell when I'm thinkin' straight an' when my cycle is messin' with my head."
  3228. >She glances at the pan then steps back, apparently content to let it simmer for now.
  3229. >You haven't eaten since the Hay Burger and the smell is making your stomach growl.
  3230. >"I know I kept sayin' I was thinkin' straight, but... well, obviously I wasn't an' I just couldn't tell."
  3231. "What are you getting at, AJ?"
  3232. >She sighs and sits on her rump.
  3233. >"Point is, I just plain don't know how much o' this is real. I like you, Anon... Hay, I like you a lot, but a week from now, Celestia knows what my feelings'll really be."
  3234. >You smile grimly and spread your hands.
  3235. "That's exactly why I said we should wait."
  3236. >Her ears turn back and she looks away.
  3237. >She's really cute when she's all awkward like this.
  3238. >"That ain't what I'm sayin', Anon. Maybe this ain't real an' when my cycle's over, we'll only be friends or even just coworkers."
  3239. >She blushes and shuffles her hooves.
  3240. >"...But that don't mean we can't have a little fun in the meantime, right?"
  3241. >You're having a hard time concentrating with her being so damn adorable.
  3242. "What if uh... what if I'm right and we'll end up... uh, super awkward and nervous afterwards?"
  3243. >She looks up and meets your eye.
  3244. >"An' if I promised you I really don't mind an' won't treat ya different afterwards?"
  3245. >You grimace and shrug, trying to ignore her plaintive stare.
  3246. "That won't help if *I* still feel that way."
  3247. >"But Anon, why's it such a big deal, anyhow? Even if we're a mite awkward for a time, it ain't like we won't still be friends! We'd be back to normal 'fore long, right?
  3248. >You sigh and slowly lower yourself to the floor, your legs stretched out before you.
  3249. "Alright, look Applejack... when I was talking about bacon earlier and you got all uncomfortable, you know what I thought? I immediately assumed I just horrified or terrified you and just ruined our friendship."
  3250. >She starts to reassure you but you inturrupt her with a hand.
  3251. "I know, I know... turns out you actually like it, I get that now, but my point is in that moment... I thought I'd just lost you."
  3252. >You sigh again and rub your chin, feeling awkward.
  3253. "I thought then that losing you would be bad enough... you are my closest friend after all, but it's not just that... damn near every pony I've befriended here I only know because of you."
  3254. >You tilt your head back, rest it against the counter and close your eyes.
  3255. "In that terrible moment, I realized that if I did something that actually pushed you away... it'd mean I'd probably lose the rest of your family, the crusaders, and probably your best friends, too. I mean maaaybe I could still be friends with Rarity, Dash, and Twilight, but if it comes down to it, of course they'd side with you over me!"
  3256. >She tries to speak again, but you just keep talking over her.
  3257. "And as if that's not bad enough, you are absolutely adored in Ponyville! Yet I'm still having a hell of a time convincing everypony I'm friendly even WITH you and Twilight helping. Now who the hell would think I'm nice if I alienated everypony's favorite pony AND the fucking princess of friendship? Shit, I'd probably get ran out of town, maybe even exiled from Equestria!"
  3258. >You take a deep, shuddering breath to continue, but suddenly Applejack thuds into your chest.
  3259. >She squeezes you in a tight hug, the side of her muzzle pressed hard against your neck.
  3260. >She doesn't say anything, just... holds you.
  3261. >You wrap your arms around her and rest your head against hers.
  3262. >You let out a long, slow sigh and realize just how tense and pent up you had become during your rant.
  3263. >With her soft, warm body and her sweet, faintly spicy scent, you slowly relax again.
  3264. >After a quiet moment, she quietly murmurs in your ear.
  3265. >"I know you're scared of losin' your friends, Anon. I 'member how lonely ya were 'fore ya came to the farm."
  3266. >She pulls back and gives you a warm smile.
  3267. >"But ya gotta understand... y'all made most o' these friends yourself. Shore maybe ya met 'em in the first place 'cause of me, but you're the one who got Apple Bloom to adore you, got Big Mac to open up, got Granny carin' for ya like family, and got Rarity to think so highly o' you."
  3268. >Her hoof lightly presses into your cheek.
  3269. >"There's no tellin' what'd actually happen if we had a real fight or somethin', but I reckon you'd have more ponies on your side than ya think."
  3270. >You smile faintly and absently stroke the side of her neck.
  3271. "Thanks, AJ... maybe you're right, but still... I don't want to make our friends choose sides between us. I'd hate to upset anypony."
  3272. >She stares at you for a long moment, then slowly gets up to check on the stove.
  3273. >Eventually, she turns and gives you a small smile.
  3274. >"Y'know... you're so caught up in what everypony else wants, I think sometimes ya forget to think about what you want. You deserve to be happy too, Anon. Y'ain't gotta sacrifice your own happiness for other's sake.
  3275. "What's that supposed to mean?"
  3276. >"I'm sayin' if ya don't wanna go any further, that's fine... but if ya actually DO want to, an you're just sayin' ya don't 'cause you're afraid of upsetting somepony... well, buck what they want and do what YOU want."
  3277. >You sigh and your chin drops to your chest.
  3278. "Sounds like you're just trying to convince me to go through with it even though I said I wanna wait."
  3279. >"Naw, it's fine if ya do wanna wait, honest."
  3280. >You hear her hooves clop on the floor.
  3281. >"I'm just pretty sure ya actually don't... Reckon you're just sayin' ya do 'cause you riled yourself up with anxious thoughts 'bout what might happen next."
  3282. >You grimace and keep staring at your lap, even as she sits directly in front of you.
  3283. >"So long as ya actually want this... I honestly think there ain't nothin' to worry about."
  3284. >You look up and jump when you see her her face only inches from yours before she leans in for a quick kiss.
  3285. >She steps back and giggles at your surprised expression.
  3286. >"You're cute when ya worry, though."
  3287. ...
  3288. "Well, I've no idea where you found most of that food, but damn it was delicious."
  3289. >Applejack smiles and hops up from the couch to fetch your bowl
  3290. >"Oh, it was nothin' really. I just remembered what ya said 'bout pony food bein' bland an' added somethin' like twice as much seasoning as usual."
  3291. >You lean back and arch your back, groaning as you stretch.
  3292. "...Still, I appreciate it. I didn't realize how hungry I was 'til I smelled your cooking."
  3293. >She smirks as she heads into your kitchen.
  3294. >"Think ya can handle doin' your own dishes in the morning?"
  3295. >You chuckle and shrug.
  3296. "I dunno... I might be awfully sore in the morning."
  3297. >"Y'all don't need another massage, do ya?"
  3298. >You press on your thigh and wince.
  3299. "Actually, I'd love one to be honest."
  3300. >"What? Ain't it only been like an hour?"
  3301. "That didn't count, it wasn't a real massage!"
  3302. >She rolls her eyes as she walks back over.
  3303. >You lean forward and groan loudly as you struggle to your feet.
  3304. >...Then stumble and nearly fall flat on your face as Applejack catches you with a hoof on your chest.
  3305. >"C'mon you, let's get you to bed."
  3306. >You lean on her and mutter.
  3307. "What time is it, anyways?"
  3308. >"Not too late, really. We only got here 'bout two hours ago."
  3309. >You yawn as the two of you slowly waddle into your bedroom.
  3310. "Man... this was a long day."
  3311. >"Yeah, who'da guessed takin' a day off in town would be harder'n a day on the farm?"
  3312. >You chuckle and plop heavily onto your bed.
  3313. >You slip off your shirt, catch Applejack staring, and pause as you grab your pajama pants.
  3314. "I guess it'd be silly to be shy about this now, huh?"
  3315. >She turns away, a light blush spreading across her muzzle.
  3316. >"I suppose..."
  3317. >You hesitate a moment more, then slowly drop you pants and toss them on top of your dresser.
  3318. >Then you scoot back and lift your legs onto the bed.
  3319. >You notice Applejack sneaks a quick peek, then she seems to relax.
  3320. >"Oh... you don't sleep naked?"
  3321. >You chuckle awkwardly as you slowly stretch your legs out before you.
  3322. "Nah, just in this."
  3323. >Applejack hesitates, seeming nervous, then rears and puts her forehooves on the edge of your bed.
  3324. "Don't suppose you were seriously offering another massage?"
  3325. >"Naw, you'll be fine after ya sleep an' let your legs heal a bit."
  3326. >You shrug, then a thought strikes you.
  3327. "Hang on, I just realized... the other night was the first time you'd ever given a massage, wasn't it?"
  3328. >She nods.
  3329. >"Yeah we never been too keen on massages on the farm. Generally we don't need 'em unless we buck up an' hurt ourselves."
  3330. "Like I did?"
  3331. >"Mmhmm. Big Mac did somethin' similar once, tryin' to impress a mare. Granny gave him what she called a 'deep tissue massage' that looked like more pain than massage. Guessin' she wanted to be sure he didn't do anythin' stupid like that again."
  3332. "Did it work?"
  3333. >"Oh, buck yeah, it worked for all three of us! Mac was limpin' for days an' me an' little Bloom were terrified of gettin' the same 'massage' treatment."
  3334. "No... you? Terrified?"
  3335. >"Hey now, y'all ain't seen Granny back in her hay-day!"
  3336. "She must've been a force to be reckoned with."
  3337. >"Yeah, just imagine a mare that can massage buckin' Big Mac into submission, alright?"
  3338. >You decide not to even try.
  3339. "Well anyways.... the reason I asked is I figure that means you've probably never had a real massage, have you?"
  3340. >She furrows her brows.
  3341. >"Well... no, 'cause I never needed one. Granny used Mac as an example to teach us never to work ourselves to the bone like y'all did the other day."
  3342. "Maybe you never needed one, but they still feel good."
  3343. >You give her a wide smile and her ears fold back.
  3344. "How about you hop up here and let me return the favor, show you how good a massage is supposed to feel when not given by a vengeful grandma trying to teach a lesson."
  3345. >She narrows her eyes suspiciously.
  3346. >"Aren't ya too sore an' tired for somethin' like that?"
  3347. "Eh, only my legs are sore. I think pinning you on the couch without breaking a sweat proves my arms are just fine."
  3348. >Her ears fold down even more and her blush returns in force.
  3349. >"H-Hey, y'all just got lucky! I weren't expectin' anythin' but some lazy, tired arm waving!"
  3350. >You scoff.
  3351. "Yeah, sure. Get up here, girl."
  3352. >She bristles at your tone and hops up onto the bed.
  3353. >...And yelps as you immediately grab both her forelegs and pull them toward you.
  3354. >Her hind legs are still halfway over the edge of the bed and her chest plops down onto the soft blanket.
  3355. >She begins scrambling her hind legs up to lift herself, but you just lazily lean sideways and rest your torso on top of her, pinning her shoulders under one arm, your other arm resting casually on your hip.
  3356. >Her fur is soft and warm against your bare chest, and she shoots a disbelieving glare over her shoulder.
  3357. >Then she whinnies and wiggles her good foreleg under her and presses hard into the mattress.
  3358. >Honestly though, with nearly all your weight on her shoulders and only one good foreleg, there's no way she can...
  3359. >Oh... Holy fuck, she's strong!
  3360. >In a bit of a panic, you change plans and wrap your free arm around her neck and roll backwards, making her yelp as you lift and twist her to her side and onto your chest.
  3361. >Her head rests in the crook of your arm near your chest and you tilt your head to mutter right into her ear.
  3362. "C'mon, you can do better'n that, right!?"
  3363. >She gasps softly, her ears fold down, and she seems to freeze up for an instant.
  3364. >Then she hooks your right arm with her foreleg, and with a jerk, manages to jam a hind hoof between her belly and your left arm.
  3365. >With a great heave and an adorable little grunt, she wrenches your arms away from her body and twists around to get her other two free legs under her.
  3366. >She immediately pins your right arm with her cast and bucks, kicking her hips up and over your head to thud down behind you so her body rests across your right side.
  3367. >Her cast is rough and twisting your arm under it hurts, but her leg is too limited by the cast to stop you from wiggling around.
  3368. >Instead, she swings her good forehoof around get a better hold on your arm under her cast, but you interrupt her, seizing her hoof with your other hand.
  3369. >You twist onto your back and jerk your arm, wrenching it out from under her rough cast in one smooth - if painful - movement.
  3370. >Her hind leg lifts to try and catch your right arm, but you lift it high and her hoof thumps into the mattress.
  3371. >She tries to twist around but can't move much while you hold her good foreleg, so you swing your arm back down and wrap it around her rump, causing her to yelp slightly and flick her tail.
  3372. >You grab the hind leg on her far side and pull it back up and around, trying to twist her onto her back.
  3373. >However, her cast and remaining hind hoof are well-placed and she's able to resist being spun around.
  3374. >Instead you only pull the hind leg on her far side up until her legs are spread wide and won't go any further.
  3375. >She whinnies and shoots you a nasty glare that does nothing to hide her deep blush running all the way down her neck.
  3376. >She jerks her hind hoof and you're surprised to find it already slightly slick with sweat as it slips easily from your grasp.
  3377. >She slams her hoof down just left of your hip, her foreleg suddenly slips free of your left hand and her cast slam down on it, and suddenly your right arm is pinned under her good foreleg.
  3378. >Applejack now straddles you, both of your arms held down at your side.
  3379. >She stares down at you for a second, panting heavily, still blushing furiously.
  3380. >She forces a laugh and tries to give you a wicked grin of her own, but it comes out more like a nervous grimace.
  3381. >"Ha, g-got yo--"
  3382. >With a gutteral roar, you twist your torso and heave, lifting your left arm with all your might.
  3383. >Applejack may be strong, but ponies are a lot lighter than humans and she has no leverage.
  3384. >She neighs wildly as you toss her to the side and she slams down on her back beside you.
  3385. >You grab the hoof that had your right hand pinned only a few seconds ago and keep twisting around, lifting your torso until you're on all fours above her, grabbing both forelegs and barely even noticing the stiffness in your legs.
  3386. >You grunt as her hind legs start scrabbling at your side and belly, then jerk your knees up to press into her sides.
  3387. >Finally, you swing your elbows down and pin her hind legs between your elbows and thighs.
  3388. >You tense, expecting her to kick and thrash wildly, but instead she goes completely still, her wide eyes staring into yours and her flush now spreading all the way to her shoulders.
  3389. >"...A-A-Anon?"
  3390. >Her voice is faint and maybe a bit scared, but that doesn't matter.
  3391. >No, what matters is how it is practically dripping with desire.
  3392. >Her tiny, gasping voice carried more hope and burning passion than you thought it possible to contain in one word.
  3393. >You hesitate and take stock of your position.
  3394. >You are looming over Applejack as she lays on her back.
  3395. >You're holding both her forelegs in your hands across her chest.
  3396. >Your elbows are pressed down into her hindlegs, squeezing them against your thighs.
  3397. >You're on your knees, your thighs squeeze into her rump, and your knees are slid way up her side.
  3398. >Your crotch is literally pressing up against her... and you are hard as fucking diamond.
  3399. >You gasp and let go of her forelegs, pressing your palms into the mattress on either side of her to lift yourself up.
  3400. >"N-No, wait!"
  3401. >You hesitate and she just stares at you for a few seconds, panting.
  3402. >Then her foreleg wraps around your neck and she half pulls you down, half lifts herself up to you.
  3403. >Her warm chest presses against your bare skin and her brilliant green eyes fill your vision, a sharp contrast to her intense blush.
  3404. >"Anon... I-I don't have much experience with all this, but..."
  3405. >She takes a deep breath to steady herself, then her hot breath fills your nostrils as she growls in a low voice.
  3406. >"By Tartarus, if ya can't look me in the eyes an' tell me ya don't want this... I need you to rut me right now."
  3407. >You stare into her eyes for what feels like minutes.
  3408. >Then you drop onto one elbow, press your body close, and hungrily jam your lips against hers.
  3409. >She shudders and lets out tiny moans of delight as you wiggle, working your arm down to pull off your underwear.
  3410. >You manage to get it down to your knees and kick it off, then finally break the kiss and watch her face as you position yourself.
  3411. >Suddenly, her expression turns nervous.
  3412. >"I... Anon, I've never..."
  3413. >She averts her gaze and you realize what she means.
  3414. "Oh..."
  3415. >She looks up at you sheepishly and gives you a tiny nod.
  3416. >You hesitate, then smile warmly.
  3417. "You're sure you still want to do this?"
  3418. >She looks deep into your eyes, hooks a hoof behind your neck, and manages to blush even darker as she moans.
  3419. >"I... please. I need it."
  3420. [Skip about 100 lines to the next break in the text if you dislike graphic sex scenes]
  3421. >You gently touch her with your tip and a shiver runs through her body.
  3422. >Resting on your elbow, you slide your hand behind her head and loosely grab her mane, then bring your other hand up to stroke her cheek.
  3423. "Just tell me if it hurts, ok?"
  3424. >She smiles faintly and whimpers.
  3425. >"Please..."
  3426. >You grin and grab her hoof, pressing it into the mattress.
  3427. >She gasps and squeaks.
  3428. >Then, achingly slow, you press into her.
  3429. >Her eyes go wide.
  3430. >Your mischevious grin vanishes.
  3431. >You gasp, overwhelmed with the feeling of her.
  3432. >She moans softly, biting her lip.
  3433. >Your hips press up against her and you just stay there for a moment.
  3434. >You stare into each other's eyes and Applejack whispers.
  3435. >"Sweet Celestia... it's so buckin' good."
  3436. >You feel something twitch inside her and she shudders, her neck arching as her head rolls back.
  3437. >You lean down and gently bite her on the side of her neck.
  3438. >Her whole body tenses and she gasps with a high squeak.
  3439. >Then you growl into her ear.
  3440. "I'm just getting started."
  3441. >Her response is only a whimper.
  3442. >You slowly pull out and she shudders again, then you thrust inside with a little more force.
  3443. >"O-Oh buck! Anon..."
  3444. >Again, you slowly pull out, then you start a slow and steady rhythm.
  3445. >One hand still pins her hoof to the mattress, the other is curled in a tight fist in her mane, her head pressed against your neck.
  3446. >You try to suppress your own grunts, delighting in her every whinny and squeak.
  3447. >Suddenly she presses her head back against the pillow and looks at you with wide eyes.
  3448. >"Anon... d-don't stop! Ohhh, b-buck... Anon!"
  3449. >Her breathing stops as she tenses, then with one more thrust, she lets out a long, high groan as her whole body shudders around you.
  3450. >Her musky scent envelops you as she gasps and whines and moans and convulses beneath you.
  3451. >The feeling of her pressed against you and all around you is just incredible.
  3452. >You wait patiently for her to finish.
  3453. >After all... it's only been a minute or two.
  3454. >As her tremors begin to peter out, you gently grind against her, earning you another strained moan.
  3455. >Weakly, she looks up at you, panting heavily.
  3456. >"That was... so good, Anon."
  3457. >You give her a little kiss.
  3458. "You're amazing, AJ."
  3459. >She's already slick with sweat, but you lean down and whisper into her ear.
  3460. "But I hope you don't think we're already done."
  3461. >She turns her head and looks at you, confused.
  3462. >Then her eyes widen.
  3463. >"In the shower! Y-You said..."
  3464. >You just grin.
  3465. >She closes her eyes and shivers.
  3466. >"Luna have mercy..."
  3467. >You kiss her snoot and wiggle your hips a little bit.
  3468. "Don't worry, it'll be fun..."
  3469. >She shudders again as you extend your arms and lift your torso up, releasing your grip on her hoof.
  3470. >You grab a hind leg and twist her onto her side without pulling out and she obediently stretches her other leg out between your legs
  3471. >She looks a bit apprehensive but still eager for more.
  3472. >She sighs as you slowly pull out and slide in again, the new angle pressing in all sorts of new places.
  3473. >You stop for a second and brush her cheek with a thumb.
  3474. "Seriously though, let me know if it's too much and I'll stop."
  3475. >She bats your hand away and touches her hoof to your lips.
  3476. >"Shut up and rut me."
  3477. >You grin and kiss the sensitive frog of her hoof, making her whinny and jerk her hoof away, then you slam into her before she can respond.
  3478. >She can barely contain her squeaks and moans, and her hoof presses into your chest, rubbing all over as you move.
  3479. >Occasionally she is overwhelmed and closes her eyes with a sharp intake of breath.
  3480. >Mostly she just stares at you, rarely breaking eye contact.
  3481. >Before long, she tenses up and another orgasm racks her body.
  3482. >This time you don't even slow down, even as she slumps back against the pillow.
  3483. >She turns to stare at you, her eyes filled with wonder and raw lust.
  3484. >You've never seen anything so beautiful in your life.
  3485. >You grab her tail, pull it tight, and press your hand into the small of her back, holding it up and out of the way.
  3486. >If anything, that seems to excite her more than anything else.
  3487. >With your other hand, you grab her hind leg and lift, spreading her legs wide.
  3488. >When you thrust again, she gasps and squeaks as you go just a bit deeper than before.
  3489. >And still, she twists her head around to look right into your eyes.
  3490. >You're panting now and you can see how she keeps glancing down at your mouth... at your teeth.
  3491. >You release her leg to bend over her and give her a long kiss as you pound deep inside of her.
  3492. >She keeps whimpering around the kiss, the vibrations tickling your nose and lips.
  3493. >You break the kiss, release grab her mane again and pull, growling lightly.
  3494. >She gasps and starts to turn her head to ease the pressure, then slowly twists back around to watch you, biting her lip.
  3495. >A long whine escapes her as yet another orgasm racks her body.
  3496. >This time when the tremors finally stop, she's somehow managed to twist so you're between her legs again.
  3497. >She shivers and moans quietly.
  3498. >"This is... oh, Celestia."
  3499. >You're getting close now.
  3500. >You can both feel it.
  3501. >You thrust faster, almost desperately.
  3502. >She wraps a hoof around your neck and pulls you close.
  3503. >"Anon..."
  3504. >She gasps.
  3505. >"Oh... I want it."
  3506. "Applejack, I..."
  3507. >"Anon, please."
  3508. "Oh f-fuck..."
  3509. >She whimpers.
  3510. >You slow for just a second and moan.
  3511. >Then with one last violent thrust, you jam yourself against her.
  3512. >Your whole body convulses and you can feel her throbbing along with you.
  3513. >You collapse to your elbows but she grabs your head with her hooves, forcing you to look her in the eyes.
  3514. >You gasp and groan deep in your throat as you shudder inside her.
  3515. >You press your whole body against her, trying to bring her even closer.
  3516. >She jams her mouth down against yours and holds you close as the tremors fade.
  3517. >Eventually your body falls still and she releases the kiss.
  3518. >You both just stare at each other, panting heavily.
  3519. >Her coat is lathered with her frothy sweat.
  3520. >Her mane is wild and tangled.
  3521. >Her scent is overwhelmed with musky sex.
  3522. >Her eyes are just as beautiful as ever.
  3523. "Applejack..."
  3524. >"...Yeah?"
  3525. "I think I love you."
  3526. >She gasps and one more little tremor runs up her torso.
  3527. >She smiles and her eyes glisten.
  3528. >"I... I love you too, Anon."
  3529.  
  3530. ...
  3531.  
  3532. >You feel a soft kiss and crack open an eye.
  3533. >Applejack leans over you, illuminated by the soft glow from your window curtain.
  3534. >You smile and mumble sleepily.
  3535. "Mmmrong..."
  3536. >"Mornin' to you too."
  3537. >She smiles nervously.
  3538. >"How ya feel?"
  3539. >You yawn and struggle to concentrate your foggy brain.
  3540. "...Sticky."
  3541. >"Yeah... reckon we just dozed off a-after..."
  3542. >She trails off and blushes, averting her eyes.
  3543. >You feel your own cheeks start to burn as you remember last night, but you reach up and stroke her cheek.
  3544. "And you? How d'you feel?"
  3545. >She closes her eyes and leans into your hand, sighing softly.
  3546. >"I... I'm happy."
  3547. "Me too. I was all worried about it, but..."
  3548. >She opens her eyes and you give her a warm smile.
  3549. "I love you, Applejack."
  3550. >She breaks into a huge grin, then chokes as tears spring to her eyes.
  3551. >A surge of fear and worry rapidly clears your sleepy head.
  3552. "Whoa, hey... what's wrong?"
  3553. >She shakes her head and sniffs, rubbing her face with a hoof.
  3554. >"N-Nothin', I just... just thought ya mighta only said that last night 'cause of... I dunno, the afterglow or somethin'."
  3555. >She laughs weakly.
  3556. >"Prolly just all emotional 'cause of m'damn cycle, right?"
  3557. >You slowly pull her face down into a kiss, then murmur gently.
  3558. "Well, I do, really. To be honest... I think I've loved you for a while and was just afraid to admit it, even to myself."
  3559. >She presses herself into your embrace and nuzzles your neck, her face slightly damp.
  3560. >"I love you too, Anon... I couldn't tell ya how happy I am."
  3561. "There's really just one problem..."
  3562. >She raises her head, looking suddenly worried.
  3563. "Since you didn't go home last night, Apple Bloom is gonna tease you SO much."
  3564. >She giggles lightly and shakes her head.
  3565. >"Likely Granny too... I'll suffer through it somehow."
  3566. >She hugs you again and curls over you, warm and soft.
  3567. >You just lay there for a few minutes, reveling in her touch.
  3568. >Eventually though, you get tired of the gross sticky feeling.
  3569. "So... I need another shower."
  3570. >Her ear twitches against your cheek, then she raises her head to look at you.
  3571. "My legs feel a lot better though so I'll probably be fine on my own..."
  3572. >Her lips tighten as she tries not to frown and you give her a sly grin.
  3573. "...still, would you mind helping me out again? Better safe than sorry, y'know."
  3574. >She slowly smiles and nods, a faint blush spreading across her muzzle.
  3575. >"Oh, absolutely. Can't have ya over workin' them muscles while they heal after all. C'mon, let's get ya... cleaned up."
  3576. >She struggles to her feet and hops down off the side of the bed as you wiggle out from under the covers.
  3577. >You hear her yelp sharply and your head snaps up.
  3578. "AJ? What's wrong?"
  3579. >She stands up and smiles sheepishly.
  3580. >"Just landed on my cast wrong is all. I'm fine, don't worry."
  3581. >You look worried anyway.
  3582. "Applejack, you should be more careful. The doctor said you could be permanently crippled if that leg doesn't heal right."
  3583. >She rolls her eyes and shakes a hoof at you.
  3584. >"Oh apple cores, I said I'm fine! Come on, let's get to the shower."
  3585. >You decide not to push the matter just now and roll out of bed, your legs stiff but no longer sore.
  3586. >Applejack blushes at your naked body but doesn't turn away this time, biting her lip and looking up to meet your gaze instead.
  3587. >She grabs your hand with a hoof and pulls you toward the bathroom door, making you chuckle.
  3588. "Alright, alright, I'm coming."
  3589. >She mutters under her breath.
  3590. >"Not yet, you ain't."
  3591. >You follow her into the bathroom and she immediately turns on the water and checks the temperature.
  3592. >As she stands there, forelegs on the side of the tub, her tail flicks impatiently and you feel somewhat less guilty about sneaking a peek this time.
  3593. >With perfect timing, she drips onto the bathroom floor.
  3594. >You step close, set a hand on her flank and rub it gently.
  3595. >Her ears turn to you and she opens her mouth to speak, but can only gasp as you slip your fingertip inside her.
  3596. >You slide your finger down and feel her wink.
  3597. >She shudders and looks back at you over her shoulder with a soft moan as you stroke her.
  3598. >"Oh buck this..."
  3599. >She leaps smoothly away from your hand and into the tub, then turns to you.
  3600. >"You'd best get in here right quick, Anon."
  3601. >You're only too happy to oblige.
  3602. ...
  3603. >Once you're finally clean, you and Applejack step out into the kitchen and have a light breakfast of toast and apples to recover after your exertions.
  3604. >She also brews a light, airy tea with your new tea set and some honey you forgot you had.
  3605. >After your breakfast, Applejack suggests visiting Lily Valley since the floral shop was fairly close to your house, so you follow her down the small road and to a cozy little shop just down the street.
  3606. >A pink mare with lime hair sees you approach and, after a moment's hesitation, smiles and waves at you.
  3607. >You return the wave, trying to look as meek and friendly as possible while you and Applejack walk up to her.
  3608. >"Howdy! Have y'all met?"
  3609. >The pony shakes her head.
  3610. >"N-No, I've seen him walking about though."
  3611. >"Well this here's Anonymous. Anon, meet Flower Wishes."
  3612. >The mare's ears fold down.
  3613. >"Oh... please Applejack, you know I prefer the name 'Daisy!'"
  3614. >You smile awkwardly and wave a hand.
  3615. "Hi Daisy. I'm the human that was accidentally pulled through Twilight's portal."
  3616. >"I heard... she hasn't figured out how to send you back home?"
  3617. >"That was the plan at first, but then Anon wound up likin' Equestria so much, Twi let him stay. Turns out he's pretty friendly an' he's been loads of help on the farm."
  3618. >"I... see. Well, what brings you two here today?"
  3619. "We're looking for Lily and Petal, actually."
  3620. >"Oh! Lily's just inside tending the counter. Petal didn't come in with her today so she's probably at school, but it should be just about lunch time."
  3621. >You thank her and follow Applejack inside, mildly surprised at how spacious and tidy the shop is inside.
  3622. >You approach the counter just as the pink and blond mare finishes ringing up another pony.
  3623. >Lily's eyes widen when she sees you, then she takes a deep breath and smiles nervously.
  3624. >"Hey AJ! A-And hello, Anon... you got uh, my package, then?"
  3625. >You nod, kneel and rest your arms on the counter, hoping that lowering to her eye-level will make you less intimidating.
  3626. "I did, thank you. Really, I appreciate it - AJ and I tried the blue pouch this morning and it was absolutely wonderful."
  3627. >She blushes and steps out from behind the counter.
  3628. >"It was the least I could do. Please, excuse me a moment and I'll fetch my coworker to work the counter so we won't be inturrupted."
  3629. >She steps through the back door and you turn around to see Applejack eyeing a pretty yellow flower.
  3630. "You like those?"
  3631. >She looks up and nods.
  3632. >"Daffodils. I love 'em, but they need acidic soil and too much water for us to bother growing 'em on the farm."
  3633. >You grab one and tuck it behind her ear before she can react, and she watches it dangle on the edge of her vision.
  3634. >She starts to stammer something and you gently touch her cheek.
  3635. "Looks good on you."
  3636. >She opens her mouth and closes it, blushing lightly, the finally speaks.
  3637. >"That's sweet, Anon... but I like eatin' daffodils, not wearing 'em."
  3638. >You hesitate, then laugh, tap her snout with a finger and, when she opens her mouth to protest, snatch the flower from her ear and set it on her tongue.
  3639. >Her mouth snaps shut and she sits suddenly, eyes closing in pure bliss.
  3640. >Several seconds later she finally opens her eyes again and smiles wide.
  3641. >"Gosh, it's been too long... Thanks, Anon."
  3642. "Too long? Why don't you just come and buy them whenever?"
  3643. >She points a hoof at the tray.
  3644. >Specifically, at the pricetag on the front of the tray.
  3645. >Your eyes bulge.
  3646. "That's... What? Why!?"
  3647. >"They're imported from a small farm just outside of Baltimare. Daffodils can grow in lots o' places but something 'bout this one particular farm makes the best darn daffodils anypony's ever had, so everypony pays a premium for 'em."
  3648. "Please tell me that's the price per bouquet or something."
  3649. >"No luck, partner, that's per flower."
  3650. "That's literally half of what little money I have."
  3651. >She chuckles.
  3652. >"Shoot, y'all oughta ask your boss for a raise or somethin'."
  3653. >She winks and you sigh, then look up and smile, rubbing her ear.
  3654. "Well... it was worth it to see your face. I'd buy you another if it didn't mean literally going broke."
  3655. >She blushes and turns away awkwardly.
  3656. >"Shucks, Anon... I apprecia--"
  3657. >She trails off and you turn to see what distracted her.
  3658. >A pale yellow pony with a magenta mane behind the counter is struggling not to laugh while Lily stares wide-eyed from beside her, looking like she can't decide if you're disgusting or adorable.
  3659. >Applejack chuckles nervously.
  3660. >"Oh... howdy, Roseluck. Y'all uh... what'cha doin' there?"
  3661. >The yellow pony you assume is Roseluck covers her mouth with her hooves, her eyes bulging as she holds back her laughter.
  3662. >Lily, seeming to settle on 'adorable,' relaxes and slowly walks around the counter and toward you.
  3663. >You nervously pull out your little pouch with its meager supply of bits.
  3664. "Uh... I'm pretty broke but I swear I have enough for one daffodil..."
  3665. >Lily ignores the pouch and stares at you for a moment, then turns and whispers something in Applejack's ear.
  3666. >Applejack's cheeks turn bright red and she hesitates, then nods her head once.
  3667. >Lily's gasps and covers her mouth with a hoof, turning to look at you again.
  3668. "...What?"
  3669. >She just stares for a moment, then slowly reaches out a hoof and lifts another daffodil, places it in a little paper bag from under the bin and passes it to you.
  3670. "O-Oh no, I can barely afford one!"
  3671. >"They're on the house."
  3672. "They... huh?"
  3673. >She wiggles her hoof and you hesitantly take the bag from her, Applejack watching it closely.
  3674. >Lily rears up and sets a steadying hoof on your shoulder, then leans close to whisper in your ear.
  3675. >"You're a lucky buck. Don't let her eat it right away - save it for a special moment."
  3676. >Then she winks at you and turns away.
  3677. >Applejack opens her mouth but just then, a high squeak comes from the front door.
  3678. >"Omigosh! He's here!"
  3679. >The pink and purple filly thuds into your leg, hugging your thigh tightly.
  3680. >Applejack giggles, relaxing visibly and Lily twitches nervously but smiles at Petal Bow.
  3681. >"Yes, he came to have lunch with us. At least, I... I think he did?"
  3682. >You're still processesing whatever just happened and almost don't realize she asked a question.
  3683. "...O-Oh, yes! If you'll have us, of course."
  3684. >"Absolutely! Rose, can you watch the shop for me?"
  3685. >Roseluck, having finally controlled her laughter, salutes.
  3686. >"Aye aye, ma'am! Have fun."
  3687. >Lily rolls her eyes and gestures.
  3688. >"Follow me, everypo... er, every... one?"
  3689. >You smile.
  3690. "Don't worry, I'll answer to 'everypony' just like anypony else."
  3691. ...
  3692. >You and Applejack wave one last goodbye to Petal as she scampers back to school.
  3693. >As the two of you turn away from the excitable filly and head into town, Applejack nudges you with her hip playfully.
  3694. >"See! Told ya you could make friends on your own."
  3695. "What are you talking about, you were there the whole time."
  3696. >"Yeah an' I hardly said twenty words since we started eatin'."
  3697. >You shrug your shoulders.
  3698. "Sure, but Lily wouldn't have been comfortable if she was alone with me."
  3699. >"Hay, she hardly spoke either! That nosy filly kept askin' you so much 'bout your people and your home, the two of us just ate, smiled, and watched you two have fun."
  3700. >You glance worriedly at Applejack.
  3701. "Wait, so she hardly spoke either? I didn't even notice... what if she was too scared to--"
  3702. >"Hush that silliness, Anon. I was watchin' Lily, an' she could hardly stop smiling the whole time y'all were talkin' and playin'."
  3703. >She grins sidelong at you.
  3704. >"Shoot, I think she might even like ya a bit."
  3705. >She hesitates and her ears fold down.
  3706. >"Come to think of it, she was a mite strange the whole time..."
  3707. "...You don't think she knew about us, do you? I mean, we showered so she couldn't have smelled anything, right?
  3708. >She grimaces and murmurs quietly.
  3709. >"I... mighta got a bit excited after your little trick with the daffodil."
  3710. >She looks up at your confused expression and sighs.
  3711. >"I ain't had any medicine for my cycle yet, Anon."
  3712. >Your eyes slowly widen with realization.
  3713. "So she probably smelled..."
  3714. >"Eyup."
  3715. "...and everypony around us?"
  3716. >Her ears droop and you both look around nervously.
  3717. >"Ain't very likely in the open air like this... but still, somepony might catch a whiff."
  3718. >She accelerates to a trot and you lengthen your stride to keep up.
  3719. "So... where are we going?"
  3720. >"Sugarcube Corner. It's just up ahead and Pinkie ought to have some of the medicine."
  3721. >A moment later, she bursts through the front door, startling the blue and pink mare inside.
  3722. >"Oh! Dearie me, Applejack--"
  3723. >"Sorry, Mrs. Cake! Y'all seen Pinkie Pie?"
  3724. >"Well sure, she's upstairs in her room, but--"
  3725. >"Thank ya much!"
  3726. >Applejack rushes up the stairs and Mrs. Cake looks at you.
  3727. "Sorry, she uh... has an urgent problem."
  3728. >The blue mare smiles, nods and waves a hoof after Applejack.
  3729. >You walk upstairs carefully, your legs still a bit stiff, and poke your head through the already cracked open door.
  3730. >You see Applejack shuffling nervously while Pinkie searches through some shelves on the far wall.
  3731. >Pinkie turns around just as you step inside.
  3732. >"Ah ha! Found you, you little--"
  3733. >Pinkie gasps, tosses a little pouch to Applejack, then rushes across the room and hugs your waist tightly.
  3734. >"Omigosh, Anon! I haven't seen you since your one-month-since-your-welcome-to-ponyville-party anniversary party!"
  3735. >You chuckle and pat her fluffy mane.
  3736. "Nice to see you too, Pinkie."
  3737. >Applejack trots past you and out the door but as you turn to follow her, you get distracted by Pinkie doing... something.
  3738. >"Twitchy nose, itchy hoof, shaky leg... and EXTRA poofy tail?"
  3739. >She sits suddenly and looks up at you with an exaggerated gasp.
  3740. >"Anon! Did... did you really!?"
  3741. >She squees and leaps into your chest, hooves squeezing you so tight you can barely breathe.
  3742. >Just as suddenly, she releases you, her hooves press into your cheeks and she looks right into your eyes with an almost desperate expression, releasing a rapid torrent of words.
  3743. >"Tell me it's true, Anon! I mean I know my Pinkie Sense is almost never wrong but I just HAVE to make sure this time because omigosh if I'm wrong it could be the wrongest wrong I'd ever wronged but if it's right this is so amazingly right and perfect and I need to start planning and--"
  3744. >You calmly wrap a hand around her muzzle and she mumbles for a few more seconds before finally noticing and falling quiet.
  3745. "You know I can't answer when you talk that fast, Pinkie. Tell you what is true?"
  3746. >You release her muzzle and she breaks into a huge grin, practically vibrating with excitement.
  3747. >"My Pinkie Sense tells me somepony slept with their very special somepony, so that must mean you finally rutted Applejack!"
  3748. ...
  3749. >Oh.
  3750. >You're sitting on the ground.
  3751. >When did that happen?
  3752. >You look up in a daze to see Pinkie's worried face.
  3753. >"Anon, are you okay? You kinda went all woozy and sat down really hard."
  3754. >She steps closer and rubs you shoulder with a hoof.
  3755. >You rub your face with both hands, then finally look up at her.
  3756. "...How..."
  3757. >"So is it true? Am I right?"
  3758. >You hear Applejack's voice from the doorway.
  3759. >"Is what true?"
  3760. >Pinkie beams at her as she steps inside and closes the door, carrying a glass of the medicinal tea.
  3761. >"You two finally fucked!"
  3762. >Applejack's ears fold straight back.
  3763. >"Figured ya might figure it out with your sense an' all..."
  3764. >She walks over and sits right in front of Pinkie.
  3765. >"Look, Pinkie, I'm sure you're excited an' ya probably want to shout out to the whole town an' throw some huge party for us..."
  3766. >She nods vigorously and Applejack grimaces.
  3767. >"I know how much ya hate secrets so I'm mighty sorry, but this really, REALLY can't get out. Not yet."
  3768. >Pinkie's excited vibrations suddenly stop and her ears droop.
  3769. >"I need ya to promise me ya won't tell a soul about me an' Anon 'til I say it's okay."
  3770. >The pink mare looks pleadingly into Applejack's eyes, but she just stares right back and Pinkie slowly deflates.
  3771. >Finally, Pinkie slowly nods and chants in a slow monotone, gesturing with her hooves.
  3772. >"Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye..."
  3773. >Applejack relaxes and takes a slow drink of her tea.
  3774. >Pinkie sighs dejectedly... then an instant later she smiles and gives Applejack a big hug, who barely avoids spilling her drink.
  3775. >"That's okay though because I'm just so happy for you! I just knew you two would be a good match. Plus, now you can go to the super secret special parties!"
  3776. >You sit up and Applejack takes a step back, looking confused.
  3777. >"Hold up... 'special' parties?"
  3778. >"Mmhmm! Filly-free fun nights, parties for all the mares and stallions in town!"
  3779. >Applejack shakes her head.
  3780. >"Tell me ya ain't sayin' what I think yer sayin'?"
  3781. >"Yep! It's a big secret from everypony until they've had their first mate because the first is supposed to be super special, but now you an Anon can come have fun too! At least, if you want to - THESE parties are totally optional."
  3782. "Hold up, Pinkie. I'm still getting used to pony customs, can you be more specific? What are you talking about?"
  3783. >"Oh sorry, Nonny! Rarity and I throw parties every now and then where mares and stallions can have easy, casual sex, just for fun!"
  3784. >You gape for a second, then look at Applejack and at her dumbfounded expression, you begin to shake with suppressed laughter.
  3785. >"You mean... y'all just... casual... an' did you say RARITY?"
  3786. >Pinkie beams with pride.
  3787. >"Yepperoo! It was her idea to begin with, said ponies were already doing it in secret anyways, so we may as well make it open to help keep it safe. She even learned a spell to stop conception so mares can come by during their cycle and get a little relief without risking a foal!"
  3788. >She winks at Applejack.
  3789. >"Rarity says that relief is REALLY nice."
  3790. >Applejack groans and lays down.
  3791. >"And how many of y'all are there?"
  3792. >"Oh tons! Almost all the single ponies in town that aren't virgins and even some couples, too."
  3793. "And just how active is Rarity in this scene?"
  3794. >"Rarity is the busiest busy pony of all of us... I think she's even better at these parties than me!"
  3795. >Applejack glares at your quiet snickering.
  3796. >Pinkie suddenly stands straight upright and gives both of you a serious stare, speaking in a formal, rehearsed tone.
  3797. >"Filly free fun nights are to be kept absolutely TOP secret. Everypony must Pinkie Promise to never even HINT of the parties to anypony who is still a virgin, or to ANY pony without a cutie mark. If you are not sure, err on the side of caution until you can confirm with either Rarity or myself."
  3798. >You look at Applejack but she just stares at Pinkie Pie, stunned.
  3799. >To be honest, this is kind of freaking you out.
  3800. >"Anypony who does not Pinkie Promise to uphold the secrecy will be shunned by everypony in the community, including those who are no longer active. That includes more than half the adult ponies in Ponyville who will act as if you do not exist."
  3801. >Pinkie Pie relaxes and smiles at you both, sitting once again.
  3802. >"Eep! Sorry if that was a little scary, but I have to be just a teeeensy bit intense about it in order to keep the secret so well. But I just know you two will promise with no problem because you're both so great!"
  3803. >Her giggle somehow comes out dark and intimidating.
  3804. >"Be glad you didn't hear Rarity's warning! I hear she gets REALLY into it."
  3805. >Applejack's mouth hangs wide but you just chuckle gently.
  3806. "Alright, whatever. I doubt I'll be participating but I can promise to keep your secret. How do I pinkie promise?"
  3807. >"Weeeelllll traditionally you'd do it like I did a moment ago with the chant and poking your eye, but really any promise to me is a Pinkie Promise."
  3808. "Okay then, I promise I won't mention the parties to anypony unless I'm certain they already know about it."
  3809. >She beams and turns to Applejack.
  3810. >"Your turn!"
  3811. >Applejack slowly turns to gape at you.
  3812. >You reach over and squeeze her muzzle, closing her mouth, then tap her cheek a couple times.
  3813. >She shakes her head lightly and frowns at Pinkie.
  3814. >"Ain't it kinda rude forcin' us to promise AFTER ya told us all about it without our asking?"
  3815. >"Well, you can't promise not to tell a secret you don't know, silly, and nopony would ever find out if we didn't tell them first."
  3816. >Applejack hesitates, seeming to have no response to that, then sighs.
  3817. >"Alright, Pinkie. I kinda wish I didn't know at all, but I pinkie promise I won't tell a soul."
  3818. >"Great! There's more to it than just the parties themselves, too. There's all kinds of toys and, thanks to Rarity, special outfits you can buy or even just rent for a night."
  3819. >You grin at Applejack and she frowns, but she can't stop herself from blushing or twitching her tail like that.
  3820. "Alright, I gotta know - of Applejack's closest friends, who doesn't know?"
  3821. >"Big Mac, Twilight, Daisy, and Rainbow Dash."
  3822. >You and Applejack both share a glance.
  3823. "Wait, really? I figured Dash would be all over something like this."
  3824. >"...and you're tellin' me Fluttershy DOES know?"
  3825. >Pinkie grins and taps her muzzle with a hoof.
  3826. >"You'll have to ask her yourself for the details, but yes, Fluttershy knows... and she's even come to party a couple times. As for Dash... well, she probably would love it if she knew, but she's still a virgin!"
  3827. "No way, really?"
  3828. >Applejack nods.
  3829. >"I ain't surprised, honestly. Mare needs to lower her standards... nopony's ever 'awesome' enough for her."
  3830. >"I heard she and Thunderlane were almost a thing, but that was a big no-no."
  3831. >"I'm thinkin' Soarin might be good for her."
  3832. >"Ooh, yes! He probably won't ever make the first move, though."
  3833. >"Yeah, prolly not. Maybe we can do somethin' to nudge 'em in the right direction?"
  3834. >You clear your throat and they both look at you, then Pinkie giggles.
  3835. >"Anyways, you two feel free to talk to me or Rarity if you ever want to have some fun or even just tips... especially Rarity, if you want tips. Me, I got all the toys. Wanna see?"
  3836. >Applejack hurriedly waves her hooves.
  3837. >"Oh no, that's alright. We'll come look another time."
  3838. "We will?"
  3839. >Applejack glances at you, then blushes and looks away.
  3840. >"...Probably."
  3841. >Pinkie beams and Applejack.
  3842. >"Don't be shy about it, AJ. You gotta talk about what you like and don't like - communciation is super-duper important for this kind of stuff!"
  3843. >"Hoo boy! Would ya look at the time, Anon an' I better get goin'. Thanks for the herbal brew, Pinkie. I already feel a lot better."
  3844. >Applejack nudges you with a hoof and opens the door.
  3845. >You laugh again and wave.
  3846. "Good seeing you, Pinkie. I can never guess what crazy surprise you'll have for me next."
  3847. >She lunges forward and hugs you tightly around the waist.
  3848. >"Thanks, Anon! I'm just glad to see you smile."
  3849. >She leans in close and whispers in your ear.
  3850. >"If you have questions or want tips how to help her feel better, come talk to me."
  3851. >She winks, then hugs AJ and whispers in her ear too, making her blush and fold her ears down.
  3852. >Finally, you make your way down the stairs, say goodbye to Mr. Cake and hear Mrs. Cake yell goodbye through the back doorway.
  3853. >Once outside, Applejack sighs heavily.
  3854. >"Well ain't that a load to take in."
  3855. "Mmhmm. I'm not really surprised Rarity's into something like that, but Pinkie?"
  3856. >"I suppose parties ARE her special talent, even a party like... that."
  3857. "Guess so..."
  3858. >As you start walking down the road, you notice Applejack seems to be favoring her injured leg.
  3859. "Is your leg bothering you?"
  3860. >She immediately begins walking normally.
  3861. >"Naw, I'm fine."
  3862. "Applejack, you don't need to act tough, everypony already knows you are. If it hurts, you should take it easy."
  3863. >Her ears flatten.
  3864. >"I told ya I'm fine!"
  3865. >You sigh.
  3866. "Alright, alright. Just... let me know if you need to take a break. No shame in caring for an injury, AJ."
  3867. >She doesn't respond and the two of you walk on in silence for a moment.
  3868. >Eventually she seems to relax and you stroke her neck.
  3869. "So... you wanna take that nature walk we were talking about yesterday?"
  3870. >She looks up at you and grins.
  3871. >"Sure, I know just the place."
  3872. ...
  3873. >As the two of you walk down the path exiting Ponyville, you tuck your hand under Applejack's hat and rub gently behind her ears while your mind wanders over recent events.
  3874. >When you were first pulled through that portal, you thought your life was ruined.
  3875. >You immediately felt like you were an outsider, and from the way everypony acted around you, they felt the same.
  3876. >It always seemed like everypony was either putting up with you until you left, or cautiously interested like you were a wild animal.
  3877. >So despite the Princess of Friendship's assurances that ponies were kind and friendly, you always felt cold and alone.
  3878. >Hell, even Twilight herself, friendly as she was, always seemed a bit stiff and cautious around you.
  3879. >Not Applejack.
  3880. >From the first words out of her mouth, she felt different from other ponies.
  3881. >She was the first pony who treated you like an equal and made you feel welcome, and she was the first pony you could honestly see yourself befriending.
  3882. >Her family was just as warm and welcoming, and for the first time since you came to Equestria, you weren't constantly wishing you could return to Earth.
  3883. >Thinking back on it, you just might have loved Applejack from that very first day, though you hadn't even considered a relationship with a pony yet.
  3884. >Then when you woke up in her bed... was it really just yesterday morning?
  3885. >That was when you first saw her for how beautiful she was and when the first thoughts of a relationship entered your mind.
  3886. >Then last night...
  3887. >You look down and watch Applejack as she walks beside you, almost in awe of the mare, and in your musing you stop scratching her head.
  3888. >Her ear twitches and she looks over at you.
  3889. >"Aw, why'd you...?"
  3890. >She trails off, looking concerned.
  3891. >"Hey, y'all okay?"
  3892. "Wha- huh?"
  3893. >You blink and she giggles.
  3894. >"Reckon ya zoned out a bit there. Somethin' on your mind?"
  3895. "Oh, uh..."
  3896. >You stop walking and she sits down, then you rub your neck awkwardly and sigh.
  3897. "Was just thinking of... well, everything since I came to Equestria, I suppose."
  3898. >You squat beside her, wincing as it stretches your still slightly sore calves.
  3899. "What all's happened and... and how lucky I am."
  3900. >"Lucky?"
  3901. >You smile shyly, your ears burning.
  3902. "To know a girl... uh, a mare like you."
  3903. >She hesitates, blushes, then nickers and nuzzles your cheek.
  3904. >"Here I thought I was the lucky one."
  3905. >You sigh contentedly and rub the side of her neck.
  3906. "When I was first brought to Equestria I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened, but now... I'm thankful."
  3907. >You meet her eye with a small smile.
  3908. "Honestly, the time I've spent with you has been the best of my life."
  3909. >She grins and gives you a quick kiss, then steps away.
  3910. >"C'mon, Anon. We're still pretty close to town. I don't want nopony seeing us an' freaking out or somethin'."
  3911. "Yeah, you're right."
  3912. >The two of you continue walking in companionable silence, and after a moment, you put your hand back under her hat and continue rubbing her ears.
  3913. "So... where are you taking me, then?"
  3914. >She turns her head so your fingers are rubbing just the right spot before responding.
  3915. >"You ain't never been out this side of town, right? ...Well over yonder is Fluttershy's cottage, but just past her place is a forest path I always loved since I was a filly."
  3916. "Ooh, a forest path? I've only seen open plains with a few trees so far."
  3917. >She sighs wistfully, a look of content spreading across her face.
  3918. >"Eyup. A bit of the Running of the Leaves passes through here, but while the official path turns back into town, I like to head a bit deeper into the Everfree Forest."
  3919. >You chuckle and tweak her ear playfully, making it twitch.
  3920. "You don't need to brave the Everfree anymore, you can get your kicks from your very own personal predator."
  3921. >She scoffs indignantly.
  3922. >"T-That ain't why I like it! Hay, this is the SAFER side of the forest! It's just real peaceful-like, 'specially this time of year, when the leaves are just startin' to turn."
  3923. >You roll your eyes.
  3924. "Sure..."
  3925. >She whinnies in protest and jostles you with her shoulder, making you stumble and laugh.
  3926. "Hey now, be nice."
  3927. >"Or what?"
  3928. "Dunno... might have to punish you."
  3929. >She sneers at you but you can see a blush forming around her muzzle.
  3930. >"I'd like to see ya try!"
  3931. "Girl, I've already pinned you twice."
  3932. >You bare your teeth in a broad smile.
  3933. "Maybe this time I'll see how you taste."
  3934. >Her blush deepens but she raises her head proudly and walks ahead of you, tail firmly between her legs.
  3935. >"Reckon you'd be bitin' off more'n you can chew, partner."
  3936. >You briefly consider lunging forward to pin her neck and give her ear a nibble but...
  3937. >Well, maybe tonight.
  3938. >For now, you content yourself with walking behind her and appreciating the view.
  3939. >You aren't even on the path yet and it's already beautiful enough, so you know this walk is going to be something special.
  3940. >In fact, it's so lovely here it keeps distracting you from the view you're really trying to appreciate.
  3941. >Applejack's tail flicks just enough to hint at what's behind it and she looks over her shoulder at you.
  3942. >"Don't it look nice out here?"
  3943. >You look up and meet her smiling eyes.
  3944. "Oh yes, I really like watching the local wildlife."
  3945. >She furrows her brow.
  3946. >"But I ain't seen any--"
  3947. >You smirk and pointedly return your gaze to her hindquarters.
  3948. >Her mouth forms a silent "Oh," she looks away, and her blush returns as her tail involuntarily lifts a bit.
  3949. >"If I'd a known you'd just stare at my tail, we may as well've not gone out at all..."
  3950. >You laugh, take a few long strides to catch up, then ruffle her mane.
  3951. "Sorry, I am loving this trail so far, honest. Everything looks wonderful.
  3952. >She glances at you, looking skeptical.
  3953. >"How ya even know if you've been watching my rump the whole time?"
  3954. "Hey, not the whole time! That was just, uh... a momentary lapse of will! Really, I can't help but look when you trot ahead of me like that."
  3955. >Her ears droop and she looks down without responding.
  3956. >Your smile vanishes and you immediately begin to worry.
  3957. "Whoa, hey... c'mon, I'm just playing around, AJ. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
  3958. >"Ya really like--"
  3959. >Her voice catches and she turns her head away.
  3960. >You hadn't realized this little walk meant so much to her.
  3961. "Of course I like it out here. This place is beaufitul and we haven't even gotten to the forest path you were--"
  3962. >She stops suddenly and you turn, confused.
  3963. >"I mean ya... ya really like... well, me? Ya like how I look?"
  3964. >That's what she's worried about?
  3965. >And here you thought you were the one nervous about this relationship.
  3966. >She looks up to meet your eye and you're surprised to see her on the verge of tears.
  3967. >"B-Be honest, now. Pony s-sin, remember?"
  3968. >You kneel and lay your hand on the side of her head, thumb lightly stroking her muzzle.
  3969. "I really do, Applejack."
  3970. >Despite your own self-doubt, you try to smile reassuringly.
  3971. "You're a beautiful mare and a wonderful person. I never imagined I'd be attracted to an equine but..."
  3972. >You remember she loves your predatory nature as you search for words, so as you speak, your voice drops, finishing almost with a growl.
  3973. "Honestly, you look... well, delicious."
  3974. >Her breath catches and her ears fold back, and she even flinches a bit when you lean forward to kiss her.
  3975. >You slowly pull her toward you and your lips touch, but instead of breaking the kiss, you gently bite her lower lip.
  3976. >A little tremor ripples through the fur under your fingertips and she gasps softly.
  3977. >You release her and she takes a long, deep breath before opening her eyes.
  3978. >"Y'all keep that up, you an' I are gonna have to head home early."
  3979. >She takes another slow breath, then smiles sheepishly.
  3980. >"Sorry, this damn cycle... Reckon I'm just bein' all emotional again. I--"
  3981. >Suddenly, her eyes widen and she stares over your shoulder.
  3982. >You lean back and turn to see Fluttershy watching you both with wide eyes, a wingtip covering her muzzle.
  3983. >As soon as your eyes meet, she squeaks and turns away, but Applejack immediately calls out.
  3984. >"Fluttershy, wait, please! It's okay, I promise!"
  3985. >The pegasus hesitates, then peeks between two wing feathers and murmurs something too quiet for you to make out, though Applejack seems to hear her just fine.
  3986. >"We are... an' I'm sorry you found out like this. I was actually plannin' on tellin' ya when we came by your place in a moment here - it's only just started yesterday, so it ain't like I been hidin' it or anything."
  3987. >Another mumble and Applejack shakes her head.
  3988. >"I ain't surprised that looked a mite odd, but I promise he's alright. Right, Anon?"
  3989. >You look down at her, startled.
  3990. "Uh... I can't hear anything she's saying."
  3991. >"Oh! Right... human ears ain't as good as ours. Fluttershy, we're gonna walk a little bit closer, okay? Just so he can hear you."
  3992. >Fluttershy's head bobs in a tiny nod and Applejack whispers to you as she slowly stands.
  3993. >"Just stand up and turn real slow-like. Remember, you're pretty tall an' scary lookin' to a pony... and keep them teeth hidden, y'hear?"
  3994. >You've heard of how timid Fluttershy is, so you nod and very cautiously stand up and turn around.
  3995. >However, you're surprised to see she seems to be calming down and trying to relax as you approach, rather than her usual skittish behavior.
  3996. >Her wings slowly retract and she sits back down, rubbing a foreleg nervously.
  3997. >Applejack stops at about half the distance and you immediately squat and try to give Fluttershy a reassuring smile.
  3998. >"Fluttershy, this is the human Twilight accidentally pulled from his home world a while back. Let's just clear up a couple things from the get go, so y'ain't scared over nothin'."
  3999. >She sets a hoof on your knee and rubs gently.
  4000. >"He ain't mean or dangerous at all, promise. He's been a good friend an' a wonderful help on the farm since he started workin' with us a few moons ago. He's nice, thoughtful, and just wants to be everypony's friend."
  4001. >Fluttershy stares nervously through two locks of her long pink mane.
  4002. >"I... I know. Twilight told me about him the other day."
  4003. >Applejack rubs her head with a hoof.
  4004. >"Well, what're ya so scared of then?"
  4005. >The pegasus shakes her head and mumbles.
  4006. >"Sorry... You two just surprised me, is all. I'm trying to do better, be braver..."
  4007. >With obvious effort, she stands and slowly approaches until she is almost within normal conversation range.
  4008. >You slowly raise your hand in a little wave.
  4009. "Hi, Fluttershy. I'm Anonymous, but you can call me Anon. It's really nice to finally meet you."
  4010. >She looks down, takes a deep breath, then meets your eye and gives you a tiny smile.
  4011. >"I'm happy to meet you too, Anon. It's always nice meeting a new creature... e-even if that creature is big and scary..."
  4012. >You smile and - since your legs are already tired of squatting - slowly lower yourself onto your butt.
  4013. >Applejack beams at you both.
  4014. >"Well, wallop my withers Shy, you're doing loads better! I was scared to pieces y'all'd just flee in terror the moment ya saw Anon."
  4015. >Fluttershy nods with a small smile.
  4016. >"I'm really trying, but some days it's hard. Discord has been a lot of help."
  4017. >You give Applejack a questioning stare, but she just shakes her head and you decide not to worry about it.
  4018. >After all, Ponyville is a big town. It's probably just somepony you haven't met yet.
  4019. >"SomePONY?"
  4020. >A long grey face lowers into view directly in front of your face.
  4021. >You yelp and scoot back, immediately thumping into something behind you.
  4022. >You whip your head around and just as you see an odd mix of scales and fur, Applejack's hoof presses into your cheek and forces you to turn back and look at her.
  4023. >"Anon, this is Discord. He's weird as hay, looks pretty freaky, an' sometimes he's a mite annoying, but he's mostly harmless, I promise."
  4024. >You nod and take a steadying breath, then Applejack releases your cheek and you turn to look behind you.
  4025. >...There's nothing there.
  4026. >You hear the strange voice back in front of you now.
  4027. >"I prefer the term 'usually harmless,' thank you very much."
  4028. >You untwist your torso and see a--
  4029. >"Oh, spare us both the description. Your readers all know who I am."
  4030. >You look at Applejack, but she just shrugs.
  4031. >A tiny Discord stands up from behind her ear and wiggles his eyebrows at you.
  4032. >"So, anonymous one, is there something you'd like to tell my good friend Fluttershy?"
  4033. "Uh..."
  4034. >Applejack flicks her ear at the tiny figure and he rolls his eyes and snaps his claw-fingers.
  4035. >"Look Discord, Id really appreciate ifn youd please quit bein so weird for just a little while. Anons just tryin to be friendly ere an we dont need yall--wait, what the hay?"
  4036. >You notice it too... Applejack sounds different, but you aren't exactly sure how.
  4037. >"Discord, whatd ya do to me!?"
  4038. >He giggles and jumps off her head, growing to the size of a large dog.
  4039. >"W'ha't? I di'dn't d'o a'ny't'hin'g, I s'wea'r!"
  4040. >Applejack starts to respond, but Fluttershy's soft voice inturrupts her.
  4041. >"Discord, please... Anon and I have only just met and you know I don't like meta-chaos."
  4042. >He sighs and snaps his fingers again.
  4043. >"Oh very well, just for you, Fluttershy. I only stopped by in the first place because there's something I thought you should know about Anon."
  4044. >You and Applejack share a worried glance, and as you look to Fluttershy, you see her brows furrow in concern.
  4045. >"Oh? Something that Twilight didn't tell me?"
  4046. >Discord leans in close to her ear and grins wickedly at you.
  4047. >"Anon eats meat, Fluttershy."
  4048. >Applejack sucks in her breath nervously, but Fluttershy only looks confused at Discord.
  4049. >"But... I already know that."
  4050. >Discord's head snaps back.
  4051. >"You DO? Wha--but... How?"
  4052. >"Discord, I know a predator when I see one. Anon's teeth are clearly those of an omnivore."
  4053. >He stares at her, then turns to you, looking bewildered.
  4054. >"And... and you're okay with that!?"
  4055. >"Don't be silly, of course I am! How could I befriend a bear like Harry otherwise?"
  4056. >Discord sputters for a few seconds, then Fluttershy giggles and hugs him around the belly.
  4057. >"You're so sweet when you worry. I appreciate the concern, but if that's the worst thing about Anon, I don't think I have anything to worry about."
  4058. >He hesitates, shakes his head, then shrugs, backing away from Fluttershy.
  4059. >"Well then, if you two are just going to be nice to each other, I'm leaving before I get bored. Oh wait, I already am."
  4060. >A hot air balloon suddenly appears around him, he pulls the cord that activates the flame, the sound of a motorcycle engine fills the air, and the balloon abruptly slides across the ground, disappearing rapidly into the distance.
  4061. >You stare blankly after it and Fluttershy giggles at your expression.
  4062. >"He does take some getting used to, but he's really very sweet."
  4063. "But... how..."
  4064. >Applejack nudges your shoulder with a hoof and you shake your head to gather your senses.
  4065. >"Discord's the spirit of chaos, Anon. Don't try an' understand him, it'll just give you a headache."
  4066. "O...kay?"
  4067. >Fluttershy giggles again.
  4068. >"He was just worried about me. Would you two like to come in for some tea?"
  4069. >You and Applejack share a glance, then you nod to Fluttershy.
  4070. "I'd love to."
  4071. ...
  4072. >You follow Fluttershy into her cottage and she gestures to some cushions on the floor, then continues through to the kitchen.
  4073. >You and Applejack sit on the cushions around a little table and you look around you in awe.
  4074. "Wow... just how many animals are here?"
  4075. >Applejack chuckles.
  4076. >"Don't rightly know, but it ain't never enough for Fluttershy."
  4077. >You start to respond when a small white rabbit hops onto the table directly in front of you, making you jump.
  4078. >It glares at you, crosses it arms, and taps its foot rapidly.
  4079. "Uh..."
  4080. >You look at Applejack, but she just smirks, so you look back down at the rabbit.
  4081. "Can I help you?"
  4082. >The rabbit gives you an exaggerated roll of its eyes.
  4083. "Wow. I can't decide if that's impressive or annoying."
  4084. >It bares its teeth at you, then suddenly hops up and lands hard on your shoulder, grabbing your ear roughly.
  4085. "Hey- Ow! The fu-"
  4086. >It yanks on your ear painfully and squeaks loudly.
  4087. "You little..."
  4088. >You wrap your thumb and finger around its neck, pressing the tips together so your grip is very rigid but isn't actually squeezing its neck, and your other fingers wrap around its little arm and torso.
  4089. >Your other arm reaches around behind your head and you pinch the tiny hand gripping your ear just hard enough to make it let go.
  4090. >Finally, you lift it by the neck, grab its hind legs while they're extended so he can't 'jump' in your hand, then drop your hands to the table, holding him on his back.
  4091. >Applejack snickers and you look at her incredulously.
  4092. "What's this thing's problem?"
  4093. >"That's Fluttershy's pet bunny, Angel."
  4094. >You look back at it trying to claw at your fingers and get its neck to bend far enough down to bite you.
  4095. "Angel of Evil, maybe."
  4096. >Fluttershy walks back in, balancing a tray between her wings, and 'eeps' when she sees Angel pinned to the table.
  4097. >"Oh dear... I wish you hadn't done that. He'll be grumpy all evening now."
  4098. "He jumped up on my shoulder and started trying to rip my ear off! What was I supposed to do?"
  4099. >She smiles sheepishly.
  4100. >"I usually just give him some food whenever he does that."
  4101. "So... you're encouraging this?"
  4102. >She slides the tray down onto the table and gestures for you to release Angel, who immediately gnashes his teeth at you, then scowls.
  4103. >"Oh no, I just don't like seeing him upset, so I try to cheer him up however I can."
  4104. "But... that's directly rewarding him for this kind of behavior!"
  4105. >She steps around you to prepare your tea and as she passes, she whispers in your ear.
  4106. >"I know."
  4107. >You turn your head to her and she gives you a little wink, then gently pokes Angel with a hoof.
  4108. >"Angel, please be nice. If you leave the poor human alone, I'll make you an arugala salad after he leaves?"
  4109. >The bunny crosses its arms and turns it's nose up snootily.
  4110. >"With honey and sunflower seeds?"
  4111. >Angel peeks at her with one eye, then sneers and looks away again.
  4112. >"...And a slice of watermelon?"
  4113. >Angel gives an exaggerated sigh and hops off the table, settling into a tiny wicker bed in the corner of the room.
  4114. >"Fluttershy, for the life o' me I can't tell why ya put up with that there little demon."
  4115. >The pegasus glances at the bunny, seemingly asleep already, then motions for you both to come closer, whispering as quietly as she can.
  4116. >"I can't help it! Seeing an adorable little bunny get so angry is just so cute and silly!"
  4117. >She stifles a giggle as you and Applejack share a surprised look, then whispers again.
  4118. >"If he knew his tiny temper was so cute, he'd do his best to figure out a way to really upset me."
  4119. >She starts three cups of tea brewing and sits across from you two.
  4120. >"Gosh, Fluttershy, you really are doin' better, aren't ya?"
  4121. >"Well... it helps to be in a familiar place where I can feel like I'm in control."
  4122. >The three of you sit in awkward silence for a moment while your tea steeps.
  4123. >You look up at Fluttershy and notice she's watching you from behind her mane.
  4124. >She flutters her wings nervously, then brushes her hair aside and clears her throat softly.
  4125. >"So, um, Anon... Twilight said you were brought here by accident, then she couldn't return you home, so you're stuck here... how are you coping?"
  4126. >You glance at Applejack, then smile warmly at Fluttershy.
  4127. "Not gonna lie, it was pretty rough at first. Most ponies seemed to be nervous around me... some were even outright cold, but once I made a few friends I started really liking it here. I don't even want to go home anymore - I'd rather stay here in Equestria."
  4128. >"Oh? But what about the life you left behind?"
  4129. "Psh, I hated my old life. My family was terrible, I had no friends, and my home world is full of corruption and pointless bullshit that just plain doesn't seem to exist in this world."
  4130. >"I see."
  4131. >She fiddles with her wing nervously for a moment.
  4132. >"I, um... Applejack said you two are... together?"
  4133. >You nod and she gulps.
  4134. >"And have you... um..."
  4135. >Her ears fold back and she blushes furiously.
  4136. >"Well, did you learn something new about Pinkie Pie and Rarity?"
  4137. >Applejack sighs.
  4138. >"Ya mean their sex parties?"
  4139. >Fluttershy lets out a surprised "eep!" then sighs in relief.
  4140. >"Oh thank goodness, I can finally talk to somepony."
  4141. >"What d'ya mean?"
  4142. >"My only friends that knew about those parties were Pinkie and Rarity themselves! They run the whole operation... I could never be frank with them."
  4143. "What do you mean 'be frank?' Do you not like the parties?"
  4144. >She shakes her head sadly.
  4145. >"Not really... but they're both so excited about it, I didn't want to hurt their feelings... it's still somewhat new, so they're really eager to share it with everypony."
  4146. >"Have they been buggin' or pressuring you to go to more parties?"
  4147. >She nods and Applejack sighs.
  4148. >"Mare, ya gotta tell them the truth. Don't tell me ya caved in an' went to a party when ya didn't really want to?"
  4149. >She nods again, and at Applejack's worried expression, she hurriedly explains.
  4150. >"I did go a couple of times but I never did anything there. There are very strict consent guidelines, so nopony is ever forced to do something they don't want to."
  4151. >Applejack visibly relaxes.
  4152. >"That's good to know... at least they seem to be running it well. Still, I think you should tell 'em y'ain't interested. I reckon they'd understand, 'specially with it bein' you an' all."
  4153. >"...What do you mean, it being me?"
  4154. >"Well... no offense, but ya just ain't seem like the kinda mare to go for that sorta thing. You're sweet, soft spoken, shy, and a bit secretive. Of the six of us, I always thought you'd make the best stay at home dam."
  4155. >"Really? I always thought that was you."
  4156. >"Shucks, I'm too busy with the farm to raise foals."
  4157. >You catch Applejack's quick glance at you and wonder about its significance.
  4158. >"Besides, I seen how well ya handle the Crusaders. I reckon you'd make a damn fine dam, Shy."
  4159. >You roll your eyes at her play on words, but Fluttershy seems to appreciate the gesture.
  4160. >"Anywho... I betcha Pinkie an' Rarity'd rather know the truth, if they had the choice. I mean, just think how much worse it'd be if one day they hear from somepony else you've just been pretending to enjoy their parties? 'Sides, you can always change your mind an' come back later."
  4161. >Fluttershy stares down at the table uncomfortably without responding.
  4162. >Applejack walks around to give her a hug.
  4163. >"C'mon girl, what's goin' on? Ya look like somethin's on your mind. If there's somethin' you're needin' off your chest, y'know I'm here for ya, right?"
  4164. >She shuffles her wings nervously and lowers her head, looking ashamed.
  4165. >"It's just... I wish I even could enjoy it."
  4166. >Applejack gives you a worried glance and something about the tone of Fluttershy's voice reminds you of...
  4167. >A horrible suspicion comes to mind and you have to struggle to keep your voice calm and steady.
  4168. "Fluttershy, do you mean you wish you could enjoy parties... or you wish you could enjoy any sex at all?"
  4169. >The mare hesitates, then shakes her head, rushing her words awkwardly.
  4170. >"N-No, it's just--just the parties, that's all. It's so loud and there are so many ponies--I've been getting better but I think it's still just too much for me right now, that's all."
  4171. >Fluttershy isn't very good at lying, and with a glance at Applejack you know she saw right through it, too.
  4172. >However, Applejack surprises you and only nuzzles Fluttershy's cheek, seeming to let the lie go.
  4173. >"Alright well... just remember I'm here if'n ya need a good talk. I been through some real horse manure in the last few moons..."
  4174. >Fluttershy relaxes, obviously relieved Applejack 'believed' her.
  4175. >"Really? L-Like what?"
  4176. >"Aw, I don't wanna go into the nasty details, but let's just say there's a few colts in town that know exactly how it feels to get an Apple-buck to the family jewels."
  4177. >Your legs clench involuntarily and Fluttershy's eyes widen.
  4178. >"W-Wow... all I can do is fly away, and that doesn't work s-so well indoors..."
  4179. >She trails off and her muzzle trembles.
  4180. >"I-I think the f-food is ready, b-be right back!"
  4181. >She dashes away and you immediately lean close to Applejack and whisper.
  4182. "So that was definitely all bullshit, right?"
  4183. >"Oh, absolutely. Somethin' must've happened to her, but I ain't about to force the issue if she ain't ready to talk about it... it'd likely do more harm than good."
  4184. >You grunt.
  4185. "Yeah, I guess."
  4186. >"All I can do is make sure she knows I'll be here for her when she's ready."
  4187. >She sighs.
  4188. >"Still, it kills me to know something's troublin' her that bad. It almost sounds like... like she was raped."
  4189. >That's exactly what it sounded like.
  4190. >You struggle to contain the fury building inside of you.
  4191. >"Luna's wrath... if I find out somepony did something like that, why I'd--"
  4192. "I'll fucking kill them."
  4193. >She jerks her head up to look at you, then recoils slightly from your dark expression.
  4194. >"Anon, you..."
  4195. "Only thing lower than a rapist is a child rapist."
  4196. >Your fist clenches and your voice drops to a growl.
  4197. "And my father was at least one of them."
  4198. >"But... ya can't just--"
  4199. >You stand suddenly and Applejack shrinks back fearfully.
  4200. >"N-Now hold up Anon, we don't even know if that's what really--"
  4201. >Rage boiling uncontrollably within you, you clench your jaw and walk away as calmly as you can manage, hoping you can avoid upsetting Fluttershy.
  4202. >"Anon? Anon, wait!"
  4203. >You don't look back.
  4204. >You walk out the door and down the path.
  4205. >Is this heading into town or the forest?
  4206. >It doesn't matter.
  4207. >It's away.
  4208. >Your father...
  4209. >A violent kick sends a pine cone flying off the path.
  4210. >So many years ago yet you can remember so clearly...
  4211. >You step faster, harder... stomping now.
  4212. >You can still hear her screaming... and sobbing.
  4213. >You growl in frustration and break into a run.
  4214. >Why didn't you do something?
  4215. >Branches whip at your face.
  4216. >You just turned up your music.
  4217. >You stumble over a root but only run harder.
  4218. >...But music doesn't stop the smell.
  4219. >You barely avoid running into a tree.
  4220. >...and you can still see your mother after he finished with her.
  4221. >Something slams into your back and you fall heavily to your hands and knees, hooves pressing hard between your shoulders.
  4222. >You snarl.
  4223. "Dammit Applejack!"
  4224. >You twist onto your back, elbowing her hooves aside and her enormous blue eyes glare down at you.
  4225. >...Blue?
  4226. >Fluttershy narrows her eyes angrily.
  4227. >"How DARE you!"
  4228. "What... How dare I!? You--"
  4229. >Your aimless rage now directs itself at Fluttershy and you claw at her wings.
  4230. >She flaps harder to raise just out of your reach and you roar.
  4231. "You don't know what I've been through! What he did to me! My father--"
  4232. >You glare at her angrily and your blood suddenly runs cold.
  4233. >Her eyes are glowing with righteous fury.
  4234. >...Literally.
  4235. >An intense light radiates from her eyes and the sight of them overwhelms you, disrupting your thoughts.
  4236. >"You're right, Anon. I don't know what happened, but just because you're upset doesn't mean you can upset everypony else, too! Applejack was terrified after you left and let me tell you, you do NOT scare my friends!"
  4237. >Unable to look away, you cling desperately to the anger flowing out of you.
  4238. "You can't... I just--"
  4239. >Her eyes fill your mind, rapidly sapping your energy and draining your emotion.
  4240. >"Don't you 'I just' me, mister! Applejack LOVES you, Anon! You can't just run away when you're hurting without a care for what it does to those around you. Pulling a stunt like that hurts her too!"
  4241. >You find yourself agreeing with everything she says.
  4242. >It all makes perfect sense and feels absolutely true.
  4243. >Your breath slows and your body relaxes, your eyes locked on hers.
  4244. >"You WILL treat her with the respect she deserves or you will have ME to deal with, understood?"
  4245. >Your thoughts are full of her eyes and you work your mouth silently, unable to even form a word.
  4246. >"IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?"
  4247. >Words leap to your lips, unbidden.
  4248. "Y-Yes ma'am, crystal clear!"
  4249. >"Good."
  4250. >She looks away and you feel a great weight lift from you.
  4251. >Almost immediately, a fresh wave of anger and hurt rushes over you and you clamp your eyes shut.
  4252. >You feel hooves land beside you and you swing an arm out blindly but only bang your hand against a rock.
  4253. "Dammit! F-Fuck!"
  4254. >You hear a faint gasp and you bolt upright, hands to your head.
  4255. "The fuck did you do to me!?"
  4256. >The anger has lost it's edge, replaced mostly with painful memories.
  4257. >You press your hands against your head as if you can simply squeeze the pain out.
  4258. >No matter how hard you clench your eyes, tears begin to leak out.
  4259. >Memories rapidly flash through your mind.
  4260. >Your father strolls casually away.
  4261. >Your sister cries as she calls 911.
  4262. >Paramedics barge through the door.
  4263. >You stare blankly at the officer's questions.
  4264. >A doctor looks grim, your mother lying in the background.
  4265. >Your father screams and struggles against the police.
  4266. >The funeral.
  4267. >You hear someone talking as if from a great distance.
  4268. >Then something gently touches your shoulder and your eyes snap open.
  4269. >Applejack's worry-stricken face fills your vision.
  4270. >She flinches and starts to say something, but you choke on a sob and grab at her desperately.
  4271. >She struggles a bit, seeming almost scared of you, but when you wrap your arms around her and press your face into her mane, she tentatively wraps a foreleg around your shoulders.
  4272. "I couldn't... I... sorry..."
  4273. >"Shh... it's alright, sugarcube. You're okay."
  4274. >You notice your arms are shaking and take a deep, shuddering breath.
  4275. >Applejack strokes your back, nickering softly.
  4276. >You focus on breathing slow and steady to try to control yourself.
  4277. >Dammit, it was almost ten years ago! You're supposed to be over this!
  4278. >You lift your head and stare into Applejack's eyes, blinking away some lingering tears.
  4279. >She smiles worriedly and touches your cheek with a hoof.
  4280. >"I'm here, Anon. Don't rightly know what's goin' on, but I'm here."
  4281. >You just stare at her and let her presence fill your mind.
  4282. >Slowly, your breathing stabilizes.
  4283. >The tension fades from your neck and shoulders.
  4284. >Eventually, you sigh and lean back.
  4285. >Applejack steps forward and sits beside you, nuzzling your cheek.
  4286. >"You alright?"
  4287. >You shrug your shoulders, not really trusting yourself to speak yet.
  4288. >Fluttershy takes a hesitate step closer but stops several feet in front of you.
  4289. >"Oh Anon, I'm sorry. I've never used the stare on a friend before, it just kind of... happens sometimes."
  4290. >You shake your head weakly.
  4291. "S'okay."
  4292. >Your voice is rough, prompting you to cough and swallow the buildup of phlegm in your throat.
  4293. >Applejack shuffles even closer and squeezes you tight as she mumbles.
  4294. >"Jumpin' junipers, Shy, you used the stare on him?"
  4295. >Fluttershy nods slowly, looking wretched.
  4296. >"I had no idea it could cause so much pain..."
  4297. >She shuffles her hooves awkwardly.
  4298. >"I think... I should probably go. Oh Anon... I'm so sorry."
  4299. >She flies away before you can manage a response, then Applejack turns to nuzzle you again.
  4300. >You sigh and wrap your arm around her barrel.
  4301. "Sorry."
  4302. >She snorts softly.
  4303. >"I'm just glad you're okay... for the love of Luna, would ya talk to me if somethin' like that happens again? I was so scared when ya just ran off like that."
  4304. >She shivers and lays her head on your shoulder.
  4305. >"I never thought... Sweet Celestia, you're right terrifying when you're angry, y'know that?"
  4306. >You just sigh again in response.
  4307. >The two of you sit there for a moment, the wilderness almost silent around you.
  4308. >Applejack lifts her head and looks at you.
  4309. >"So... wanna talk about it?"
  4310. "...Not really, no."
  4311. >Her ears droop and you groan.
  4312. "Sorry... it's just--just a bad memory from back home, that's all."
  4313. >Applejack gives you a worried smile.
  4314. >"Y'know... Earth don't have to be your home anymore."
  4315. >You raise an eyebrow and she looks down shyly.
  4316. >"This can be your home now... here with me."
  4317. >You stare at her, stunned, the pain of your memories momentarily forgotten.
  4318. >Maybe it should have been obvious from the way she and her family treated you, but to be told so directly...
  4319. >Do you want this to be your home?
  4320. >You pretty much said so when you claimed you didn't want to return to Earth... but are you truly done with your home world?
  4321. >Applejack's smile wavers nervously at your silence.
  4322. >You feel an overwhelming urge to protect that smile.
  4323. >You love Applejack and you love Equestria.
  4324. >Yes.
  4325. >This is your home now.
  4326. >A warmth spreads through you, pushing away the last lingering traces of pain.
  4327. >You finally relax and smile, touching a hand to Applejack's cheek.
  4328. "I'd like that."
  4329. ...
  4330. >As it turns out, you'd run deeper into the forest and had nearly made it to the fork in the path where the Running of the Leaves goes one way, and Applejack likes going the other way.
  4331. >Of course, that means you missed more than a third of the trail while running in a blind rage, but at least you can enjoy the rest of it.
  4332. >Occasionally Applejack would stop and point out a certain tree or clearing, talking about its history, or about something that happened when she was a foal.
  4333. >Your hand almost never left her, whether it was scratching behind her ears, resting lightly on her withers... or making her jump as it explored other areas.
  4334. >More than once, you would be swatted away by her tail and you'd laugh and return your hand to higher ground.
  4335. >Similarly, she'd tease you with calculated tail flicks when she knew you were looking, or with surprise nuzzles to your groin when she knew you weren't.
  4336. >But mostly, you just silently walked and enjoyed the view together.
  4337. >So you were understandably surprised when she broke the silence with a sudden question.
  4338. >"What about foals, Anon?"
  4339. "...What? Huh?"
  4340. >Your hand lifts from her rump in surprise and she gives you an apologetic look.
  4341. >"I know, I know, I'm sorry. We ain't hardly been together a day an' here I am jumpin' straight to the big questions but... I just can't stop thinkin' about it."
  4342. "About foals?"
  4343. >She nods and grimaces.
  4344. >"Ever since it came up with Fluttershy it's been buggin' at my mind."
  4345. "What about them, though?
  4346. >"Well... I ain't no medical pony, but you're a monkey an' I'm a horse. Pretty sure that don't add up."
  4347. >You grunt in comprehension and rub your chin thoughtfully.
  4348. "Man, you weren't kidding about jumping straight to the big questions..."
  4349. >She groans and slaps a hoof to her head.
  4350. >"I know, sorry! Look, just forget it, we can figure out stuff like that later."
  4351. >You chuckle and kneel, rubbing her neck.
  4352. "Nah, I don't mind. It's probably a good idea to consider our future since we're such an odd couple."
  4353. >She looks up at you sheepishly and you smile to reassure her.
  4354. "I guess we could adopt?"
  4355. >"Well... sure it's possible, but abandoned foals are pretty rare even in big cities like Baltimare and Fillidelphia, an' there're so many sterile or lonely mares out there seeking foals, it's hard as hay to find any foals that ain't adopted already."
  4356. "I guess that makes sense with how... well, nice this world is. Back on Earth, there are so many abandoned children, orphanages are practically begging people to adopt."
  4357. >You both continue walking as you ponder.
  4358. >"And before ya think it, no, I ain't gonna let some stallion 'donate' to me while I'm in heat."
  4359. "I wasn't... okay, well maybe I would have thought about it, but hang on - when you say 'donate,' do you mean ponies handle that by literally just... letting a stallion breed you?"
  4360. >"Eyup."
  4361. "You can't... I dunno, magically inseminate?"
  4362. >"Not that I know of, but even if ya could, it'd likely cost way too much. Remember what I told you 'bout Medicorns? Expensive-as-hay medical unicorns trained in Manehatten?"
  4363. "...Still, I'd talk to Twilight about it. Hell, there might even be a spell that'd make us fertile together."
  4364. >She hesitates, then nuzzles your hand.
  4365. >"I hope so. I know it's early but... I'd really like that."
  4366. >You hope so too.
  4367. >You'd feel guilty if a relationship with you meant she could never have foals.
  4368. >More than that, however, you're surprised to find yourself liking the idea too.
  4369. >You never wanted kids back home, but if it was here and with her...
  4370. >You stop and kneel next to her, setting a hand on her cheek.
  4371. "You're right, it's probably too early to be talking like this, but... I'd love to raise a family with you."
  4372. >Her face lights up and her eyes glisten before she lurches forward and thuds into your chest.
  4373. >You chuckle and wrap your arms around her, gently stroking her mane.
  4374. >You hold each other for a long time, the leaves rustling around you in the light breeze.
  4375. >Finally, she pulls back and looks at you, smiling and seeming oddly thoughtful.
  4376. "What?"
  4377. >She doesn't reply.
  4378. >Instead, she sets a hoof on your cheek and pulls your head down.
  4379. >Bemused, you bow your head obediently.
  4380. >With one quick motion, she flips her hat up and tucks it down onto your head.
  4381. >Your eyes widen and you fall back, sitting down heavily.
  4382. >As if afraid you might damage it, you gingerly reach a hand up in front of you and gently touch the brim of the hat between your eyes.
  4383. "Applejack..."
  4384. >Smiling broadly, she sits in front of you and nods once.
  4385. >"Reckon it suits ya."
  4386. >You recall a conversation from what feels like ages ago with Big Mac and a picture of Pear Butter and Bright Mac.
  4387. "But... your father--"
  4388. >"Ain't here, is he now?"
  4389. >You carefully reach up with both hands and shift the hat slightly, settling it on your head.
  4390. >It smells just like her.
  4391. >Your awed whisper can barely be heard.
  4392. "Has... anyone ever worn...?"
  4393. >"Just lil' Bloom."
  4394. >You pinch the brim of the hat between thumb and forefinger and pull it just a bit further down.
  4395. >Finally, you tilt your head up and meet Applejack's gaze.
  4396. >She smiles and nods.
  4397. >"Lookin' mighty fine there."
  4398. >At a total loss for words, you simply reach forward and pull her into a tight embrace.
  4399. ...
  4400. >"Well, we're nearly to the end of the trail."
  4401. "Aw, already?"
  4402. >"Pff, already? We been walkin' for hours!"
  4403. "Oh... time flies, I guess."
  4404. >"Anywho, ya might'a noticed the trail never strayed far from Ponyville an' just circled round the side of the town."
  4405. >You scoff and she chuckles.
  4406. >"Right, well maybe ya ain't quite familiar with the land yet, but I'm tellin' ya, that's what it did. The end of the trail'll actually spit us out right near the school an' your home on the path that leads to the farm."
  4407. "Oh, that's convenient."
  4408. >"Eyup. That's how I found the trail in the first place as a foal - finish class, got some time to kill, look around for somethin' to do, an' what do I find?  Why, a path right off the side of school that goes all the way 'round town."
  4409. "Why didn't we just enter from this side, then?"
  4410. >"Figured by the time we finished the trail, you'd rather be almost home 'stead of havin' to walk clear across town to get back."
  4411. "Ah, good thinking."
  4412. >You walk on in silence for a moment, then a sour thought crosses your mind.
  4413. >You hate to bring it up at all, but it's probably important.
  4414. "Well... seeing me like this, ponies might figure out we're more than just friends, so... do you, uh... I guess want your hat back?"
  4415. >"Nope."
  4416. >You look down, surprised, and she nickers contentedly.
  4417. >"I've decided I don't care to hide it anymore. Dammit Anon, I love you, an' buck anypony who thinks you're anythin' but a boon to this world."
  4418. >You smile and rub her neck appreciatively as she continues.
  4419. >"What're they even gonna do? All six Elements of Harmony like you and approve of you livin' here, an' I'm pretty sure both Princess Celestia an' Princess Luna do, too."
  4420. >She scoffs dismissively.
  4421. >"If anypony has a problem with you or with us, I reckon it's their problem, not ours."
  4422. >You think for a moment, then smirk, pinch the brim of her hat, and tip your head.
  4423. "Well thank you, m'lady."
  4424. >Applejack clicks her tongue and holds up a hoof.
  4425. >"Alright, nope, nevermind. Give it back."
  4426. >You laugh, grab her hoof and pull her up to stand on her hind legs in front of you.
  4427. "Alright, alright, I'm sorry. I won't embarrass myself in your hat, I promise."
  4428. >She snorts in your face, looking angry for just a second, then breaks into a grin.
  4429. >"It really does look good on you, y'know."
  4430. "Thanks, but you look incomplete without it."
  4431. >"That just means y'all complete me."
  4432. >You roll your eyes but can't resist smiling.
  4433. "How come you're allowed to be cheesy but I'm not?"
  4434. >She winks at you and drops back to the ground.
  4435. >"It's the hat, Anon. Respect the hat."
  4436. "What, hats and cheese don't go together?"
  4437. >"Well 'course. Ain't that culinary 101?"
  4438. "Mmm, think I failed that class."
  4439. >"That explains a lot, actually."
  4440. "Hey!"
  4441. >You smack her rump playfully, making her whinny and she trots away as fast as her injured leg will allow.
  4442. >You growl playfully, then jog lightly after her, copying her accent.
  4443. "Git back here! I ain't done with you!"
  4444. >She looks back over her shoulder in mock terror of the predator chasing her.
  4445. >Then her cast catches on a vine, and she slams to the ground with a sharp cry.
  4446. >With a cry of your own, you break into a full sprint and drop to her side in seconds.
  4447. >She's curled up on her side, forehoof cradling her injured foreleg.
  4448. "Shit, AJ, that looked bad. You didn't hit your head, did you?"
  4449. >She opens a teary eye and gives a tiny shake of her head.
  4450. "Alright, let me see your cast."
  4451. >Gingerly, she releases her injured leg and slowly straightens her shoulder.
  4452. >She seems able to fully extend her leg, but you see the vine left a noticeable impression in the cast where it caught and you suck in your breath.
  4453. "Damn... this cast took a lot of force when it caught on that vine."
  4454. >She takes a deep breath and shakes her head, as if to clear it.
  4455. "I really hope that didn't worsen your injury... we need to take you back to the farm right now and get the doctor to look at you again."
  4456. >She grunts and rolls onto her belly.
  4457. >"I'm... fine."
  4458. "For the love of... Applejack, everypony already knows you're tough, there's no sense making things worse just to try and act even tougher!"
  4459. >She growls and stands up.
  4460. >"I said I'm fine! I just landed hard on my shoulder is all, my leg is fine."
  4461. "There's a fucking dent where that vine caught your cast! How much force does it take to dent something as hard as that cast?"
  4462. >She snorts and starts walking away evenly, not even a trace of a limp.
  4463. >"I guess not enough force to hurt me, 'cause I ain't buckin' hurt."
  4464. >You hesitate when you see her walk away so normally.
  4465. "...Still, we should have the doctor double check--"
  4466. >She waves a hoof nonchalantly.
  4467. >"Ponyfeathers. No sense payin' for another doctor's visit when I ain't hurt."
  4468. >You sigh heavily and stand to follow her.
  4469. "Fine... fine. Can you please just promise me you'll tell me if that legs starts hurting? Even a little bit?"
  4470. >"Yeah, yeah, alright."
  4471. >The two of you walk on in stony silence for a few minutes.
  4472. >Eventually, you gently rest your hand on her withers and her ear flicks.
  4473. "Look, I'm sorry, alright? You know I only worry because I care about you, right? I know how important it is that you can gallop and buck and I'd hate to see you with a permanent limp or something."
  4474. >She sighs and relaxes slightly.
  4475. >"I know... an' I'm sorry too. I think my heat's makin' it harder to control my temper just like my other emotions."
  4476. "Yeah... I didn't really want to say anything, but I was kinda wondering about that."
  4477. >"It's just... part of the problem with being tough is if somepony thinks something is wrong when it ain't, they'll insist I'm just acting tough and try to fix a problem that ain't there."
  4478. >You grimace.
  4479. "Well, please just be careful, okay? I know ponies aren't exactly the same as horses back on Earth, but from what I remember, a leg injury on an Earth horse is bad news. Like, almost always permanently crippling kind of bad."
  4480. >Applejack nods and even smiles a bit, but before she can repond, you hear a familiar filly's soft voice.
  4481. >"Anon? Applejack!?"
  4482. >You look up and realize you had been so focused on talking with Applejack, you hadn't even noticed you left the trail and were now approaching the Ponyville School.
  4483. >Sweetie Belle waves at you from near the entrace of the school and trots up, looking relieved.
  4484. >"There you are! Scootaloo and I have been wondering where any of you have been!"
  4485. >"What'd'ya mean, any of us? Any of who?"
  4486. >"Anyone from the Apple family, really. We haven't seen Bloom since the day before yesterday, and Scoot said she saw Granny yesterday, but she was moving faster than she'd ever seen and looked worn to... uh, well, she said a bad word."
  4487. >Applejack's ears fold down.
  4488. >"By Celestia, they must be workin' themselves to the bone!"
  4489. >She looks up at you, worry etched in her face.
  4490. >"We'd best get back there right quick! Both of us are healed enough to help with at least some of the work. Can't believe I spent so much time doin' nothing, an' during the harvest of all times!"
  4491. >She prances nervously in place, then winces and suddenly stops, shifting weight off her cast.
  4492. >You scowl but don't comment on it.
  4493. >She turns and starts trotting toward the farm and you crouch in front of Sweetie Belle.
  4494. "We both hurt our legs and were taking time off to recover. Thanks for letting us know what's going on."
  4495. >"You're welcome, Anon! I hope I see you and Apple Bloom again soon."
  4496. >You nod and turn away, lengthening your stride to catch up with Applejack.
  4497. "You'd better not blame yourself, AJ. You didn't choose to relax, they practically ordered you to take time off."
  4498. >"I could've stayed an' helped with somethin', though!"
  4499. "You know as well as I they'd have refused to let you help and forced you to stay in bed."
  4500. >"I'd like to see 'em try!"
  4501. >You chuckle grimly.
  4502. "You just might, when we get back there. Don't think I didn't see you wince a moment ago - I know that leg is hurting you, Applejack. You have got to take it easy and let it heal, and I bet they'll tell you the same thing."
  4503. >"Tartarus! Would you drop it already?"
  4504. "Dammit girl, you won't be ANY help if you permanently damage that leg! It's better to rest a couple days then help once you're back to normal than to push yourself for a couple of days and wind up crippled for the rest of your life!"
  4505. >"I ain't gonna permanently damage it 'cause it ain't hurt!"
  4506. >You scowl and fall silent, hoping her family will be better at getting through to her.
  4507. >Just a couple minutes later, the two of you enter the farm and Applejack immediately turns off to trot down one of the rows of the orchard.
  4508. "Wait, where are you going?"
  4509. >"Harvestin' this field over here next was the plan, so they oughta be over yonder."
  4510. >Sure enough, the two of you soon find a sweaty Big Mac and a sleepy looking Apple Bloom working to collect some apples.
  4511. >Applejack trots right up to Big Mac just as he walks over to another tree.
  4512. >His head is hanging low and he doesn't even seem to notice Applejack until she walks in front of him.
  4513. >He jerks his head up, looking concerned.
  4514. >"AJ? Somethin' wrong?"
  4515. >"Yeah! Y'all're workin' yourselves near to death while I take time off!"
  4516. >He relaxes and shrugs.
  4517. >"S'okay."
  4518. >"What? No it ain't! I'm plenty healed enough to help now."
  4519. >Big Mac rolls his eyes and Applejack snorts angrily.
  4520. >"Look, I ain't sayin' I'm gonna be buckin' any trees, but I oughta be able to at least carry baskets around an' give Bloom a break."
  4521. >Apple Bloom scowls and points a hoof at Applejack.
  4522. >"Ah ain't a foal, Applejack! Ah can do this myself! ...Well, myself an' Big Mac, o'course."
  4523. >"I know ya can, sugarcube. I ain't sayin' you can't, but you'd be so plum tuckered out by the time ya finished you wouldn't hardly be able to stand tomorrow. Let me take a bit of the load off an' you'll be more useful tomorrow."
  4524. >Apple Bloom hesitates, opens her mouth to respond, then is inturrupted by a huge yawn.
  4525. >"Bloom, ya need a break. Your friends miss you an' you're obviously tired. Get home an' rest up a bit."
  4526. >Apple Bloom looks uncertainly at Big Mac, but he just shrugs impassively.
  4527. >"Well... alright, sis. Just... don't push yerself too hard, y'hear?"
  4528. >Applejack grunts affirmatively and picks up a basket.
  4529. >She nods at Big Mac to continue, but he hesitates.
  4530. >"Sure you're alright?"
  4531. >"Darn tootin'! Now get buckin'."
  4532. >He glances at you and you only grimace.
  4533. >You'd hoped he and Apple Bloom would put up more of a fight, but they both seem too tired to make a real effort.
  4534. >As the older ponies get started, the tired filly trots up to you and you squat to hear her whisper.
  4535. >"Is she really alright?"
  4536. >You rub your temples in frustration.
  4537. "No, her leg is obviously hurting her, but she won't fu... uh, admit it. Send Granny over here on your way back to the farm, please. Maybe she can smack some sense into her."
  4538. >She stifles another yawn, then nods and trots away slowly.
  4539. >You stand up and fetch a basket from the cart, then approach the ponies as they work.
  4540. "Look, Applejack--"
  4541. >"I'm buckin' fine, Anon."
  4542. >The way she snaps at you without even looking gives you pause... even hurts a bit.
  4543. "I... I was just gonna say at least let me help too. No point stressing your leg while I just sit here and do nothing, right?"
  4544. >She shuffles another basket around just in time for Big Mac's kick before turning to you.
  4545. >Her eyes linger on the basket in your arms and she raises an eyebrow at you.
  4546. >"Ain't you supposed to be taking it easy, too?"
  4547. "I was just sore from working too hard, not really injured. I'm more than capable of picking up some slack."
  4548. >Applejack thinks for a second, then grins and nods.
  4549. >"Hey Big Mac!"
  4550. >The stallion halts and slowly turns to look at his little sister.
  4551. >Her smile twists, almost becoming a mocking sneer.
  4552. >"Betcha can't buck enough trees to keep up with both of us!"
  4553. >His eyes narrow and he snorts defiantly.
  4554. >He looks straight up to stretch his neck, shakes his head, then he arches his back and stretches a hind leg.
  4555. >When he looks down at Applejack again, his head is held high and proud, his eyes fierce, a corner of his mouth quirked up in a smug smile.
  4556. >"Shore can."
  4557. "No, wait--"
  4558. >He twirls on his forehooves and bucks one tree and Applejack dashes under it, smirking at you.
  4559. >Suddenly he's next to you and his hooves thump powerfully into a tree.
  4560. >You scramble to lift the basket and barely catch half of the falling apples.
  4561. >Applejack trots past you.
  4562. >"C'mon Anon, on yer hooves now!"
  4563. >The stallion hops to another tree and bucks it almost before Applejack scoots under it, and you rush to pick up your fallen apples.
  4564. >You toss the last apple into the basket, then stand up and turn around.
  4565. "Applejack--"
  4566. >You flinch as Big Mac's hooves slam into another tree just in front of you, and again, you miss several apples.
  4567. >She chuckles, carrying a fresh basket from the cart across her back.
  4568. >"Didn't ya say you were more'n capable?"
  4569. >You swear under your breath and rush to pick up the fallen apples and fetch a new basket from the cart, already panting.
  4570. "This is... too much, dammit!"
  4571. >You jog back just in time for another pair of hoof blows and this time you only miss a couple of apples.
  4572. >"Aww, y'ain't gettin' tired already? Wanna follow Bloom an' rest up some more?"
  4573. "I mean too... too much for--"
  4574. >Your words are cut off by another loud thump and Applejack deftly catches every apple.
  4575. >"Yee-haw! This is more like it! I been sittin' still for way too long!"
  4576. >Big Mac pauses and looks over your shoulder at something behind you, sides heaving as he gasps for breath.
  4577. >Applejack laughs, trotting back from the cart with a fresh basket.
  4578. >"Don't stop! Can't have Anon standin' still, can we?"
  4579. >With an excited whoop, she kicks off her empty basket, dashes around him, and whirls.
  4580. >Her hind hooves strike the tree beside you with a surprisingly underwhelming 'whomp.'
  4581. >She yelps and instinctively lifts her cast, losing her balance and falling sideways.
  4582. >She gasps, then bites her tongue and glares at you furiously as if daring you to say something.
  4583. >"An' jus' WUT in tarnation ya think yer doin' there, little missy!?"
  4584. >Applejack's angry glare melts away as Granny Smith steps up from behind you.
  4585. >You barely stifle a gasp at the sight of the old mare.
  4586. >Her mane is haggard and wild, there's an obvious limp in her gait, and the bags under her eyes look almost sickly.
  4587. >Still, even in this condition, her anger is a fearsome sight as she walks up to scold Applejack.
  4588. >"Ah thought ah dun told ya t'stay off o'that there hoof! Ain't ya got a brain or d'ya jus' got oats in yer noggin?"
  4589. >Applejack scrambles to her hooves and stands up straight and tall.
  4590. >"Granny, it's fine. It don't hurt, promise. I was just runnin' around with all them baskets an' hardly even felt a tickle."
  4591. >The old mare walks up and glares at Applejack suspiciously, then quicker than you thought the old mare was capable, a forehoof lashes out and slams right into Applejack's shoulder, just above the cast.
  4592. >To her credit, Applejack barely even twitches an ear.
  4593. >Granny stares a moment longer, then her expression softens and she relaxes, slumping tiredly.
  4594. >"Weeell, I 'spose if yer really feelin' alright... we could shore use the extra hooves."
  4595. >You rub your eyes and sigh in frustration.
  4596. "Granny... please tell me you can see she's only pretending it doesn't hurt."
  4597. >She looks over her shoulder at you and shrugs.
  4598. >"I dunno, dearie. Mostly she ain't nearly that good at fakin' it."
  4599. "But the doctor--"
  4600. >Applejack cuts you off with a hoof stomp and walks up to glare at you.
  4601. >"Sour apples, Anon! Do ya want me to be bored all day? Is that it?"
  4602. "What? No, of course not--"
  4603. >"Then why can't ya just let me buckin' work!? For Celestia's sake, do ya even see the condition these two are in?"
  4604. "Well... it's just, if that leg doesn't heal right, you'd be--"
  4605. >"I'm obviously healin' just fine! Look at me!"
  4606. >She whirls around and bucks the tree again, striking much harder this time and apples fall all around you.
  4607. >Watching her forelegs, you notice her good hoof digs into the dirt while her cast barely makes an impression.
  4608. >"See!"
  4609. "But you just put all your weight on your good hoof!"
  4610. >She hesitates, clearly surprised you caught that, then her ears fold back angrily.
  4611. >"So what? I can buck just as good on one hoof, so I ain't gotta risk the injury at all."
  4612. >You look pleadingly at Granny, but she only languidly shrugs her shoulders.
  4613. >"Ain't gonna lie to ya, Anon, we're mighty hard pressed 'ere with no hooves from Appaloosa. If'n she can do all that, I ain't really seein' a problem."
  4614. >You gape at her.
  4615. "But... she... you're just gonna let her strain that injury?"
  4616. >Applejack steps in front of you and shouts in your face.
  4617. >"Quit tryin' to buckin' baby me, Anon! I know my body, I know my limits, an' I know I can buckin' do this!"
  4618. "Didn't you just tell Apple Bloom not to push herself?"
  4619. >"Yeah, so?"
  4620. "This is exactly the same, only pushing too hard could leave you useless for life!"
  4621. >Applejack stares at you, several emotions seeming to pass over her face, then she grimaces and drops her head.
  4622. >"I see how it is."
  4623. >When she looks up again, her face is grim and her eyes smolder with anger and hurt.
  4624. >"Yer so caught up thinkin' what if I push too hard 'cause ya just plain don't trust me, do ya?"
  4625. >Your eyes widen.
  4626. "What? N-No, I do, I only meant--"
  4627. >She jabs a hoof at you, almost spitting her words.
  4628. >"Don't buckin' lie to me, Anon! If ya trusted me, ya wouldn't be so damn convinced I'll hurt myself worse!"
  4629. >You cringe from the vehemence in her voice and back away, but she just follows you.
  4630. >"Ya don't trust me to take care o' myself an' think ya can control me, do things how y'all want?"
  4631. "Please, that's not what--"
  4632. >"An' if ya can't trust me to do even this little thing, how else're ya gonna try an' coddle me!?"
  4633. >As you continue retreating, your back hits the trunk of a tree.
  4634. >Applejack rears and her forehooves slam into the tree on either side of your head, her face only inches from yours, angry tears welling in her eyes.
  4635. >"Well if that's how it is, then buck you, buck yer help, an' buck off outta this farm!"
  4636. "Wait! I-I never meant to--"
  4637. >She pulls a hoof back and you flinch, raising an arm to try and block the blow.
  4638. >Her foreleg whips out, yanks her hat away, and slams it back on her head.
  4639. >Your eyes widen and your throat tightens.
  4640. >Her face leans close, eyes narrow, voice a harsh whisper.
  4641. >"Don't. Come. Back."
  4642. >Your heart thunders in your chest.
  4643. >She turns away and walks slowly toward the cart.
  4644. "A-Applejack, please, I-I just--"
  4645. >She spins around and screams.
  4646. >"GET THE BUCK OFF MY FARM!"
  4647. >You recoil so hard you fall over backwards.
  4648. >Without another word, she turns and walks away.
  4649. >Granny and Big Mac are saying something, but it doesn't matter now.
  4650. >The world blurs and you choke on a sob.
  4651. >You scramble to your feet and run.
  4652. >You hear shouts behind you.
  4653. >They don't matter either.
  4654. >Nothing does.
  4655. ...
  4656. >Your leg catches with a jolt.
  4657. >You flail wildly and land hard on your shoulder.
  4658. >Just curl up and wait for the pain to fade.
  4659. >Applejack...
  4660. >What did you do wrong?
  4661. >You were only trying to help and protect her.
  4662. >Fresh tears threaten to overwhelm you again, so you cut off that thought and gingerly stretch out your aching shoulder, pushing yourself to a sitting position.
  4663. >You sniff and wipe your face on your sleeve, then you look around and recognize the bend in the path just before the school on the edge of town.
  4664. >That means you've been running for a while and are nearly home...
  4665. >No, not home.
  4666. >This isn't home without Applejack.
  4667. >You sigh and your breath catches in your throat, making you cough and swallow.
  4668. >You wipe your face again, then slowly stand up and trudge up the path.
  4669. >As you pass the school, Sweetie Belle calls out again, but you just continue without reacting.
  4670. >She runs up beside you and looks up into your face, looking worried.
  4671. >"Anon? You look awful, what happened!?"
  4672. >You shake your head and keep walking.
  4673. >She stops and looks a little hurt, but it doesn't really matter.
  4674. >She'll hear about what happened soon, then she won't want to talk to you anyway.
  4675. >As you enter Ponyville, passing ponies look curious but none stop to check.
  4676. >Not like you care - random ponies always ignore you.
  4677. >You walk up to your house without incident and gently shut the door behind you.
  4678. >You take a couple steps inside, then just stand dumbly in the middle of your living room for a moment.
  4679. >What will you even do now?
  4680. >Absently, you turn and take a step toward your couch.
  4681. >...And remember her head in your lap just before she kissed you.
  4682. >You wince and turn away, walking slowly to the bedroom.
  4683. >Upon entering, the sight of your tangled, dirty bedsheets recalls memories of last night and your chest tightens uncomfortably.
  4684. >Averting your eyes, you quickly step inside, grab your pajamas and carry them out, gently closing the bedroom door behind you.
  4685. >Your eyes fall on the dirty dishes from the dinner she made and your throat makes an odd sound.
  4686. >Wrenching your eyes away, you turn and stare idly at the ground as you change shirts.
  4687. >You loosen your pants and a tiny bag drops to the ground.
  4688. >You stare blankly for a few seconds, then kneel and gingerly pick it up.
  4689. >Without standing, you open and tilt the contents into your hand.
  4690. >A small, delicate daffodil slides into your palm.
  4691. >The one from Lily Valley's shop.
  4692. >The one she told you to keep for Applejack.
  4693. >The flower blurs slightly as your eyes well up again, then you carefully slide it back into the bag and close it.
  4694. >Standing, you drop the bag on the nearest surface, not caring where, and turn away.
  4695. >You keep your gaze low to avoid the couch, the dishes, and the bedroom door while you switch into your pajama pants, then absently toss your dirty clothes to the side.
  4696. >Finally, you walk over to an empty corner of your barren living room, lean back against the wall and slide to the floor.
  4697. >You sit there, eyes downcast, your head feeling dull and empty.
  4698. >What now?
  4699. ...
  4700. >Some time later, you hear a slow, soft knocking on your door.
  4701. >You lift your head and realize at some point the sun set and plunged you into darkness.
  4702. >Not that it matters, but you idly wonder how long ago that happened.
  4703. >The gentle knocking repeats and you hear a deep, quiet voice.
  4704. >"Anon?"
  4705. >You sigh heavily, then slowly stand and walk over to open the door.
  4706. >Big Mac looks a little worried when he sees you, but takes a step forward and tilts his head questioningly.
  4707. >You turn away and return to sit in the corner, leaving the door open.
  4708. >The stallion gently shuts the door behind him, then walks over and sits near your side.
  4709. >You stare at the ground some more, not wanting to see the pity in his eyes.
  4710. >"You alright?"
  4711. >You shrug your shoulders without lifting your gaze.
  4712. >He waits a moment, as if hoping you'll say something, then snorts softly.
  4713. >"Weren't yer fault, y'know."
  4714. >You don't react.
  4715. >It doesn't matter whose fault it was.
  4716. >"AJ tends to jump the gun when she's upset. She'll come around."
  4717. >You scoff, remembering how furious she was.
  4718. >She must hate you now.
  4719. >"I mean it, Anon. She ain't never been one to burn a friendship like that."
  4720. >Doesn't make getting burnt feel any better.
  4721. >Big Mac shifts uncomfortably.
  4722. >"Apple Bloom was mighty upset when she found out. Shouted at Applejack near as much as... well."
  4723. >As much as Applejack shouted at you.
  4724. >Apple Bloom...
  4725. >Guess you'll have to break your promise to hang out in her clubhouse.
  4726. >You sigh thickly.
  4727. >"Ah ponyfeathers..."
  4728. >Big Mac nickers and shuffles a little closer.
  4729. >"Anon, I like you. Yer a great guy an' I hate to see y'all torn up like this. As far as I'm concerned, yer part o'the family, so I wanna do all I can to help ya out."
  4730. >A part of the family?
  4731. >Somehow you doubt Applejack would agree.
  4732. >Besides, Granny and Big Mac have already proven that when it comes down to it, they'll side with Applejack, not you.
  4733. >Your cold eyes raise to his and he smiles nervously.
  4734. "...Really?"
  4735. >"Eyup."
  4736. "I'm 'family?'"
  4737. >His smile falters at your tone.
  4738. >"Uh... yup?"
  4739. "You've got my back, then?"
  4740. >He nods hesitantly and you sneer.
  4741. "Then what the fuck were you doing when I was trying to help Applejack?"
  4742. >He sighs heavily, ears drooping.
  4743. >"Anon, we're awful tight on the farm right now... more'n ya prolly realize. If'n we miss this 'ere harvest, might not be 'nuff bits to last through the winter."
  4744. >He shuffles nervously under your glare, then continues.
  4745. >"Look, all we need's to finish this last harvest an' AJ can spend all winter healing."
  4746. "And what's the farm gonna do if she hurts that leg worse by working on it? What if she still hasn't healed come springtime? What if that leg NEVER heals right?"
  4747. >"Well... 'spose we just gotta trust AJ to know 'er limits."
  4748. "But she doesn't!"
  4749. >You sit up and jab a finger at the stallion's face.
  4750. "You ain't seen the way she's been acting, dammit! Over the last two days, she's winced or yelped in pain from a jump or trot and went off favoring her leg at least twice, and every time she refused to even admit it hurt!"
  4751. >"This ain't the first time she's hurt 'er legs, Anon. She's turned down work to heal plenty before."
  4752. "Yeah? And has she ever turned down work for the last fucking harvest of the season when the farm is already fucking broke?"
  4753. >"Uh... nope, but well--"
  4754. "For fuck's sake man, can't you see she cares more about the farm than she does her own health and safety? She'll work as hard and as long as she can no matter how much it hurts because she thinks the farm 'needs' her!"
  4755. >Big Mac raises his hooves apologetically.
  4756. >"We just plain can't afford to turn her away. If she thinks she can help, we gotta trust she knows what she's doin'."
  4757. "Get out."
  4758. >He looks up at you, startled, but you turn away in disgust.
  4759. "Either you aren't listening to me or you just plain don't give a shit what I'm saying. Either way, it sure doesn't feel like family."
  4760. >"Hold up now--"
  4761. >You cut him off with a sharp wave of your hand and slump back against the wall.
  4762. "It doesn't matter now anyways. Pissing off Applejack will probably alienate the rest of her friends and without them on my side, the townsponies will just keep hating and fearing me. Before long I expect they'll probably demand I be returned to Earth or exiled... or fucking locked up in Tartarus or something, I dunno."
  4763. >Big Mac whinnies, probably startled by the cold truth of things.
  4764. "It's fine, just leave me alone, alright? No doubt I'll be out of everyone's mane soon enough."
  4765. >"That... it ain't gotta be--"
  4766. >You cut him off with a sharp look.
  4767. "Look Mac, unless YOU can convince everypony I'm not dangerous, I'm fucked. Best you just go back to your life and stop worrying about me."
  4768. >Still, he hesitates.
  4769. >This damn stallion cares too much.
  4770. >Can't he see this will just hurt him in the long run?
  4771. >"But... all ya gotta do is make up with Applejack to avoid all that, right?"
  4772. "Yeah well, tomorrow morning if she suddenly stops hating me and wants me back, that'd be great. Otherwise, just forget about me."
  4773. >He rubs the back of his head, face twisted with concern and indecision.
  4774. >You silently will him to just understand and go home.
  4775. >If he can't stop caring, you'll just have to make him hate you too.
  4776. >It'd hurt him less than if he still cared about you when you're exiled.
  4777. >"...Alright."
  4778. >Relieved, you close your eyes and lean back against the wall.
  4779. >"I'll see you tomorrow morning after I talk to Applejack."
  4780. "Don't bother coming unless she wants me to back on the farm."
  4781. >You lift your head and give him a hard stare.
  4782. "In fact, promise me you won't."
  4783. >"...An' what if she don't, but me, Granny, an' Apple Bloom do?"
  4784. >You shrug your shoulders.
  4785. "I just told you without Applejack, I'm fucked. Better the rest of you just try to forget about me since I'll be gone soon anyways."
  4786. >"But..."
  4787. >He hesitates, clearly wanting to argue further, but after a short pause, he slumps in defeat.
  4788. >"...Alright, Anon. I 'spose yer right."
  4789. "Promise."
  4790. >He sighs.
  4791. >"I promise."
  4792. >You don't look up or respond as he stands and opens the door, but from the corner of your eye you see him pause in the open doorway.
  4793. >"See ya tomorrow."
  4794. >You don't respond and he sighs again before finally closing the door behind him.
  4795. >Your head thumps against the wall and you let out a weary sigh.
  4796. >A faint hope flickers in your chest.
  4797. >Tomorrow...
  4798.  
  4799. ...
  4800.  
  4801. >The painful throbbing in your neck forces you to wake.
  4802. >Groggily, you sit up and try to massage your neck, but after a bit, you give up and rub the sleep from your face instead.
  4803. >With a start, you look around frantically for your clock.
  4804. >...It's after noon!?
  4805. "Fuck!"
  4806. >You're surprised nopony came and dragged you out of bed!
  4807. >Well, not the bed... why were you sleeping on the couch?
  4808. >You get up and start toward the bedroom.
  4809. >Then you see the small bag with the daffodil on the counter.
  4810. >Memories of last night flood your mind and you collapse back onto the couch.
  4811. >Your eyes fall to the clock again.
  4812. >After noon... and Big Mac didn't come.
  4813. >Well, guess that's it, then.
  4814. >You sit there for a long while, feeling numb, but eventually bodily functions force you to move.
  4815. >As you enter the bathroom, you try - and fail - to avoid thinking about the bed or the shower.
  4816. >You shuffle back out into the kitchen and absent-mindedly search for something to eat.
  4817. >In one cabinet you find a large bottle of hard apple cider you had forgotten about.
  4818. >You hesitate, not really wanting to taste apples at all, then grimace and reach for the bottle anyway, returning to the couch.
  4819. >Popping the cork out fills your nose with the scent of apples and you quickly tilt the bottle up and swallow.
  4820. >The alcohol is surprisingly smooth and you immediately take another pull on the bottle.
  4821. >Looks like Applejack's last gift will be to numb your pain.
  4822. ...
  4823. >The bundled blanket thuds against the wall and slides to the ground.
  4824. "Damn."
  4825. >You grab the pillow and struggle to pull the pillowcase off, then bunch it up and throw it at the hamper too.
  4826. >It catches the air and fluffs open, falling well short.
  4827. "Dammit!"
  4828. >You grab the sheet and yank it off the mattress.
  4829. >Wait, did you hear something?
  4830. >You listen carefully as you slowly bundle up the sheet, then hear knocking on your front door.
  4831. "Ugh..."
  4832. >On your way to the living room you kick the pillowcase across the floor and slam-dunk the bundle of sheets into your hamper.
  4833. >You hear more knocking.
  4834. "Yeah, yeah, I'm coming!"
  4835. >You yank the door open and stare down at Twilight, who seems to be swaying slightly.
  4836. >"Hi Ano--"
  4837. "What do you want?"
  4838. >"Uh, I heard about Applejack and thought..."
  4839. >Her muzzle scrunches.
  4840. >"Have you been drinking?"
  4841. "Yeah, so what?"
  4842. >She sighs and teleports away.
  4843. "That's right, just leave me alone."
  4844. >You shut the door and turn around.
  4845. >The sight of Twilight on your couch makes you jump back and slam against the door.
  4846. >You stumble and a purple glow surrounds you before you hit the ground.
  4847. "The fuck, Twi! Can't you just walk?"
  4848. >She smiles and her magic releases you once you're upright again.
  4849. >"Sorry, I thought you would hear me pop in behind you."
  4850. >You grunt and walk past her toward the kitchen.
  4851. >"So... are you alright? Anything I can do to help?"
  4852. "Wanna sic an evil Rainbow Dash on me again?"
  4853. >"...What? No, I--"
  4854. "That was real fucked up, y'know that?"
  4855. >"Well... you and Dash seemed to be getting along just fine when I found you."
  4856. >You grab the bottle of cider and turn to face her.
  4857. "Yeah, 'cause she felt like shit and explained everything, so I didn't blame her."
  4858. >You take a swig, then point the bottle at her.
  4859. "I blamed you. Real shitty of you."
  4860. >She looks down for a second, then back up at you.
  4861. >"You're right, and I'm sorry. I felt terrible as soon as Dash told me what happened."
  4862. "Mmm, felt terrible, huh?"
  4863. >You take another gulp of cider.
  4864. "How about instead of being a bitch and feeling bad about it later, just don't be a bitch in the first place?
  4865. >Her ears fold back and she bristles angrily.
  4866. >"Alright look, I had to be certain you didn't have any violent tendencies in case somepony actually threatened you. Getting ponies to trust you would be nearly impossible if you actually attacked somepony, even in self-defense."
  4867. "And all those fucking magical tests when I first showed up and you froze me didn't test for that shit?"
  4868. >"Those aren't perfectly accurate, I needed to be certain!"
  4869. >You scoff, making her eyes narrow, then drink some more.
  4870. >Then she closes her eyes and takes a long, slow breath.
  4871. >"I'm sorry, Anon. You're absolutely right, I've been treating you terribly."
  4872. >She looks up at you and smiles sheepishly.
  4873. >"I promise I won't do any more tests to make sure you're safe, okay? I just want to help you enjoy your life here in Ponyville."
  4874. >You bark a harsh laugh, startling her.
  4875. "I don't have a fucking life in Ponyville anymore."
  4876. >Her expression turns sad and pitying.
  4877. >"Oh, Anon... I know you loved Applejack, but this isn't the end of the world."
  4878. >You wave the bottle at her.
  4879. "How the fuck is anypony in town gonna trust me if Applejack hates me? Watch, a week from now they'll be demanding you send me back!"
  4880. >You look down at the bottle of cider and sigh.
  4881. "Ugh... I fucked up."
  4882. >"It's not that bad, Anon."
  4883. >You plop to the ground and poke the large wet spot on the floor.
  4884. "I spilled my damn drink."
  4885. >The bottle in your hand suddenly glows and jerks from your grasp.
  4886. >"I think you've had more than enough already."
  4887. "Hey, FUCK you!"
  4888. >You lunge for the bottle and it flashes and disappears.
  4889. >You slump dejectedly.
  4890. "How did this happen, Twi? Why did it go so wrong?"
  4891. >"It'll be okay, Anon... and don't worry, I won't ever send you back to Earth unless you really want to go back."
  4892. "If everypony in town hates me you will."
  4893. >"Not if I still like you."
  4894. >You snort.
  4895. "I can't believe she did that. Can you believe it?"
  4896. >"Unfortunately, yes. She does tend to jump to conclusions and is quick to anger. I imagine her cycle just made that all worse."
  4897. "I was just trying to help! Now she's gone and ruined everything. Fucking bitch!"
  4898. >Twilight gasps and you run a hand through your hair.
  4899. "Sorry, I just... the hell am I gonna do, Twi? She's the best thing that's ever happened to me. God... what have I done? I ruined everything!"
  4900. >You lean back and your head thumps against the wall below the counter.
  4901. "Should've fucking known this would happen. My whole life has been one long terrible joke, so of course this would all go horribly wrong!"
  4902. >Twilight hops down from the couch and walks over to you, but she's all blurry.
  4903. >You rub your eyes and when your hand comes away wet, you give a weak, mirthless laugh.
  4904. "And here I am blubbering about it like some kind of pussy. You'd think by now I'd have figured out I'm just not cut out for a happy life."
  4905. >She sits beside you and cautiously wraps a hoof around your shoulders.
  4906. >You lean into the hug as she extends a wing over you and you press your face into her mane, mumbling something incoherent.
  4907. >"Shh, don't worry. It'll be okay."
  4908. >You jerk your head back.
  4909. "Okay? How the fuck is it okay!"
  4910. >You shove her away and she stumbles, then sits down again.
  4911. "Don't you get it? Everything is fucked now! This was the best my life's ever been and it's all fucked!"
  4912. >You leap to your feet and the room sways crazily.
  4913. >A purple glow surrounds you and you thrash.
  4914. "Put me down, dammit! Fuck you! Don't send me back, please! Twilight please, I'm so sorry... what have I done? Fuck!"
  4915. >You plop down onto the couch and immediately lean forward to stand again, but the glow pushes you back.
  4916. >"Anon, you're very, very drunk. Please sit down and try to relax."
  4917. "Leave me alone, you cunt! And give me back my drink!"
  4918. >"Alright, well... Look, I'm really sorry about this, but I'll be right back, I promise."
  4919. >Magical cords suddenly appear around you and pin your arms and legs, then Twilight teleports away.
  4920. "Hey! HEY! Get back here you piece of shit! TWILIGHT!"
  4921. >You try to lean forward but the ropes are completely locked in place.
  4922. "Dammit!"
  4923. >You wiggle and strain against the cords but they refuse to give even an inch.
  4924. >Then Twilight suddenly reappears with a flash, a book floating beside her.
  4925. "Bitch! Let me go!"
  4926. >She ignores you and opens the book.
  4927. "The fuck are you doing! Why can't you just leave me alone?"
  4928. >She turns toward you, her face grim, her horn beginning to glow.
  4929. >A sick fear wrenches your gut.
  4930. "Wait, no, please! I'm sorry! Twilight please, don't send me back!"
  4931. >The glow around her horn intensifies and you begin to sob.
  4932. "Twilight I'm begging you, please, I'll do anything!"
  4933. >Her horn seems to pop and a surge of energy flows toward you.
  4934. "NO!"
  4935. >Then all goes black.
  4936.  
  4937. ...
  4938.  
  4939. >When you regain consciousness, you simply lay there, eyes clenched shut, refusing to acknowledge the world around you.
  4940. >You aren't trying to pretend or delude yourself or anything... you know full well what happened.
  4941. >No, this is a simple, stubborn refusal to confront the truth.
  4942. >Twilight sent you back.
  4943. >You hear a faint rustle from what sounds like the next room.
  4944. >...Probably whoever brought your unconscious body inside after you reappeared on Earth.
  4945. >You don't know who they are and frankly, you don't care.
  4946. >Not like it matters anymore.
  4947. >You briefly entertain the dream that this is some far away country where you can start anew.
  4948. >Someplace with decent people, where you might actually find a happy life.
  4949. >But no... they're still only human.
  4950. >You once believed the average person was good, but with one hard lesson after another, life slowly drilled reality into your head.
  4951. >Kindness and generosity are the exception, not the norm.
  4952. >It's simply human nature.
  4953. >By contrast, ponies were naturally peaceful and good-natured.
  4954. >In all the months you spent in Equestria, not once had you heard of a single problem that wasn't caused by fear or a simple misunderstanding.
  4955. >All the trouble you had with the townsponies, it was really just that they were afraid because you looked like a monster that literally almost destroyed Equestria.
  4956. >Could you really blame them for their fear and mistrust?
  4957. >Even the worst of ponies would return to their natural kind-hearted ways with relative ease.
  4958. >Seems like it takes as much conscious effort for a pony to be selfish, greedy, or manipulative as it takes for a human to be kind, honest, or happy.
  4959. >You resist the urge to groan with frustration.
  4960. >You were already sick of Earth even before you slipped into Equestria.
  4961. >Now? Knowing what you've lost?
  4962. >Your blood runs cold with the sudden certainty that as long as you live, no matter what you do or where you go, you will never be truly happy in this world.
  4963. >And with that, like a hammer blow across your chest, the truth really starts to sink in.
  4964. >You fucked up.
  4965. >You're back on Earth.
  4966. >You will never see anypony ever again.
  4967. >It's bad enough you lost Twilight, Dash, and Pinkie.
  4968. >...But Applejack, Big Mac, Granny... and little Apple Bloom?
  4969. >Such a short time and yet they had become like family.
  4970. >Those ponies meant the world to you!
  4971. >How could you have let this happen?
  4972. >Your throat tightens, tears well in your eyes, and before you even realize what you're doing, a tiny, pained whisper escapes your lips.
  4973. "Please, no..."
  4974. >You hear a faint "Hmm?" in response and nearly choke on a gasp.
  4975. >You clamp a hand over your mouth, but it's already too late.
  4976. >There is another rustle from the other room and a few seconds later the door lets out a faint squeak as it swings open.
  4977. >Then you hear a sound.
  4978. >A simple, mundane sound.
  4979. >A sound you've heard every day for months.
  4980. >A sound that causes your mind to go blank with shock and for a moment you forget to even breathe.
  4981. >You hear hooves.
  4982. >You throw the covers off and sit up so suddenly your head sways with lightheadedness, only to find you cannot see through the tears and the bright sunlight pouring through the open curtains next to you.
  4983. >"Whoa! Relax dummy, it's just me."
  4984. >Even as shocked as you are, that voice is unmistakable.
  4985. >Even so, you raise an arm to block the sun and blink the tears away, not daring to speak until your eyes can confirm what you ears are telling you.
  4986. >The technicolor blur at the door slowly resolves into a familiar shape.
  4987. "...D-Dash!?"
  4988. >You gawk at the pegasus as your vision clears and she trots closer.
  4989. >"Uh, yeah? Jeez, you look terrible."
  4990. >Still hardly believing your eyes, you look around at your bedroom.
  4991. >Your Equestrian bedroom... in Ponyville.
  4992. >You swing your legs around and sit on the edge of the bed, squinting through the window.
  4993. >Ponies trot around the outskirts of Ponyville like any other day.
  4994. >Your mind reels and you whisper faintly to yourself.
  4995. "I... I'm still here?"
  4996. >Rainbow Dash hops up and glides a few feet to land on the bed beside you.
  4997. >She bumps your shoulder with a hoof to get your attention.
  4998. >"So, uh... nice dream or what?"
  4999. "...Huh?"
  5000. >She smirks and taps the mattress near your hip, drawing your gaze down to your naked morning wood.
  5001. >You simply stare at it for several seconds as your brain tries to catch up.
  5002. >Then you yelp, snatch the blankets up, and attempt to scoot away from her.
  5003. "W-What? Why am I naked!? Get out!"
  5004. >"Whoa, what?"
  5005. >She steps back and her wings flare out nervously, looking confused.
  5006. >"I just took your clothes off while you were knocked out, Anon."
  5007. "What!?"
  5008. >"I figured you'd want to be comfortable while you sleep. What's the big deal?"
  5009. "I'm naked!"
  5010. >"Well duh, so am I, ya big goof!"
  5011. "That's... I'm not--"
  5012. >You rub your face with both hands and take a deep breath, trying to calm down and rub the sleep from your eyes.
  5013. >After a moment, you relax and open your eyes... and hurriedly grab another handful of blanket to try and cover the tent you're pitching.
  5014. >"...Anon, what's going on? You look like Tartarus and you're being really weird."
  5015. >Your breath shudders slightly as you turn to look at her.
  5016. "Sorry... I just--I'd been so sure Twilight sent me back to Earth, then I wake up and see you, suddenly realize I'm naked, plus I'm probably hungover... J-Just too many feelings all at once."
  5017. >Actually now that you think about it, you don't feel hungover at all...
  5018. >Rainbow Dash scoffs incredulously.
  5019. >"Twi only magicked the drunk away, dork. Said you might have a mild hangover at most, but it shouldn't--"
  5020. >Then she does a double take, scrunching her muzzle in thought.
  5021. >"Wait a sec... you seriously thought Twi sent you back to Earth?"
  5022. >You rub your face and shudder slightly.
  5023. "Just... give me a moment, please."
  5024. >"Aw, come on! You wake up looking like death and I'm just supposed to just sit here--"
  5025. "Dash."
  5026. >You slump forward, resting your elbows on your knees with your head in your hands.
  5027. "Please."
  5028. >She inhales sharply as if to speak again, then hesitates and slowly sighs instead.
  5029. >"Oh, alright."
  5030. >You feel her plop down beside you and you take a few slow breaths to calm yourself.
  5031. >Then you lift your head and look outside again.
  5032. >Your house is on the outskirts, but this window faces into town so you can see plenty of ponies milling about.
  5033. >You rub your eyes again.
  5034. >Could it be true?
  5035. >Are you really still in Ponyville?
  5036. >You're almost afraid to believe it.
  5037. >You remember a way to test if you're dreaming and pinch your nose, then try to inhale through it anyway.
  5038. >You can't.
  5039. >Not dreaming then.
  5040. >Illusion?
  5041. >No, probably not.
  5042. >Even if it was, illusions are magic so you must still be in Equestria.
  5043. >...You're still in Equestria.
  5044. >A smile slowly spreads across your face.
  5045. >You turn to look at Rainbow Dash and a tiny, incredulous laugh escapes your lips.
  5046. >You reach out and gently poke her in the shoulder as if checking she's real.
  5047. >She looks down at your finger, then back up at you, confused.
  5048. >Your chest suddenly swells with emotion and you start to giggle uncontrolably even as fresh tears well up.
  5049. >You lurch and wrap your arms around her barrel, pulling her into a tight hug.
  5050. >"Wha--Anon!? Hey, n-not the wings, NOT THE WINGS!"
  5051. >She writhes and struggles but you just hug her tighter, your whole body shaking with something between laughter and sobs.
  5052. >Seeming to realize something is wrong, she stops struggling and twists her head around to look at you.
  5053. >"Uh... 'kay, what is even happening right now?"
  5054. >You close your eyes and bury your face in her mane.
  5055. "I'm... s-s-still here!"
  5056. >She wiggles slightly and groans.
  5057. >"Anoooon, you're ruffling my feathers!"
  5058. >Suddenly gripped by the horrible thought of ruining her friendship too, you jerk back and release her.
  5059. "O-Oh sorry... I'm sorry, Dash! H-Here, I'll f-fix it..."
  5060. >You lay your hands on her closest wing and slowly run your fingers through her crooked primaries, trying to make the large feathers lay straight and flat again.
  5061. >She gasps and her eyes widen, then roll up into her head as she tries - and fails - to suppress a low moan.
  5062. >Her head tilts back, a shudder runs down her barrel, and her hind leg twitches.
  5063. >Then her whole body tenses up and her head whips around, wide eyes staring at you in horror.
  5064. >She yelps indignantly, then both wings and all four legs snap out as she violently flings herself away from you.
  5065. >She lands in a heap on the other side of the room, but before you can even open your mouth to ask if she's okay, she's back on her hooves.
  5066. >"What the buck, Anon!? What's wrong with you!?"
  5067. >She blushes furiously and glares at you, her stance wide and low, both wings spread and twitching slightly.
  5068. >You flinch and raise your hands defensively.
  5069. "Sorry, I'm sorry! What's wrong, what did I do!?"
  5070. >She gapes at you.
  5071. >"W-Wha... you don't...?"
  5072. >She shakes her head then straightens and shouts.
  5073. >"You can't just... just r-reach out and--and PREEN somepony, Anon!"
  5074. "I-I'm sorry, I didn't know!"
  5075. >"How could you not know that!? EVERYPONY knows that!"
  5076. >She glares at you, breathing hard and still blushing intensely.
  5077. "I'm not a pony... sorry..."
  5078. >You grimace and cringe away, your voice almost a whimper.
  5079. "P-Please don't leave me..."
  5080. >Her brows furrow and she opens her mouth to speak, then closes it... then opens and closes it again.
  5081. >She sits down and tilts her head, staring at you incredulously, wings still spread wide.
  5082. >"You... seriously didn't know?"
  5083. >You jerk your head side to side and the pegasus snorts gently.
  5084. >She shuffles nervously, then takes a few steps closer.
  5085. "I-I'm sorry..."
  5086. >Her ears fold down at your pathetic voice, then she sighs and hops back up onto the bed.
  5087. >"It's okay, dummy. You didn't know any better."
  5088. >She jabs your leg with a hoof.
  5089. >"But now you do, so you'd better not try that again!"
  5090. "N-No, of... of course not. Never."
  5091. >You take a deep breath, trying once again to stabilize yourself.
  5092. >After a short, tense silence, you look sheepishly up at her.
  5093. "So... mind explaining why it's so wrong?"
  5094. >She turns away and shifts her hooves awkwardly.
  5095. >"It... uh, it feels really good."
  5096. "...And that's bad?"
  5097. >She huffs and shakes her head.
  5098. >"No, like... REALLY good... they say it's even better than sex."
  5099. >She glances at you out of the corner of her eye.
  5100. >"It's, um... only for lovers, kay?"
  5101. "...Wait, so I basically just raped you?"
  5102. >She coughs and rubs the back of her head with a hoof.
  5103. >"Uh... I mean, sort of, I guess? But, like... you didn't know any better, right? Can't really blame you."
  5104. "Oh god... Dash, I'm so sorry."
  5105. >You drop your head in your hands again.
  5106. "Ugh! Can't fucking do anything right!"
  5107. >"Whoa, hey! Come on, Anon..."
  5108. >She leans over and lays a wing over your shoulders, nuzzling the side of your neck.
  5109. >"Sure it was pretty uncool, but it's alright, really. I'm not mad or anything."
  5110. >She shivers slightly, then murmurs.
  5111. >"Jeez... I almost don't even mind."
  5112. >You glance at her and raise an eyebrow.
  5113. "What's that supposed to mean?"
  5114. >She blushes and sits up again, not meeting your gaze.
  5115. >"Eh... it's nothing."
  5116. >You hesitate, then turn to look out the window again, dropping the subject... at least for now.
  5117. >The initial joy of realizing you're still in Equestria is starting to fade and you find yourself considering your future.
  5118. >Dash must guess where your thoughts are headed as she shuffles a little closer.
  5119. >"So... whatcha gonna do now?"
  5120. >You sigh and shrug your shoulders.
  5121. "I dunno. I fucked up bad, Dash. I fucked everything and now AJ hates me, which means the townsponies will probably never trust me, so I figure it's only a matter of time before Twilight has no choice but to exile me or return me to Earth."
  5122. >Her wing suddenly slides off your back as she leans forward into your line of sight, looking confused.
  5123. >"Waitwaitwait, hold up. I thought this was Applejack's fault?"
  5124. >You slowly shake your head and lean back.
  5125. "No... it's my fault. I shouldn't have tried to hold her back, should have just trusted her and let her work, and I should've waited for her damn cycle to finish intead of thinking with my dick!"
  5126. >You sigh again, but your breath catches slightly.
  5127. "I'd give anything to go back and redo the last twenty four hours."
  5128. >"Sounds to me like you're having a lot of trouble thinking straight and figuring out what to do next."
  5129. >You nod glumly and Dash sets a hoof on your shoulder.
  5130. >"Don't worry Anon, I know just what to do."
  5131. >You glance up at her, surprised.
  5132. >She grins and points a wingtip at the lump in the blankets over your crotch.
  5133. >"You just need some flank to help you with that! You'll be thinking clearly again in no time!"
  5134. "Wait, you mean..."
  5135. >She nods happily.
  5136. >Your eyesbrows shoot up and you raise your hands, stammering nervously.
  5137. "That's--uh, I mean I'm f-flattered but... w-well it's just--"
  5138. >She furrows her brows in confusion, then her eyes open wide in realization.
  5139. >"Wait a sec, you didn't think I meant ME, did you?"
  5140. >You wince and shrug sheepishly.
  5141. "Sorry... Stupid, I know."
  5142. >She chuckles nervously and paws at the bed a little.
  5143. >"Well, you ARE pretty cool and all, but..."
  5144. >She blushes and turns away, her wings rustling slightly.
  5145. >"I couldn't do that to Applejack, y'know? I mean, it's only been a day, right?"
  5146. >Wait, was she actually considering it?
  5147. >You gawk at the back of her head.
  5148. >After a moment, she turns back to you and, upon seeing your face, immediately starts giggling uncontrollably.
  5149. >You frown and fold your arms.
  5150. "What's so funny?"
  5151. >"The look on your face! Pffff-"
  5152. >She breaks down in another fit of giggles and you just groan tiredly.
  5153. >You wrap the blanket around your waist as you stand to fetch some clothes, then head into the bathroom to change.
  5154. >Just before you close the bathroom door, you ball up the blanket and toss it at the still laughing pegasus.
  5155. >The lump catches the air just before it reaches her and spreads out over her like a perfectly thrown net.
  5156. >Shutting the door, you allow yourself a small smile as she squawks and begins to flail wildly.
  5157. ...
  5158. >When you step out of the bathroom, Rainbow Dash is nowhere to be seen, even as you walk out to your living room.
  5159. >You plop down on the couch and sigh heavily.
  5160. >What you can't figure out is why Twilight didn't just send you home. Why delay the inevitable?
  5161. >You'd give anything to get Applejack back, but at your first thoughts of apologizing, her furious eyes burn into you and the last thing she screamed echos through your mind.
  5162. >No... you don't know how it got so bad so suddenly, but it's too late to apologize now. Whatever you had with her is gone and nothing you do will change that.
  5163. >Your stomach growls and you suddenly realize how hungry you are.
  5164. >You reluctantly get up to find something to eat, open the first cabinet, then mentally correct yourself:
  5165. >Something to eat that isn't apples.
  5166. >As you are considering a simple bowl of plain white rice, a hoof knocks gently on your door.
  5167. >You sigh and start walking towards it when another hoof knocks rapidly and you hear a faint murmuring.
  5168. >When you open the door, you see Pinkie and Rarity, but before Rarity can even speak, Pinkie takes one look at you and immediately slams into your chest, hugging you fiercely.
  5169. >"Pinkie!"
  5170. >Rarity facehoofs and you look down at the ball of pink floof on your chest.
  5171. "Hi Pinkie."
  5172. >You brace for her usual flurry of words and questions as she looks up at you, but instead she just sniffs and silently returns her head to your chest.
  5173. >Feeling a bit awkward, you stroke her mane and look up at Rarity.
  5174. "So... what are you two doing here?"
  5175. >"Rainbow Dash told us what happened with Applejack. I... we thought we would stop by and offer our comfort and... possibly help."
  5176. >Pinkie squeezes you tighter and Rarity takes a careful step forward.
  5177. >"I'm so sorry, darling. I know how much you enjoyed your time at Sweet Apple Acres."
  5178. >You grunt and turn away, dragging Pinkie along as you walk back to the couch.
  5179. >When you sit, she simply curls up beside you, hooves still wrapped around your waist.
  5180. >Rarity had followed you inside and now she jumps up to sit behind Pinkie, turning to face you.
  5181. >"I know you must feel just awful, but surely everything will turn out alright in the end?"
  5182. >You lean back and close your eyes, taking a long, tired breath.
  5183. "Am I gonna have to explain this to every pony in town?"
  5184. >Rarity inhales sharply, but hesitates before continuing.
  5185. >"I'm sorry, Anon. I don't mean to make you repeat yourself. Of course you needn't talk if you don't want to."
  5186. >You sigh and lift your head to look at her.
  5187. "Rarity, you of all people - uh, ponies - should know what this means. You saw what that crowd was like before Twilight showed up. Nopony will trust me after this. I'm done. I may as well just go back to Earth."
  5188. >Rarity shuffles her hooves awkwardly.
  5189. >"I... I'm sure Twilight can help keep the townsponies in line."
  5190. >You just scoff and she falls silent.
  5191. >Pinkie nuzzles your belly and after a moment, Rarity continues.
  5192. >"Dash thought you might think more clearly after some... relief."
  5193. "I'm not going to one of your damn sex parties."
  5194. >She doesn't respond immediately and you faintly wonder if you hurt her feelings.
  5195. >Sure enough, she can't quite keep the twinge from her soft voice when she speaks again.
  5196. >"I didn't really think you would... No, I thought maybe I could help you a little more... directly."
  5197. >You resist the urge to gawk.
  5198. >No way you're jumping to conclusions again like you did with Dash.
  5199. >Instead you sigh and look up at her.
  5200. "Sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you like that. Just what kind of help are you offering?"
  5201. >"I... well, I just thought you might--"
  5202. >Pinkie raises her head and looks you dead in the eye.
  5203. >"Anon, would you be happy again if you could rut me or Rarity?"
  5204. >Oh.
  5205. >Guess you'd have actually been right this time.
  5206. >You stare blankly at Pinkie, your mouth hanging open.
  5207. >"Pinkie! You can't just come right out and say it so bluntly!"
  5208. >She ignores Rarity's words and continues fervently.
  5209. >"You can, you know. Almost nopony ever has, but you can if it will help you. I just want to see you smile again."
  5210. >At your continued stunned silence, her ears fold back and she looks over her shoulder at Rarity.
  5211. >The unicorn sighs, then looks up at you.
  5212. >"I'd have preferred to be a bit more *tactful* about it, but... yes, if you think it would make you feel better, we're here for you, whether as friends, or as... a little more."
  5213. >She shuffles a little closer, sitting between Pinkie and the back of the sofa.
  5214. >"It's your choice, of course, I just wanted you to know the option is on the table."
  5215. >Pinkie looks back at you and you finally regain control of your throat.
  5216. "N-No, that's... that's alright."
  5217. >"Nonny, it's okay, really. You shouldn't try to suppress your urges if it makes you feel so bad."
  5218. "You... I'm not, it's fine."
  5219. >Rarity nods politely.
  5220. >"Well, alright. I just want to be certain you're absolutely sure first - I won't pretend it would make everything okay again, but if it might help even a little bit... well, it might be worth trying?"
  5221. >You shake your head a little faster than necessary.
  5222. "I-I don't think--"
  5223. >"Rarity and I could even both help you together! We've never done that before, so it would be a whole new kind of fun! Even at our parties, it's not often you get an offer like--"
  5224. "Fuck's sake, it's not the sex!"
  5225. >Almost in unison, their ears fold down and they flinch back slightly.
  5226. >You rub your eyes with the arm Pinkie hasn't pinned.
  5227. "Sorry... it's just--I loved her, y'know? Sex would probably just make me miss her more. Besides, it's only been a day... be pretty shitty of me to take an offer like that so soon, don't you think?"
  5228. >Pinkie lowers her head to your chest again and sniffs pitifully.
  5229. >Rarity looks away awkwardly, seeming unsure how to continue, but then her ears perk up.
  5230. >"Well how about a date instead?"
  5231. >You stare at her silently and she fidgets slightly.
  5232. >"Not with either of us, but I happen to know sompony who would love to have a chance to get to know you a little better."
  5233. "Isn't going on a date the day after the breakup almost as bad as having sex?"
  5234. >"Not at all! It's only a casual, friendly dinner, testing the waters to see how you feel about it... there are no obligations or expectations here, dear. Of course, I don't know for certain it will help, but making a new friend might just be what helps you move on."
  5235. >You hesitate and look at the floor thoughtfully.
  5236. >"If nothing else, simply getting out of the house should help you feel better, right?"
  5237. >You snort softly, feeling increasingly uncomfortable.
  5238. >She leans forward and gently places a hoof on your arm above where Pinkie hugs you tightly.
  5239. >"I know you're lonely, dear. Twi, Dash, Pinkie, me... we all care for you deeply but we're just so busy these days... You need friends you can just casually hang out with, without needing to plan around such difficult schedules."
  5240. >You sigh and glance up at her.
  5241. "And what if I say no and tell you to leave?"
  5242. >"Anon, darling, I'll leave you alone right now if you ask me to. I would never force you to accept my help... but I would be ever so worried about you."
  5243. "Why?"
  5244. >"...Pardon?"
  5245. "Why worry about me."
  5246. >Pinkie whimpers faintly and nuzzles your chest as Rarity stammers slightly.
  5247. >"Why... worry? Oh my dear! Anon, you are simply a delight to have around... w-well, usually of course."
  5248. >She giggles nervously.
  5249. >"Y-You're kind, you're considerate... compassionate, hard working, punctual, trustworthy... why you even go out of your way to help ponies after they've been rude to you! You are truly a wonderful person, Anon!"
  5250. >You look away again awkwardly.
  5251. >"Darling, please don't let random ponies warp your own opinion of yourself. Every single pony that has taken even five minutes to know you better has had naught to say but praise."
  5252. >You murmur under your breath.
  5253. "Except the one pony I care about most..."
  5254. >Rarity leans even closer and nuzzles your cheek.
  5255. >"I know, dear. I'm sure it hurts terribly but I promise it gets better... you just have to give it a chance. Wallowing in your self-pity here will only make you feel worse. I really do believe you'll feel better if you get out and try to enjoy yourself."
  5256. >You take a deep breath, then shrug your shoulders weakly.
  5257. "Maybe you're right... I guess it can't hurt to try, right?"
  5258. >Pinkie looks up at you, smiling nervously.
  5259. >"You mean you'll really do it?"
  5260. "I... guess--"
  5261. >She leaps up, wraps her forelegs around your neck and squeals with joy.
  5262. >"Oh Nonny, I'm so happy! I just know you'll feel better and you'll know just what to do afterwards!"
  5263. >A blue glow surrounds her as Rarity gently prys her away.
  5264. >"Yes, I'm glad you agreed, Anon. The mare in question is out of town at the moment, but shall we say... tomorrow night at sundown?"
  5265. "I d-didn't--"
  5266. >"I'm thinking the Caffhay would be a good fit - not so fancy as to impose any expectations on the evening, but nice enough that it should be quiet and relaxing for the both of you."
  5267. >She then notices your distress and sets a comforting hoof on your arm.
  5268. >"Don't worry, darling, I know you still aren't familiar with the town yet. I'll be here tomorrow evening to guide you to the Caffhay.
  5269. >You stammer, but Rarity ignores you and claps her hooves excitedly.
  5270. >"Oh she's going to be just thrilled when she finds out!"
  5271. >She hops off the couch and trots to the door, floating pinkie behind her, who rapidly waves a hoof at you.
  5272. >"Bye, Nonny!"
  5273. >"I'll see you tomorrow, Anon!"
  5274. >Even as you open your mouth to stop her, the door shuts with a sense of finality.
  5275. >You sigh heavily and stand to return to the kitchen.
  5276. >Probably wouldn't have been able to change her mind anyway.
  5277. >Still, maybe she's right and it will actually help?
  5278. >...You quickly squash that hope before it has a chance to bloom.
  5279. >You already made that mistake last night
  5280. ...
  5281. >You stared at a bowl of plain white rice for a bit.
  5282. >Then decided to get off your ass and try going outside instead.
  5283. >It had been rather surprising how much better you felt outside.
  5284. >Your house may be a minefield of painful memories, but as you walked through Ponyville everything blurred together too much to remind you of anything specific.
  5285. >Well, except Lily's Florist shop near your house.
  5286. >As you passed the shop, your mind was flooded with thoughts of Applejack and the daffodil Lily gave you.
  5287. >Daisy smiled and waved at you cheerfully, but judging from her expression your attempt at a friendly response had been... awkward at best.
  5288. >Still, other than that minor hiccup, you had made it all the way to the market without much incident and even managed to seem fairly normal as you picked out some groceries.
  5289. >...Though you couldn't help but think about how much of the food in the store was grown at Sweet Apple Acres.
  5290. >As you wrap up your shopping and approach the counter, you almost automatically kneel to avoid towering over the poor pony at the register.
  5291. >The pretty orange mare with a white mane smiles nervously at you, then silently begins tallying up your groceries.
  5292. >Your attention wanders while you wait and turn to look idly around the store.
  5293. >It seems fairly busy - or at least, as far as you can tell.
  5294. >For all you know, ponies do their groceries daily and this is just par for the course.
  5295. >You watch as a stallion and mare do an awkward little dance with their carts as they try to go around each other and keep choosing the same side.
  5296. >They both stop, laugh merrily, and the stallion steps back and graciously waves the mare through, who nods appreciatively and continues walking.
  5297. >Another mare near the end, seeing her approach, hastily swivels her cart out of the middle of the aisle and they murmur politely as they pass.
  5298. >Such a minor interaction, totally inconsequential - nopony hesitated for even a second.
  5299. >You think back to the oblivious, rude, and even hectic shoppers of Earth and can't help but sigh appreciatively.
  5300. >The more you watch these ponies, the more you realize they simply default to being polite and considerate, as if it's so deeply engrained, there is not even an alternative to consider.
  5301. >With that in mind, everypony must be much more afraid of you than you originally thought to justify them being so rude to you.
  5302. >The mare at the counter behind you talks quietly to herself.
  5303. >You wonder if trying to be more understanding and showing ponies more directly that you're safe and nice is worth trying.
  5304. >Maybe, just maybe, you can avoid being sent back to Earth after all.
  5305. >The clerk pony murmurs under her breath again and you start to worry she might cause a scene...
  5306. >Well, no sense jumping to paranoid conclusions - you'll just deal with that if it comes up.
  5307. >Your thoughts wander back to the polite exchange you just witnessed and idly wonder if being such good people is truly in pony nature or if it's just a product of their society.
  5308. >If it's the former then there's probably little hope, but if it's the latter, maybe that means humankind could one day also--
  5309. >You jerk as a hoof brushes your shoulder, startling you.
  5310. >Your head whips around and the pony at the counter cringes back, eyes wide and muzzle trembling.
  5311. >"Sorry! S-So sorry, sir!"
  5312. >You turn to face her and try to smile warmly... without showing too many teeth.
  5313. "It's alright, girl, no worries. It's my own fault for not paying better attention."
  5314. >Her ear twitches nervously and she continues in the same faint murmur you were hearing before.
  5315. >"I, um... finished ringing you up and--"
  5316. "Oh gosh, I'm sorry! You've been trying to get my attention this whole time, weren't you?"
  5317. >"N-No, it's quite alright, sir! Your t-total is... is um, thirty-seven bits."
  5318. >You furrow your brow... Thirty-seven seems awfully cheap for how much stuff you bought.
  5319. >As you reach for your pouch of bits, you sneak a glance at the notebook she used and see she actually wrote your total to be fifty-eight bits.
  5320. >Is she afraid to charge you too much?
  5321. >You smile gently as you pull out sixty bits - most of the money you had left - and place them on the counter.
  5322. >"But sir--"
  5323. >You pick up your bag and wink at her.
  5324. "Just call me Anon."
  5325. >As you turn and walk away, you just barely hear a whisper.
  5326. >"T-Thank you..."
  5327. >Maybe you were wrong to assume humans were mean-spirited by default.
  5328. >After all, you're a human, and you certainly appreciate kindness and selflessness.
  5329. >Smiling to yourself, you push open the shop's door and step outside.
  5330. >You freeze.
  5331. >Not ten feet in front of you stands Applejack.
  5332. >You take an involunatary step back as you lock eyes.
  5333. >Her ears fold back, her tail flicks, and her eyes narrow.
  5334. >You open your mouth to say...
  5335. >Well, say what?
  5336. >Then the door smacks you in the back.
  5337. >You stumble forward and drop your bag, spilling your groceries all over the ground.
  5338. >You hear a faint "eep!" behind you as the orange cashier pony rushes to pick up your fallen groceries.
  5339. >"Omigosh, I'm so sorry, sir! I didn't think... I-I was trying to catch up because I just wanted to thank you properly..."
  5340. >She trails off when she realizes you're still just standing there and staring at Applejack.
  5341. >Applejack snorts and, with a lazy flick of her uninjured foreleg, kicks a small bag of mushrooms that landed near her.
  5342. >Then without a word, she turns and walks away, ears still folded back angrily.
  5343. "W-Wait! Applejack, please!"
  5344. >She stops in place without looking back.
  5345. "I'm s-sorry. I... I only wanted to help."
  5346. >She just scoffs, flicks her tail, and continues walking.
  5347. >You stand there and stare after her, a cold chill running down your back.
  5348. >"...Sir? Um, A-Anon?"
  5349. >You feel something touch your knee and numbly look down at the orange pony.
  5350. >She tilts her head, looking concerned.
  5351. >"Um... are you alright?"
  5352. >You rub your eyes and take a deep breath, trying to maintain your composure.
  5353. "I'll... be fine."
  5354. >Slightly dazed, you kneel and begin scooping everything up off the ground and, after a moment's hesitation, the clerk pony continues helping you.
  5355. >"I'm sorry I spilled your groceries."
  5356. "It's fine."
  5357. >"I was rushing 'cause I thought you'd have already walked away and I wanted to thank you properly."
  5358. >She sets a miraculously undamaged carton of eggs in the bag, then sets a hoof on your forearm, making you stop and look at her.
  5359. >"I'm sorry for being afraid of you. I think... Princess Twilight was right about you and I'm glad you're here with us. Will I see you here again soon?"
  5360. "Pff, doubt it."
  5361. >She gasps and jerks her hoof away, ears folding down.
  5362. "N-No, sorry, I didn't... didn't mean it like that."
  5363. >She eyes you suspiciously and you sigh.
  5364. "I'm just broke, alright? I've only got like... I dunno, ten bits left, and I was just fired yesterday."
  5365. >She rubs a floppy ear thoughtfully.
  5366. >"Surely Princess Twilight--"
  5367. "She's given me enough charity already, I'm not about to ask for even more money."
  5368. >"Well... then what will you do?"
  5369. >You sigh again and move to pick up the last few items off the ground.
  5370. "Try and get another job, I guess. Nopony trusts me though so I dunno how that's gonna work... but it's all I got."
  5371. >She picks up the last item, a small bag of potatoes, and drops it in the bag.
  5372. >As you lift the bag into your arms, she looks around.
  5373. >"It's about to be dark. Do you live nearby?"
  5374. >How anypony knows when it's going to be night or day, you could never tell.
  5375. "Yeah, just by the path to the Ponyville School."
  5376. >"Oh... ok."
  5377. >You hesitate, not sure if she was going anywhere with that, but she just stares at you with wide eyes.
  5378. "Uh, well... thanks for the help, I guess."
  5379. >She only blushes faintly and looks down, so you stand up and turn away.
  5380. >"Um..."
  5381. >You stop and look back at her.
  5382. >"M-My name is Valencia Snow."
  5383. "Nice to meet you, Valencia."
  5384. >You try to smile and she responds with a shy smile of her own.
  5385. >Walking away again, you get an odd feeling after a few steps and turn to look behind you.
  5386. >Valencia skids to a stop behind you, her ears swiveling back as she looks up at you.
  5387. "...Yes?"
  5388. >She shuffles her hooves nervously, eyes downcast.
  5389. >"Um... j-just wanted to... to make sure you got home safely."
  5390. >Why is she so concerned for you?
  5391. >You drop to a squat, making her flinch at the sudden movement.
  5392. "That's sweet, but I'll be okay. You should probably get back to your shop."
  5393. >She sighs and droops her head pathetically.
  5394. >"Okay... s-sorry I bothered you."
  5395. "Hey now..."
  5396. >You stop her from turning away with a hand on her cheek and her startled face turns to you.
  5397. "You're not a bother, promise. It's just I'm pretty sure I can handle the one or two minute walk home."
  5398. >Her muzzle quivers and her tail flicks nervously.
  5399. >She opens her mouth to speak, then closes it again, eyes darting side to side.
  5400. >She seems reluctant to leave, though you can't figure out why she cares so much.
  5401. "Um... but I, uh... I guess I would appreciate the company...?"
  5402. >Her eyes light up and she smiles up at you, then looks back down at the ground nervously.
  5403. >"If... you don't mind."
  5404. >You rub the side of her neck, stand, and turn to start walking.
  5405. >You look over your shoulder to see her still sitting there, looking pitiful.
  5406. >Smiling, you gesture with a tilt of your head.
  5407. "You coming, then?"
  5408. >She squeaks and scrambles to her hooves, rushing to your side.
  5409. >As you start walking again, you gently stroke her mane with your free hand.
  5410. "What about the shop? Surely you're still working, right?"
  5411. >She hums happily and presses her head against your hand, then suddenly stops, seeming self-conscious.
  5412. >"Oh, um, Sunny Flights said she can cover the till for me... and we were just about to close anyway."
  5413. >Just then, the sun begins smoothly lowering to the horizon, exactly as Valencia said earlier.
  5414. >You chuckle and look down at her.
  5415. "Alright, I've gotta know. How on earth do you ponies know when the sun is about to set?"
  5416. >She gives you an odd look.
  5417. >"Princess Celestia and Princess Luna move the sun and moon at the same time every day. You... did know that, right?"
  5418. "Well of course! If I'm near a clock I know when it'll happen, but you ponies always seem to know no matter where you are! I'm dying to know, how do you do it?"
  5419. >Her muzzle quirks in thought, then she shrugs her shoulders.
  5420. >"I just sort of... do?"
  5421. >You groan and scowl playfully, making her look up and wince when she sees your face.
  5422. >"Ohhh, I'm sorry I can't be more help! I wish I could explain it better..."
  5423. >You relax and chuckle, patting her head.
  5424. "It's okay, girl. I'm not angry, just playing. I've been curious but it's not a big deal."
  5425. >She looks down again, sighing in relief.
  5426. >"Well... it's hard to explain, I just kind of... feel like it's supposed to happen soon."
  5427. >The orange mare falls silent for a moment, then she gasps and looks up, her eyes bright.
  5428. >"Ooh, I know! It's like when you put a pot of water to boil then go do something else while you wait. After a while you just sort of 'know' it should be boiling by now, right? It always takes the same amount of time, so you get so used to it you can time it without even really thinking about it."
  5429. "Aaaah, ok, that makes a lot of sense actually."
  5430. >Valencia beams up at you, her ear flicks and her eyes glance to your hand.
  5431. >Catching the hint, you chuckle and give her some ear scritches as thanks, making her coo contentedly.
  5432. >You turn the last corner and walk toward your house.
  5433. >"Weeeell now!"
  5434. >At Granny's sharp voice, Valencia freezes in her tracks, eyes wide and ears at full attention.
  5435. >"No wonder y'ain't answerin' yer door, ya weren't even in there!"
  5436. >With a high squeak, the clerk pony twirls on a hoof and bolts back the way you came.
  5437. "N-No, wait! Valencia!"
  5438. >Either she doesn't hear you or is too startled to care as she darts around a corner and her hoofbeats rapidly fade into the distance.
  5439. >You rub your eyes and let out a deep, pained sigh.
  5440. "Hi, Granny."
  5441. >"Yeah, yeah, howdy ho an' all that. C'mon ya big mope, git inside."
  5442. >You look up and grimace.
  5443. "Can't we just--"
  5444. >"Nope."
  5445. "--do this tomorrow?"
  5446. >She just stares at you.
  5447. >You groan and step forward, shoving your door open and shuffling your way inside.
  5448. >As you dump the bag of groceries onto your counter, the old pony steps through the door and casually closes it behind her with a kick of a hind hoof.
  5449. >You glare at her.
  5450. "Thanks for scaring off my new friend."
  5451. >Granny hops up onto your couch and waves a hoof dismissively.
  5452. >"Bah, lil' Val scares near as easy as Fluttershy used to, but she ain't one to hold it against ya. She'll be back 'fore ya know it."
  5453. "Wait, you know her?"
  5454. >"Fiddlesticks, Anon, 'course ah know 'er! Din't ya notice darn near everythin' they got came from Sweet Apple Acres?"
  5455. >You did, of course... and mentally smack yourself for not figuring it out yourself.
  5456. >Changing the subject, you turn and start putting away your groceries.
  5457. "Alright then, what do you want? You gonna offer to let me fuck you too?"
  5458. >"T'weren't my first thought, no, but if'n yer askin' ah'm sure we--"
  5459. >She stands up on your couch, tail raised high, and you hastily wave your hands.
  5460. "No, no! I'm not! Nevermind!"
  5461. >She pouts and you awkwardly turn away to put some milk in the fridge.
  5462. >"Well if not, why'd ya go an' get m'hopes up by askin'?"
  5463. >You freeze.
  5464. >Get her hopes up?
  5465. >Surely not her too!
  5466. >You whip around and stare at her, making her cackle gleefully.
  5467. >"Unknit yer knickers, Anon, ah'm just teasin' ya. Ah expect mah flankin' days're looooong gone."
  5468. >You hesitate for a long moment before slowly resuming your actions.
  5469. >"Though ah'll admit to wonderin' why ya asked that particular question."
  5470. >Grimacing, you consider how much you should say.
  5471. >"Lemme guess, them two party fiends... whasser names, Rare and Pie? They offered to help ya 'relax'?"
  5472. "Uh..."
  5473. >"An' that Rainbow gal hinted at doin' just the same, eh?"
  5474. >Your face scrunches up with feelings of confusion, surprise, and suspicion as you turn to look at her.
  5475. "How could you possibly know that?"
  5476. >She snorts derisively.
  5477. >"Anon, ah helped found this 'ere town. May not be Mayor m'self but she's a dear old friend o'mine an' together we keep a close eye on anythin' what might affect the town."
  5478. >She eyes you critically.
  5479. >"That includes strange creatures from another world that decide they're better off livin' here with us."
  5480. >Your mind reels with implications and you struggle to keep yourself from jumping to conclusions.
  5481. >You lean forward and stare at her over the kitchen counter separating you from your living room.
  5482. "What are you implying?"
  5483. >She tilts her head questioningly.
  5484. >"Eh? Implying? Ah ain't implyin' nothin' ah din't figure was already obvious. Yer a clear source o'disruption in the town, just ain't sure whether for good or bad yet."
  5485. >She rubs the back of her head, then shrugs nonchalantly.
  5486. >"Ain't like there's some secret government of old ponies what's got say over things that happen here. Hay, even Mayor Mare ain't got that much power now that lil' Twilight's a Princess now."
  5487. >Granny snorts and gives you a carefree smile.
  5488. >"Not that she minds havin' less work to do. That ol' gal's always been a lazy one an' now she's getting old an' tired to boot. Ah don't doubt she's more'n happy to let Twi take some o'the load off 'er withers."
  5489. >You speak up before she can go off on another tangent.
  5490. "Alright, alright... let's get this over with."
  5491. >"Hmm?"
  5492. >You sigh, turning to put away the carton of eggs.
  5493. "Come on, we both know why you're here. Let's just move on."
  5494. >"Oh... ain't here to talk 'bout Applejack if that's what yer thinkin'."
  5495. >You glance at her over your shoulder.
  5496. "I find that extremely hard to believe.
  5497. >She gives you a languid shrug in response.
  5498. >"Ah mean we can talk 'bout her if'n ya want, but ah ain't 'bout to force it on ya."
  5499. "Well then why are you here?"
  5500. >"Ain't got a specific reason, really, was jus' worried 'bout you an' wanted to check in on ya. From what Mac told me, y'all were hurtin' pretty bad last night."
  5501. >You grunt and toss some bread into a cupboard with more force than is strictly necessary.
  5502. "Oh, I'm doing just swell."
  5503. >You turn back and pick up the last couple items from the bag.
  5504. >"Apple Bloom misses ya somethin' fierce y'know."
  5505. >You falter for a moment, then grimace and set the groceries in a random cupboard.
  5506. "What's the use in telling me that? Not like I can do anything about Applejack at this point."
  5507. >"An' how ya even know that without even talkin' to her?"
  5508. >You whirl around, almost snarling at the old mare.
  5509. "Because I DID. By some cruel twist of fate she was standing right there after I got my groceries, but she wouldn't even TALK to me, Granny! I apologized and was gonna try and explain myself and she just fuckin' walked away like I didn't mean nothing to her!"
  5510. >Granny looks up at you with sad eyes.
  5511. >"She jus' don't know how to handle herself, Anon, specially what with 'er cycle. She don't hate ya an' she--"
  5512. "Don't give me that shit! You were standing right there when she was yelling at me."
  5513. >"An' y'all weren't there to see jus' how upset she was after ya left."
  5514. "Why would I want to know she got even angrier after I left?"
  5515. >"Not angry, Anon. Well sure, she was angry alright, but she was hurtin' somethin' awful, too. She hates what she did an' kept beatin' herself up over it that night."
  5516. "Bullshit."
  5517. >The old mare narrows her eyes at you.
  5518. "How the fuck does she regret what she did then refuse to even talk to me today? And if she feels so shit about it, why can't SHE come over here and talk? Why is it you and Big Mac over here trying to tell me everything'll be fine yet she can't hardly even LOOK at me?"
  5519. >Granny pats the couch with a hoof.
  5520. >"Anon, come over 'ere an' talk, please."
  5521. >You sigh and rub your face silently.
  5522. >"C'mon now, ah asked nicely an' everythin'."
  5523. >You groan in exasperation.
  5524. "Why even bother!? What's the point?"
  5525. >"Now now, Anon. Don't make me come over there an' make ya."
  5526. >You scoff and roll your eyes.
  5527. "Now that I'd like to see."
  5528. >"If'n ah can still wrangle Mac into submission, y'all best believe ah can handle you."
  5529. >Her voice drops to a low murmur and her eyes narrow.
  5530. >"Don't test me, foal."
  5531. >Something in her voice makes the back of your neck prickle and your gut clench.
  5532. >Suddenly you're too nervous to even do as she asks.
  5533. >You stare at each other for a few seconds.
  5534. >The corner of her muzzle twitches.
  5535. >Then you jump as she throws back her head and roars with laughter, slapping her thigh with a hoof and instantly shattering the tension.
  5536. >You sigh and lean foward onto the counter, both relieved and embarassed.
  5537. >"Bah golly, Anon!"
  5538. >She giggles a little more and wipes a tear from her eye.
  5539. >"Teasin' y'all is more fun than a day at the rodeo!"
  5540. >You smile nervously but still hesitate to approach the couch.
  5541. >"Aw, git over 'ere for pony's sake, ah don't bite unless ya ask!"
  5542. >She waves a hoof at you with a wink, still snickering.
  5543. >Slowly, you walk around the counter and up to the couch.
  5544. >Granny rolls her eyes at your careful approach and pats the cushion next to her.
  5545. >After another brief pause, you finally sit down beside her and she smiles warmly at you.
  5546. >"Thank ya, dearie. Ah was gettin' tired of shoutin' across the room like that."
  5547. >She shuffles, turning where she sits so she can face you more easily.
  5548. >"So anywho... y'all okay?"
  5549. >You shrug your shoulders, not really wanting to talk to her now.
  5550. >"Aw, Anon, ah'm sorry. Ah din't mean to hurt yer feelings or nothin'. Was just tryin' to relax the atmosphere a bit."
  5551. >You cross your arms and mutter.
  5552. "Got a hell of a way of doing it."
  5553. >Granny nickers and turns away, leaning back against the couch.
  5554. >When you eventually turn to look at her, she seems to be deep in thought and her ear barely even twitches at your movement.
  5555. >You'd rather avoid thoughts of Applejack right now, but you find it hard to think about anything else in the presence of her granddam.
  5556. >So instead you just try not to think of anything at all.
  5557. >The two of you are silent for some time.
  5558. >You fidget awkwardly.
  5559. >You want to tell her to get out, to leave you alone, to let you wallow in your misery...
  5560. >But whether out of respect, fear, or simply a desire to be near any Apple, you can't quite bring yourself to tell her to leave.
  5561. >So you just sit there.
  5562. >For several minutes the only sound is the old mare's breathing.
  5563. >Then, in a slow and somber tone, Granny begins to speak.
  5564. >"When Pear Butter married m'colt, Bright Mac, t'was the happiest day o'my life. Her joinin' our family was the best thing ever did happen to my lil' farm... even with her sire bein' a real plothole 'bout it."
  5565. >She smiles to herself with the memories.
  5566. >"Then, o'course, they had a foal. Moment he left the womb an' we saw he weren't but the biggest darn colt Ponyville had ever seen, ah knew he was gonna be the strongest, toughest earth pony around. Bright an' Pear had decided to call him McIntosh 'fore he was even born, but when Bright laid eyes on him, first thing he says was 'Hey there, Big Mac,' an' just like that, the name stuck."
  5567. >Granny pauses briefly before continuing and you begin to realize this is no simple tale of days gone by.
  5568. >"T'were a good long while 'fore Pear was with foal again, but Goddess have mercy, when that filly was born, it's like a bit o' sunshine dripped straight off'a Celestia's horn an' fell to the soil. She was so beautiful, so perfect, Bright an' Pear near jumped on each other right there an' then to try again. Ah says, 'Wait, give 'er time to grow a bit like ya did with Mac 'fore ya bring 'nother foal into this world.' So they did."
  5569. >She becomes more animated, gesturing with her hooves as she talks.
  5570. >"Now Mac was strong of body but lil' Applejack was strong of heart, an' she poured love into everythin' she did. Mac respected the farm an' worked it happily enough, but Applejack din't just work the farm, she LOVED the farm. Some days we'd be tearin' her away from the crops just to get 'er to go to school, an' the second that bell rang, she was right back 'ere doin' what she loved best."
  5571. >You turn and face Granny almost reverently, feeling the need to show more respect for the story.
  5572. >"She an' Mac got along alright, but without spendin' any extra time at school, she got lonely for filly friends an' started askin' Pear when she was gonna get a sister. Don't ask me how she knew where foals come from, ah got no clue to this very day! Anywho, she was still awful young, so ah told 'er we were plannin' on waiting a while yet 'fore they had another foal, but... well you know how she gets. Weren't long 'fore we couldn't say 'no' no more an' gave in."
  5573. >Granny's wide gestures suddenly cease and she falls silent.
  5574. >You wait patiently as she sits and ponders for several minutes.
  5575. >Finally, she continues in a low voice.
  5576. >"From the very start of the pregnancy... somethin' weren't right. It started out small: throwin' up a little more'n usual, feelin' tired an' not thinkin' straight... then the pain started. That started small too, just a little twinge in the belly, she said. Nopony thought anythin' of it. Couple times she'd wince an' we'd ask if she were alright... she'd just shrug it off, say it was her belly hurtin' again. Ah was a mite worried but everythin' was so happy an' perfect, ah never really feared somethin' was wrong."
  5577. >She closes her eyes and her head droops.
  5578. >"Then one night ah wake to the sound of her screamin'."
  5579. >Granny shudders and, without even thinking, you reach out to comfort her, gently stroking her back.
  5580. >"I'll spare ya the details, but let's just say y'all can still find some bloodstains if'n ya know where to look."
  5581. >She takes a deep breath before continuing.
  5582. >"Thankfully harvest had been good an' we'd some money saved up, so when the local Doc said he couldn't do anythin', we paid the big bits for a Medicorn to come out 'ere. He must'a spent near an hour standin' over Pear, his horn a glowin' but never sayin' a word. Finally he stops an' says a whole lot o'big words that din't make sense to none of us - probably just tryin' to show off to us 'peasants' - 'fore he finally admits the foal is fine."
  5583. >You release a breath you didn't realize you had been holding.
  5584. >"...'Course that was just the good news. Praise the Princess he had the sense to keep Mac an' AJ outta the room 'cause the bad news next was that Pear weren't fine... weren't fine at all. Said somethin' 'bout an ulcer or tumor or somethin' an' told us she'd be lucky to live long enough to give birth. Said best plan is to take the next train to a Manehatten hospital, give birth by PCT, an' then go from there."
  5585. >At your confused look, Granny quickly explains.
  5586. >"Oh, ah... PCT means teleporting the dam an' leavin' the foal behind. It's Precise, eh... Counter Teleportin' or somethin' like that. Basically emergency birth by doctor magic."
  5587. >She shudders lightly again before picking up the tale.
  5588. >"Well, 'course we were all struck dumb by the news, but ain't no one took it harder'n my poor Bright. Everypony left the room an' left the two by 'emselves for a bit an' when he came out again, he had this sorta... dunno, fire in his eyes. He started packin' up to leave an' when ah asked where he thought he was goin', all's he said was he can't let this happen."
  5589. >She heaves a great sigh before she speaks again.
  5590. >"Shoulda stopped him then but ah was too upset m'self to really try. Pear din't seem surprised when ah said he left but wouldn't explain nothin'. When we broke it to the foals, Big Mac was upset as you'd expect, but Applejack... oh, dear little Applejack..."
  5591. >Granny shakes her head slowly and rubs her muzzle with a forehoof.
  5592. >"The Medicorn told us the illness weren't caused by the pregnancy but at the time lil' AJ wasn't in the room to hear it. Took me a long while to figure Applejack blamed herself for what happened 'cause she asked for a sister an' Pear got sick with the foal. Still, that lil' drop of sunshine was so full of hope an' love, we could hardly imagine anythin' might happen 'cept Pear gettin' better."
  5593. >You stand to fetch a couple small hand towels for Granny's tears.
  5594. >Just Granny's of course - you're not getting choked up at all, oh no.
  5595. >"T'was over a week 'fore Bright finally returned... an' he had a Zebra with him. She says her name's Zecora an' talked with a funny accent, but Bright was adamant she was a doctor who could help. Ah asked him what it would cost an' he just waved it off like it weren't even a worry... 'nother mistake on my part."
  5596. >The old mare slumps against the back of the couch and takes a few deep breaths.
  5597. >"Well the Zebra brews some odd smelling soup or somethin', carves some shapes into these lil' wood slivers she has, chants somethin' nopony understands while holdin' Pear an' Bright's hooves, then splashes 'em both with the soup. Nothin' happens, but Bright don't seem worried so ah don't ask. Few hours later, she does it all again, an' then again 'fore we go to bed. The next day she does it three more times an' still nothin' happens."
  5598. >Noticing her voice is starting to get rough, you hop up again and walk to your kitchen.
  5599. >You've been sitting for a long time now, but you wouldn't dream of cutting her short now.
  5600. >She waits until you return with a large cup of warm milk to sooth her throat.
  5601. >She takes a few sips and even gargles the milk a bit, the smacks her lips.
  5602. >"Ah, thank ya dearie. Now what was ah sayin'?"
  5603. >You start to remind her but she immediately talks over you.
  5604. >"Oh right, the Zebra! Well after the third day doin' all that chantin' an' soup splashin', she says she's done an' ah just can't take it anymore. Ah shout 'Ya ain't even done nothin' ya scammin' hack!' Figured she'd defend herself or get angry or somethin'... sure din't expect my dear colt Bright yankin' me back lookin' right furious an' tellin' me to give her the respect she deserves!"
  5605. >She chuckles humorlessly.
  5606. >"'Course if I'd known the truth 'bout what she did then, I'd'a prolly givin' her a buck in the head or ten, but ah trusted my colt an' backed down an' waited."
  5607. >She raises her forehooves in mock prayer.
  5608. >"An' lo, praise be! Pear mysteriously makes a complete recovery. She gives birth to the most adorable lil' precious bean you ever did saw an' names her Apple Bloom. Everypony is happy an' nothing ever goes wrong again. The end."
  5609. >She slowly lowers her hooves and you realize you're holding your breath again.
  5610. >"Least, 'til somethin' goes wrong again. Bloom's first birthday comes around an' Bright is real tired the day after. We just chalk it up to the exertions of the party. Her second birthday comes by an' Bright is lookin' a awful wrinkly for his age. Not much longer an' it becomes obvious Bright is aging 'fore our very eyes."
  5611. >She sighs and takes another sip of milk.
  5612. >"Well, ah start insisting he see a doctor but he keeps sayin' he's fine. Ah KNOW he ain't fine so ah stand my ground... an' finally he decides to let loose an' explain. So he sits down with me an' Pear a-and..."
  5613. >Granny suddenly chokes and, almost silently, begins to cry.
  5614. >You scoot close and comfort her as best you can.
  5615. >Slight tremors rack her body and she brings a towel to her muzzle.
  5616. >Yet after only a minute or two, she lowers her hoof and takes several slow, deep breaths.
  5617. >When she speaks again, her voice is steady but noticeably fainter than before.
  5618. >"...So we all sit down an' he tells us just what the Zebra did. 'Parently he told Pear he gave up some of what Zecora called 'life force' to heal her, but that weren't the whole truth. What Pear had couldn't be healed by anyone, she was already dead. Instead, what Zecora did is link his life force to hers."
  5619. >Her voice was strengthening as she went on, as if that one good cry was all she needed.
  5620. >"As long as he lived, she couldn't age or die, but anything that would injure or age her would drain his life force instead. Problem was, Zecora had no way to know how much life force he had left or how fast Pear's sickness would drain it."
  5621. >She shudders slightly.
  5622. >"Zecora told him might be anywhere from one to fifty moons 'til he started showing signs of age earlier than normal. Obviously at this point it's been a lot closer to one than fifty, so he's 'a mite disappointed' he says."
  5623. >Granny scoffs and rolls her eyes.
  5624. >"Well anyways, Bright figured he wouldn't live to see Bloom's next birthday, and when he died, Pear would only last as long as her own remaining life force did. Poor Pear Butter was near hysteric, demandin' he cut the connection so he could live longer for the foals 'stead of leavin' them orphans, but he said it couldn't be undone now. Ah even took the train to Canterlot an' petitioned to Princess Celestia to see if she could do anythin'."
  5625. >She flicks a hoof dismissively.
  5626. >"Celestia was different 'fore Twilight an' Luna's return. Said she'd look into it but couldn't promise anythin' an' then ah never heard anythin' from her again. Tell the truth ah din't really expect her to help in the first place."
  5627. >She sighs again.
  5628. >"Well, t'weren't long 'fore the foals noticed somethin' was wrong. We tried explaining as best we could but ah think Mac was the only one old enough to understand... all Applejack knew was this was still connected to Bloom's pregnancy so 'course she kept on blamin' herself - though ah still didn't know it. Anyways, don't matter if they understood 'cause it weren't long 'fore Bright looked like this ol' green husk talkin' to ya, an' a few morning's later he... he just didn't wake up."
  5629. >Granny chokes up and you expect her to start crying again, but then she hurries on, as if trying to get it behind her.
  5630. >"Even knowin' it was comin', me an' Pear were devastated, but it was all the worse seein' how the foals suffered an' knowin' it wouldn't be long 'fore Pear went too. She lasted a lot longer'n Zecora guessed, but shortly after Bloom's next birthday, Pear started showin' signs of wear. Rather than put the foals through that pain again, me an' her decided we'd tell them Pear went off to find an' make amends with her parents."
  5631. >She rolls her eyes disdainfully.
  5632. >"We already knew that was no use, 'course. Them rotten pieces o' manure had already refused to talk the first time she was dyin'. Still, we told the foals she'd be gone for a good long while 'cause we weren't sure where her parents were... an' instead checked her into the clinic 'ere in town. Each an' every night, no matter how tired ah was or how bad the weather, ah made sure to visit her."
  5633. >The old mare sniffs and wipes her muzzle with the towel you brought earlier.
  5634. >"Brought her news of her foals, copies of homework, plants they'd grown, things they'd drawn, even pictures when ah could get 'em... an' every night she looked older'n the last, but dammit if she din't always look happy."
  5635. >She looks down at her own wrinkled fetlock.
  5636. >"Hope when my time comes, ah can manage half the grace an' cheer that mare had in her last days..."
  5637. >You just stare down at her in silent horror until she eventually continues.
  5638. >"Now it's gettin' pretty clear we're nearin' the end an' Pear won't last more'n a few more days, when all of the sudden one night Big Mac an' Applejack stop me at the door as ah'm leavin' an' Mac says one o'the worst things ah ever did hear: 'We wanna see her' he says. Ah try playin' it off at first, but somehow they just knew the truth, so then ah tried to convince 'em they shouldn't see her, that it'd just hurt 'em to see her like that. Hay, Applejack even agreed with me! But they just couldn't stand knowin' their dam was dying not a mile away an' not seein' her."
  5639. >Granny shakes her head sadly.
  5640. >"Course ah couldn't just tell 'em no, so we head down to the clinic an' ah tell 'em to wait outside Pear's room while ah go in an' warn her... an' she's plain horrified. Says if they see her now, like this, all the time she spent away from them woulda been in vain! There's a bit of back an' forth ah don't really need to get into, but eventually she agrees to let Mac in while ah wait out with Applejack, who clearly thinks it's a bit unfair but it's all too somber for her to really get upset."
  5641. >She takes another sip of milk.
  5642. >"When Mac finally comes out... he's in a bad way. Shaken, scared, hurt, an' miserable, ah give him the biggest hug ah can manage... an' still Applejack asks to see 'er. Quick as a whip Mac says she shouldn't. He regrets it, she'll regret it, Pear'll regret it... Hay he straight up begs her through his tears not to go in, to remember her as she was. Applejack stares at the door for a long while... then she finally steps inside."
  5643. >You can't help but groan.
  5644. "Oh no..."
  5645. >Granny nods and continues.
  5646. >"It ain't but a minute 'fore she's stumblin' back out that door, Pear calling her name as she gallops away. Mac goes after her an' ah go in to ask what happened... She says the first thing outta Applejack's mouth was 'I'm sorry' an' after a bit o' talk we finally realize AJ's been blamin' herself for what happened the whole time."
  5647. >She rolls her eyes.
  5648. >"Took us long enough, eh? Well, ah rush off to explain the truth to her, but when ah do, she won't listen. Cuts me off, runs away, covers her ears an' says 'lalalalala!' ...anythin' she can do to avoid the conversation. Next night, Mac goes with me to visit her though it plainly hurts him, but ah think in the end they were both glad he did. Finally one night the Doc stops me as we arrive an' says he don't expect her to make it to morning. Mac goes in with her while ah gallop on back home to get Applejack."
  5649. >She pauses to stretch her neck and back.
  5650. >"Now ah know she'll just cut me off soon as she knows what ah'm sayin', so when ah open her bedroom door, straight away ah says 'she's dying' an' poor Applejack freezes 'fore her hooves can even make it to her ears. Glad ah finally got 'er to listen, ah say somethin' like 'it's time, it ain't yer fault, y'all should be with her...' an' so on. She just lays there, still an' silent as stone. Ah try an' get her to say somethin' or at least look at me but she jerks away from my touch. Eventually ah got no choice but to just leave 'er."
  5651. >You sigh sadly and Granny just shakes her head.
  5652. >"Well when ah get back to the clinic, the doc explains to me, Mac, an' Pear that we got three options. He can keep everything the same an' let her pass when her body decides to give out, he can cut off life support while she sleeps so she passes peacefully, or he can cut it off now, so me an' Mac can be with her as she goes. We talk 'bout it for a time an' Pear decides to do it now, with us. The doc says he'll wait an hour to be sure an' we just talk with Pear to pass the time. Well, when the doc returns Pear ain't changed her mind, so he just flips a switch an' says it'll only be a few minutes. Pear asks if it'll hurt an' he says it's just like falling asleep."
  5653. >She hesitates for a brief moment, then speaks slowly, as if reluctant to say the words.
  5654. >"So we sit with her an' just keep on talking like nothin's wrong. Me an' Mac make jokes an' tell stories an' talk about anythin' we can think of while we pretend not to notice how her eyes droop or how each breath comes slower than the last. Mac tells a story 'bout somethin' silly Bloom did that day. Halfway through, she don't breathe again an' Mac stops dead, mid-sentence... just stares at the trace of a smile still left on 'er face."
  5655. >Granny clenches her eyes and whispers.
  5656. >"Then Applejack walks in."
  5657. >You gasp, hand flying to your mouth, then moan as if in physical pain.
  5658. >She nods slowly before speaking again.
  5659. >"She weren't never the same after that. She threw herself at the farm like it was all she had left in life. She learned to care about other stuff over time, but she always treated the farm like it was precious beyond anythin' or anypony... 'cept maybe Apple Bloom."
  5660. "So when I tried to stop her from working..."
  5661. >"Ya had about as much luck as if ya tried gettin' her to buck Apple Bloom in the snout."
  5662. >You sit there in silence for a moment.
  5663. "Well... now I understand why she got so mad."
  5664. >You ponder a moment longer.
  5665. "But Granny, none of that changes the fact that she's mad in the first place. What am I supposed to do with her?"
  5666. >The old mare snorts.
  5667. >"Do whatcha want. Ah ain't an ancient sage of wisdom with all the answers. Ah'm just some old coot that grows apples."
  5668. >She hops down from the couch and you stare at her, stunned.
  5669. "You mean... you spent all that time talking and don't even have a suggestion to help?"
  5670. >She shrugs nonchalantly.
  5671. >"Oh ah got loads of ideas, just ain't got a clue if they're any good."
  5672. >She slowly walks away.
  5673. >"Ah just figured ya might wanna know the whole story 'fore ya act, that's all."
  5674. >She opens your door, then glances back over her shoulder.
  5675. >"Ah don't doubt you'll do right by her soon enough."
  5676. >And she leaves you to your thoughts.
AiE nsfw anon applejack romance SoL long haitus

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