Landscape

A New Landscape

May 22nd, 2017
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  1. UPDATED: 11/13/2019
  2.  
  3. >a “hard worker” the website said
  4. >she certainly looked pretty strong
  5. >the picture on the screen showed her at all angles
  6. >certainly looked like the kind of pony who would be able to help you do your landscaping work
  7.  
  8. >so, you splurged
  9. >made the order, spent the money you’d been saving up
  10. >from what you hear, these ponies are pretty hardy
  11. >and in the list of descriptions, you saw “background in agriculture and manual labor”
  12. >and, surprisingly, she was rather cheap to purchase
  13. >that was all you needed to hear
  14.  
  15. >You were surprised when you heard your phone ring so early in the morning
  16. >it was the salesmen notifying you of when they would arrive at your house with your brand new pony you purchased
  17. >11:00 am in the morning
  18. >It was a Sunday, normally your day off to sleep in
  19. >but the news made you excited enough to make it impossible to sleep anymore
  20. >So, you get up and groggily set up your coffee maker
  21.  
  22. >You’ve already planned it out
  23. >You’ve got a guest room that you basically never use
  24. >It’ll be where she can sleep
  25. >and you’ve done your research on what ponies can eat
  26. >obviously, there’s no meat items allowed
  27. >but eggs are surprisingly ok to feed them, however
  28. >so, you bought a few dozen eggs
  29. >got plenty of fresh veggies and fruit
  30. >even some fancy bread
  31.  
  32. >true, you made your wallet cry a little bit
  33. >you do okay for yourself, but you’re not exactly rich either
  34. >but it’s the middle of summer, and there is plenty of landscaping work that you and your company have to do right now
  35. >you make a decent living
  36. >even if it’s tiring work
  37. >hopefully, your little pony will be up to helping out
  38. >you took a bit of a gamble
  39. >you’ll have to see!
  40.  
  41. >Finally, at ten past 11:00, you hear the knock on the door
  42. >a few loud thumps
  43. >then, the doorbell
  44. >You get up from your chair, where you’ve been sitting anxiously for the last half hour
  45. >you dart over, and open the door
  46.  
  47. >on the other side, there’s a short, chubby man
  48. >maybe 5 foot 7
  49. >and in his hand, he’s holding a thick leather leash
  50. >your eyes follow it down, until you clap eyes on her
  51.  
  52. >there she is, the pony that was in the picture
  53. >orange coat
  54. >little white freckles on her cheeks
  55. >emerald green eyes
  56. >blonde mane done up in a ponytail
  57. >it’s definitely the same pony
  58.  
  59. >but then, you notice a few other things
  60. >and the little smile on your face slowly fades away
  61.  
  62. >yeah, her mane is blonde
  63. >but, dirty blonde
  64. >as in, ACTUAL dirt
  65. >And the more you look her over, the more you see how skinny she is
  66. >wiry muscles show themselves, true
  67. >but so do her ribs, protruding faintly through the skin
  68. >you stare at her for a second
  69.  
  70. >and the pony, a soon as she notices you looking at her, very quickly averts her eyes
  71.  
  72. >The chubby man speaks, and you come back to reality
  73.  
  74. “Hello, sir. Are you mister Anon?”
  75.  
  76. >It was a question you knew the answer to
  77. >but it took you a few seconds to answer
  78. >you’re still looking at the pony there on your porch
  79. >and you start to realize why she was so much less expensive to purchase
  80. >eventually, though, you do respond
  81.  
  82. “Uhh… yeah. That’s me.”
  83.  
  84. >The man nods his head, and with one hand tightly grasping the leash, he reaches back and pulls out a clipboard
  85.  
  86. “Right, mister Anon. I’ll just need you to sign and turn in this paperwork and give your signature of ownership. The rest of the information we need was already provided by you online.”
  87.  
  88. >He hands you the clipboard and a pen
  89. >You pick it up, and begin to read
  90. >but your mind still wanders
  91. >and so do your eyes
  92.  
  93. >the orange pony doesn’t look anywhere but the ground
  94. >neck lowered
  95. >it’s like she’s afraid to look at you
  96.  
  97. >your gut churns
  98. >something feels off about this.
  99. >off about her
  100. >but even so, you tentatively sign the papers and hand the clipboard back to the man
  101.  
  102. >He smiles, not showing any teeth
  103. >stretching out his fat cheeks
  104. >and he nods
  105.  
  106. “Very well. Thank you for your business, sir. She’s yours, now. Enjoy.”
  107.  
  108. >He passes the leash over to you
  109. >with a bit of hesitation you take it from him
  110. >He gives you a short, parting wave, and turns around, walking back toward his car
  111. >a shiny black sedan
  112. >with a couple of other chubby men sitting in the passenger and back seats
  113.  
  114. >”Enjoy.”
  115. >That’s what he had said.
  116.  
  117. >you only look for a few seconds before a chill runs up your spine
  118. >you aren’t even sure exactly why
  119. >you look away, and look back down to the pony on your porch
  120.  
  121. >the little thing is a not much less than 5 feet tall, including her head
  122. >she hasn’t budged an inch from where she had been standing
  123. >and she’s still not looking at you
  124. >you look down to the leash in your hand
  125.  
  126. >finally, you shake off the uneasy feelings and speak your first words to her
  127. >”Come on, let’s get you inside…”
  128.  
  129. >You give a very gentle tug on the leash
  130. >she doesn’t speak a word, but her head lifts up momentarily when you pull the leash
  131. >then, she wordlessly takes a step forward through your front door
  132.  
  133. >you walk backwards, watching her closely
  134. >she’s staring at the hardwood floor
  135. >her hooves clop noisily on the hard surface
  136. >the way she walks is a little draggy
  137. >the tips of her petite hooves slightly scraping the floor with each step
  138.  
  139. >and lastly, you notice one more thing about you brand new little pony
  140. >she’s shivering.
  141. >Not the kind of shivering when you’re cold, oh no.
  142. >the kind of shivering someone does when they’re terrified
  143.  
  144. >For a second, the two of you stand there in silence
  145. >and your thoughts begin to race
  146.  
  147. >you let go of the leash
  148. >The pony’s ears perk up, for a moment
  149. >but then they droop back down
  150.  
  151. >the silence is awful
  152. >painfully awkward
  153. >you decide to break it, since this pony is obviously incredibly shy
  154.  
  155. “Hello, I’m Anon. What’s your name?”
  156.  
  157. >You speak with a cordial tone
  158. >trying to lighten the mood
  159. >it doesn’t work
  160.  
  161. >The pony remains silent for a few moments
  162. >she’s staring at the floor
  163. >her hooves are shivering as she stands motionless
  164. >you don’t push her, giving her plenty of time
  165. >and eventually, she answers
  166.  
  167. “I-I’m Applejack, master.”
  168.  
  169. >her voice has a familiar country twang to it
  170. >being down south, it fits right in
  171. >but she says her own name with a wince
  172.  
  173. >however, that’s not the main thing you notice
  174. >did you hear that right?
  175.  
  176. “Uhh… did you just call me ‘master’?
  177.  
  178. >you ask her timidly
  179. >not threatening in any way
  180. >or so you thought
  181.  
  182. >the blonde-maned pony’s eyes grow wide
  183. >she suddenly looks up at you
  184. >and her lip is quivering
  185. >she speaks with a stammer and shortness of breath
  186.  
  187. “Oh, I-I’m real sorry! I didn’t know you w-wanted to be called something else…”
  188.  
  189. >she slinks back a little bit
  190. >flinches away from your gaze
  191.  
  192. >your confusion, however, only magnifies
  193. >so does your worry
  194. >what was the matter with this pony?
  195.  
  196. >brow furrowed, you address her again
  197.  
  198. “Yeaah... you can just call me Anon. Here, how about I just get this collar and leash off of you?”
  199.  
  200. >you take one, cautious step forward
  201. >this pony looks like she’s ready to bolt, the way she’s shying away from you
  202. >you kneel down and gently take hold of the collar
  203. >your fingers gently brush the muscles in her neck
  204. >they are hard as a rock
  205.  
  206. >but you also can see her ribs from close up
  207. >they aren’t bulging out, but you can definitely see them
  208. >you grimace
  209.  
  210. “Hey… are you hungry, Applejack? I’ve got plenty of food for you. Fruits, veggies, greens, eggs…”
  211.  
  212. >you cough to clear your throat
  213. >you fiddle with the buckle on the collar and pull the fabric out of the loop
  214. >once it’s off, you drop it on the floor
  215. >Applejack isn’t responding to you
  216. >so, you ask the question again
  217.  
  218. “Um, Applejack? Do you want lunch?”
  219.  
  220. >You scoot back, and stand up
  221. >but you hunch over and put your hands on your knees
  222. >you try to look her in the face, but she’s not looking back at you
  223. >your mind is going to dark places as you are beginning to piece things together
  224.  
  225. >Finally, she answers
  226. >but it’s not what you anticipated
  227.  
  228. “I-I’m… I’m allowed to eat all of that?”
  229.  
  230. >for the first time since she arrived, she looks up at you
  231. >there’s a tiny glimmer in her eyes
  232.  
  233. >but you must have been giving her a face by accident
  234. >because as soon as she does, she wilts, and turns her head back away from you
  235. >like she’s waiting to be struck
  236.  
  237. >this is when you start to piece things together
  238. >your mind was rejecting it as a possibility before
  239. >you didn’t want to believe it
  240. >but the emaciated look, her demeanor, the pain and fear in her voice
  241. >it all went far beyond shyness
  242. >really, it was the most obvious thing in the world
  243.  
  244. >This pony has been abused.
  245.  
  246. >You are going to have to tread very carefully.
  247. >you don’t want to draw attention to all of those horrible things she must have had to go through
  248. >at least, not yet
  249. >poor thing doesn’t look ready
  250. >so, you simply nod
  251. >and answer her softly
  252.  
  253. “Yes, Applejack. Of course, all of it. I got it just for you.”
  254.  
  255. >rather than wait for her, you decide to go to the kitchen
  256. >the way your house is, there are no walls between the living room and the kitchen
  257. >you open up the fridge and take out a carton of eggs, some cheese, a few handfuls of spinach, and a fresh apple
  258. >put them down on the counter right in front of her
  259.  
  260. “Hey, how about I make you an omelette? Cheese and spinach sound good?”
  261.  
  262. >Applejack is still rather quiet
  263. >but she looks up at the counter, finally managing to peel her eyes away from the floor
  264. >when she sees the ingredients you’ve laid out in front of her, you once again see the spark in her eyes
  265. >just a tad of life in there
  266. >and the tips of her ears twitch upward
  267. >she inhales
  268.  
  269. “Uh… uh huh…”
  270.  
  271. >Good, because you were going to make it anyway
  272. >You don’t waste time getting started.
  273. >you pull out a pan and a bowl
  274. >start heating the stovetop and cracking the eggs into the bowl
  275. >you weren’t exactly a cook, but this was one of those things you could actually make pretty well
  276. >lots of burnt eggs along the way to mastery, though
  277. >you’re going to try extra hard today to make the best dish you can
  278.  
  279. >you look over to her and realize that she’s sitting down on the floor, now
  280. >before, she was just standing there
  281. >bracing herself
  282. >you frown at her sympathetically and point to the living room couch
  283.  
  284. “Hey, you can sit down on the couch and wait if you want, Applejack. Go ahead and make yourself feel at home!”
  285.  
  286. >you talk loudly over the sizzling in the pan
  287. >checking the pan briefly before watching her
  288. >Applejack hears you, and looks over at the sofa
  289. >her emerald eyes widen, and her jaw falls
  290. >she glances over at you, a fearful expression on her face
  291. >but you just smile at her
  292. >and point at the couch again
  293.  
  294. “Go on, it’s ok!”
  295. >Applejack once again looks over at you
  296. >she’s still very tense
  297. >but her expression, slowly, begins to relax
  298. >eventually, she slinks over to the sofa
  299. >and gingerly steps on, sitting down
  300.  
  301. >a few minutes pass, and it’s all done
  302. >and it’s a masterpiece
  303. >you’re so glad you’re able to cook something so good for her
  304. >poor thing looks like she hasn’t had something like this in…
  305. >maybe ever.
  306.  
  307. >you put her plate down on one end of the table and sit down on the other side
  308.  
  309. “Alright, it’s done! Come on and eat up. I think you’ll like it, Applejack.”
  310.  
  311. >you look over the counter, the only thing separating the living room from the kitchen
  312. >you see her still sitting there
  313. >shoulders up straight, not relaxing in the slightest
  314. >but when she hears her name, she seems to automatically get up
  315. >and she walks over to the table with that same drag in her hooves
  316. >but she does what you say like it’s an order
  317.  
  318. >steady now
  319. >you’re going to take your time with her
  320. >it’s only just beginning
  321.  
  322. ...
  323.  
  324. >Applejack looks at you warily before she sits down
  325. >with a wince
  326. >you notice, and it makes you raise your eyebrows
  327. >you put the plate with the omelette down in front of her, and a fork
  328. >you don’t know if she uses those things, what with hooves and all
  329. >but you’ll cover all your bases
  330. >not used to this pony stuff yet
  331.  
  332. >you sit down in the seat beside her
  333. >you have a cup of yogurt to eat so that things aren’t as awkward
  334. >so that you aren’t just watching her eat
  335.  
  336. >Applejack stares down at the plate
  337. >her body is still shivering
  338. >she looks like she’s in a trance, under some kind of spell
  339. >you point at the plate
  340.  
  341. “Go ahead, hon. You must be hungry. Right?”
  342.  
  343. >Applejack seems like she refuses to look at you in the eye
  344. >but she, with a little hesitation, responds in the affirmative
  345.  
  346. “Yes… I am, m-mmaster, I mean Anon! Anon….”
  347.  
  348. >she swiftly corrects herself
  349. >she must have suddenly remembered that you wanted her to call you by your name
  350. >Tears spring to her eyes
  351. >she freezes
  352.  
  353. >you see her beginning to panic
  354. >and you’re getting an idea of just how bad her past situation was
  355. >you try to dispel her fears as best as you can
  356.  
  357. “Hold on, hold on, Applejack! It’s alright, I’m not mad at you! Ok? I promise, it’s no big deal!”
  358.  
  359. >Applejack takes a hard, shaky breath
  360. >in and out
  361. >a tear falls down onto the table
  362. >she stammers
  363.  
  364. “I-I’m-m sorry…”
  365.  
  366. “That’s alright, hon. Now, please, just… eat. Ok?”
  367.  
  368. >Applejack nods
  369. >she sniffles, and slowly, she bends her head down
  370. >she takes a mouthful from on end, chews it quietly, and swallows
  371. >then, she looks over at you again
  372. >like she’s seeking approval for the next bite
  373.  
  374. >you feel her sad, fearful gaze as she stares at you
  375. >distrustingly
  376. >you smile gently
  377. >open up your yogurt cup
  378. >point at the omelette with your nose
  379.  
  380. “Go on!”
  381.  
  382. >Applejack gulps, and turns back to her plate
  383. >but then, she does something that surprises you
  384. >she eats much, MUCH more quickly
  385. >not ravenously, but close to it
  386.  
  387. >your hand freezes around your yogurt spoon watching her
  388. >she’s breathing heavily as she eats
  389. >within thirty seconds, the whole thing is gone
  390. >Applejack swallows her last bite, and her ears fold back
  391.  
  392. >you barely pay any attention to your spoon as you eat your yogurt
  393. >Applejack stares at her empty plate
  394. >screw it
  395. >you set your cup down
  396. >you weren’t hungry anyway
  397.  
  398. “Sooo, Applejack… how about I show you your room?”
  399.  
  400. >you get up from your seat
  401. >walk over to her
  402. >she finally follows you with her eyes
  403. >you gesture for her to get up
  404.  
  405. “Don’t worry, I’ll get your plate. Come on, follow me…”
  406.  
  407. >Applejack is predictably slow at first
  408. >but she nods her head silently and begins to slide out of her chair
  409.  
  410. >this time, though, you pay close attention to her face
  411. >and she winces again
  412. >you once again see some tears come up in her eyes
  413. >she sets her hooves down at a weird angle
  414. >like she’s angling herself away from you
  415.  
  416. >the alarm bells go off in your head
  417. >something is very wrong
  418. >you bite your lip
  419. >hold up your hand
  420.  
  421. “Uhh… hold up.”
  422.  
  423. >Applejack sucks in air through her nostrils
  424. >tenses up every muscle in her body
  425. >her eyes seem to pop out of her head for a moment
  426. >she looks at the floor by your feet
  427.  
  428. “Applejack… turn around.”
  429.  
  430. >Applejack’s jaw falls
  431. >and you hear a sob leave her
  432. >then, she does something that she hasn’t done in a while
  433. >she looks at you
  434. >right at you, if only for a moment
  435.  
  436. >but she does what you say
  437. >bows her head, and turns around with a sob
  438.  
  439. >when you see it, you bring a hand to your mouth
  440. >she’s trying to cover it with her tail, but it’s futile
  441.  
  442. >all up and down her legs and rear, you see numerous, violet-red stripes
  443. >they stretch across horizontally
  444. >and there’s too many of them to count
  445.  
  446. >all you can do is stare in shock
  447. >And the pony in front of you just quietly sobs
  448.  
  449. >You aren’t sure what to do next
  450.  
  451. >Applejack looks over her shoulder
  452. >tears are collecting on her chin and falling to the floor
  453. >now that she can’t hide it, she is expressing her pain more openly
  454. >and her obvious embarrassment
  455.  
  456. “I-I’m… I’m a good pony, Anon, I promise I don’t, I-I won’t give you any trouble… I swear!”
  457.  
  458. >As she continues talking, you begin to recall when your elementary school class talked about black slavery in the 1800s
  459. >something that sticks out in your mind as you realize what Applejack must believe you are thinking right now
  460. >when a potential buyer saw evidence of numerous whip scars, it was a sign that the slave was rebellious
  461. >it, in turn, decreased their valuation on the market
  462. >made them into a liability
  463.  
  464. >your heart breaks as Applejack looks at you pleadingly
  465.  
  466. “I’ll a-always do what you say, Anon! I’ll obey you…”
  467.  
  468. >that’s it
  469. >you can’t bear to hear any more
  470. >you hold up your hand to gesture for her to stop
  471. >she does, with a whimper
  472. >lowering her ears and head
  473.  
  474. >you take a long, deep breath
  475.  
  476. “Applejack, listen to me, hon. Whatever your old “master” did to you… I ain’t him. I will never, ever be him. Do you understand?”
  477.  
  478. >you do your best to keep your voice under control
  479. >you don’t want to scare her
  480. >but under the surface, you are furious
  481. >those lines, those scars
  482. >they are recent, and terrible
  483. >the skin has even been abraded enough to where there are patches that are shiny
  484. >where the skin’s surface isn’t there anymore
  485.  
  486. >Applejack is crying openly, now
  487. >she responds, almost automatically
  488.  
  489. “Yes, Anon!”
  490.  
  491. >but you can hear in her tone of voice, the fear
  492. >and you get the sense that she wasn’t fully processing what you just said
  493. >like all she heard was “do you understand”
  494. >and she said yes out of fear of further punishment
  495. >you cringe
  496.  
  497. >Applejack flinches when you step toward her
  498. >but her eyes grow wide when you get down on your knees
  499. >you do decide, however, to use her apparent will to obey you to your advantage
  500. >and give her a soft-spoken command
  501.  
  502. “Please, turn around, Applejack. Turn around and look at me.”
  503.  
  504.  
  505. >thankfully, she lowers her tail, and turns herself around
  506. >she wavers at looking up at you, but she eventually does do what you ask
  507. >her eyes glisten, a tear tracing a line through the film of dust and dirt on her face
  508. >you stay kneeling
  509. >and very carefully, you extend your hands toward her
  510. >she gasps when you place them below her jaw, and gently lift her face
  511.  
  512. “I will never, ever do what he did to you. What I just said is the honest truth, hon. Whatever horrible things he did to you, that’s all in the past. I’m not going to be like him.”
  513.  
  514. >She looks intently at you
  515. >with those massive, expressive green irises
  516. >you could almost lose yourself in them
  517. >you blink rapidly for a moment, collecting yourself
  518.  
  519. “Tell me if you understand, Applejack.”
  520.  
  521. >Applejack’s face is frozen
  522. >a tear from her cheek drips onto your wrist
  523. >Her mouth is slightly agape
  524. >and it’s clear to you that she’s truly processing what you just told her, this time
  525.  
  526. >faintly, she nods her head
  527. >you can feel her warm exhale on your wrists
  528. >releasing air she had been holding inside of her this whole time
  529.  
  530. >it’s the first sign of her relaxing, even slightly, since you got her here
  531. >you smile at her
  532. >you hope it comes across as warm and welcoming
  533.  
  534. >Applejack doesn’t smile back, but she doesn’t avert her eyes from you, either
  535. >like she has been all those times before
  536. >you can only hope that it isn’t just because you TOLD her to look at you
  537. >Either way, there is new business that you need to attend to
  538.  
  539. >and she isn’t going to enjoy it.
  540.  
  541. >you pull your hands away from her and slowly get up
  542. >Applejack’s head falls a little now that your hands aren’t propping it up
  543. >you really don’t want to say what you’re about to say
  544. >but after seeing those marks on her rear and legs, you can’t put it off
  545. >You bite your lip
  546.  
  547. “Alright. Now, Applejack… those marks are bad, hon. And I don’t want to put you through even more pain, but… we gotta clean those cuts.”
  548.  
  549.  
  550. >You wince for Applejack’s sake
  551. >this won’t be pleasant for her
  552.  
  553. >what you just said takes a moment to sink in
  554. >but once it does, the orange pony’s head shoots up
  555. >she fixes you with those huge, glistening eyes once more
  556. >breathes shallowly through her open mouth
  557.  
  558. >you can clearly see the fear making a resurgence on her features
  559. >Her back hooves are shaking a little bit, too
  560. >she’s clearly still in a good deal of pain
  561. >but with a shuddering sigh, she lowers her head at you
  562. >gives a labored nod of her head
  563. >and once more, she seems calm
  564.  
  565. “Y-yes, Anon.”
  566.  
  567. >she sniffs
  568. >wipes a tear
  569. >but she also seems resigned to it all
  570.  
  571. >that’s about as good of a reaction as you could hope for
  572. >so, you’ll get this over with now
  573. >you wave at her, motioning for her to follow you down the hallway
  574.  
  575. “Alright. Let’s get you to the bathtub. Follow me…”
  576.  
  577. ----
  578.  
  579. >Applejack is standing stock still in the doorway while you search the bathroom cabinet
  580. >sorting through the crap, you withdraw a fresh new bar of soap, still in the cardboard box
  581. >it’s nothing fancy, but it will get the job done
  582. >you don’t have any of that fancy antibiotic cream or anything
  583. >there’s also a small bottle of rubbing alcohol down there, but you aren’t going to touch that
  584. >you don’t want Applejack’s screams of agony to be heard around the neighborhood
  585. >sure, you use it sometimes on the job when the blade of a shovel or something cuts your hands, but not for something as widespread as this
  586. >poor thing wouldn’t be able to take it.
  587.  
  588. >you pop the bar of cream white soap from the box and turn on the water faucet
  589. >you run your hand beneath it until it is a comfortable lukewarm temperature
  590. >then, you motion to Applejack again
  591.  
  592. “Come on, hon. I’ll help you into the tub.”
  593.  
  594. >Applejack swallows, and slinks into the bathroom with her tail pressed tightly against her leg
  595. >she looks scared, but nothing like the terror that was on her face before
  596. >when she gets close enough, you reach under her front legs, and gently lift her up
  597.  
  598. >holy COW, she’s heavier than you thought she would be
  599. >thankfully, you’re used to lifting heavy bags of sand and hauling wheelbarrows filled with mulch and gravel
  600. >you set her down very carefully into the tub, and make sure she can stand on all four legs before letting go
  601. >you face her rear and hind legs toward the faucet
  602. >water laps up against the fetlocks of her back hooves
  603. >Applejack’s breathing hard, but she’s not resisting you
  604.  
  605. >you wince again when you see the marks
  606. >there are so many of them
  607. >some of the cuts are deeper than others
  608. >and it also doesn’t help that they’re in such a, well, embarrassing area
  609. >the wounds never appear to have been cleaned, as you expected
  610. >they’re dried out a little, but bits of dirt and grime are visible as well
  611. >honestly, her whole body could use a good bath
  612. >but you have to get this sorted first
  613. >have to give everything a thorough rinse with cool water until it’s moist and able to be cleaned
  614.  
  615. >thankfully, you have one of those detachable shower handles with a hose, the kind you can use to wash things up close
  616. >hopefully that will speed things up a little
  617.  
  618. “Ok Applejack, are you ready? I’m going to turn on the showerhead.”
  619.  
  620. >Applejack gasps lightly
  621. >she looks over her shoulder
  622. >takes a long look at the showerhead in your hand
  623. >like she was trying to verify that you really WERE going to do what you said you were doing
  624. >when she sees it, she swallows, and turns back around
  625.  
  626. >She nods her head, and you see her flick her tail away completely
  627. >keeping it off to the side
  628. >She also raises one of her front legs, and braces herself against the opposite wall with it
  629.  
  630. “Y-Yeah. I’m ready, Anon.”
  631.  
  632. >It’s only just occurring to you now, however, how vulnerable Applejack is right now
  633. >you know this has to feel awkward for her
  634. >after all, you can kind of see everything right now
  635. >with a normal animal, you wouldn’t think anything of it
  636. >not even with a normal horse, or a pony
  637. >but a pony that can talk?
  638. >That was different
  639. >certainly more different than you were hoping it would feel.
  640.  
  641. >you push it out of your mind, however, when you realize that you have kept Applejack waiting for nearly ten extra seconds
  642. >so, you jerk the shower diverter on and point it at the bathtub wall
  643. >after all, you don’t want to startle her with a sudden rush of cool water
  644. >you want this to be as comfortable for her as you can make it
  645.  
  646. >the water shoots out with a gurgle and a hiss
  647. >Just from that sound alone, she jumps a little
  648. >but she settles back down quick, exhaling sharply
  649.  
  650. >you start with her right side, working from top to bottom
  651. >that way, everything will all flow down hill, so to speak
  652. >but when the lukewarm jets of water make contact with her damaged skin, Applejack winces audibly
  653. >she bends her bracing leg a little, closing her eyes
  654. >but she isn’t giving you any trouble as you work the water down slowly, watching some of the dirt and grime go down the drain
  655. >you are honestly appalled by how dark the water is beginning to look
  656. >Applejack may very well get an infection if you aren’t thorough enough
  657.  
  658. >you go over the whole right side three times before switching to the other side
  659. >this time, Applejack’s legs and rear tense up, and she hisses from between clenched teeth
  660. >the water pressure must be a little high
  661. >but with how scabbed over some of these marks are, and how much dirt seems to be pressed deeply in, you have to have it that way
  662.  
  663. >all the while, you are making a good effort to avoid the region directly below her tail
  664. >if anything, you have to get that part dead last, and only if she lets you
  665. >and only if you can stomach it
  666.  
  667. >once the regions are rinsed well, you can see the skin beginning to moisten and the marks getting a little bit brighter in color
  668. >the wounds are more open, now, but that also means they’re going to hurt more, too
  669. >but that’s unavoidable
  670.  
  671. >you reach down to the floor of the tub, and pick up the bar of now-lathered soap that you let sit in the pooling water, and grab a washcloth from a hook up on the wall
  672. >now it’s time for the even less pleasant part of this whole debacle
  673. >it’s not rubbing alcohol, but you know that this is still going to sting a lot
  674. >but it has to be done
  675.  
  676. >you lean your head forward
  677.  
  678. “Alright, Applejack. I gotta use the soap, now. You ready?”
  679.  
  680. ...
  681.  
  682. >Applejack shivers
  683. >she turns her head, and her eyes lock onto the bar of soap
  684. >she hesitates, but her head nods again
  685.  
  686. “Yes, I-I’m ready Anon.”
  687.  
  688. >then, she lifts up her other hoof, and presses that one against the wall, too
  689. >she hides her head in between her hooves, bracing herself
  690. >you wipe the bar of soap onto the washcloth, and give it a thorough covering layer
  691. >and then, not making her wait any longer, you start again from the top, pressing the soapy cloth deeply into the grooves of each mark
  692.  
  693. “Ah… Ahh, ah! Ow...”
  694.  
  695. >Applejack winces, and a shiver travels up her spine
  696. >She gasps and vocalizes softly into her hooves, but the hard walls echo it around the room
  697. >you have to ignore it
  698. >this is for the best
  699. >you are very methodical, making sure you trace every mark you see
  700. >the suds are turning darker in color, too
  701.  
  702. >Applejack is still holding on, but you can hear her crying softly
  703. >her back hooves sometimes slosh the water when she raises and lowers them, trying to cope with the intense stinging pain
  704. >you once again, however, stay away from the place under her tail and between her legs
  705. >move past it, and slowly progress down her leg
  706. >until the whole surface of her right buttock and thigh is covered in suds
  707. >then, you rinse it all out with lukewarm water once again
  708.  
  709. >a tear or two mixes in with the water in the tub as Applejack holds in sobs
  710. >the poor thing is only halfway done, too
  711. >you rinse out the cloth twice with water, and reapply the soap
  712. >then, you begin working on the other side
  713.  
  714. “Ah! Ow, ow, ahh!”
  715.  
  716. >this time, Applejack is louder than before
  717. >she bends both of her front hooves, like she’s trying to pull her rear end away from you
  718. >you continue cleaning, however, which draws a sob from her throat
  719.  
  720. >you grimace
  721. >lowering your voice, you speak with a tone of gentle understanding
  722.  
  723. “It’s gonna be ok, Applejack. Just stay strong, stay still, you can do it…”
  724.  
  725. >still vocalizing, she gives a small stamp of her left rear hoof
  726. >splashing the water a bit
  727. >trying to do something to help distract herself
  728. >but hearing what you said, she unbends her front legs, and obediently moves back to where she was before
  729. >she mutters out a nearly-whispered apology
  730.  
  731. “S-s-sorry, Anon…”
  732.  
  733. “That’s ok. I’m working as fast as I can, hon.”
  734.  
  735. >It will be over soon.
  736.  
  737. ...
  738.  
  739. >You do eventually make it all the way down her leg
  740. >Applejack is trying so hard to stay still, but her legs are shivering and shaking constantly
  741. >but when you start to rinse it all off, she begins to breathe a little easier
  742. >and her muscles relax
  743. >welcoming the cooling jets of water washing over the constant burn of stinging soap
  744.  
  745. >the long slashes across her rump and legs are a different color than they were
  746. >the water finally lost its grayish brown color as it ran down her legs
  747. >you still grimace when you take a long look at the damage
  748. >but at least it can now heal properly, with some heavy bandages and gauze tape
  749. >your work, at least on this part of her body, is finally done
  750. >you smile
  751.  
  752. “Alright, Applejack. That’s the end of that, ok? You did great.”
  753.  
  754. >Applejack nods faintly, but keeps her face hidden in between her hooves, which remain propped up against the wall
  755. >you leave the showerhead running, angling it down
  756. >you rinse off the washcloth again, and reapply the soap for a third time
  757. >business hasn’t concluded just yet, but at least the worst part is finally done...
  758.  
  759. “A...An-non?”
  760.  
  761. >suddenly, you hear Applejack’s voice peep out, that soft country twang of hers coming through once again
  762. >You freeze, holding the washcloth in your hand
  763. >well, that was unexpected
  764. >the first time she’s actually initiated anything with you
  765. >hopefully, this is because she’s starting to trust you, even just a little bit
  766.  
  767. >she also seems aware of the fact that she’s never addressed you before now, too
  768. >her voice cracks with timidity, like she’s expecting you to rebuke her for addressing you first
  769. >the thought that she would be so scared of something as simple as that...
  770. >it honestly makes you furious on the inside
  771. >but you keep your cool
  772. >you’re going to make sure that she knows that initiating conversation is perfectly ok
  773. >so, you reply, very casually
  774.  
  775. “Yes, Applejack? Is everything alright?”
  776.  
  777. >Applejack sniffs through clogged nostrils
  778. >she must have a runny nose after all that crying
  779. >the poor thing
  780.  
  781. >she stammers out what she says next
  782. >this time, she doesn’t even look over her shoulder
  783. >but you can still see part of her face
  784. >and it’s gone from orange to furious, scarlet red
  785. >and the corners of her lips are curled downward in a fearful frown
  786. >she keeps her position, like she isn’t daring to budge unless you tell her it’s ok, first
  787.  
  788. “Are you… are you gonna w-wash me… down there, too?”
  789.  
  790. >Oh shit.
  791.  
  792.  
  793. >firstly, you take note of the nervousness in her voice
  794. >it’s very clear that she isn’t asking because she actually WANTS you to
  795. >and to be honest, you were considering not doing it
  796. >she may be a pony, but she’s not some mindless animal
  797.  
  798. >but at the same time, you know that if it were you bathing yourself, you would want that spot cleaned, too
  799. >hell, ESPECIALLY that spot
  800. >but you also don’t want her to feel like you’re violating her
  801. >so, you sigh, and ask her the big question
  802.  
  803. “Well… be honest with me, Applejack. Would you be ok with it?”
  804.  
  805. >you wait for a reply
  806. >Applejack is thinking it through
  807. >glancing in your direction
  808. >you get the sense that she’s feeling you out
  809. >err, so to speak
  810. >trying to figure out if she trusts you enough
  811. >well, she understandably has issues with that, even though you’ve been nothing but nice to her
  812. >you wouldn’t blame her if she said no
  813.  
  814. >and come to think of it, you kind of want her to say no…
  815.  
  816. “I… I am.”
  817.  
  818. >aaand that was not the answer you were expecting
  819. >you can practically feel the static in the air with how awkward the situation just got
  820. >you close your eyes, bite your lips
  821. >And when you open them, her nethers are right there
  822.  
  823. >Applejack says no more
  824. >she’s closing her eyes, too
  825. >but you notice, with a strange, bubbling feeling building in your stomach, that she seems to extend her bracing legs even more
  826. >pushes her rear out, and lowers her front
  827. >and spreads her legs wider
  828.  
  829. >you grip the soapy washcloth in your hand a little tighter
  830. >she’s actually trying to make it easier for you
  831. >you have to say, you never expected to be in a situation like this with her
  832. >but here you are
  833. >you don’t want to do this, really
  834.  
  835. >but at the same time, you find yourself… flattered
  836. >in a really weird way
  837. >only a minute before, she was afraid you were going to hit her for just asking a question
  838. >and now, she trusts you this much?
  839. >quite a huge switch
  840.  
  841. “Well… if you say so. Just… lemme know if you need me to stop. At any time. Ok?
  842.  
  843. >Applejack nods
  844.  
  845. “Yes, Anon. I, I understand.”
  846.  
  847. >good
  848. >as long as she understands that, you’re just okay enough with this whole thing to do it
  849. >you take a moment to overcome your hesitation
  850. >remind yourself that she’s ok with this
  851. >and that it needs to be done
  852. >it needs to be done...
  853.  
  854. >You bunch up the washcloth and pinch it between your four fingers
  855. >angle the softest part outward
  856. >and at last, you press it firmly onto the folds of her most private place
  857.  
  858. >you feel her do a little jolt when you make contact
  859. >but she quickly relaxes
  860. >not hearing a demand for you to stop, you begin to rub the washcloth downward
  861. >pressing down firmly enough to actually do some good
  862. >you don’t scrub back and forth, but rather, you trace a single vertical line in the same direction
  863. >you feel the muscles tensing and contracting beneath your fingers, even through the cloth
  864. >Applejack is breathing hard through her nose
  865. >but she’s not telling you to stop
  866.  
  867. >so you continue
  868. >pushing away… well, any thoughts whatsoever about what you’re actually doing right now
  869. >you cringe when you see the suds, like before, turning darker in color
  870. >it really is more than a little gross, but you feel terrible for Applejack
  871. >having such a part of her body be dirty can’t be comfortable
  872. >listening to her carefully, making sure you aren’t doing anything painful, you begin to focus your attentions on the right fold
  873. >through a thick layer of washcloth, you trace down the outer lip
  874. >that’s when you hear Applejack gasp
  875.  
  876. “Ah…”
  877.  
  878. >your hand stops dead in its tracks
  879.  
  880. “You alright, hon?”
  881.  
  882. ...
  883.  
  884. >Applejack’s ribs rise and fall rapidly
  885. >she’s trying to keep her breathing under control
  886. >trying to keep quiet while you do your work
  887. >she nods
  888.  
  889. “Y-yes, Anon, I’m fine. It’s just… it’s real sensitive.”
  890.  
  891. >you frown
  892. >the air around you feels charged
  893. >so tense
  894.  
  895. “Like… in a painful way, orr…”
  896.  
  897. >She shakes her head, this time
  898. >and exhales sharply
  899.  
  900. “N-no, the… other way...”
  901.  
  902. >Oh.
  903.  
  904. “Oh.”
  905.  
  906. >Applejack’s back shivers, but she remains exactly where she is
  907. >meanwhile, you’re not sure what to do, now
  908. >you were kind of hoping that this would be one of those unpleasant things that you do and get over with, and hopefully forget about
  909. >I mean, you’re glad she’s not in pain and all
  910. >but you’d almost prefer a little more of that, over…
  911. >fuck, this is so awkward.
  912. >Fuck.
  913.  
  914. “So… do you want me to stop, or…”
  915.  
  916. >Applejack sighs
  917. >her tail twitches
  918. >then, she shakes her head
  919.  
  920. “No, no… no, Anon. It’s ok.”
  921.  
  922. >well, at least she doesn’t sound TOO enthusiastic
  923. >after all, you need to clean her, not… stimulate her.
  924. >damn, you should’ve just said no
  925.  
  926. “If you’re sure, Applejack… I’m gonna keep going, ok?”
  927.  
  928. >she says nothing
  929. >whatever
  930. >you push your thoughts aside once more and, with the same diligence as before, you finish scrubbing the right side
  931. >Applejack fortunately doesn’t seem to make much noise as you trace down the left side of her nethers
  932. >scrubbing it kind of like how you would wipe the dust from a guitar string
  933. >luckily, your efforts do not seem to be pointless
  934. >she’s definitely getting cleaner
  935.  
  936. >now, for the final part
  937. >you bunch up the washcloth once again, and flatten your fingers inside of it
  938. >and, swallowing, you begin to clean the inner folds
  939. >it’s the last part, thank God
  940. >you feel like a total perve, but you don’t linger long
  941.  
  942. >but Applejack is feeling it, for sure
  943. >her right rear leg twitches, sloshing in the water some more
  944. >she gives a gasp, and for just a short moment, her vocal chords crack
  945. >as soon as that happens, it’s out with your hand
  946.  
  947. >once you pull it away, you swear that you can see her rump move back
  948. >jutting out even more, like it’s following the direction of your hand
  949. >but she pulls it back a second later
  950.  
  951. >you pick up the showerhead again, which has been idly shooting water all over the floor of the bathtub
  952. >and you rinse the whole spot, making sure that every single sud is washed away
  953.  
  954. >as soon as the water hits, though, Applejack makes the loudest sound yet
  955. >like a hiccup, but sharper
  956. >you decide that you aren’t going to ask
  957.  
  958. >but then, something happens that draws your full attention
  959. >at the bottom of her nethers, right at the tip of her vagina, a pinkish red spot suddenly pops out
  960. >goes back in
  961. >then pops back out again
  962.  
  963. >it keeps doing this, over and over again
  964. >you aren’t sure what to make of it
  965. >but it’s not like you’re going to ask your new pony what it is, either
  966. >”Hey, what’s wrong with your vagina?”
  967. >Jesus H. Christ…
  968.  
  969. >once you stop rinsing her, however, it stops
  970. >and Applejack’s whole body does a little lurch forward
  971. >a harsh exhale leaves her, a pent up breath that hadn’t been released until now
  972.  
  973. >and so concludes the most awkward situation you have ever been in all your life
  974. >both for you and, probably at least, for Applejack
  975. >you give the washcloth and extra thorough rinse, this time before you reapply the soap
  976. >you speak softly to Applejack, but still loudly enough to be audible over the background hiss of water
  977.  
  978. “Alright, hon, we’re done with that. Now, I know you’re probably sick of standing there so long, but I’m just gonna get the whole rest of you now, ok?”
  979.  
  980. >Applejack huffs and puffs
  981. >you notice out of the corner of your eye, that the thing pop in and out of her mare folds, again
  982. >but she answers you right away
  983.  
  984. >Yes, yes An-non, I… I’ll stay right here, Anon.”
  985.  
  986. >good, you think
  987. >she’s still cooperating, just like she always has been
  988. >even though you just basically fondled her
  989. >glad she’s so understanding
  990. >but you can’t help but give a little chuckle when you realize that she’s still in the same, bent over position
  991. >you clear your throat
  992.  
  993. “Um, hey Applejack… you can just stand up regular, now, hon.”
  994.  
  995. >her reaction is a little bit priceless
  996. >she gasps, redness on her face
  997. >starts to scramble
  998. >it’s a little difficult to do in a slippery tub, but she manages to put her front hooves back down and bring her back legs together
  999. >she starts to stutter, retracing her words
  1000.  
  1001. “Oh, I uh… yes, Anon, yes, I-I’m just… just gimme just a s… sorry, Anon…”
  1002.  
  1003. “That’s alright, hon. Now, just do what you’ve been doing, and let me work. You’re going to be clean as a whistle by the time I’m done!”
  1004.  
  1005. >with a little blush on her face, she simply nods wordlessly
  1006. >she gives a little smile, even though it fades shortly afterward
  1007.  
  1008. >it’s the happiest expression you’ve ever seen her make.
  1009.  
  1010. >with determination, and breathing a sigh of relief, you get to work.
  1011.  
  1012.  
  1013. >it still felt a little awkward, you won’t lie
  1014. >but bathing the rest of her, after THAT, felt like nothing
  1015. >when you finally finish rinsing her off, her orange coat looks a lot like it did in the picture
  1016. >bright, smooth, and soft
  1017.  
  1018. >unfortunately, washing her also reveals some other things
  1019. >a mixture of things you hadn’t noticed before, and things that were covered up before
  1020. >smaller, shallower scars scattered over her frame, as well as a good number of bruises
  1021. >this pony’s former master…
  1022. >you’d like to wrap your hands around his neck
  1023.  
  1024. >you dry her off, but take care not to touch her rear and thighs
  1025. >you don’t want pieces of fabric finding their way into the wounds
  1026. >that’s just going to have to drip dry
  1027. >you leave her for a moment, and search the bathroom cabinet again
  1028. >you find some gauze, but you give a low groan when you realize that it isn’t going to be enough
  1029. >you also don’t have any medical tape
  1030. >jesus, you probably should have checked that BEFORE you deep cleaned her… everything
  1031. >you’re in a bit of a pickle right now
  1032. >there’s a pharmacy only a five minute drive away from your house
  1033. >but you can’t take Applejack with you
  1034. >there’s no way
  1035. >you don’t want those scars to be seen in public
  1036. >and besides, you aren’t going to let her go anywhere at all while those things aren’t covered up
  1037.  
  1038. >but you can’t just leave her here at home, either
  1039. >not without supervision, that is…
  1040. >or… can you?
  1041.  
  1042. >you try to find another way, but it’s starting to become clear
  1043. >you’re probably making a huge mistake
  1044. >but you can’t see how else you’re going to do this
  1045.  
  1046. >you fix Applejack with a serious stare
  1047. >she’s not looking directly at you at first, but when she notices you staring at her, she jerks her head sideways to look back at you
  1048. >that instant, she folds her ears back
  1049. >and she seizes up
  1050.  
  1051. >you show her the half-used roll of gauze
  1052.  
  1053. “Hey, hon. I just checked the cabinet to get you some dressing for the wounds on you, but… I don’t have what I need.”
  1054.  
  1055. >Applejack’s face, steadily, relaxes a bit
  1056. >when she hears your tone of voice, you think she realizes that you aren’t cross with her
  1057. >jeez, your stare must have been angry looking
  1058. >you’ll have to work on that
  1059. >ahem
  1060.  
  1061. “So… I’m gonna have to go up to the store and get some stuff. It’s only five minutes away. So, Applejack…”
  1062.  
  1063. >you point at the placemat below her hooves
  1064.  
  1065. “I’m gonna need you to stay put while I’m gone. Ok?”
  1066.  
  1067. >Applejack, her face timid and fearful before, suddenly goes blank
  1068. >looks at you with this expression of “wait, what?”
  1069. >but she glances down at the placemat
  1070. >and when she looks back at you, she nods resolutely
  1071.  
  1072. “Yes, Anon. I won’t leave this spot, I promise.”
  1073.  
  1074. >you hear her enthusiasm
  1075. >or… whatever it is
  1076. >come to think of it, you honestly don’t doubt her, either
  1077. >poor thing probably still thinks you’ll take a belt to her or something if she moves
  1078. >but you’ll use her irrational fear to your advantage this time
  1079.  
  1080. >you nod back at her, and smile
  1081.  
  1082. “Ok, good. Thank you, Applejack. I’ll be back very soon, don’t worry!”
  1083.  
  1084. >you wave goodbye, and close the door slowly
  1085. >she doesn’t wave back
  1086. >but that’s ok.
  1087. >you know she’s going to be ok.
  1088.  
  1089.  
  1090. >your truck is a piece of shit.
  1091. >no really, it’s fucking garbage
  1092. >the whole back seat section is filled with half-empty bags of organic fertilizer, hardwood mulch, stone fragments, old fast food bags, a toolbox…
  1093. >you’re pretty sure Applejack would get an infection just being near this thing
  1094. >whatever happens, you made the right call
  1095.  
  1096. >you arrive at the pharmacy
  1097. >it takes you five minutes by itself just to find the stuff
  1098. >damn, gauze is expensive
  1099. >so is special first aid tape
  1100. >but it’s worth every penny if it means you can help this poor pony out
  1101. >fuck it, you get a tube of antibiotic ointment, too
  1102. >you really hope it won’t sting
  1103. >but you have to keep the region moist
  1104. >otherwise, the scars won’t heal as well or as quickly
  1105.  
  1106. >you make a beeline to the car once you’ve paid for them
  1107. >plastic bag in your hand
  1108. >you hop in the driver’s seat and toss the bag in the passenger’s side
  1109.  
  1110. >you back up quickly, in a hurry to get home…
  1111.  
  1112. >and then, you see a flash of headlights from behind and to the right of you
  1113. >which is followed by a thundering CRUNCH of metal
  1114. >And your head jerks to the side, before whiplashing back the other direction
  1115.  
  1116. >it takes a moment for it to sink in what just happened
  1117. >you sit there, hands gripping the wheel
  1118. >white knuckled
  1119. >and then, once you understand what just occurred, you swear
  1120. >loudly
  1121.  
  1122. “FUCK! FUCKING, FUCK GOD DAMN IT, SHIT PISS FFFFUCK!”
  1123.  
  1124. ...
  1125.  
  1126.  
  1127. >the police were slow to the scene
  1128. >you told the guy driving the other truck that he could have your info, and he could back with you
  1129. >it was your fault, after all
  1130. >but nooo, he had to get the police
  1131.  
  1132. >well, you had looked over to his truck
  1133. >and you sighed with relative relief when you realized that it’s a piece of shit, too
  1134. >and the damage is quite minor
  1135. >at least your payment out of pocket wouldn’t be TOO exorbitant
  1136. >you hope
  1137. >but your premium is gonna go up, for sure
  1138. >damn it, you really wanted to save up some more spending money from your jobs this summer
  1139. >but life gives you lemons, and all that shit
  1140.  
  1141. >the dent from tonight honestly blends in with the rest of your jalopy
  1142. >you’re just glad you can drive home
  1143.  
  1144. >you check your watch
  1145. >and swear again
  1146. >it’s been almost two goddamn hours
  1147. >you told her it would take you what, five minutes? Ten minutes there and back?
  1148. >this is horrible.
  1149.  
  1150. >You rush to the front door, fumbling with the keys
  1151. >you just hope Applejack hasn’t thought the worst
  1152. >you hope she’s still there…
  1153.  
  1154. >you throw the door open and jog inside, heading right for the bathroom with the plastic bag of gauze and cream in your hand
  1155.  
  1156. “Applejack! I’m back, hon, I’m back! I’m so sorry...”
  1157.  
  1158. >You reach the bathroom door
  1159. >you see that it’s still closed
  1160. >you turn the knob and slam it open
  1161.  
  1162. “Ah! AHH! Ah…”
  1163.  
  1164. >and there she is
  1165. >lying down on the placemat on the floor
  1166. >or, at least, she WAS lying down
  1167. >but she jolts awake when the door swings open
  1168. >practically jumps in the air, and thumps into the wall of the bathtub behind her
  1169. >her sharp, terrified scream echoes around the bathroom
  1170. >and it’s soon followed by heavy, labored breathing
  1171.  
  1172. >she stares up at you with her pupils wide as saucers
  1173. >her ears pin down on her head, and she seems to try and melt into the bathtub wall
  1174.  
  1175. >well, now you feel like an idiot
  1176. >you had to just crash into the room, didn’t you?
  1177. >it’s not like the poor thing wasn’t already scared enough
  1178. >you quickly get down on one knee, and hold the bag forward, toward her cowering frame
  1179.  
  1180. “Hey, hey, it’s me, Applejack! It’s Anon!”
  1181.  
  1182. >you reach into the plastic bag and pull out the gauze, tape, and tube of cream
  1183. >you set them down at your feet, right in front of her
  1184. >then, you stick the bag in the trash can
  1185. >all the while, you’re looking at her
  1186. >taking in the fear you see in her eyes
  1187. >it’s heartbreaking
  1188. >you try to calm her down
  1189.  
  1190. “See? I got the stuff. I’m gonna be able to get your marks covered up, now. Applejack?”
  1191.  
  1192. >she looks like she’s in a bit of shock
  1193. >her eyes are still huge, but at least she’s not heaving as much
  1194. >then, as the seconds tick by, you finally see her release the tension in her muscles
  1195. >you also see a few tears spill right out of her eyes and plop onto the tile floor
  1196.  
  1197. >you keep talking to her, making sure your voice is calm, clear, and soft
  1198.  
  1199. “I’m sorry, so sorry I took so long, hon. I just… I got into a car accident. It wasn’t a big one, but I had to wait for the police, and… gosh, I’m so sorry, Applejack.”
  1200.  
  1201. >she makes no reply other than a sniffle
  1202. >she covers up her face partway with her hoof
  1203. >she begins to whisper something, but she closes her mouth before scarcely a syllable gets out
  1204.  
  1205. >you lean your head forward
  1206.  
  1207. “Applejack? What is it, hon?”
  1208.  
  1209.  
  1210. >she shivers
  1211. >continues to face the wall
  1212.  
  1213. “I-I thought… you were mad, c-cuz I was sleeping…”
  1214.  
  1215. >she stutters, and squirms uncomfortably
  1216. >you shake your head, gritting your teeth together
  1217. >your heart aches just hearing that
  1218.  
  1219. “Oh, no, no, Applejack! Why would I get angry over something like that? Besides, I’m the one who left you here for two hours… and I’m really sorry I slammed that door open, ok? I know it must have startled you.”
  1220.  
  1221. >Applejack finally dares to look at you
  1222. >you try to give her a warm smile
  1223. >hope to calm her down, make her realize you aren’t going to hurt her
  1224.  
  1225. >and, for once, it seems to work
  1226. >she lowers her hoof, showing the rest of her tearstained face
  1227.  
  1228. >now that she has calmed down, you pick up the gauze, tape, and antibiotic cream
  1229. >she looks at your hands warily, but seems to know that whatever it is, it’s going onto her
  1230. >god, you really hope this cream doesn’t burn…
  1231.  
  1232. “Ok, hon. I’m gonna need you stand up and stay still for me, ok?”
  1233.  
  1234. ----
  1235.  
  1236. >it’s a lot harder to apply all of this stuff than you you thought it would be
  1237. >thankfully, the antibiotic cream doesn’t sting when you put it on
  1238. >Applejack still braced herself against the wall anyway, though
  1239. >she actually seemed a little surprised when she realized that it didn’t hurt when you applied it
  1240. >poor girl probably thought you were going to make even more pain for her
  1241.  
  1242. >wrapping the gauze around her rump and affixing it on both of her flanks with the tape wasn’t easy, either
  1243. >you had to avoid putting gauze over either of her private spots, so you did vertical strips of gauze beside them instead
  1244. >once you got down to her legs, it was a lot less awkward, though
  1245. >it kind of looks weird once you’re finished
  1246. >but hey, it got the job done
  1247. >all finished, now
  1248. >now, it just needs to heal
  1249.  
  1250. >you put away what’s left of the cream, tape, and gauze under the bathroom sink
  1251. >then, you scoot yourself around to get a better look at her face, which is hidden between her hooves
  1252. >she’s still bracing herself
  1253. >you clear your throat
  1254.  
  1255. “Ok, Applejack. It’s all done.”
  1256.  
  1257. >she lifts up her head, and sighs deeply
  1258. >then, this time without you having to remind her, she takes her hooves off the wall
  1259. >stands up straight
  1260. >you smile
  1261.  
  1262. “You did great, hon. Thank you so much for cooperating all this time, even though I know it hurt a lot…”
  1263.  
  1264. >she nods her head, and bows it down
  1265. >she’s still not looking directly at you, but she does turn her body a little bit
  1266. >facing the corner to your right
  1267.  
  1268. >it suddenly occurs to you that she never seems to look right at you
  1269. >barely a glance every now and then, but that’s it
  1270. >unless you tell her to, that is
  1271. >you’ll have to work on that later
  1272. >for now, you have to tell her a few things
  1273. >and you might as well tell her to look at you while you say them
  1274.  
  1275. “Hey, look at me for a minute, hon.”
  1276.  
  1277. >Applejack’s eyes get bigger for a moment, and her ears twitch
  1278. >but, just like every other time you’ve told her to do something, she does it with little hesitation
  1279. >you stay kneeling, not wanting to tower over her in a domineering way
  1280.  
  1281. “Good. Now, those scars are going to take time to heal, ok? So, I need you not to touch those bandages, be very careful if you want to sit down, and not exert yourself too much, ok? Those bandages need to stay on.”
  1282.  
  1283. >you give her the instructions with a level voice
  1284. >firmly enough, but there’s no need to “hammer it in”
  1285. >she does nothing less than try her best to remember everything you told her
  1286. >sure enough, she replies in a grave tone
  1287.  
  1288. “Yes, Anon. I understand.”
  1289.  
  1290. >you inwardly fist pump
  1291. >well, now that’s settled
  1292. >this long, horribly awkward cleaning session is over
  1293. >and now, you’re gonna help this mare out in any way that you can
  1294. >you can’t wait for what you’re going to show her next
  1295. >even the thought of the car accident only hours before seems to fade in your mind
  1296.  
  1297. >you wave her toward you
  1298. >she understands the silent gesture, and approaches you, but stays at a distance
  1299.  
  1300. “Ok, Applejack. Let me show you your new room!”
  1301.  
  1302. ------
  1303.  
  1304. >It’s right down the hall
  1305. >conveniently close to the bathroom
  1306. >it’s not a big room, and not a big bed
  1307. >but somehow, you doubt that will be a problem
  1308.  
  1309. >Applejack follows you at a short distance, maybe two feet
  1310. >so when you open the door to her room, she doesn’t automatically go in
  1311. >you have to point inside
  1312.  
  1313. “Come on, take a look!”
  1314.  
  1315. >Applejack purses her lips together, and nods silently
  1316. >she slinks up to you, standing on the other side of the doorway, watching you closely
  1317. >jeez, it’s like she’s expecting you to kick her if she fails some kind of test you’re giving her, or something
  1318. >you take a step back and give her all the room she needs
  1319.  
  1320. >she steps into the doorway
  1321. >and freezes
  1322.  
  1323. >you look down at her
  1324. >the seconds tick by
  1325. >and holy cow, she’s still not moving
  1326.  
  1327. >eventually, you see her front legs shake
  1328. >you’re about to say something, ask her if something is wrong
  1329. >you even look in the room with her
  1330. >half expecting some horror you weren’t aware of to be residing in the room
  1331. >I mean, you haven’t used this room in a while, so…”
  1332.  
  1333. “I… have a bed?”
  1334.  
  1335. >she asks the question in a mutter
  1336. >barely above a whisper
  1337. >she chokes on the word “bed”
  1338.  
  1339. >your heart flutters in your chest
  1340. >god, this hurts...
  1341. >you nod
  1342.  
  1343. “Yes, Applejack. It’s all yours!”
  1344.  
  1345. >she continues to stand there
  1346. >and stare
  1347. >and stare…
  1348. >just… in shock
  1349. >She hiccups
  1350.  
  1351. “But… I haven’t done anything yet…”
  1352.  
  1353. >she sounds so surprised
  1354. >and now, you can’t help smiling
  1355. >but that smile quickly turns into a grimace
  1356. >she’s so shocked that she gets to sleep in a bed…
  1357.  
  1358. >thinks she has to “earn” something so basic
  1359. >something you take for granted
  1360.  
  1361. >something happens to you
  1362. >you have an urge to do something that you were hesitant to do before
  1363. >Applejack is standing right next to you
  1364. >your hand is right there behind her head
  1365.  
  1366. >you bite your lip
  1367. >tense your whole body, hoping she won’t freak out
  1368.  
  1369. “It’s alright, hon.”
  1370.  
  1371. >you reach out, and put your hand on her head
  1372. >as expected, she tenses up
  1373. >gasps
  1374. >and her eyes dart over to you for an instant
  1375. >but you don’t withdraw your hand
  1376.  
  1377. >instead, you slowly brush over her mane with your hand, down the length of her neck
  1378. >feel her vertebrae faintly sticking out through her skin
  1379. >you wince, but you don’t stop
  1380. >you pet her several more times
  1381. >and she doesn’t move
  1382.  
  1383. >but then, something happens that chills your blood
  1384. >you’ll never forget it
  1385.  
  1386. “Ohh… I understand, An-non, I… wh-where do you want me?”
  1387.  
  1388. >your hand stops mid pet
  1389. >this time, you don’t just think it
  1390. >it slips out of your mouth in a low whisper
  1391.  
  1392. “Oh… oh shit…”
  1393.  
  1394. ------
  1395.  
  1396. >Applejack heard you.
  1397. >You feel her muscles twitch under her skin as she angles her ears in your direction
  1398. >when you pull your hand away, she turns her head
  1399. >a worried look on her face
  1400.  
  1401. >you hold up your hands and take a step back
  1402. >shaking your head
  1403. >you take a deep breath with eyes closed, holding your head in your hands
  1404.  
  1405. “Uhh, Applejack… I just… what…”
  1406.  
  1407. >somehow, this is the biggest bombshell yet
  1408. >even bigger than when you saw the scars across her rear and legs
  1409. >does she really mean…
  1410.  
  1411. >it gets more unbelievable
  1412. >Applejack turns around after a second of hesitation
  1413. >you hear her hoofsteps as she rotates around to face you
  1414. >then, she speaks
  1415.  
  1416. “Oh, I-I understand, m-master Anon, I… the bandages…”
  1417.  
  1418. >you hear her take a step forward
  1419. >slowly, your eyes open up, but not before you feel something that jerks you to a state of alertness
  1420. >something tugs the fabric on your pants, and then, you hear the sound of your zipper being pulled down
  1421. >heart stopping, you look down to see Applejack right there, the head of the zipper in her teeth
  1422.  
  1423. >you can’t help how your respond
  1424. >if you could do a redo, you would
  1425. >but your hands, formerly behind your head, fly down
  1426. >and sharply, you swat her snout
  1427.  
  1428. “GAH! Applejack! No, no!”
  1429.  
  1430. >you flinch as soon as your hand connects
  1431. >Applejack’s teeth come off of your zipper
  1432. >she yips, and her eyes go cross for a brief moment
  1433. >you didn’t hit her hard, but when she stumbles back, you know you didn’t have to
  1434. >you stand there in shock, reeling back yourself
  1435.  
  1436. >Applejack, thanks to the swat to her nose, has fresh new tears welling up in her eyes
  1437. >she covers her snout with a hoof
  1438. >and looks shamefully down at the ground
  1439.  
  1440. “I, I-I’m sssorry, Anon, I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I thought… I’ll t-turn around…”
  1441.  
  1442. >you can only stare in disbelief when she turns around and raises her tail
  1443. >and lowers the front of her body to the floor
  1444. >your mouth gapes open, and you start furiously shaking your head
  1445. >a loud shout preparing to escape your throat
  1446.  
  1447. >Applejack looks over her shoulder, at you
  1448. >through her teary eyes
  1449.  
  1450. “I can bend over the b-bed, mas--”
  1451.  
  1452. “APPLEJACK, STOP!”
  1453.  
  1454. -----
  1455.  
  1456. >the whole house falls completely silent
  1457. >yet, it seems like your command is echoing around the hallway
  1458.  
  1459. >Instantly, before another word could get out, Applejack stopped
  1460. >and you can see her muscles bulge with tension
  1461. >she cringes like she’s just been kicked, and her tail clamps down over her privates
  1462. >you stare down at her with your jaw slackened
  1463.  
  1464. >there are tears in your eyes when you see her expression
  1465. >such fear
  1466. >a look that implores you about what she’s done wrong
  1467. >You bite your lips and calm yourself down from your outburst
  1468.  
  1469. >Applejack is still bent over
  1470. >her chin and cheek pressed against the carpet
  1471. >she won’t move
  1472.  
  1473. >So, you’re going to have to make her.
  1474. >it’s for her own good
  1475. >keeping your voice level, you address her after almost a minute of silence has passed
  1476.  
  1477. “Applejack, hon… stand up. Stand up, and turn around.”
  1478.  
  1479. >as usual, you don’t have to tell her twice
  1480. >her legs quiver, obviously sore from maintaining such an uncomfortable position
  1481. >but she does what you say
  1482. >however, you didn’t tell her to look at you
  1483. >so, she doesn’t, opting to gaze at the floor
  1484.  
  1485. >you don’t even know how to respond
  1486. >all you had done was pet her
  1487. >shown her some much-needed affection
  1488. >you never thought it would have led to this.
  1489.  
  1490. >you can tell Applejack is trying valiantly not to break down
  1491. >there is a small red spot on her nose where you bopped her
  1492. >you almost apologize, but you decide against it at the last second
  1493. >it was disturbing how fast she had worked your fly down
  1494. >you note, with a grimace, that she has obviously done it before
  1495. >you had to stop her right away, and besides, you didn’t actually hurt her
  1496. >no blood was dripping out of her nose, thank goodness...
  1497.  
  1498. >her soft voice, nearly a whisper, reaches your ears and pulls you out of your thoughts
  1499.  
  1500. “Master Anon, I---I’m so sorry, p-please---”
  1501.  
  1502. >you can’t hear any more of this
  1503. >it’s too much
  1504. >you cut her off right away, holding up your hand
  1505.  
  1506. “No, no. No, just… just stop, Applejack. Please. I’m not mad, I-I… just… just come here, hon. Come here.”
  1507.  
  1508. >you speak with as much softness as possible
  1509. >hold out your hand like you have something it it
  1510. >beckoning her toward you
  1511. >you even get down on one knee
  1512.  
  1513. >Applejack looks at you with terror in her eyes
  1514. >but despite herself, she takes the first, shivering step in your direction
  1515. >blinking rapidly, breathing heavily
  1516. >a tear falls like a rock to the floor
  1517. >but slowly, she approaches your outstretched hand
  1518.  
  1519. >you swallow hard
  1520. >there are no words you can think to say right now
  1521. >so, you’re going to do something else, instead
  1522. >you’re not going to say a word
  1523.  
  1524. >Applejack lowers her head in submission, and places it beneath your hand
  1525. >and that’s when you make your move
  1526.  
  1527. >you lean forward, both arms outstretched
  1528. >and then, clasping down tightly, you hug her around her shoulders
  1529. >and pull her into you
  1530.  
  1531. >the tension you feel in her entire body is unreal
  1532. >hard as stone
  1533. >you feel her jump in place when your arms wrap around her
  1534.  
  1535. “Ahh! Ah, ah…”
  1536.  
  1537. >you briefly feel her body jerk backward
  1538. >but just for a moment
  1539. >then, gradually, you feel her settle more into you
  1540. >her warm breath tickles your back, even through your t-shirt
  1541. >her head is perched on your shoulder
  1542. >then, you move one of your hands up to the top of her head
  1543. >and laying it into her silk-like mane you cradle her head
  1544.  
  1545. >you press your cheek against the side of her neck
  1546. >it feels so much like a normal horse
  1547. >you close your eyes, and at last, words make their way onto your tongue
  1548. >And then, hugging her tighter, you say them
  1549. >words that you never would have dreamed you would ever say, to anyone
  1550.  
  1551. “I’m not going to rape you.”
  1552.  
  1553. >you grasp the hairs of her mane in between your fingers
  1554. >and you dare to pet her head again
  1555. >her coat still smells like fresh soap from your bath
  1556. >you hold her close, and begin to rock her from side to side
  1557.  
  1558. >Applejack sniffles, and you feel her chest heave
  1559. >you continue stroking her mane, and repeat yourself in whispers
  1560. >she slowly starts to relax, and you feel just the slightest give in the skin of her neck
  1561.  
  1562. “I’m not going to rape you, alright? I’m not going to rape you. I’m…”
  1563.  
  1564. >then, it happens
  1565. >a sob
  1566. >you feel it wrack her body in your hold
  1567. >then another
  1568. >a hot teardrop falls onto your back, and seeps through the fabric of your shirt
  1569. >and her body, formerly tense as a coiled spring, begins to melt into your arms
  1570.  
  1571. >suddenly, you feel her weight pressing against you
  1572. >she goes limp, and several sobs escape her
  1573. >she’s pushing you backward, but you brace yourself on one knee and bear her weight
  1574. >in between cries, she tried to get something out
  1575.  
  1576. “I… I-I… I…”
  1577.  
  1578. >then, it all breaks loose
  1579. >she loses it, completely
  1580. >what can only be described as a broken wail leaves her throat
  1581. >her howls echo up and down the hallway
  1582. >tortured cries, the result of so much anguish for so long, come flooding out
  1583.  
  1584. >you don’t say a word.
  1585. >you press yourself deeper into her body, and keep her secure
  1586. >and her cries go on and on.
  1587.  
  1588. -------
  1589.  
  1590. >you sit in your chair
  1591. >rotating a half empty bottle of beer in your hands
  1592. >a small lamp is the only thing lighting the room
  1593.  
  1594. >it’s getting late, but you can’t sleep
  1595. >Applejack, on the other hand, had no trouble
  1596. >the poor pony had exhausted herself from crying so hard, for so long
  1597. >you don’t even know if she really felt it when you picked her up and tucked her into her new bed
  1598. >you were very careful to lay her on her side, and make sure that her damaged rear was not taking any of her weight
  1599. >and that was that.
  1600.  
  1601. >You had to go to work tomorrow.
  1602. >Not only that, but your line of work meant that you had to get up early
  1603. >you had to meet with your other four employees before you all drove to the work site
  1604. >you also had to go up the stone sales center and get another pallet of stone because you were close to running out
  1605. >it was a big patio, after all
  1606. >and you were already running behind
  1607. >you were hoping that your new pony would be able to pitch in some help
  1608. >you’d show her the ropes, give her some simpler jobs to start out
  1609. >make sure she knew what she was doing
  1610. >but now…
  1611.  
  1612. >You couldn’t take her up to the work site in this condition
  1613. >Her hindquarters were whipped to hell, her body was thin, her mind…
  1614. >well, that was in the worst shape of all.
  1615. >but could you possibly leave her here? All alone, for hours?
  1616. >you almost think you should admit her to a hospital
  1617. >but you really won’t have much money to spare until you can finish this patio job
  1618. >and with the car accident, you know your premium is going to increase a ton
  1619.  
  1620. >you don’t know what to do.
  1621. >this had been such a bad idea…
  1622. >no. No it hadn’t.
  1623. >Applejack had been through hell before she came to you
  1624. >you saved her
  1625. >you saved her life.
  1626.  
  1627. >and you know, it’s starting to occur to you
  1628. >you’d left her in the same place for two hours
  1629. >on a damn bathmat
  1630. >and she hadn’t moved
  1631. >she hadn’t done anything to your house
  1632. >in fact, she’d done exactly what you said
  1633. >which only makes sense…
  1634.  
  1635. >you don’t want to do it, but you’re going to have to wake her up early
  1636. >she needs sleep, but you don’t want her to wake up and find you totally gone
  1637. >you thought of leaving a note, but that wouldn’t be ideal
  1638.  
  1639. >you drain the rest of your beer and get up
  1640. >it’s getting late, and maybe you’ll be able to fall asleep eventually
  1641. >you don’t take sleeping pills, because they make it almost impossible to get up the next morning
  1642.  
  1643. >two hours later, after tossing and turning and nearly throwing your blanket right off the bed, you finally drift to sleep.
  1644.  
  1645. -----
  1646.  
  1647. >the beep of your alarm rips you out of your slumber
  1648. >with a sharp breath, you roll over and slap the top of the clock, and the beeping ceases
  1649.  
  1650. >you actually look at the clock, hoping that maybe, just maybe, you still had 30 minutes left or something
  1651. >but you don’t
  1652. >you groan
  1653.  
  1654. >back to the old grind.
  1655.  
  1656. >you roll out of bed and walk groggily to the bathroom
  1657. >yawning loudly
  1658. >the light stings your eyes when you flip the switch
  1659. >as usual, you splash some cold water on your face
  1660. >it wakes you up
  1661. >at least, sort of
  1662. >then, you leave the light on and enter the hallway again
  1663. >you’re going to whip up some breakfast...
  1664.  
  1665. >you know, you really might have forgotten
  1666. >you were so groggy that you actually may have forgotten about the pony you had put to bed last night
  1667. >but lucky for you, when you exit the bathroom, she makes it impossible
  1668.  
  1669. >she’s standing right there, at the other end of the hall
  1670. >looking right at you
  1671. >the light coming out of the bathroom reflecting off of her huge, emerald green eyes
  1672.  
  1673. >you freeze in place
  1674. >practically stop mid yawn
  1675. >she points her nose at the floor, but angles her eyes up at you
  1676.  
  1677. “G-good morning, master Anon.”
  1678.  
  1679. ------
  1680.  
  1681. >The two of you meet eyes, and stare for a long while
  1682. >all you can really see well at first was the light gleaming off of her eyes
  1683. >but the rest of her comes into the picture as your eyes adjust to the dark
  1684.  
  1685. >you tilt your head in surprise
  1686.  
  1687. “Oh. Well, hey. You’re… already up.”
  1688.  
  1689. >you rub your eyes and lean against the wall
  1690. >Applejack nods her head, and stands up straighter
  1691.  
  1692. “Yes, Master Anon. The sun was just starting to go up.”
  1693.  
  1694. >she almost sounds like a soldier
  1695. >talking to her superior officer, or something
  1696. >you furrow your eyebrows and chuckle under your breath
  1697. >and yawn again
  1698.  
  1699. “Oh. So, is that when you, you know, normally get up?”
  1700.  
  1701. >It’s a basic question
  1702. >you didn’t intend to communicate anything other than what you asked
  1703. >but you underestimate her nerves
  1704.  
  1705. >She lowers her head, and her posture slumps
  1706. >then, she asks you a question with a significantly diminished tone
  1707.  
  1708. “I’m sorry, di-id you want me up earlier? I haven’t done any work yet, I’m s…”
  1709.  
  1710. >She trails off
  1711. >and suddenly, it’s back to yesterday’s grind
  1712. >you take your leaning arm off of the wall, and shake your head at her
  1713.  
  1714. “No, no, Applejack. Relax, ok? Take a deep breath.”
  1715.  
  1716. >As usual, she takes your request as a demand
  1717. >breathes in deeply, and exhales deeply
  1718. >stops herself mid-sentence
  1719. >when it appears she has calmed down, you continue
  1720.  
  1721. “Well, if I’m honest, Applejack, I was going to let you sleep as long as you wanted this morning. I have to go to work early in the morning, and I was going to leave you a note letting you know where I was and letting you know what food I have for you to eat.”
  1722.  
  1723. >Applejack listens to you intently
  1724. >but as you talk, you can see one of her eyebrows rising up in confusion
  1725. >she looks down at your feet, appearing to contemplate what you’ve just said
  1726.  
  1727. “Oh, uh… yes, Anon. But-”
  1728.  
  1729. >she seizes up a bit
  1730. >you notice her look up at you as soon as the last word leaves her lips
  1731. >like she’s expecting you to rebuke her for talking back
  1732. >well, you’re going to clear that up right now
  1733.  
  1734. “Go on, hon, what is it?”
  1735.  
  1736. >Applejack seems to relax at your gentle tone
  1737. >she licks her lips
  1738. >and takes a step back
  1739.  
  1740. “I just… what work do you want me to do, Anon?”
  1741.  
  1742. >well, this is getting a little bit complicated
  1743. >you were planning on telling her yesterday why she was here
  1744. >why you purchased her in the first place
  1745. >but the whole everything yesterday had been such a clusterfuck you never got the chance.
  1746. >Now, you had to explain it all early in the morning
  1747. >damn, this week isn’t starting off well
  1748.  
  1749. “Ehh, it’s… a little complicated right now, hon. Don’t worry, I’ll have work for you to do, I will, it’s just… I can’t let you work in this state. Your rear end needs to heal, and you need to gain some weight back before I can let you work with me and my team.”
  1750.  
  1751. >You watch her face closely
  1752. >every word you say, for some reason, seems to be worrying her more
  1753. >she stammers, falls silent, but then begins to say something back in reply
  1754.  
  1755. “I can work, Master, I can work. I can pull, I can carry, I can push…”
  1756.  
  1757. “I’m sure you can, Applejack. But now, you need to get rest. There is no way you’re going to be working while those cuts are still healing. This stuff is good, hard work, and I’m not having you get injured or having your cuts start weeping again. Ok?”
  1758.  
  1759. >You wait for her typical “Yes, Anon, master sir your highness”
  1760. >but surprisingly, this time, there’s quite the delay
  1761. >she’s silently pondering everything to herself
  1762.  
  1763. >she licks her lips again, and her brow forms a V shape in between her eyes
  1764.  
  1765. “I-I… Anon, I…”
  1766.  
  1767. >ok, you really don’t have time for this
  1768. >if she’s going to be so obedient, you’re going to just have to keep on taking advantage of it when it’s for her own good
  1769.  
  1770. “No, Applejack. Stop. There’s no discussion here. What I said is final, and I don’t want to hear any more. Ok?”
  1771.  
  1772. >wow, you sounded a little harsh
  1773. >but you have to get going
  1774. >you haven’t even gotten your coffee going, yet…
  1775.  
  1776. >The expression Applejack makes is a pretty drastic change
  1777. >she communicates with her eyes low to the ground that she knows she’s overstepped her bounds a bit
  1778. >Shrinks back
  1779. >but she nods, and says no more on the matter.
  1780.  
  1781. “Yes, Anon.”
  1782.  
  1783. -----
  1784.  
  1785. >Applejack is quiet for the next ten minutes
  1786. >she gingerly sits down at the table on a pillow-padded chair as you sip your coffee, absentmindedly eating your eggs
  1787. >she eats the breakfast you’ve laid out in front of her, but very slowly
  1788. >she looks around the dimly lit room
  1789. >you glance back and forth between your steaming mug, the clock on the wall, and the pony across the table from you
  1790.  
  1791. >there’s a dejected look on her face
  1792. >a certain cloudiness in the whites of her eyes
  1793. >you poke the yolk of one of your eggs and watch it run out over the plate, but you don’t eat
  1794. >watching her is making you lose your appetite
  1795.  
  1796. “Hey, Applejack. You ok, hon?”
  1797.  
  1798. >the lack of delay when she nods her head at you is surprising
  1799. >she bites her lip, and stands back on her hooves
  1800.  
  1801. “Yes, A-Anon, I’m fine. I’m ok.”
  1802.  
  1803. >her posture changes
  1804. >shoulders are broader, head held higher
  1805. >legs straight
  1806. >like you’ve snapped her out of something
  1807.  
  1808. >but then it hits you
  1809. >she’s still trying to get you to change your mind
  1810. >put on the air that she’s ready to work.
  1811. >She dare not ask you again, you know
  1812. >but she’s a smart girl.
  1813.  
  1814. >still, you can’t.
  1815. >even though, for whatever reason, it’s killing her spirits
  1816. >the pony needs rest and rejuvenation
  1817. >and the injuries she’s sustained don’t mix with dirt, sand, and stone dust
  1818. >you shake your head
  1819.  
  1820. “Look, hon. I know you said you want to work, and I’m very happy to see you eager. The team and I could really use the help. But you can not, I repeat, can NOT work yet. I’m sorry, but that’s what has to happen. Ok, Applejack?”
  1821.  
  1822. >She folds her ears back, and her shoulders slump
  1823. >every new word makes her shrink down even more
  1824. >but she nods anyway
  1825.  
  1826. “Yes, Master Anon. I… so I will work, though?”
  1827.  
  1828. >you puff air through your nostrils in a slight laugh
  1829. >you drop your fork onto the plate
  1830. >and give a good natured roll of your eyes, smiling
  1831.  
  1832. “Yees, Applejack. I promise. I promise you’ll have plenty of work to do once you’ve healed up and you don’t look as skinny. And you can start by eating your breakfast now, ok? I mean, is everything on your plate alright?”
  1833.  
  1834. >you honestly aren’t mad
  1835. >just perplexed, and maybe a bit amused
  1836. >well, you don’t have to worry about work ethic whatsoever
  1837. >more than can be said than for a couple of your own guys
  1838. >you lean your head in your hand
  1839.  
  1840. >Applejack pauses and eyes her plate
  1841. >then she takes a little mouthful of her scrambled eggs
  1842. >she chews, swallows, and nods her head
  1843.  
  1844. “It’s good, Anon. Thank you.”
  1845.  
  1846. “Good. I’m glad. I made sure there weren’t any shells in it.”
  1847.  
  1848. >that gets a tiny smile out of her
  1849. >it disappears right away, but you notice
  1850. >and then, you smile
  1851.  
  1852. >another minute passes, and now you’re starting to think
  1853. >she wants to work, that much is true
  1854. >and you are going to have to leave her here alone for at least this week
  1855. >and it’s not like there’s an abundance of things to do
  1856. >and actually, even though you live here, when you are sick yourself, you get a little stir crazy, too.
  1857.  
  1858. >alright, Applejack. You win… sort of.
  1859. >you sigh, take the last bite of your breakfast, and get up
  1860. >Applejack flinches, and stares up at you now
  1861.  
  1862. >she watches you nervously as you open the drawer of your small end table
  1863. >a low stammer escapes her
  1864.  
  1865. “M-Master Anon?”
  1866.  
  1867. >you pull out a piece of paper, a pen, and tap your chin
  1868. >then, you begin to write
  1869.  
  1870. “Ok, Applejack. You may not be able to work with me now, but I’m going to write a list of things for you to do, right here at home. Ok?”
  1871.  
  1872.  
  1873. >paying close attention to her facial expression, you notice her ears perk up and angle towards you with intrigue
  1874. >her nervous frown fades
  1875. >you don’t know if she thought you were going to pull something else out of the drawer, or what
  1876. >you don’t know what’s going through her head
  1877. >it takes you a minute or two to think of enough things to put up on the list
  1878. >by the time you’re done, you have five things
  1879. >a few of them are minor things that you just have there to keep her busy if that’s what she wants
  1880. >the fifth, however, you added with an asterisk next to it
  1881. >there’s some dirt involved
  1882.  
  1883. >You pick up the piece of paper and walk over to where Applejack is standing
  1884. >then, you rotate the list in front of your chest so that it’s facing her
  1885.  
  1886. “Alright. Now, Applejack, here’s a list of some of the things that could be done around here. I’m not home all that much lately because of all the work I have to do, but with you here… maybe this stuff can finally get done.”
  1887.  
  1888. >you point at the first item and work your way down
  1889. >Applejack is listening very attentively
  1890. >paying close attention to every single word with wide eyes
  1891.  
  1892. “First, there’s the kitchen floor. It needs some sweeping, but I’ve got a broom and dustpan in the pantry. It’s on the bottom shelf. Then, I have a bit of a dust problem in the house… I, uhh, haven’t gotten around to dusting in a long time, but I have a duster in the laundry room. I’ll get it for you.”
  1893.  
  1894. >Applejack nods after each item, uttering a quick “Yes, Anon” each time
  1895. >you continue
  1896.  
  1897. “Thirdly, and this is really not something you have to do if you don’t want to, hon, but the bathroom we were in last night could use some extra scrubbing. I have a handled brush and a load of cleaning soap under the sink, but if you don’t want to do that, that’s fine. Just make sure you keep your bandages clear, ok?”
  1898.  
  1899. >Applejack nods enthusiastically
  1900.  
  1901. “Yes, Anon. I’ll be careful.”
  1902.  
  1903. “Good. Now, I also have some dirty dishes that need cleaning. They’re in the broken dishwasher. The sink’s right up there, and I got a nice wide stepladder propped up against the kitchen wall right over there so you can reach the counter. Just take your time, be careful, and don’t feel any pressure, ok?”
  1904.  
  1905. >Applejack purses her lips together, and nods her head
  1906. >she looks over at the stepladder, following your gaze
  1907.  
  1908. “Yes, Anon.”
  1909.  
  1910. >you smile
  1911. >you have a feeling she’ll be alright
  1912. >and now, for the final item
  1913. >you take a deep breath
  1914.  
  1915. “Good, Applejack. Now, this last one, you most DEFINITELY don’t have to do right now. But I wanted to leave it on the table just in case. My flowerbeds… well, they’re in bad shape. In fact, basically everything in there is a weed. If you can salvage any of the flowers in there, leave them, but I won’t be upset if you ripped basically all the plants in the beds out of there. There’s clover, dandelions, crabgrass, and all kinds of other crap sitting in there, growing taller and taller. Now, the really important thing here, Applejack, is that you have to do whatever you can to make sure that no dirt gets on those bandages. If you think you might, don’t do it, ok?”
  1916.  
  1917. >Applejack follows your eyes around the edge of the walls, getting an idea of how many beds of dirt and weeds you have around the house
  1918. >she’s very attentive
  1919. >the pony nods her head, a little slower this time, and glances over her shoulder back at her rear with a swish of her tail
  1920.  
  1921. “Yes, Anon. I understand.”
  1922.  
  1923. >You smile
  1924. >setting the list down on the kitchen table, you kneel down in front of her
  1925. >and despite her flinch, you put your hand under her chin
  1926. >you speak softly, making eye contact
  1927.  
  1928. “Ok. Now, listen to me, ok? If you don’t want to do this stuff today and decide that you want to rest, that’s perfectly alright. And if you aren’t sure of what to do or forget how to do something after I show you how, please don’t feel like you have to do it today. Ok?”
  1929.  
  1930. >Applejack hesitates for a moment
  1931. >and her nod is slower, but her eyes show understanding
  1932. >you really, really want to stress to her that she isn’t going to be in trouble if she doesn’t get all of these things done today
  1933. >you honestly hope she doesn’t get any of them done today, especially not after what happened yesterday
  1934. >pony needs some well deserved rest
  1935.  
  1936. >but for some reason
  1937. >you know, just a hunch
  1938. >you think she won’t just sleep today
  1939. >but it’s ok.
  1940. >this isn’t strenuous stuff.
  1941. >she’ll be fine.
  1942.  
  1943. >Applejack’s voice cuts through your ruminations
  1944.  
  1945. “Yes, Anon. I understand.”
  1946.  
  1947. >And that’s that.
  1948. >You’ve got fifteen minutes before you have to leave
  1949. >time to get moving…
  1950.  
  1951.  
  1952. >It had taken twenty minutes to fully explain everything to Applejack
  1953. >but it was alright.
  1954. >it’s not like you were actually on a strict timetable day to day
  1955. >hell, you were the employer, and it’s not like you’d never been a tad late before
  1956.  
  1957. >Applejack had not disappointed you
  1958. >remaining attentive as ever
  1959. >You had spent those extra five minutes drilling it into her head that it was ok not to do things today
  1960. >you think she had understood…
  1961.  
  1962. >well, you were going to try and get things done quickly today.
  1963.  
  1964. >sometimes, you all met at the house or worksite, and sometimes, you all met at your own driveway
  1965. >you wished you’d agreed to meet at the latter
  1966. >would have given you some extra sleep
  1967. >goodness, you were exhausted right now
  1968. >probably the sleeping pills still wearing off
  1969. >you’ll get through it
  1970.  
  1971. >as usual, highway traffic sucked
  1972. >added an extra twenty minutes to the trip
  1973. >but you’d factored that in already
  1974. >you hoped your employees did the same
  1975.  
  1976. >you were the first to arrive, as usual
  1977. >not because they were late, but because you were early
  1978. >as with most of your clients, the house is pretty huge
  1979. >around back is the project your team has been working on
  1980. >you can’t see it from the front, and it’s a bit of a trek from the driveway
  1981. >it’s made it a pain to get all those pallets of stone onto the patio ground
  1982. >as well as the wheelbarrows full of gravel and sand
  1983. >no wonder you’re so far behind schedule
  1984.  
  1985. >you hop into the bed of your truck and retrieve a few of the tools you’ll need
  1986. >a shovel, a few bags of stone dust, a hammer and chisel, and a big stone saw
  1987. >carrying the bags, you walk around
  1988.  
  1989. >and there it is
  1990. >the nightmare
  1991. >the project from hell
  1992.  
  1993. >the patio is pretty huge
  1994. >three different levels of light red sandstone, each level about five inches above the one below it
  1995. >the whole thing is rectangular in shape, with a medium height border wall all around it
  1996. >or, at least, there will be one
  1997.  
  1998. >but the worst thing are the pillars in the middle
  1999. >they’re all covered in stone fragments on the bottom foundation
  2000. >those stone fragments might look haphazard, but holy hell, they are difficult to cut
  2001. >it takes a lot of expertise and skill, as well as time, to do them right
  2002. >they can be all different shapes, but they have to be around the same size
  2003. >cut from raw stone chunks
  2004. >also, they have to jut out the same distance from the pillar, so they have to be the same thickness
  2005. >it’s been a time vacuum unlike anything you ever expected
  2006. >you look over the the ground beside the patio, where the raw stone chunks are lying down
  2007. >man, the last thing you want to hear…
  2008.  
  2009. -----
  2010.  
  2011. “Boss, we gon’ need more stone.”
  2012.  
  2013. >this project isn’t a nightmare.
  2014. >it’s a night terror.
  2015. >you stare blankly at the man standing across from you, pointing at the pillars with his open hand
  2016. >you feel the air stop in your lungs
  2017. >trying to process
  2018. >hoping he’s joking
  2019.  
  2020. >but he’s not.
  2021. >you bring a hand up to your face, trying to hide your bubbling anger
  2022.  
  2023. “Alfredo… Alfredo, I just bought whole new pallet last week, man! Can’t you just…”
  2024.  
  2025. >you trail off when he shakes his head at you, an apologetic look in his eyes
  2026. >he gestures to the pillars again
  2027.  
  2028. “There’s not enough, boss. ‘s not enough, have to cut too much…”
  2029.  
  2030. >you groan, and take a step back
  2031. >you couldn’t believe it
  2032.  
  2033. >Alfredo was a fantastic worker
  2034. >and not only that, he was a skill stonecutter and mason
  2035. >you pay him very well
  2036. >he’s very good at what he does
  2037.  
  2038. >which is why it hurts
  2039. >because you know he’s right.
  2040.  
  2041. >that was easily another 1.5 grand you’re going to have to put into this project
  2042. >and you’ve already gotten more stone not one, not two, but three times
  2043. >you seriously underestimated this project
  2044. >those damn pillars…
  2045.  
  2046. >fuck it.
  2047. >you’re not going to worry about those for today
  2048. >you wave your hand at the pillars like you’re shooing away a fly
  2049.  
  2050. “Ahh, don’t worry about that for today, Alfredo. Let’s just join Paco and Aaron and focus on getting those other pallets of stone unloaded for sitting wall, ok? I’ll get more stone pieces tomorrow.”
  2051.  
  2052. >Alfredo shrugs his shoulders
  2053. >adjusts his gloves on his hands, sets down the chisel in his hand, and walks over to an empty wheelbarrow
  2054.  
  2055. “Ech, alright, boss.”
  2056.  
  2057. >you sigh
  2058. >when you’ll ever get this patio done, you have no idea
  2059. >no timetable
  2060. >this is going to be a looong day…
  2061.  
  2062. -----
  2063.  
  2064. >damn, your legs were sore
  2065. >it hurt to even step on the brake
  2066. >better wheelbarrows are yet another thing you’re going to have to add to your list of things to get
  2067. >the ones you have now are creaky, and tip over if you look at them funny
  2068.  
  2069. >still, focusing all your attention on the sitting wall on the outside of the patio was a good idea
  2070. >you’d finished a good chunk of it
  2071. >even managed to affix some of it with mortar
  2072. >all you needed were the capstones, now, and you’d be able to finish it hopefully by the end of Wednesday
  2073.  
  2074. >truthfully, you could have gotten more done
  2075. >but you didn’t want to wait too long
  2076. >it was hard to work while you were distracted, anyway
  2077. >the thought of the orange pony at home, all alone for hours, made you call it quits by 2:30
  2078. >your fellow workers hadn’t complained, either
  2079. >this was tough work
  2080.  
  2081. >also on the plus side, the traffic wasn’t as bad yet
  2082. >you were almost home after only thirty minutes
  2083. >when you do arrive, you wait in the truck for a minute while you sip the rest of the gatorade bottle you purchased on the way back
  2084. >and you take a few deep breaths
  2085.  
  2086. >you aren’t sure what you’re going to see
  2087. >but whatever it is, you’re going to try to prepare for it
  2088.  
  2089. >you empty the bottle, throw it in an old grocery bag, and hop on out
  2090. >both of your feet feel like lead weights in your muddy, steel-toed boots
  2091. >you kick the dirt off the bottoms, take them off, and reach for the doorknob
  2092.  
  2093. >but then, you pause
  2094. >suddenly, you realize that there’s something different
  2095. >you were so tired that you almost didn’t see it, but it hits you
  2096. >you look at the beds of dirt on either side of the door
  2097.  
  2098. >they’re clear.
  2099. >before, there was a jungle of weeds
  2100. >but now, it’s just brown dirt
  2101. >and you can also see, as you look down the front wall, that there is a huge pile of leaves and debris
  2102. >all of the crap that was once in those flowerbeds
  2103. >and at first glance, you can also see the roots on the plants, still covered in dirt
  2104.  
  2105. >holy cow, she actually did it
  2106. >and it wasn’t a half-assed job, either
  2107. >she went all out, made sure to get to the deepest roots she could
  2108. >a smile spreads across your lips
  2109.  
  2110. >somehow, deep down, you expected this
  2111. >You couldn’t wait until she could really work with you and your team
  2112. >someone with her work ethic, with her drive…
  2113. >it was amazing
  2114.  
  2115. >you open the front door, and step inside
  2116.  
  2117. >you didn’t think that the mood in the air could change so quickly
  2118. >so dramatically
  2119. >but as soon as you enter, your smile disappears
  2120.  
  2121. >the first thing you notice is the total silence
  2122. >like the very air has gone still
  2123. >you don’t know why, but your hairs stand on end
  2124. >a prickling chill travels up your spine
  2125. >there isn’t a single peep
  2126. >not even your air conditioning is running at the moment
  2127.  
  2128. >Something is wrong.
  2129.  
  2130. >as quietly as you can, you set your work boots down beside the door, and close the front door
  2131. >the air around you feels oppressive
  2132. >weighing you down
  2133. >you call out, quietly
  2134.  
  2135. “Applejack? I’m home. Where are you?”
  2136.  
  2137. >you walk further in, past the couch
  2138. >no response
  2139. >your stomach starts churning
  2140. >you try again
  2141.  
  2142. “Applejack? Hon, you there?”
  2143.  
  2144. >still nothing
  2145. >well, she must not be inside the house
  2146. >then it hits you
  2147.  
  2148. >Of course! She must be working outside
  2149. >you exhale a breath you’d been holding inside of you
  2150. >nothing to worry about! She was just hard at work, that was all.
  2151.  
  2152. >you walk over to the sliding glass door at the opposite end of the room
  2153. >the blinds are partly closed, letting only some of the sunshine through
  2154. >it draws a thick column of light on the carpet, slicing the room in half
  2155.  
  2156. >you almost miss it as you walk over
  2157. >the light is so bright, it practically washes it out
  2158. >when you see the glistening out of the corner of your eye, you turn your head
  2159. >and you see it there, lying on the floor
  2160.  
  2161. >plate shards.
  2162. >they’re lying in a neat pile, and lying in the metal dustpan
  2163. >out in plain view
  2164. >and it’s a big stack
  2165. >and there’s something else you notice
  2166.  
  2167. >the shards are put back in the shape of the plates
  2168. >that is, as best as they CAN be put together
  2169. >and you can see that there are five plates in total that have been shattered
  2170.  
  2171. >and then, you eyes travel to a piece of paper
  2172. >it’s lying beside the dustpan
  2173. >and there’s word scribbled onto it
  2174.  
  2175. >gulping, and feeling a sinking in your stomach, you pick it up
  2176. >and read the words printed on the middle of the page
  2177.  
  2178. “Master Anon,
  2179. I am waiting in your room.
  2180. Applejack”
  2181.  
  2182. >the words leave your lips in a whisper
  2183. >and you read them over silently in your head several times
  2184. >eyes switching between the shards of the plates and the note in your hand, until finally, you turn around
  2185. >and look down the hallway, toward the end
  2186.  
  2187. >you clap eyes on your bedroom door
  2188. >and though you left it open this morning, it is closed.
  2189.  
  2190. >with every inhale you take, your intestines twist up into knots
  2191. >it was the forlorn frankness of those words that made your heart ache the most
  2192. >the resignation
  2193.  
  2194. >you let the paper fall to the floor
  2195. >it flutters down and lands on top of the shard stack
  2196. >then, closing your eyes, you start down the hallway
  2197.  
  2198. >to the pony surely awaiting doom.
  2199.  
  2200. ...
  2201.  
  2202. >only wearing socks makes your steps very quiet
  2203. >especially on the carpet floor
  2204. >you know very well you will startle her if you open the door too quickly again
  2205. >and right now, startling her might induce a panic attack
  2206. >you can’t imagine what went through Applejack’s head when the plates broke
  2207.  
  2208. >when you reach the door, you listen very closely
  2209. >expecting maybe to hear her crying from the other side of the door
  2210. >but you don’t even hear that
  2211. >that makes you nervous
  2212.  
  2213. >is she sleeping?
  2214. >is she hiding somewhere else?
  2215. >or maybe she’s already made a run for it, hoping to buy herself some time with her note?
  2216. >all seem very unlikely, but…
  2217.  
  2218. >clenching your teeth, you knock on the door
  2219. >only a few times, and not too hard
  2220. >trying so hard not to convey anger or aggression in any way
  2221.  
  2222. “Hey, Applejack? Are you in there, hon?”
  2223.  
  2224. >your head leans in, and you press your ear against the wood
  2225. >at first, you can’t pick up anything
  2226. >in fact, you almost ask again
  2227.  
  2228. >but the cracked, choked voice, with just a hint of its now familiar country twang, pipes up from the other side of the door
  2229. >and takes the breath out of your lungs
  2230.  
  2231. “Y-y…..yes, Master, Ano…”
  2232.  
  2233. >she’s so shaky, she can’t even get the last consonant out
  2234. >you cringe
  2235. >then, you reach down, turn the doorknob and begin to push the door open
  2236.  
  2237. >That’s when you hear her gasp
  2238. >it’s accompanied by a sob
  2239. >you feel your eyes water a bit just hearing that
  2240. >you keep your voice calm and collected
  2241.  
  2242. “It’s ok, Applejack. It’s ok. I’m not angry, ok, hon?”
  2243.  
  2244. >you inch the door forward a little more
  2245. >somehow, you can sense her flinch
  2246. >you lick your lips nervously
  2247.  
  2248. >finally, you gently let the door swing open
  2249. >and you stand in the entrance
  2250.  
  2251. >there she is, sure enough
  2252. >beside your bed, on the floor
  2253. >she’s lowered her face to the floor, burying her nose in the carpet and resting uncomfortably on her knees
  2254. >whole body pressed into the floor like she’s trying to disappear
  2255.  
  2256. >her face is streaked with red
  2257. >so many lines of dried tears that they are one big blotch on her cheeks
  2258. >she’s shivering visibly from where you’re standing
  2259. >you open your mouth, about to say something
  2260. >but you stop
  2261. >your mouth stays open, jaw hanging loose when you see what’s lying on the ground in front of her
  2262.  
  2263. >a stick, thick as your finger and longer than your arm
  2264. >an old belt of yours, one of the ones you leave on the floor of your closet
  2265. >and a large, heavy kitchen spoon
  2266.  
  2267. >she doesn’t look at you
  2268. >closing her eyes, waiting
  2269. >she’s shuddering without cries
  2270.  
  2271. >you can only stare
  2272. >eyes fixed on the things on the floor, laid out in a row
  2273. >a sharp, stabbing pain hitting you in the gut
  2274.  
  2275. >Applejack cringes, and starts to speak
  2276. >voice just as cracked, broken
  2277.  
  2278. “P-Please, don’t… Master, please don’t g-get rid of me… please!”
  2279.  
  2280. >she opens her eyes, and that’s when the tears spring loose
  2281. >staring at the stick in front of her, not daring to even look up
  2282.  
  2283. “A-Anything, please don’t… Master, please don’t, I-I’ll do anything, punish me, but please, Master please don’t get rid of me…”
  2284.  
  2285. >She clumsily begins to stand
  2286. >and then, with a broken, choked whine, she bends herself over your bed
  2287. >her back hooves don’t touch the carpet
  2288. >watching in silent shock, your eyes widen
  2289. >her bandages are not there anymore
  2290. >they’re laid out on the floor behind her
  2291. >and her scarred, bare skin is exposed to the air again
  2292.  
  2293. >she hides her eyes between her front hooves
  2294. >throws her tail off to the side
  2295. >and gives one last shuddering sob before lying still
  2296.  
  2297. >and with that, and you standing still as a statue, silence takes over
  2298. >and the shock settles in.
  2299.  
  2300.  
  2301. >eventually, though, you do come to your senses
  2302. >and when you look down again, you see she hasn’t moved
  2303. >hasn’t looked over at you despite the fact you’ve been standing there for…
  2304. >well, a while, you think.
  2305.  
  2306. >you eyes drift back to those marks
  2307. >open to the air once again
  2308. >and then, you feel a bit of frustration bubble up inside of you
  2309. >you bite your lips
  2310.  
  2311. >you’re going to have to dress them up all over again only one day later
  2312. >you were hoping your arrangement would last at least two days
  2313.  
  2314. >you hold your head in your hand
  2315. >Applejack is shivering
  2316. >sobbing
  2317. >actually expecting you to pick up one of those items on the floor and use it on her
  2318. >for breaking some plates
  2319. >it was so sad to think about
  2320.  
  2321. >it feels weird that the first words you speak are a question
  2322.  
  2323. “I, uh… what happened to your bandages, hon? I thought I told you to keep them on.”
  2324.  
  2325. >you said it as gently as you could
  2326. >practically cooing the words
  2327. >as soon as you ask the question, you cringe and hold yourself back from punching yourself in the cock
  2328. >you maybe, just maybe, should have reassured her that you weren’t going to hurt her FIRST
  2329. >now she probably thinks it’s just another thing you’re going to punish her for
  2330. >you open your mouth, about to do just that, but it’s too late as Applejack begins to stammer
  2331.  
  2332. “I-I got dirt on them, M-Master, I’m ss-sorry! I’m so sorry, I’m…”
  2333.  
  2334. >Applejack continues to look forward at the wall, straightening her back legs
  2335. >she sobs
  2336. >your stomach sinks, and you close your eyes
  2337.  
  2338. >this was horrible.
  2339. >you hold up your hand as she begins to hyperventilate, gripping the comforter tightly while she crosses her hooves behind her
  2340. >you were going to end this, right now
  2341.  
  2342. “Applejack, please, please calm down, hon! I’m not going to punish you!”
  2343.  
  2344. >at first, you aren’t totally sure she heard you
  2345. >she’s still breathing shallow, tensed as a compressed spring
  2346.  
  2347. >but a few seconds later, there’s a change in the rhythm of how she’s crying, now
  2348. >you can’t put your finger on it exactly, but somehow something is just… different
  2349. >her breathing seemed to be coming from a deeper place
  2350.  
  2351. >when you look down at the floor, your jaw clenches when you see the spoon, belt, and stick lying there
  2352. >you take a quiet step forward, trying not to startle poor Applejack again, and gather all of the things in one hand
  2353. >all the while you stare at Applejack
  2354. >you toss the belt back into your open closet, and then walk toward the open door
  2355. >the sound of the heavy piece of leather hitting the floor makes Applejack yelp, and you wince in silent apology
  2356.  
  2357. “Shh, it’s alright, hon! Now, I’m gonna go put this spoon back in the kitchen and… well, throw this stick out into the yard. So you just stay there, ok? I’ll be back. Ok?”
  2358.  
  2359. >you feel a little like you’re talking to a small child right now
  2360. >a small, abused, neglected child
  2361. >you seriously hope it’s already sunken in that she isn’t in for a beating
  2362.  
  2363. >But thankfully, you see Applejack nod
  2364. >hide her dripping nose under her front hooves, and sinking into the mattress
  2365. >she’s still crying, but not as hard
  2366.  
  2367. “Y---Yes, Anon, I’ll stay…”
  2368.  
  2369. >alright, good
  2370. >that’s that
  2371. >you leave the room with the door open and immediately head to your kitchen, where you drop the spoon on the counter
  2372. >you probably won’t be looking at that spoon the same way ever again
  2373. >then, you lazily throw the stick out through the half open glass door and slide it back shut
  2374.  
  2375. >now, it’s just a matter of the bandages
  2376. >so, you go to the bathroom and take out the gauze and cream again
  2377. >thankfully it’s a big roll
  2378. >it’ll last you long enough for today
  2379. >however, the bottle of cream is a little less than half full
  2380. >guess you’ll have to spread it thinner
  2381.  
  2382. >but then, you also notice that bottle of rubbing alcohol and some cotton balls there
  2383. >hesitating, you do eventually grab those, too
  2384. >depending on what you see, you might end up having to use it
  2385. >you know you said you wouldn’t punish her, but you aren’t putting her back in the bathtub for a smaller affected area
  2386. >alcohol would be easier, then, but…
  2387.  
  2388. >crossing your fingers despite everything in your hands, you walk back into the room.
  2389.  
  2390.  
  2391. >you aren’t surprised that Applejack hasn’t moved
  2392. >you make sure to announce your presence so you don’t startle her
  2393.  
  2394. “Hey, hon. I’m back.”
  2395.  
  2396. >she jumps a bit, but not too badly
  2397. >sniffles, and tenses up
  2398. >her tail is still off to the side
  2399. >you see what you’re going to have to do, and it’s deja vu from last night
  2400. >this pony may be high maintenance, but it’s not something that she can help
  2401. >she speaks very softly
  2402.  
  2403. “Y-Yes, Anon…”
  2404.  
  2405. >you set down the rubbing alcohol, cotton balls, antibiotic cream, gauze and tape down on the bed
  2406. >in her view
  2407. >you want her to know what you’re doing
  2408. >you lean forward so you are closer to her face
  2409.  
  2410. “I gotta do what I did last night again, ok? I’ve got the rest of the cream here I used last night, but I’m not sure it’s gonna be enough. I might have to use a little rubbing alcohol, ok?”
  2411.  
  2412. >Applejack hears that, and you see her eyes widen a bit
  2413. >she darts her eyes over to the materials you dropped on the bed, and sees the bottle there
  2414. >you can see a small shiver travel up her spine
  2415. >she closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and nods her head in acceptance
  2416. >despite the fact that she clearly knows what it’ll mean for her
  2417.  
  2418. “Yes, Anon… I understand, I-I… I slipped, a-and it… it… I really messed up, Anon.”
  2419.  
  2420. >Tears come back to her eyes, and they add to the dampness on the blanket under her face
  2421. >you wince, and slowly, you look back over at her flanks
  2422. >taking a much closer look, you feel the breath catch in your ribs
  2423.  
  2424. >damn it.
  2425. >sure enough, a good amount of dirt and dust got past the bandages on a couple of spots, on the left hindquarter
  2426. >That little bit left of the cream isn’t going to be able to get all of that
  2427. >and besides, you can’t just stick the cream on the dirt and let the particles just sit in there with open marks like this
  2428.  
  2429. >son of a bitch
  2430. >you NEVER should have given her that weeding job
  2431. >even though she had done a fantastic job…
  2432. >well, it’s too late now.
  2433. >Technically, she hadn’t been careful like you said, made an honest mistake
  2434. >but now, she was going to have to go through some more pain
  2435. >you really didn’t want to do this
  2436. >maybe you could do the bathtub routine again…
  2437.  
  2438. >no, this was faster.
  2439. >she’d survive.
  2440. >it was going to be alright
  2441. >you gently set a hand on the back of her head, through her blonde mane
  2442.  
  2443. “Alright, hon. I’m just gonna do it. It’ll sting a lot, but it won’t last long, I promise. Ok?”
  2444.  
  2445. >Applejack hides her snout between her hooves, eyes still closed
  2446. >she looks afraid, but her nod and voice are resolute
  2447.  
  2448. “Yes, Master Anon.”
  2449.  
  2450. >you smile just a tad, and pet her head once before picking up the bottle of rubbing alcohol
  2451. >you carefully unscrew the cap, place a cotton ball over the opening, and tip the bottle back and forth to moisten it
  2452. >you get down on one knee, and do another survey of the damage
  2453.  
  2454. >you know, with the bandages on you’d almost forgotten exactly how the marks looked
  2455. >and you wanted to forget
  2456. >whoever did this to her didn’t punish her, they tortured her
  2457. >and now, with the ball of alcohol soaked cotton in your fingers, you realize with a pause that you are going to make her re-experience some of that pain, all over again
  2458.  
  2459. >you bit your lip, hard
  2460. >then, you take a gentle hold of her left leg
  2461. >quickly, you explain yourself to her
  2462.  
  2463. “I’m holding this to make sure that you don’t kick me on accident, ok? I’m gonna start now.”
  2464.  
  2465. >Applejack mutters another ‘Yes, Anon’ under her hooves, and you feel the muscles in her leg harden
  2466. >shit, you feel so bad right now
  2467.  
  2468. >then, finally, you press the cotton ball into one of the many cuts and begin gently dabbing and swiping the dirt away
  2469. >Applejack’s shoots up from the blanket, and a loud gasp escapes through her clenched teeth
  2470.  
  2471. “AaAAH! Ahow, ow!”
  2472.  
  2473. >you feel her left leg twitch in your hand, kicking out lightly
  2474. >her hoof flexes around your palm, and her other leg thumps the side of the bed
  2475. >a sob escapes her as you continue, trying to work as fast as possible
  2476. >her crying gets a little louder
  2477.  
  2478. “Na, AHAaahaa, ooowwaaa! AH, M-Master, MASTER!”
  2479.  
  2480. >Your hand freezes, and your blood runs cold.
  2481.  
  2482.  
  2483.  
  2484. >you don’t know why, but there’s just something different about it this time
  2485. >the way Applejack’s voice broke, the way she’s shaking her head and suddenly having muscle spasms
  2486. >you know alcohol hurts, but this…
  2487.  
  2488. “Master, please no, nonoonono! NO MORE PLEASE! I’M SORRY I’M SOORRYYY!! AAA! NOO!”
  2489.  
  2490. >Her leg is pulling away from your holding hand, and she’s grasping at the blanket
  2491. >the cotton ball falls from your hand
  2492. >holy shit, she’s hysterical
  2493. >mouth gaping open with horrifying cries of anguish
  2494. >you’re frozen, brain trying to process what you’re seeing and hearing
  2495.  
  2496. “I can’t take it! I CAN’T TAKE NO MORE, I-I CAN’T, PLEASE! MASTER NOO, NOHOHOOO! I’M SORRY I’M SORRY AAAGHA PLEASE STOOOP!”
  2497.  
  2498. >Applejack bucks her legs, and writhes on the bed, flaying all her limbs in a frenzied panic
  2499. >You get hit by her other leg on the shoulder
  2500. >and holy hell, does it hurt
  2501. >That’s what jolts you out of whatever trance you were in
  2502. >with a grunt, you suddenly spring to your feet, and you scramble to try and bring Applejack under control
  2503. >she’s rolling back and forth, pulling herself forward over the bed
  2504. >all the while howling and raving at the top of her lungs
  2505. >totally losing it
  2506.  
  2507. >you place your hands on her back, and try to get a hold of her
  2508. >she’s flailing around and disheveling the blanket beneath her
  2509. >tears are pouring out of her, almost incoherent from sobbing
  2510. >begging and begging for the pain to stop
  2511. >you call out over her cries, trying to direct them to her ears
  2512.  
  2513. “Applejack! Stop, stop! Hon, what’s going on? Calm down, calm down! APPLEJACK!”
  2514.  
  2515. >she isn’t stopping, though
  2516. >instead, she starts saying something else
  2517. >and it’s making the hairs on your arms stand up
  2518.  
  2519. “I-I’ll--be a good girl, I’LL BE A GOOD GIRL! Please no more I’ll be a good girl I’m sorry Master, pleasepleaseplease I’m sorry…”
  2520.  
  2521. >her voice is cracking
  2522. >it’s more breathy than before
  2523. >slurred, exhausted
  2524. >trying to be loud, but she’s just not strong enough
  2525. >her head rolls back and forth on the bed, mouth agape
  2526. >gasping out the words ‘please’ and ‘good girl’ over and over
  2527.  
  2528. >it’s like she’s not even aware that you’re there
  2529. >like she doesn’t know where she is
  2530. >distant, like she’s in a different world
  2531. >you wave your hand in front of her face, but she looks right through it
  2532. >her cries go from loud to soft, then back to loud again, cycling back and forth
  2533.  
  2534. >this wasn’t the alcohol
  2535. >this was a full on panic attack unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed
  2536. >her gasping, sobbing and writhing in your hold chills you to the bone
  2537. >your brain races a mile a minute
  2538.  
  2539. >water.
  2540. >cold water. You needed it right now.
  2541. >Springing into action, you let go off Applejack’s relentlessly struggling body and sprint to the kitchen
  2542. >you grab a big glass and fill it with the tap before rushing back, not caring about the spillage in the hall
  2543.  
  2544. >Applejack is covering her head and splaying her hind legs open, kicking them into the air
  2545. >still pleading, sobbing wretchedly
  2546. >you brandish the glass of cold water, step aside of her legs
  2547. >and then, having a clear shot to her face, you chuck the content of the glass onto her
  2548.  
  2549. >the splash makes a wet slap as it hits her face
  2550. >and a short, sharp scream rips out of her throat
  2551. >but then, in the following seconds, her broken howls and cries for mercy suddenly cease
  2552.  
  2553.  
  2554. >her legs, which had been kicking like a rodeo bull, collapse with a thump onto the bed
  2555. >and her head, at last, stops lolling from side to side as she affixes the ceiling above her with her wide, emerald eyes
  2556. >her breathing is still shallow and panicked, but even that begins to slow as the seconds crawl by
  2557.  
  2558. >your hand trembles as it grips the now empty glass
  2559. >you stare down at her with eyes just as wide as hers
  2560. >besides her heavy breathing, the room is silent
  2561.  
  2562. >eventually, you dare to approach her
  2563. >hearing you take a step, Applejack’s head whips around, and her eyes lock onto you
  2564. >her entire face is streaked red
  2565.  
  2566. >when she sees you standing there, she freezes
  2567. >chest heaving, the individual ribs poking out through the skin of her belly
  2568. >you set the glass down on the blanket, all the while looking at her back
  2569.  
  2570. >unlike before, now, you can see that she is truly seeing you
  2571. >she’s no longer distant, far away
  2572.  
  2573. >Applejack had been in a totally different world
  2574. >The pieces are coming together in your mind
  2575. >she hadn’t been talking to you.
  2576. >she didn’t even know you were there
  2577. >in an instant, her entire world had been consumed with agony
  2578. >and you knew just whose fault it was.
  2579.  
  2580. >you try to smile, but it dies away into a concerned frown
  2581. >then, you break the silence hanging like a noose in the air
  2582. >Applejack looks at you with fear and apprehension in her eyes
  2583.  
  2584. “Applejack… It’s gonna be ok, hon.”
  2585.  
  2586. ...
  2587.  
  2588. >Applejack’s mouth hangs open
  2589. >she hasn’t even attempted to wipe some of the drops of water from her face even though it’s dripping
  2590. >her eyes blink rapidly
  2591. >but encouragingly, her chest isn’t heaving so hard anymore
  2592.  
  2593. >her eyes never leave you
  2594. >shoulders slumping back, she brings her legs closer to her stomach
  2595. >curls up, and partially hides her face
  2596. >she’s shivering, now
  2597.  
  2598. >you inch forward toward her
  2599. >approach from the side so she can fully see you
  2600. >you want no surprises for her
  2601. >this pony is just so fundamentally broken, you aren’t even sure what to do
  2602.  
  2603. “Applejack, hon? Are you going to be ok?”
  2604.  
  2605. >what she just went through scared the hell out of you
  2606. >what if the water hadn’t worked?
  2607. >how would you have been able to get her out of her episode?
  2608. >you were seconds away from calling 911
  2609. >would they even take a pony?
  2610.  
  2611. >you listen intently, hoping that Applejack will answer you
  2612. >your eyes keep drifting back to her flanks and rear
  2613. >all of the words she had screamed
  2614. >pleading, over and over again
  2615. >words barely even decipherable
  2616. >now, you knew what true torture sounded like
  2617.  
  2618. “Applejack? Hon, it’s ok, you’re safe, nothing is gonna happen to y…”
  2619.  
  2620. >Applejack’s voice, barely above a whisper, stops your words dead in their tracks
  2621. >they barely make it through the air
  2622. >she says them with a deep exhale
  2623. >a sigh of defeat
  2624.  
  2625. “I ain’t worth it.”
  2626.  
  2627. >she curls up into a tighter ball
  2628. >tries to cover her head from your view
  2629. >you watch and listen as she wearily speaks sounding completely exhausted
  2630.  
  2631. “I ain’t worth this… your money, y---your time. I ain’t nothing.”
  2632.  
  2633. >the muscles of her legs seem to turn into putty
  2634. >tension melts away
  2635. >you don’t hear any more cries
  2636. >see any more tears
  2637. >not a sob, not a sniffle
  2638. >but the defeat in her voice is total
  2639. >just… absolute
  2640.  
  2641. “I don’t want to live anymore. I can’t… th-there…”
  2642.  
  2643. >Applejack rests her cheek on the blanket
  2644. >still no tears
  2645. >just resoluteness, conviction
  2646. >her whole body is limp
  2647. >like putty
  2648. >all the tension in her legs, all the resistance
  2649. >it’s gone
  2650.  
  2651. “I’m sorry… Don’t waste no more on me, M-Master. Just… kill me, however you want, torture, starve me… lemme die… I won’t be no more trouble. I’m sorry...”
  2652.  
  2653. ...
  2654.  
  2655. >Applejack gently closes her eyes
  2656. >she looks like she’s trying to fall asleep
  2657. >her entire body ceases all movement
  2658.  
  2659. >it’s a display of total submission
  2660. >not to your demands, but to the consequences
  2661. >torture, starvation, it doesn’t matter what you have the power to do to her
  2662. >she’s given up.
  2663.  
  2664. >you stare, blankfaced
  2665. >the stubborn, enthusiastic pony of just this morning, now lifeless in front of you
  2666. >and you can sense a sob rising in your throat
  2667.  
  2668. >right now, you were her last hope.
  2669. >she had none left
  2670. >it’s just hitting you that you are talking to someone who is suicidal
  2671. >someone in a state of mind that warranted hospitalization…
  2672.  
  2673. >but she was a pony.
  2674. >mental issues? Suicidality?
  2675. >they wouldn’t take her
  2676. >whoever her master is, that was their problem to deal with
  2677. >and other masters?
  2678. >they’d just sell her
  2679. >hope to make a quick buck, cut their losses, and pass a broken soul over to the next man unfortunate enough to…
  2680. >to…
  2681.  
  2682. >You were that next man.
  2683. >Those tubby fat fucks in the car the day they’d dropped Applejack off
  2684. >they knew from the start
  2685. >but the only victim here wasn’t you
  2686. >it was the pony in front of you
  2687.  
  2688. >against all odds, she had tried to work
  2689. >tried to endure the pain
  2690. >but now, she was lying down and waiting for you to kill her
  2691. >she hadn’t been able to escape the agony of her past.
  2692.  
  2693. >you don’t know how to answer her
  2694. >it’s all so overwhelming
  2695. >but you have to try.
  2696. >you lick your dry lips, and approach her unresponsive form
  2697.  
  2698. “No, Applejack. You ARE worth it, hon. In so many ways… and you know, I ain’t just talking about the work you’ve done. Which is amazing, by the way.”
  2699.  
  2700. >Your voice is sincere
  2701. >gentle
  2702. >but you don’t even see as much as a twitch of her ear
  2703. >you gulp, and stay focused on your mind’s current track
  2704. >you have to speak calmly and carefully
  2705.  
  2706. “You were… I mean, I know I saw the scars and all, washed them… but tonight, I actually heard the pain from you. Just… hell. It was hell you went through, and you…”
  2707.  
  2708. >you pause, keeping your emotions in check
  2709.  
  2710. “...you’re still here. Against all odds. And knowing what I know now… I would have spent a fortune to rescue you from where you were. And it would have still been worth it. Hon… you are a wonderful pony.”
  2711.  
  2712. >you take a chance, and run your hand down the side of her neck
  2713. >she barely even flinches at your contact
  2714. >you grimace, but continue petting
  2715.  
  2716. “I care about you, hon. I do. Not just as a master to his slave, but a man to a living, breathing creature who deserves kindness, dignity… love. And I’m not going to give up on you.”
  2717.  
  2718. >you are taking what feels like a risk
  2719. >but you are going to do it
  2720. >you can’t just reach her with words
  2721. >so, you will try with the only other thing you can
  2722.  
  2723. >you don’t know why you do it
  2724. >but you begin to lift her
  2725. >sliding a hand beneath her shoulders, and another below her tummy
  2726. >her muscles, suddenly and for the first time, tense up
  2727. >and a tiny, surprised gasp escapes her
  2728.  
  2729. >you sit up, against the wall beside the bed
  2730. >and then, you pull her body into yours
  2731. >placing her head on your chest
  2732. >you wrap one arm around her withers
  2733. >and the other, you set gently atop her head
  2734.  
  2735. >Applejack’s eyes flutter as you begin to run your hand through her mane
  2736. >her body, tense as a rock
  2737. >but she isn’t resisting you at all
  2738.  
  2739. >then, as the minutes drag on, and the silence stretches on
  2740. >the tension slowly ebbs away
  2741. >until finally, without a word, Applejack just accepts it
  2742. >and with a long but soft exhale, she relaxes in your hold
  2743.  
  2744. >you stay there with her, petting her head
  2745. >the sun starts to go down, light dimming through the window
  2746. >not a word is uttered by either of you
  2747.  
  2748. >you won’t give up.
  2749. >not now, not ever.
  2750. >you refuse.
  2751.  
  2752. >you stay with her, not even noticing as the two of you fall asleep
  2753. >her body held firmly against yours.
  2754.  
  2755.  
  2756. >your eyes flicker
  2757. >and the room around you is totally dark
  2758. >holy crap, how long have you been asleep in here?
  2759.  
  2760. >that’s when you remember
  2761. >Applejack!
  2762. >you look down, and sigh lightly with relief when you see her there
  2763. >she hasn’t moved one inch
  2764. >in fact, she’s still just as limp
  2765. >but she’s breathing, so you’ll take it…
  2766.  
  2767. >suddenly, the room lights up
  2768. >a bright white flicker through the gaps in the blinds
  2769. >and then, there’s a faint rumble
  2770.  
  2771. >oh noooo
  2772. >what the hell is this?
  2773. >there weren’t supposed to be thunderstorms, were there?
  2774.  
  2775. >this is not good.
  2776. >you are a landscaper and a stone mason.
  2777. >rain is the devil.
  2778. >as if you needed more delays on your project from hell…
  2779.  
  2780. >the next boom of thunder is much, MUCH louder
  2781. >and it rattles the house
  2782. >the flash of lightning is longer, too
  2783. >you can faintly hear the leaves of the trees outside rustling with the rapidly picking up winds
  2784.  
  2785. >greaaat
  2786. >this was almost a guarantee to be a day’s delay if this thing sticks around
  2787. >you don’t know what time it is, either, but if it’s early morning then it’s all but guaranteed to set you back
  2788.  
  2789. >as the sounds of the storm pick up, you find yourself in a pickle
  2790. >Applejack is still breathing softly in your arms, limp
  2791. >the hair of her mane flows down over your arms
  2792. >but you need to check the time
  2793.  
  2794. >another boom, and the wind continues to pick up
  2795. >that’s it, you have to get up
  2796. >sorry, Applejack
  2797.  
  2798. >very slowly, you slip out from underneath her, supporting her head before letting it down onto the blanket
  2799. >she doesn’t seem to wake up
  2800. >good
  2801.  
  2802. >you tiptoe out of the room, the flashes of lightning illuminating your path
  2803. >you go down the hall and take a look at the clock
  2804. >you stop a groan from leaving you
  2805. >4:45
  2806. >that’s early for most people, but not for you
  2807. >you look out the window, seeing the trees swishing back and forth
  2808. >you’re gonna have to phone it in.
  2809.  
  2810. >you walk over to the side table, next to your couch
  2811. >you pick it up and swipe the lockscreen aside, cursing quietly to yourself
  2812. >your workers aren’t going to like not being paid tomorr…
  2813.  
  2814. >You see the exclamation point.
  2815. >a big fat red exclamation point
  2816. >it’s your weather alert app
  2817.  
  2818. TORNADO WARNING: FROM 4:40 PM -- 5:10 PM…
  2819.  
  2820. >you stare at the phone for a few seconds
  2821. >then, you look out the window, hairs raising on your arms
  2822. >the trees are swaying
  2823. >the lightning is picking up
  2824. >you look back down at the screen, and then click on the notification rectangle
  2825. >it brings up the radar
  2826.  
  2827. >you know how to read radar.
  2828. >the little flag indicating your location is right to the northeast of the concentrated blip of yellow, red, and violet
  2829. >and hanging right out the bottom of that blip, you see it
  2830. >almost right beside your location, maybe five minutes away at most
  2831. >a pronounced hook in the doppler, indicating strong tornadic rotation
  2832.  
  2833. >and it’s right to your east
  2834.  
  2835. >your heart stops.
  2836.  
  2837. ...
  2838.  
  2839. >You stuff your phone in your pocket and fumble through the drawer of your end table
  2840. >you pick out the flashlight from inside it and flip it on
  2841. >it is a bright ass flashlight, a 200 dollar one that turns night into day
  2842. >guess it was a good purchase
  2843.  
  2844. >you run sprint down the hall and the turn the corner into the room
  2845. >you have absolutely no time to calmly wake Applejack up
  2846. >sorry, hon
  2847.  
  2848. “Applejack! Come on hon, we need to get moving, wake up!”
  2849.  
  2850. >your loud voice startles her awake
  2851. >Applejack gasps, and her legs flail outward
  2852. >her eyes snap open and flutter open and closed as the light of the flashlight hits her face
  2853.  
  2854. “Ahh, ah, whaa…”
  2855.  
  2856. “Sorry, Applejack, but we need to get up, right now! Come on, come with me!”
  2857.  
  2858. >time is ticking, and the storm is really brewing, now
  2859. >you begin shaking her with one arm on her shoulder
  2860. >Applejack is clearly disoriented, but when you begin to shake her, she starts to scramble
  2861. >vocalizing with loud exhales and emerald eyes wide with sudden fear
  2862. >she gets onto her knees and slides to the edge of the bed while you wave her toward you
  2863.  
  2864. “Wh-whaa, what’s happening, what’s going on! Master!”
  2865.  
  2866. >you help her to her hooves, your hands shaking
  2867. >the wind swirls the leaves of the trees, and a boom of thunder rattles the whole house
  2868. >you swiftly pull her forward alongside you, gritting your teeth
  2869.  
  2870. >You have no basement.
  2871. >the most central room in your house without any doors or windows was the next best option
  2872. >and that means…
  2873.  
  2874. >you talk down to the frightened pony as you move
  2875.  
  2876. “We need to get to the bathtub, ok? Come with me Applejack, come on!”
  2877.  
  2878. >you don’t shout, but your voice is urgent
  2879. >you are having a lot of trouble staying calm
  2880. >even if you hadn’t seen radar, there was just something different about this storm
  2881. >it was sinister
  2882.  
  2883. >Applejack is so confused, and her worry is compounding
  2884. >but she does what you say, letting herself be moved along
  2885. >she speaks with a crack in her voice
  2886.  
  2887. “Y-Yes, Anon, b-but I don’t understand…”
  2888.  
  2889. >you book it down to the bathroom
  2890. >you don’t have time to feel bad as you pull Applejack into the bathroom with some force behind it
  2891. >she yelps, but doesn’t pull back
  2892. >you flip on the light and set the flashlight down on the toilet seat
  2893. >then, you reach under her shoulders
  2894. >Applejack freezes, eyes widening
  2895.  
  2896. “Wh-what did I do, M-Mas…”
  2897.  
  2898. “No no, you’re ok, Applejack! You did nothing wrong, but you need to get into the tub right now, ok? Here…”
  2899.  
  2900. >You lift her up with a grunt
  2901. >is she slightly heavier? You don’t know
  2902. >wouldn’t be a bad thing for the skinny pony
  2903. >but you don’t have time to reflect
  2904.  
  2905. >Applejack shakes as you set her down inside
  2906. >it would be deja vu of your first night, if it weren’t for the current situation
  2907. >picking up the flashlight, you take the phone out of your pocket, kneeling down by the tub
  2908. >you open the screen of the weather app and put your hand over Applejack’s shoulders
  2909. >she’s quiet, but clearly unsettled, eyes darting all around
  2910. >you don’t want to tell her what’s going on
  2911. >poor thing is such a nervous wreck already, but telling her about a tornado?
  2912. >hell, does she even know what those are?
  2913. >if she had another panic attack, you wouldn’t even know what to do
  2914.  
  2915. “Good, hon, just sit tight for a little while, ok? Just relax, you’re not in trouble…”
  2916.  
  2917. >a massive boom of thunder, so loud it shakes the bathroom in the middle of your house
  2918. >Applejack yelps, and her legs go rigid
  2919. >you open the radar
  2920. >shit
  2921. >the storm is right on top of you
  2922. >another exclamation point goes across the banner on top of the screen
  2923.  
  2924. >TORNADO EMERGENCY: FROM 4:50 AM -- 5:00 AM…
  2925.  
  2926. >your stomach flips
  2927. >that is literally the worst notification possible
  2928. >that means a tornado is imminent
  2929.  
  2930. >it’s time to take action.
  2931. >you stick your phone back into your pocket, drop the flashlight into the tub, and put your leg inside
  2932. >Applejack backs up, pressing her rump against the other tub wall as you climb in
  2933.  
  2934. “Master, what’s going on? I’m gettin’ real scared…”
  2935.  
  2936. >you are, too
  2937. >but you can’t show that to her openly
  2938. >you get down on your knees, and motion for her to lay down
  2939.  
  2940. “Applejack, I know you’re confused, but do what I say. Turn yourself around, and lay down. I’m gonna climb over you. It’s gonna be uncomfortable, but you need to stay still, hon. Trust me.”
  2941.  
  2942. >Applejack stares intently at you, eyes locking in as soon as you tell her to do what you say
  2943. >she hesitates, but nods her head when you’re finished speaking, looking nervous
  2944. >but she turns around, tail pressed very tightly against her legs, and lays down with knees trembling
  2945. >you know she’s probably thinking the worst of your motivations right now, but she has to deal with it
  2946. >as soon as she gets down, you climb on top of her and put your knees down on either side of her covering her body without smashing her down into the porcelain
  2947. >Applejack is crying a little
  2948.  
  2949. >that’s it, you have to tell her what’s happening.
  2950. >she thinks you’re setting her up
  2951. >keeping her in the dark is not going to help anything
  2952. >you make sure your head is below the rim of the tub
  2953.  
  2954. “Applejack, hon… there’s a tornado coming. That’s why we’re here. We’ll be ok, but stay real quiet.”
  2955.  
  2956. >you lower yourself down further until your body is lying right against hers
  2957. >from your position, you’ve rendered her motionless
  2958. >you feel Applejack stiffen up beneath you, the muscles hardening to rock
  2959. >she nods, very faintly in the confined space so she doesn’t headbutt your chin
  2960.  
  2961. “Torna...Oh, oh no, noo…”
  2962.  
  2963. >she understood you.
  2964. >and now, her head shrinks back, and she huddles in closer to you, getting as underneath you as she is able to do
  2965. >she breaths in an irregular rhythm, shuts her eyes tight and shrivels up into the tightest ball she can
  2966. >well, she definitely knows what a tornado is, it seems
  2967.  
  2968. >you wouldn’t admit it to her
  2969. >but you are just as afraid as she is.
  2970.  
  2971. >the bathroom light is still on
  2972. >it’ll give you a bit of warning if it goes out
  2973. >as it stands, Applejack, despite being obviously terrified, obeys you totally
  2974. >she isn’t uttering one peep
  2975. >the room is deathly quiet, even though the sounds of your breathing echo off the hard bathtub walls
  2976. >the thunder is constant, lightly vibrating the house…
  2977.  
  2978. >You feel Applejack’s ears spring up to attention
  2979. >and a light whimper escapes her
  2980. >she shivers, and covers her head with her hooves
  2981. >the thunder gets a little louder…
  2982.  
  2983. >That’s not thunder.
  2984.  
  2985. ...
  2986.  
  2987. >the hairs stand straight up on your arms and legs
  2988. >you’ve always heard that tornadoes sounded like trains as they approached
  2989. >and right now, you’re imagining a set of train tracks, with a tornado funnel rushing toward you down the rails
  2990.  
  2991. >you consider yourself a calm guy, but right now, you are terrified.
  2992. >the roar in the distance picks up in volume
  2993. >the fact you can hear it from inside the tub is a bad, bad sign
  2994. >at least, you think so
  2995. >it also hits you that it’s very early in the morning, yet there aren’t any tornado sirens that you know of in your city
  2996. >you’d only been able to prepare because you’d gotten lucky…
  2997.  
  2998. >Applejack’s barely contained sob jerks you out of your ruminations
  2999. >she shivers, gritting her teeth
  3000. >the muscles in her neck bulge with tension
  3001.  
  3002. >from your place right over her, it’s just hitting you
  3003. >in the face of terror, you realize that Applejack, despite all the horror that transpired last night, is afraid
  3004. >afraid of death
  3005. >perhaps it’s just instinct…
  3006.  
  3007. >but it doesn’t matter to you.
  3008. >even if you don’t survive, you’re going to make sure she does
  3009. >if she wants to live, you’ll do what you can
  3010. >at least, you’ll try
  3011. >this pony deserves it.
  3012.  
  3013. >As the roar becomes more pronounced, you lower yourself as you as you can go
  3014. >then, you gently wrap your arm around her neck and shoulders
  3015. >she tightens up, inhales sharply and whimpers through clenched teeth
  3016. >you whisper, closing your eyes tight
  3017.  
  3018. “We’ll be ok, Applejack. I got you.”
  3019.  
  3020. >She doesn’t reply.
  3021. >but feeling your arm wrapped around her, she leans into your hold
  3022. >you smile sadly, and try to relax
  3023.  
  3024. >this might be the end, but at least you have somebody you care about there with you.
  3025.  
  3026. >the walls begin to shake
  3027. >your heart thumps wildly against the pony underneath you
  3028. >Applejack isn’t just shivering right now, she’s trembling like a leaf
  3029. >she can’t stop herself, and she begins to cry
  3030. >you aren’t going to stop her
  3031. >you just squeeze a little tighter, trying to provide her just a little comfort
  3032.  
  3033. >you wait for it...
  3034.  
  3035. >the lights suddenly cut off
  3036. >You flinch, and let out a hiss in surprise
  3037. >Applejack, on the other hand, lets out a heart rending cry
  3038. >in the pitch blackness, you can only hear the rapidly increasing volume of the tornado’s roar, the air conditioning vents having totally shut off
  3039.  
  3040. >you hug Applejack close, and focus on the warmth of her body below you
  3041. >and you wait for your house to rip apart.
  3042.  
  3043. >the wind whistles against the roof, and you can hear something scraping against the tiles
  3044. >the sound of dust or debris hitting the sides of your house, scraping against the brick, nearly gives you a panic attack
  3045. >the roar never lets up, neither increasing or decreasing in volume
  3046. >you hear loud strikes against the roof and walls, and the air around you seems to fall away
  3047. >this is it
  3048. >you hold your breath…
  3049.  
  3050. >the clattering against the sides of your house is accompanied by the shattering of a window
  3051. >you hear a crackling sound from above and behind you
  3052. >Applejack hears it, and her cry of distress only slightly reaches over the roar of the tornado
  3053. >it’s right there, you can literally feel it
  3054. >the air pressure drops, popping your ears
  3055.  
  3056. >the house, even through your tub, vibrates like a plane caught in turbulence
  3057. >you hold onto Applejack for dear life
  3058. >hoping the sound of her cries and the roar of the tornado isn’t the last thing you’ll ever hear.
  3059.  
  3060. --------
  3061.  
  3062. >the depth of the tornado’s roar makes every hair on your body stand rigid
  3063. >a sound like a pressure washer blasting sheet metal scrapes against your eardrums
  3064. >the wall of your house, right to your left, is getting blasted with what sounds like sand
  3065. >Despite being in the background, the terror in Applejack’s wavering scream will never leave your memory
  3066. >objects pelt the roof
  3067. >the ground beneath you trembles even more than you are
  3068.  
  3069. >then, for a split second, the roar seems to fall away completely
  3070. >the air around you feels like it falls, leaving you unable to draw a breath
  3071. >but it only lasts an instant
  3072. >the roar shifts into something like a tidal wave colliding with a brick wall
  3073. >the rushing sound is concentrated to your left
  3074. >the roof above you rattles like it’s being pelted with rocks
  3075. >with an involuntary shout, you close your eyes and lay your head beside Applejack’s, her soft mane touching your face
  3076.  
  3077. >you shut out everything else, and you make a conscious decision
  3078. >you’re not going to focus on the mayhem
  3079. >if your last thoughts are going to be about something, you want them to about something else
  3080. >something other than fear
  3081. >something good
  3082. >something warm
  3083. >something, someone, worth protecting…
  3084.  
  3085. >you stray out of time
  3086. >embrace the darkness
  3087. >surrender, and go limp...
  3088.  
  3089. >once your thoughts drift away, it takes a long while for them to come back
  3090. >and the first thing that enters your awareness is the arms you have wrapped around the pony beneath you
  3091. >hugging around her belly and neck
  3092. >you suddenly notice the ringing in your ears, but the constant whine begins to recede
  3093. >and when it does, you hear heavy breathing
  3094. >the push against your stomach as Applejack’s ribs rise and fall rapidly
  3095.  
  3096. >You open your eyes
  3097. >at first, nothing but murky blackness seeps into your vision
  3098. >but they quickly adjust, and you can see the white bathtub below you
  3099.  
  3100. >it takes a moment
  3101. >but it slowly occurs to you that, lying hunched over, you aren’t dead.
  3102. >unless, that is, your spirit was sent to the afterlife in a bathtub…
  3103. >you gingerly lift your head up, hearing the constant gasps of the poor mare lying underneath you
  3104. >it takes a minute for you to feel like you have voluntary control of your own lungs
  3105. >Applejack moves, sliding her head out from under her forelegs
  3106. >her hooves make little clops when they hit the bathtub
  3107. >she shudders, and feeling you move above her, she whispers
  3108.  
  3109. “M-Master, Master *hic!* Anon… Is it over? Is...”
  3110.  
  3111. >Applejack sniffles, giving a little sob
  3112. >your mouth hangs open, your shock addled brain taking forever to process such a basic question
  3113. >but eventually, you raise yourself up, and peek out over the tub, facing your left
  3114.  
  3115. >you don’t know what you expect
  3116. >perhaps, you expected nothing to be there
  3117. >or see a mass of destruction and debris strewn about where your house once was
  3118. >but weirdly, it’s the fact that you see neither of those things that shocks you the most
  3119.  
  3120. >the room is totally intact.
  3121. >in fact, nothing appears out of order
  3122. >the sink, the tile floor, the walls, even the hallway outside
  3123. >it looks just like how you left it
  3124.  
  3125. >there is no roar.
  3126. >there is no wind, no leaves rustling
  3127. >no sound other than the distant rumble of thunder and the flickering of lightning in the hall
  3128.  
  3129. >Applejack raises her head
  3130. >you feel her smooth mane against your neck, brushing against your skin
  3131. >the feeling jolts you out of your stunned state
  3132. >you inhale sharply
  3133. >Applejack’s frightened voice is amplified by the hard tub again
  3134.  
  3135. “Master, a-are we gonna be ok? Is it gone?”
  3136.  
  3137. >you feel her body squirm
  3138. >blinking doesn’t make the incredible sight of your intact bathroom go away
  3139. >the near silence hanging like a cloud over your heads is a wordless answer to Applejack’s fearful question
  3140.  
  3141. >eventually, you nod your head
  3142.  
  3143. “I… think so. It’s gone, hon…”
  3144.  
  3145. >using our hand, you push yourself up and inch your way off of Applejack’s back
  3146. >you feel the cold metal of the flashlight you brought with, and grab that
  3147. >your shirt sticks to her from the sweat on your body, and it peels away
  3148. >all the while, you stare at the room
  3149.  
  3150. >it takes you a minute to get out, your limbs stiff as can be
  3151. >but you do
  3152. >once you get off of her Applejack sits up, her joints popping
  3153. >you set your hand on top of her head, and coo gently to the shivering pony
  3154.  
  3155. “Hold on, ok, hon? Stay here, I’m gonna go look around. Ok?”
  3156.  
  3157. >Applejack’s shiny eyes drip tears, and she nods
  3158. >you nod back, pet her head, and stand up, creeping out the door with Applejack obediently staying behind
  3159.  
  3160. >the shock continues
  3161. >you look right and left, and see that none of your house is gone
  3162. >the flicker of lightning confirms it
  3163. >breathing quietly, you inch down the hallway until you enter the living room, then you turn on the flashlight
  3164.  
  3165. >then finally, you see the first bit of damage
  3166. >the two windows on the opposite wall are shattered, and small pieces of debris, dust, dirt, and all kinds of other shit are all over the carpet and furniture
  3167. >a bitch to clean up, but… honestly, your truck is probably messier
  3168. >and other than that, as you look around, even up at the ceiling… you see nothing else.
  3169.  
  3170. >you flick off the light, standing in the middle of the room in thoughtful silence.
  3171.  
  3172. >Could this have been it?
  3173. >there’s no way, you think
  3174. >the roar had been deafening, the shaking of your whole house, the long approach
  3175. >surely this couldn’t have been it!
  3176. >surely…
  3177.  
  3178. >no. This can’t be.
  3179. >it must’ve missed you
  3180. >it simply cannot be…
  3181.  
  3182. >you turn to the sliding glass door.
  3183. >the curtain is only partly closed
  3184. >your eyes hover on it for a second, until a flash of lightning pierces through into the room
  3185.  
  3186. >your legs move automatically toward the door
  3187. >you latch onto the handle, flick the lock, and slide it open
  3188. >the humidity of the air hits you, feeling like a spider web hitting you in the face
  3189. >thumb trembling, you tense up, take a deep breath, and then, you turn on the extremely bright flashlight, shining it into the distance of your fenced in backyard…
  3190.  
  3191. “Oh my god.”
  3192.  
  3193. >The flashlight falls from your hand.
  3194.  
  3195. -----------
  3196.  
  3197. >fragments of debris, pieces of wood and metal and stone, lay scattered all over your yard
  3198. >but it’s what lies beyond your yard that chills you to the bone
  3199.  
  3200. >Your “fenced in” backyard?
  3201. >the whole fence along the back and sides of two thirds of your property is gone
  3202. >your shed, normally located in the upper left portion of your yard, just a little across the way?
  3203. >no sign of it.
  3204. >but that was nothing, as your flashlight comes to rest on the wreckage of the house behind yours
  3205.  
  3206. >the roof is gone, and the outside walls have caved in
  3207. >split boards, crumbled brick and drywall, twisted metal pipes
  3208. >there is no roof to speak of
  3209.  
  3210. >cold shivers traveling up your spine, you pan the flashlight left to right, the column of light reaching very far
  3211. >all of the houses behind yours are on a different street, a different block
  3212. >there’s a good bit of land between you and them, perhaps just outside of comfortable shouting distance
  3213.  
  3214. >and they’re all destroyed.
  3215.  
  3216. >roofs, walls, trees, it’s all obliterated
  3217. >your light reveals a tall tree, bent sharply and stripped of its bark, next to one of the houses
  3218. >wrapped around the base of it is what looks like strips of metal, bent all the way around the trunk
  3219.  
  3220. >there isn’t even that much wreckage to sort through, the destruction looks so bad
  3221. >the only thing remaining of one of the houses is a pile of dust and debris
  3222. >tears are pouring down your face, and you feel sick
  3223.  
  3224. “Oh my fucking god, oh my…”
  3225.  
  3226. >this thing just missed you
  3227. >it would have killed you, too
  3228. >that bathtub wouldn’t have saved you or Applejack
  3229. >and these people living in these houses…
  3230.  
  3231. >you had to help.
  3232. >it takes you a minute to jerk yourself out of your trance, but when you do, you race back into the house
  3233. >the you shine the light down the hall and make sure to pace yourself, not wanting to startle Applejack
  3234. >although you want to sprint
  3235.  
  3236. >you turn the corner and enter the restroom
  3237. >Applejack is still standing in the tub, shoulders hunched over and shivering with her tail tightly tucked between her legs
  3238. >you get down in front of her on the other side of the tub
  3239. >she gazes at you with intense focus
  3240. >you gulp, and keep your voice from shaking as you speak
  3241.  
  3242. “Applejack, the… the tornado missed us, b-but… it hit the houses behind us, and it’s really bad, hon.”
  3243.  
  3244. >Applejack’s eyes widen, and you see her body tense up
  3245. >the muscles bulge
  3246. >her jaw drops, and she inhales sharply
  3247.  
  3248. “I-It… oh Celestia, we gotta go help ‘em! We gotta…”
  3249.  
  3250. >She starts forward, setting her hoof on the tub wall and suddenly springs forward
  3251. >You lean back as she sort of falls into your chest
  3252. >A cry of surprise leaves you in as she clumsily topples out of the tub
  3253. >you react by wrapping your arms around her
  3254. >her rump falls to the tile with a thud, her upper body in your hands
  3255. >you have to respond quickly, as Applejack is now thrashing in your hold
  3256.  
  3257. “Wait, wait, hold on Applejack! Hold on, calm down, just a second! Calm down, calm down…”
  3258.  
  3259. >Applejack is standing up, now, but you maintain your firm grip around her
  3260. >You really have to speak firmly with her, but she fortunately does go still and heeds your command
  3261. >you can’t have her just running out there right away
  3262. >she’s going to hurt herself
  3263. >She still breathes shallowly, however, and her muscles are like rock
  3264. >In all honesty, she’s probably strong enough to bowl you over, but she’s very submissive to you
  3265. >you step back and hold her face between your hands
  3266.  
  3267. “Listen, ok? We’re gonna go and help. I’m gonna call 911, and we’re going to go out there and help anyone we can. But I can’t have you running out there all by yourself when we don’t know what’s out there, you could get hurt. Ok? So stay with me, hon.”
  3268.  
  3269. >Applejack’s intense gaze gradually softens the more you talk
  3270. >what you’re saying is getting through to her
  3271. >she takes a moment or two to breathe, and she nods her head
  3272. >but the tension in her muscles show she’s far from relaxed
  3273. >she’s itching for action
  3274.  
  3275. “Yes, Master, I will. But we gotta hurry, right?”
  3276.  
  3277. >You nod, standing up
  3278. >Her eagerness to go out and help…
  3279. >it’s the only thing that manages to give some warmth to your heart in the midst of this horrible time
  3280. >you point at your side, and hold the flashlight in your other hand
  3281.  
  3282. “Be careful, and don’t leave my side, hon. Let’s go.”
  3283.  
  3284. --------
  3285.  
  3286. >Applejack takes the “don’t leave my side” command very seriously
  3287. >as usual
  3288. >the instant the pony sees the damage illuminated by your flashlight, you hear her gasp
  3289. >Getting closer to the wreckage, you begin to shine the light all around
  3290. >and you notice that even the ground you’re walking on requires careful treading
  3291. >sharp objects lying around, a bolt the size of your foot…
  3292.  
  3293. “Watch your step, Applejack, ok?”
  3294.  
  3295. >Applejack says “yes, Anon” in hushed tones
  3296. >She’s already being careful
  3297. >all around you, the distant flicker of lightning in the distance, from the storm that carried all of this with it, illuminates
  3298. >you’re within shouting distance of the destroyed houses, so you call out over the gusty winds
  3299.  
  3300. “Anybody need help!? Anybody there!?”
  3301.  
  3302. >You pause, listen, and when you don’t hear anything, you do it again, even louder this time
  3303. >your voice seems to dissolve into the air
  3304. >The rumble of thunder and flashes of lightning are constant, but distant
  3305. >Applejack’s ears are sticking straight up, high on alert
  3306. >they swivel back and forth, twitching whenever a boom of thunder sounds
  3307.  
  3308. >but then, she stands stiff at attention, inhaling a sharp breath of air
  3309. >then she points to your right, her big eyes fixed on a specific location
  3310.  
  3311. “Master, I can hear someone! I can hear them, over there!”
  3312.  
  3313. >She trots forward, but suddenly stops herself, folding her ears down and staying in place before backing up to your side again
  3314. >You would have taken a moment to admire just how closely she follows your every command, but there’s no room in your mind for that
  3315. >You shine your flashlight over in the direction she pointed, and it falls upon the shattered ruins of one of the houses, the outer walls caved completely in
  3316. >then, you pat Applejack on her shoulders, and take a jogging step forward
  3317.  
  3318. “Ok, let’s go. I’m gonna let you take the lead, Applejack!”
  3319.  
  3320. >You shine the light to illuminate the way, listening closely but not hearing anything
  3321. >but Applejack was adamant, so you trust her
  3322. >her ears must be more sensitive than yours.
  3323.  
  3324. >Applejack canters ahead of you, hopping over a sharp piece of plywood sticking out of the ground
  3325. >Her ears point straight forward, and she’s intensely focused
  3326. >you still don’t hear anyth…
  3327.  
  3328. >That’s when a wavering moan sounds faintly through the air
  3329. >as soon as you hear it, you clench your teeth together
  3330. >you whisper
  3331.  
  3332. “Oh, shit…”
  3333.  
  3334. >Applejack hears it, too
  3335. >She goes from a canter to a full gallop, and you struggle to stay right behind her
  3336.  
  3337. “We’re coming! Hold on, help’s coming!”
  3338.  
  3339. >you struggle to stay behind her, running at the max speed you can, considering all of the debris
  3340. >Applejack runs onto the rubble and steps onto the wobbly, unstable rubble which is sitting atop the foundation
  3341. >she stares down at the ground, and that’s when you hear the low, agonized moan
  3342. >Applejack gasps, and clambers over to the source of the sound
  3343.  
  3344. >you can hear the strangled cry from underneath a pile of 2x4s and crumbled drywall, toward the center
  3345. >You lower the flashlight and go to help
  3346. >But Applejack beats you there, and you freeze when she does something that stuns you
  3347. >She lowers her head and shoulders, and with a roar, she slams into a large plank of wood, sitting beneath the majority of the debris that’s actually there
  3348.  
  3349. >she uses it like a lever, digging in her hooves and pushing forward like a football player to a practice pad
  3350. >You hear loud crunching of powdered drywall and the creaking of the wide plank, and you leap forward with your arms held out, gesticulating like you’re about to help her
  3351. >But in a matter of seconds, Applejack ferociously shoves the pile away, where it lands with a loud crunch on the other side
  3352. >You step back in startled response
  3353.  
  3354. >Applejack gasps, and you see her get down onto her knees
  3355. >and then you see her, curled up on what used to be the floor
  3356.  
  3357. >a girl of maybe 8 years of age comes into view from the cloud of dust
  3358. >or rather, her body does, lying on its side
  3359. >The curled up little girl is shuddering, and you hear her moan in pain
  3360. >Applejack gasps, and scampers forward with her head held low
  3361. >she looks up at you, and you meet her eyes while she points to the child’s torso
  3362.  
  3363. “Oh my gosh, she’s… she’s got something in her chest!”
  3364.  
  3365. >Her voice breaks, and she points to the object in question
  3366. >you run forward and step beside her, next to the poor girl
  3367. >when you see it, you gasp, and put a hand over your mouth
  3368. >It’s a fragment of wood, and it’s driven straight through the right side of her chest
  3369. >straight through, all the way
  3370. >she’s shaking, and holding her right side with a white knuckled grip
  3371. >tears stream out of her eyes, and she sobs
  3372. >your mouth hangs open
  3373.  
  3374. >Applejack gets down on her knees and lays her hoof over her chest
  3375. >She walks around the injured girl’s body and lays down in front of her
  3376. >The kid’s head bends forward and she looks to the pony now lying in front of her
  3377.  
  3378. “It’s ok, it’s ok! We’re gonna help you, just stay still, it’s gonna be ok! Oh, Celestia…”
  3379.  
  3380. >You aren’t even sure what to do
  3381. >the little girl has been basically impaled
  3382. >you’re still in shock
  3383. >But as your senses come back to you, your hand shoots to your pocket
  3384. >you pull out your phone and dial 911
  3385. >Applejack is speaking softly to the girl, who’s crying much louder than before
  3386. >you hear the child’s weak voice sob out
  3387.  
  3388. “I can’t… take it... h-hurts! Hurts...”
  3389.  
  3390. >her head jerks to the side rapidly, twice in a row
  3391. >it’s the kind of movement one makes when they’re overcome with pain
  3392. >chills raise the hairs on your entire body
  3393.  
  3394. “911, what is your emergency?”
  3395.  
  3396. >The droning female voice on the other end of the phone forces you out of the state of newfound despair you’re feeling from looking at this girl
  3397. >you stammer, then take a deep breath, and then manage to talk more calmly
  3398.  
  3399. “Yes, I-I got a little girl with me who’s hurt, real bad… got a piece of wood impaled through her, she’s crying, sh-she’s… we’re on Teal Circle Road, uhh… either 12 or 15 Teal Circle Road...”
  3400.  
  3401. >The voice on the other end of the line speaks at the same time that you’re just starting to hear sirens
  3402. >it’s a hell of a coincidence
  3403.  
  3404. “Yes, sir, we’ve already received reports from your area, help is on the way. Is the girl still conscious?”
  3405.  
  3406. >You look down at Applejack, who is lying beside the little girl and nuzzling her head
  3407. >telling her it’s going to be alright
  3408. >you see the little girl grab Applejack’s mane with her left hand
  3409. >the sounds of crying are still chilling your blood
  3410.  
  3411. “Yes, she’s still conscious! She’s got a piece of a plank or something going right through her chest, u-up on the right…”
  3412.  
  3413. “Alright, sir, do not attempt to remove the object. Is she losing blood?”
  3414.  
  3415. >You look back down, breathing shallow
  3416. >You go over and get down on one knee, next to the shivering child
  3417.  
  3418. “Hold on, hold on, just…”
  3419.  
  3420. >there’s a crimson streak of blood going down vertically from the exit of the wound, and when you check the other side, it’s the same story
  3421. >it’s like it went clean through, like a spear
  3422. >You look at the ground, and you see a small trickle of blood, but it isn’t growing
  3423. >you look worriedly at Applejack, who is able to do little more than comfort the child, who is holding onto her blonde mane with a death grip
  3424. >You nod
  3425.  
  3426. “Y-yes, she is, but it’s k-kinda slow, at least for now…”
  3427.  
  3428. “Ok, sir. I’m gonna ask you to just stay on the line with me, an ambulance has been sent to your address. Stay with her until help arrives.”
  3429.  
  3430. >You hear the ambulance sirens in the far distance
  3431. >You wipe a tear from your cheek and then stare down at the girl
  3432. >she is gasping, sobbing, and gritting her teeth with tears pouring down
  3433. >Applejack kisses her forehead, and scoots in further
  3434. >She’s extremely careful not to touch the wooden plank shard
  3435. >the little girl moans pitifully in agony, and holds onto Applejack for dear life
  3436. >The pony rests her hoof on top of the girl’s head and cradles it
  3437.  
  3438. “Hold on, Sugarcube… I know it hurts, but you’re gonna be ok… just hang onto me, it’s ok…”
  3439.  
  3440. >You stay at a slight distance, continuing to speak with the operator, telling her more details and just paying close attention
  3441. >but as you watch the scene in front of you, Applejack and the little girl lying down beside one another on the cold slab of where the house used to be, a tiny little sentiment enters your brain
  3442. >you think it to yourself, whispering it even though it’s in your own mind
  3443.  
  3444. >“Good girl, Applejack. Good girl.”
  3445.  
  3446. ---------------
  3447.  
  3448. >You applaud how quickly emergency personnel arrive on the scene.
  3449. >they may have been forewarned, you don’t know
  3450. >all you know is that the little girl’s life is now out of your hands and into the ones of people far more capable.
  3451.  
  3452. >Applejack watches in solemn silence as the girl is loaded onto a stretcher and lifted into the back of the ambulance
  3453. >It’s not the only medical vehicle here. The whole block is covered in flashing lights, and sirens are still all around
  3454. >It’s a rather populated suburban area, so you think there’s personnel from all over the county
  3455. >firefighters, police, paramedics…
  3456.  
  3457. >You were reassured by paramedics that these sorts of incidents, that is to say, the girl’s IMPALEMENT, were actually treatable
  3458. >you don’t know if you should trust him, but you decide that you will
  3459. >even though it seems unbelievable to you
  3460.  
  3461. >Applejack cries silently
  3462. >You remember how tightly the girl held onto her mane as she was transported on the stretcher to the ambulance
  3463. >Applejack followed by her side the whole distance
  3464. >now, she was watching her being worked on in the back of the vehicle, bandages and casts and things you have no idea what they are being fastened around her torso, around the piece of plank
  3465. >you put your hand on her neck and pull her against your side, in a little hug
  3466. >Applejack continues to stare as they close the back door, and within ten seconds, they’re on the way out
  3467. >She wipes a hoof across her nose
  3468.  
  3469. “I don’t wanna leave her…”
  3470.  
  3471. >Your eyes water, and you stroke the side of her neck
  3472.  
  3473. “I know, hon. But she’s in good hands, now. I think she’ll make it.”
  3474.  
  3475. >Applejack swallows, you can feel it since your hand is on her neck
  3476. >She nods her head, and leans into you
  3477.  
  3478. “I hope so, Master. She… was in so much pain, I just…”
  3479.  
  3480. “It’s ok now, Applejack. You were there for her, you helped her. You dug her out, and if it weren’t for you hearing her…”
  3481.  
  3482. >You trail off.
  3483. >it doesn’t really need to be said, you both understand
  3484. >Applejack sniffles
  3485. >rubbing her neck all the way up and down one more time, you pull your hand away…
  3486.  
  3487. >You see red.
  3488. >Immediately your eyes shoot down to your hand, and you suddenly notice the sticky red blood on your fingertips
  3489. >You stop breathing, and then you look over Applejack’s shoulder
  3490.  
  3491. >Low on her side, and down on her belly from front to close to her flanks, there’s a thick, wet smear of blood
  3492. >At first, you feel your heartbeat quicken as you think your pony is now injured, too
  3493. >but then, the realization hits you
  3494. >that’s not her blood…
  3495.  
  3496. >you feel sick.
  3497. >you gag, and and look away from your hand
  3498. >you don’t wipe your hand on your clothes, or anywhere else
  3499. >it just sits limply by your side
  3500.  
  3501. >Applejack stays next to you
  3502. >she still remembers your order
  3503. >but she’s looking all around, taking everything in with an anxious demeanor
  3504. >her eyes bug out, and she points to where two paramedics are carrying a stretcher
  3505.  
  3506. “I-Is… is that…”
  3507.  
  3508. >you look over
  3509. >and your face blanches
  3510. >it’s a white sheet covered stretcher…
  3511. >coming from the far corner of the same house where you found the girl.
  3512.  
  3513. >the two of you stand, slackjawed.
  3514. >And that’s when Applejack starts to cry aloud.
  3515. >shivering sobs wrack her body, and she lowers her weepy face to the road.
  3516.  
  3517. >you’re more in shock than she is, so you don’t cry
  3518. >but the knowledge of who that must be isn’t lost on you.
  3519.  
  3520. >you feel a horrendous, splitting headache all of a sudden
  3521. >you put your bloody hand up to your forehead out of habit, but before you can remember, it’s too late
  3522. >you yank your hand away, but it leaves a smear on your skin that you can feel
  3523. >your eyes roll back, and you feel faint, but you fight it
  3524. >eventually, you do win, but you’re done.
  3525. >you can’t do this…
  3526.  
  3527. >You pet Applejack’s head, and start slowly walking away from the scene, back to the safety of your home
  3528. >She looks up at you, bloodshot eyes fixing you questioningly
  3529. >you shake your head, ignoring your throbbing head
  3530.  
  3531. “Let’s… come on, hon, let’s go. We gotta get home and get you cleaned up…”
  3532.  
  3533. >You feel like the ground beneath your feet is shaking
  3534. >but it’s probably just you
  3535. >Applejack opens her mouth, about to say something, but she closes it quickly
  3536. >lowering her head, she nods
  3537.  
  3538. “Yes, Master… but what about other people, what if they need…”
  3539.  
  3540. >Your head is killing you, but your heart melts
  3541. >but you just can’t do it right now, and you can’t just let Applejack go off by herself
  3542. >it’s actually against the law, too
  3543. >you shake your head and cradle hers as you walk
  3544.  
  3545. “No, Applejack… I don’t think there’s any more we can do now. We just have to, just have to…”
  3546.  
  3547. >You swoon, and stumble while you walk
  3548. >Applejack sees it, and then gets in front of you with her whole body
  3549. >You thankfully don’t fall, but you place your hands on your back, pushing down with your weight
  3550. >the points of her vertebrae can be felt under your fingertips
  3551. >Applejack pushes back against your weight, supporting you quite well
  3552. >she speaks with worry in her voice
  3553.  
  3554. “Master, are you alright?”
  3555.  
  3556. >You nod, pushing yourself back onto your feet
  3557. >the shock of seeing all of this is getting to you, badly
  3558. >When you look back down, you see the bloody fingerprints on Applejack’s back
  3559.  
  3560. >Fuck this.
  3561. >You start forward, gently pulling her forward by her shoulder
  3562.  
  3563. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine… We gotta get home…”
  3564.  
  3565. >Applejack stays to your side, but she’s angled inwards
  3566. >watching your every move
  3567. >you just want to get home…
  3568.  
  3569. >then, the thought of the little girl’s blood enters your mind again
  3570. >on the ground, on Applejack, on your hands…
  3571. >the wooden stake driven through her chest...
  3572.  
  3573. >you don’t remember doing it, but your legs give out from under you
  3574. >your body slumps forward, and you crumple toward the earth
  3575. >your eyes falling closed.
  3576.  
  3577. ----------
  3578.  
  3579. >you feel the soft surface under you before you open your eyes
  3580. >you feel it before you see anything
  3581. >you groan, and slowly, open your eyes
  3582.  
  3583. >despite that the room is still dark, you can see well since your eyes have been closed
  3584. >but as soon as you do open them, you hear a gasp
  3585.  
  3586. “Oh, land’s sakes, Anon! I was worried sick, you just fainted and fell down onto me and I had to carry you in!”
  3587.  
  3588. >turning your head, you see Applejack get up from where she was laying on the floor beside you
  3589. >You can now see you’re on the sofa
  3590. >groaning, you put your hand on your head
  3591.  
  3592. “Ughh… hey, hon... H-How long… how long I’ve been out?”
  3593.  
  3594. >Applejack walks over to you
  3595. >her eyes glimmer with concern
  3596. >she pushes her snout under your chin and nuzzles you
  3597.  
  3598. “Only a minute or two, Master. I was about to splash some water on your face, but…”
  3599.  
  3600. >she points down at the floor, where a full glass of water lies
  3601. >you look down, and you groan again
  3602. >you have a weird, light-headed throb in your skull
  3603. >honestly, you can’t even remember fainting at all
  3604.  
  3605. “So… I fell on you?”
  3606.  
  3607. “Yes, Anon. I caught you just before you hit, but you still, uhh, hit the ground a little bit. But I got your head.”
  3608.  
  3609. >She sidesteps over to the water glass and picks it up before placing it next to your lips
  3610. >you grunt, and push your body upright so you’re sitting up against the couch arm
  3611. >you take the glass and bring it to your lips
  3612. >seeing the clear, cold liquid in the cup you suddenly realize how parched you actually are
  3613. >you down the whole thing in less than ten seconds flat
  3614. >the glass sort of rolls out of your hand, onto the sofa cushion
  3615. >Applejack picks up the glass with her teeth and sets it back down on the floor
  3616. >she still looks worried
  3617.  
  3618. “Anon, you ok? You drank that real fast.”
  3619.  
  3620. >you’re slowly coming to your senses, now.
  3621. >slowly, you sit up all the way
  3622. >you nod
  3623.  
  3624. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just thirsty… oh god.”
  3625.  
  3626. >And there it is again
  3627. >you look down at your hand, about to push yourself up from the cushion and stand up
  3628. >and you see the stain of red on your hand, again
  3629. >along with the dirty, nasty feeling of stickiness on the webs of your fingers
  3630. >just like that, you feel a shiver up your spine, and you remember everything prior to passing out
  3631.  
  3632. >but this time, you shake it from your mind, teeth gritted
  3633. >you refuse to succumb to another fainting spell
  3634. >You shake your head roughly and get to your feet
  3635. >Applejack appears confused, and she comes forward to give you support, should you need it
  3636.  
  3637. “Forgive me, Anon, but are you sure you’re alright? You were dead weight only a minute ago…”
  3638.  
  3639. “Yeah, Applejack, I’m fine, just… we gotta get this blood off.”
  3640.  
  3641. >it still feels like a bad dream as you head to the bathroom
  3642. >you feel like your feet are moving by themselves
  3643. >but you get there without falling over again
  3644. >you try to turn on the light by force of habit, but the electricity is still out
  3645. >well, shit
  3646.  
  3647. >you turn back around and nearly bump into Applejack on your way to the living room
  3648. >with a gasp, she hops back scurries out of the way
  3649. >you mutter a “sorry” and push the thought of the little girl’s blood out of your mind while you search for the flashlight
  3650.  
  3651. “Hey, Applejack, did you happen to get my flashli… oh, there it is.”
  3652.  
  3653. >you find it on the floor next to your sofa
  3654. >Applejack is quick to answer your question anyway, though
  3655.  
  3656. “Yes, Master Anon, I ran back out and picked it up after I set you down.”
  3657.  
  3658. >this pony really doesn’t miss a detail, does she?
  3659. >Well, it looks like you might need some extra batteries for this thing
  3660. >but it’ll be good for now
  3661.  
  3662. >You barge into the bathroom and crank the knob on the tub with your unbloodied hand, setting the flashlight face up on the toilet seat
  3663. >the water comes pouring out, but you know it isn’t going to be hot for very long
  3664. >your boiler is electric
  3665. >you put it on lukewarm and begin immediately rinsing off the scabbed blood
  3666. >the water turns murky red as you scrub at it with your other hand
  3667.  
  3668. >Applejack noses in to your left, close to you
  3669. >her body touches against your side, and she looks into the tub at your hand with her ears pinned back
  3670. >you glance over at her, and she looks up at you with saddened, dim eyes
  3671.  
  3672. >You turn up the heat a little, and the blood comes off all the way
  3673. >there’s still some hot water in your boiler, you’re sure, but you have to conserve it
  3674. >so, after clearing your hand you crank the knob back off, and then grab the bar of soap and washcloth from their holders
  3675. >you turn to Applejack
  3676. >She blanches a little
  3677.  
  3678. “Ok, Applejack, I’m gonna put you in the tub and clean this… this… clean you off. Ok?”
  3679.  
  3680. >She nods
  3681. >actually, she starts to climb in herself, but you help her
  3682. >she knows the drill, turns around in the tight space so her back legs and rump face the faucet
  3683. >That’s when you see the cuts on her backside again, and you realize that the blood was not the only thing you had to wash off right now
  3684. >you just had to do it, and push the thought of the carnage outside out of your mind
  3685.  
  3686. >You douse the cloth in some warm water, soap it up, and then tap Applejack’s croup a couple of times with your hand
  3687.  
  3688. “We still have to get the dirt and everything on your rear cleaned up, hon. After everything that happened, we never got to it. Ok?”
  3689.  
  3690. >Applejack, to her credit, just nods her head and, like the first time, braces with a hoof on the wall
  3691.  
  3692. “Oh. Yes, Anon. S-sorry…”
  3693.  
  3694. >Sorry?
  3695. >Guess she thinks it’s her fault…
  3696. >Not her fault she had a breakdown like that, poor girl.
  3697.  
  3698. “No, Applejack, it’s not your fault. Please, don’t do that to yourself.”
  3699.  
  3700. >You just don’t waste any time, and begin scrubbing
  3701. >she flinches, and clearly grunts in pain, but she stays still
  3702. >and just like that, it’s the first night all over again
  3703. >again…
  3704.  
  3705. >It doesn’t take so long this time
  3706. >Applejack’s a tough pony, you’ve seen that, but she still can’t help but shed some tears in the tub
  3707. >preparing for the last step, you take the shower hose off the holder
  3708. >You turn the knob just long enough to rinse the spot off, with luckily still warm water, before you tap her on the croup again
  3709.  
  3710. “I’m so sorry, Applejack. I know it hurts, but you’re doing great. Here, can you turn around and face me, now? This is the last thing, I promise. I have to clean your belly and side off, but it shouldn’t hurt.”
  3711.  
  3712. >Applejack sniffs through her runny snout, and right away begins to turn around
  3713. >She’s shivering, and when you get a closer look at her face, she looks like she’s in a good deal of pain
  3714. >her red-smeared side is showing, now, and suddenly you feel squeamish again
  3715. >but you are going to push through it. If she bear her pain quietly, then you can stomach this.
  3716. >Wring out the cloth, re-soap, and then you get to work.
  3717.  
  3718. >When the scabbed smears of blood turn brighter red, leaking down and dripping into the tub, it almost looks like it’s Applejack herself who is hurt
  3719. >you have to have the water running this time, the tendrils of blood turn the flowing water a murky, dark pink color
  3720.  
  3721. >Applejack stares down at the water.
  3722. >Her eyes are unblinking, and the whites of her eyes are almost the same shade as the water. Bloodshot.
  3723. >She bites her quivering lip, eyes following the ribbons of blood flowing toward the drain.
  3724. >her expression is frozen with horror, and it acts like a window into her mind
  3725.  
  3726. >You can somehow tell that something is very wrong almost right away
  3727. >the same look from last night flashes across her face
  3728. >She’s seeing the blood in the same light as you are
  3729. >The blue light of the flashlight almost making the blood look darker in color, like black snakes moving through the water...
  3730.  
  3731. >Applejack sighs, and then gives a sob
  3732. >She shakes her head
  3733.  
  3734. “I wish we could have traded places.”
  3735.  
  3736. >Her fetlocks tremble.
  3737. >She’s choked up, and you can see more tears trickling down her cheeks
  3738.  
  3739. “I wish it was me out there, and her in the tub with you when the tornado hit... “
  3740.  
  3741. >Your heart aches hearing this again
  3742. >Applejack hides her head between her forelegs, and another sob echoes into the bathtub
  3743. >you try to nip this in the bud
  3744.  
  3745. “Now, Applejack, there’s no use talking like that…”
  3746.  
  3747. “She’s so young, little, and I’m just… I’ve got nothing, I’m… I’m nothing.”
  3748.  
  3749. >Oh, no.
  3750. >it’s happening again
  3751. >Applejack bends at her knees, and with your hand on her ribs, you feel them heave
  3752. >your washing hand stops
  3753. >Shaking your head, you immediately try to reassure her, the sense of sadness heavy in the air
  3754.  
  3755. “Applejack, you aren’t nothing! You saved her, dug her out.”
  3756.  
  3757. “She’s not gonna make it. I-It went right through her… I couldn’t save her, either…”
  3758.  
  3759. >Either?
  3760. >You would think for a second longer about what you just heard, but she’s falling apart
  3761. >the sobbing you hear is barely repressed
  3762. >you scoot closer, and just drop the washcloth
  3763. >You place a hand on her withers
  3764.  
  3765. “The paramedics said…”
  3766.  
  3767. >Applejack isn’t listening.
  3768. >She backs up, and falls onto her back legs, sinking down
  3769. >her body falls away from your hand, which lands on the side of the tub
  3770. >her hooves cover her face, and she squeezes her eyes shut, sobbing brokenly
  3771.  
  3772. “I can’t lose her, too, I can’t, I c-can’t! I CAN’T!”
  3773.  
  3774. >Applejack’s voice cracks as she snaps, and her whole body is wracked with sobs
  3775. >The sudden loud cry makes you drop the shower handle
  3776. >feeling the hairs stand up on your neck and your vision blurring, you find yourself jumping into the tub
  3777. >verging on panic, you reach to pick her up, grabbing a hold of her shoulders
  3778.  
  3779. “Applejack, Applejack! It’s ok, it’s gonna be ok…”
  3780.  
  3781. >You can’t possibly think of something else to say as she turns into a puddle in the tub
  3782. >Stretching yourself down, you grunt in an attempt to lift Applejack’s shoulder up, trying to get a hold of her
  3783. >your legs and pants are soaked through as you kneel down
  3784. >there’s nothing you can think to say to ease what she’s feeling, so you’re doing the only thing maybe you can do, try to give her just a bit of comfort
  3785. >just something to hold on to…
  3786.  
  3787. >Then, with Applejack feeling your hands on her, she does something that shocks you
  3788. >With a jolt, she lurches into you, and buries her face into your chest, legs wrapping all the way around you
  3789. >out of reflex, you embrace her right back, and she collapses heavily into your arms
  3790. >back legs bunched up behind her while her belly rests on the tops of your thighs
  3791.  
  3792. >You are speechless as she pulls you toward her with her powerful front legs,
  3793. >she weeps into your shirt, tears pouring out like water
  3794. >Her voice is barely coherent, but you make out what she’s saying, mouth and nose buried into your chest
  3795.  
  3796. “Don’t be my angel, no more… save someone else, don’t, don’t… don’t try to save me, just save her instead… save her instead… don’t be my angel no more…”
  3797.  
  3798. -----------
  3799.  
  3800. >Applejack presses further into you, weeping
  3801. >her tears are staining your shirt
  3802. >you are forced to kneel from her dead weight on the tops of your thighs, the water soaking into your jeans
  3803. >it occurs to you at the last moment to reach back and shut off the water, which you do
  3804. >the gurgling of water coming out of the showerhead ceases, leaving you both in dripping silence
  3805. >the only sound remaining is the echoes of Applejack’s cries off the bathroom walls
  3806.  
  3807. >You reach your other arm lower, and forcefully pull her lower half closer to you so her hooves aren’t dragging in the water
  3808. >The meaning of what she just said to you is starting to sink in as she totally surrenders to you
  3809.  
  3810. >She called you her “angel”
  3811. >just for feeding her, giving her a bed
  3812. >treating her with basic kindness and respect
  3813. >not beating or raping her
  3814.  
  3815. >For those reasons, you were her “angel”.
  3816.  
  3817. >you aren’t ashamed that you are close to crying
  3818. >You gently shh her, and bend you head down to rest your chin on the top of her head
  3819. >her ears flatten back
  3820.  
  3821. “Go to her, instead… just leave me, just… let me drown here, let me…”
  3822.  
  3823. >Applejack trails off, and devolves into more cries
  3824. >it feels like a punch to your gut hearing her ask you to kill her
  3825. >you shake your head, and take tighter hold of her hair
  3826. >your teeth are gritting together from the ache you feel in your chest
  3827.  
  3828. “No, Applejack. None of this was your fault.”
  3829.  
  3830. >This doesn’t comfort her.
  3831. >Applejack’s ribs heave and shudder against you
  3832. >she shakes her head madly, and begins to writhe in your grasp
  3833.  
  3834. “No! You don’t understand! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!”
  3835.  
  3836. >you suddenly have to fight to hold on to her
  3837. >Applejack hyperventilates, and she suddenly pulls away from you
  3838. >You are again reminded of how strong she is as you have to practically flex every muscle in your body to hang onto her
  3839.  
  3840. >She squirms as hard as she can, sobbing breathlessly
  3841. >you try shushing, calmly speaking words of comfort into her ear, and even resting your cheek on the top of her head in the tightest hug you can manage
  3842. >but it doesn’t console her.
  3843.  
  3844. >Applejack continues to struggle
  3845. >that is, until she realizes she can’t get away, her position too awkward to get any traction
  3846. >then, she gives up, and goes limp like a dead fish, and simply accepts your grip around her
  3847.  
  3848. >You know Applejack isn’t relaxing
  3849. >She’s just… dead.
  3850. >You wish you could say something, do something, ANYTHING, but you’re at a total loss
  3851.  
  3852. >Breathless moans of despair are interspersed with barely audible, whispered words
  3853. >but your ear is so close to her mouth, you can barely make them out…
  3854.  
  3855. “Sis… ‘m sorry, I’m sorry… I couldn’t save you…”
  3856.  
  3857. >Sis…
  3858. >sister?
  3859. >The piece of this whole, uncomfortable puzzle of her torment at the hands of her former master falls heavily in front of you
  3860. >The more things you discover, the more your heart breaks for Applejack
  3861.  
  3862. >but you won’t ask her now.
  3863. >Later. It had to be later.
  3864. >Right now, you just had to be here for her.
  3865. >You only continue to listen, kneeling in the wet tub while Applejack slowly drifts away in your arms.
  3866.  
  3867. …………..
  3868.  
  3869. >In the dark, the quickly warming and humid air around you makes you sweat now that your air conditioning no longer works.
  3870. >You carried her again, to the sofa, and laid her down where you were lying down only a little before.
  3871. >Neither one of you were asleep.
  3872. >The sun was peeking out over the horizon, but you can’t stomach looking out the window.
  3873. >the tornado damage outside is surely much more visible, now…
  3874.  
  3875. >Applejack breathes softly, and if it weren’t for her open eyes, you’d think she was asleep
  3876. >her cheeks are covered in red lines from how long she’s been crying
  3877. >She stares off, looking at the wall
  3878. >her gaze is distant, like she’s somewhere else
  3879.  
  3880. >You sit in the seat next to the sofa, and while you’re looking in her direction, your gaze is just as distant as hers
  3881. >so much is on your mind…
  3882.  
  3883. >She speaks, and her voice cuts through the heavy, humid air.
  3884.  
  3885. “My sister is gone. My sister is gone, he… he sold her to the mine, a-and I’ll never see her again.”
  3886.  
  3887. >Applejack’s words come out of the blue.
  3888. >You snap out of whatever trance you’re in, and you feel like your heart just stopped.
  3889.  
  3890. >Her tone is eerily quiet
  3891. >just like last night, you realize
  3892. >flat, drained of life, of feeling…
  3893.  
  3894. >For some reason, the only thing you can think of saying in response, is her name
  3895. >meekly, like a question
  3896.  
  3897. “...Applejack?”
  3898.  
  3899. >She curls up, and his her eyes behind her hooves
  3900. >her voice breaks
  3901.  
  3902. “And it’s… all my fault.”
  3903.  
  3904. ------------
  3905.  
  3906. >Applejack’s eyes are hidden from you
  3907. >but dark spots form on the sofa cushion below her face as tears drip from her cheeks
  3908.  
  3909. >all it takes is the word “mine” for you to seize up
  3910. >you’ve seen pictures
  3911. >this is a pro-slave pony area of the country, but even here, you know of the opposition to forcing ponies into mine labor
  3912. >you’ve seen the pictures
  3913. >the dirt and scars, the statistics on pony’s lifespans doing that kind of labor
  3914. >they were bad.
  3915. >bad enough that even pony slave owners have spoken out against it before
  3916. >And Applejack’s little sister was suffering that fate...
  3917.  
  3918. >at least it is illegal in some states, but there are too many elected members of Congress in the pockets of pony slave industry to force a majority vote against it on a national level
  3919. >at least, for now
  3920. >but things are changing...
  3921.  
  3922. >you want to immediately console her, reach your hand out to her
  3923. >tell her that she’s wrong
  3924. >but at this point, you only know one thing:
  3925. >you know nothing.
  3926. >you only have an inkling of what she’s been through, and right now, you don’t want to assume anything.
  3927.  
  3928. >but this can’t be put off any longer.
  3929. >you need to know.
  3930.  
  3931. >So, you decide that you will dare to pry further.
  3932. >Not knowing what she’ll say, or do, you speak softly, but directly.
  3933.  
  3934. “Applejack… tell me what happened, hon. Please. I must know.”
  3935.  
  3936. >Applejack gives no response at first.
  3937. >she lies stock still, and the only sound in the room is her gentle breathing
  3938. >you wait patiently, just hoping for a response
  3939. >the last thing you know you should do is try and force it out of her
  3940. >she’s so shattered right now, you’re starting to wonder if even imploring gently is going one step too far.
  3941.  
  3942. >you take the next several seconds of silence as a refusal
  3943. >but unlike other times, you aren’t going to take advantage of her submissiveness to you and demand an answer
  3944. >only when it had been for her own good, but now, not this time.
  3945. >damn, you shouldn’t have even asked…
  3946.  
  3947. >You don’t even notice it when Applejack raises her head
  3948. >but you do notice when she speaks
  3949. >startled, you whip your head around
  3950.  
  3951. >staring off into the wall, she speaks softly, but clearly.
  3952.  
  3953. “It feels like so long… but it ain’t been more than a year since I last saw her…”
  3954.  
  3955. ---------
  3956.  
  3957. (POV Applejack)
  3958.  
  3959. >You got your work done in only eight hours today
  3960. >and that was including all of the double checking
  3961.  
  3962. >thanks to how well your work went, maybe now, Master would give Apple Bloom some extra food for today’s meal
  3963. >but probably not
  3964. >with Master, it was always an all or nothing deal
  3965. >if you didn’t do a satisfactory job, your sister went hungry
  3966. >if you did, Apple Bloom got her rations
  3967. >It was that simple.
  3968.  
  3969. >And you would be damned before you let your sister starve
  3970. >Your joints ached, your muscles burned, and your body was always covered in sweat
  3971. >but you pressed on anyway
  3972. >day after day, you just mindlessly followed the routine
  3973. >you dared not think of anything but your tasks
  3974. >anything else was a waste of time
  3975.  
  3976. >But even still, as the sun tanned your orange coat, you couldn’t help but think of your hat
  3977. >you missed it…
  3978.  
  3979. >The water from the hose is not cold, but you are so thirsty that you do not care
  3980. >you gulp it greedily, the bump in your throat bulging out with each swallow
  3981. >once you’ve had your fill, you walk toward the house
  3982.  
  3983. >Master’s house isn’t even really a house
  3984. >it’s a mansion, an estate
  3985. >despite its size, it’s separate from Master’s other agricultural enterprises
  3986.  
  3987. >you were powerful, strong
  3988. >your two former Masters had learned that
  3989. >and they’d learned that the hard way…
  3990.  
  3991. >in fact, you had originally been stationed outside of the estate when you first got here
  3992. >they started you on the grunt work, some of the heaviest labor at this place
  3993. >but you weren’t afraid of lashes, or strikes
  3994. >you did the work, but you never feared giving them lip
  3995. >showing them the fires of your defiance
  3996. >even sometimes disobeying orders from your overseers
  3997.  
  3998. >That is, until...
  3999.  
  4000. >You never figured out how Master discovered your sister.
  4001. >You’ll never forget the day when he brought you into his house, dragged between three guards
  4002. >they dragged you through his front door, into the front lobby
  4003.  
  4004. >and as soon as you saw her, standing beside your Master, your heart had stopped
  4005. >a growing filly, with a red wavy mane, her pale yellow coat and your mother’s beautiful, expressive eyes staring back at you
  4006. >she was older, but still very much a filly
  4007. >you knew it was her the second you clapped eyes on her
  4008.  
  4009. “Ap...Apple Bloom?”
  4010.  
  4011. >You barely whispered it
  4012. >you almost wanted to ask yourself if it was a dream, if this could possibly be real
  4013. >but you could feel the cold floor beneath your hooves
  4014. >you could still sense the prickling tingle of the sunburn on your face and shoulders
  4015. >and you knew it was real.
  4016.  
  4017. >Apple Bloom’s eyes had practically bugged out of her head when she saw you
  4018. >her jaw dropped, and she seemed to stop breathing upon her realization
  4019. >and for the first time since you had been ripped from all family, all traces of your former life, you felt a warmth in your heart
  4020. >it felt like it was floating in your chest when she called your name back at you, face beaming with elation
  4021.  
  4022. “Applejack! APPLEJACK! Oh gosh, oh Celestia, Applejack!”
  4023.  
  4024. >it was the first time you had heard her voice in so, so long
  4025. >and when it said your name, it made the tears start flowing like rivers down your face
  4026. >you cry unashamedly, and you rush forward
  4027.  
  4028. “Apple Bloom! Oh, Apple Bloom, it’s you! Oh my gosh, it’s YOU!”
  4029.  
  4030. >There were tears in her eyes, too, as she began towards you
  4031. >In that moment, everything else around you disappeared
  4032. >you had tunnel vision, and all you could see was her
  4033. >tears falling, a smile so wide it could have lit up the night sky, you closed the distance between you...
  4034.  
  4035. >and got a boot hard to the gut.
  4036.  
  4037. >in an instant, all of the air whooshed out of your lungs, and you fell flat on your stomach
  4038. >striking the hard floor, the impact knocked you dizzy
  4039. >you didn’t even have the breath to give a shocked cry of pain
  4040. >and your mouth gapes open with failed attempts to draw breath
  4041.  
  4042. >But then, you heard the scream of your sister.
  4043.  
  4044. >someone grabbed your mane, and yanked your head up
  4045. >and behind you someone stepped onto your back, pinning you to the floor
  4046. >you gasped noiselessly for air, and it took a moment for your lungs to start working again
  4047.  
  4048. >neck bent awkwardly, you were forced to look ahead
  4049. >and the sight you saw made your heart feel like it was going to explode
  4050.  
  4051. >The third guard, who had been with you, now forcefully held Apple Bloom down
  4052. >his foot stood on top of her lower back, and his hand held her tail taut
  4053. >Apple Bloom tried to kick out, but he pushed her down, making her cry out with distress
  4054.  
  4055. >your brain registered pain and confusion at the same time as the scene around you crumbled
  4056. >every muscle cried out as you tried to struggle, but you were immobilized
  4057. >still, you tried to say her name, your pulse so hard that you could feel it in your throat
  4058.  
  4059. “Apple Bloom! Ap---ahh!”
  4060.  
  4061. >the guard’s foot pumped down hard on top of you, driving the air out of your lungs once again
  4062. >your sister’s name dies before it can leave your mouth
  4063. >Across from you, Master stood unperturbed by all that was happening.
  4064. >he took turns looking at you, and then Apple Bloom, doing this over and over
  4065.  
  4066. >from across the floor where she lay, you met your little sister’s gaze
  4067. >the thoughts that would have been racing through your mind, the joy at seeing her right here in front of you
  4068. >it was ruined when you saw the terror in her eyes
  4069.  
  4070. >Master bent his head down to look at you
  4071. >The hand gripping your mane pulled your head to the right, forcing you to look back at him
  4072. >when you saw his face, the icy smile on his lips made your skin go cold
  4073.  
  4074. “Ahh. So, she IS your sister! I knew it was true the second I saw your face when you walked in here.”
  4075.  
  4076. >The jovial tone was so saccharine sweet that it makes your blood chill in your veins
  4077. >it wasn’t sincere
  4078. >it wasn’t happy
  4079. >it was…
  4080.  
  4081. >All of a sudden, you saw the whip in his hand.
  4082. >The sight of it made you jolt, like a shock was just sent through your body
  4083. >Master smirked at you, and he gritted his teeth
  4084. >you’ll never forget that look on his face, long as you live
  4085. >the seething rage beneath his smile…
  4086.  
  4087. >Apple Bloom saw it, too
  4088. >she went pale, and began to try and slip away as he stepped toward her, focusing all of his attention on her
  4089. >you don’t know why, but at first it was like you were too shocked, too confused to say anything
  4090. >it was like your brain just couldn’t catch up with what was suddenly happening
  4091.  
  4092. “No, no, w-wait, w-what’d I… no!”
  4093.  
  4094. >Apple Bloom’s shaky voice broke with a heart-rending squeak as Master raised the thin, cordlike whip above his head.
  4095.  
  4096. ----------------------
  4097.  
  4098. >before, you had been frozen in shock, unable to process what was happening
  4099. >but now, at seeing the whip being raised, your voice finally unfreezes
  4100. >The scream of terror that rips out of your throat echoes around the large antechamber
  4101.  
  4102. “NO! Master, Master no! I’ll do anything, I’LL DO ANYTHING!”
  4103.  
  4104. >Your Master’s arm and shoulder twitch forward, and so does the whip
  4105. >but at the last possible second, his arm stops
  4106. >the cord of leather swings back and forth like a pendulum, dangling under his elbow
  4107.  
  4108. >He turns to you, and away from your quaking sister
  4109. >His eyebrows raise, and he tilts his head
  4110.  
  4111. “Oh? Anything?”
  4112.  
  4113. >He tries his best to sound surprised
  4114. >amused
  4115. >But it’s lost on you, and you don’t hesitate to nod your head
  4116. >emphatically
  4117.  
  4118. “Yes! Anything, anything, Master! Please, don’t!”
  4119.  
  4120. >Master smiles
  4121. >it’s a look that twists your stomach
  4122. >and then, slowly, he lowers the whip
  4123. >the end of the leather cord now drags on the floor
  4124. >but his eyes remain fixed on you
  4125.  
  4126. >instead of breathing a sigh of relief, you gasp, bringing air into your lungs
  4127. >your pulse pounds in your ears, and tears of absolute relief drip to the floor
  4128. >Apple Bloom’s eyes, which had been squeezed shut in preparation for the whipping she was going to receive, now flutter open
  4129. >Her eyes dart all around, taking in the scene before her, before they rest back onto you
  4130.  
  4131. >There’s gratefulness, but also, pain in her gaze
  4132. >seeing her expression makes you begin to better realize what you just promised
  4133. >you promised to do anything
  4134. >and you knew not what cruelties you were now going to endure
  4135. >but the fear now gripping your heart, compared to the pain Apple Bloom has just been spared, is nothing
  4136. >you no longer care what fate now befalls you
  4137. >as long as she is safe.
  4138.  
  4139. >The sound of your Master’s boot stepping on the hard floor shake you out of your thoughts
  4140. >He rolls up the short whip, and holds it by his hip, and takes a few more steps toward you
  4141. >until he is standing just in front of you
  4142.  
  4143. >he kneels down, and your very blood turns to ice
  4144. >his hand reaches under your chin
  4145. >and softly caresses it
  4146. >you can’t help it, but you start to shiver
  4147.  
  4148. >He leans down, and speaks to you
  4149.  
  4150. “Anything. Anything… that’s quite refreshing, coming from you.”
  4151.  
  4152. >He runs his hand down your cheek, and down your neck
  4153. >despite it all, you have to resist the urge to bite him
  4154. >you almost feel ashamed that the thought even crosses your mind
  4155.  
  4156. “You see, I’ve heard from many of my men that you have been quite the handful. And what’s worse, other ponies have begun to catch on. It seems you’ve turned into… inspiration for them.”
  4157.  
  4158. >He runs his palm down your throat
  4159. >and you jolt as he gives it a brief squeeze
  4160. >for a moment, your airways are closed, but he releases almost immediately
  4161. >but the short display of power makes you understand the gravity of your situation
  4162. >you cringe as he leans close to your ear
  4163.  
  4164. “I wasn’t sure of how to deal with that. I thought, maybe I’ll flog her? Brand her? But then I realized I would be making a martyr. And what if you didn’t break? Goodness, what a disaster that would end up being. I found myself in a pickle… until I found her.”
  4165.  
  4166. >He points to Apple Bloom with his finger, jabbing it in her direction
  4167.  
  4168. “So, here’s what I’m going to do, Applejack. Rather than just flog you to pieces, as much as I would LOVE to whip you into bloody ribbons right now, I’ve decided to be more civilized. I’ll keep you nice and close to my home, and put you on labor duty on the manor instead. Your sister, on the other hand, will work in your old placement, away the manor. And guess what?”
  4169.  
  4170. >He presses up on your chin, and speaks softly
  4171. >every word drips venom, and the things he says next make you more afraid than any prospect of being flogged to death
  4172.  
  4173. “I’ll be watching you closely. Every time I see you, and I don’t like your work, if you don’t meet your quota… your little sister won’t eat. And every time you try something, give lip to my men, defy orders, inspire other ponies to resist? I’ll have your sister whipped. And every time she doesn’t get her rations or she feels the lash on her back, she’ll know. She’ll know it was all your fault.”
  4174.  
  4175. >He lets go of your chin, and your head falls down with a thud on the floor
  4176. >But this time, it stays there for a moment
  4177. >like the very weight of his words are pressing down your head, keeping it floored
  4178. >and when you lift it, the weight never lets up
  4179.  
  4180. >Apple Bloom’s face has blanked
  4181. >her jaw lays slack, and she lies motionless
  4182. >Tail and back legs still gripped by the man behind her
  4183.  
  4184. >You know she heard everything your Master just said.
  4185. >You can see it in her expression…
  4186.  
  4187. “Alright, that concludes business here. Take Applejack up the steps to her new room, and take… Apple Bloom, was it? Take Apple Bloom off the manor grounds.”
  4188.  
  4189. >The suddenness of his orders, spoken with no regard to you or your sister, quicken your heartbeat
  4190. >and when you feel the men yank you up by your forelegs, letting your back legs drag on the floor, you feel panic grip your chest
  4191.  
  4192. “W--Wait! Wait, Master, m-my sister…”
  4193.  
  4194. >Apple Bloom gasps as the man behind her very roughly jerks her upright
  4195. >he wraps his arm around her middle, and hauls her into the air
  4196. >pressing her against his chest, and he begins to carry her away
  4197.  
  4198. >In a matter of a moment, you see Apple Bloom slipping away from you
  4199. >in your dreams, you had longed for a chance to embrace her, every day since the day you were separated
  4200. >and now, after seeing her in the flesh, so close to you, the thought of her slipping away was more painful than you could have possibly imagined
  4201.  
  4202. >you scream
  4203.  
  4204. “N-No, NO! NOOO! NO, please, please Master, please…”
  4205.  
  4206. “Please, what?”
  4207.  
  4208. >He snaps back at you
  4209. >but the dragging does cease, and you come to a halt
  4210. >They twist you around, and you meet him eye to eye once again
  4211. >you stammer, and shamelessly plead, so desperate that you speak amid sobs
  4212.  
  4213. “Please, just let me hug my sister… let me have just one minute, just one… please, please, please…”
  4214.  
  4215. >The amusement on his face means nothing to you
  4216. >you care not that you’re totally breaking down
  4217. >you care not that he can see your will to resist shattered
  4218. >you need her
  4219. >you need her…
  4220.  
  4221. >Master walks to Apple Bloom, who is gasping
  4222. >she is pleading as well, in more subdued tones, for the same thing as you
  4223. >he looks first at you, then at her, and repeats this process three or four times
  4224.  
  4225. >he narrows his eyes, and then shakes the coiled whip in his hand at your prone sister
  4226.  
  4227. “Well, Applejack, that depends. Is your sister willing to take ten lashes for it? Right here, in front of you?”
  4228.  
  4229. “YES! YES, I WILL! I’LL TAKE THEM!”
  4230.  
  4231. >Apple Bloom’s shout pierces the air
  4232. >You don’t even have a chance to process his question by the time your sister agrees
  4233. >Your mouth opens in unspoken words, not able to escape in time
  4234.  
  4235. >the two men holding you drop you onto the floor, and you land with a thud
  4236. >the same happens to your little sister
  4237.  
  4238. >Master shakes his head, and steps away to give you some room
  4239. >but he fiddles with the whip in his hands
  4240.  
  4241. “Alright, that’s that. 60 seconds. 59…”
  4242.  
  4243. >As he begins to count the seconds, you recover from your surprise, realizing that what’s said has been said
  4244. >your sister already agreed
  4245. >there was no objecting, no going back...
  4246.  
  4247. >Nothing else mattered, now
  4248. >weeping, you frantically pick yourself back up
  4249. >Apple Bloom springs forward, and for a moment, time slows down to a crawl
  4250. >a scene from your desperate, fevered dreams, suddenly realized
  4251.  
  4252. >Her warm body collides into yours, and you wrap your hooves tightly around her shoulders
  4253. >you squeeze her tightly, and she squeezes you back
  4254. >Your hoof goes up to cradle her head, running it through her smooth, beautiful red mane
  4255.  
  4256. >you try to speak clearly, but you are crying so hard that they come out as hiccups
  4257. >Apple Bloom nuzzles into you, and you kiss her on the head, again and again
  4258. >broken stammers are interspersed with words
  4259.  
  4260. “Ap-ple Bloom, oh Apple Bloom, I l-love, I love you, I love you…”
  4261.  
  4262. >It was all you could think to say
  4263. >You rock her back and forth, rubbing the spot between her shoulders
  4264. >Apple Bloom sobs into your chest, shaking like a leaf
  4265.  
  4266. “I lo...love y’too, Applejack, sis… s-sis!”
  4267.  
  4268. >her voice cracks, and she weeps brokenly
  4269. >you kiss her again, the warmth of her body against you the only thing in your universe that matters to you
  4270.  
  4271. “Bloom, I-I’ll work, I’ll keep you safe... I won’t give up, Bloom, I love you… be strong, no matter what...”
  4272.  
  4273. “I… I will! I’ll be strong… I love you, big sis…”
  4274.  
  4275. >It all devolves into cries, sobs, and gasps
  4276. >no more words, just the tightest hug you can manage
  4277. >You never wanted to let her go…
  4278.  
  4279. “...Zero. Alright, hold her down.”
  4280.  
  4281. >Your Master’s voice enters your realm of awareness
  4282. >and you feel the body of your sister suddenly being forcibly pulled away
  4283. >Your eyes shoot open, and a river of tears pour down your face
  4284. >a wavering, strangled sob escapes your throat
  4285. >and the feeling of your sister’s warmth leaving you leaves you feeling colder than ice
  4286.  
  4287. >It was what your sister had agreed to.
  4288. >Despite even your toughest grip, the powerful pairs of human arms tear your crying sister away from you, while another wraps around your neck
  4289. >Choking you, Master’s guard forces you back until you’re far enough away
  4290.  
  4291. >Across from you Apple Bloom’s forehooves are stretched out in front of her by one of the two men, while the other does the same for her back hooves
  4292. >She heaves with sobs and presses her face in between her hooves
  4293. >the reality of what was about to occur sinks in, and you can’t help yourself
  4294. >you beg for mercy as Master approaches, twirling the whip
  4295.  
  4296. “Master, please… please, I beg you, punish me… give me fifty, a hundred, please… please just punish me…”
  4297.  
  4298. >Master sighs
  4299. >shakes his head
  4300. >and raises his whip
  4301.  
  4302. “I am.”
  4303.  
  4304. >Outside, even on the outer limits of Master’s property, the cracks of the whip and the screams of your sister ring out in the air.
  4305.  
  4306. ------------------
  4307.  
  4308. (Anon’s POV)
  4309.  
  4310. >You sit in silence.
  4311. >Applejack isn’t talking anymore, either.
  4312.  
  4313. >You feel bad for being morbidly curious
  4314. >and part of you now wishes she never told you what happened.
  4315. >Your chin wrinkles with anger and disgust, and you sigh heavily through clenched teeth
  4316.  
  4317. >She hadn’t even gotten to her scars, yet
  4318. >or the way she responded to you simply petting her on the head, thinking you wanted sex from her
  4319. >what happened after that to break her so badly
  4320. >or what happened to her little sister…
  4321. >Your fists clench so hard that your fingernails dig into your palms
  4322. >If you were angry at Applejack’s old master before, then you were furious now
  4323. >the thought of someone whipping a child, holding them hostage, made you sick
  4324.  
  4325. >She pinches her nose in between her hooves, and curls herself up.
  4326. >She shakes her head with her eyes closed
  4327.  
  4328. “I can’t, Master. Not now, I-I can’t say no more, please don’t make me…”
  4329.  
  4330. >There’s a squeak in her voice
  4331. >She shudders, and her tail covers up her belly
  4332. >God, it breaks your heart just to hear her ASK you not to force her to relive her trauma
  4333. >You quickly shake your head, holding up a hand to wave off her concerns
  4334.  
  4335. “No, Applejack. You’ve said enough… god…”
  4336.  
  4337. >You cover your face with your hand and rest your elbow on your knee
  4338. >You strangely find yourself looking over at her backside, which is still visible
  4339. >now, you suddenly have imagery behind the cause of those marks, and you bite your lip
  4340.  
  4341. >You know what she just said, but you can’t help yourself
  4342. >you have to ask
  4343. >you shyly point at her rump, and cringe as you ask the question
  4344.  
  4345. “Did… HE do that? To you?”
  4346.  
  4347. >Applejack’s hooves twitch, and her tail tucks in between her legs.
  4348. >You’re not even sure if she saw you point your finger
  4349. >however, she seems to know what you’re talking about anyway.
  4350.  
  4351. >You almost don’t notice it, but she nods.
  4352.  
  4353. “Yes.”
  4354.  
  4355. >Her eyes are glistening
  4356. >moist with unshed tears
  4357. >You feel a sinking in your gut, but also, anger in your heart
  4358. >As if you didn’t have enough reasons to hate her former master…
  4359.  
  4360. >It’s probably pathetic
  4361. >maybe counterproductive
  4362. >but you have to say something
  4363.  
  4364. “I’m sorry, Applejack.”
  4365.  
  4366. >She doesn’t seem to react to your apology either way
  4367. >like the apology just bounced off of her
  4368. >and as soon as it leaves you, you can’t help but feel stupid
  4369. >What did your sorry do for her?
  4370. >Could you heal her pain?
  4371. >Could you bring her sister back?
  4372.  
  4373. >Applejack gently shakes her head
  4374.  
  4375. “No, Master, don’t be. You… you’re the only one. The only human who’s ever shown me k-kindness.”
  4376.  
  4377. >You realize she is now looking at you.
  4378. >She sighs, and her eyes gently flutter open and closed
  4379. >the fatigue in her voice conveys a sort of regret that you can’t quite understand
  4380.  
  4381. >You feel an immense sadness weighing on you
  4382. >to think that you simply needing some help with your landscaping work led to all this
  4383. >you hadn’t brought Applejack in out of the kindness of your heart, but out of utility
  4384.  
  4385. >but you hadn’t gotten rid of her, even when she hadn’t been healthy
  4386. >injured
  4387. >mentally broken and terrified
  4388. >you had helped her instead…
  4389.  
  4390. >It had been a messy divorce.
  4391. >No kids, nothing but a small house and a job making lavish landscapes for rich people so you could pay the bills
  4392. >Not many friends to speak of
  4393. >Sometimes feeling like your life was in limbo…
  4394.  
  4395. >But maybe, after all of that, there was something good you still had left to offer someone.
  4396.  
  4397. >Feeling lightheaded, you slowly stand up
  4398. >Applejack’s head lifts, and her ears pin back when she sees you move
  4399. >perhaps it’s just a reflex that she goes wide-eyed
  4400. >but you are quick to let her know everything was fine.
  4401.  
  4402. “It’s ok, hon. I’m just getting water. Do you want any?”
  4403.  
  4404. >Applejack gives you a blank stare for a moment
  4405. >but she does come back to her senses, and nods
  4406.  
  4407. “Yes. That would be nice, Master, thank you…”
  4408.  
  4409. “Anon. Please, just call me Anon.”
  4410.  
  4411. >Even though you speak as gently as possible, guilt still flashes across Applejack’s face.
  4412. >She lowers her nose into the sofa and gives you an apology
  4413.  
  4414. “Oh, S-Sorry. I didn’t mean to forget, M… Anon.”
  4415.  
  4416. >The fact that she almost let ‘Master’ slip out again demonstrates to you just how ingrained it is.
  4417. >Every time she feels she has done something to wrong you, ‘Master’ is almost the first thing out of her mouth.
  4418. >But despite being her Master, you want nothing to do with being called that
  4419. >You want nothing to do with the man who owned her before
  4420. >not even by mental association.
  4421. >You’re going to have to deal with a lot more slipups, you know
  4422. >it’s going to take a lot of gentle correction to break her habit
  4423. >but she’s going to heal.
  4424.  
  4425. “It’s ok. I know you don’t mean to.”
  4426.  
  4427. >At least getting cold drinking water won’t be a problem now that your power is going to be out for the foreseeable future
  4428. >You fill up two glasses and walk back
  4429.  
  4430. >To your great surprise, Applejack is no longer laying down, but crouching on the sofa with her legs bunched up under her
  4431. >She’s careful not to sit, with her injury and all
  4432. >You hand her the glass, and she takes it with her eyes averted from you
  4433.  
  4434. >This time, instead of sitting back in your chair, you join her on the couch.
  4435. >Applejack still doesn’t look at you, and now that you’re closer, she’s beginning to shiver again
  4436. >you frown, and there’s an ache in your chest
  4437. >Does she actually think you’re angry at her for something like this?
  4438.  
  4439. >Probably, you think grimly.
  4440.  
  4441. >You don’t know what makes you do it
  4442. >only two nights ago, it had resulted in something very bad
  4443. >But your hand has a mind of its own
  4444. >After Applejack takes a gulp of her water, you place your hand on top of her head, and pet down her neck.
  4445. >She flinches from your touch, and despite that you don’t push down, she instantly lets her head fall to the cushion
  4446. >lowers her gaze and closes her eyes, but not in contentment
  4447.  
  4448. >Even so, you don’t stop petting her
  4449. >You’re very careful not to move past her neck
  4450. >you want her not to associate your touch with bad things, but you know traveling down her body would be a step too far right now
  4451. >You keep it up despite her silence and rigidity
  4452.  
  4453. >After a minute with Applejack’s tension never lessening, you stop stroking her head, and instead rest it softly on her mane
  4454. >Even with all of your best efforts to put her at ease, she’s the exact opposite
  4455. >you gulp, and ask her a question
  4456.  
  4457. “Applejack… are you afraid of me?”
  4458.  
  4459. >She winces when you ask her
  4460. >feeling the twitch in her shoulders under your hand
  4461. >you almost pull it away, but you decide to keep it there
  4462. >you don’t even know why…
  4463.  
  4464. “I-I…”
  4465.  
  4466. >She swallows hard
  4467. >Then, after some mental deliberation, she nods her head.
  4468.  
  4469. “Y-Yes. I am, yes, Anon.”
  4470.  
  4471. >Well that answers that question.
  4472. >You close your eyes and sigh
  4473. >you feel helpless hearing that admission
  4474. >wondering what you need to do better
  4475. >what you did wrong...
  4476.  
  4477. >Unexpectedly though, she keeps going
  4478. >talking quietly, meekly with her mouth against the couch
  4479. >The fear and sadness in her voice is palpable
  4480.  
  4481. “I’m always… w-waiting. For when I make too many mistakes, disobey too many times… a-and then you’ll, you’ll… get rid of me. I’ve already messed up so much. I feel like… all I have left to give you, earn what you’ve given me, is… me.”
  4482.  
  4483. >She almost swallows the last word before it gets out.
  4484. >she lies motionless, closing her eyes and letting some tears trickle down her cheeks.
  4485.  
  4486. >Your pupils, already wide from the low light, still manage to get wider.
  4487. >Instantly, you pull your hand off of her and let it fall to the couch.
  4488. >She feels it leave her, and her head turns to you
  4489. >glistening eyes gazing at you with an intensity you do not expect
  4490.  
  4491. >You know what she means.
  4492. >It’s the way she said it.
  4493. >Suddenly, you have flashbacks to that night, when you showed her the bed she would be sleeping on
  4494. >When you pet her then
  4495. >What had happened...
  4496.  
  4497. >You shake your head at her, and hold up your hands disarmingly
  4498. >Speaking like a hostage negotiator, you try to dissuade her away from these thoughts
  4499.  
  4500. “Applejack, remember? Remember what I said, hon? I’m not going to rape you, never, ever. Please, hon, don’t think that w-”
  4501.  
  4502. “But what if… I… DO w-want to?”
  4503.  
  4504. >She cuts you off, and the room falls silent.
  4505. >Applejack, as soon as the sentence leaves her mouth, lowers her head, but her eyes actually stay on you.
  4506.  
  4507. >You sit there, gobsmacked, for several seconds.
  4508. >You begin to stutter, head tilting with confusion, and you slouch back in the couch
  4509. >trying to decide if you really did hear it correctly
  4510. >And when you register it, you still can’t believe it
  4511. >What does she… how could she want...
  4512.  
  4513. >Crouched next to you, Applejack’s eyes flicker, and she stares ahead of her for a time
  4514. >like she’s coming to some kind of realization
  4515. >She blinks slowly, and you hear her move
  4516.  
  4517. >And then, Applejack inches toward you
  4518. >She practical crawls, with her nose in the couch and her legs audibly shuffling on the couch cushion
  4519. >and you feel unnerved when you see her glance toward your thighs
  4520. >She begins to breathe heavily, and her voice sounds almost like she’s sleepwalking
  4521.  
  4522. “You… you’d be different, right? You wouldn’t be so rough on me…”
  4523.  
  4524. >Oh fuck no.
  4525. >This had to stop, now
  4526. >You reply quickly, and firmly, trying not to shout.
  4527.  
  4528. “Applejack, no. Stop…”
  4529.  
  4530. “I won’t mess anything up this time, I’ll be good… I know I could still be good for you…”
  4531.  
  4532. >She talks like she’s in a trance
  4533. >Almost like she’s in another world, lost
  4534. >It’s actually scary.
  4535. >You raise your voice
  4536.  
  4537. “No. Stop it Applejack, right now...”
  4538.  
  4539. “Please, let me give s-something, anything back, f-for what you did… I know I ain’t got nothing else…”
  4540.  
  4541. >She inches toward you again
  4542. >mouth more loosely held open as she looks between your legs
  4543. >Her hoof touches your thigh, and she pulls herself in
  4544.  
  4545. “Then I wouldn’t be so afraid anymore, i-if you just…”
  4546.  
  4547. “APPLEJACK, STOP IT THIS INSTANT!”
  4548.  
  4549. >You grab her hoof on top of your leg, and hold it tightly
  4550. >Your voice cracks with panic
  4551. >and actually, even a little bit of anger...
  4552. >but not at her.
  4553.  
  4554. >As soon as you grab her, Applejack yelps and seizes up completely.
  4555. >Her hoof tugs away from you on reflex, but you manage to keep your hold
  4556. >and with her other hoof, she covers her head, closing her eyes and gritting her teeth.
  4557.  
  4558. >you know Applejack is waiting to be struck.
  4559. >your thoughts go back to the first night she was with you
  4560. >that horrible trance-like state, as she went to unzip your pants
  4561. >you hit her then, a good bop on the nose
  4562. >and the way she looks now, you relive your regret for striking her all over again
  4563.  
  4564. >but luckily, after a moment passes, that cringing tension ebbs away
  4565. >her hoof softens in your hand
  4566. >and rather than resist you, she falls still
  4567. >you gaze down at her with your mouth agape, and feel that familiar ache in your heart
  4568.  
  4569. >Her hoof stays over her head protectively, but the tremors in her legs from bracing herself have subsided.
  4570. >In turn, you also soften your grip on her hoof
  4571. >Unthinkingly, you rub your thumb up and down her fetlock
  4572. >In response, Applejack’s eyes flutter
  4573. >her breath catches in her chest, and she gives a small hiccup
  4574. >and she leans her head into your holding hand, until her snout is touching your wrist
  4575.  
  4576. >You can feel her breathing on your hand
  4577. >soft, gentle breaths as she miraculously begins to calm down
  4578. >she’s just decided to submit to your hold on her, and simply lies still
  4579.  
  4580. >You are still not sure what to say right now
  4581. >some of the most awkward silences of your entire life have occurred within the last two days
  4582. >Applejack was just so fundamentally damaged, the idea of helping her truly did feel overwhelming
  4583. >but you could never tell her that.
  4584. >She already feels enough guilt over simply being fed and given a bed
  4585. >telling her how difficult she is to deal with would destroy anything that’s left of her.
  4586.  
  4587. >But as you let the silence stretch on, mind drawing a blank on what to say or do next, Applejack is actually the first to talk.
  4588. >She shivers and raises her head, staring straight ahead at the wall
  4589.  
  4590. “Are you… going to hit me, Master?”
  4591.  
  4592. >there it is
  4593. >hearing that question, you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut
  4594. >you wish you could take back that strike you gave her
  4595. >she’s afraid of you
  4596. >God, the way this pony makes your heart ache…
  4597.  
  4598. “No, no, Applejack. I’m not, you don’t have to worry, ok?”
  4599.  
  4600. >There’s a little surprise in her eyes when you deliver her the “good news”
  4601. >but she believes you
  4602. >She sullenly nods her head, and puts her nose back into the sofa
  4603. >And all the while, your hand continues to hold her hoof, finger softly stroking her fetlock
  4604.  
  4605. >You refuse to let the room fall silent
  4606. >not after something like that just happened
  4607. >it would be torture for the both of you, left with your own thoughts
  4608. >You are about to say something…
  4609. >...but she beats you to it.
  4610.  
  4611. “I’m sorry, th-that I’m so… disgusting, Master. I know I ain’t real pretty, b-but I promise if you ever w...want me to, I’ll do anything you ask.”
  4612.  
  4613. >Oh, good LORD.
  4614. >Maybe you SHOULD bop her on the nose, again.
  4615. >You don’t know how you’re going to make her get the hint
  4616. >And now, she thinks she’s ugly, too?
  4617. >where did that…
  4618.  
  4619. >but then you realize why, and your heart just sinks further than you ever thought it could
  4620. >you turned her offer down, to use her body for your own sick enjoyment.
  4621. >in her tortured mind, that must mean you find her unattractive, or unworthy
  4622. >find her disgusting...
  4623.  
  4624. >Heart pounding, you let go of her hoof, and it gently falls to your thigh.
  4625. >Applejack’s ears twitch, and she gives a tiny flinch, meekly looking up at you
  4626. >expectantly, like she’s afraid she did something wrong
  4627. >You smile sadly down at her, and brush a strand of her mane out of her face
  4628.  
  4629. “Not pretty?”
  4630.  
  4631. >You say, staring into her enormous emerald green eyes
  4632. >there’s a tremendous amount of emotion and depth you can see there
  4633. >and her mane, the way it falls in soft waves over her head and neck…
  4634. >You shake your head, continuing to smile.
  4635.  
  4636. “Not pretty? Hon, that isn’t true at all. There’s not one ugly thing about you. And you are most CERTAINLY not ‘disgusting’ either.”
  4637.  
  4638. >Your smile begins to widen, and you feel the sensation of butterflies fluttering in your stomach
  4639. >Applejack stares unblinkingly, wordlessly back at you, eyes unwavering
  4640. >you can see some contemplation in them
  4641. >almost like she’s examining your eyes, your face, for signs of dishonesty
  4642. >but she won’t find any
  4643.  
  4644. >Then, that’s when a sudden urge hits you
  4645. >you must say, you’ve never been a super, well, “touchy feely” kind of guy
  4646. >but something about this idea feels so right, so necessary
  4647.  
  4648. >you take a deep breath, and wrap your arms all the way around her, and with a grunt, hoist her up onto your chest in a big bear hug
  4649.  
  4650. >Applejack gasps, and her hooves do a spazzy little flail around for a moment out of surprise
  4651. >but you’ve really put all your strength into this one
  4652. >She’s gonna get a nice big hug no matter what
  4653. >Master’s orders
  4654.  
  4655. >You hug her with her head resting on your shoulder, and her belly pressed against yours
  4656. >her rear legs and hindquarters stretch away from you, and were you to drop her, she’d be lying on her side across your lap
  4657. >You feel the tension in her fearful body, and while a cautious part of you asks what the hell you are doing, you push it to the background
  4658.  
  4659. >You clasp your hand around her mane, and pull her in close, resting your cheek on her shoulder
  4660. >your other arm is wrapped all the way around her middle, and it keep her whole body aside from her lower half close to you
  4661. >You just breathe, and hold her closely and tightly
  4662. >you’d cross your fingers if you weren’t holding onto her
  4663. >you hope this doesn’t make things worse
  4664.  
  4665. >Applejack, while she shivers at first, and her muscles are harder than rock, they quickly begin to soften
  4666. >the feeling of her melting in your arms makes your heart flutter and another small smile spread on your lips
  4667. >that there’s just enough trust between you and her
  4668. >that she knows you won’t harm her
  4669.  
  4670. >Applejack’s heavy breathing slows, and her rigid back legs also relax
  4671. >submitting to your hold of her
  4672. >and then, you feel her legs wrap around you, too, and they squeeze just as hard
  4673. >You carefully rub her between her shoulders, on her withers, up and down
  4674. >short strokes, just in a comforting gesture
  4675. >Applejack gasps softly, and something tells you it’s not a displeasured one
  4676. >you close your eyes, and speak softly beside her ear
  4677.  
  4678. “Applejack, inside and out, I… I think you’re beautiful.”
  4679.  
  4680. >You feel shocked that such a word even leaves your mouth.
  4681. >But it’s like you weren’t even aware of the fact you said it
  4682. >what were you even going to say, anyway?
  4683. >surely it couldn’t have been that!
  4684. >Surely someone like you couldn’t have actually meant to say something so dramatic, or… or…
  4685.  
  4686. >Your train of thought is derailed, though, when you feel a shudder against you.
  4687. >and then another one, followed by another
  4688. >an audible puff of air through Applejack’s nose...
  4689.  
  4690. >She’s crying.
  4691.  
  4692. >The grip around you tightens, and you feel her pull in closer to you, and a repressed, low pitched whimper leaves her
  4693. >The sound of it is enough to almost rip your heart out of your chest
  4694. >You give a gentle shush, and resume your hand rubbing up and down her back
  4695.  
  4696. >But there’s no holding her back.
  4697. >No shushing is going to keep her at bay
  4698. >she sobs, much louder this time, and you feel the tip of her wet snout touch the nape of your neck and her warm breathing on your skin
  4699. >you feel her lungs heave and spasm, and she cringes against you
  4700. >blurriness begins to fill your vision, and you blink away a forming tear in your eye
  4701.  
  4702. >Her voice peeps out, and goosebumps rise over your whole body
  4703.  
  4704. “No… no one’s ever said that before.”
  4705.  
  4706. >You hug her tighter.
  4707. >despite everything that’s happened to her, for some reason, that confession hits you just as hard
  4708. >you really have been the only one who’s ever shown her kindness since she arrived here…
  4709.  
  4710. >but what about before, back in her old homeland?
  4711. >what about…
  4712.  
  4713. >Something stops you from going down that train of thought.
  4714. >your gut tenses, and the muscles in your jaw bulge with a momentary hard grind of your teeth
  4715. >and you shove the thought out of your mind, without fully understanding why…
  4716.  
  4717. >Your focus quickly moves back to Applejack, the pony shivering slightly in your arms.
  4718. >a hand glides through her mane, and you smile down at her.
  4719.  
  4720. “Well, it’s true hon. Never doubt that.”
  4721.  
  4722. >You pull her in even closer, and rest your head on her shoulder while hers rests on yours
  4723. >Applejack sniffs, and her very powerful grip tightens around you
  4724. >your smile widens.
  4725.  
  4726. >the two of you then fall quiet, and only the sounds of soft breathing and a faint breeze outside can be heard.
  4727.  
  4728. --------
  4729.  
  4730. >When the morning sun rises higher in the sky, the full extent of what happened last night is revealed.
  4731. >The bright light of the sun leaves nothing to the imagination.
  4732.  
  4733. >Debris is scattered everywhere outside
  4734. >branches, sheet metal, bricks, stones, you name it
  4735. >a large, heavy tree branch lay across your backyard, mostly stripped of leaves
  4736. >evidence that you had been barely spared a direct hit from the tornado.
  4737.  
  4738. >in your house there is no electricity, but the light coming through your windows shows off all of the dust and small particles of debris, and branches all around your living room
  4739. >two of the windows are shattered, and the pieces of glass are all around the other side of your room
  4740. >it’s going to be annoying to clean up, but...
  4741.  
  4742. >you have nothing to complain about.
  4743. >You and Applejack escaped death.
  4744.  
  4745. >It’s a miracle you weren’t hit.
  4746. >when you once again stepped outside your back door, the picture from last night had become fully put together
  4747. >the houses on the other far street were torn to shreds, crumbling to their very foundations
  4748. >Some further in the distance even had basically nothing but foundations left
  4749. >You could have sworn that there were more trees, but stripped up vegetation and muddy soil are all that remain in some spots
  4750. >you could still hear siren sounds in the distance, in multiple directions
  4751. >Hopefully, the sounds of people being rescued…
  4752.  
  4753. >perhaps you should have done something more to help
  4754. >but what happened last night had knocked the wind out of you
  4755. >memories of the body being carried away, covered in a sheet
  4756. >the little girl with a piece of wood impaling her chest
  4757. >the blood
  4758. >the cries of pain…
  4759.  
  4760. >the day felt aimless.
  4761. >The muggy humidity seeped into the house through the broken windows, bringing sweat to your brow as you swept more debris into the dustpan
  4762. >You had already filled one contractor bag to the brim, and were halfway through your second bag
  4763. >There was still a lot more cleanup to go, too
  4764.  
  4765. >But lying on the couch, fast asleep, was Applejack
  4766. >you had managed to successfully get up without waking her up
  4767. >and despite the crinkling of plastic from the contractor bag and the steady swish of your broom on the floor, she remains dead to the world
  4768. >a victim of total exhaustion
  4769.  
  4770. >you decided to let her sleep for as long as she wants
  4771. >you can clean this up by yourself, no problem
  4772. >it’s the least you could do
  4773.  
  4774. >the most you can do is check your phone for news updates since you have no internet
  4775. >and sure enough, news of this catastrophic event is starting to be posted online
  4776. >and apparently, this is not the only tornado to have occurred, either
  4777. >this was an outbreak level event
  4778.  
  4779. >a cluster of tornadoes in your region, both overnight and into the early morning, have been reported
  4780. >at least two fatalities have been reported, and authorities state that there is likely going to be more than that
  4781. >this is horrendous
  4782. >you’ve been in bad storms before, and this wasn’t even your first tornado outbreak
  4783. >you live in the South, where this kind of thing happens too commonly
  4784. >but this is the first time it’s been so close to home
  4785.  
  4786. >you had already messaged the guys about everything
  4787. >asking them if they are safe
  4788. >every one of them had replied with a yes, which gave you a great deal of relief
  4789. >but still, you had cancelled the day’s work given the circumstances
  4790. >More storms were projected to come through, you had read on your phone
  4791. >hopefully, none of them would be like this again
  4792.  
  4793. >as you clean more debris from the kitchen floor, your mind keeps drifting over to the little girl you’d rescued from the rubble this morning
  4794. >the wooden plank impaled through her chest like a spear, the blood…
  4795. >but worst of all, the cries of distress and pain
  4796. >you wanted to believe the paramedics had been telling the truth about her chances…
  4797.  
  4798. >An audible yawn comes from the couch
  4799. >you freeze mid sweep into the dustpan, not moving a muscle
  4800. >but it was too late. You see her head lift up from the sofa cushion, and she looks around with a whippy motion of her head from side to side
  4801. >like she was suddenly awake, and startled to see you weren’t sleeping beside her
  4802.  
  4803. >sure enough, Applejack turns her head around, to see you crouched down with the dustpan in your hands and a half-filled trash bag on the floor beside you
  4804. >the look she gives you is almost one of disappointment, and she cocks her head to the side
  4805.  
  4806. >”A-Anon? What’re you doin? Are you, I mean… here, let me help ya…”
  4807.  
  4808. >of course, this would be her reaction to seeing you do work
  4809. >this pony...
  4810. >Applejack rolls off the couch before you can even say anything in response, and she walks over to where you are crouched
  4811. >you hold up a hand to stop her, shaking your head softly
  4812.  
  4813. “Whoa, wait a sec there hon. You don’t have to…”
  4814.  
  4815. >she was already picking up leaves in her mouth, seeming to ignore your protests
  4816. >Applejack made no eye contact with you, opting instead to let her actions do the talking
  4817. >as usual...
  4818.  
  4819. >truthfully, you had been about to demand she go lay back down
  4820. >but seeing her picking things up one by one, dropping them into the open contractor bag in the middle of the floor, seeing her hard at work after only just waking up…
  4821. >it made your heart float in your chest
  4822.  
  4823. >she really was such a great pony...
  4824.  
  4825. >your hand, formerly held up in a halting gesture, fell back to your side
  4826. >Applejack noticed it out of the corner of her eye, gaze darting over to you for a brief moment before she went right back on task
  4827. >however, the inefficiency of using her mouth to pick up individual pieces of litter were readily obvious
  4828. >and you once again held up your hand
  4829.  
  4830. “Hold up, just a sec, hon… here…”
  4831.  
  4832. >You get up from the ground, clutching the dustpan in your left hand
  4833. >you turn it around so the handle faces her
  4834. >Applejack, looking comical with a few dirty leaves in her mouth… you can’t imagine they taste very good… seems to understand what you’re getting at
  4835. >the silly pony spits the leaves out of her mouth, and takes hold of the dustpan instead
  4836. >you smile down at her
  4837.  
  4838. “Here, Applejack. You hold, I’ll sweep. How’s that?”
  4839.  
  4840. >you watch her face closely
  4841. >and to your delight, for just the briefest moment, you see her eyes light up
  4842. >and the teeniest little smile creeps up on her lips
  4843. >she talks with the metal dustpan handle in her mouth, and gives a little nod of her head
  4844. >”Yesh, Ano’n...’”
  4845.  
  4846. >There’s a good pony.
  4847. >You nod your head approvingly.
  4848. “Good. Now, let’s get started.”
  4849.  
  4850. >And so, with sweat already dripping down your brows from the humidity, heat, and lack of AC, the two of you get to work.
  4851.  
  4852. ------------------
  4853.  
  4854. >It was amazing how much of a roll you had both gotten onto once you started.
  4855. >you’d barely even needed to direct her
  4856. >it was like she already knew what you wanted, where you wanted to go, everything
  4857. >like she could read your thoughts
  4858.  
  4859. >By evening, you had both managed to collect quite the pile of trash in a set of contractor bags, now piled high on the back patio
  4860. >It wouldn’t repair the damage done to your siding and windows, but honestly, you didn’t even care.
  4861. >You saw what the tornado did to the houses behind yours.
  4862. >You and Applejack would have been killed if it had hit you.
  4863.  
  4864. >Your electricity was still out, and it just occurred to you that there wouldn’t be any for likely the next long while.
  4865. >maybe even a few days…
  4866. >and then it hits you that your water is also going to be affected, too
  4867. >whatever is left in your hot water heater was all that was going to be left, so hot showers were going to be out of the question…
  4868.  
  4869. >And your fridge, too.
  4870. >You were going to have to keep it closed for as long as possible, only taking out food to…
  4871. >But wait. Your stovetop isn’t going to work, either.
  4872. >Electric stoves…
  4873.  
  4874. >Hopefully, your favorite takeout places weren’t destroyed by all of these tornadoes...
  4875.  
  4876. >And… you had both just worked up quite a sweat in the muggy house
  4877. >with no AC during the summer
  4878. >And now that you had a chance to sit down and relax, you realized just how hot it is inside, still
  4879. >Across from you, Applejack lays face down in her armchair, curled up with her head rolled to the side, and sweat trickling down her face and body
  4880. >She’s breathing softly, but you can tell she is tired
  4881.  
  4882. >Damn, you need some water. Both of you do.
  4883. >With a puff, you get up from the sofa and make your way over to the sink
  4884. >You look over your shoulder at Applejack, who doesn’t look up at you
  4885. >She’s too busy relaxing, trying to cool her body off with swishes of her tail
  4886. >Your gaze lingers on her for a moment, and you can’t help but smile
  4887.  
  4888. >It was a good day of work.
  4889. >Despite everything that had just happened, you had to admit that doing something as simple as cleaning your house of debris had been good to get your mind off of all the horror that had happened today
  4890. >And once more, you got a good idea of your new little pony’s work ethic
  4891. >and it was impressive.
  4892.  
  4893. >You keep your smile as you fill up two tall glasses of water in the tap, and you walk back over to her
  4894. >Applejack’s ears perk up, and she lifts her head up a little bit to look up at you
  4895. >Smiling down at her, you hold out a full glass of water to her
  4896. >Her pupils widen instantly, and her dry lips part
  4897.  
  4898. “Here, hon. Drink up.”
  4899.  
  4900. >Applejack takes a moment, but she doesn’t keep you waiting very long
  4901. >She pushes herself up from the seat and takes the glass from you
  4902. >You watch as she takes a ginger sip from the glass…
  4903. >Only to then tilt the glass down all the way, and down the entire contents in a matter of seconds.
  4904.  
  4905. >Applejack lowers the now empty glass, and looks up at you sheepishly
  4906. >a little blush shows on her cheeks, and she flicks her tail
  4907. >”S-Sorry, Anon, I uh… didn’t realize how thirsty I was.”
  4908.  
  4909. >You blink in surprise, but then give a little laugh
  4910. >the blush on Applejack’s cheeks deepens, and she aims her eyes at the floor
  4911. >You take a hearty gulp from your glass, and then you take the glass from her and walk back to the sink
  4912. >You cock your head to the side, toward the sink
  4913.  
  4914. “Tell you what. Let’s just both fill our glasses at the sink until we’ve had our fill, okay?”
  4915.  
  4916. ------------------
  4917.  
  4918. >While you were both no longer thirsty, a hard day’s work had managed to give you quite the appetite
  4919. >And you still couldn’t cook any of your food.
  4920. >you decision to outfit an electric stove had clearly been a mistake in hindsight...
  4921.  
  4922. >You may be an outdoors man, but… you never realized how dependent on electricity you were until it was gone.
  4923. >But still, you were lucky to even be alive right now.
  4924. >No electricity was a problem, but it was nothing in the grand scheme of things.
  4925. >so, if you needed to eat something, then you guessed it was going to have to be somewhere else...
  4926.  
  4927. >you didn’t like to eat too much takeout, even though it was so easy to fall into the habit
  4928. >and doing the work you do? Weight gain, getting fat, was practically impossible
  4929. >but it was still expensive, much more expensive than packing your own lunch
  4930.  
  4931. >that being said, you still have a couple of favorite places
  4932. >and given today’s situation, you think…
  4933.  
  4934. “Hey, Applejack? Are you hungry?”
  4935.  
  4936. >Applejack looked up at you from where she lay on the sofa
  4937. >Her huge, expressive eyes transfix you to your chair
  4938. >and right away, just the mentioning of food seems to make her pupils widen until her irises are barely visible
  4939. >you smile inwardly
  4940.  
  4941. >Yep, she was hungry alright.
  4942. >You smile as she nods her head, slowly
  4943. >”Y-Yes, Anon. I’m… famished, actually.”
  4944.  
  4945. >The way she says it makes you grin with amusement
  4946. >almost like she’s admitting guilt of some sort
  4947. >it was oddly… well, adorable.
  4948. >You nod your head, and stand up from the chair
  4949.  
  4950. “Well, alright then. I guess we’ll have to go and get some food then, won’t we? That is, if some places are still even open after...”
  4951.  
  4952. >you trail off with a frown.
  4953. >and just like that, all the positive vibes seemed to go right out the window
  4954. >however, you do recover quickly… although not quickly enough to stop Applejack’s ears from pinning back on her head
  4955. >You take a deep breath, and put on a smile.
  4956. >Positive thoughts, right? Positive thoughts…
  4957.  
  4958. “I mean… never mind. Don’t worry about that. I know a place you’ll like…”
  4959.  
  4960. >It looked like Applejack was going to take her first ride in your truck a little bit sooner than you had thought!
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