A Glimmer Among Apples

by jkbrony

Chapter 1: What in tarnation are you doin' here?!

Clad in her bright, yellow boots and Kelly green scarf which matched her eyes, Applejack took several exhausted breaths, each emerging from her mouth in a visible stream. Thanks to Rainbow Dash's backfired efforts to stop the season of winter, snow now covered every last inch of Sweet Apple Acres, and the Apple siblings were left to harvesting as many remaining apples as they could before they shriveled and froze over.

The process of harvesting apples for the winter generally lasted over the course of a few weeks. It began near the end of fall, when the last apples of the season were fully grown and ripe, and concluded in the beginning stages of winter, just as the pegasi were hard at work filling the sky with winter clouds and a light snowfall slowly overtook the entire orchard. But with winter's accelerated arrival this year, a few dozen trees still remained un-bucked, and the loss of the apples would equate to nearly 100 bits' worth of lost profits.

Applejack straightened the loose scarf around her neck. The sun was quickly disappearing beyond the hills, and what little warmth it provided was disappearing along with it. On any other busy day, this was about the time when she would be storing bucked apples or putting away dirt-ridden tools, then heading inside where a hard-earned and long-awaited dinner would be sitting on the kitchen table, complete with either an apple pie or fritters for dessert.

But the Apple siblings did not have such a luxury this evening. They knew that what apples they left on the trees would freeze overnight, and not one more would grow until spring. They had to stay out as late as it took to collect them all, and that would be much more difficult to do without the light and warmth of the sun to rely on. Making matters worse, the storehouses and apple cellars were now fully stocked, and the only place left to store the remaining apples was the barn, where they were likely to freeze over if not covered properly.

As she gathered together several small wooden buckets of freshly bucked apples, Applejack looked up to see her similarly winter-dressed sister pushing a large, empty, wooden bucket towards her. Her own boots were a vibrant red, and the scarf around her neck was pink, with its flaps delicately wrapped around her nose and mouth.

"AB, why don't you go inside after you take these to the barn?" Applejack said as she dumped her smaller buckets of apples into the large bucket. "Big Mac and I can handle the rest."

"Are ya sure, sis?" Apple Bloom asked after pulling the scarf down so she could speak clearly.

"I'm sure. I don't want you catchin' a cold out here. Go on in and warm up before dinner."

"Thanks, Applejack," she grinned appreciatively, then turned to push the large bucket in the direction opposite of the one she came, moving slowly as she struggled with its significantly increased weight.

After another long hour of striking her back legs against the remaining trees and collecting the apples that fell, all of the trees in Sweet Apple Acres were finally apple-free. Applejack reunited with Big Mac to deposit her final apples into another large bucket, and he pushed it into the barn.

"Boy howdy, I'm hungrier than a vampire fruit bat in an empty orchard!" Applejack exclaimed, responding to her grumbling stomach. "How 'bout you, Big Mac?"

Her brother said nothing, his only reply emerging in the form of a grunt brought on by the weight of the bucket as he positioned it against the barn wall, where four equally large buckets of apples sat in a straight line, each with a tarp covering over them from the top.

"Big Mac?" Applejack said worriedly, knowing that his lack of response did not indicate anything good.

"Um, AJ..."

Applejack's face fell instantly. "Oh, don't tell me there are still more trees left...."

"No, it's just that the sheep still need more hay."

"Darn, yer right. I completely forgot," Applejack said with a sigh, feeling her stomach grumble with disappointment at having to wait longer to be filled with food. "Well, I'll get on it. You go inside, Big Mac."

"I'll help you out," Big Mac said at once.

"Nah, that's okay," Applejack replied, shaking her head. "Besides, you got started out here before I did, and this'll only take a minute. Go on in, big brother. I'll go ahead and secure these last apples, too."

"If you're sure..." Big Mac replied with a shrug, turning to exit the barn.

The sun was now gone, but the moonlight reflecting off the fallen snow made the evening brighter than most, though not any less cold than a typical winter's evening. The barn would have been encased entirely in hollow darkness were it not for the windows, which cast it in a slightly gray light.

Applejack threw a tarp over the bucket of apples that Big Mac brought in, making sure that it covered every last inch of the opening. She tied it down tightly on two miniature hooks which hung from the bucket's left and right sides. Once she was sure that it was securely tightened enough that the apples would not freeze, she let out an exhausted breath, thankful that the winter harvest was finally over. She silently hoped to herself that she would have another apple cellar ready by next year's winter so that storing apples in the barn would no longer be necessary. Her stomach growled again, and she knew that it refused to wait much longer.

Applejack walked to the right corner of the barn where an electric lantern and a wheelbarrow lay among several other farm tools. She grabbed both, lit the lantern while hooking it to the wheelbarrow's handle, and moved to the back of the barn where a large collection of hay sat in a pile. Just before she began gathering it into the wheelbarrow, she suddenly felt her hoof come into contact with something uncomfortably wet and cold. She looked down to find that she had stepped on an apple core, with five more lying scattered on the floor nearby. Each of them appeared to be recently eaten.

Applejack squinted her eyes at the cores. What in tarnation? Those thievin' varmits had better not been gettin' into our apples again!

Just as she finished that thought, the corner of her eye caught sight of a swift jolt from the hay pile, as if it had twitched. It was such a swift motion that Applejack was not entirely sure that it had really happened at all. She raised a curious eyebrow. Could it be that the "thieves" were hiding beneath the hay, preparing to eat through even more apples in the dead of night, once they were entirely alone?

Applejack watched the hay pile closely for a few minutes, but it did not jolt again. Feeling the slightest bit uneasy, she gently poked at it, but it did not respond. Before she was ready to accept that what she thought she saw did not actually happen, she carefully pushed her entire hoof through the pile. Within moments, it eventually touched something warm. Something organic. Something alive. It startled her enough that she immediately retracted her hoof and took several steps back. She scoffed at herself after a few silent seconds passed, feeling ridiculously foolish for doing so.

Now calm down, AJ. I reckon it's just some critters who couldn't get into their burrows after all the snow fell.

She unhooked the lantern from the wheelbarrow and set it down close to the pile. Slowly and carefully, she cleared the pile away, moving large chunks of it into the wheelbarrow to take to the sheep. She expected that the critters in the hay would eventually scurry out once they realized that their hiding place had been compromised, but even as she cleared more than half of it away, nothing emerged. When the pile was down to nearly a third of its original size, Applejack finally noticed the bright pinkish-purple color of an exposed hoof lying motionless. Her eyes and jaw widened simultaneously. It was no critter hiding in the hay, it was a pony—a mare. The color of the mare's coat was vaguely familiar to her, though not entirely recognizable.

Unsure of how to feel about this, Applejack continued clearing away the hay, uncovering more and more of the pony's body, which was almost entirely still except for the gentle rise-and-fall motion of her breathing. Whomever this mare was, she appeared to be in a deep sleep, which Applejack was increasingly grateful for. As the minutes passed by and she began to clear the hay away from the mare's face, she soon uncovered a horn. The mare was a unicorn. Applejack paused for a moment, thinking of what she would say to the pony once she was conscious again. What was she doing here? Perhaps she was simply homeless and looking for someplace warm to sleep, however, it was also entirely possible that her intention was to steal all of the apples in the barn during the night.

Taking a deep and uneasy breath that she watched steam out of her mouth, Applejack continued clearing the hay from around the pony's horn until she uncovered her mane, which was two different shades of purple with a prominent blue streak running through it. She went entirely numb as she then uncovered the mare's face, unable to believe who was sleeping just before her eyes.

It was Starlight Glimmer.

Multiple questions scrambled through Applejack's mind at once. How could this be? She did not think that she would ever even see Starlight again, and her own barn was the absolute last place she would have ever expected her to turn up. Surely, this could not be a coincidence. That was simply not possible. She had to be here because she was planning something—something malicious. A chill passed through Applejack's nerves as she realized what could have happened during the night had she remained oblivious to her presence. If Starlight intended to harm her family, she would lose. Applejack would make sure of that.

Starlight's body stirred slightly, possibly in response to the cold air she felt now that her fortress of warmth had been largely cleared away. Slowly, her eyes creaked open, and they eventually locked directly on to Applejack.

"Wh-What in tarnation are you doing here?!" Applejack demanded, taking a defensive stance.

Starlight instantly jolted upright, staring at her with both surprise and fear. She rubbed her eyes, unconvinced that what she was seeing was real. Her mane was significantly disheveled, with several straws of hay latched onto it.

"What...? How....how did you find me?" she asked with a surprising and unexpected level of fear in her voice.

Applejack squinted her eyes with hostility. "What are you talkin' about?! I should be askin' you that! What were ya plannin' on doin'? Stealin' my family's cutie marks in the night?! Well, it ain't gonna happen! You'll hafta go through me first, and I'm not goin' down as easily as last time!"

Starlight appeared dumbfounded. "Are you saying.....you live here?"

"Yer darn tootin', I live here! Don't tell me you didn't know that!" Applejack snapped, raising an eyebrow.

"I...I didn't," Starlight said with a frown. "I didn't know who lived here. I was just looking for someplace warm to sleep for the winter."

Applejack lowered her defensive stance. Though it seemed like an impossible coincidence, Starlight's tone gave no indication that she was lying.

"What do you mean?" she asked in a much less hostile manner.

"Don't you get it?" Starlight replied with a frustrated sigh. "I don't have a home to go back to. Ever since you and your friends turned my town against me, I've just been moving from place to place, looking for a new home. But with winter coming, I knew that I wouldn't survive out in the open. I ended up coming across your farm, and I just decided to stay here, hoping I wouldn't be found."

"How long have you been in here?" asked Applejack.

"Only a few days," Starlight answered, magically removing hay from her mane.

"And I see you went ahead and helped yourself to our apples," Applejack said harshly, pointing at the cores.

Starlight looked away as her cheeks glinted uncomfortably. "I needed food."

"Oh, is that so?" Applejack said, cutting her eyes into a glare. "Well, that's funny. 'Cause when you locked us up in that conformin' room of yours, you didn't care to give us any food, did you?"

"I left you some hay..."

"Which was stale, and cold, and had probably served as a nestin' area for chickens before you gathered it up and left it for us to eat," Applejack retorted.

Starlight finally climbed out of the hay pile, swishing her tail to remove the hay that clung to it. With her body fully exposed, Applejack was able to see that she no longer hid her cutie mark behind a false equal sign.

"Look, I get it," she said with frustration. "You want me gone, and I can understand that. So...I'll go."

Starlight took several light and slow steps towards the barn doors. Applejack instantly noticed that her walking motion appeared strained, as though she needed to muster up a great deal of energy to move her legs. She appeared so weak that Applejack was sure she would have helplessly tipped over on her side if given only the slightest push. It was clear that Starlight had not eaten an adequate amount of food for quite some time.

"Where will you go?" inquired Applejack.

"I don't know," Starlight said without bothering to turn back around. "And what do you care, anyway? I'm getting out of your mane."

Applejack bit her lip, feeling an unexpected sting of guilt digging into her skin. She dropped her head with a sigh, unsure of whether or not she would regret saying what she was about to say.

"You can stay for the night."

Starlight stopped walking at once, turning her head back around. "What?"

"I can't let you go out there," said Applejack. "I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if you....didn't make it through the night."

Starlight twisted her face into a look of disgust. "Oh, please. Don't act like you care about me all of a sudden."

"You may have stolen our cutie marks and tried to convert us by force, but that don't mean I want you to die," Applejack replied, feeling somewhat annoyed by Starlight's response. "Yer staying here, whether you want to or not. I'll bring you some blankets....and some dinner."

Starlight said nothing for a while, standing in place as though in heavy debate with herself as to why leaving now would be a better option. Eventually, she turned herself around and walked back to where Applejack was standing.

"Why should I even trust you?"

"That's the second time you've asked a question which should have come from me," said Applejack. "I still don't know if I should trust you worth a grain-o-salt. I don't know if this is all some kinda ruse so you can steal my cutie mark in my sleep. My family is inside right now, waitin' on me to come to dinner, and for all I know, I could be puttin' them all in danger by lettin' you stay. But I'm choosin' to believe that ain't the truth. I'm choosin' to believe that I'm doin' the right thing by helpin' you. But just in case I'm wrong, would you find it within yourself to come clean with me right now?"

Starlight stared at her silently for several seconds, refusing to show any emotion in her face. "I'm not going to do anything to you or your family, okay?"

"Well, I'm glad to hear it," Applejack said with a nod. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have somethin' to take care of. I'll be back with dinner in a little while."

Applejack grabbed the wheelbarrow pushed it towards the barn doors, deliberately leaving the lantern on the floor to keep the barn lit.

"Wait," said Starlight, causing Applejack to look back.

"Would you....let me stay throughout the whole winter?" Starlight asked with a great deal of discomfort showing in her face.

Applejack delayed her answer, raising a hoof to her chin. The prospect of allowing Starlight to stay with her family all winter made her uneasy.

"I'd have to sleep on it. For now, I don't want my family to even know you're here. And I'd have to discuss it with my friends, too. For now, I'm just lettin' you stay the night."

"Thank you," Starlight said silently, avoiding eye contact with her.

Applejack continued her exit out of the barn, but just as she reached the doors, she turned back towards Starlight a final time.

"Oh, and don't eat any more of our apples. Not unless yer plannin' on payin' for 'em."

Starlight did not respond, and only watched as Applejack vanished into the bright evening outside.


After delivering the hay to the sheep, as well as brushing off their annoyingly sarcastic comments (as always), Applejack finally headed inside her home on the opposite end of the barn. She stored the empty wheelbarrow just outside the barn doors, unwilling to see Starlight again until she was bringing what she promised her.

Blissful warmth and comfort spread over her the moment she stepped hoof inside. In the living room, a fire was blazing in the fireplace, not only distributing heat throughout the home, but also giving the room a sense of life, as if the motions of the flames were like the beats of a heart. As the glorious scent of dinner reached her nose, Applejack removed her boots by the door and hung her scarf and hat up on a nearby rack. The rest of the Apple family was already seated at the kitchen table, digging into dinner, which consisted of veggie enchiladas with sides of both sliced potatoes and carrots. Her own plate was sitting isolated at the empty seat, waiting as impatiently as her stomach. On a baking sheet near the stove, four steaming hot apple fritters were busy cooling off and preparing themselves for post-dinner consumption.

"Golly, Applejack, didya forget where the sheep were?" Apple Bloom asked as her sister entered the kitchen.

Applejack chuckled nervously. "Sorry, I....uhh...got distracted with somethin'."

She sat down at the table, relieved that no one else bothered to question her. But as she looked around the kitchen, she soon noticed that there did not appear to be any more helpings of enchiladas, nor carrots or potatoes anywhere in sight.

"Umm, Granny, did you happen make any extra?" she asked, trying not to make the question come out in a manner that suggested ungratefulness.

"Sorry, honey," Granny Smith answered after swallowing. "I didn't know how hungry you'd be."

"Oh, don't fret, Granny," Applejack said at once. "This is plenty. I was just.....you know, askin' about leftovers for tomorrow."

"Oh, you don't need to worry about leftovers, Applejack," replied Granny Smith. "Me an' Apple Bloom are goin' down to market tomorrow."

"We're gonna get some cherries and blueberries to make crepes!" Apple Bloom added excitedly.

"Uhhh....great!" Applejack said, poorly hiding the nervousness in her voice.

Applejack stared down longingly at the meal before her. She felt and heard the grumbling of her stomach, and knew that there was absolutely nothing she would rather do in that moment but dig her teeth down into that succulent enchilada. There was not a single obstacle left in her path to keep her away from this meal, save for her own sense of morality, however misguided it may have been.

Without the items used to make tonight's dinner, Applejack knew that all that remained in the refrigerator were various types of dough, pancake batter, eggs, and some cottage cheese—nothing ready-made or suitable enough to eat. The only dinner she had to give Starlight was the very dinner sitting on her plate....

She needs it more than I do... Applejack thought to herself. The longer she looked at her plate, the more her stomach grumbled in irritation at her failure to eat. The munching, chomping, and swallowing sounds her family made entranced her to do the same. The hunger-driven part of her mind had already processed a near-indisputable argument: the meal was hers, beyond any reasonable doubt, and nopony else had any right to it—especially not a pony who stole her cutie mark and locked her up against her will for two days with next to nothing to eat. Starlight had already received more than she deserved by being allowed to sleep in the barn for the night, and even Rarity would have likely been hard-pressed to extend any greater generosity than that.

I promised her a meal, and I can't go back on that promise. That would make me a liar, Applejack thought, attempting to mentally talk down her restless stomach.

That's horseapples! the other part of her mind responded. You don't owe her anythin'. Besides, she still blames us for what happened. If she's not gonna own up to her own mistakes, then she certainly don't deserve a free meal from Granny Smith.

I owe her 'cause I made a promise, the rational side of her mind continued. Maybe I shouldn't have, but it's too late now.

But you still ain't sure you can trust her. She could just be fakin' her hunger, you know. You'd feel pretty foolish if you gave up your dinner only to wake up to find your cutie mark gone.

She won't do that, but she might try if I break my promise to her. That's all the more reason not to.


"Huh?" Applejack looked up at once, instantly bringing the bickering within her mind to an abrupt halt. She met her sister's confusion-heavy eyes from across the table.

"Are you alright? Why ain't you eatin'?"

"Uhhh....well, I guess I'm just a mite too tired. I think I'm gonna hit the hay early tonight. Though it'd be a shame to let such a...." She bit deeply into her lip. "....perfectly cooked meal go to waste. I think I'm gonna take it to Little Piggington."

Her family looked at her as though she had just told them that she was going to chop down every tree in Sweet Apple Acres. In all the evenings they had sat down to dinner after a long, hardworking day, never before had Applejack refused to eat, and especially not on the back of such a poor excuse.

"Are you feelin' alright, Applejack?" Granny Smith asked as Applejack got up from the table.

"I'm fine," Applejack said uncomfortably, picking up her plate. "I'll, uhh, eat a big breakfast tomorrow."

The three Apples who remained at the table stared curiously at each other as Applejack walked out of the kitchen. Before going outside, she stopped at a closet near the living room where several quilts and blankets were folded up on shelves inside, each designed with distinctive apple-based styles and patterns. Most of them had been stitched by Granny Smith, but Applejack had contributed to a few herself, particularly the one with stitch patterns depicting apples resting birds' nests as if they were eggs. It was one of her favorites—she would certainly not be giving it to Starlight.

With her plate held in her right hoof and a few folded quilts sitting on her back, Applejack returned to the rack near the front door to retrieve her hat. She then left the inviting warmth of her home and stepped back into the outside cold before she could arouse any further suspicion from her family.

So lyin' to a stranger bothers you, but you'll lie to yer own family?! the hunger-driven part of her mind scolded her once she was out the door. Her rational side did not bother with a retort—every last breath in her lungs, every movement of her legs told her that she had made the wrong choice. But it was now far too late to go back on it.

As she walked into the barn again, Applejack saw Starlight magically choreographing her six apple cores to dance in midair, both out of boredom and anticipation. In the time Applejack was gone, she had fixed her mane back to its original style and picked it clean of hay. The lantern now lit the barn significantly better than the windows, as a cloud had moved over the moon, suppressing its light.

"Do you really own this entire farm?" Starlight asked, releasing the cores as Applejack approached her.

"We do," Applejack answered with a nod.

"Did you purchase it?"

"No, my granny settled on this land first. Our farm was here before the town was."

Starlight frowned, staring down at the apple cores, which were once again scattered about the floor.

"You're lucky. I really wanted to have a farm like this near my town. I always wanted us to be able to grow food and have something more to eat than just muffins and hay. But the ground wasn't fertile. Nothing we planted ever grew. And....nopony had any skill at farming."

"Well, I don't suppose I coulda helped you out either, could I?" replied Applejack. "Though I woulda been more than happy to, had ya asked me. You know, before you decided to take my cutie mark."

Starlight said nothing and focused her attention onto magically stacking the apple cores into a pyramid. With heavy reluctance, and with her stomach growling in anger, Applejack set the plate down on the barn floor next to her. Starlight's hungry eyes widened, staring at the plate as though she had never seen a freshly home-cooked meal before in her life. Applejack looked away, willing her mind to accept that the meal did not belong to her anymore.

"Here are your blankets, too," she said, bucking the quilts off of her back. "I couldn't get you a pillow, so you're just goin' to have to use the hay for a pillow."

"I...I don't know what to say," Starlight said, shaking her head in awe.

"You could say 'thank you for doin' this instead of lettin' me die out in the cold.' That would be just fine," Applejack said indignantly.

"Look, I'm grateful, alright?" Starlight replied, pulling the plate closer to her. "I'm just....surprised."

"Why's that?" questioned Applejack. "'Cause you wouldn't do the same for me?"

Starlight sighed. "Probably not."

"Well, I'm not askin' for anythin' in return," Applejack said as Starlight wrapped her magic over a few potato slices to bring them to her mouth. "Only that you don't hurt my family durin' the night."

"I already told you that I wouldn't, didn't I?" Starlight said with a full mouth, making her words come out almost inaudibly.

"I know, but I just can't be too careful," replied Applejack, tipping her hat down so that it was titled over her eyes. "I want to believe that I'm helpin' you, but I still can't shake the feelin' that I'm takin' a huge risk."

"It sounds to me like it would be so much easier for you if you just made me leave," Starlight said, pausing before digging into her food again.

"No, it wouldn't," Applejack replied with a sigh. "I just can't do that."

"I'm sure I could find someplace else to sleep in this town. I'd make it through the night," Starlight said, picking at her food.

"What if you didn't? I just don't want to take the chance," Applejack said, raising her hat back to its normal position. "And besides, I'm not gonna let you go break into somepony else's home."

"You just don't understand how simple the solution is, do you?" said Starlight, shaking her head in disbelief. "If you really think I'm a danger to your family, put them first. What does it matter if I don't make it, as long as they're safe, right?"

"Don't misunderstand me," said Applejack. "I'd be willin' to go further than I'd like if it meant savin' my family. I'd do what I have to do to save them. But if I can find another way to go, I will."

Starlight delayed her response due to chewing.

"Well, even if I had a family, I'm not sure I would understand your point of view," she said once the food traveled down her throat.

Applejack did not respond, allowing silence to fall between them during which Starlight gulped down almost everything on her plate. She briefly wondered to herself what kind of upbringing Starlight had, and what it was that convinced her that equality was the only way to obtain friendship.

"So....it seems like you've had plenty of time to yourself these last few weeks," Applejack said after several minutes passed. "You've probably thought long and hard on a lotta things. So have you reconsidered your stance on what friendship means?"

"Sorry to disappoint you, but no," Starlight answered instantly, as though she had been awaiting Applejack to ask her this very question.

Applejack scoffed. "Really? You still think that the best way to make friends is through force?"

"No, I believe that the best way to make friends is by eliminating everything that makes you different," said Starlight. "It's not just about friendship, it's about peace. It's the only guaranteed way to end all conflict."

"And yet, that still don't apply to you, does it?" Applejack replied, raising an agitated eyebrow. "Do you still feel that you should get to keep your own cutie mark while everypony else gives up theirs?"

Starlight chewed her carrots for a minute before responding, staring down at the now-empty plate so as not to look into Applejack's judgmental eyes.

"I believed in what I was preaching. Every single word. And if I had the ability to rid ponies of cutie marks without the use of my magic, I would have given mine up first.”

“But why?” questioned Applejack. “What exactly makes you think that true friendship is impossible if our cutie marks ain’t the same?”

"You just said it yourself," said Starlight. "Had I not taken your cutie mark, you could have helped us with our farm. Do you think that makes you superior to me?"

"No, of course not," Applejack answered.

"Oh, sure you do," said Starlight, narrowing her eyes. "It makes you special, and thus it's impossible for you to not feel better than me….than anypony else who is unable to do what you can do."

"Why, that's just—"

Applejack was cut off by another loud growl of her stomach, still expressing hostile frustration at having not been fed.

"It sounds like you're starving," said Starlight. "You should probably go sit down to dinner before your family gets suspicious. You still don’t want them to know I’m here, do you?"

Applejack stared down at the empty plate, attempting to suppress the regret in her face. Starlight suddenly blinked with astonishment.

"Don't tell me that I just ate your dinner…"

Applejack let out a solemn sigh. "It don't matter."

"You gave up your own dinner for me?!" Starlight cried incredulously, appearing more angry than grateful. "I'm absolutely certain that I wouldn't have done the same for you."

"I don’t care," Applejack replied with a huff. "You needed it more than me."

The scowl on Starlight’s face did not relent, as though she was deliberately refusing to allow herself to be touched or moved by Applejack’s act of sacrifice.

"Well, you don't have to go hungry," she said. "You have plenty of apples in here to eat."

Applejack shook her head. "We're gonna need as many of those apples as possible to get us through the winter."

Starlight shook her head. "I just don't understand you...."

"Well, you don't have to," replied Applejack. "But if you're truly plannin' on stayin' through the winter, I hope you're prepared to pull your own weight around here."

Starlight continued shaking her head in disbelief as though she did not hear her. Applejack stared briefly out the nearest window, suddenly remembering that the wheelbarrow was still outside.

"Well, I reckon I should be gettin’ back inside,” she said, picking up the empty plate. “Like you said, my family is gonna get suspicious soon, and they were already suspicious enough about my refusin’ dinner. So….goodnight."

Applejack turned and walked back towards the barn doors.

"Umm…Applejack?" said Starlight, stopping her just before she reached the doors as before.


"Thank you for this. I….appreciate it," Starlight said flatly, without any trace of appreciative emotion showing in her face, nor voice.

Applejack stared silently at her for a moment. "Remember, I can't promise that you can stay here for the winter. I'll think about it, but it won't be up to just me. We’ll find out tomorrow."

Starlight did not respond and Applejack left the barn, only to return moments later to put the wheelbarrow back in its place and leave again without a word.


As she stepped back outside again, a shrill wind picked up almost simultaneously, causing her to shiver. It was only a little after 8 PM, yet it seemed like the cold was already reaching near-freezing temperatures. She wondered for a moment if the two blankets she gave Starlight would really be enough to keep her warm. However, she shook her head at the idea of bringing her any more; Starlight would simply have to find her own way to keep warm, even if it meant fortifying herself within the hay again.

Applejack entered her home with caution, hoping that her family would not still be sitting at the dinner table. The fire in the fireplace now served as the only source of light on the first floor—all other lights were off, indicating that her family had already retired to their rooms for the rest of the night. Applejack set her hat on the rack and crossed into the empty kitchen, where the dim and distant light of the fire allowed her to faintly see something sitting on the table. She turned the light on to see that it was her uneaten apple fritter lying on a small plate.

The sight of the fritter instantly made her stomach grumble again. A single fritter alone would not likely be enough to settle her stomach, but at least she would not be going to bed hungry as she expected she would. She set Starlight’s plate into the kitchen sink and sat back down at the table. In spite of her hunger, she decided to eat the fritter slowly, with the intention of mulling over the thoughts on her mind while she enjoyed every single bite.

One of the thoughts centered upon what her friends would say once she told them that she found Starlight sleeping in her barn. They had also been at Starlight’s cruel mercy for days, and Applejack could not be sure about how they would feel about her potentially staying for the winter. However, she imagined that pity alone would make them at least partially supportive of the idea. After all, had they never arrived at Starlight's town, surely she would still be there now. Surely, she would not have exiled herself, reduced to wandering from place to place until she found a new home. Though Starlight herself was solely to blame for the mess she found herself in, Applejack could not help but feel a sting of guilt penetrating through to her own heart. The thought that she was at least partly responsible for a pony's homelessness was unbearably uncomfortable to her.

With a sigh, Applejack bit into the fritter. It was a welcome treat, even in spite of how cold it was. Its sweet and crispy taste eased her into the next prominent thought on her mind, which was what her family would say when she finally told them about Starlight. Granny Smith would always be willing to help out somepony down on her luck, but she did not know who Starlight was, or what she had done. Would Applejack tell her? If Starlight posed a potential threat, Granny Smith deserved to know about it. She deserved to know what Starlight was capable of.

However, lying squarely at the epicenter of her thoughts, Applejack could not shake the feeling that one of her greatest fears and worst nightmares had finally come true—that the role she played in defending Equestria would eventually hit close to home and ultimately endanger her family. This fear first presented itself back during the Changeling invasion of Canterlot, where Apple Bloom had been present at the wedding when Chrysalis revealed herself. She had witnessed everything, from the horrifying transformation, to Celestia trying and failing to overpower Chrysalis through force. Apple Bloom had later confessed to feeling terrified of what Chrysalis was going to do to the wedding guests—she even went as far as to say that she felt lucky to be alive. From that moment, Applejack realized that she wanted her family to remain as far separated as possible from the threats that she was frequently tasked to defeat.

Yet now Starlight Glimmer, a pony whom Applejack only knew through she and her friends' efforts to solve another potential crisis in Equestria, a pony who had every reason imaginable to want to take revenge on the ones who made her own personal utopia crumble to pieces, was now inside her very barn. She would be sleeping mere yards away from her family, possibly all throughout the winter. And what would happen if she suddenly refused to leave? After all, she did say that she always wanted a farm like this one. Who was to say that she would not eventually take it for herself, forcing Applejack and her family out? Would that not be the very thing Applejack wanted so desperately to prevent? Would the guilt not lie entirely on her back since she took it upon herself to decide that Starlight could stay without consulting her family?

After a while, the fritter was down to only its last few bites, and Applejack stared at them solemnly, knowing that they would not be enough to satisfy her raging stomach. She took a quick glimpse at the clock on the kitchen wall and was surprised to find that nearly an hour had passed as she sat reflecting on her thoughts. It was now nearly 9:30. Apple Bloom would soon be waiting to be tucked in for a peaceful night’s sleep, and Applejack would not disappoint her.

She gulped down the last few bites of the fritter, and then headed up the stairs to her younger sister's bedroom. Apple Bloom was lying upon her bed, reading a large book that Applejack surmised had something to do with potion-making based on the picture of a bubbling flask on its cover.

"Hey, Applejack. I thought you went to sleep already," said Apple Bloom, looking up from the book as her sister entered her room.

"I couldn't sleep without tuckin' you in first," Applejack replied tenderly.

"Are you really feelin' alright, sis?" asked Apple Bloom, setting the book to the side. "It ain't like you to skip dinner."

"I'm fine," said Applejack. "Sorry if I scared you. I guess I just had a lot on my mind."

"Like what?" Apple Bloom inquired.

"Well, there's somethin' that I realize I've never asked you before," Applejack said, pulling the blanket over her younger sister's body.

"What is it?"

"You know that me and my friends are usually called on to deal with the threats that come to Equestria, right?" said Applejack.

Apple Bloom nodded. "Mhm."

"Well, does that worry you at all? Are you ever afraid that somethin' might happen to me?"

Apple Bloom paused briefly in thought, then shook her head.

"Nah, not really."

"You don't?" Applejack said, feeling more surprised than she expected. "Really?"

"Well, I guess I just can't imagine anythin' bad ever happenin' to you," Apple Bloom explained. "You're the toughest pony I know, next to Big Mac. You've fought off monsters and beasts that would make most ponies turn tail and run. I don't think there's anythin' out there that could take you down."

Applejack smiled, feeling a soft warmth spreading through to her cheeks.

"Well, how 'bout you, then?" she asked. "I remember you tellin' me how afraid you were after what happened at the wedding. D'you ever worry about what would happen if one of those monsters ever struck where we live?"

Fear suddenly flashed noticeably through Apple Bloom's eyes. "I never even thought about that before now. D'you really think that will happen one day?"

"No," Applejack said, instantly placing a hoof on her younger sister's head while staring thoroughly into the depths of her round eyes. "That won't happen, 'cause I won't let it happen. I promise you."

Apple Bloom smiled contentedly. "Then I guess I have nothin' to worry about."

"No, you don't," Applejack said, removing her hoof and leaning down to gently nuzzle her. "Goodnight, sis."

"Goodnight, Applejack," said Apple Bloom, smiling as she returned the nuzzle.

Applejack turned to leave the room, switching off the light and softly shutting the door behind her. She then let out a deep sigh, knowing that there was no possible way that she was going to be able to sleep tonight. Not while a potential danger was occupying her barn. Not while she owed it to her family to make sure that no harm came to them over a decision she made without their consent. Dinner would not be the only thing Starlight would rob her of tonight.

By this time, Big Mac and Granny Smith were settling down into their own beds for the night to sleep off the weariness of a busy day. Applejack groaned silently as she descended downstairs to the living room. The fire had died down significantly since she saw it last, with the remains of the log on which it burned reduced to little more than loose shards of tree bark. She pulled out another log from the small log rack next to the fireplace and set it inside, restarting the fire with a few strikes of a flint. Once the fire was burning brightly again, Applejack walked to another hallway closet and pulled out a small rope, tying its end into a tiny lasso which was only about three inches wide. She then returned to the living room and planted herself directly into Granny Smith's old rocker, where she had a clear view of the front door. She never particularly liked the rocker. It was hard and uncomfortable, so much so that it never failed to amaze her that Granny Smith was somehow able to fall asleep in it for hours. Yet sitting in it would ensure that sleep would not come to her.

C'mon, Applejack, she thought as a half hour passed by. Nothin' is gonna happen. And besides, even if she did come through the door, there's no guarantee your plan would work. What'll happen if she moves faster than you?

Applejack knew enough about magic from Twilight and Rarity to know that she did not stand much of a chance against it. All Starlight really had to do was encase her in an aura and she would be helplessly trapped, unable to escape now matter how hard she tired to kick her way out of it. And that was only the least of what Starlight had the capability to do to her.

But she suddenly recalled the sensation that had come over herself and her friends the moment the Tree of Harmony's box was opened. She was not quite aware of what happened to her, only that her mane and tail grew extensively and her cutie mark expanded into tiny, colorful apples, which covered all four of her hooves. In this state, she and her friends were able to easily bring Tirek to his defeat, draining him of every last drop of magic he had absorbed. But what surprised her even more was what had happened next. She inexplicably found herself in Appleoosa alongside Pinkie Pie, restoring magic to the town's residents simply by being in their presence. From Ponyville, the trip to Appleoosa normally lasted a full day, but she was there and back in no time—multiple miles covered in a matter of seconds.

That was magic Applejack had never known before, magic that she was certain still rested dormant within her. But they had been unable to trigger it again since. She was sure that if she was somehow able to call upon it, Starlight would not stand any chance at all.

The only advantage she possessed without it was the element of surprise. Starlight would not likely be expecting anyone to be guarding the door, giving Applejack the upper hoof. Applejack knew that it was possible to block a unicorn's magic by obstructing their horn, and this was the crux of her plan. She would first greet Starlight with a swift kick that she would not see coming, and then while down, she would connect the lasso onto her horn, nullifying her magic. This was the only chance she had. If it failed—if Starlight managed to be faster and trap her in an aura before she was able to lasso her horn—she and her family were as good as doomed.

All she had to do now was wait...


Two hours passed, and Applejack struggled to stave off her exhaustion. She failed to take her eyes off of the front door, and after staring at it for so long, she fell deeply into a hypnotic trance to the point where it began to seem as if the door was jumping out at her. The hunger-driven part of her mind had now transitioned into a sleep-deprived mind, and like before, it had processed an argument that was incredibly difficult to dispute.

What was it Starlight had said? "It sounds to me like it would be so much easier for you if you just made me leave."

Perhaps that was true. And it certainly seemed like that was what Starlight actually wanted; her reaction to the realization that Applejack had given up her own dinner indicated how uncomfortable she was with accepting such charity from a pony whom she apparently viewed as her enemy. But every time the thought of sending her away crossed Applejack's mind, all she could picture was Starlight trudging through the deep snow, shivering wildly in the freezing cold, unable to find any source of shelter or warmth. Then finally, far too cold to move another inch, she would fall facefirst into the snow....where she would remain until she froze over like an apple left on a tree in the middle of winter.

Applejack simply could not resign anypony to such a fate, not even a pony like Starlight. And besides, who would be the one unfortunate enough to come across her body? What if it was found by a child? Or even Apple Bloom?

No matter how much she mulled the thought over in her head, forcing Starlight to leave now was not the answer. It would never be the answer.

As another hour passed, Applejack was surprised to find that the rocker had strangely become far more comfortable—perhaps even comfortable enough to sleep in. Her eyes struggled to remain open. It was only just after one, and she still had about five hours to go before the first traces of morning light would pass through the windows. Five hours before Big Mac would wake up and get started on the morning chores while Granny Smith got started on breakfast. But to her exhaustive state, five hours may as well have been twelve.

Just lie down for a little while. Just for a few minutes.....


C'mon. If she was gonna come in, she'd have probably done it by now....

Applejack yawned. She realized that there was no way that she was going to make it through the next five hours without succumbing to exhaustion. Her eyelids felt heavier by the minute. Somehow, she suddenly got the idea that sitting by the fire would keep her awake, and before giving herself a chance to question it, she fell forward out of the rocker and planted herself directly in front of the fire.

She watched the flames dancing about the log, falling quickly into yet another hypnotic trance. The flames eased her thoughts, and all of the worries in her mind eventually seemed far away. It was as if they were putting on a performance just for her—a performance with the intent of drying up the endless ocean of stress she had been swimming aimlessly in all night long.

As she continued watching the flames dance about, she eventually felt herself go blissfully calm and everything around her fall into darkness.


Applejack opened her eyes as she felt the light of an early morning sun touch her face from through the nearby window. The fire in the fireplace had reduced to only a few burning embers. She instantly shot up onto her hooves as soon as the realization that she had fallen asleep came over her, a sharply intense fear spreading throughout her entire body. In a frenzy, she rushed upstairs to Apple Bloom's bedroom, bursting through the door.

"Mmm....Applejack...?" Apple Bloom said drowsily, instantly lifting her head from her pillow.

Moving closer to examine her thoroughly, Applejack could find no indication that her sleep had been disturbed in any way before now. She let out an exhaustive breath of relief.

"Everythin's all right, sis," she whispered. "Sorry I woke you."

Apple Bloom mumbled intelligibly and fell back onto the pillow, closing her eyes again.

Applejack quickly checked her cutie mark and was further relieved to see that it was still there. She descended back down to the living room, where the clock on the wall informed her that it was just before six in the morning. The entire house would be wide awake in less than ten minutes. Taking her hat from the rack again, Applejack headed outside into the cool early morning air, where the warmth of the sun in a cloudless, blue sky instantly informed her that it would be a far nicer day than the previous one.

There was no longer any doubt in her mind now. Starlight had to go. Now that she was no longer in any danger of freezing to death overnight, she needed to be gone before her family woke up and discovered her. Applejack simply could not stay up every night to make sure they were safe while Starlight slept among them.

She stopped herself just outside the barn doors, lowering her head with immense discomfort. Forcing Starlight to leave now would still seem like an unnervingly cruel thing to do, especially since Applejack still felt guilt over her homelessness. But Starlight had been right. At the end of the day, she would choose the safety of her family over the safety of an undeserving stranger, who possibly only refrained from allowing herself to feel gratitude simply because of how little she wanted to regret her actions later on. This had to be done—there was no other way to go.

When Applejack finally opened the barn doors after two brief minutes of planning what she was going to say, she immediately froze in place. Starlight was nowhere in sight. The blankets Applejack had left her were folded up and stacked on top of each other near the lantern, and sitting loosely on top of the hay pile was a white sheet of parchment. Cautiously, Applejack moved towards the hay pile, suddenly wishing that she had brought her small lasso with her. She looked around warily, unsure if simply touching the parchment would trigger a trap. When she finally got a good look at it, Applejack noticed that the text upon the paper did not appear to be in any natural ink. Instead, it seemed to her as if it had been written magically. Removing it slowly and carefully from the pile, she began reading to herself from the top:


As you'll see when you wake up, I've left you and your family alone, just as I said I would. I've decided that I'm not going to stay here for the winter. I've received enough charity from you, and receiving any more would simply make things harder for me. I don't want to feel like I owe you anything.

Maybe one day, I'll understand your backwards view of friendship and let it all go. Maybe one day I'll find a way to make friends the way you can, and then find someplace to settle down and try to put my past behind me. However, I certainly wouldn't count on that. Just a fair warning: when we meet again next, it will be under far different circumstances. You and your friends have utterly DESTROYED everything I spent years working towards, and I do not imagine that anything will happen to make me forget that. To make me forgive you.

However, you showed me kindness when you had every reason not to. I won't be forgetting that. I offer you my further assurance that you will not have to worry about your family's safety, even when you do see me again. I will also leave your apples be, and you will not find me anywhere near your farm again.

Do not worry about me anymore. I will find my own way, get back on my hooves, and eventually make you and your friends pay for what you've done to me. When we meet again, I expect that you will come to regret your decision not to just throw me out into the cold to fend for myself.

Until next time.


Applejack stared at the letter incredulously, feeling both relief and anger rushing through her nerves. However, she also felt an unusual sense of pity blending together with them. How could one pony be so misguided? How could she remain so deeply in the dark when light was shining so clearly all around her? As she read through it a second time, Applejack mentally wished to herself that Starlight would find true friendship—for both of their sakes.

In any case, she was gone, just as Applejack wanted. Starlight's threats did not concern her; with any luck, perhaps she and her friends would master their rainbow-cutie mark magic by the next time she showed up, and if they did, Starlight would have no idea what she was in for.

Tossing the letter aside, Applejack strode out of the barn and back into the brand new morning. Soon Granny Smith would be hard at work cooking breakfast, which would be apple strudels with a side of eggs—her standard breakfast for every Sunday morning. Applejack grinned as the thought of digging into the mouth-watering meal consumed her mind, further contented by knowing that she would not have to give it away to anypony else.

Until next time, indeed.

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