Sunlight shone through the chilled glass of the window panes in the nursery, casting beams of bright light onto the surfaces of the newly-constructed room and its occupants. The beams shone on the walls painted in a in a soft, soothing muted blue color. The aura of cool blue surrounding and filling the nursery created a calming atmosphere for the room's sole conscious occupant accenting her shining blue eyes as she relaxed. Lying against a pile of soft cushions on the comfortable couch set against a side wall was Fluttershy. Supported by the well-used pillows, she took a long deserved rest. Her gaze fell across the room upon the three cribs set near the far wall. Each one was occupied by a sleeping foal, each of their small chests rising and falling in the slow, rhythmic pattern of a deep, unstrained sleep.
Fluttershy smiled, mirth glinting in her dancing blue eyes, at the sight of her children and her niece breathing so softly in their sleep; resting; dreaming; lost in a world of their own mind's creation beyond comparison with the outside and beyond comprehension to anypony else. Fluttershy sighed; glad to have this moment of reprieve from taking care of the foals. The young mother leaned her head back against a pillow, allowing herself but a moment's rest while the children slept. With her eyes closed, she smiled again, but tried not to allow herself to fully fall asleep; keeping herself at the ready at a moment's notice should one of the foals wake and require her care. Such was the way of Equestria's foremost caregiver. It was a tiring job, but she was more than willing to do it; to help in any way possible while everypony else was so busy.
As the minutes wore on, however; her mind began to slip closer and closer to the brink of unconsciousness. Her body relaxed and gradually went limp as her senses began to diminish slipping ever closer towards the edge. Only her sense of hearing remained perked as her rational mind fought a losing battle to keep her alert and focused. Drawing in a deep breath of air, Fluttershy yawned slowly and lightly, allowing herself to relax more and settle even further into the couch. Expecting to be jolted awake by the piercing cry of an awakened foal, she was surprised when the first noticeable sound to reach her still-prying ears was the clopping of hoofsteps against the hardwood floor of the hallway outside. The sound, growing nearer and cutting through her unconscious reverie, finally managed to pique her interest enough for her to abandon her natural desire for slumber.
Opening her eyes, she leaned back and stretched her neck to gain a view of the open doorway and the corridor beyond as the hoofsteps grew ever closer. As she watched, a shadow fell into the room from the hallway beyond a shadow that preceded the arrival of a tall red stallion. Big Macintosh stepped gingerly into the room, trying to be careful not to make too much noise, but still wincing with every audible step. Thankfully, none of the sleeping ponies were awoken. Fluttershy smiled up at her husband and extended a yellow hoof out towards him, wrapping it around his neck and pulling him closer as he neared. "Good morning, Honey."
"Good morning, Flutter." He leaned in even further to kiss her. Fluttershy closed her eyes in blissful delight, sharing a small moment of passion with the one she loved. After a period of time of which neither of them wanted to end, Big Macintosh broke the kiss to rub her cheek with his own, eliciting a small giggle of happiness that he loved to hear. He kissed her cheek once before pulling back to gaze into her shimmering sapphire eyes. "How are the kids?"
"Oh, they're just wonderful. I even managed to get some rest, as they've been sleeping like such little angels." When the sound of his name perked his sensitive ears, a small white rabbit stretched and yawned in the corner, before getting up and hopping over to his owner. "Oh
not you, Angel." Shooting her an annoyed, yet tired look, Angel Bunny hopped his way out of the room and off to parts of the house unknown. "He's so sweet. I couldn't bear to leave him alone when I moved."
"Ah'm glad you're happy." Big Macintosh nuzzled his wife some more, taking pleasure from the warm, tender contact. "Can Ah get ya anythin'? Maybe some breakfast?"
"Oh, I can make my own breakfast. You don't need to go to the trouble."
but Ah want to, Fluttershy, Ah want ta do somethin' for ya."
"Now, Mac. We've discussed this. You don't need to do anything else for me."
Ah just feel so
so bad leavin' ya in here all day doin' all this foalsittin' by yerself. Ah feel like Ah should be doin' more for you and Honeycrisp and Lil' Blossom."
Fluttershy pulled him close and kissed him again before responding with a whisper, "You do more than enough work for us already. I'm more than happy to take care of the kids while you, AJ, and Rainbow work outside. I know you work hard for me, and I want to do what I can too. Watching our foals and Applejoy is the best thing for me to do."
"Ah still feel like you have too much to do and not enough help." He put his hoof under her chin, lifting her face so he could gaze into her eyes. He saw, not for the first time, hints of bags under them and signs of weariness in their depths. "Flutter
Have you been getting enough rest?"
I get woken up during the night sometimes, but I don't mind. It's all part of the job. Besides, I get plenty of naps during the day."
"You need your sleep, Flutter."
"I could say the same thing to you. You've been working out in the orchard very late almost every day since we got home. I'm starting to worry about you."
"Ah know, Fluttershy
It's just that winter is comin' awful early this year, and we're already behind schedule 'cause Ah stayed at the hospital with you. Now we have ta work even longer hours ta even have a chance of getting' all the apples bucked in time before the first frost."
make sure you get some rest. I wouldn't want my Big Mac getting all tired out at the end of the day, would I?"
"Nope. Ah guess ya wouldn't." Fluttershy stood up and set her hooves down on the floor, climbing down from the couch which had served as her bed for many a recent night. Smiling, she stood and wrapped her front hooves around her husband's neck, pulling him into another tight hug and nuzzling his cheek. For a long moment, they both stood still, feeling each other's heartbeats through their chests and exchanging warmth on the cold day. "Ah love you. Ah love ya so much."
"I love you too." Fluttershy pulled away and dropped back down to the floor. "I think it's time to start the day, Mac. Applejack and Rainbow Dash are probably awake by now."
"Ah reckon ya're right." Careful not the wake the foals, the young parents slipped from the room, side by side, ready to face a new day.
The sky was cloudless; perfectly clear. The sun had only risen but a few degrees above the horizon, but its piercing rays did nothing to warm the land which had suffered through another night of deep chill. The cool night air spiked with the icy breath of a frozen season arriving early had chilled the ground of Sweet Apple Acres and the surrounding countryside to within a hair's breadth of the freezing point. Throughout the cold night, while the wispy tendrils of unforgiving wind blew at the farmhouse and tried to cool its occupants, the glowing embers of a fire long since burnt-out radiated much-needed heat from the fireplace and the midnight cuddling of ponies in love provided a tender warmth all its own.
By morning, the outside cold had invaded the indoors, hanging throughout the house in the wee morning hours until it was finally warded off by an orange mare with a mane and tail of straw blonde. Applejack stoked the fire, breathing new life into the hearth as she strove to warm the kitchen. Soon, orange flame fed by a new load of wooden fuel once again began to emanate throughout the house and drive away the lingering effects of a brisk dawn. Stretching before the flickering flames, Applejack rose to her hooves and basked in the radiating warmth of the glowing fire for several moments before finally turning to trot back across the room. She grinned as she approached the kitchen table; catching sight of a familiar cyan pegasus. Rainbow Dash was standing at the table with her back turned towards her wife, a rising column of thin, wispy fog drifting up from the steaming cup of warm apple cider that sat before her on the table, preoccupied with her drink and her own thoughts, she never saw Applejack sneak up behind her.
Rainbow Dash jolted in surprise for only the briefest of instants when she felt fore-legs wrap around her neck form behind. Recognizing the gesture, she smiled warmly and returned the affectionate nuzzle to her wife. Applejack happily rubbed her cheek against her mare, breathing off of her rainbow mane the same electrifying sensation that never ceased to invigorate her senses. "Good mornin', Sugarcube."
"Good morning, AJ. Pretty cold today, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Don't you worry none, Ah got a nice fire goin' again. And Ah think Ah did a fine job o' keepin' you warm last night, too."
I guess you did." Rainbow Dash turned her head to plant a soft kiss on her lover's nose, eliciting a small sigh of pleasure. "Too bad we have to go outside, out of the warmth."
"Rainbow, you and Ah both know that there's a lot o' Applebuckin' ta be done yet, and not much time left." Applejack got off of her wife with a parting nuzzle and went to the cabinets, removing several ingredients and carrying them to the stove, where she set them down on the counter next to a bucket of apples.
Rainbow Dash looked up from her cider after taking a warming sip. She studied her wife for a while as she put ingredients into a bowl and began stirring. "What're ya making, AJ?"
"Apple pancakes. We'll need a good breakfast today."
Rainbow dash smiled. "My favorites."
"Ah know." Applejack continued her cooking, dicing several apples and adding the pieces to the batter mixture before pouring measured amounts into the heated pan on the stove. Almost instantaneously, the pleasing aroma of frying apples began to emanate throughout the house.
"Somethin' smells mighty good in here, sis." Big Macintosh and Fluttershy, having left the nursery, strode into the kitchen, walking up to gather around the table.
"Mornin', Macintosh, mornin' Fluttershy. 'Bout time y'all got up." Applejack turned back to the stove to expertly flip the first few pancakes.
"Come on now, AJ. Fluttershy here musta been up all night."
"Oh, no. I got some sleep. I'm more than capable of handling the foals, you three just worry about the farm."
"Thank you so much for taking care of Little AJ for us, Fluttershy." Rainbow Dash took another sip of her cider before grinning at her oldest friend. "We really appreciate it."
"Oh, it's no trouble at all, Rainbow Dash. Applejoy is so well-behaved. She rarely gives me any fuss at all. It's usually my foals who wake me up in the night." As the low sizzle of more pancakes being cooked filled the room, the conversation was interrupted by the sound of hoofsteps descending the stairway adjacent to the kitchen. Everypony turned to where the stairs let out, watching and waiting as the sound drew closer.
Emerging from the shadows of the un-lit stairwell, a yellow filly with bouncing red locks of hair for a mane and tail and a pink bow made her way into the kitchen to join the rest of her family. "Mornin' y'all, somethin' smells like breakfast!"
"Mornin' Applebloom, could ya please quiet down, ya don't want ta wake the foals now, do ya?"
"Sure thing sis!" Applebloom, now at a whisper, totted past the fireplace, intending to join the others at the table. She stopped before the hearth, where something had caught her eye. Before the dancing, crackling flames, a brown and white dog, a white rabbit, and a rather large tortoise had all lain and fallen asleep, basking in the radiating warmth. Applebloom smiled at the display and continued the rest of the way to the table, where the first pancakes were already being stacked.
Once all had been served, the diverse family began to eat. The five ponies did not speak as they devoured their morning meal; all were contemplating the day ahead of them.
By the time they were finished, the house had warmed considerably. Rainbow Dash stood and trotted over to the kitchen window, gazing out at the stark scene before her. Leaves blew past the chilled pane, carried by the invisible currents of a brisk breeze, as even more skittered across the ground, pushed along by the same force but unable to gain enough lift to truly soar. The billowing and dancing patterns of each leaf only added to the knowledge that the scene was a barren, cold one, and the sight of apples hanging on distant trees reminded her why it was necessary to go out. "It's a shame to have to go out now that the house is so toasty."
"Come on y'all, the faster we get out there the faster we can get ta work." Applejack trotted over to the front door, where Rainbow Dash joined her from the window. Reaching up to the hanging rack overhead, Applejack pulled a rainbow patterned scarf down and began wrapping it around her neck.
"You're using the new scarf I got you?" Rainbow Dash hugged her wife before turning to retrieve a purple one with white stripes for herself.
"O' course Ah am. Ah love this scarf." Applejack smiled as she snuggled into the warm, six-colored fabric, "It reminds me o' mah two favorite ponies."
From across the room, Fluttershy watched the exchange happily before turning to Macintosh as he stepped towards the door as well. "I'm glad we did get to have breakfast together, Mac."
"Me too, Flutter."
"Don't be out too late, now."
"Ah'll try." He leaned his head down, lowering it so she could kiss him, and bade her an affectionate goodbye as he and Applebloom saddlebags slung over her back joined the others at the door. Lifting a hoof to open it, Macintosh turned his head to call to his wife over his shoulder one last time before leaving. "Love you."
"I love you, too."
The shock of the brisk, late autumnal air felt like a bucket of ice water to the four ponies who took the brunt of the chilling, tingling wave of air to the face as a portal was opened from their warm, cozy home to the biting, crisp outside world.
"Ah'll help with the applebuckin' when ah get back from school, sis." Applebloom began trotting down the path that led to Ponyville, saddlebags bouncing at her sides as she went. Shutting the door behind him, Big Macintosh turned to follow his sister and sister-in-law on their path towards the barn, scraping at the earth with a hoof and sighing in relief to find it still unfrozen as he went. Once they reached the barn, the three ponies retrieved two carts for hauling apples and various baskets, buckets and barrels. With the supplies loaded onto the carts and Applejack and Macintosh both hitched to one, they set out; walking between the rows of empty apple trees in silence until they reached those that had yet to be bucked.
Unhitching herself from the cart, Applejack trotted up to the nearest fruit-laden tree. Planting her fore-hooves firmly on the ground, she used them as a pivot-point to twist her body around and gather enough momentum to deliver a powerful kick to the trunk behind her with her hind legs. Grinning, she stepped back and watched as the vibrating tree released its entire load into the baskets waiting below. "Now that's how y'all do it!"
"Like this AJ?" Rainbow Dash turned to the tree next to her and delivered a sharp blow of her own, grunting in annoyance as a few stubborn apples near the top refused to fall.
"Nnnope. More like this." Big Macintosh proceeded to strike the tree behind him with only one hoof, shaking loose every apple.
"Show-off." Rainbow Dash muttered good-naturedly as she delivered a second kick to her tree to remove the last few apples, before trotting to the next tree in her row, determined to keep up with her wife, who had just finished her own second tree.
"Years of practice." Big Macintosh chuckled as he gathered the filled baskets from the first three trees, adding their contents to the cart before he headed for the next trunk.
The sun had risen high into the midday sky by the time the three working ponies took a break for lunch, but its prolonged presence had done little to improve the temperature on the ground. The unfaltering wind whistled over an opening in the ground; an opening which led underneath the barn into an apple storage cellar. Applejack, having just delivered a load of recently-bucked apples below, trudged up the stairs and frowned at the bitter wind which blew its way down the stairwell. Turning her head skyward, she made her way out of the cellar and shut the doors behind her, sealing the morning's crop below. She shook her head as she trotted back towards the farmhouse, "We're not gonna make it. We're not gonna make it." She whispered to herself, growing more worried as she thought about the large expanse of orchard they had yet to harvest.
Pushing open the front door, Applejack reveled in the temporary reprieve the warm air allowed her from her thoughts, quickly closing the door behind her so as not to allow any heat to escape. She removed her scarf and hung it on a hook before trotting into the warm kitchen where Big Macintosh, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy were already eating and enjoying themselves. "Oh, Applejack. I'm glad you're here. I made you an apple-lettuce sandwich
I hope you don't mind, I
I can make you something else if you want
"That sounds delicious Fluttershy, thank ya very much."
"Oh. You're welcome." Fluttershy bent down and returned to the salad before her.
"How are the little ones, Fluttershy?"
"Oh, they're just wonderful, Rainbow Dash. My foals only woke up once to be fed and now they're sleeping again. Applejoy has just been so cooperative, she woke up a little while after you left so I gave her a toy to play with and she didn't even make a sound. She's so well behaved."
"See AJ? I guess we are good parents after all." Rainbow Dash smiled and ran a hoof through her wife's mane.
"Momma! Mommy!" A little voice suddenly filled the room, causing all to turn their heads as a little orange filly stumbled her way into the kitchen.
"There she is!" Rainbow Dash took off into the air, soaring above the table to scoop her daughter up off the ground, setting her onto her chest as she flopped down onto her back. "Momma loves you!" She tickled her daughter, reveling in the shrieks of delight she received as Applejoy bounced and giggled on top of her.
Shafts of moonlight fell through the window pane and cast a light bluish glow throughout the upstairs bedroom. Celestia's sun had long since sank beneath the horizon to be replaced by Luna's moon by the time Rainbow Dash and Applejack, tired and sore from a long day of work, finally climbed into their bed. Applejack lay beneath the heavy blanket, staring up at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep she had too much on her mind. As if she could subconsciously sense her wife's restless thoughts, Rainbow Dash rolled over and laid a comforting hoof across the orange mare's chest. "What's wrong, honey?"
"Ah don't know, Sugarcube. Ah'm just worried that we won't be able to finish this Applebuck season in time."
"What makes you say that?"
"Didn't you notice how it barely got any warmer today? The sun was out all day today, but it didn't seem to help. Ah think the cold is gettin' worse, Dash. Winter's comin', and it's comin' early." She wrapped her hooves around the mare next to her, drawing her in for a tight embrace. "Ah'm really worried, Rainbow. If we don't buck faster and finish up before the first frost comes, we could lose a lot o' apples."
"Come on AJ, laying here worrying isn't going to help anything. The best thing you can do right now is get some sleep before tomorrow."
"Ah can't help it, Rainbow. Ah'm scared. If we don't get this harvest in before it's too late, we could lose the farm. The renovation and Fluttershy's hospital bills cost more than Ah thought they would. If we don't get all the apples off the trees and ready for sale, we might not have enough money to last the winter."
"AJ, listen to me," Rainbow Dash pulled her wife close, kissing her forehead once and stroking her loose mane, "We're going to be fine. We'll make it through winter no matter what. We can do anything together. We'll all be fine."
"Have Ah ever told you Ah love you, Sugarcube?"
"Only every day."
"Ah mean it. Ah meant it every time."
"I know. I love you too, AJ." Rainbow Dash kissed her again, assuaging her fears as she held her, allowing the both of them to finally close their tired eyes and drift away into a worry-free world of dreams and pleasant rest.