Sweet Apple Acres was a busy place in the spring. Two young stallions walked the fields with plows in tow, while a mailpony dragged in shipments of seeds and tools, and a couple more ponies were visible amonst the apple trees. Adding to the general bustle was a visitor to the farm who gingerly stepped out of the sky, looked around, and opened the gate into the main homestead area. A filly, not quite yet a mare, with a light green coat and straw-colored hair and baskets strapped to her saddle had been trotting through the area, and noticed the visitor first. She stopped dead in her tracks, eyes as big as the moon.
"Oh, hello." the visitor said. "I'm here to see Applejack. Is she around?"
"G-great-granny Applejack?" the filly asked. The visitor paused, and nodded. The young pony kept her eyes on the visitor and pointed towards the barn. There, in a rocking chair, an ancient mare sat with a worn brown steltson covering her eyes. Her coat was gray but with a healthy sheen, and her hair was so blonde it was nearly white. The visitor ignored the looks she got from the farm ponies and approached the old mare.
"Took ya long enough." Applejack replied, her voice raspier than the visitor remembered it, but still strong.
"I came as soon as I got your letter."
"You always were th' letter-writin' type, Twilight. Ah figured that'd get yur attention." The old mare moved her hat aside and looked at the pony before her. Twilight had grown slender, if not that tall. Her purple coat shone as healthy as it had ever been, her eyes sparkled yet with youth, and her deep blue mane had grown long and flowing. She couldn't be far past a young adult, from her looks. Yet the old pony before her was a lifelong friend, and a testament to her true age.
Applejack heaved herself off the rocking chair. Twilight moved to help as she heard numerous pops and cracks from her friend, but Applejack shrugged her off.
"Ahh, not you too." she complained. "Ah'm fine, Ah tells ya." she gave herself a shake, a few more sickening pops coming from it. Twilight just smiled at her stubborn friend.
"I see you're a great-grandmother now." she stated conversationally, almost chiding her friend. Applejack was stretching her back now. How many joints did this mare have to crack?
"Great-great-grandmother. Well, aunt, but it don't have th' same ring to it, do it?" Applejack replied. She nodded over Twilight's shoulder, making the alicorn turn. Off from the barn they were at was the Apple family homestead, where the filly that had greeted Twilight had apparently entered and was now exiting. "That 'un's the youngest of the youngest."
"Of the youngest?" Twilight asked with a laugh. Applejack sucked air through her teeth. One was missing, creating a sharp whistle.
"Of th' secon' youngest if'n Ah remember right." she replied. A few more pops came from her and she seemed to finally be done. The filly had apparently gotten her mother, a mare with a bright red coat and brown mane. Images of Big Mac from long ago flashed through Twilight's mind.
"Princess Twilight!" Twilight cringed as she was greeted by the mare. "It's an honor, it is. W-would you care to stay for lunch? We have any delicacy you could ask for - uh, any apple-based one that is." she smiled nervously. Applejack snorted.
"Sure, ge' out the fine silk pillows we keep too, an' why not the gold silverware while yur at it?"
The mare gave a worried glance to Appljack before turning back to Twilight, bowing slightly. Twilight hated the bowing. "P-please excuse Granny Applejack, she's-"
"A close personal friend of mine." Twilight said, trying to sound soothing. "That I'm just going to spend some time with today. If that's alright?"
"Ahh, y-yes, of course." The mare leaned over and forced her filly's head down, making her bow too. Twilight sighed.
"Ahh, get on wit' yurself, Candy Apple." Applejack told her. "And let Appletini to her chores, would ya?" she began to walk away with a shake of her head. Twilight gave the two earth ponies a small smile before following, glancing over her shoulder one last time at the mare and daughter.
"You Apple family ever going to run out of names?" she asked.
" 'ventually." Applejack replied. Her gait was as solid as all those years ago, Twilight noticed with surprise.
"Ah tell you, Ah thought Ah'd be glad to see the Apple family back up to full strength." she said, referring to her family's legacy all around her. "But it's just more ponies to tell me when t' go to bed, or which foods Ah'm not s'pposed to eat cause of mah kidneys, or..." she ended with a huff. "And Ah can still applebuck better than all y'all, and y'all know it!" she yelled to no one. Twilight smiled at her friend.
"It's good to talk to you again, Applejack." she replied. "It's been too long. But...your letter made it sound urgent."
"It is urgent." Applejack replied. "It's urgent tha' you spend the day out of that frilly castle and back here in Ponyville. Or did ya finally forget about all us li'l ponies?"
Twilight cringed and hung her head. "I....I..." she was surprised by a punch on the shoulder. Something about the exact spot made her yelp, her wings flying out of their own volition. Applejack laughed as Twilight folded them.
"Hah! That trick always worked on Rainbow." Applejack responded, grinning at her. "Ah wondered if it was a pegasus thing or what."
"That was mean."
"Tell y' what. You can buy me lunch an' we'll call it even." Applejack responded, head held high. Twilight rolled her eyes at her friend's logic and followed her down the road. The weather was beautiful today, and she soaked in the quiet of outer Ponyville. Applejack seemed to keep watch of her, and eventually spoke.
"So how's things with that cute li'l mare y' were seein, oh what's her name...?"
"You mean Luna?" Twilight asked. Applejack faked surprise, slapping her forehead with a hoof (and nearly sending her hat flying).
"Oh that was it." she replied. Twilight laughed.
"The element of honesty is a horrible liar." she teased. "And great, thanks. I don't think even I could find such joy in the mechanics of government, but she seems excited by every little by-law that comes up to her, and is constantly looking to improve the system....not that the bureaucrats like that much, of course."
"Ah meant more 'bout how the two of you are doin'?"
"Oh." Twilight gave an apologetic look. "Great. You remember the wedding."
"Ah remember you blushin' so hard we thought yur coat had turned red." Applejack smiled and looked to the sky. "Y'know y'helped a lot of folk out by doin' that."
"By...getting married?" Twilight asked. Applejack nodded.
"Yup. Hard t' argue against it when we got a pair of fillyfoolers on the throne."
"Applejack!" Twilight hissed, cringing at the term.
"Sorry. Old dog, new tricks. An' how about Celestia? She don' mind her sister runnin' most of things nowadays?"
"Not at all." Twilight told her, swelling with joy and pride. "It was always hard for her to balance her work as the ruler of Equestria and as Headmistress of her school. That's what she really loves. She spends so much more time with her students now - I'm almost jealous!"
Applejack guffawed. "Ah think you may have one up on them there, sugarcube."
Twilight smiled and lowered her head a little, her pride deflating. "Yeah, I said almost."
"Ah'm surprised you didn' go into the school with her. It seems right up your tree."
Twilight shook her head. "Maybe it'd be fun to teach some classes one day. Imagine me with my own 'faithful student'." she grinned at the little joke. "But for now, there's still so much out there to explore, so much more to learn than what's in the books."
"Right, you do that arch...arki...archistudy." Applejack taxed her mind.
"Archeology." Twilight corrected gently. "And yes. Ponykind spread rapidly after the end of the golems, and there are ruins of places settled by ponies who knew Luna and Celestia firsthand, or only a few generations later. It's amazing that the Nightmare was thorough enough to convince ponykind to bite into her story, but that doesn't mean all traces of the old tales are lost."
"But where's the fun if y' can juss teleport around? That ain't explorin'."
"I can't go where places I haven't seen, or at least been given a very good description of. And a lot of ruins have strange magics about them that need to be preserved. My legs get more of a workout than my magic." By now they had made it to Ponyville proper, and Twilight stopped to look around. She smiled at first, spotting several landmarks, from town hall to Sugarcube corner. But slowly her smile faded, replaced by confusion, then sadness.
"I don't recognize anypony." she said quietly. Applejack turned to face her and gave her a gentle nudge.
"Tha' kinda happens when y've been gone for four decades." she replied. Twilight gave a slight nod. Her eyes didn't seem to be sparkling anymore. Applejack nudged her again, this time as she began walking.
"C'm on. We gotta lot a places to see." she told Twilight. The alicorn gave a reluctant nod and followed her old friend through the streets. She garnered numerous looks, of both awe and trepidation - why was a princess here? What was going on? Too much time had passed, she realized. No one remembered the nerdy unicorn who had barely kept the town library running and herself intact with the antics she seemed to get herself into. Twilight turned her gaze ahead, trying to ignore the growing self-loathing inside of her. That was when her eyes caught something.
"That's...new." she said to the building in front of her. A barber's shop. But....Twilight saw it in her mind. The trees had been smaller (Earth and Sky, even the trees had changed!) and there had been more bushes, but the path was the same. This was where the Carasol Boutique was supposed to be. This was an entirely different building. And it wasn't supposed to be.
"This...this isn't right. Where is it?" she asked, looking around. She had to be wrong, maybe it was next door. What had they done to it? Applejack sighed.
"Sugarcube-" she stopped as Twilight rushed past her. Without thinking, the purple alicorn ran into the shop, practically bursting through the door.
Her entrance was met with stunned stares and dropped jaws. Patrons sat covered in aprons, most staring at mirrors until she had burst in. A few unicorns stood behind them, scissors and brushes hanging in midair. The tools clattered to the ground, the spell keeping them aloft broken as the unicorns startled. Twilight winced as the clattering blades luckily hit only the floor. She looked around. Tinny music played through speakers in the ceiling. The walls were tan, there were shelves beside her with shampoos, conditioners and lotions. The entire place was rectangular, with only a few square windows. It was a completely different building. Twilight finally noticed the eyes on her.
"Wrong building." she said, feeling more out of place than her first day in Ponyville. "My mistake." she backed out, trying to smile at the stunned ponies. She only turned around once outside, and found Applejack staring at her. Her friend has so many lines on her face, under her eyes. How had she not noticed that before?
"Yur an idiot." Applejack told her. Twilight hung her head.
"Find what you were lookin' for?"
"No." Twilight told her with a shake of her head. She glanced back at the building. "Where'd it go?"
"Rarity paid rent on the darned place every month, every year." Applejack replied. "She always meant to move back, I reckon. Some day. Next year, it t'was always goin' t'be next year. Well, one year, next year didn' come, you know that. She never had any foals, and Sweetie Belle, bless her heart, had her own problems to worry about. So, township got the place, no one wanted it, an'..."
Twilight nodded, wiping her eyes. "I just thought...I don't know what I thought."
"C'm on." Applejack told her with a flick of her head. "There's more." with that, Twilight began to understand why her friend had brought her here. She followed Applejack down the road.
"Now, if'n we're lucky, we can head down to Sugarcube Corner an-" she was cut off as she passed by an alleyway and was promptly tackled by a pink and blue blur. Twilight jumped back in fright, and when the dust cleared she saw what happened, what - rather, who - had brought her friend down flat. Two sets of big young eyes looked up at her.
"Ahh, it's a princess!" a blue pegasus colt shouted. He looked beneath him, at the pony he was laying on. "Ahhh! It's Granny Applejack!" he leaped off, fluttering a few feet in the air. With a sigh, Applejack lifted herself off the ground. Twilight's gaze was transfixed on the pink pony still on Applejack's back.
"Hello." the filly said, staring at her with a smile, on her face and in her eyes. Twilight found she couldn't work her mouth.
"Pinkella Daphne Pie!" Applejack shouted, looking over her shoulder. "What are you and Rush up to? An' get off mah back!"
The pink filly with curly pinker hair slid off Applejack's back with a giggle that was, somehow, pink. "Nothin." she said in that tone that children everywhere used. Twilight was still stunned. She even sounded the same. No, but besides being younger, this filly already had her cutie mark - an open present with streamers flying out of the top. It wasn't her....but...
"Nothin' mah hoof!" Applejack looked up at the colt. "Rush, an' what do you have to say for yurself?"
"Uhh..." the colt looked around, scratching his head. His mane, oddly, was snow white. "I can only get in trouble if I'm caught? Bye!" with that, he was off, leaving a gust of wind in his wake. That pegasus could move.
"Rush! Wait up!" Pinkella Daphne Pie began after her friend, hopping along in a way all too familiar to Twilight. Applejack turned to her, shaking her head at the vanishing little ponies.
"Welp." she said, stopping to cough. "Y've just met heir to the Pinkie Pie fortune. Along with the worst rascal this town has seen since, since..." Applejack just stamped her hoof. Twilight's brow furrowed.
"Ah know what yur thinkin'." Applejack replied. "Scootaloo's kin. Well, down the road a li'l but Ah doubt y'd know...anyway. No relation to.." she shook her head.
Twilight nodded. "And...Pinkella. I..."
"Ah know, Ah know. Hey, every generation needs its Pinkie Pie. Some things are juss uni-vers-al truths." she nodded her head decisively. "And Ah would know."
"...You said Pinkie Pie fortune?"
"Yup. You go diggin' all around Equestria an' you still need to get out more." Applejack scolded her. "Sugarcube Corner. They got spots all over from here to Fillydelphia. They even got one in Cloudsdale!"
"Wow. I knew Pinkie Pie was doing well back in the day, but..."
"It grew more in her daughter's hooves." Applejack explained. "But she followed Pinkie Pie's dream for it. Wanted to make it so there was a place for anypony to throw any kind of party, anytime. Now, we don' need to stop by Sugarcube Corner anymore thanks t' that, but you're still buyin' me lunch."
"You mean you just wanted to show me..."
Twilight smiled weakly and nodded, so Applejack brought her over to the Daffodil Delicatessan. It was moderately busy, a respectable establishment specializing in good sandwiches and great service. As soon as the two of them entered the restaurant a waiter noticed them and just dropped his plate on a table, not even looking to whoever he dumping on. He was at the podium before they were, nodding deeply since he couldn't bow.
"Madam, and Princess Twilight! We are honored, truly honored! What brings you to our hhhumble establishment today?" Twilight had to admit, she had never heard anyone roll an 'h' before.
"Lunch." she replied simply. The waiter gave a nervous smile.
"Of course, of course! Where would you like to sit today? How may we serve you?"
"Where do you have that's available?"
"Why, every seat is available, my dear Princess!" the waiter seemed to still be trying to figure out how to bow without hitting his head on the podium. Twilight stifled a sigh.
"I don't know...somewhere outside would be nice. Also some place that doesn't have anypony sitting at it already." she felt she had to add that last part. The waiter's head was bobbing so hard it might come off. He led them straight out the side to a patio. Twilight saw the waiter signal to another staff member. She also heard Applejack snicker.
"Well ain't you all high an' mighty." her friend quipped in a not-so-quiet whisper.
"This is why I don't get out much." Twilight whispered back. By the time they got to their table, Twilight found a purple cushion at her place. She swore it was like everypony kept one on hoof just in case. She didn't want to, but knew it would cause only more headache if she didn't take it. They'd think they'd offended or something. Another waiter came up with two menus as the first departed. Twilight held hers in place magically, and could see that the waiter was still waiting on them.
"Could you please give us a few minutes?" she asked, making him jump.
"W-why, yes, of course. We are at your service." he backed away tentatively. Once they were gone Twilight just plunked her head onto the table.
"You okay sugarcube?" Applejack asked casually from over her menu, as if nothing was wrong.
"I hate the whole Princess thing. How did Celestia ever put up with me? I get it now."
"Well, that kinda happens when y' marry into royalty, y'know." Applejack replied. "'sides, they're just being polite."
"They're afraid, Applejack. I'm feared. Me." she sighed. "Celestia and Luna have it worse, because of the whole Nightmare thing. But I don't get why they fear me. I've never done anything!"
"Naw." Applejack said tiredly, actually rolling her eyes. "S'not like you've got any power. Like you could shut down this here place if you so much as felt like it. Or just tear it up and throw it from here to Canterlot."
"But I don't do things like that!"
"But y' could."
Twilight groaned and looked around. Ponyville was still Ponyville, even if the faces had changed. For the first time in years, Twilight felt desperately homesick for a place that had never really been hers. It began to all unwind for her.
"I miss...everything. I miss the boutique, I miss Pinkie Pie's parties, I miss the everfree forest, I miss Zecora, I miss when Trixie came to town or when I helped you with Applebuck season or..."
"Slow down sugar." Applejack said, her voice low and sweet. Grandmotherly. "Ah miss them too. And Ah've missed you. So let's enjoy ourselves, okay?"
Twilight nodded and straightened herself. She saw the waiter approach again (he had probably timed two minutes to the second) and glanced quickly at her menu.
"The toasted carrot sandwich with whole-oat bread sounds wonderful." she told the waiter. "I'm not very hungry." the waiter nodded, still looking worried.
"Ah juss want the hay fries." Applejack said. Twilight wondered if the waiter had even noticed her until she spoke. He was off in a flash, yet another one came up right away only to pour them both tall glasses of crystal clear water. Well, at least they got both of them something to drink.
"Ah can't stomach much these days." Applejack told her. "Candy Apple tries to keep the cinnamon apple pies and the turnovers away from me, an' I know she means well by it. But Ah'm a bit sick of it."
Twilight nodded. "I never really got to know your family, I'm sorry."
"Well..." Applejack sighed. "O'course, they're Big Mac's kids first, but because he didn' stick around Ah just wound up being 'Granny Applejack'. If Granny Smith could see me now..." she shook her head, her smile deepening the lines on her face. "Candy Apple's sweet as y' can guess, but she's going to worry herself dead before Ah hit the ground."
"Don't talk like that, please." Twilight responded. Applejack gave her a look, but before she could say more their food came. That was fast, Twilight thought to herself. She bit into her sandwich, which honestly was pretty good, while Applejack picked at her fries. Every time Twilight took a sip of water she found it topped off. She had to try not to roll her eyes. Applejack kept silent during lunch, and Twilight found herself at a loss for conversation. Had they really grown that apart?
"Eh, Ah'm finished with these, how about you Twi?" Applejack asked as the alicorn finished her meal. Twilight was briefly heartened to hear her old moniker again, but her mood fell when she saw Applejack had barely eaten.
"Ah know that look. Yur like Candy Apple y' are. Don' worry. It ain't gonna make a difference." her words were unusually cryptic for the salt-of-the-earth pony, but Twilight just nodded. She turned to one of the nearly ever-present waiters.
"Compliments of the establishment, m'lady."
Twilight frowned. "I'd really rather-"
"Twi?" Applejack interrupted. She looked over. Her friend was so, so tired. She looked like she barely had the energy to shake her head. "Let it go."
Twilight turned back to the waiter. "It is a lovely gift, thank you. And your establishment is more than praiseworthy."
"You honor us, Princess." Twilight cringed at the words, and the bow that followed. Always the bowing. She briefly wondered about talking Luna into making bowing illegal. No, no. Down that path lay the mind of a tyrant, even a well-meaning one who just wanted to enjoy her lunch with her friend.
"You comin', Twilight?" Applejack had gotten ahead of her, walking off the patio and into the road. Twilight nodded and caught up. Her friend's gait was slower than this morning
"Y'know what today is, don't ya?" Applejack asked. Twilight was puzzled - aside from the letter, nothing had marked this day as important to her. She just gave Applejack a confused glance. The old earth pony sighed.
"Really has been too long, ain't it? It's mah birthday, y' darned foal." she sounded disappointed.
The news hit Twilight like a stone. That was it. That was too much. She found tears on her cheeks and didn't bother to wipe them away.
"Hush, now, don' be like that." Applejack was at her side, pressed close as she could against the alicorn, brushing her folded wing. "Ah know y' didn't mean it. Ah almost stopped countin' myself."
"Eighty years old." Applejack said quietly, her voice unsteady. "An I know ponies that ain't lived half that. We all held on there, but Ah've been wantin' to ask you, Twi. Why me? Th' others stuck aroun', but...this ain't right."
Twilight didn't even realize that Applejack was leading her out of town. She shook her head. "It was natural, kind of. It's no spell if that's what you're asking. You're as solid as an apple tree, AJ. Mix that with with a strong will, and a good life, you'd be surprised. Plus...I may give off a slightly magical aura. That some ponies may be slightly receptive to."
"Slightly. It's mostly the will thing."
Applejack nodded. "Makes sense. That's why it took Fluttershy a while, t'weren't it? Good life an' all."
"Yes. Normally pegasus ponies don't live that long, but..." Twilight nodded. "She had such a gentle soul. The years didn't wear on her as much as other ponies."
"But she weren't strong enough either, was she?" Applejack asked. "Only pony to truly die of heartbreak. When her little grandfilly..." She wiped her eye.
"I should have been there." Twilight was so angry at herself. "I shouldn't have ever left Ponyville! I shouldn't have left any of you!" She stamped the ground, only wishing she could kick herself. Applejack sighed and hushed her again.
"Now enough of that." She told Twilight, once again coming off as so much older than her friend. "The princess's needed you, and it wouldn't've been right of us t' keep you. Besides, there was nothing y'could've done for her, 'les you think you can make a rockslide climb back up a mount'n. ...Shoot, you probably can, but y'know what Ah mean."
Twilight hung her head. "See? I could have done something."
"Y' can't go thinkin' like that. Yur putting the weight of the world on your shoulders. Besides, it all works out in the end, one way or th' other." She looked up. Twilight realized where she had been brought. Fluttershy's hut was gone, and in its place,
"Dragonfly Memorial Hospital and Veterinary Clinic." She read the red words emblazoned on the monolithic white building ahead of them. It wasn't pretty, but it was very stately, more windows than building, letting in all the sunlight it could. And it was surrounded by the most beautiful gardens Twilight had ever seen outside of Canterlot, with at least as much care put into them. Twilight could see every type of songbird that could possibily live here fluttering through the trees, a rabbit den just off the path leading to the hospital, and the entire thing was surrounded in flowers made brilliant by the spring. This time, as the tears rolled down her cheeks, she at least lifted a hoof to wipe them away.
"I remember this. Celestia went to the grand opening. I...couldn't come. I couldn't bring myself to come."
"It was all y'all that made it possible. Fluttershy never was one to have a sum of money in the bank. Or under her mattress, or anywhere really." Applejack shook her head. "But the family does well know, y'know. Her grandson, Fluttershy the Third, is a good doctor."
"Oh, well, that's - wait, her grandson Fluttershy?!"
"Yeah, well, 'parently his parents wanted to keep the tradition. He's a fine stallion."
"You, um...know him well?"
Applejack sighed. "We've met a few times recently. C'mon. We're almost done." she turned off the road, into the trees. Twilight was confused.
"Applejack, where are we going?"
"It's a shortcut." Applejack told her.
"Are you sure you should be-"
"How come Spike couldn't make it?" Applejack interrupted, shifting the conversation. Twilight frowned at the back of her friend's head but allowed the new topic.
"I'm sorry. He took a nap last year."
"Dragons can sleep for up to a hundred years, you know." Twilight told Applejack. The earth pony nodded.
"Twilight?" She asked, her voice suddenly strained.
"You're going to be there when he wakes up, ain't cha?"
"How long do dragons-"
"About two thousand years. There's a lot of variation, and records are...spotty." Twilight briefly closed her eyes, but had to watch where they were going. Applejack was forcing herself up a hill, heaving her body every step of the way.
"I'll be there whenever that is." she told Applejack, anticipating her friend's question. "Eventually even he will...and that will be the last person besides the princesses who ever actually knew me."
"Y'talk like it's already happened." Applejack said with a huff. "An' yur forgetin' yourself, y'idiot."
"How old are ya? Li'l younger than me, right? An' you know the princesses, I reckon. Y'know at least one of them inside and out, don't cha?" she briefly turned to grin at Twilight, who after all these years still blushed a little.
"An' there'll be others. Y'know there will. Sooner or later, some bright eyed filly's gonna come up to you, all full of ideas an' prob'bly magic, and you'll get to know her. She won' give you the choice." With a heavy breath, Applejack crested the hill. Twilight did so as well a moment later, and paused. This hill rose higher than all the land around it. She could see Sweet Apple Acres, the hospital, even into Ponyville. Applejack stood in front of a single gravestone.
"You remember the funeral, don't cha?" Applejack asked, tears collecting in the lines on her face. "Las' time we could say we were all together."
"I...yes. I could never forget. It rained that day. I don't think it was scheduled to, but it did."
"Ah remember Fluttershy the most. She was already goin' a bit daft by then, wasn't she? Asked for Angel the whole day..." Applejack wiped a hoof across her cheek. "Didn't say a word as they brought in the casket."
"I remember the colt who made that bad joke to Pinkie Pie after the service." Twilight said, sitting down besides Applejack. "About one occasion that even she couldn't party for. After the stare she gave him, I wouldn't be surprised if he swallowed his own tongue."
"Ah think he almost did." Applejack said, sitting down. She was smiling, but still crying.
"Rarity ruined her dress in the rain. Just wouldn't leave." Twilight said. "I remember the stallion she was with...he seemed nice. Guess it never worked out."
"Naw. Spinster to the end." Applejack was shaking. "Thirty-five years. That's how long it's been since then, Twi, you realize that. We've been kept apart for that long. I can still see her face too, bright as ever. Ah didn' want to tell you, but...it's hard. Nowadays, thinkin way back when. But ah can't forget her smile." Twilight leaned in to try to support her sobbing friend, and also to draw support from her.
"Come on. It was nice to visit, but we should get you home."
"...." Applejack closed her eyes and shook her head. "Ah ain't goin' home, Twilight."
"W-what do you mean?" Twilight felt her throat begin to close up in panic.
"You know what I mean." Applejack said. She opened her eyes to look up at the gravestone.
"N-no...you can't be sure."
"Ah am. S'old ticker. They say with some pills and and a lot of bedrest, Ah got a couple years left, but..."
"Th-that doesn't sound that bad." Twilight tried.
"They mean a lot of bedrest. As in all th' time. That ain't life, Twi. Not for me." Applejack was shaking. "Ah've raised colts and fillies from babes, and watched 'em grow old and die. Ah haven't seen any mah friends in least fifteen years."
"S-stop it!" Twilight sobbed "You're, you're not...."
Applejack smiled at her. "Hush now, none of that." she managed to reach up and wipe a tear from Twilight's face. "What did you say? It was friendship that gave those golems somethin' to live for, weren't it? Sure Ah got my kin, but Ah'm a burden to them. Ah'm past mah time. And Ah'm so tired." she looked Twilight in the eyes. "Go. They'll know to find me here, and Ah don' want you to see me like this."
"N-no!" Twilight let the tears stream down her face as sobs wracked her body. "I've missed everything else. Everyone of them! I haven't forgotten, I promise I haven't! I'm going to be here for you. I...have to be. Please."
"Fine then." Applejack said. "Ah ain't got it in me t' argue no more."
The two of them stayed there, leaning on each other. Slowly, Applejack got down, laying on the grass. Twilight kept aside her, and Applejack snuggled against her just like Twilight used to against Celestia as a filly. When the sun was setting, they were still there. Applejack let out a sigh. Her eyes hadn't opened for an hour.
"Twi....where is she? Will I get to see her? Will I get to see all of 'em?"
"It's hard to tell you where, but yes. It's like the heavens, but better. There's earth and sky, trees and creatures."
"All the apples you can buck. And I know she's waiting for you. They're all waiting for you." Twilight told her.
"We'll wait for you too. But if you don't come with plenty of stories, if you don't come with a long life behin' ya....Ah'll whup ya."
"I will, Applejack." Twilight told her. "I promise."
"Mhmm." Applejack sighed. She grew still. Twilight waited, but nothing stirred in the old mare. Twilight was weeping again, she realized, but she couldn't feel it. She only felt cold.
Long after the moon had risen, and the last breath had passed from her friend's body, Twilight stayed there as if to keep it warm. She stayed there and just looked at the tombstone, the night sky, and the world around her she had left behind. It was the inscription on the tombstone that kept drawing her eye.
Here lies Rainbow Dash,
Legend of the Wonderbolts,
Founder of the Royal Equestrian Aeronautics League,
and in her own words, most importantly,
The most loyal friend she could be.