Apple Bloom gave a gentle yawn as she snuggled in to her freshly-pulled covers. "Thanks for tuckin' me in t'night, Applejack," she said, "It's been a long time since ya did."
The young girl's face turned a little pink before she added, "I...I kinda missed it."
"I missed it too, Bloom," Applejack replied, leaning over the bed and planting a little kiss on her sister's forehead, "Figgered...figgered tonight was special."
There was a smile on her sister's face, and a warmth in her words, but Apple Bloom could not help but raise an eyebrow even so. "Is everything OK...?" she asked, beginning to sit up.
Her big sister's hand gently pushed her back down, however. "Everything's fine, Bloom," Applejack said, still smiling. "Now you get t'sleep, 'n' sweet dreams, OK?"
"OK," Apple Bloom giggled before a new yawn swallowed it up. "Love ya, sis."
"Love you too, Bloom."
With those words, and one last gentle pat on the head, Applejack rose and left, gently closing the door behind her.
Once she had, the farmer let the tears flow down her cheeks.
"Tonight was special" indeed. After everything she had been through that day, it would have to be.
Even as she walked through the house's darkened halls, she could hear her Granny Smith's words from that morning. "There's somethin' I need t'show you. Somethin' I've been waitin' t'show you fer a long time."
There was Big Macintosh's room, door just slightly open as was her big brother's habit. Applejack could not resist peaking inside, seeing him laid down on his bed with that calm little grin of his. Looking so gentle, as he always did, even despite his considerable height and well-muscled build. It brought a smile to Applejack's face even as it also brought more tears.
"Y'ever wonder how come you was always s'strong?" Granny Smith had asked her, all those hours ago, as she had led her to the old shed, "Even when you was just a young'un? Or how y'could always run s'fast, or hear 'n' see s'well?"
Applejack had not answered then, even though the answer would have been "yes" if she had. Growing up, helping around the farm with Ma and Pa and Big Macintosh...she'd always been able to do twice the work with half the effort. At the time...in those childhood days that felt longer ago now than they ever had before...it had not bothered her much. Her family was fine with it, and it just meant things around the farm got done easier. But when she'd grown up a little, started hanging out with other kids more...seen the ways some of them looked at her, heard the boys making fun of her behind her back...noticed that they couldn't do things the way she did...there had been questions.
"Your Ma 'n' Pa...they'd always wanted t'tell ya," Granny had said, standing in front of the shed door, eyes turned to the ground, "...but...they wanted t'wait 'til you were old enough...."
Applejack's eyes had turned to the ground then too. A familiar moment of silence had hung in the air at that memory. That old pain that never faded no matter how much it dulled. A pain that lingered and mingled with the other new force weighing inside of Applejack's heart. "There ain't no easy way t'tell you this, hun, but us Apples...we've always been blunt anyway."
Those had been Granny Smith's last words before she'd opened that door. Before she'd pulled off the cloth covering its contents. Before Applejack's entire world had changed. "Sweetheart...you're adopted."
There, beneath the old tarp, was...Applejack could still not quite decide what to call it. A ship, she supposed, but it looked like no ship Applejack had ever seen before. Which, given what Granny Smith said next, made only too much sense. "It was a long time ago, a little 'fore I moved back home t'live here on the farm. A stormy night, t'hear your Ma tell it. She 'n' your Pa, they were out workin' the fields, when they saw somethin'...a big, bright somethin'...fall out 'o' the sky. That 'somethin'' was this...this here contraption, and inside it was...."
Everything else after that had been something of a blur. She had heard the words, of course-something about a beautiful baby girl who Ma 'n' Pa took a shine to, decided to raise as their own, something else about how they were never really sure how far her alien abilities extended-but none of them registered over the scream that had been inside Applejack's head at that moment. That still echoed in the distance of her thoughts even now, if she was honest with herself. A scream of every emotion the farmer could think of, mixed together and bubbling over. She had run out of the shed in tears then; Granny Smith had not followed her. Her feet had carried her-at a speed that, in retrospect, would have shocked any onlooker-off the farm, out of town, as far away as they could go. It had taken hours before any rational thought could pierce that scream long enough to bring her back.
And now, here she was. A stranger in her own home. Or could she even call it that? Leaning over the railing, looking downstairs at the living room, recognizing all the old lines and corners, Applejack bit her lip. She could still see Pa there, in the rocking chair, bouncing her in his lap...or she and Big Macintosh in the kitchen, working on dinner. Memories of another time. Another life. Even as they warmed her, there was a sting to them too. Shaking her head, blinking the new tears out of her eyes, she quickly strode downstairs and out of the house. It was too much. She'd thought she was ready; when she had Apple Bloom and Big Macintosh around to distract her, things had felt calmer, but no. Even now, it was just...too much.
The cool night air helped, somewhat. But looking out over the fields...seeing Ma helping her carry the buckets of apples to their cellar, or Apple Bloom chasing her around the pig pen hungry to win their game of Tag...there was little a bit of cool air could do to defend against that. Hands clenched into fists, eyes squeezed shut, Applejack stood there, in that place she once knew. "Don't run away again..." she whispered to herself, "don't run away again, don't run away again...."
Over and over the words came out. "Running away from a thing never solves nothin' long enough t'matter, sweetie," her Ma had told her.
But she wanted to. She wanted to so badly. Everywhere she looked, there was another reminder of who she wasn't. "Don't run away, don't run away...."
And suddenly the cool air became a lot cooler. With a gasp, Applejack opened her eyes, and found herself surrounded by stars...with not so much as a speck of ground beneath her feet.
It was enough to take her breath away. She had seen the stars before, of course; she and Twilight had spent many a summer's night looking at them in crystal-clear detail through her friend's fancy telescope. But this was different. This was new. She swore she could just reach out and pluck one out of the sky. So that was exactly what she tried to do.
Her hands grabbed nothing, but that sensation...that weightless, amazing moment of reaching to try...it was enough to make the farmer laugh. The first real laugh she'd had all day. So she moved again, and again it was a new, wonderful feeling that got her giggling. So she tried it again. And again, and again, and again. And before long, she was galloping through the air, dipping and rolling as if it were the grass of the field and she was a child again. All the while, she laughed, loudly and openly. There was little grace in her motions; more than a few slips and accidental turns. But none of that mattered to Applejack. All that mattered was how good this all felt. How it reminded her of nothing of her old life. How she could stay up here, free, forever.
And then, as she began to pull up from one of her dives, she saw the farm house.
She could see the dim light in the upper window, where Apple Bloom slept. Her little sister's nightlight.
The gallop stopped then, and Applejack instead hovered and stared at that little light. It should have hurt. After everything else she had felt that day, Applejack could only wait for that hurt to start. Yet even as she stared and stared at that window, it did not. Maybe it was the new angle. Maybe it was the lingering joy of her new-found flight. But whatever the reason, all she could feel was warmth. Warmth at knowing her little sister slept peacefully with that light's help.
Her little sister.
And as that thought clicked in her mind, the screaming finally began to fade, replaced by words that had still been going through the farmer's mind all day. She could hear her Granny Smith...her big brother's habit...her little sister's nightlight...her Ma...her Pa....
Slowly but surely, Applejack began to sink back down to the fields below. She was crying again, but this time it did not bother her. Everything had changed that day, it was true...and yet, at the same time, nothing had changed. That was true too. She knew it was as she felt her feet tickled by the dew of the grass. Her breathing was heavy, her heart was pounding, but her fists had opened, and there was still a little laugh on her breath. Her home. Her family. It all made sense then.
She turned back toward the farm house, and saw a familiar face looking back at her from the porch. Granny Smith, tears on her weathered cheeks, but a smile of her own too. And with a small burst of speed, Applejack held her Granny in her arms. It was a hug the older woman returned with all the strength she could find. There were no words. There did not need to be. Applejack knew the truth now.
She had touched the stars. And it had been amazing. But she would always be of the Earth.