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Roads, Tempest has seen plenty of them in her life and walked far too many alone in her youth. Yet here she was walking a road she took many years ago to a town she last saw as a runaway in passing. She did not remember ponyville with much clarity do to how long it has been and her age at the time but what few things she did remember were hardly the same. The town has changed a lot in that time… Some more tall and ugly than others but Twilight's dreadful taste in homes was not her place to judge… But if she lived here she may have to plant a tree or two to cover that eyesore up. But regardless of that atrocity she needed to rest. Maybe not in the form of laying around but more mentally. Being alone left her… Alone with her thoughts and after a few days of that she concluded that was NOT a good idea for her at the moment with the turmoil raging inside of her. How will others feel if they knew the truth? Yes in many ways she was lied to and lead astray… But in other ways she did much of it willingly and even enjoyed it. Reflecting on this was troubling as her time alone gave her plenty of time to dig deep into herself and what she was learning was only making it more… unpleasant. She enjoyed, no, she loved the power she had.

 

With a sigh she pushed her dark thoughts away as best she can and looked to the town she was passing… around. She did not feel ready to just walk in to it, it was far too close to Canterlot. They all must have known what she did and will ask to many things she does not wish to be asked about yet as deep down she did not know how to answer them. Guiding her eyes to the countryside she saw the clear layout of a farm. She remembered that farm, she stole apples from it way back when… Apples… That one with the hat, Applejack was it? She said something about living in ponyville. Was this her farm? Maybe it can giver her the shelter she needed and offer some work as well. Farmers were ever in need of an extra pair of hooves after all and many were not tro shy to take on passing ponies for short bost to pony power. So maybe this Applejack will help. She was a friend of Twilights and seeing as Twilight insisted that she and her were friends… Well, friend of a friend helps a friend? That was how that saying worked… maybe. Whatever it may be She made her way to the farm with the midday sun glittering on the black steel of her armor and undersuit. She has… been hesitant to remove it. She can’t explain why but she felt very vulnerable for now and it supplied her some feeling of familiarity, comfort… Pride.

 

Approaching the gate that marking the entryway to the farm she stopped and looked over the home and farmland before her… Forgotten memories glimmer before her like broken glass on the floor. Hiding, rain, stealing an apple to eat before pushing on. She flicked her ears and closed her eyes as remembered her life as a filly. So young and alone, what if she just… stayed here? Maybe they’d have adopted her? It was pointless to think about yet it lasted longer than she wanted it to. With a frustrated snort of anger she opens her eyes and walked past the gate and into the farm itself. “HELLO!? Eanypony around!?” She yelled out, hoping they were not busy and she was not being to bothersome.

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Crack.
Apple bucking was a great respite from motherhood, not that she needed or really wanted a respite from that. Loved every moment of it! But there was a calmness to the fields, to her work, that she could rarely find equaled in any other activity. The sweet smell of sweat intermingling with the dancing fragrance of apple-tinted fields and orchards that stretched across the horizon. The layers of light gently playing with the cool darkness as the leaves allowed. The sounds of birds and squirrels and other critters scurrying. The feel of a nice buck, the chills up the spine, the comforting sound of apples hitting the basket. A thousand and one small comforts piled themselves as snuggly as apples into a cart, and she pulled it all with a pep in her step. It was hard to not want to spend all day doing it-


 

Crack.
-especially when the sun was so inviting and the weather so dang perfect. As happened after every adventure, she was working to make up time. And that meant slightly longer days, clearer weather, and a cleared schedule. Heh- sort of funny to think about, wasn't it? Saving Equestria had become so common for her and her friends that a certain post-adventure routine had settled in. Of course that didn't change how scary it had been, and was, every time. Applejack never lost faith that they'd win though. She was Equestrian through and through. Healing and Kindness. Strength and Honesty. Loyalty and Bravery. Beauty and Generosity. Hope and Laughter. Magic- well, Sorcery, at least. She believed in all of these things and knew that no matter how dark the clouds, how dreary it was, that in the end the light and virtue of friendship would win out.


 

Crack.
So this was less work and more of a reward for mother and heroine alike. She had always loved her job. Other ponies may complain about what they did but this was more than a job or even what she was meant to do. The peace, the factors involved, she couldn't help but think this would have been a fun hobby! Her basket was now full. The tree was a bit difficult in giving it to her on account of there being fewer apples. She would have moved on to a more bountiful tree but today was a day for completionism. She trotted gainfully to hitch the cart up and grab another, tasting the air and feeling her muscles joyfully bounce along to the rhythm of her work. She loved her work, she loved her family, she loved little Zap, she loved Rainbow, she loved her friends, and she loved the peace and quiet of Sweet Apple Acres. This day was perfect!

“HELLO!? Anypony around!?”

Applejack's ears perked up and she momentarily felt her heart leap in a mix of fear and adrenaline. Tempest Shadow was...well, complicated, dangerous, powerful all in equal measure. She was also friendless and seeking to be better. Maybe a few years ago she would have been worried. After all, she was just an Earth Pony! She couldn't really fight somepony with such powerful magic. Well, maybe she could. But it wouldn't be all that effective. Besides, she wasn't any different from Starlight Glimmer. Villain looking for redemption? Well, Equestria was more than a little forgiving. And while you could leave Equestria, Equestria never really left an Equestrian. If she wanted to become a better pony and make up for misdeeds, Applejack would make sure Tempest didn't face any obstacles from Applejack. She had learned her lesson in that regard already.

Applejack trotted with much greater haste, bounding into Tempest's field of view with her cart bouncing in tow shortly after she had tried to get anypony's attention. “Howdy there, Tempest!” Applejack said as she came to a stop nearby. The cart continued for a second, coming to stop against her rear. The motion caused a single apple to fall and bounce towards Applejack. Without looking she used her tail to catch it. “Want an apple?” She asked all friendly like, tossing the apple high in the air towards Tempest.

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Now there were few more proud of his sister than Big Mac himself. While some ponies did share claim to that pride t’weren't nothing like the pride of family and knowing your blood was out there doing the world something good. He was rightly worried of the sorts a trouble she got into, seeing the sorts a villain she handled on occasion. Discord, while as tame as a bear in a sanctuary still ain’t something to shake a stick at. Still a might dangerous if’n left to his own devices, mind you. Now her latest adventures kept her home with nothing more dangerous than a toddling half-pint colt, courtesy to the union of his mothers Dash and AJ. While a good couple he felt they were awfully busy on their own to raise him without the help of the Apples, but that coulda just been tradition talking and the worry of an older brother and first time Uncle. Now today there was nothing to fret about. AJ was home having herself a little break from both adventuring and mothering doing a bit of field work. He was sure she was glad to be in the orchards again. He knows he was thankful for the help. As eager as Apple Bloom was to take up her sister’s responsibilities she was still pint-sized herself and the workload was just not healthy for a youth to take on. They should be off playing.

 

So should he, to be honest. After a whole afternoon pulling the plow he was about ready to hurl it in the lake and take a nap! That wouldn’t be at all responsible, but seems the screws on the joints were getting loose and as such it made it a challenge to pull straight without a constant sort of wobble. Pulling from the straps he freed himself. The whole field was plowed. Weeds had been  taken care of and any old roots that had tried out were plucked up. Now that he had a moment free from the irritation of the plow he took notice of the silence… The signature cracks of AJ’s hooves meeting the side of a tree were nowhere in the air.

 

“Huh…” That was quite queer indeed.

 

Picking his plow up he would carry it back to the barn, taking care not to slam the doors on the way out. Hiois strength was known to occasionally be the cause of the needing of repairs. Turning heel the stallion made his way out toward the orchard. Filled baskets, but no Applejack in sight. His ears perked up at the sound of a none-too-distant Applejack. Well now. Pushing ahead he would soon cross around an apple tree to spot the orange coat of his sister as well as the visage of another beauty.

 

“Errr…” Where had that thought come from? Golly  though she was different looking. Not that different was bad, but she definitely didn’t seem like she was from town. “Err… howdy!” Big Mac finally spoke up, whittling away the attempt or two to find familiarity in her. Something about her was a bit -- well, spooky if he was honest. That out fit looked kinda like a sailor’s, but a naval sort. But it was pretty dark for one.

 

Not something you wore at a farm, that was for sure!

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Tempest was relieved to see Applejack pulling up in top view, that confirmed this was her farm, but judging from the cart full of apples AJ was pulling along she showed up when AJ was working. At least the farm pony did not seem bothered about this interruption of work. “Hello Applejack, sorry to show up with you working.” She says back as AJ tossed an apple her way. For most unicorns all they’d have to do is think about grabbing it with magic, than bam, eat the floating appel. Tempest never had it that easy. With a leap into the air she grabs the apple in her muzzle with a backflip then lands on her hooves. With a wet crunch she takes a bite, sitting down to hold the apple between her front hooves. “Thank you, was getting rather hungry… I hate to do this but I came here wanting to ask a favor. May I crash here for a day or two? I can stay out of the way, heck I can sleep outside even. But if you will allow it i’d like to work as well. Just for the stay and make a few bits to help me on road. Need to buy food and water after all.”

 

As she explained herself, she saw a rather large male make his way over from the apple trees… Tempest was a tall pony and few are close to standing eye to eye with her but that hunk of pony? Well he may even be taller than her and was built like a bull!. "hello. You work here?” She asked him as she spoted the apples on his flank. “Are you related? If AJ has not told you, names Tempest… Just call me that.” She says looking the stallion up and down before pulling her gaze back to Applejack to avoid staring too long at what very well may be the mares brother.

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Applejack felt bad the moment she realized that maybe Tempests' broken horn prevented her from simply grabbing the apple mid-flight. Felt awfully ignorant of her to tell the truth, but she didn't have much experience with unicorns with that sort of disability. It wasn't completely unheard of but you never really had any follow-up and it was mostly used as one of those examples of a non-fatal but horrifying injury that could scar you...emotionally, more than physically. For Pegasi it was the loss of the wings. For Earth Ponies? It was hard to say if they had anything quite so similar. Meant she couldn't fully relate, but could at least try to empathize with it. Which meant that about halfway past the toss of the apple, Applejack felt like a fool, a tool, and a pretty lousy potential friend for the damaged unicorn.

But then Tempest did a feat of acrobatic physicality that made Applejack remember that she wasn't just a unicorn who was damaged, she was a pony of freakish talent. All that sadness and anger had festered over the years- and who had she become? One of the most intimidating ponies she had ever seen. It was kind of outrageous to think that not too long ago Applejack had believed that unicorns were likely the least physically threatening of the pony types. After seeing Tempest? Well, she had seen Earth Ponies kick boulders and Pegasi break the sound barrier, but she was sure as the sun that nopony could compete with what Tempest could do. She landed, eating the apple, yet the act was enough to make Applejack momentarily remember just how absurdly dangerous and powerful this mare was, and how little it could take for anything to spiral beyond her control.

Which meant she was a little slow to respond. She didn't have anyplace to go? Huh...Applejack had sort of figured that Tempest was gonna shack up at the castle with Twilight and Glimmer. Another reformed villain and the Princess of Friendship would make excellent roommates for somepony looking to reform and redeem. But if she had come to Applejack, that meant it was on Applejack to set the path and she wasn't going to start that by passing the buck off on somepony else. Where could she stay? Frankly, Applejack wouldn't put words to it, but she was worried about keeping Tempest in the house. It wasn't that she didn't trust that the mare wasn't trying to get herself squared away all right and proper but she seemed to have a temper. Didn't want where she lived and slept to become cinders and sadness if she had an...incident of some kind.

But she'd make it work somehow, because this mare deserved the chance to prove herself, no matter what reservations Applejack may personally harbor. She trusted Twilight's judgment. More importantly, she believed in the values that made Equestria what it was. “Well, Ah'm sure we can find a place ta help yerself bed down for a few nights. Ain't like we're lackin' tha space, an' Ah could always do with some extra hooves. Still battlin' some of them post-pregnancy energy blues, so it seems workable ta me! Come on-” She said, waving Tempest to follow when her brother arrived.

Applejack didn't see Tempest's stare, but she did hear the question. “Yep! This here's Big Mac, mah big brother. He ain't much of a talker but let me tell you somethin', he has a bigger heart than he does buckin' legs- and he can buck even better than Ah can!” She said, only partially lying. He was the stronger one but nopony, bar none, had better precision than her!

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No one could ever say that Big MacIntosh was inconsiderate. Why heck he was sure t’weren’t many who even called him by his full name! Thought that aside it seemed Applejack was just fine, already greeted their guest and what not. The pony looked to be an Ear-- no a Unicorn? Gosh seems her horns gotten chipped off. Maybe she was some sort a soldier like he first thought. Even a wicked scar along her face showed she faced some sort of hardship, though nothing of the sort that he was thinking. Without a view on her cutie mark and naught but some sorta insignia to go on he could only think of her as some sort of knight. Though he wondered what kingdom. Course Mac knew the Crystal Empire had its own sorts, but Applejack was friends with the Princess of Friendship herself. There was no short guessing that she likely met her fair share of dignitaries and emissaries. His sister sure was cultured! A lucky Apple to have experienced as much as she did! Though he could say he was friend with the princesses too, having spent a good day with the Princess of the Moon and having regular game days with the Friendship Princesses’ baby dragon and a demi-god that’s done friends with their local Sanctuary manager Fluttershy!

 

He knew plenty himself, but s’to be expected in a town like Ponyville. He’d admit there were days he missed more quieter times before it got all haywire, but he supposed it was much to ask given a lot of good things came out of these changes!

 

He took noticed the dark, purple mare turned her gaze from him almost with a nervous fizzle. He realized he had too-long stared at her and likely gave her a sort of self-conscious feeling abouts. He did sometimes forget he was a big fella and didn’t much make smaller company too comfortable. It took time for some newer folk to really approach him. He was a workhorse after all, but he wasn’t all business! He nodded furiously when Applejack said he was gentle, and sure as hay, no other he could figure as big as he that sweet. Though Steve Magnet was an exception even if’n he wasn’t a pony. Nice fella, always wanting to do his mane up something nice, but Big Mac never did feel he’d look all that well with a spiffy top!

 

“Eeyup!” He’d agree with his sister before stepping closer. Seems the mare hadn’t a place to go. They could always use the extra hooves and during this time of year it wasn’t any more true with a new mum like AJ with her hooves fuller than usual! “Uh-huh.” He nodded, admitting that he was indeed a great tree bucker! He didn’t think there was much left to do right now though -- he finished the fields and by the looks of it AJ has cleared out most the orchard on this field. “Uh…” His stomach grumbled as if to ring the lunch bell before Granny herself! He blushed and chuckled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head. “..sorry.” That was a bit rude of his belly, but it couldn't tell a lie and a big fella like him could always eat twice his weight in apples after a good workday!

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Tempest munched on the apple as she awaited AJ’s answer and to her relief, it was good. She we allowed to stay and work it seems, at least for now. Done with her apple she slings it over her shoulder and gets up to follow AJ as she explains the big red pony was in fact her brother. She looked back at him as the big hunk of stallion starts to walk along with them, she hated to say it but AJ had one… Handsome brother. Ponies taller than her were very rare and one that looked like he is stronger as well? Well that never happened. But there he was, doing both. She’d have to see just how strong he was later. “So, Big Mac? Well you are big. Maybe we can do some sparring later?” She asked with a smirk as she looked up at the large male before pulling her gaze back to AJ, speeding up her trot to stay alongside the farming mare. “And thank you for allowing me to stay. I know it can’t be easy to take me in on such a short call out of the blue… Most of all considering what I did not even a week ago.”

 

She looked around the farmland as they walked to wherever AJ was leading them. It was a nice spot of the land they had, close to town but just removed enough to give the same open feel as liveing out nowhere. She found it relaxing and maybe something to think about later in life. Someday she is going to have to settle down and maybe a small farm was what she needed? Hard work to vent on with some peace and calm air as needed? Maybe. But now was not the time to think about such a change in life as she had many more paths to look down first. Looking back to AJ something was itching at the back of Tempests mind as if she overlooked something. ‘post-pregnancy energy blues’. It rolled around in her mind for a moment as her brain seemed confused as to what was spoken. Than it clicked as Tempest stopped walking, froze in a stride. “She… Is a mother.” She spoke in a soft whisper aimed at only herself as she slowly blinked. She truly did not know how to even respond to this development and started moving again as her eyes moved to the grass and dirt they walked over. This news was more troubling than it needed to be. Maybe it was the fear of hurting a foal? A mother? Something about that made her uneasy and pulled her back to her foal years. Her family, her friends. How horrible it all ended and how it made her… HER. No foal deserves that fate. But for AJ to be so welcoming means no ill must have happened to the young one but Tempest was sure AJ must be worried. Tempest was dangerous, just a few days ago she was hunting them down and tookover canterlot. Now she is on the same farm as AJ's family and foal.

 

“If you wish I am fine sleeping in the barn or a shed. All i need is somewhere dry. I do not wish to intrude on your home. It must be plenty full already with the young one and family about.” She offered, hoping it help make things more easy on AJ. As much as Tempest missed her bed on board her airship she spent more of life sleeping on dirt so the change back to sleeping on whatever looked soft was hardly difficult. So if AJ needed that space Tempest can give it. So long as she got to sleep and work to buy what she needed to make it to the next town she was fine with whatever AJ gave her.

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She wasn't going to interfere much in Tempest's flirtation with Big Mac. Oh, she saw it. Applejack may have been born in a barn but she wasn't born yesterday and she knew a certain hunger when she saw it. She didn't know what to make of the mare just yet, but she did know her brother and knew that his current relationship with that filly from Starlight's old village was on solid ground. If she had any real concern that Big Mac would entertain such flirtations she'd step in. Tempest was welcome on the farm...even into her home, but she was still worried. That worry wasn't going to morph into anything else anytime soon. Still, Applejack was happy to have her here if only to ensure that Tempests' first real contact with day-to-day Equestrian life was as forthright and pleasant as possible. “Well, Ah'm happy ta play tha host, Tempest. Yeah this is a bit short notice but we can do it, and Ah know y'all need tha help. You've had a hard life, become a mare as hard as hide, but Ah have faith that yer gonna turn out as right as rain, sugarcube.”

She believed that, she really did, but her concerns were still there. But she had many concerns before. Starlight. Discord. Changelings. Even Twilight at one time, for a brief moment, raised an alarm. She could admit to always look at the new with a more critical eye. She could say that history had proven her wrong time and time again and she'd be right, but hard to push against the worries of hearth and home. She didn't catch all of Tempests' tone, but she did catch the word mother. And for that, Applejack was ready ad willing to detail because talking about Zap Apple was one of her three favorite activities. “Yep! Ah gave birth ta tha best little pegasus ever, Zap Apple. Such an adorable little pile of mischievous energy! Ah wonder if Rainbow Dash'll be in- probably not, Ah heard she was tryin' ta get a handle on some late weather 'fore flyin' off ta tha Wonderbolts,” she sighed, “busy mare.”

They approached the house. Applejack trotted forward, swinging the door open and started up with a bit of a trot. “Alright, come with me upstairs. Gonna get you settled, then we can do a bit of a tour and discuss what yer gonna be doin', alright?” She said. The home was warm and homely and all together inviting, handsome in the way a well-used and trodden family house was but without the creaks and splinters so common to others. The Apples maintained their home well. They found their way to Granny's room, which was as clean as could be- Granny took pretty decent care of it, and Applejack made sure to give it a nice, deep wash when she was away. You respected your elders better by making sure you treated them right rather than do all the non-cleaning and washing they requested instead.

“It ain't much, but it'll do. Granny Smith is gone for a bit- when she returns we'll get you someplace else ta rest. Could always get tha barn set back up,” she said, remembering that aside from the poisonous spiders the barn had been a mighty good place to rest when they were redoing the house a while back. “Could always instead-” she began before a small cry from another room caught her attention. Her features softened and she started to immediately trot away. “Oh, that's tha little stinker. Ah'll be right back!”

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