So, that's the way it went. I'd wait for her in the morning, go work on the farm 'til dark, and then I'd go wait for her again until it was time to go to sleep.
It had been nearly a year by that point; only three days shy of the anniversary of Rainbow's disappearance. It seemed almost everypony, everypony 'cept for me that is, had given up on seeing her again.
I knew she wasn't gone.
I knew she wasn't dead; she couldn't be. Rainbow would never do that; she would never give up.
It was growing dark. Work had been more stressful than usual that day. Big Mac went and got himself hurt, so I had to work twice as hard without his help.
As always, I was sitting patiently in my usual spot, waiting for her.
"Just a few more hours, and I'll turn in," I thought to myself.
I could feel myself starting to nod off right there in the middle of the square when I heard a familiar voice call my name.
"Um Applejack, do you have a moment?"
It was Twilight. She had this very concerned looked on her face. As if she had something awful to tell me.
"Yeah, Twi. Whatya wanna talk about?" I yawned.
She looked at the ground as she spoke in order to avoid looking me in the eye.
"Well it's just I know it's been almost a year now, and I'm really worried about you."
I could tell where she was going with that line of talk.
"Please, Twilight, just let me be."
But, she wouldn't. It wasn't in her to let somepony so full of sadness such as myself go without a friend. I just wanted to be left alone, so I could wait just a little longer for Rainbow, in peace.
"Applejack, please. Doing this, waiting out here all day and night isn't good for you. We all loved Rainbow Dash, but I think we need to let her go, and move on with our lives."
I knew she didn't mean 'we,' when she said it. She meant 'me'. I was the only pony who hadn't already let go. I was the only pony even thinking about Rainbow anymore, and I wasn't about to just 'let go'. Rainbow would wait for me if I were the one missin'. I know that.
"Twi, just go."
She hung her head down in disappointment. She didn't like seeing me this way, I know, but I couldn't just forget about Rainbow. I loved her, and that's somethin' that just wouldn't go away.
Twilight turned back towards me, raising up one hoof, and opening up her mouth as if she had something else to say. She paused like that for a few seconds, until I turned my attention away from her, and back up to the stars.
"I know she's still out there," I thought to myself as Twilight made her way back to the library.
"She has to be."
The next week or so passed in just about the same fashion. The one year anniversary of Rainbow's disappearance was just the same as any other day, because I knew it would finally be the day she'd come back. Sadly, I was forced to go home empty-hoofed and alone, yet again.
"I should have given her her gift before she left. Maybe that would'a changed her mind."
I thought about it more and more. What if I had told her how I felt before I let her go? Would she have stayed?
I couldn't let myself think like that. I knew blaming myself for her absence would just make the hurt hurt more than it already did.
But, over the next few weeks, Twi's words began to stick in my head. It had been over a year. What if what if she was really gone? What if she really wasn't going to come back?
It was the most difficult thing I've ever had to do, but for the first morning in ages I didn't go to the square to wait for Rainbow. I focused harder on my work than I ever had in the past. All I let myself think about was buckin' apples.
Kick a tree, gather the apples, repeat.
I managed to clear almost an entire acre before the sun started to set.
It felt wrong. I felt as though not being there for her meant I was finally giving up, that I was acknowledging she'd never come back, or even worse, that she was dead.
I I couldn't do that. Not to her; not to Rainbow Dash.
After I had gathered the remaining baskets of apples, and stored them in the barn, I made my way towards the square as quickly as I could. As I grew nearer, I could see the silhouette of a pony in my spot.
Now, mind you it wasn't actually my spot, but ponies around here had caught on pretty quickly I preferred to wait in that exact spot, because I knew that if Rainbow ever made it back, that would be where she'd go first.
It was dark by then, so I couldn't exactly make out who the pony was. I could tell she was a mare. The shape of her mane against the moon and streetlights seemed very familiar.
"Okay, Applejack, breathe," I tried to calm myself down. Could it have really been her?
From where I was standing, I couldn't tell for sure, but I tried anyway.
Nothing, just the blackened out shape of a pony as far as I could see.
I continued to study the pony. She was just standing there. She would look at the ground for a few moments, and then look around her.
It was almost as if as if she were waiting for somepony else to show up. She was waiting for somepony, in my spot, just as I had every day for over a year.
I felt my knees go weak. My vision blurred.
"Okay, Applejack, focus."
A whirlwind of different scenarios bombarded my mind. Could it be her? Was she really back? Moreover, was she actually waiting for me?
I couldn't keep standing there anymore. I called out her name, hoping to get some sort of acknowledgment from her.
The pony looked up in my direction.
It was her; it had to be. I called her name again as loud as I could, while I galloped towards her with all my might.
"RAINBOW! RAINBOW DASH?"
I could hear her calling out my name, even though it was very faint.
" A J?"
I called out again. She was really there!
As I got closer, her features, her rainbow-colored mane, her sky blue coat, those lovely eyes I could see each of them. I couldn't contain myself. I just kept running as hard and as fast as I could.
I didn't realize at some point I should have stopped. I crashed into Rainbow, us landing with me pinning her to the ground.
It really was her. This was it. She was really there. I didn't stop to think about it anymore.
I kissed her. Just a quick peck on the lips. I reared back, letting my eyes catch hers. She was so beautiful, so alive. All I wanted was for that moment to last forever.
I kissed her again.
I was so caught up in the moment, that I didn't realize the look of agony on Rainbow's face.
"Ow AJ, please ."
She tried to pull her front hooves out from underneath my chest, grimacing a little when she jerked at the left one.
I jumped back away from her, instantly apologizing.
"Oh, Rainbow, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to "
She stopped me again, just as she had over a year ago.
"It's it's nothing."
But, it wasn't nothing. I looked down at her leg. It was misshapen. It looked so painful. I couldn't help but feel terrible for tackling her, when she was so very badly injured.
"This is kinda why I'm late," she joked.
She went on to explain that she'd made it nearly halfway into her journey before anything bad happened.
"And then, about five days in, I just couldn't keep my eyes open anymore."
While flying, she had fallen asleep, passed out, whatever you want to call it. She fell thousands of feet to the ground below. She busted up her leg on a rock when she hit.
"It could have been a lot worse," she explained, "I didn't tense up when I fell, because I was out. If I had, I wouldn't have had a chance."
She ended up breaking her leg in several places, but she wasn't able to do much about it, considering she had crashed in the middle of a forest. She stayed there in the forest the whole time, she says.
"It hurt. It hurt a lot. There wasn't anypony else around, so I had to fend for myself. I tried to fly out of there, but I just couldn't keep my balance in the air with only three good legs. I found a small cave, which became home for the last year as I waited for my leg to get better. I didn't know what to do about it, so I left it alone."
She raised up her leg.
"And, now it looks like this. It hurts to put any weight on it, but it's healed well enough that I can still fly around in short bursts. I can't do anything like used to."
I looked at her. I looked at her leg. She had gone through so much pain and suffering; she was still in pain. She traveled all the way home in this condition.
That's the Rainbow I knew. She would never give up.
She looked down at the ground. As I said, it was dark, but I could tell she was blushing.
"So um was that the gift you promised me when I left?"
I had almost forgotten how frantic I got when I saw her. I have never felt more embarrassed.
"Oh, that "
I looked up at her, into her beautiful magenta eyes.
We both smiled, avoiding eye contact.
She used what little strength she had left to limp closer to me. I could see the pain ring through her fragile frame as she neared closer.
And, there we were. Face to face. She looked at me again, quickly looking back down at the ground.
"I I liked it a lot."
And, before I had time to react, she pressed her muzzle against mine, our lips interlocking. It may have only been a few seconds of us standing there like that, but it felt like an eternity of bliss to me.
Things did nothing but look up from that point out, depending on how you look at it. The next morning, I escorted Rainbow to the hospital. Nurse Redheart informed us Dash's leg was too badly damaged to ever be useful again. The nerves in her lower leg had been pinched between bone, which explained the constant pain she was in.
There was only one thing they were going to be able to do. They ended up needing to take Rainbow's leg. If anything was more difficult for me than waiting for her to come home every day and night for a year, it was waiting over twelve hours in the next room over of the hospital as the operation was performed.
She came out of it in great shape. I always knew she was fighter.
But, anyway, when her wound healed up, the hospital staff fitted her with a prosthetic leg. Dash complained that it was sort of uncomfortable, but couldn't stop talking about how awesome it was.
The leg was very difficult for Dash to use. That is, until good 'ol Twilight was able to cast a spell to allow Rainbow complete control over the limb. She told me she could even feel the dirt underneath the fake hoof, just as if it were the real thing.
Soon after that, Rainbow started learning to fly again. It took her a few months of rigorous training, but she was eventually able to gain back much of the skill she had before the incident.
But, that's not the best news of the story.
Rainbow Dash no longer lives in Cloudsdale. With her flying ability somewhat compromised, it wouldn't have been realistic for her to have to fly home every night. When she got out of the hospital, she moved in with me, at Sweet Apple Acres.
Now, every morning, and every night, instead of waiting hours to see the one pony I care about most to come back to me, after a long day of hard work, I get to come home to her. The pony I love.