Apple Bloom woke up even before the rooster crowed the next morning, unable to contain her excitement. Today was the day that Applejack and Big Macintosh were finally going to tell her the truth about her parents! She leapt from her bed and trotted out into the kitchen, hooves tapping excitedly.
The idea that her mother had died foaling her still weighed on her mind, though. Even before she had heard Scootaloo's story, the possibility had occurred to her. Why else would her mother not be here with her? Sweetie Belle was probably right, though – it wasn't her fault. Foaling was dangerous, even with modern medicine. And what if Applejack were her mother instead? She'd had to make a really hard decision, and it can't have been easy on her father either.
She wandered around the kitchen, too excited to think about breakfast. Was this the door where Applejack had come in and told her brother and grandmother that she was pregnant to a Manehattan banker? Maybe. Was this the wall where Big Macintosh had almost killed her crazed stepfather? Maybe.
But it was definitely the kitchen where Granny Smith had made her supper every single night of her life. It was the farmhouse where Big Macintosh had taught her to use hammer and saw to keep the old building in shape. It was the farm where Applejack took her out to fetch apples, crush grapes, herd sheep and do all the other tasks that kept Sweet Apple Acres running.
Apple Bloom stood at the kitchen window and watched the sun rise over the eastern fields, deep in thought. When her fellow Crusaders came in to greet her, she hugged them silently and waited for her family to arrive.
Applejack trotted into the kitchen a few minutes later, and stood in front of Apple Bloom while Big Macintosh and Granny Smith busied themselves about breakfast. "Well, Apple Bloom," began Applejack, "I gotta say, you're a mighty persistent filly. And stubborn, too. Just like me. I should have known you'd get to the bottom of any secrets about this place, whether I liked it or not.
"Your friends are right perceptive, too. They told me their ideas as I was gettin' them settled for bed, and there's an awful lot of truth in both of them. I don't know how you three managed to piece together so much of the story from just a few bits of paper." Scootaloo beamed happily, shaking out her mane proudly.
"So I reckon you've earned the right to know what really went on. You gotta understand why we didn't tell you sooner, though. It'd be real easy for a filly your age to take the wrong lesson from what we're about to tell you. But it's high time we did anyway. So, y'see..."
"Wait!" interjected Apple Bloom, leaning forward. "There's somethin' I wanna say first.
"I used to think that I didn't need to know who my parents were, because ya'll are the only family I need." She swung her head to encompass her brother, sister and grandmother, all of whom were watching her intently. "No matter who my mother and father are... or were... it's you three that I'm growing up with, and you're always going to be a bigger part of my life than anypony else will ever be.
"But then Diamond Tiara said something that made me think about that some more. She said that nopony should be ashamed of her family, the way Mrs Silver is of hers. And she said that I'm definitely an Apple, both born and raised. And I ain't ashamed of bein' an Apple – I reckon we're the best family in all Equestria."
Apple Bloom paused and looked at her friends, then out over the fields again. "But I've got another family out there somewhere. Whether it's the Oranges or the Caves or somepony else altogether. Whether they're bankers or rock farmers or... or if my pa is Cousin Braeburn and my ma's an outlaw, I dunno. But whoever they are, I reckon I shouldn't be ashamed of them either. And if I ain't ashamed of them, then I should want to know who they are, and let them be part of my life.
"And my parents themselves... I know you three are the ponies who raised me, and that'll always be the most important thing... but whoever my parents were, they gave something up for me too. Whether it was..." she turned to Scootaloo, feeling tears forming at the corners of her eyes again, "whether it was my ma dyin' to bring me into the world, or my pa who was willin' to change his whole life to be there for me, but let somepony else raise me instead... they gave up something for me, and I should know what that was, and be able to thank them for it.
"So that's why I want to know who my mother and father are."
She took a deep breath.
"But not today."
Everypony else in the kitchen looked startled. "What? I thought you said you really wanted to know!" exclaimed Sweetie Belle, cantering forward to stand near her friend.
"I do! I really do," replied Apple Bloom. "It's important, and I wanna find out soon. Just... not today. I just know that when I find out who my other family is... well..." She leant against Sweetie Belle and looked up at Applejack, sighing. "Things are going to change. It'll change how I relate to the three of you, and then there'll be more family in my life. I'll want to spend a lot of time finding out about them.
"But I wanna spend more time learning about you, first. About us, the Apples. I never even thought about what life was like on the farm before I was born. Diamond Tiara says the Apples were part of the founding of Ponyville, and we're one of the most important families in town, and... I just don't know anything about that. So I really want to learn more about being an Apple before I learn about what else I might be."
Applejack rushed forward and gathered Apple Bloom up into a tight hug. Big Macintosh and Granny Smith moved in to press their heads against her, while Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo leant against one another, touched by the scene of family unity.
"You're such a clever little filly," murmured Applejack as she hugged her beloved sister. "I wish I'd been half as wise as your age. Come on, we'll tell you all about what it means to be an Apple. You can ask us about your other family any time you want, of course... but no matter who they are, wherever you go to meet them, you'll always be an Apple."
"That's all I want to be right now," replied Apple Bloom, embracing her family.
Author's Note: Thank you, once again, to everypony who's stuck with the story all this time! I've had a lot of fun writing it, and it's been wonderful to get so much feedback from my readers. Knowing that people are enjoying my work makes writing it all the more satisfying.
This chapter concludes "Apple Bloom's Family". I realise that I haven't revealed a "true" version of Apple Bloom's parentage. I used the framing device of the Crusaders' storytelling in order to present two different stories that I wanted to tell about the same subject. Neither of these stories is finished, though!
I will be writing at least two more stories, one where Apple Bloom is the filly of Applejack and Orange Counter, one where her parents are Big Macintosh and Chalk, and possibly others. Naturally, the focus of these stories will be on Apple Bloom meeting the other half of her family and discovering how she fits in with them, and how she grows as a pony in the process. As she said in this chapter, things may change a lot for her.
So, stay tuned for these new stories! I will place a link to the new stories within this Author's Note when the first chapter is published, or you can put me on Author Alert or just PM me with a request to be informed when the new story is up.
Thank you again for all your support! This story has been a lot of work, but you've made it very worthwhile.
Update (13/02/2012): The first sequel has begun! As voted by you, my beloved readers, "The Crusaders Take Manehattan" is the story of Apple Bloom travelling to Manehattan to meet her father, Orange Counter. You can find the story on my Author page. A story involving Apple Bloom's rock farmer heritage is already in the works, though, so have no fear that I'll neglect either! Once more, thank you all for reading.