It was a wonderfully bright and warm morning that saw Applejack trotting up the road along the outskirts of Ponyville, heading towards the Everfree. The birds chirped along with her hooffalls while the smell of the evaporating dew coming off the grass with a hint of nearby morning glories filled her nose. The sun was just starting its path across the summer sky, and it already promised to be a scorcher, but for now it was downright pleasant for the farm pony.
Applejack paused as she topped a small hillock and adjusted her hat, wiping a bead of sweat from her forehead. It wasn’t a long journey out to Fluttershy’s place from Sweet Apple Acres, but with the rising heat and the packs on her flanks, she was already working up a fine sheen. Fluttershy’s cottage was just ahead, about a minute’s trot from where she stood, promising shade from the sun, good conversation with her friend, and sweet tea to drink, if she asked.
Fluttershy made a great iced tea. It was perfect for hot days like this. Fluttershy’s tea could quench any thirst and leave you wanting more. It wasn’t Granny’s cider, but it came darn close. Applejack had inquired to the recipe a summer or two ago, and came to find Fluttershy made the stuff with rain water, wild growing red tea and sugar cane. She brewed it in a cloud that she left sitting in the sun, then let it “rain” into a jug that she then stuck under a waterfall to cool off. Seemed like an awful lot of work for just one jug of tea, but ‘the proof was in the pudding’ as they say.
Applejack grinned and set off with renewed vigor. The last leg of the journey coming to an end as she all but pranced up the little path from the main road to the cottage. Applejack raised a hoof to the door and stopped herself just short of banging with all her strength. Any other pony’s house and she would have just let the door have it, let everypony know she came a-calling. But this was Fluttershy, and last time Applejack had knocked so hard, it took the entire afternoon to convince the timid filly to open up. So, Applejack tell the door have a real friendly like meeting with Kicks McGee, as soft a knock as she could muster and still claim it to be a knock at all.
Applejack raised an eyebrow and pushed open the top half of the split wooden door. “Rainbow? Aren’t you the wrong color Pegasus to be here? What you doin’ here at Fluttershy’s so early?”
Rainbow Dash regarded Applejack lazily from where she slouched on Fluttershy’s couch. In front of her was a big bowl of hay fries and Applejack could hear the television playing. Some inane commercial was on at the moment, promoting equally inane fillies toys that taught you how to braid your tail and put beads in it.
“I could ask you the same question AJ. I’m here cuz I’m hanging with my best bud. We’re watching some cartoons before we head out and let Tank and Angel play in the woods,” Rainbow Dash indicated her pet turtle on the floor next to the bowl of fries, acting as a hoofrest for his owner.
“I felt Fluttershy and I weren’t hanging out together as much as we used to. You know, just the two of us? And, I admit, I was getting pretty jealous of her spa days with Rares. And you KNOW I’m not letting them near my hooves. So, Flutters and I thought up doing a little R&R in the mornings. I just like to watch a little on the tube ‘fore we head out.”
Applejack nodded. “Ah get cha’. But, where is Fluttershy? Ah don’t see her in here. Ah thought you said you were watchin’ cartoons with her?”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and gestured up with her hoof. Applejack looked up at the ceiling, and there, squeezed into an impossibly small space for her, was the yellow pony. Fluttershy was shaking and murmuring to herself, two hooves braced against the beams and one against the wall. Her wings and tail were curled protectively about her face and backside.
Applejack gasped and pushed the bottom half of the front door open, rushing into the room. She skid to a stop under her shivering friend. “Rainbow! Help me get her down! Somethin’s wrong!”
“Nothing is wrong AJ! It’s just Fluttershy. She’s scared of this cartoon we’re watching. “
“Scared of a cartoon?” Applejack looked at Rainbow Dash blankly, trying to process this when the television abruptly erupted in an up-beat, catchy song. “Wait, you two are watching My Lil’ Lion?”
Applejack turned and looked at the screen as a brightly colored, only vaguely cat-like character with an over-styled main and colorful bow on its tail started prattling on about the wonders of companionship.
“Ya’ll are watchin’ this? You do know it’s for lil’ school fillies, like Apple Bloom, don’t cha’? “
Rainbow Dash groaned and facehoofed. “Yes, we do know. Thank you Capt. Obvious. We like it for the smooth animation, the snappy characters, the great music and the heartfelt message without being too sappy. Sheesh! How many times do I have to keep explaining this to everypony?!”
Applejack raised a hoof. “Cool yer jets Rainbow. Ah understand ya. Ah watch it mahself, now and then with Apple Bloom. Nothin’ to be ashamed of. But what Ah don’t understand, is why Fluttershy is scared of it. And why you keep saying “we”. She doesn’t look like she is enjoyin’ anything at the moment!”
Above them, Fluttershy squeaked and curled up on herself further, like she was trying to push herself into the wood grain. On the TV, another character had appeared and started to dance with the first one. This one had the same basic model as the first but a wildly different mane style and was done in bright yellows and whites.
“Yeah, I haven’t figured out why she’s scared of cartoon lions. Especially the Meg Sweets character,” Rainbow Dash shrugged again and grabbed some fries out of the bowl. “She acts like they would do awful stuff to her or something, I dunno.”
Applejack blinked a few times as Rainbow Dash munched on her fries, eyes glued to the screen. “Um, Fluttershy? You want to join me in the kitchen, away from the scary cartoons? Ah brought ya somethin’ you might like. And Ah’d be mighty pleased to get a glass of your sweet tea.”
“Yeah! I could use a glass of tea too! Bring me some when you come back,” Rainbow Dash scooped up another hoofful of hay fries, still watching the cartoon characters cavort through an equally colorful landscape.
Fluttershy made a small sound and started to tremble before letting herself go and popping out her wings. Rainbow Dash might be the better flyer between the two, but Applejack always marveled at Fluttershy’s grace when airborne. The Pegasus caught the air and glided the short distance across her living room and into the adjacent kitchen area, landing without a skid or crash. As soon as Applejack joined her by the dining table, Fluttershy kicked the door closed, muffling a musical number that just started. She drew a ragged, calming breath as Applejack stood quietly by while her friend composed herself.
“Um…good morning, Applejack. Are you…um…having a good morning, that is?”
“Sure am havin’ a good day! Thanks fer askin’! But I’ll have an even better day, once I get somethin’ cool to drink. It’s setting up to be a hot one today.”
Fluttershy nodded and walked over to her ice chest, where she pulled out an earthen jug that was covered in frost. Just the sight made Applejack lick her lips.
“You said you had something for me?” Fluttershy popped the cork and reached up with her wings to grab a couple of cups from the shelf above her modest sink. Under one of them, her pet rabbit, Angel Bunny, looked surprised with a half-eaten carrot in his tiny paws.
“Angel! Naughty bunny! You know you aren’t supposed to sneak carrots between meals. You’ll ruin your appetite!”
Angel frowned at Fluttershy and kicked the carrot at her before hopping off the shelf and down to the floor. He pointed at an empty pail near the ice chest with one fore leg and then rubbed his belly.
“I know you think you are hungry sweetie, but trust me, it’s for the best. You can have the rest of this after play time with Tank,” Fluttershy bent down and grabbed the carrot with her mouth and tossed it into a basket on the counter that was filled with fresh veggies and marked ‘Angel’s.’
Fluttershy put down the glasses and poured the dark amber tea into them. Then she grabbed a third cup that was noticeable more beat up than the others.
“Rainbow’s cup, huh?”
Fluttershy nodded and smiled. “Yes. I’ve kept it for her all these years since she bought it with her first Ponyville Weather Services check, and as a house warming gift for me.”
“Well, they ain’t no house warming gift, but I brought ya somethin’ anyways,” Applejack grinned as she set her bags gently on the table. Each satchel rustled and moved, as something inside squeaked.
“Big Mac found ‘em the other day while he was plowin’ the southern fields. Cute lil’ things, but we can’t let ‘em near the seedlings. You know how it goes.”
Fluttershy raised an eyebrow and lowered her head, trying to ready herself to bolt as Applejack pulled one of the bags open. Out of it climbed a tiny ball of fluff and whiskers with big soft ears and eyes.
“Oh! You got Tribbles! We can use them to defeat the Dominion! Awesome!”
Applejack turned and looked at the blue Pegasus that suddenly filled the empty space just to her left. “When did you get here?”
Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Just now. I was getting bored watching cartoons alone.”
“Um…actually, Rainbow Dash…these are hamsters. Not Tribbles. And it was the Klingons that were affected by Tribbles, not the Dominion.”
“Anyways,” Applejack shook her head, “you can take ‘em, right Fluttershy? I don’t want to impose.”
Fluttershy smiled and shook her head. “Oh no! You aren’t imposing Applejack! I can set these little guys up in Angel Bunny’s old den. He’s out grown it anyway.”
“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash giggled, “cuz he’s so fat from sneaking carrots!”
Applejack gasped and ducked, holding onto her hat as a literal barrage of carrots, heads of lettuce, cabbage, eggplant and squash hit Rainbow Dash in the face and buried her under a pile of produce. On the counter, in the basket marked with his name, Angel huffed and puffed out his tiny, but far from un-muscular chest.
Applejack stood and chuckled down at Rainbow Dash, “Well, ifin’ ya’ll are done insulting the house pets Rainbow, how about a toast with our tea before I head back to the farm?”
Rainbow Dash pulled herself out of the pile of vegetable matter; her hair mussed but no worse for wear and spit out an eggplant. Grabbing her beat up cup, she clinked it together with Applejack’s and Fluttershy’s glasses. “Ok. Here’s to spending time with friends!”
“Here’s to sharing a good drink with friends!” Applejack whooped and took a long pull on her tea.
“Um…here’s to no cartoon lions or Meg Sweets hunting me down and forcing me to do naughty, biologically questionable things!”