"Spike! I'm back!"
It had been a shorter trip than expected. Almost every shop that had the magical components she needed was either sold out or not open at all, and Twilight Sparkle had been forced to simply mail an order form to Canterlot. Still, it meant she would have to put her experiments on hold, which in turn meant she would have a break from her work - not a bad thing at all. The baby dragon, roused from his nap, made his way down the stairs and threw the unicorn a halfhearted salute, followed by a yawn. "Ngh... morning, Twilight."
"Spike, it's the afternoon."
Another yawn, and Spike idly shrugged. "Meh. Same thing. I got the books you wanted, they're already down in your lab. Also, Applejack stopped by while you were gone. Left a message too."
"Applejack stopped by?" The lavender mare tilted her head and raised an eyebrow, curious to know more. "What did she want?"
"She was after those dream books too. Wanted 'em when you were done." Spike yawned once more and gave his belly a scratch. "We got any emeralds laying around? I've got a craving."
"Uh... yeah. Pantry, bottom shelf." Twilight turned and quickly made her way into her lab, shutting the door behind her as she descended down the stairs. At the bottom, as promised, sat a neat stack of books. Almost all of them were about dream analysis, though some of the titles deviated slightly - for the most part, they were all psychology books. Considering that most of the day would be about analyzing her dreams, she could probably invite Applejack over and kill two birds with one stone, but that was risky.
If she knew that I was dreaming about her, and the things that we even did...
An image of Pinkie yelling 'FOR-E-VER' flashed through her head, and she quickly pushed the thought aside. Twilight would invite Applejack over - after she had sorted out her own dreams. The unicorn picked out the first book from the stack and began to flip through it. "Let's see... R, R, where are the R's... Ah! Here we go!"
With the appropriate section opened, she grabbed a journal and quill and began to write as she read aloud. "Romance. Dreams with romantic situations can have a wide variety of meanings, but the most common is fairly straightforward, in that the subject of the dream is also the subject of the dreamer's desires."
She frowned. If that were the case, then that meant that she had some sort of yearning for Applejack, but... she never really felt anything like that. She enjoyed spending time with the earth pony, sure, but it never went beyond that. To complicate matters, she had dreamt about multiple ponies, not just one. She knew it couldn't possibly mean that she desired all of them, but rather, there was a trait shared amongst them all. A common link.
Determined, Twilight began to compile a list of every single pony she had ever encountered within that same dream. As the list continued to grow, however, it became increasingly clear that there wasn't really a common trait at all. Personalities didn't match, nor did genetic factors such as physical or mental capabilities. The only thing all the ponies shared was that they had shown up within the dream at one point or another. The lavender mare chewed on her lip and tapped the quill against her chin as she mulled it over.
"Hrm... no common links aside from appearing within my dreams at one point or another. From what I've read about psychology, that might just indicate somepony wanting companionship or a friend, but..." She sighed and sat the quill down, staring at the text once more. "...I've kissed all of them. So does... that mean that part of me wants to take things up a notch?"
What would I even look for, though? I don't even know what traits I find desirable, or whether I'd want a coltfriend or a marefriend.
Mares? Nonsense, Twilight! You've always liked stallions. Always. Besides, it'd be weird to date one of your closest friends.
I don't know that, though! I never really did much socializing in school, so I don't even know what I like! I mean, I've never really had much of a crush on anypony either. I'm just... curious, and oh Celestia I'm arguing with myself again. In my head, no less.
Twilight quickly shook her head and tore off a blank sheet of paper, setting it aside and starting a small list on it. The only things she would write down would be things she knew for certain from her dreams. At the top of the list, she placed her first bulletin.
1. Likely interest in a romance of some sort. Further self-exploration required for additional information.
"It's just... likely. It's not certain, just likely. Okay! Next step!" The unicorn set the book aside and retrieved another that she kept purposely hidden down here - Why Do Foals Fall In Love?: A Beginner's Guide. She had first gotten the book when her dreams had started up, and she was a little embarrassed that she actually required a guide, but romance was something completely new to her. She had never had a crush and never had a kiss. It was all new territory for her. Twilight's horn briefly glowed as she flipped through the pages, stopping in the 'T' section. "Traits. Let's see here... When looking for a mate or somepony to bond with, it's important to know what traits you desire so that you may look for those within individuals. To do so ensures the best possible compatibility. Simply looking at those closest to you is often enough to reveal what kind of traits you prefer."
Those closest to me? Well... there's my parents, Princess Celestia, Spike, and Appleja-
She stopped her self mid-thought, paused briefly, then continued.
We'll set AJ aside for now. Okay, my parents, um... loving, hard-working, trust-worthy. The Princess trusts me implicitly, and she's proud of me. Spike looks up to me and loves me.
Twilight had already made sure to list all of these qualities on a separate piece of paper, with the paper itself divided up into two columns. On the left were the traits she had found within those closest to her, and though the right side remained blank for the time being, the column was simply titled 'Applejack'. "Okay. Applejack. Applejack is..."
Applejack, from what Twilight had seen and heard for herself, was the best kind of pony she could ever hope to know. The earth pony was incredibly hard-working, always honest, and never hesitated to help a friend in need, even if it meant she had to sacrifice a little something in return. Not only that, but she was extraordinarily level-headed and patient, with a keen common sense. And although the orange mare was a bit hardheaded at times, she almost always made up for it with sheer determination.
"And she saved my life..." Twilight Sparkle finished filling out the list and looked over the paper, sighing upon finding out that almost all of the traits she liked were found within the orange earth pony. "Okay, that still doesn't mean anything. Just means AJ has all the traits I like. It doesn't necessarily mean I like her."
Alright, so everything basically points to me liking Applejack - or rather ponies like Applejack. Or... no, wait! Maybe I just admire her! Of course! Hah, why didn't I think of that sooner?
It was a suitable explanation for her, and for the time being, she was content with it. At the very least, it eased some of her fears. Satisfied with her work for the day, she carefully filed her papers away into their usual hiding spot, gathered up the books, and placed them within her saddlebags. Rather than invite the earth pony over, she decided to take the initiative.
Next stop - Sweet Apple Acres.
Rather than sit idle in her own room for most of the day, Applejack had decided to keep herself busy with the farm itself. Boards had been repaired, apples bucked, and the animals fed, and she now found herself with a bit of free time. She had already wandered down into the cider cellar, had a nice little bed of hay set up in the corner, and she was just about ready to take a nap as she laid upon it. It was certainly cooler down here, and was almost always quiet - Apple Bloom certainly never came down here, nor did Granny Smith. The only one who usually even knew where to find her was-
Her ears twitched as she heard a knock on one of the wooden doors to the cellar. "AJ? Miss Twilight's here ta see ya."
"Alrighty, Big Mac. Send her on down."
Hoofsteps on stone echoed throughout the cellar, and Twilight Sparkle slowly came into view, the saddlebags gently bouncing upon her back with every step downwards. Upon seeing her friend, the unicorn gave a nod and a warm smile. "Hey Applejack. I brought the books over for you, figured I'd help too."
"Really now? Awful kind of ya, Twi." The earth pony sat up slightly and moved over, giving Twilight a bit of room to take a seat beside her. The lavender mare took notice of the gesture and took her place beside Applejack, using her magic to lift the saddlebags off her back and setting them down in front of the both of them. The books were quickly and carefully pulled out and placed before them, and Applejack let out a low whistle as she browsed over each of the tomes. "Ya brought quite a few books with ya, sugarcube. Ya sure we're gonna need all of 'em?"
"Definitely. I can't help you until you tell me about your dreams, though."
Applejack nodded and began to recite her dreams once more for her friend. She talked of the drowning and the hooded figure, of the cabin in the woods and how she could never return to Equestria. She spoke of the passing days and weeks, the gift of the golden fruit, and the sudden reappearance of the Tree and He Who Watches. With journal and quill in front of her, Twilight took down note after note as Applejack told the unicorn about her dreams, and the lavender mare took a keen interest in her troubles. It was something the earth pony certainly appreciated.
Twilight Sparkle already had multiple books open, flipping through all of them simultaneously and stopping at several respective sections, and she was already reading, writing, and speaking at a frenzied pace. "Let's see, AJ... rough waters typically mean turbulent emotions, drowning might mean a feeling of being smothered by those same emotions. The hooded figure, you apparently found solace in it... never being able to return home, though, that sounds like you felt lost. The golden fruit - definitely about us, but I'm not too sure what it means. The dried earth and desolate plains, that could mean lots of things. Hopelessness, loneliness maybe."
"What about what He Who Watches said? Ya think that was really it, speakin' ta me in mah dreams? Or was that all me?" Applejack was already leaning over slightly, looking over Twilight's notes as she continued to help the orange mare decipher her dreams.
"I'm not sure. Considering He Who Watches is a spirit, maybe and maybe not. The words it spoke were definitely about you, though. The talk about sacrifice and nurturing... sounds like maybe you do too much giving and not enough taking. You apparently need the help of another, apparently to help you do... more taking, I guess?"
Applejack sighed and stared at the notes. "Well, shoot. Still got an awful lot of questions, but it's nice havin' some answers now. Wonder what it's all 'spose ta mean, though. Yer involved too, but we dunno ta what extent. Stuff in there 'bout emotions, gettin' help, an' spendin' some 'me' time."
"Not to worry, Applejack. I'll help you get all of this sorted out." Twilight gave her friend a smile, and was returned one in kind. For a few minutes, the two of them simply sat together on the hay, never speaking a word to one another. They had moments like this during their journey, and such silence no longer bothered either of them. Soon enough, however, Twilight began to gather up her books, slowly placing them back within her saddlebags as she prepared to leave.
"So Twi, what were yer dreams about?"
She froze, and cautiously glanced over at Applejack. It was probably best to tell the truth - kinda. "Um, well... it's been about... uh... romance. And stuff."
"Oh ho, romance, eh? Ya got some stallion of yer dreams or somethin'? Or maybe it's a mare?" Applejack chuckled and grinned, leaning over to give Twilight a playful poke with her hoof.
"Well c'mon now, don' keep a girl waitin'! Who is it?"
Twilight sighed and briefly looked away from Applejack. "I'd... really rather not say, AJ. Not yet, at least."
"Ah, well. That's alright, sugarcube." The earth pony leaned over and wrapped a foreleg around Twilight, giving her a gentle hug. "I shouldn' 'ave pressured ya. Take things at yer own pace an' all, yeah?"
"Yeah. That'd... probably be for the best." Twilight felt somewhat relieved to have dodged the question, but this had also been an excellent chance to tell her friend the whole truth - it had just been the two of them after all. Surely she would... no, she wouldn't understand. It was still too weird, even for the unicorn. And there were still so many variables that had to be tested and proved or disproved. Still so much to do, just to figure this 'romance' thing out. "I need to get going, Applejack. It's almost dusk, and Spike's probably starting to get hungry. It was... good to see you again."
Applejack smiled and nodded, leaning over to give her another brief hug. "Good ta see you too, Twilight. Hey, before ya go - ya doin' anythin' tomorrow?"
Twilight briefly thought for a moment, tapping a hoof to her chin. "I... don't think I am. Why?"
"Ya maybe wanna come over tomorrow? Me an' Big Macintosh are gonna be doing some cider samplin'. Ya know, make sure it's alright an' all." The earth pony grinned and winked, causing the unicorn to giggle in return.
"Oh, I don't see why not. I'll be over tomorrow, AJ. See you then?"
Applejack nodded, and the two ponies bid farewell to one another. Even as Twilight Sparkle made her way back home, she was already thinking about tomorrow. Drinking cider with the Applejack and her brother certainly seemed like it could be fun, and she was definitely looking forward to spending more time with her closest friend, but... there was one slight problem.
She had never had alcohol before.