Friday started like any other day for Applejack - she rolled out of bed, bathed, brushed her teeth and ate breakfast, then finished up her chores in record time. In just a few hours, Soarin' would be stopping by to pick her up for their date, and she planned on looking her best for him. Such a thing meant a trip to Carousel Boutique, and Applejack begrudgingly made her way towards Rarity's shop.
Not surprisingly, the fashionista had already caught wind of earth pony's impending date with the Wonderbolt, and Rarity quickly proved to be far more excited about it than Applejack was. The orange mare did her best to feign interest and excitement as her friend continued to bombard her with all manner of questions and comments, even while Rarity continued to toy with her mane. "My goodness, Applejack, a Wonderbolt! How exciting!"
"I honestly had no idea you - no, that color won't do - had no idea you had a thing for pegasi. When did that come about?"
"Uh... well, at the... the Gala, I 'spose."
"The Gala, of course!" Rarity held up a strip of cloth with her magic, quickly comparing it against Applejack's coat and mane before discarding it. "So much easier to stick with earthy tones with you, my dear. Now then, which one is it again? I know there aren't too many stallions, but- Oh goodness, is it a mare? You never struck me as the sort!"
Applejack sighed and slowly shook her head, even as the fashionista began to style it. "No, Rarity... it's jus' Soarin'."
"...isn't that the one you sold the pie to?"
The earth pony groaned and slowly nodded. "...yes. Yes it is."
Rarity giggled and grinned as she finished braiding Applejack's mane. "I never really expected you to have interest in one another over the sale of a single pie, but I suppose these sorts of things happen. Are you two planning on doing anything afterwards? I've heard rumors about the Wonderbolts, after all."
"Rumors?" Applejack raised an eyebrow and peered at the unicorn as she began to compare cloth colors once more. "What kinda rumors?"
"Oh, you know... those rumors. It might do you some good to have a little fun of that sort! You always seem so uptight..." Rarity smiled and let out a soft squeal as she found the appropriate color scheme. "Ah, perfect!"
"Rarity, I... ain't exactly comfortable talkin' about this. Could we uh... change subjects?"
"Of course, Applejack! I didn't mean to upset you or anything - I was simply trying to make conversation." The white mare had already gotten to work on her sewing machine and idly chatted with the earth pony while she worked. "Twilight stopped by earlier, you know. Asked me to make her a blanket. It didn't take long at all, of course."
Applejack blinked and quickly trotted over beside Rarity. "A blanket? Did she say what it was for?"
Rarity gave a quick shake of her head and shrugged. "Some meteor shower that's apparently happening tonight. She wanted the blanket so she'd have something to lay on while she watched it. You know how she is about astronomy and the sciences."
"Did she say anythin' else?"
"She did, actually. Mentioned that she already asked you if you wanted to go, but she seemed rather disappointed when she said you weren't sure if you could. I'm sure the poor dear understands, though - you've got a date with a very special pony, after all!" Rarity smiled and began to hum to herself as she continued working on what would eventually become a dress, and she tossed the occasional glance towards the earth pony while she sewed.
"Heh. Yeah..." Applejack forced herself to give the most convincing smile she could manage, and she was partially relieved when Rarity bought it. The mere mention of Twilight Sparkle and the meteor shower had left her stomach in knots, and simply thinking of their conversation from the previous day made her even more reluctant to go on the date with Soarin'. She was stuck with her decision now, however, and her only real option was to make the best of it.
"Applejack, dear, why the frown?"
"Huh?" The orange mare blinked and quickly looked back at Rarity. "Sorry, was jus'... thinkin'. It's no big deal."
"If you insist. Shouldn't take much longer for me to finish your dress. Oh, you're going to look great!"
Applejack sighed and slowly nodded, frowning once more as she returned to her own thoughts.
"Yeah... I bet."
"Applejack? Isn't that the farmer pony that sold you the pie at the Gala?"
"Never pegged you as the type to be into earth ponies, Soarin'. If Rainbow Dash managed to con you into this date with her friend, I'm surprised she hasn't already squirreled her way into tryouts."
Soarin' huffed and shook his head as he stuffed his uniform into his locker, and the light blue pegasus quickly turned around to face his teammate. "Rainbow Dash didn't 'con' me into anything, Spitfire. Applejack seemed like a nice enough mare when she sold me the pie, so I figured 'Why not?'. Besides, I'm looking forward to the time off - feels like it's been forever since I've gotten out of Cloudsdale."
"Fine, fine. I won't say anything else about it." Spitfire had already removed her own uniform and hastily crammed it into her locker before slamming the door shut with one of her wings. "Just no funny business, lover boy. We've got practice in the morning."
"Yeah, alright mom. I'll be back by nine." He snickered and tossed his goggles up into his locker, and with the uniform fully taken care of, the stallion gave the door a gentle push and closed it. As Spitfire walked past him, however, the mare gave his flank a playful kick, and he snorted and shook his head as she continued towards the door. "Ever the flirt, aren'tcha?"
Spitfire paused in the doorway and grinned in return, giving him a nod. "It's what I do. Don't take anything I said too personally, though. Just enjoy yourself, bud."
Soarin' smiled and nodded, and as Spitfire left, the light blue pegasus began to trot around the locker room. It wasn't out of nervousness, but rather, necessity - they had just finished practice, after all, and he needed time to 'warm down'. Tonight marked a much-needed break for the Wonderbolt, and he already knew the perfect place to take Applejack. It was a quiet little bar nestled on the outskirts of Ponyville, and he had been there numerous times in the past. Better yet, he personally knew the owner, and the media attention was kept to a minimum as a result. As great as being a celebrity was, sometimes he preferred simply being 'Soarin' the pegasus' rather than 'Soarin' the Wonderbolt'.
With the day steadily coming to a close, the stallion gradually slowed his trotting and made his way out the door. He kept his pace the entire time, and even as he wound his way down various alleys and shortcuts within Cloudsdale, he never slowed down. It was tradition for the Wonderbolts to tell one another of these same shortcuts - they came in handy for reducing travel times or avoiding the media, and all of them knew these passages by heart. In mere minutes, Soarin' had already made his way out of the city and was silently gliding down towards Ponyville. After all the work he had put in at practice, it was nice to give his wings a bit of a rest from flapping, and simply feeling the cool air pass through the feathers was enough to soothe his muscles somewhat.
As he lived up to his namesake, Soarin' could already spot the bar he and Applejack would be visiting, and in the distance, he could already make out countless red specks upon the ground. The stallion had memorized the directions well beforehand, and knew that the spots of crimson upon the ground had to be the orchards of Sweet Apple Acres. After making several minute adjustments, he began a slow and steady descent, and prepared himself for contact with the earth. Despite all his years of practice, the Wonderbolt still hit the ground running, and it took him several feet before he could bring himself to a stop. He did well enough, though, given what he had to work with - landing amongst countless trees wasn't exactly simple. He had chosen his landing spot wisely, as the farmhouse itself was just a very short walk away. Soarin' had already begun to trot through the rows of apple trees, quickly taking in his surroundings as he approached the home, and he paused just outside the door.
"Alrighty, here goes..." Soarin' brought a hoof up to knock upon the door, and was about to bring it down upon the wood when the door suddenly flew open. The Wonderbolt quickly placed the hoof back upon the ground and smiled as he found himself greeted by a rather imposing red stallion. "Um... hi there. I'm here for-"
The red earth pony briefly raised an eyebrow at the visitor, only to sigh and glance away from Soarin'. "AJ. Yer date's here."
Before the pegasus could say anything else, the red stallion had already left, and Soarin' simply blinked as he stood in the open doorway. He wasn't entirely sure what to make of what just happened, but a soft cough interrupted his train of thought, and he smiled as his attention was drawn to a familiar orange mare. "Ah... hey Applejack."
"Howdy, Soarin'. That was mah brother, if ya didn' know. He doesn' talk much, but he means well." Applejack smiled in return as she quickly began to eye her date for the evening. Both her mane and tail had been braided, and the earth pony was sporting a dress not unlike the one she had worn at the Gala - it was less extravagant than the one she had worn before, but it still appeared to be fancy enough. "Yer lookin'... good, Soarin'. An' more under-dressed than I thought ya'd be."
"I was gonna say that you seem a little... over-dressed for what I had in mind, but I don't wanna sound rude or anything. Your mane looks good, though." The light blue pegasus chuckled nervously and looked away from Applejack. "I was kinda planning on us just going to a bar. Little place not far from here, called Sky High."
"...I can actually be myself there. You try doing that when you're a Wonderbolt." The stallion's voice carried a hint of disappointment upon speaking that last phrase, though he was quick to look back in the orange mare's direction.
Applejack blinked and grinned sheepishly in return. "Eh heh... good point. So uh... does that mean I can get outta this dress? 'Cause... if I can..."
Soarin' grinned and slowly nodded. "I think it's safe to say you won't need the dress for a bar, Applejack."
"Thank Celestia fer that."
It only took a few more minutes for Applejack to remove the dress, but the orange mare had elected to leave the braids in for the occasion. The two of them set out not long afterwards, and thankfully, the trip through Ponyville had been highly uneventful. Though the citizens certainly knew who the Wonderbolts were, the group of fliers had yet to formally visit the town, and that meant most everypony didn't recognize Soarin' out of his uniform. They, of course, knew who Applejack was, and many inquiring minds asked who the stallion was that was traveling with her. The earth pony had remained quiet on the matter, simply referring to him as an 'old friend', and it was often enough to sate their curiosity.
Before long, they had already reached the outskirts of Ponyville, and with it, the bar itself. 'Sky High' sat emblazoned in neon lighting over the entrance, and though the bar gave the outward appearance of being somewhat run-down. Soarin' pushed one of the doors, holding it open for the orange mare, and he himself quickly hurried inside. As he and Applejack both made their way over to the bar itself and took a seat, the light blue pegasus gave an enthusiastic wave at the bartender. "Barley! How you been?"
The bartender was a rather large and brutish-looking pegasus stallion, sporting a light brown coat, a dark mane, and hazel eyes. He gave a grin and quickly reached over the bar to give the Wonderbolt a playful punch. "Soarin'! Been a while since we've seen you 'round these parts. Practice got ya busy, eh?"
"You know how it is, Barley. With the season starting to wind down, though, the schedule's eased up a bit. I'm ready for some free time, you know?"
"Aye, I think we all know that feeling." Barley nodded and quickly glanced over towards Applejack, raising an eyebrow as he caught sight of the earth pony. "And who's this lovely lookin' lass? Friend of yours?"
Soarin' groaned and placed a hoof upon his cheek, slowly shaking his head. "Ah, shoot... forgot the introductions. Barley, this is Applejack, my uh... date for the evening. Applejack, Barley."
"Whoa now, Applejack? The Applejack?" The bay stallion let out a low whistle, chuckling to himself as he began to pour their first drinks. "Never expected a Wonderbolt to bring in one of the Bearers, but I 'spose there's a first time for everything, eh?"
Applejack had remained quiet thus far, but as the first drink was served to her, she smiled at Barley and nodded once. "Thank ya kindly. You've... heard of me, though?"
"Oh, sure! Awful hard not to know about ya when we've got Princess Celestia herself honorin' ya - twice now, too. You run Sweet Apple Acres, don'tcha?" Barley grinned and passed a drink over to Soarin', giving a wink at the pegasus. "Just like ya like it, Soarin'."
Soarin' nodded as a show of thanks and eagerly took a swig, letting out a sigh as he finished his first sip, but Applejack didn't pay much attention to it. The earth pony glanced down at her drink and gave it a cautionary sip - it was surprisingly sweet, and it became quickly evident that it was hard cider, the very same that she helped make every year. Either Soarin' had tipped Barley off in advance, or the bartender knew her better than he let on. "Well... kinda. It's a family thing, it ain't just me. Mah brother does most of the work."
Barley pounded a hoof on the bar and quickly placed it to his chin, idly tapping it as he thought. "Aw damnit... I've had somepony from Sweet Apple Acres in here before, but I can't think of the name. Red earth pony stallion, really tall and not much of a talker?"
Applejack blinked and took another drink of her cider. "That's... mah brother, Big Macintosh. He's been in here before?"
"Not that often, of course. Usually only see him once a year, but it's awful hard to forget a stallion that tall. Boy sure loves his hard liquor." Barley offered one last smile and gently tapped a hoof upon the bar. "I got others to serve, but if you two need anything, just lemme know."
"Appreciate it, Barley." Soarin' smiled as the bay stallion ran off, and the pegasus quickly turned to face Applejack. "Really nice guy once you get to know him. One of the few that treats me like any other pony, too."
"Yeah... seems like it." The earth pony slowly nodded in return, and as the Wonderbolt took another drink, she let out a soft sigh. Even now, her thoughts were almost constantly spent on Twilight Sparkle, and she felt a pang of guilt as Rarity's words echoed in her head.
Mentioned that she already asked you if you wanted to go, but she seemed rather disappointed when she said you weren't sure if you could. I'm sure the poor dear understands, though - you've got a date with a very special pony, after all!
That was the problem though, wasn't it? Twilight didn't understand - Applejack didn't want to risk hurting the unicorn's feelings, and so she hadn't been entirely honest when asked about the meteor shower. Like a great many things the orange mare had done as of late, it had come back to haunt her, and she found herself staring at her drink as she tried desperately to push the thoughts aside. It took the soft cough of a Wonderbolt to snap her out of it, and Applejack quickly looked up at Soarin'. "Huh? Sorry, was... doin' some thinkin'."
"S'alright, Applejack. You just seemed a little... out of it. You need another drink?"
The light blue pegasus was staring at her with a raised eyebrow, and his expression appeared to be one of genuine concern. It even appeared as if he had moved his seat to be a bit closer to hers, but Applejack wasn't entirely sure if truly had moved closer or not. Her initial reaction was to state that she still had plenty in her glass, but as the earth pony took another look, she saw for herself that it was quite the opposite - the glass was empty, and even the clock upon the wall had shifted several minutes. "...y-yeah, sure. That'd be great."
He still seemed somewhat concerned about her, but nonetheless ordered another glass of cider for her, to which Barley happily obliged. The two ponies spent the next few hours simply talking and getting caught up with one another on everything they had done since their first meeting at the Gala. Applejack mentioned the struggle she and her friends endured against Discord, as well as the various adventures and misadventures they had all gotten themselves into since then. Soarin' spoke about the countless practices and performances he had put on with the rest of the Wonderbolts, and throughout it all, the stallion sounded rather tired. "I envy Rainbow Dash sometimes, you know. She doesn't realize just how good her life is."
Applejack took a quick sip from her glass and peered at him. "What do ya mean?"
"Well, I know how badly she wants to be a Wonderbolt, and I can sympathize with her. Lots of pegasi grow up wanting to be Wonderbolts... but as great as being a celebrity is sometimes, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Practices every day, performances at least once a week - it gets awfully repetitive. Feels like you're just going through the cycles, rather than really living your life, you know?" The stallion idly poked and pushed his own glass of beer around the top of the bar, smirking to himself as he continued. "And privacy? Heh, good luck getting any of that. I don't think I've gotten any actual privacy since I joined the Wonderbolts full-time. We've even got our own little alleyways in Cloudsdale that we use, just to avoid the paparazzi."
"I can kinda understand why that might get awfully tiresome. I know RD usually sleeps in, does her thing with th' weather team, an' then she spends th' rest of the day practicin' her flyin' or spendin' time with us."
Soarin' grinned and slowly nodded as he began to speak once more, and he now found himself staring at his drink, just like she had earlier. "Lemme say this much, though - by no means do I hate my job. I get to entertain countless ponies, and what I do helps foster an awful lot of hopes and dreams within those same ponies, but... some days, I just wanna do something different. Just for a change of pace."
"Have ya ever... tried askin' fer a break? A vacation or somethin'?" The earth pony took another drink of cider, being careful to keep her attention on Soarin' through most of it. "I mean... it ain't that big of a deal, right?"
"Oh, you'd be surprised. I know it looks like we live the good life, but the trainers and staff are pretty hard on us. We're supposed to be the best of the best, after all. That means no slacking off, and especially no vacations." He shook his head and grabbed his drink, downing the rest of his beer and quickly setting the glass back down onto the bar, eying it as it clattered about on the wood. "We don't even get Hearth's Warming off, if you can believe that. No holidays. No birthdays. No exceptions."
Applejack frowned as Soarin' rattled off the rest of the things they weren't allowed, and it didn't take much longer for her to offer him a comforting hoof around the shoulder. "That... sounds horrible, Soarin'. I kinda wanna tell Rainbow about it now, jus' so she doesn' have ta mess with any of that."
"Nah, don't do that. Rainbow's a good gal, and I know how long she's been chasing this dream of hers. She thinks we don't know, but... we do - I know how hard she works at it. I know she works on it every chance she can get. I know she pours her heart into it, and hopes that maybe one day, it'll finally come true, and she'll join the ranks of the Wonderbolts." Soarin' smiled faintly as he stared at his own subtle reflection within the glass, and he gave it another prod. "I know, because I was like her once. A young pegasus, ready and willing to face the world, and with every expectation that it'd be me performing in those stadiums one day. No matter what happened to me while I was growing up, I always had that dream. It was my rock and my beacon. If I had a bad day at flight school, or if my parents were arguing again, I'd just think about my dream... About me being a Wonderbolt. We all have our dreams, and those dreams push us and guide us forward, day after day and week after week. I want her to have something to hope for and look forward to, Applejack. Don't take that from her, and don't take that from yourself either. It's something we all deserve to have, and I don't want to be known as the one that shattered hers."
The orange earth pony simply blinked and stared in return, and for the longest time, she simply didn't know what to say. What could she even say in such a situation? Applejack instead leaned over and gave the light blue pegasus a hug, causing Soarin' to snicker and glance at her, and she was quick to glare at him in return. "You better not be laughin' at me fer this."
"Nah, I'm not. Just find the whole situation kinda funny... I gave you some big speech when I didn't really mean to. Appreciate the hug, though." The stallion smiled and pushed his glass away from himself, and he idly began to rub at the back of his neck with a hoof. "Promise me you won't tell Rainbow Dash about what it's like?"
"Shucks, after hearin' ya talk like that, I don' think I'd be able to. I won' tell her... promise." Applejack pulled away from Soarin' and took a quick look at the clock, quickly frowning as she caught sight of it - it was already 10, and she was definitely beginning to run the risk of missing the meteor shower at this rate. She had already begun to fidget on her stool, but it seemed the Wonderbolt hadn't noticed at all.
"So, Applejack..." Soarin' leaned against the bar and stared the earth pony in the eyes. "What kind of dream do you have? I know Sweet Apple Acres probably means a whole lot to you, but there's something else you want out of life, isn't there?"
"Uh... well, I'd... like ta get a place of mah own, an' settle down with that special somepony." Applejack winced slightly as an image of Twilight flashed through her head upon finishing her sentence, and she seemed slightly relieved upon discovering that the pegasus seemingly hadn't noticed it. She gave another look towards the clock, and her ears flattened as she found that the time had suddenly lurched forward another half an hour.
We aren' even sayin' that much! How is the clock movin' so damn fast?!
Yer runnin' out of time, Applejack - either stay, or go.
"...Applejack? You feeling okay?"
How the hay am I 'spose ta pick?! Twilight's been a great friend an' all, an' I don' wanna disappoint her by not comin' ta th' meteor shower, but Soarin's been awfully polite an' I don' wanna be rude.
I can' just pick!
"Barley, check please. Just put the tabs together, I'll cover it... nah, I don't think she's feeling well. Figured I'd get her back to her home."
Applejack shut her eyes tight, and her dreams and memories began to rush through her mind, and every passing thought was about everything she and Twilight Sparkle had done.
The earth pony's eyes slowly opened, and she nodded to herself before turning towards the light blue pegasus at her side. "Soarin', I need ta leave."
"...Leave?" The Wonderbolt quickly looked away from Barley and stared back at Applejack, an eyebrow raised as he peered at her. "Nah, don't worry. I just need to pay the bill, and then we can get you back to Sweet Apple Acres. You've been acting funny."
"I'm fine, Soarin'. I just need ta leave. There's somethin' I need ta do." She hopped off her stool and began to make her way for the door, but Soarin' hopped down in front of her and stopped her.
"Applejack, what are you talking about?"
"I've been runnin' fer too long, Soarin'. I've been scared an' awfully reluctant ta confront somethin', when I should've embraced it. I'm tired of runnin' - I've been a damned fool, and I'm tired of runnin'. I'm ready ta make a stand, ta do somethin' I should've done already."
The Wonderbolt slowly shook his head and began to approach her. "You're not making any sense. Whatever's going on, we need to get you out of here."
"I'm fine, damnit!" Applejack glared at him angrily, and the stallion had already recoiled from this sudden outburst. Already realizing what she had just done, the orange mare let out a sigh and slowly shook her head. "Look, Soarin'... I'm sorry fer yellin' at ya, but I've been doin' an awful lot of thinkin' over the past few days an' tonight, an' I've been runnin' from my own emotions. There's somethin' I need ta do before I lose mah chance at it ferever, an' I need ta go - now."
He narrowed his eyes at her, raising his own voice as he spoke back. "So what is it, then? Just what's so damn important?"
"There's... somepony else. Somepony very close ta me, an'... somepony I should've talked to already, but I haven'. I was too scared." Applejack's ears flattened, and the mare quickly broke eye-contact with him and began to stare at the floor. "I'm sorry, Soarin'. I'm so sorry, but I gotta do this."
"So... the entire date was basically a sham."
The stallion's nostrils flared, and he quickly began to approach Applejack once more. He was visibly irritated, and understandably so. "So you basically lead me along?! And for what? For shits and giggles?"
"Soarin', it ain't like that! I was... I was angry an' frustrated when I asked Rainbow ta set up th' date! I wasn't thinkin' clearly, but I couldn' just cancel, an' I didn' wanna be rude either! But..." She sighed and looked back up at Soarin' with pleading eyes. "I've finally got a chance at mah dream, a chance at bein' truly happy fer once... but unless I leave now, I might lose that chance. Please... Soarin'. Lemme leave."
Upon hearing the mention of her dream, the Wonderbolt froze in his tracks and quickly backed down, and his eyes darted about the room as he thought to himself. When he finally spoke up, he locked eyes with the earth pony and never once broke away. "Looking back on it, I guess... I did tell you not to take your dreams away from yourself, didn't I? If this is what you need to do Applejack, I... I can't stop you. I shouldn't. We all deserve our dreams, after all. And as angry as I am that this date wasn't entirely honest, I'm... kinda thankful. You actually spoke to me and treated me as if I were any other pony, and that... doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd like. Besides... tonight was kinda fun. Thanks, Applejack. For everything."
The orange earth pony gave him a soft smile and slowly approached him, leaning up to give him a peck on the cheek. "That's fer everythin' ya've done fer me tonight. It was good ta see ya again, Soarin'."
She turned and began to make her way for the door, only to be stopped by the Wonderbolt once more. "Applejack, I won't keep you much longer. I know you're short on time, and I don't want to get between you and your dream, but... could you do two things for me?"
The mare glanced over her shoulder and turned around to face him once more. "Whatcha need?"
"Could we... keep in touch?" The light blue pegasus actually managed to blush a bit upon mentioning that, and began to idly paw at the floor with a hoof. "It's just... well, I don't have many friends outside of the Wonderbolts, and I kinda liked just being myself tonight. I'm not asking too much, maybe just a letter every now and then or something.
"Or maybe we could come back here fer drinks." Applejack grinned and slowly nodded. "I've got no problem with that, Soarin'. What's th' second thing?"
"Well, I've done some thinking of my own. About having dreams, and about what you said. The thing about being tired of running."
"...what are ya gettin' at?" She raised an eyebrow and peered at him, and the Wonderbolt continued to blush, just as he had before.
"I was wondering... could you maybe tell me where Rainbow Dash lives? I'd like to stop by some time. Just... say hello, hang out a bit, get to know her better."
Such a request confused her at first, but she didn't see the harm in it. Besides, Rainbow Dash would likely be ecstatic at having a Wonderbolt spend the day with her. "I'll mail her address to ya. I... kinda need ta go an' all."
"Right, right... go on then, Applejack. Your dream's waitin' for ya."
Applejack smiled and nodded, leaning up to give him another peck on the cheek. Before Soarin' could say much else, she had already dashed out the bar doors and galloped off into the night, and the pegasus soon returned to the bar to pay off the bill. As he pushed the bits forward, Barley took them and let out a grumble, slowly shaking his head. "Ya got a heart of gold, Soarin'. Ain't easy letting go of such a pretty and polite gal, but for what it's worth, I think you did the right thing."
Soarin' smirked and slowly nodded, tapping a hoof upon the bar as he looked up at the bay stallion. "Thanks, Barley."
"A shame, though. You see the haunches on that girl? Workin' them orchards did her a whole lot of good, if you know what I mean!"
"...shut up, Barley."