Rainbow Dash felt her heart tighten in her chest; never before had she experienced such a paralyzing mixture of excitement and trepidation. Her eyes remained fixated on the earth pony standing before her, her gaze flickering between the emerald orbs staring back and the loose strands of dampened mane clinging to the mare’s face. A parched throat and flayed nerves kept the pegasus from finding her voice and when she tried to force something open, a hoof promptly reached out and kept her silent.
“Hush, Dash,” the pony whispered. “Ah know what you’re gonna say and it ain’t needed. Ah know how you feel and Ah know how long you’ve felt that way.” Despite a growing voice in the back of her mind telling her to speak up and defend herself, Dash could still find no words in her lungs. It was as though another force was in control of her body and kept her pinned to her bed. Her heartbeat quickened as Applejack crawled onto the bed next to her, her gaze never once breaking away from the pegasus’. “Truth is, Ah’ve felt the same way for a long time too, but Ah was so fixated on finding what Ah thought was what right for me that Ah didn’t notice that what was best for me had been standing by me all along.”
The young farmer rested her head against her friend’s shoulder, which was enough to finally calm the pegasus’ nerves. As her muscles eased and her heartbeat softened, Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but return the gesture in kind, resting her head atop of Applejack’s. Though she still yearned to find the right words, that need subsided, blown away by the gentle breaths against her neck.
This couldn’t be real, the pegasus thought, this had to be just a dream.
“Dash?” the earth pony quipped with an inquisitive glance upwards. “Dash?” she repeated.
“Dash!” Applejack shouted but to no avail. Though ultimately futile, the farmer bellowed out her friend’s name once more, only to hear her voice echoing through the fields of apple trees. She knew the pegasus was sleeping somewhere in her orchard as was routine for her mid-day, post-lunch nap. But Applejack’s attempts to locate the pegasus had gone unsuccessful for the past hour. Her voice was almost strained from all the shouting, but she knew if she didn’t find the pegasus soon, Rainbow Dash would be off for her post-nap flight routine; and then Applejack might as well send her a postcard than try to find her on foot.
Grumbling her frustrations in regards to slumbering pegasus, Applejack continued her trek through the orchards. The farmer had been under no illusion that tracking down her friend would be an easy task but she hadn’t anticipated it taking this long. Realizing that finding Dash was becoming more of a matter of luck than skill, Applejack decided to head for higher ground in the hopes that a better vantage point would yield better results. Stubbornness refused to allow Applejack to give up the search, regardless of how futile it seemed.
“Ah swear, when Ah find that pegasus, Ah’m gonna string her up by her fetlocks and―” Applejack had to restrain her thoughts from becoming too vindictive; she was looking for Rainbow Dash for a reason and tying her up defeated the whole purpose of the expedition. Upon reaching the peak of one of the many hills that decorated Sweet Apple Acres, the orchard farmer cast her gaze across all the trees before her. Somewhere in that wide sea of green and reds was the pegasus she sought. After a few minutes of searching, she finally spotted a tuft of rainbow-coloured hair dangling from one of the trees. “Ah have you now Dash.”
After a short spring through the orchard, Applejack finally stood below her quarry. As expected, the pegasus was fast asleep in the tree but not for much longer if she had anything to do about it. “Dash?” Applejack called out, her voice still strained from earlier shouting. “Dash!”
Deciding that she had fulfilled her ‘politeness’ quota for the day, Applejack took the more direct approach and simply gave the tree a mighty kick. Along with several red galas came the rainbow-maned pegasus, crashing into the earth with a startled yelp.
“Afternoon, sleepy-head,” the cheeky farmer greeted with a coy smirk plastered across her face. “Fancy, you dropping in like that.”
Unsurprisingly, Rainbow Dash wasn’t too pleased with the method in which her friend had roused her from her nap. “Now why’d you have to go and do that?” Dash groaned before letting out a prolonged yawn. “And I was having such a nice dream too.”
“Heh, the one with you, Spitfire, Soarin’, and the pool full of jelly?”
Dash had to suppress a rising fluster as she got back to her feet. “What? N-no, not that one. Actually, now that I think about it, you were in my dream.” Unfortunately, like most good dreams, Dash couldn’t recall much of the details; the only things that came to mind were Applejack and a warm, flushed feeling she had before being so rudely awoken.
“Please tell me there wasn’t no jelly involved,” Applejack replied sardonically. Dash replied only with a playful chuckle and a matching grin that was clearly aimed at testing Applejack’s nerves. The earth pony eventually let out a chortle of her own; her mind was now flooded with the image of her and Dash wrestling in a giant tub of jelly. Truth be told, that notion sounded like a lot of fun to Applejack. She made a mental note to bring it up the next time the mayor began planning for a festival. She bet she could beat Rainbow Dash easily in a match. If she could handle wild bulls, what hope did a lazy pegasus have? “Okay, enough funny business,” Applejack announced once she got her laughter under control. “Ah’ve got a job to do and Ah could really use some help with it. Ya up for it?”
“Pfft, me working? Pah-lease!” scoffed the lackadaisical pegasus with a roll of her eyes. Why did Applejack always have to go to her when it came to doing work? The most ego-satisfying answer was that it because Dash was the only other strong and athletic pony in their circle of friends, but the more likely answer that she was ignoring, though, was the simple fact that Dash was always the closest one available. Perhaps it was time to reconsider changing her sleeping habits, as she was clearly becoming too predictable.
“Must we go through this every time?” the orchard farmer asked, knowing full well it would be rhetorical.
“That’s because every time you just want me to go and do work for you! You never want to go and get cider or something. It’s always work with you!”
“Ah promise you, this won’t be like the other times. It’ll be fun!”
“This coming from the pony who thinks catching soggy apples in a bucket is fun.” Rainbow Dash clearly would have nothing more with the proposition. Knowing that her friend couldn’t bug her if she simply flew high enough, the pegasus took to the air. However, her ascent was short-lived as she felt a sudden tightness around her hips and a weight keeping her from climbing any higher. “Applejack,” she shouted in protest when she noticed the length of rope that had lassoed her, “this is so not cool!”
“Ah ain’t takin’ no for an answer,” Applejack replied through gritted teeth. This hadn’t been the first time the pegasus tried to make a run, or flight, for it and the farmer had come fully prepared for such an event. Using her hooves and her teeth, Applejack began to slowly reel the pegasus in.
Rather than continuing to protest her new situation, Rainbow Dash decided to have a little fun with her friend. “Okay rodeo-pony, let’s see how you enjoy this bull-ride!” Dash announced before a mighty sweep of her wings rocketed her forward. There was only enough time for Applejack to anchor her hat down before being swept up along for the ride.
The rodeo-pony skipped and bounced across the grass as Rainbow Dash flew through the orchard. Now that the gauntlet had been tossed, there was no way that Applejack was going to let her friend get the better of her. After quickly regaining her footing, she dug both hooves into the soil in an attempt to slow the pegasus. Alas, all that she ultimately accomplished was leaving two long paths of turned-up soil in her wake.
“What’s the matter, Applejack? Losing your grip?” Rainbow Dash taunted as she took a sharp turn to the left.
“Oh crabapples!” she mentally cursed when she saw the pegasus change course. As momentum would throw her headlong into the trees ahead, Applejack knew she had only one chance to time her jump. When she began to skid towards an oncoming tree, the earth pony leapt into the air, twisting her body so that she was able to then spring off the tree trunk. The manoeuvre allowed her to land on all fours and immediately drive them into the earth in renewed attempt to slow her quarry down. “It’s going to take more than that to buck this pony.”
Knowing that sheer brute force wasn’t going to beat her friend, Applejack decided to try a new tactic. Digging her hooves in harder on her left side and tugging on the rope to that side, she was able to gradually veer Rainbow Dash sideways. The pegasus was high enough that she was in no danger of hitting the trees but, as Applejack had planned, the rope was bisected by a thick branch. Her momentum turned the rope and branch into an impromptu pulley and Rainbow Dash was abruptly snapped to a halt.
However, as with many of Applejack’s spur-of-the-moment plans, things went well for the first few seconds and then careened out of control. With the rope taut, the two ponies at each end were slung towards one another by the momentum, ending their rodeo with an unceremonious crash.
When the dust settled, the two ponies lay in a heap of tangled limbs, rope, and dislodged apples. Rainbow Dash, who lay atop of her friend’s back, was the first to regain her senses. She cast a glance over to her friend, who was still face-down in the grass with her head twisted slightly in Dash’s direction. Their eyes met briefly, followed by sheepish grins and nervous chuckles. But the laughter proved infectious and soon the two mares were rolling on the orchards grounds, consumed by cheery, uncontrollable laughter.
“Well, Ah got’cha,” Applejack managed to tease between bouts of laughter.
“Yeah, well I’ve got your hat,” the pegasus replied. She quickly snatched the hat off the farmer’s head and tossed it atop her rainbow crown. A triumphant grin crossed her face immediately afterwards.
Looking as horrified as Rarity caught in a downpour, Applejack desperately tried to reach for her hat. But Rainbow Dash quickly pulled away from her, hovering a few feet above her with a taunting grin.
“Dang it Dash, give that back! Ah ain’t got time for more of yer games!”
“Tell you what – if you can get your hat back, I’ll help you with your work.” Despite making the proposal, the last thing Dash had expected was for the earth pony to actually accept the challenge. After all, one would be insane to think they could chase down a pegasus on the ground. She figured that the challenge would be too much and force Applejack to negotiate for the hat’s release, thus securing Dash’s freedom from any work-related obligations. However, Dash had forgotten that there was still a rope tied around her hips, and the next thing the pegasus knew, she was being reeled back in.
Unwilling, or perhaps incapable, of doing anything half-measure, Applejack had already secured the rope around her own hips and was using a nearby tree trunk as a fulcrum to pull the pegasus in. Realizing that defeat meant one of the worst fates imaginable, working, Dash pulled with all her strength. Alas, while she might have been the fastest pegasus in the skies, in terms of raw pulling power she was no match for the entrenched orchard farmer. With each push from her powerful hind legs, Applejack slowly inched her way closer to her prized possession.
“Ah’ve...got...you...now!” she called out with each step. “Give...it...back!”
“Never!” Despite how old adages about hope might go, it was fear that gave pegasus wings.
As fear pushed the pegasus harder, Applejack struggled more with each advance. Just a few inches shy of her goal, the earth pony found herself unable to step further. So much as lifting a hoof would cause her to lose her footing and tumbling backwards. But she could not allow Dash to win, not when her hat was on the line. It was so close! The two ponies looked into each other’s eyes, strain and determination overwhelming in both and neither willing to yield another inch. Applejack knew that if she didn’t find some way to break the pegasus’ concentration, she’d never get those last few inches she needed. Desperate times called for desperate measures as the saying went.
With no other options available, Applejack simply reached out and planted her lips upon her friend’s. The embrace was short and sweet, but passionless. Yet it was still enough to shatter the pegasus’ focus, which caused her to immediately crash into the ground when the earth pony’s strength overpowered her.
“Looks like Ah win again.” Applejack let out a victorious chuckle as she plucked her hat from the defeated pegasus and set it back upon its rightful perch.
“What just happened?” The first thoughts that crossed Dash’s mind were of shock and confusion, followed shortly thereafter by a fleeting burst of indignation. “That...that wasn’t fair,” protested the pegasus; though she was more concerned with suppressing the rising fluster in face than winning any arguments.
“All’s fair in love n’ war and I love mah hat.” On the bright side, at least Applejack was a half-decent kisser, even when it wasn’t a true kiss, so Dash had a small consolation prize to find some degree of comfort in. She would have argued further but her mind became preoccupied as she couldn’t shake a strange feeling of deja vu. She remembered waking up with the same warm glow and fluttering sensation in her chest. Perhaps it was her subconscious recognizing something from her dream or maybe it was just her imagination getting the better of her. “Now a deal’s a deal - there’s work to be done, so hop to it Dash!”
“You know Applejack, you could have just told me from the start that it was Twilight that needed the help, not you,” Rainbow Dash remarked, a hint of bitterness to her tone, as the two friends arrived at the Ponyville library’s front door.
“Twilight asked me for help and Ah’m asking you to help me,” her friend replied as though the technicality should have been obvious from the start. “Besides, it’s not like you gave me time to explain before y’all started whining.”
“I wasn’t whining!”
“And Ah’m the Queen of the Apple Kingdom,” quipped the farmer in response before knocking on the door. “With the way you run from even the slightest mention of work, Ah’m surprised you’re still able to hold down a job.” Applejack could never understand how Rainbow Dash has never been fired from her job with the weather patrol given her propensity to avoid work like the plague. But when the weather patrol included the likes of Derpy, one could only suspect that reliable talent was as hard to come by in the Ponyville area as rain clouds in a desert. On the other hoof, Applejack knew that if her friend actually applied herself in earnest, she could be running the entire weather patrol rather than just being one tiny cog in a giant machine. The day that happened, of course, would be the day that Applejack donned a tutu and did ballet through the town center.
Rainbow Dash didn’t have time to argue further as the library door swung open to reveal their friend, Twilight Sparkle. “Applejack, where have you been? I thought you said you said you were going to be here an hour ago,” Twilight greeted. Her usual welcoming smile had been replaced with a slight scowl expressing her disappointment in the farmer’s lack of punctuality. “I’m going to be late for my train if I don’t leave soon.”
“Train? You’re going somewhere?” Dash asked as she was still completely in the dark as to what was going on. As time was limited according to the unicorn, Twilight beckoned her friends inside. Sitting next to the door was a small pile of suitcases and bags, all packed to the brim with books, papers, scrolls, and Celestia knows what else.
“I’m attending a conference in Canterlot,” Twilight answered. At the mere mention of her plans, the previous tones of disappointment were replaced with excitement and anticipation. The unicorn was practically bouncing across the library as she continued gathering books and notes to be stored in one of the many suitcases she had. “It’s a conference all about magic in Equestria - all the brightest minds from across the kingdom are going to be there. Stardust is giving a lecture on astrological form-based incantations, and Regal Horn is going to be running a workshop on his latest developments in empathy spells. Oh! And I’m going to be making my own presentation too: ‘Magic and the Modern Equestria - New Applications for Old Magics in the Growing Technological Age.’ Oh, it is going to be soooo exciting!”
As both the pegasus and the earth pony could barely tell the difference between a spell and a fireworks display, Twilight may as well have been speaking in a foreign tongue for all the clarification it provided. They briefly exchanged confused glances followed by uncertain shrugs. They both assumed if this were something they were supposed to understand, Twilight would have taken the liberty to explain it to them using nice, small words.
“So what do you need us for?” Dash finally spoke up. “It’s not like Applejack or I would have much use to you at a magic conference, right?”
“Correct; that and it's by invitation only," Twilight explained. “Besides, the two of you would probably get bored out of your skulls. What I do need, however, is somepony to watch over the library while I’m gone. Normally I would leave Spike to take care of it but he’s an important part of my presentation so he has to come too.”
“So she asked me to take care of things while she’s away,” Applejack concluded. “But Ah still have chores at the farm to take care of so it’d be a real big help if y’all could help split the work with me, Dash.”
However, rather than an enthusiastic ‘yes’ that they were expecting, Rainbow Dash’s reaction was instead one of barely restrained indignation. “You asked Applejack to watch the library before me?” Evidently, the pegasus took offense that Twilight would somehow overlook her new-founded passion for reading and instead enlist the service of the farmpony. Applejack probably didn’t read have as much as Rainbow Dash did, not to mention the farmer herself admitted that she had other commitments. “You know I love reading, Twilight. Why would you get me hooked and then deny me this? That’s just cruel!”
But Twilight was unfazed by her friend’s sudden reaction, responding at first with a quiet, dismissive chortle. “I asked Applejack weeks ago, Dash. Besides, taking care of a library is more than just reading all my Daring Do books. You actually have to do work and be responsible.”
“And we all know how well you and responsibility get along,” Applejack chimed in.
“I can be plenty responsible,” the pegasus insisted, crossing her hooves in a display of mock protest.
“Remember back when Ah asked you to take care of Winona for a couple days?”
“Her fur grew back...eventually.”
“Girls!” Twilight intervened before an argument could break out between the pair. “As much as I would love to debate the veracity of Rainbow Dash’s claim of responsible behaviour, I have a train to catch.” With her magic, she grabbed a scroll that was sitting on a nearby table and held it out for the others to see. Unfurling the scroll revealed it to be several feet long with script from border to border. “Now here’s a list of all the books that are currently checked out, by whom, and when they are due back, all in chronological order.” While Applejack took a hold of the scroll and began browsing through the names, Twilight brought over several additional scrolls of varying sizes and began piling into Dash’s outstretched hooves. “And this is a list of all the tasks and chores I’ll need the both of you to do while I’m out. I’ve already taken the liberty of colour-coding the tasks by frequency in which they need to be done. This one here is my contact information in Canterlot in case you need to send any emergency correspondence. I’ve also got a list of emergency contacts here in Ponyville in case you have a more urgent matter to deal with. And this one here has...”
Dash had long since mentally drifted out of the conversation, simply nodding her head at regular intervals as Twilight prattled off names, addresses, lists, and tasks. She was convinced that at least half of the tasks being spelled out had more to do with Twilight’s obsession with organization than an actual need for the library. The Ponyville library had functioned perfectly fine for years before Twilight showed up or at least so she assumed since she had never had reason until recently to ever set foot in the building. Though the pegasus was slowly beginning to regret her decision to help watch over the library, she was nonetheless determined to see it through. When Rainbow Dash made a promise, she kept it. That was, after all, what loyalty was all about.
“I’ll let you two figure out how to divide the work up.” Twilight said as she wrapped up the last of her instructions, much to her friends’ relief. “Come on Spike, or we’re going to be late!” With a simple flick of her horn, the unicorn levitated the pile of luggage and hurried out the door followed shortly thereafter by her assistant. A second later, the unicorn came rushing back in. “Oh, I forgot to mention, I’ve got a shipment of new books coming in tomorrow. I’ll need you to sort and catalogue them for me. My cataloguing system should be explained on the seventh scroll I gave you.” After a reassurance that the task would be looked after, the unicorn once again departed. “And don’t forget to water my plants!” she shouted from afar.
Thankfully, before Twilight could shout any additional directives at the pair, Applejack kicked the door shut. The two friends let out a quiet, discouraged sigh as they looked over the pile of scrolls left for them.
“Sooo, Ah was thinking that we each take turns watching over the library,” Applejack suggested. “One of us opens the library in the morning and then other takes over around late afternoon. Sounds good?”
“Hoof-wrestle to see who picks first?”
“No kissing this time!”
As per Dash’s insistence, there were no further attempts to break her concentration by kisses or any other displays of affection. Alas, that did little to help her win as her focus was still truly and thoroughly scattered. Dash wouldn’t admit it openly, of course, but the incident in the orchard still lingered on her mind. “It was just a stupid kiss,” she continually reminded herself, but those words only made the thoughts persist even longer. Why did it bother her so much? Applejack had been her friend for years now but this was the first time that the mare had haunted her thoughts to such a degree. Could she have become infatuated with the farmer? Dash mentally scoffed at the absurd notion. They were friends, but then again, the lines separating friendship from the beyond could be a bit hazy at best. Sometimes all it took was just a nudge at the right time.
Thankfully, losing the hoof-wrestling match did not prove to be an inconvenience for the pegasus. Rainbow Dash would cover the library during the morning and first half of the afternoon, which allowed Applejack to tend to her morning chores at the farm; and in the afternoon the farmer would take over at the library, allowing Dash to catch up on her missed naps. As for the list of tasks and chores, even Applejack realized that there was only so much one could make the pegasus do. She knew that before she had even asked for the pegasus’ assistance so making a fuss about it was pointless. Applejack could only hope for the best and clean up whatever is left behind.
For the first few days, things went smoothly in Twilight’s absence. Most ponies didn’t frequent the library in the early morning so Dash was often left to freely peruse Twilight’s expansive collection of literature. Unfortunately, even with the adventures of Daring Do to distract her, Dash could not get her mind off her blond-maned friend.
"Dash!" a familiar voice shouted to snap the pegasus out of her pensive trance. She had been sitting on the couch for the past few hours, staring at an open copy of Daring Do but unable to focus the words in sentences. "Ah thought Ah said to keep the place tidy." Dash had been so lost in her thoughts that she had failed to realize what time of the day it was; she also failed to realize that the piles of books scattered across the library weren't going to pick themselves up. She only managed a sheepish chuckle in return. "You ain't leavin' till this mess is cleaned up," Applejack ordered before grabbing the pegasus' tail and pulling her off the couch.
Though by far her least favourite of activities, the work did give Dash something else to focus her thoughts on. She couldn’t begrudge the pony for being a touch on the over-bearing side; Applejack always put one-hundred percent into any task she was given. That kind of dedication was admirable to be honest. The only thing Dash ever gave one-hundred to was her aerobatics and even that often had to make way for naps and general lazing. And to no surprise, despite what her tone may have suggested, Applejack even pitched in to help her friend tidy the library up.
“Say Dash, Ah don’t suppose Ah could ask you for a favour?” Applejack spoke up after slotting away the last book.
Were it anypony else, Dash probably would have said that she had used up all her ‘favours’ for the week, but she was always willing to make exceptions for Applejack. The farmer rarely asked for favours so Dash figured one wouldn’t hurt. “Sure. What do you need?”
“Ah need you to cover my share of library duty the day after tomorrow. Ah’ll take yer share for tomorrow or later this week if you want.”
At first, the request did not strike the pegasus as very peculiar. After a moment of thought, however, she realized the significance of the day after tomorrow. “But that’s Hearts and Hooves Day. That means,” the pegasus paused briefly as the realization dawned upon her, “you have plans on Hearts and Hooves Day, don’t you?”
“It ain’t those kinds of plans!” Applejack was quick to defend, but it did little to wipe the overt suggestive smirk across the pegasus’ face. “It mah turn to run the apple cart that day and Hearts and Hooves Day is good business. Couples seem to like our heart-shaped candied apples. Ah ain’t doing any of that lovey-dovey stuff.”
“Boooring,” declared the pegasus, albeit with a strange hint of relief. “You’re like the only pony in town that always works on Hearts and Hooves Day. You should be trying to find a date for, not finding work. That’s the whole point of the holiday, isn’t it?”
“Ah don’t see you finding any dates.”
“That’s because I have very high standards,” Dash insisted, her ego flashing up like the feathers of a peacock. “I can’t just go out with any mare.”
“Mare?” Applejack asked with a cocked brow.
“O-or colt,” she quickly recovered. The pegasus chuckled sheepishly to hide her embarrassment but failed abysmally.
“Right,” the farmer replied, completely unconvinced. “What’s it to you how mah dating life is? Ah’m plenty fine without any colt in mah life! And for yer information, Ah’ve had plenty of dates. Why, remember that one stallion, ummm, what’s his name with the, uh, blue mane and stuff.”
Now it was Dash’s turn to be unconvinced of the other’s insistence. “You mean Noteworthy?”
“That’s the guy!”
“That was five years ago.”
“Wow. Really?” Applejack appeared genuinely surprised by the revelation. Perhaps she had let more time slip past than she had realized. “That long, huh?” she muttered as an afterthought.
“Yes, and if I recall correctly, you threw cider in his face and ran off.”
“He said apple bucking was boring,” the earth pony said as she recalled the day in question. True, she might have overreacted just a little bit but since when did she ever do anything in half-measures? She was proud of her family and of her farm, and to have some pony turn around and scoff at it hurt in more ways than she’d care to recollect.
An uneasy silence feel between the two ponies. Rainbow Dash wanted to press the issue a bit more but Applejack had become rather gloomy as a result and the pegasus dared not make it worse. If anything, Rainbow Dash wanted to lift her friend’s spirit, but what could she do? What would Twilight do in this situation?
“How about a book?” the pegasus thought with her mental voice sounding strangely like Twilight for an instant. “Any kind of books you like to read?” Dash asked with the hopes of veering the conversation towards a more pleasant topic.
The shift appeared to work as Applejack perked her head up at the inquiry, but she didn’t have an immediate answer. “Ah dunno. Westerns, Ah guess.”
Determined to find a book to suit her friend’s interests, Dash began a thorough search through the shelves. If she had bothered to use Twilight’s cataloguing system, or any system of organization, she might have accomplished the task faster. Eventually, though, the pegasus returned with a book between her teeth.
“‘Lasso and Stars’,” Applejack muttered as she read the title of the book. A pair of stetson-wearing ponies adorned the cover, which was enough to pique her interests. “An adventure of love and betrayal in the old west,” she continued, reading the sub-header on the cover. “Sounds promising.”
“It was part of that shipment of books that just came in,” Dash explained after handing over the book.
Opening it to a random page, Applejack gave the book a quick look-through. “‘Ah thought Ah knew all the stallions in these here parts,’ the mare mused with a playful smirk upon her lips,” she read aloud. “But Coltwood said nothing, however, for words could not express that which he longed for most. Her hooves gently traced the contours of his frame, feeling each jagged scar with intrigue and passion. Her eyes glistened with desire; drifting slowly down his figure to his throbbing―” Applejack stopped abruptly in her oration as her face began to turn a deep shade of crimson, almost resembling the apples that composed her cutie mark. “Oh my...uh, D-Dash, what kind of book is this exactly?”
Dash had to contain the rising fit of laughter welling up inside her. The look of shock and embarrassment on Applejack’s face was an image she could cherish forever. She also had to admit that it was quite a flattering look on the pony as well with the dark shade of red providing a stark contrast to her golden blond mane.
“It’s a western, isn’t it?” Dash asked as she moved to hover over her friend’s shoulder. To be honest, Dash had only skimmed the back cover and the first few pages so she knew little of what the book actually entailed. However, reading the same few passages that Applejack had brought the same brilliant shade of red to her face. “Oh, wow. That’s, uhhh...quite detailed, isn’t it?”
“Ah’ll say,” Applejack nodded in agreement. Despite their shock, neither pony seemed capable of taking their eyes away from the pages. Rainbow Dash even went so far as to flip it to the next page.
“That doesn’t seem feasibly possible.”
“Nonsense, Ah bet Ah could do that.”
Rainbow Dash felt another rush of heat rising to her face. That was not a mental picture she needed at that moment, especially with Applejack sitting so close to her. Why did this have to keep happening to her? Her mind kept wandering into places that it wouldn’t normally tread. “M-maybe I should put this somewhere safe. You know, so no foals accidentally come across it.”
As Dash reached for the book, Applejack hastily pulled it away. Neither said anything at first; Applejack’s awkward grin conveyed her intent quite clearly. “Just a few more pages?”
By the time night fell, neither pony had bothered to leave the library. They had spent the rest of the afternoon reading ‘Lasso and Stars’ along with a bunch of other books in the shipment that had arrived. Somepony must have gotten the orders mixed up because the entire content of the shipment were books of similar nature and neither pony could picture Twilight knowingly ordering such books. They weren’t even very well written books and the two had spent as much time laughing at the prose, which covered the entire length of the colour spectrum, as they did flustering at the more risque parts.
And somewhere out far in Canterlot, the shopowner of the Twilight’s Sparkle was wondering why in blazes he was delivered a box of historical fiction books.
Over dinner, they ordered out from one of the nearby cafes and shared stories over buckets of hayfries and fried corn. Rainbow Dash couldn’t recall the last time she and Applejack had sat down and just talked. Nine times out of ten, their time together was spent competing over some ridiculous feat or game, or working on some project that one had dragged the other into. Applejack and Dash had been friends for a long time but, in truth, they had always been as much rivals as they had been friends: an outlet to test their mettle against. It was always about winning or losing when it came to dealing with each other. For Dash, she was the only pony in town that could ever give her a physical challenge and now she was proving to be the only pony in town to give her an emotional challenge. Their day together in the library had cast Dash’s long-time competitor in a different light and she discovered it to be far more enjoyable than any of the competitions they had held in the past.
Where did these feelings come from, the pegasus wondered. Had they always been there, hidden just beneath the surface waiting for the right moment to break through or was she simply imaging things? Could Applejack possibly feel the same way about her or was the kiss really just a means to win back her hat? Surely Applejack only saw the pegasus in the same light as she had always viewed the former - an outlet for the competitive spirit. As a pony of honesty, if she had ever held such desire, they would have come to light by now. The confusion only reminded the pegasus why she preferred racing and competitions - no what-ifs, maybes, or possibles. In a race you either won or you didn’t; not since the foalhood lesson of ‘round peg goes through round hole’ were things so simple to understand.
What was easy to understand was that all the doubt and uncertainty was leaving a feeling of gnawing despair in the pit of her gut. And because of that pit, despite it being late into witching hours of the night, Rainbow Dash was still pan-eyed awake while her friend was sound asleep in Twilight’s bed.
“I can’t stay here,” she eventually decided after having spent the past hour tossing and turning in bed. Thank Celestia that Applejack proved to be a deep sleeper, which spared the pegasus the added guilt of keeping another pony up as well.
Rainbow Dash returned to the main hall of the library. A small lamp provided enough illumination for her to scour the bookshelves in search of some relief. At least books never left her feeling confused or in doubt; it was no wonder why Twilight found so much comfort in them. If there was anything that could be guaranteed to lift Dash’s spirit, it was another chapter of her favourite action-heroine, Daring Do.
“‘Daring Do and the Mare with No Name',” Dash thought before plucking the book from the shelves. Books would never betray her, never leave her doubting herself. And certainly Daring Do never had to deal with this kind of confusion. “Just a stupid kiss.”