Another quiet day upon another quiet day rolled over Twilight's life, forming a blanket-like haze of time that, for the most part, she didn't remember. After all the emotions were done pouring through her uncontrolled, her anger being kept down and silenced after a couple of weeks, life was simply....bland. Everything she enjoyed, she hated now. She couldn't stand a book for more than half an hour at a time, even a recreational one, the very thought of reading usually turning her away from the task, yet she kept coming back to it because it was her favorite hobby at the same time, and she couldn't change that. She was like an abused mare, coming back to her violent coltfriend only to get another beating for even thinking of trying to get away from him.
Even her research was a disgusting topic in her mind. Where she would normally delight in studying what exactly had happened to her, she for the most part didn't want to think about it or recall that horrible, horrible night. She knew she wasn't herself then, and she still didn't feel like herself now. However, at least she had some kind of emotional drive before; this felt like emptiness and nothing but. She felt shiftless, thoughtless and entirely lacking in any emotions, aside from the occasional burst of rage and brief, weak bits of happiness drawn out by a silly moment from Pinkie Pie or a genuinely endearing moment of care shown by her friends going the extra mile for her, in her current condition. Almost every smile was forced otherwise, mainly to make ponies stop being so nervous in her presence. Even if the feelings were false, at least smiling brought some semblance of normalcy to her daily routine.
The only time she'd really, honestly smiled was during a few times spent with Fluttershy, who seemed to understand her situation better than any of her other friends. Well, her and Pinkie Pie. We're talking about Pinkie Pie here, after all. It's hard to NOT get an honest laugh and smile around her zany behavior. At least, even in this situation, Pinkie had enough sense not to throw Twilight a party, because there was little worth celebrating about her current affairs, aside from her finally being back from her studies.
That single swing she'd taken at Fluttershy had made her eternally sorry for what she had done, believing that her friend would be afraid to actually be around her after thinking about what happened, but....that hug she gave to Twilight, it had Twilight's insides twisting, and her thoughts turning this way and that the more they spent time together. She felt guilty and hated herself for hurting her friend, even slightly, but she was also elated and happy that she was still willing to hang around. Without her interest in her books (what little was left of it) keeping her occupied enough, Twilight found herself spending a fairly decent amount of time with Fluttershy, going to the spa with her and Rarity quite often, soon becoming a part of their weekly schedule for it.
"Oh, I'm so glad you could join us again this week darling, I see so little of you lately!" Rarity could be heard saying from behind her own mud mask, her eyes covered up by cucumber slices. She was currently shoulder-deep in a nice, warm spa with Fluttershy and Twilight, each having similar treatments given. Fluttershy just let out a happy sigh as the water bubbled around them with who-knows-what added to it to rejuvenate their flesh and fur. "The Carousel Boutique's been VERY busy lately, so many orders this time of year you know. Dresses, jewelry, hats, and apparently shoes are in this season, so I of course have been working on my own designs!"
"Ooh, really? Maybe I should get a new hat...." Fluttershy began to say, the normally shy pegasus apparently capable of relaxing with this kind of conversation just as well as she could relax around any of her animal friends. Rarity was probably her closest friend out of their entire group, and she knew the fashionista best, so if there was a style worth having in your wardrobe, it was definitely at least one of Rarity's items.
Twilight just couldn't get into it, but she could definitely get into this jacuzzi. She didn't often treat herself to something like this because it actually cost a pretty penny, but she could see why Rarity and Fluttershy put forth the effort to make this a weekly thing for both of them. THIS was nice; she just sunk down into the heated waters until she was up to her chin, and let the heat take her away for now, listening to her friends continue on about the latest fashion trends, the styles featured by others in various magazines, the sorts of things she didn't really read herself. Of course, she only spoke up when someone spoke her name.
"Twilight, what about you? Do you have time tomorrow? I could really use your help with a design I'm working on, and your figure is absolutely perfect for it!" Rarity stated in her usual, theatrical way, flourishing her words as if she were on a stage; truly, Trixie would've been proud. "I really would appreciate it, sometimes those model stands just can't give me the kind of feedback I need for some of the more tricky designs I make up."
"Sometimes?" Fluttershy asked, smiling with only a slight smugness, looking as thought she knew something that the other two did not. "So does that mean that they talk to you?" she asked, giggling quietly and gently rolling her head on her shoulders, to help the muscles stretch out after they got so relaxed thus far, in this delightfully hot water. "I've heard they've got medication for that kind of crazy."
Twilight just laughed a little and interrupted them, her voice floating along with the bubbling water, as if she were one with it, she was so relaxed right now. "Hmm, sure, I can come over and help you out if you really need the help, Rarity...." she muttered over them. She couldn't really tell if they were looking at her, but considering they all had mud masks on and cucumber slices over their eyes, she didn't really think it would matter. "Not like I have anything better to do."
Rarity lightly quirked a brow, but quickly relaxed her head back so that the cucumber slices didn't didn't fall out after that. "Are you sure about that, Twilight? I wouldn't want to impose. I haven't heard much about your studies lately either, what do you usually do with your time nowaday-hm?" she said, but towards the end the water could be heard sloshing a bit, and a hoof gently but firmly patted Rarity on the shoulder and shook her a little. Rarity wasn't sure what all of that was about, but given her friend's delicate state of mind lately, she just stayed quiet about it, not that she'd been silenced fast enough.
Twilight's thoughts darkened a little, and her light smile had faded into something of a frown. "I don't....I don't really do much of my studies anymore, Rarity," she said, letting out a small breath. "I haven't touched a book since I got back, they just don't appeal to me as much as they used to. Same goes for my studies," she muttered, sitting up straighter and turning her head this way and that as one of the attendants came over to remove the little slices from over their eyes, her blinking her eyes open and looking to Fluttershy and Rarity, cracking a weak smile when she noticed Rarity's concerned gaze, Fluttershy already plenty aware of Twilight's lack of interest in just about everything that used to define her. "I'm alright though, I'm sure it, uh....just takes time, right?" she stated, Fluttershy just nodding in agreement while Rarity looked between the two of them, a curious look crossing her features. She didn't bring it up for now though, just moving on to their hoof treatment and continuing with their small-talk.
Sugarcube Corner was as active as ever, and Wind Strider was, for once, out of his excellent-looking silvery armor, just walking around like any other pony in the crowd. Where his armor usually turned his fur white to make his color uniform with the rest of the Royal Guard, out of his armor his fur was a very dark blue, with a black-colored mane that seemed to flow with any breeze that ran through the crowd to sweep his long hairs around. He had a reason for being there, of course, he had something he wanted to pick up, that he'd set out an order for through the mail from Canterlot before his visit. By all means, it was nothing intensely special, but it would be a nice surprise at least. Stepping inside, he looked to the line and whistled to himself, deciding he'd better get in line now or else he'd never get the cupcakes he'd ordered!
Pinkie Pie was crazy-busy, but that didn't stop the energetic pony from serving around three people at a time, thanks to her abundant stamina and joyful personality. As customers left, she always said her goodbyes with her usual Pinkie Pie flair and joviality, her happy demeanor seeming to always infect her treats and give everyone a little smile-on-the-go effect the moment they bit into one of her delicious cup-sized baked goods. He walked up to the counter and got a similar greeting as most of the previous, but she seemed to, somehow, put forth more effort because she hadn't seen him before. "Welcome to Sugarcube Corner! Where the fun is free, and everything's Pinkie-keen!"
In all honesty, Pinkie Pie's personality creeped him out, her endless joy, the all-smiles behavior and being able to pop up seemingly out of nowhere....on more than one occasion, he had the feeling that she'd seen him and Dash spending more time together lately. Either Princess Celestia saw them having that little spat outside of the library that late night, or Princess Luna really didn't have as much need of him as she used to, but regardless of the reason, he was just happy to finally have a decent amount of time away from his work. "Hi there! I'm here for the, uh...oh, what were they, the....oh!" he said, pointing to a set of what looked like VERY fresh, apple-sized cupcakes with a blue coloring and rainbow frosting on them, a little candy cherry atop each one.
Pinkie turned her head and looked to them, then grinned back at him. "Oh! You're the one that ordered Rainbow Dash's favorites, the order that came in from Canterlot? That's odd that you have the exact same tastes as my bestest-best friend Rainbow Dash,-" she said, leaning in towards him and giving him a knowing grin. "-y'knoooooow what I mean?" Yyyup, that pretty much cemented both the fact that she knew, and the fact that Pinkie Pie was about as subtle as a freight train blaring its horn in an underground tunnel.
He just grinned nervously at her, looking around as a second wave of customers began to form. "You know, I don't think everyone in Fillydelphia heard you the first time you said that, maybe you could be a bit louder about such private affairs?" he asked, trying to sound indignant, but it just wasn't in his nature....plus, her almost ignorant-looking grin betrayed any possible acknowledgement of understanding she could've given him.
"Ooh, really?! But that's silly, my voice can't carry that far! If you want me to try though, I will!" she said, taking in a deep gasp of air while looking to the crowd behind him. "THIS PONY'S DA-MMPH!!" she started to shout out to all of them, but she was quickly silenced by a cupcake being shoved in her mouth, filled with a multitude of subtle, but very different flavors....kind of like a rainbow, which was exactly what Dash's favorite Rainbow Cupcakes were meant to taste like. She chewed while he looked back at them with a thoroughly unnerved smile, turning his gaze back to Pinkie and lowering his voice, hoof still held to her mouth. "PRIVATE being the key word in that sentence, miss!"
Pinkie Pie was undeterred in any way, least of all her happy demeanor. She just quickly packed his order of cupcakes, minus one now, into a plastic cupcake tote and set it on the counter when she was done, accepting the bits he'd pulled out of his pack to pay for the order. "Heh, see you around then, mister pony-I've-never-met-before-but-probably-will-soon!" she called out to him as he walked away with the plastic container tucked into his pack, having taken the time to get it to lay flat atop a box he had with him, containing something of almost equal importance to the cupcakes he'd just endeavored to get from the ever-perceptive Pinkie.
It wasn't exactly a long flight to Dash's house, though admittedly he felt so much slower without his armor on. He preferred to be used to not wearing his equipment than otherwise though, looking like just any Royal Guard didn't sit well with him in the pit of his stomach, like he'd be giving up his identity if he let himself get bogged down in that kind of thinking.
Rainbow Dash could hear someone land on the clouds outside of her home, it was still pretty early in the morning, and she'd already issued orders to the weather team for the day....that left only one other likely possibility. The light smile she already had on widened as she called out to her visitor. "Door's open, just come on in!" she said, currently in the middle of doing a little working out, stretching her wings and generally just getting herself ready for another day of both work and practice.
Wind Strider stepped in quietly, eventually finding Rainbow Dash in the equivalent to a kitchen, not that she used it all that often for more than putting a sandwich together using specially-made utensils and storage for her food. This whole thing was, at the end of the day, a cloud; special designs for just about everything were necessary, if she didn't just form the clouds into a special shape, like the cloud she used as a couch in the living room.
He walked over to the table while Dash flexed her wings out as far as they could go a few times, until the joint popped and she let out a little sigh, flapping them reflexively to flatten out the feathers before tucking them back in against her sides. He set the bag he was holding in his mouth down on the table, smiling a bit. "Well, I brought you somethin' I know you'll enjoy!" he said, catching Dash's attention now. She casually approached the table and tilted her head a bit.
She just grinned when she saw the clear plastic tote the muffins had been packed into, the familiar design sparking a certain kind of giddiness in her that she usually kept suppressed enough to keep that cool exterior of hers intact. "Oh wow, you got me my cupcakes! Thanks, Wind!" she said, quickly opening the tote with a flick of her nose under the lip of it. She reached inside with her mouth and pulled one out, holding it with one hoof and taking a good bite out of it, licking her lips and mmm'ing with an almost orgasmic satisfaction as the flavor spread itself all over her palate. But then, she blinked a few times and looked to him. "Hey wait....usually I have to order ahead for these, how'd you get 'em? You just got here today, right?"
He nodded his head, but he shrugged his shoulders with a small smirk adorning the corner of his mouth. "Well, it wasn't exactly hard to mail in an order ahead of time, you know," he said, leaning in to take up one of the cupcakes between his teeth as well, taking a bite out of it while grabbing it on his hoof just the same. "So, how'd you find out you liked these the most?" he asked her, making Rainbow shrug as well.
"Eh, Pinkie was trying out a new recipe and this was the result, when I said I wanted more of them made around a week later she decided she'd color 'em like my mane. Why, ya like 'em?"she asked, already through one of the eleven that were packaged in the tote....nine, now. "Did you eat one before ya came here, by the way? Normally these come in a twelve-pack," she said, deciding against eating another in favor of not over-filling herself.
Wind Strider grinned a bit and let off a small chuckle as he recalled that bizarre encounter at the sweet store, shaking his head. "That's right, I used one to silence you friend Pinkie from blabbing about....well, you know," he said, heh'ing and rubbing the back of his head with a free hoof. "She kinda figured it out, I think....sorry 'bout that," he said, his voice sounding a little meek towards the end, but he casually walked over to a cloudy wall and leaned against it, forehooves crossing over each other after he finished off the second half of that cupcake. "So what've you got planned for today?"
Rainbow Dash continued to flap and flex her wings, getting the blood flowing a little better. "Well, lately my goal has been to get fast enough and strong enough to pull off my Sonic Rainboom without relying on gravity like I did at the competition. I mean yeah, it's really cool that I pulled it off to begin with, but I don't allow any breaks," she said, walking over to the small balcony she usually exited her house on, looking back to him while he started to walk over as well. "You wanna come with me, or do you have things to take care of?"
He thought about that for a moment while walking up next to her, a smile eventually adorning his features while he leaned in to press lightly against her side, wings extended and prepared to take off while his cheek nuzzled her own. He could practically feel the blush on her cheeks from that simple sign of affection. "I'll be back in a few hours, how's that sound? You usually take a few minutes for yourself around noon, right?" he asked, looking to her.
She nodded a little, forehooves crossed in a bashful expression, her cheeks burning with an unusual expression of timidness, head turned away from the colt. "Heh....yeah, sure, around noon. I'll uh....I'll meet you somewhere above the clouds, like I usually do," she said, her voice a little subdued, a warm smile easily seen when she tucked her wings in and closed her eyes in thought. "....Maybe later, we could-" she mumbled under her breath, only to get cut off by the sudden grip of Strider's hoof under her chin and a little against her left cheek. She would've gasped if her mouth wasn't suddenly busy against his, the instantaneous realization of such an affectionate lip-lock causing a sudden throb in her heart, like a delightful tingling sensation that turned to sensual, blissful warmth. It coursed through her veins rapidly and quickly bathed every inch of her body in a heated delight. The sound of her wings snapping taut from the sudden shock of pleasure could easily be heard. "Mmm...."
He could hear and feel the soft murr vibrating from Dash's lips into his own, his head tilting to the left to press more into it, giving her cheek a gentle caress now that she was plenty into what they were doing at the moment, making no attempt to force her to continue, but instead persuading her by deepening their kiss as much as he could without pushing past the make-out point and crossing the line into 'sex imminent'. He let the kiss break after around a minute, he wasn't really keeping track and clearly neither was she, because while his eyes slid open with an almost lusting look in his eyes, her eyes were still closed, Dash nibbling on her lower lip, clearly enjoying the lingering pleasure that stayed behind. "You always try to play it cool....you know you don't have to be that way when it's just you n' me, Rainbow Dash."
His voice echoed through her mind, her eyes blinking open just as he jumped off of her balcony, dropping down before swooping back up, hovering in front of the balcony with a happy smile. His voice always sounded so reassuring and warm, especially when he kissed her like that....she couldn't help but like it. Then again, she couldn't help but feel a lot of new things around her old friend, a mix of happiness and nervousness that she could only fight off by acting like it was nothing new to her, but he knew plenty better, of that she had no doubt. It was then that she realised that she had a wing-boner going, and she quickly grinned at him and tucked her wings in. "Y-yeah....you're right Wind, I'm sorry...." she said, looking away with her eyes, then back to him, then away again, head hanging a little for a moment. "I guess I'll see you later then! I hope the day doesn't go by too slowly," she said, smiling back at him, Wind just nodding and waving to her, before going into a nose-dive for the ground, flying close to it and following the path from her house in the clouds, into the town.
Rainbow sighed and leapt off of her balcony with a more empowered feeling in her muscles, just that kiss invigorating the already confident pegasus....but her mind lingered on a bittersweet thought. "I just really wish that you didn't work so hard for the Princesses. I don't like to wait for you to have time off," she said to herself as she flew up to a decent enough height over Ponyville, trying her best to cast that thought process aside and get into her usual unbreakably confident mentality, so she could put all of her day into her practice. "It's really not cool."
Applejack's hooves could be heard tapping against the floor, likely in frustration since the sound had increased in volume over the course of an hour or two. On the table were several sheets of paper, a multitude of documents not limited to but including just about all of the farm's finances, as well as personal finances. She had already subtracted a LOT of luxuries from her own part of the bills, but this season still wasn't adding up, not at all, and it was getting on her nerves.
It all started with the Parasprite swarm that put a dent in the boost they got from the bumper crop earlier last year. Every extra bit they earned was wasted rebuilding the house, and she couldn't even really blame anypony for what happened because one, nobody expected such a creature to be capable of that kind of damage, and two, even if Twilight's spell hadn't changed their eating habits, they would've just consumed all of the apples, and likely the trees as well! THAT would've been infinitely more devastating than losing the house, at least with the apples and the trees still around they can re-grow and re-plant seeds, as well as harvest seeds.
That would have been an easy loss to deal with, everything would have simply been the same status quo as it was every year, Ponyville's finances rarely experiencing a drastic enough shift and a lack of love for apples enough to have the Apple Family losing money instead of at least breaking even. They grew some of the best apples around and everyone knew it, it was the main reason their business thrived. That, and Applejack was more savvy to the world of business than most would expect from such a small-town pony with a Southern drawl.
That said, other issues began to crop up, and they couldn't have all come at a worse time. Spread out it would've still been easy to work through them, but it was just one thing after another. First, a few stray Parasprites randomly raided a section of the farm in the middle of the night and ate up a large portion of the late Summer crop before she could get Pinkie to take them somewhere further away. On top of that, smaller thieves continued to wander in and raid their stores here and there before they could ship the apples out, and that wasn't even counting what parts of the crop were normally lost to lack of watering, rotting over time, falling off the trees and bruising before they can be bucked off into the buckets....a multitude of issues, all of them 'cropping up' at the same time, causing a big problem that AJ was having serious trouble finding a way to handle.
Eventually Big Mac heard her grunt in frustration and set her pencil down on the pile of papers. "Dang it....!" she growled out, slumping down in front of the table and thunking her chin down atop it, eyes lazily gazing at the papers to the left of her head. "This year just ain't addin' up!" Big Mac took that chance to enter the living area where Applejack was currently working, having made a little snack for her to enjoy, a caramel apple, since she'd passed on dinner and gone straight for the paperwork. He figured she might like some dessert at least.
Big Mac stepped up next to his sister, setting the plate with the caramel apple down next to her head, the caramel still nice and hot, filling her nostrils with a delicious candied scent that tantalized her tastebuds with the memory of one of her favorite after-dinner treats. "Still not findin' ways to save what we managed t'keep, huh?" he asked in that usual slow, methodical tone, standing tall and gazing down at her, causing Applejack to lift her head up and sit more properly, not preferring to show much in the way of weakness around her particularly powerful big brother.
She nodded to him and let out a frustrated breath, looking down to the papers while leaning down to take a sizeable bite out of her caramel apple, licking her lips clean after chewing and swallowing a decent amount of it. It was warm, firm and large, with a slight coolness and sour flavor within the juice of the apple, the sweetness of the caramel mixing with it and creating the ever-satisfying mix of taste she so enjoyed when she was particularly hungry or had a sweet-tooth. "Mmm....! Thanks, Big Mac. For th' apple, I mean," she said, smiling a little just from the small satisfaction the caramel apple gave her. "But no, ah haven't. This last year's been downright brutal n' harsh on us."
The big red-furred stallion gently patted his little sister on her right shoulder, smiling a little. "Eeyup....doesn't mean we can't find a way t'handle this the same way we've handled tough times in the past though," he said, then blinked as an idea struck him. "Hey, what if we struck a deal with-"
"NO. Way," Applejack interrupted, figuring she knew where her brother was going with that question. "Ah'm not strikin' any sorta deal with that....that trashy, nasty snake-in-th'-grass of a pony! Dirty two-timin'....ugh," she said, her fur visibly standing on end in a ripple up and down her body for a moment. "Y'all know what that sick twisted freak tried ta pull on us, ya saw the fine print he tried t' slide past us on that contract! Ah ain't never considerin' him as an option again!" she said with all the hate and disgust of a spitting snake with acid for venom.
Big Mac just stood there in silence for what seemed like a good minute, staring at his sister with that usual, flat and nonplussed expression. When he finally spoke, one would've thought it would look as if he were barely holding back a frown. "Ah was just....gonna suggest that maybe ya ask yer friends if they know anyone that might be willin' t'strike a deal," he explained, shaking his head. "Ya know I'd never suggest ya try t' work with Razor Witty again."
Applejack seemed a little embarrassed, but she shrugged it off and took another bite out of her apple, taking her time in chewing it while a thoughtful expression mixed with a rather subdued look in her eyes. She sighed after she swallowed, shaking her head. "I dunno Big Mac, ah don't got many friends that'd have any connections like that. Even then, I-I dunno, it's kinda rude, y'know....? Sounds desperate, too, an' we're not desperate yet."
Big Mac sighed a bit and rubbed the back of his neck a little with a forehoof, looking away and clenching his teeth for a moment. "Well, y'know AJ....we don't got many more options, ah don't know what we can do this time. It's not like we've got many trump cards this time around," he said, sighing a little. "Ah'm sorry AJ if I made ya uncomfertable, but....ya might not have much choice," he said, smiling a bit, almost looking as if he were forcing the expression on his face. "Yer an Element of Harmony, kinda like a celebrity....maybe y'all could talk to the Princess and....well, you know."
"Big Mac!" she said, sounding both surprised and appalled. "Ah could never do that! I mean....that's just...." she said, trying to struggle to find an appropriate word to describe it, but....well, she had already said it. She sighed and hung her head. "....That sounds desperate, Big Mac. Ah just can't fall that far, ah won't go there until we're sellin' land just to break even."
The big red-furred Earth Pony just nodded to his little sister, a foreleg gently looping over the back of Applejack's neck, giving her a faint sign of brotherly affection to hopefully reassure her a little better after the look he saw on her face, under the brim of her hat. She was scared. She didn't want to show it, but she was well beyond worried, she had spent far too much time looking at the finances to not be sure of how much trouble they were really in. He sighed and shook his head a few times. "C'mon AJ, ya been frettin' over this long enough fer one night," he said, ushering his sister away from the table, the bags under her eyes sign enough that it was far too late to be dealing with this kind of stress. "Head on into the kitchen, ah got a plate set aside, y'all can heat it up in the microwave, git some food in ya an' get some sleep. G'wan, no more o' this," he said, gently nudging her with his head and powerful neck out of the room.
Applejack grumbled and got to her feet, nodding a few times. "Yeah, yeah, ah'm a-goin'. Not much else ah can do anyways from in here. Gotta be somethin'...." he could hear her saying to herself, standing there and watching her leave the room. He gave a worrisome look over towards the papers, he'd already looked over them a while ago and had been hoping his business-savvy sister could figure something out, but....apparently she'd come to the same conclusion he did. He grabbed the plate the other half of AJ's caramel apple had been sitting on and carried it out, heading into the kitchen.