It was always a pleasant surprise to wake up with less of a hangover than one was expecting, and the vial of the world’s greatest creation only made the morning that much better. After downing the contents and waiting a few minutes, Berry was ready to start the process again, though she was slightly disappointed as she read the note.
“Applejack, you’re a lucky mare, being with Silver. Only pony who’s ever treated me like I’m worth something.”
“Mom, that’s not true. I love you lots!” Ruby affirmed, heaving a yawn and crawling out of bed. They both gave a start as the sounds of construction, and the necessary shouting that accompanied it, started bright and early.
“I know, sweetie, I wasn’t meaning to say you didn’t.” She paused as the noise grew louder, quickly coming to the conclusion that she would employ enough self control in the future to at least make it home for the duration of the construction phase, as waking to hammers pounding outside her head would only augment the ones inside. “Come on, let’s sneak something to eat and get you to school.” Ruby dashed ahead down the stairs, and Berry had just made it to the bottom when Ruby walked back to meet her with a confused look upon her face.
“Mom, the pantry is snoring.” Berry tilted her head to the side and indeed hear a muffled sound, leading her to enter and crack open the pantry door. Lemon, apparently finding it too much work to head home for whatever reason, had found the flour sacks in the back to be every bit as comfortable as any bed, though he was now dusted with white powder.
There it is, that feeling of nervousness. Why do I feel so strange around him? Could it be... that I’m possibly... “Hey, Lemon, wake up,” she said quietly, shaking him gently. “Why aren’t you at home?”
“As grateful as I am that Cerulean has been letting me stay, after the first night I decided that, unless I absolutely need to, I would sleep here. Somehow, not even a noise canceling spell can contain their... passion, for one another,” he said with a grimace, sitting up and sneezing as the flour invaded his nostrils.
“Well... if you wanted, you could stay at my house, if you’d like.” Lemon had only a split second to convey his shock at the statement before another sneeze bid him rise, dusting himself off and exiting into the kitchen.
“As much as I appreciate the offer, I’m afraid I must decline. I couldn’t possibly...”
“It’s really no trouble, right Ruby?”
“That’s right! With you there, it just means I get to sleep with mommy every night!”
Must be a Ponyville thing, letting people into their homes so freely. Still, there’s just no way I could allow that. “I really appreciate the offer, but I can’t accept. I can, however, make you both breakfast if you’d like?”
“S-sure, I guess that’d be... nice,” Berry mumbled, walking out and sitting at one of the nearby tables. Maybe I’m just getting my hopes up...
“Don’t worry, mommy. It’s gonna be a-ok!” Ruby declared, hopping up next to her mother and giving her a hug. “Oh, I know, how about some cider while you wait?”
“Thank you, Ruby, but I’m alright for now,” she declined, draping a hoof around the filly’s body and pulling her close. I really would be lost without you, Ruby. Thank you.
“What are those awful noises coming from the tavern?” Scootaloo asked, resisting the urge to cover her ears.
“What, you ‘aven’t heard? Silver’s remodelin’ the place, addin’ new stuff to it,” Applebloom explained, having caught some information in passing from Applejack that morning.
“I wonder what kinds of things he’s going to add?” Sweetie Belle pondered, since it was already the best place ever.
“Ah don’t know all the details, but ah heard somethin’ ‘bout karaoke.”
“Hey, Sweetie Belle, you should totally give it a shot!”
“Are you kidding? The both of you put together couldn’t stop me from trying!” Sharing a mischievous grin, the two immediately tackled her to the ground, and were moments later laying flat on their backs, quite surprised and slightly dazed that Sweetie Belle had such strength.
“Ouch, take it easy there, Sweetie Belle.”
“Nopony gets in between me and a mic, thank you.”
“Now don’t go getting all prissy just because you got your Cutie Mark first.”
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to sound like that,” Sweetie Belle replied, helping them both upright and giving them an apologetic embrace. “Don’t worry, I bet you’ll find yours real soon.”
“Ah sure hope so. Hey, ah know, let’s go take a peek at the construction!”
“Since when have you been so excited about construction?” Scootaloo’s inquiry was met with an eye roll accompanied by an eager explanation.
“Don’t y’all remember when ah fixed up the clubhouse? Ah didn’t think much of it, but it was right fun. Plannin’ it out so the house didn’t fall outta the tree, buildin’ it right, and paintin’! Now, paintin’ is fun.” The trio deviated from their usual course towards school and walked around to the back of the tavern where a new lab was being built and the cellar expanded. The construction team was dedicated and skilled, and the progress was already starting to show, having laid the foundation and beginning to work on erecting the frame. Applebloom was strangely bothered by the proceedings, and her two friends shot each other confused glances as she trotted over to the forecolt. “Excuse me, ah know this is gonna sound strange, but can ah see the plans fer what yer buildin’?”
“I don’t see any harm in it. Here’s the blueprints for the lab, which is what we’re working on right...”
“Wait just a minute, here. These are all wrong. Do you got a pencil?”
“Listen, little filly, I seriously doubt that...”
“Just hush up and gimme a pencil.” Seeing as how he had copies of the blueprints, he decided to indulge the condemning child’s request, pulling a pencil from his pocket and setting down a slab of wood for her to write on. Now, he’d been in the business a long time, so he was fairly adept at judging what was and was not a good idea. However, his jaw gradually worked its way towards the ground below as she made a furious mess of the blueprint highlighting all the ways in which it could be, and needed to be, improved.
“Ah don’t need fancy mathematics t’ see that this here is dangerous. These supports need to be spaced more evenly, you ain’t got proper ventilation, and... did you get into the dragon liquor designing this here?” she demanded, pointing a hoof at what he couldn’t deny was a glaringly obvious blunder on their part. “Ah like the tavern, so ah’m gonna make sure you do it right. Lemme see the rest.” The stunned stallion wordlessly made his way over to the tavern, grabbing the proposed plans and gulping as he handed them back to Applebloom, who was now joined by her friends.
“Mister, I ain’t tryin’ t’ be rude, but these are a right mess. You see...” and she was off on her tirade, furiously scribbling as everything that may have been hidden to their sight lit up under her discerning gaze. After a good half hour, she gave one last look over everything and handed it back to the forecolt, who regarded her with awe bordering on reverence. After a few moments of blinking and rubbing his eyes to assure him that the changes made were real, he found his voice and shouted to the rest of the workers, eager to explain the alterations made for the better.
“Hey, everypony, stop what you’re doing and get over here!” Applebloom was too busy wondering just how they maintained their jobs to notice the brief flash of light coming from her flank.
“No fair! I thought for sure I was going to get my Cutie Mark next,” Scootaloo pouted, scoring the ground with a hoof.
“What’re you talkin’ ‘bout? Wait, what ‘n tarnation? Please tell me ah’m not dreamin’!” she yelped as she casually glanced at her flank to find that something had indeed appeared. Her enthusiasm soon drowned out her disbelief as she beheld an apple blossom backed by a paintbrush and a hammer, a testament to her skills at improving and beautifying the world around her. “Ah knew ah liked fixin’ things, but it never occured t’ me to try and get a Cutie Mark from it! Ah can’t wait t’ show Applejack!”
“Maybe you should start with her hair. I mean, have you seen her mane lately?” Sweetie Belle asked, recalling Rarity’s rather long discourse on how infuriating it was that she torment her in such a way.
“If mah sister has her hair like that, then she probably has a good reason. Anyhow, we’d best be gettin’ to school. Scootaloo?” They spied their friend off in the distance, slowly making her way towards the classroom, and broke into a gallop to catch up with her. “Cheer up, Scootaloo. Ah’m sure you’ll get yers soon.”
“That’s what everypony keeps telling me, but it hasn’t happened yet! I love speed, I love flying... racing around on my scooter is a blast, but nothing has worked. Maybe I’ll just stay a blank flank forever.”
Six days without brushing one’s mane, especially one as long as Applejack’s, blended beautifully with the added effects of sleeping upon it to create a dense, intricate jungle of knots. Applejack sincerely hoped that Rarity would have mercy on them both and cave as she approached the boutique while simultaneously wishing Silver luck in his experimental endeavours of which he was so fond. The lab had just been finished the prior day, the delay well worth the wait for the improvements that Applebloom had wrought.
“Honestly, t’ think that sister o’ mine could turn the tavern plans around so fast, and that’s t’ say nothin’ o’ what she did around the farm. Whole place looks brand new,” she chuckled, recalling how Applebloom didn’t even bother offering an explanation but immediately got to beautifying the whole estate with dazzling results, though Applejack did draw the line at painting the trees in orchard. Knowing Rarity was likely in the middle of her work, Applejack quietly let herself in and trotted over to where her fashionable friend was hard at work, sewing together a stunning dress of a riveting blue. Applejack’s amusement turned to concern as Rarity removed her glasses and rested her head in her hooves, letting a soft sigh escape and unaware of the mare’s presence. “What’s wrong, sugarcube?” The fact that Rarity did not scream or act surprised spoke much more than such vocalization could have, and impressed upon Applejack once more that there was definitely something going on.
“Applejack, I really... what... in Celestia’s name... have you done to your mane?!?”
“Hey, don’t look at me like that. Ah told you that ah wasn’t touchin’ mah hair until you agreed t’ help. Now, ah’ve been here every day fer dang near a week, an’ ah’m gettin’ mighty tired of havin’ this rat’s nest around,” she chuckled before softening her voice. “Ain’t there any way you could spare some time to hang with one of yer friends? You’ve all but locked yerself in the boutique, an’ ah know it ain’t just fer the order.” She dropped her gaze to the floor, searching for a way to divert the attention away but knowing that any such attempts would be useless. “Come on, Rarity, how often do ah subject mahself t’ beautification?”
“I suppose... I could spare some time to fix your mane.”
“Yeehaw! Now yer talkin’,” Applejack whooped, eliciting a small grin from Rarity who, despite her condition, found Applejack’s sudden interest in her appearance quite amusing.
“Well, I suppose it’s only natural I should reward you for embracing your feminine side. Come, Applejack, I shall draw a bath for the both of us.”
“Uh, bath, sugarcube? Ain’t that gonna be a little tight?” Applejack asked as Rarity led them away from the sales area and back towards her room. Turning the corner and opening the bathroom door revealed a jacuzzi on par with something at the Ponyville Spa and Massage.
“My recent success in slightly... unsavory fashions has been fairly lucrative, so I allowed myself a minor indulgence. What do you think?”
“Uh, it’s... uh...”
“Amazing, I know!” she squealed, turning on the water which filled a good deal faster than Applejack had imagined it would.
Amazin’, huh? Ah guess ah could agree if you have somepony t’ share it with, especially a stallion, but it’d be awful lonely fer just one pony. Ah wonder if Silver could put one of these in back of... no, can’t be thinkin’ like that, gotta stay focused on Rarity. Still, ah wonder what he’s up to?
Silver was, at that moment, taking a moment to stare in awe at the newly built laboratory for his experiments. It was everything he could have hoped for, with plenty of space and airflow, and cupboards with which to store his alchemical reagents. The lab equipment was top notch, arranged neatly on the center table with heating pads and vials just begging to receive their first use. Who was he to resist? After unloading his ingredients and categorizing them where he would have easy access, he grabbed some empty barrels from the newly remodeled cellar and got right to work, going over his mental checklist of ideas, absentmindedly running a hoof over the gleaming new still installed towards the back wall alongside the juice press. Knowing time was of the essence with Zap Apples, he had immediately put the still to use, using Applejack’s notes on the magical fruit to create what he hoped was the best moonshine yet.
Specialty drinks took time and effort, two things that he was more than willing to put forth. However, for the sake of menu expansion, he decided on brewing a couple of less adventurous drinks to tickle the palette: a few variations of mead, apple and cherry cider, and a few types of soda for the little ones. Due to Applebloom’s additions to the original plans, the construction on the main building would like take a few more days at least, for which he was grateful. More time meant higher quality, and higher quality meant better business. It also meant a happier Berry, who had been strangely calm, bordering on eerily quiet as of late. If anything could cheer her up, it was some new and exciting path into dissipation.
The apple and cherry blend was a simple task, seeing that he had only mix a few iterations to get the proper ratio of cherry to apple juice. Since the cherries were acquired at such a bargain, he had ended up with a surplus, and after forcibly fermenting a cup of straight cherry juice, one sip was all he needed to know it would have its takers, filling two barrels and adding the appropriate additives before starting the alchemical fermentation. Chocolate mead, however, was a much more trying task. Mead could be prepared various ways, much like any other form of alcohol, but given that the base was water and honey, the result was typically on the sweeter side. Cocoa, by itself, isn’t all that sweet, and the first iteration created an incredibly dark, unpleasantly bitter product. Searching through the cupboards, he pulled out a jar of honey and mixed a little in before taking another sip at the trial run. Better, but it needed more. Honey went a long way, but in the end, the mixed ended up needing two jars of honey to one barrel of mead, making it an expensive drink to create. Still, if it was popular enough, it would pay for itself and then some.
Silver had loved soda since he was a foal, so creating them was nostalgic, gratifying, and tempting to over-indulge at the same time. Aside from the basic fruit flavors, he proceeded to create a maple-ginger soda, and even a butterscotch that was just barely within acceptable sweetness limits; the type of thing he could see Pinkie Pie downing a barrel of in the time it took for him to pour a cup for another customer. This in turn led to him creating a liquor form, as well as some fruit flavors, which he set aside for use as ingredients rather than something to be drank straight, though they would be available upon request. It was well into the afternoon by the time he finally got around to getting to indulge his true passion.
Pulling out his sparse notes from the short amount of time he had spent trying to concoct the fire imbued cinnamon-cherry schnapps, he set up his beakers, inscribed the proper symbols, and went set about his careful analysis of the perfect combination of cinnamon, cherry juice, and silver powder - something usually associated or aligned with fire, as far as alchemy is concerned. An hour went by before he felt he had enough information to augment cherry cider into something more exciting, and his pulse rose with the heat of the concoction as he brought it to the desired temperature, gave one last glance at his notes, and tipped his horn to the glass, activating the runes and hoping for the best.
Showers were something that anypony with a sense of touch could enjoy, but a lavish jacuzzi with jets were a luxury nopony could experience without leaving anything other than relaxed and satisfied with their time well spent. Applejack indulged Rarity’s idle banter, even as she made it painfully obvious that she was avoiding any idea of serious conversation, as much for the comfort of the bath as for the relaxation it seemed to be bringing the overworked, mentally overtaxed unicorn.
“Alright, ah think ah’m ready t’ get out now. Gonna look like ah’m made o’ prunes if ah stay in any longer,” Applejack chuckled, pulling out a hoof and staring at the wrinkles.
“Oh dear, I quite lost track of the time. We really should hurry out if we are to have time for your, eh, mane.” Drying off, they made their way to her opulently large, ornately framed mirror, where she was sat down in a most comfortable chair. “Now, this may hurt a little, getting all these knots out. Well, actually, it’s going to hurt a lot. Are you ready?”
“Well, if we have time, ah would like it if you could do mah hair up like it was for Shining Armor’s weddin’. Ah’d sure like t’ see Silver’s reaction to it.”
“Yes, of course... I’ll see what I can do.” Rarity’s reply sounded cheerful enough, but there was an undertone of sadness that hadn’t been there until the wedding was mentioned. Applejack prepared herself to delve into the subject when she felt the brush descend into her hair and proceed to not move an inch when tugged, ensnared in a sea of roots. Several more attempts revealed that this endeavour was going to take until just around the turn of the year, were they lucky.
Having sated his mind-consuming hunger for pie, Soarin’ joined Spitfire beside Rainbow Dash and Storm, together making their way towards the still unfinished tavern. Dash was confident that, open or not, Silver would be kind enough to allow her friends to sample some of his creations, though slipping them some full strength Shockberry Wine was at the top of her priority list, as she eagerly wove a mouthwatering tale about the substance.
“Dash, I can see Storm enjoying something like that, but I find it hard to believe that something along those lines even exists, and that’s to say nothing of safety.”
“Yeah, and you’re the safest, most well behaved pegasus ever, Spitfire.”
“I rather like her wings uncharred, thank you,” Soarin chimed in, still savoring the taste of the most delectable form of pastry in all Equestria.
“Don’t think for a second that I’m going to back down on trying it, Soain.” It was but a short flight from Sugarcube Corner to Starfall Tavern, and the din of construction made their shouts to locate Silver all but useless. Since his room was the only place that wasn’t in a state of disarray, Storm tried there first, but he was not to be found.
“Let’s try the lab. Who knows, maybe he’s in the middle of whipping up something crazy that we can be the first to try.”
“Oh man, that’d be too awesome! Come on, let’s go!” Dash exclaimed, trotting out the door and leading the way until a rather loud explosion blew the windows from the lab and bid them stop in their tracks. Faint cursing could be heard within, and after a few seconds Silver emerged, horn ablaze and frantically looking for a source of water, since the connection to the lab was tied to the main building and thus inoperable in light of the construction.
“Rainbow Dash, grab a cloud or something! Quick, before it spread to my mane!” She wasted no time answering Silver’s frantic cries, disappearing from his vision as she took off in a hurry, and soon he was pleasantly drenched in a chilling cascade of water. The burns themselves weren’t all that bad, and would likely heal in a few days, but Silver was entirely unconcerned by this; Applejack was going to have a fit.
“Whatever drink you were just testing, I don’t want any. Contrary to my name, I don’t think I would enjoy being fully ablaze,” Spitfire chuckled as she approached with the rest.
“Believe me, the finished product will be much safer,” he asserted, tenderly touching his horn and wincing. “It’s just a lot harder than I imagined to remove the volatility from the fire element while keeping the heat without igniting the drink.”
“I dunno, I’m gonna side with Spitfire on this one. She’s plenty hot without being set on fire,” Soarin chortled.
“Yeah, she is,” Dash affirmed.
“Uh, wait, what?” Storm’s confusion was shared by Soarin while the two mares had a good laugh. “Anyways... Silver, we were wondering if you could possibly let Soarin and Spitfire sample some of your drinks. The non-flammable kind, if possible.”
“Let me get the lab cleaned up. To call it a ‘mess’ wouldn’t do it justice at this point. And it looked so nice, too...”
Two hours of unimaginable frustration had finally yielded acceptable results, Applejack’s mane once again able to be brushed without yanking at the roots. She was pretty sure that Rarity was at her wits end, as she had continued to comb Applejack’s mane well after the knots were gone, repeating the motion as if it were an automated response. She blinked rapidly a few times, yanked back to reality as Applejack stuck her hoof back and halted the brush, holding it in place.
“Rarity, what’s goin’ on?” There was no verbal reply, the brush simply relocated to where her hoof wasn’t and continued its top to bottom path without deviation. “Rarity, ah asked you a...” She stopped mid sentence as she stood and turned to face the mare, only to find a small trickle of tears running from her eyes. They weren’t the dramatized, acted tears for when she was making a scene; they were real, and it was frightening to behold. There was a resounding clatter in the silence as the magic holding the brush aloft faded, dropping it to the floor.
“Ever since... I was a little filly, I dreamed about falling in love. I was almost as obsessed with it as I am now with fashion. I knew what I wanted, and refused to settle for anything less than perfect. Oh, how I’ve longed to be held by a stallion, to feel the flames of passion burning within...” She paused, attempting to regain some composure as her voice cracked. “First Twilight, who hadn’t even cared about making friends until a few years ago, and then Rainbow Dash, who simply wanted to fly with the Wonderbolts. And even you now, Applejack, have found somepony to fill that void. So tell... tell me, when will I... I find...” Applejack felt her go limp and eased them both down as her silent cries became audible, but still quite soft. “I’ve tried... so hard to become the perfect lady, so that when I do find somepony, I can make them the happiest I can. But nopony... well, nopony eligible, will even give me a second glance.”
Ah can still remember how sore ah was, not havin’ anypony ‘round the time Rainbow Dash met Storm. Ah had only been wantin’ somepony fer less than a year by that time, an’ it was hard. Rarity’s been waitin’ her whole life, nearly. Ah can’t... imagine what that feels like, and to have everypony around her hookin’ up...
“Do you... want to know why I am so... frustrated with Cerulean and Twilight?” she whispered, clinging to Applejack a little tighter. “It’s because I’m frustrated.”
“Uh, beggin’ yer pardon, Rarity, but that didn’t make anysense.”
My goodness, must I really spell it out for her? I feel so vile simply saying it. “I crave intimacy, Applejack.” Rarity allowed a small sigh of relief that she wouldn’t have to elaborate further as the comprehension kicked in, bringing with it a slight blush to them both. “The truth is, I’ve... wanted that for a long time too. I do everything I can to keep it out of my mind, as it is not befitting a lady, but those two more than anypony... everything is suggestive with them.”
“Rarity, ah think you’re only seein’ one side o’ things with those two. Ah think it’d help a lot if you’d just try talkin’ to ‘em plainly. Cerulean ain’t that bad, and neither is Storm.”
“Applejack, I don’t... think they’re bad in the slightest. It’s just... I can’t be around them without wanting to bed the nearest stallion, or even mare. I’ve been... so desperate. I hate this, Applejack. I don’t want to want this, but I do. And it’s only getting harder...” Applejack was trying to formulate a response when Rarity’s hollow, broken voice revealed beyond a doubt the depth of her pent up sorrow. “I... want to give up on my dream, Applejack. I can’t do this any more.”