"So, um, Rarity?" Fluttershy asked, even quieter than usual, "how long have you and Applejack been dating?"
"UWWAAAAH!?" Rarity's voice echoed from the marble walls of the spa as her blue eyes went wide enough to make her cucumber slices fall out of place. Not even the thick layer of designer mud slathered across her face was enough to hide her look of shock and/or horror.
"Oh!" Fluttershy said, sinking lower into the tub. "I'm sorry. Was I not supposed to know? I didn't mean to snoop or gossip or anything. I'm sure you two were just waiting for the right time to tell everypony, and I respect that, and now I'm feeling terrible for asking such an awkward question. I am a terrible pony." Fluttershy sniffled, and wiped at the corner of her eye. "Just pretend I didn't say anything. Please?"
Meanwhile, Aloe and Vera pointedly ignored the sudden outburst as they went about the spa, attending to the various tasks requisite to keeping it running. Towels were fluffed, robes were folded, and so on. They certainly weren't eavesdropping.
Rarity pulled in a deep breath, composing herself. "Fluttershy, darling, don't be scared. I'm not mad at you. I'm merely...puzzled, that's all. I mean, not that Applejack isn't a lovely pony, but...well, honestly! Could you even fathom the likes of her associating with the likes of me? It simply wouldn't work! Wherever did you get such a...unique idea?"
"That makes sense, once you say it like that. I'm sure it's just a, um, misunderstanding." Fluttershy murmured, "I mean, I know there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why you sometimes go out to Applejack's farm and then come back with sawdust and straw in your mane and then the both of you pretend like it never happened."
"Oh." Rarity's tone went flat. "That. Well, I assure you, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation--"
"I believe you!" Fluttershy said, with no small amount of desperation, "I wouldn't have even thought about the possibility of the thing until I heard you and Applejack went out to dinner the same night that Rainbow Dash broke up with Twilight Sparkle and made such a big deal out of it. I and I'm sure I don't even know the full story. I mean, I didn't even know Rainbow and Twilight were a thing, and then they broke up! Shows how much I know. I just thought I'd, um, ask, this time, before I find out when you guys have broken up. Oh, I'm so sorry for being too nosy!" The yellow pegasus hid her face in her hooves.
"No, Fluttershy." Rarity said, tilting her nose upwards at a regal angle. "It's . . . understandable. In fact, I'm glad you asked me that question."
"You are?" Fluttershy opened one eye.
"Of course!" Rarity said, "you've taken the wool from my eyes. Or, well, the cucumbers, in this case, but you get the point. It's all falling into place, once you lay it out like that. As, under certain circumstances, I now can see how one might assume that Applejack and I are...involved. Which, I might add, we are not, contrary to gossip and conjecture."
"Okay." Fluttershy said. She looked over her shoulder warily, in case somepony had overheard her. They hadn't, but this didn't stop the pegasus from speaking quieter anyway. "Does Applejack know that?"
"What?" Rarity sputtered, "of course she does! I mean, she and I are...close, yes, but no closer than anypony else in our circle of friends. Or, well, perhaps slightly closer than anypony else in our circle of friends, but that's only because she keeps coming back to me for matters of feminine advice, which I am more than happy to help her with, because I am such a good friend. Just a good friend. Really. Nothing more."
"Um. Okay." Were she able, Fluttershy would've shrunk to the size of a dormouse by this point. "I guess it's a lucky thing I asked you instead of Applejack. She wouldn't be nearly as, um, nice about it. I think. Maybe."
"You're right, Fluttershy. Applejack's lovely company, but she's a tad uncouth. Really, it'd be entirely too easy for her to misinterpret your questions as..." Rarity trailed off for a moment. "Or, come to think of it, Applejack would be the sort to make all sorts of misinterpretations." Rarity continued to think aloud, speaking louder and faster as she went on. "And furthermore, it wouldn't be unheard of for poor Applejack to be taken with my genteel manners and dazzling style and cultivated beauty and perhaps even my refined sense of humility and..." Rarity trailed off, the gears turning within her lovely head. "Fluttershy, I fear you may have a point."
"You do!" Rarity said, and pushed a lock of blue hair back under her towel. "In fact, you're perhaps too right. As...well, given the circumstances, I can now see how things might look like from another angle. Which means...well, I've been remiss, in that I've been leading Applejack on, albeit unknowingly."
"I have! It's a curse, really, to be as beautiful and refined and charming as I am. Applejack has no doubt fallen to my feminine wiles, without me even so much as trying. This happens to me sometimes."
"It does! And I feel terrible about it! But, I fear, there's only one way to remedy such a situation." Rarity nodded.
So did Fluttershy.
A long pause fell over the spa. Even Aloe and Vera leaned a little closer to catch the rest of the story.
"Well," Rarity finally said as her impatience got the best of her, "aren't you going to ask me how I'm going to fix this?"
"Oh! Um, right. How are you going to fix this, Rarity?"
"Simple, Fluttershy." Rarity said, and her voice dropped back into a melodramatic tremor. "I've got to break up with Applejack without admitting we were actually dating in the first place."
"Which you weren't?" said Fluttershy.
"Which we weren't." Rarity nodded, curtly. "Now, follow me, Fluttershy." Rarity climbed out of the spa tub, at which point Aloe and Vera materialized next to her with the requisite fluffy towels and robe. "It's going to take a lot of work to do this properly, and I'm going to need your help."
Big MacIntosh deposited the letter on the kitchen table as Applejack munched on her breakfast. "Ya got mail." He said, simply.
Applejack paused, and peered at the pastel pink envelope. It looked entirely out of place against the battered brown planks of the kitchen table. "You sure it's for me?" Applejack said.
"Huh." Applejack looked back down at the letter. "And you sure your-" she paused, then cleared her throat, "your...friend with the post office got the right address?"
"Eeyup." Big Macintosh said. "Got your name on it."
"Huh." Applejack scarfed down the last bite of leftover apple cobbler, and leaned in to look at the letter, even going so far as to poke at it with one hoof. "Welp, guess I'm just used ta gettin' bills n' stuff in the mail. I mean, alla my friends live close 'nuff that they don't need ta send me fancified letters." Applejack paused, and sniffed the envelope, "'specially ones that smell like they've been doused in highfalutin' perfume. Think there mighta been a mixup, n' I jut got the mail for some other pony named Applejack?"
"Mmmnope," the stallion said.
Applejack reached for the letter, and then held her hoof back at the last moment. "And...you're not even gonna ask who might be sendin' your little sister fancified stationary?"
"You gotta be the least protective big brother ever." Applejack said.
"Or maybe I just figure you can handle yourself." Big MacIntosh trotted out of the kitchen before Applejack could get the final word in. "Ain't none of my business anyway."
The blonde cowpony glared after her departing brother, and then looked back to the letter that'd sparked the conversation in the first place. She flipped it over with a flick of her hoof and looked to the return address in the corner.
Applejack let out a slightly relieved laugh as soon as she saw her friend's address. Of course Rarity sent it! The unicorn must have been having some sort of hoity-toity, fancy-pants event (possibly with Hoity Toity or Fancy Pants in attendance). It would've been easier if Rarity had just told her, of course, but there was probably some rule of etiquette about sending out written invitations, Applejack decided. She smiled, ripped the envelope open, and looked over the letter within eagerly.
I must speak with you. Meet me at the Westpoint Overlook at sunset.
"Well, that ain't very specific." Applejack said to herself.
"What ain't?" Applebloom's head popped up over the edge of the table.
"Fancy letter here." Applejack said.
"Oh! Oh! Oh! Lookit!" Applebloom put her front hooves on the table and leaned over, knocking over the salt and pepper shakers as she got a better look at the envelope. "Somepony's sent you a love letter!" Applebloom gloated over this for a moment, and then made a face. "Gross!"
"It ain't a love letter." Applejack grumbled.
"Sure looks like one! It's all pink and flowery n' there's a heart on it!"
"Applebloom, we live in Ponyville. Everythin's pink n' flowery n' gots hearts on it."
"Oh yeah." The little filly scratched at her head. "Still, who's it from?"
"'Rarity. Which is how ya know it ain't a love letter. She's prolly workin' on some big project, n' wants everypony there to see it once it's finished."
"Neat! Can I go?"
"Nope." Applejack said.
"Aaaw, why not?"
"Ya didn't get an invitation."
"Hey, I'll tell ya all 'bout it when I come back. Betcha it's gonna be pretty borin' anyway. I'm just glad it ain't 'til sundown. I got lotsa chores ta work on, and plenty of time ta do 'em."
"Hurry, Fluttershy! We don't have nearly enough time!"
"I'm trying!" The pegasus huffed, and started beating her wings even harder as she shoved a large, puffy cloud across the sky.
"A little to the left!" Rarity said, craning her head to look up at her pegasus friend. "Wait, no, that's too far left. More to the right...ah, perfect!" Rarity eyed the sky with an artist's trained gaze. "Now, let's move on to the next one!"
"Um." Fluttershy panted and wiped sweat from her forehead. "Not that I'm not happy to help, but...if you need all these clouds moved around, maybe we should get Rainbow Dash? 'cause, y'know, that's kind of her job."
"Oh, I wouldn't think of it!" Rarity said, "I mean, yes, Rainbow Dash is the best flyer in Ponyville, not to mention an expert at weather-wrangling...but she lacks...certain qualities. Subtlety. Tact. I simply couldn't in good conscience entrust her to such a matter when Applejack's delicate emotional state is on the line."
"Did you just call Applejack delicate? I don't think she'd agree with that." Fluttershy said as she went over to another cloud, pushing it slowly into place.
"Well! Of course not! Applejack and I rarely agree on anything. But it's obvious that her bravado and occasionally . . . blunt nature is really just a defensive mechanism she puts up. Why, I imagine that behind all the dropped syllables and incomprehensible country metaphors, there's a really a vulnerable, scared little filly who only wants somepony to hold her and pamper her and love her even when her guard's down." Rarity gave a little sigh at the thought.
"Um. Rarity?" Fluttershy said. "Have you been reading romance novels again?"
The vaguely dreamy expression on Rarity's face fell in an instant. "I fail to see what that has to do with anything." She said, flatly.
"If you say so." Fluttershy murmured, hiding behind a puffy white cloud.
"Now Fluttershy, as much as I love chatting with you, we absolutely must get everything perfectly into place before Applejack arrives! If the setting sunlight doesn't hit those clouds at just the right angle, we won't get that lovely shade of sunset-orange that will match my outfit!"
"Oh yes, I've put together an ensemble just for the occasion. Something a bit billowy for that added dramatic flair. And oh! I've got to get the picnic basket put together. Nothing too fancy, of course. Cucumber sandwiches, a bottle of wine...oh, bother, do you think I should serve a white or a red? The red would be a little easier to serve, since it wouldn't need to be chilled...but you don't think it'd send the wrong message, would you? I made sure to bring both, just in case."
"Wine sends a message?" Fluttershy said.
"Of course! Everything sends a message! Which is why it's vital that we make sure every little detail is in order before Applejack arrives."
"Oh. Um." Fluttershy looked downwards, where, sure enough, an orange pony in a cowboy hat trotted up the road towards Westpoint Overlook. "I think Applejack's arriving right now."
"UWAAAAH!?" Rarity leaned precariously over the edge of the cliff. "She's here!" she said, "Why is she here?"
"Um. Didn't you invite her?"
"I know that, but she's early! Why is she early? Oh no, it's worse than I thought! Applejack has become so infatuated with me that she shall seize upon any opportunity to spend time with me!"
"Or maybe she just wanted to be polite."
"Applejack, polite? Well...it's possible, in a country matters sort of way, but...augh, there's too much to do!" Rarity levitated a forest-green cloak from within her saddlebags and threw it around her shoulders. She fussed with the catch slightly, and frowned. "Hmf. Should have brought a mirror." She sighed, and looked to her makeup kit. "...or a bigger mirror, at least. How do I look, Fluttershy?"
"Only . . . nice?" The corner of Rarity's eye twitched.
"Well. Uh. More than nice? I mean, you always look very pretty and refined and poised, and today isn't any exception?" Fluttershy managed.
"Oh no!" Rarity said, hiding her face in her hooves, "that makes it even worse! As once she gets sight of me, Applejack's sure to-"
"-sure to what?" Applejack said, trotting around the corner.
Rarity went pale (or, paler than usual) and slowly turned around. "Sure to...talk to me." Rarity said, biting briefly at her lower lip. "Or...well, talk at me. And you're probably going to say something about how you don't understand how I could spend so much time on looking as good as I do, and probably mention I need to get more dirt under my hooves or...something." She trailed off.
"Welp," Applejack said, flatly, "hate ta dissapoint, but I think ya look kinda purdy right now, so there. Quit yer fussin'."
Rarity gasped, faintly. She immediately shared a horrified look with Fluttershy, and mouthed the words: 'it's worse than I thought.'
"So, where's everypony else?" Applejack said, glancing around, "or didja just invite me n' Fluttershy?"
"Ah. Yes. That." Rarity looked from one side to the other. "Er. I...did invite the others. Yes! It's just that they couldn't make it. Busy schedules, you know. Twilight studies, Pinkie parties, and Rainbow Dash...does...pegasus stuff." The unicorn trailed off, and looked to Fluttershy for support.
"Oh. Yes." Fluttershy murmured. "Pegasus...stuff. That, um. I have to go do too now. With a bear." And, seizing upon the opportunity to escape, Fluttershy bolted off with the sort of wingpower that would've impressed a Wonderbolt.
"Huh." Applejack pushed her hat back, "Guess it's just you n' me, Rarity. Go figure!" She smiled, and leaned over to nudge the unicorn playfully. "But I'm warnin' you, don't try any funny buisness."
"Funny business?" Rarity said. She fought down the urge to blush. "Whatever do you mean by that?"
"I dunno. You're the one who invited me!" Applejack said, "I mean, I thought you were gonna truss me up in some sorta fru-fru ballgown or somethin'. Dunno why you'd do it all the way out here, though. Then again, I ain't all refined n' ladylike like you are."
Rarity bit at her lower lip, and breathed in deeply. Honesty, she realized, that was the way to go. "Applejack," said the unicorn, "I didn't invite you out here for anything relating to fashion."
"Shoot! That's a relief!" Applejack laughed. "So why did ya bring me out here?" Applejack looked around for a moment, eagerly, "ya didn't bring a record player or somethin', didja?"
"I didn't invite you out here for a dance lesson, either." Rarity said.
"Aw." Applejack tried (and failed) not to look disappointed. "So, uh. What're we doin' all the way out here?"
"Because..." Rarity shook her head, and soon found a distraction in her picnic basket. "Oh! Applejack, it's a long walk from your farm, isn't it? You must be parched! Here, have a drink." Rarity levitated the bottle of red wine from the basket, uncorked it, and poured two glasses. Applejack balanced hers carefully between her hooves, and sipped experimentally.
"Huh. Ain't cider, but it'll do." She said, licking her lips.
"In any case," Rarity drained half her glass in a gulp, "I brought you out here to...talk, Applejack."
"Seems a whole lotta effort for conversatin'. Why didn't ya just swing by the farm?"
"This...this is more than just idle chitchat, darling." Rarity drained her glass, then poured herself another. "It's...well..." she pulled in a deep, steadying breath. "I...well, we just need to talk."
"Ya said that part already."
"It's more than that. It's...well, we need to talk. About Us." Rarity pronounced the strategic capitalization.
"Us?" Applejack blinked. "Like, me n' you n' Fluttershy n' Rainbow Dash n' everypony else?"
"Not quite. Just...us. Specifically, you and I." Rarity closed her eyes, then tilted her chin up higher. She threw her cloak back in what she hoped was an appropriately dramatic manner.
"Wait, why we gotta talk 'bout me 'n you specific-like?"
"Oh, darling." Rarity turned, fluttering her eyes dangerously at Applejack, hard enough to make even the rough and tumble cowpony take a step back. "Haven't you been paying attention? Haven't you...noticed, anything?"
Rarity sighed, with no small degree of melodrama. "Please, Applejack. You may be...straightforward, but I know you're not dumb. As, well...over the past few months, I realize we've spent a bit of time together. Maybe not a LOT of time, but it's certainly noteworthy, nonetheless. Noteworthy enough that, well, one might assume that certain...feelings were coming into play, however subtly." Rarity closed her eyes again. "And, after long deliberation, I realized that it just wasn't fair to either of us if I were to allow things to go on their present course. Something must be done."
"What...kinda feelings?" Applejack said, warily. Even still, her freckled cheeks began to go slightly pink. "Shoot, Rarity, you ain't been readin' them romance novels again, have you?"
"I fail to see what that has to do with anything." Rarity said, narrowing her eyes ever so briefly.
"Iffin' you say so." Applejack scratched at the back of her neck, nervous. "Hoo-ee. Feelin's, huh? Ya brought me all this way to talk 'bout that, so I guess it's important."
"Well, yes. It is important. To keep such emotions bottled up so long can't be healthy."
"Ya think so?"
"Well, shoot." Applejack pulled in a deep breath, and then stepped closer to Rarity. Very closer. "Well, uh. I ain't really used to this sorta thing, so...uh...I don't wanna go 'round complicatin' things, y'know?"
"Yes, complications tend to be...complicated." Rarity took a step back, and then a half step forward. "Which...is why we've got to take decisive action, here and now, to ensure that things don't get out of hoof. You understand, don't you?"
"I think I do." Applejack said. "I'm pretty good at actin' decisive-like." Before Rarity could reply, Applejack leaned forward, puckering her lips to deliver a chaste, almost childish smooch onto the corner of the elegant unicorn's mouth.
"Eheh. Too much?" Applejack backed up, her cheeks flushing bright red. "Uh. Didn't mean ta get...fresh. Sorry! But, uh. Iffin' it helps, I...kinda feel the same way, Rarity. Maybe." Applejack cleared her throat, loudly. "Tell ya what, this...this is a lotta stuff, y'know? Why don't the two of us just, um...think 'bout it, y'know? You're a unicorn, you're good at thinkin', right?"
"Right!" Applejack said, and then took off down the road. "Seeya later, Rarity!" The cowpony stopped after a few steps, and looked over her shoulder. "Or, uh. Should I call ya somethin' special? Like, um. Baby? Honey? Sugarcube?"
"Sugarcube is...fine?" Rarity said, as if the very words she spoke were alien to her.
"Sugarcube it is!" Applejack said with no small amount of elation. "Only...shoot, I call everypony sugarcube. Huh." She shrugged. "I'll just figure that part out later. Sugarcube." She winked knowingly at Rarity, and then trotted back down the path.
Rarity stood for several long minutes, watching Applejack's exit (and not for the obviously crass reasons, either).
Eventually, Fluttershy poked her head out of the cloud she'd been hiding in. "Um. Rarity? Are you and Applejack broken up yet?"
Very slowly, Rarity turned her glare upon the yellow pegasus.
"Oh. Um. I'll take that as a no?"
"I just don't know what went wrong!" Rarity rubbed at her face, and looked down the path. Applejack was long gone, but she remained wary, in case the cowpony were to make a sudden return.
"Um." Fluttershy said, looking off down the path as well, "maybe you were just a teensy bit . . . indirect?"
"That's the whole point! There's no elegance, no style in just saying 'oh, by the way, we probably shouldn't date even though you're a lovely pony.' Why, Applejack would be absolutely heartbroken!"
"I think she's a little tougher than that."
"But can we take such a risk? Why, if what if I say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and do so much emotional damage that Applejack is never able to truly love again? I simply couldn't live with myself afterwards!"
"Are you sure it's that, um, serious?"
"Fluttershy, I am always serious."
"Oh. Um. Okay."
"Now." Rarity shook her mane and tilted her nose upwards in a refined gesture. "This is only a...minor, setback. After all, it shouldn't be hard at all to get ahold of Applejack and explain the situation before things get more...complicated. Really, it shouldn't be hard, I imagine. It's just a matter of damage control. The key is to nip this in the bud before Applejack tells anypony."
"Hey Rainbow Dash! Guess what! I gots me a girlfriend!" Applejack called across the somewhat busy diner. She'd decided to pop in for a bite (romance made her hungry, for whatever reason) and was pleasantly surprised to see her good friend there.
The pegasus looked up from her plate of alfalfa nachos. "Wait. What?"
"You heard me." Applejack tilted her hat upward, and smiled up at the pegasus. "Don't mean to brag or nothin', 's just I gotta tell somepony, n' you're right here, n'...well, you get the idea, right?"
"So, uh, wait." Rainbow Dash wiped some cheese from the corner of her mouth. "You like girls now?"
"Nope." Applejack said, "I like a girl. 'n she likes me. Kinda. Sorta. I think. But it's still pretty neat!"
"No kidding!" Rainbow Dash said, "so, who's the lucky mare? Anypony I know?"
"Maaaaaybe." Applejack smiled, more than a little smug.
Rainbow Dash stared at Applejack. "Well?"
"Aw shoot, fine. Ya got it outta me. Me n' Rarity are . . . " Applejack trailed off. "Uh. Well, I ain't sure what to call it, but somethin's happenin'. I think. Maybe."
"Go fig." Rainbow Dash said. "Good for you, I guess." She tilted her head, peering carefully at Applejack for a moment. "So what happens next?"
"Whaddya mean?" Applejack squinted up at the pegasus.
"Well, it's none of my business, but aren't relationships a lot of work? Kind of why I don't bother, myself."
"You sayin' I'm lazy?"
"Psh, no." Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, "but it's, like, different. Not like bucking apples, but...I dunno, feelings and stuff." Rainbow Dash glided smoothly to the ground in front of Applejack. "Like, Rarity's pretty great and all, but doesn't she strike you as a little...high maintenance? She's gonna expect you to...like, do stuff. Romantic stuff."
"Really?" Applejack said.
"Totally. Haven't you been paying attention? Rarity makes a big deal out of everything. And that's just the normal stuff. If you two are dating, you're gonna have to do something super impressive."
"That...makes sense." Applejack said, her eyes going wide. "Aw heck, I hadn't planned that far ahead! Shoot, now what do I do? I ain't never had a girlfriend before." Applejack paused, and then bit at her lower lip. "I guess I gotta do somethin' all romantical."
"Psh, don't worry, Applejack. I got you covered. They don't call me Cloudsdale's best wingmare just 'cause I've got the best, um, wings."
"They totally don't! Even though I do! Have the best wings, that is." Rainbow Dash flapped the aforementioned wings, and beamed. "Seriously, I got this covered. You've just gotta do something big and flashy and romantic-like, and then Rarity's gonna totally want to jump your bones."
"You saying you don't want her to do that?"
"I ain't sayin' nothin' 'bout that!"
"Psh, fiiiiiine." Rainbow Dash said. "Still, you want my help, or not?"
"What if I say no?"
"Then I'm going to help you anyway, and it's gonna be even more awesome. Like, ninja matchmaker! Oh man, can you say no, and that way I can do that? It'll be rad."
"Aw heck, iffin' ya put it that way, I'd rather keep my eyes on ya. But no funny buisness, ya hear?"
"Fine, fine. I'll leave it up to you to seal the deal."
"What's that even mean?"
"I'm....not exactly sure. Oh, hey look, there's Rarity right now!" Rainbow Dash pointed to the door.
Sure enough, Rarity trotted into the restaurant, speaking over her shoulder as she did so. "In any case, a situation such as this one is bound to keep me awake awhile. And there's no sense in going into an all nighter without the proper provision- Ah!" She stopped speaking as soon as she saw her friends on the other side of the room. "I mean, Ah-pplejack! Such a surprise to see you here. So soon. Tonight. Ahem."
"Um." Fluttershy peeked out from behind Rarity's shoulder. "I would've told you I saw them earlier, but I didn't want to interrupt you."
"Oh. That's...quite alright." Rarity said, "I...do tend to go on, don't I? Regardless, there's no reason why I shouldn't be happy to see some of my best friends, no?"
"Good ta see ya too, Rarity." Applejack said. Her cheeks began to color.
"Oh hey, look at the time!" Rainbow Dash said, "I mean, I already ate- and I'd love to stick around, but I've gotta run. And Fluttershy's gotta go with me. Pegasus stuff, you know." She winked conspiratorially at Fluttershy.
"With a bear?" said Applejack.
"Totally!" Rainbow Dash beamed. "But, oh, I know! You and Rarity can keep each other company while me and Fluttershy are busy!" No sooner were the words out of Rainbow Dash's mouth, she took to the air, scooping Fluttershy up and dragging her from the restaurant in a prismatic blur.
"Ya ever wonder iffin' all that time up in the clouds does somethin' ta a pegasus' brain? Like, lack of oxygen or air pressure or somethin'?" Applejack shrugged.
"Oh!" Rarity hid her giggle behind her hoof. "You know that's not true."
"Maybe. But it'd explain a lot."
"Mmm, yes, I suppose it would." Rarity sighed, "in any case, ah...well, I suppose it's just the two of us then, isn't it?"
"Uh. Yeah. Guess so. Ya hungry?"
Meanwhile, outside, Rainbow Dash peered into a second story window.
"Is this what you meant by pegasus stuff?" Fluttershy asked, timid as ever.
"Nope. That was kind of a lie." Rainbow Dash turned to look at her fellow feathered friend. "But it's totally okay to lie to people if you're going to do something good for them."
"Um. Are you sure about that?"
"Pretty sure, yeah. Besides, Applejack told me the whole story. And I've got it all figured out. It's simple! All we gotta do is make sure the two of them keep talking, and everything's gonna work out just fine!"
"Oh wow, that's actually a really good plan." Fluttershy tried (and failed) not to sound too surprised. Rainbow Dash didn't notice, either way.
"It's not just a good plan. It's an awesome plan, that's what." With a flutter of her wings, Rainbow Dash returned her attention to spying on her ground-bound friends. "Huh," she said, "they're just talking. Here, Fluttershy, take a look."
Sure enough, Applejack and Rarity sat at a corner booth in the diner, talking quietly. Fluttershy perked her ears, straining to hear even a little bit of their conversation, but the distance was too great, and the window too well sealed.
"Okay, I've got a new plan! We've gotta get things moving. And I know just the thing we need- quick, Fluttershy, go find me a pen and paper!"
"But why do you--"
"Quick, there's no time! I'd go myself, but I've gotta keep an eye on things here!" Rainbow Dash shoved Fluttershy off the roof. She squeaked as she tumbled through the air, but managed to beat her wings in time to take to an unsteady hover.
"If you say so," she murmured, and took off.
"Hurry! There's a lot at stake here!" Rainbow Dash yelled at the departing blur of pink and yellow. She smiled, and then returned her attention to the window. "Without our help, Applejack's never gonna get laid."
Thankfully, Fluttershy was already too far away to hear that part.
Meanwhile, a unicorn and an earth pony remained blissfully unaware of Rainbow's scheming as they ate their meal.
"Y'know, I wouldn't reckon you'd fancy a joint like this." Applejack said between mouthfuls of her sandwich.
"Why is that?" Rarity said.
"Well, ain't this place a li'l . . . plain, for you?" The cowpony leaned back in her seat and looked around, almost as if she were embarrassed by the establishment. "I mean, they ain't even got candles on the tables, n' I bet you're gonna complain that we ain't got enough forks or whatever for a proper fancypants dinner."
"Please, Applejack." The corner of Rarity's mouth turned up in a grin. "Do you really think I'm that shallow? Just because I have carefully refined tastes doesn't mean I can't appreciate something a little more down to earth, hm? Besides, this diner's open at all hours, which can be quite useful if I need some quick refreshment right after finishing a project at 4 in the morning."
"No kiddin'? Well, that's good to hear."Applejack smiled, relieved, "it's just that, ah, I wasn't really expectin' to see you here so soon, y'know? Was kinda hopin' I could take ya somewhere nicer. Y'know. For our first date. Eheh." She scratched at the back of her neck and smiled apologetically at Rarity.
"Ah. Yes. That." Rarity said, very carefully, "I'd actually been meaning to talk to you about that." She closed her eyes for a moment, taking time to compose her thoughts. "As, to be honest with you, this isn't a first date--"
"Shoot, you're right!" Applejack said, pounding the table with a hoof. "I mean, there was that time we went ta Cafe Clydesdale, n' Rainbow Dash made a big scene with Twilight for some reason! So this is what, our second date?" She laughed, and pushed her hat back. "Ain't gonna try gettin' fresh with me, are ya?" Applejack winked suggestively at Rarity.
"Ah, no." Rarity sputtered. "That's not exactly what I meant--"
"Aw, don't worry, sugarcube. This whole thing's pretty new to me too." Applejack looked down at the table and her freckled cheeks began to flush. "Why don't we just take it slow for now, kay?"
"Yes. Slowly. Good idea." Rarity said, and took another sip of her coffee. She peered carefully at her blushing friend, and realized that breaking the news to her was going to be even harder than she thought. There'd come a proper time and place to break up with Applejack- just not then and there. All she had to do was get through a perfectly friendly diner dinner without any other . . . complications.
How hard could that be?
"Okay, got it." Fluttershy said, flitting back to the rooftop perch next to Rainbow Dash.
"Perfect!" Rainbow Dash grabbed the pen and paper from Fluttershy, and immediately set to work. "You came just in time! I think Applejack's in trouble, and I know just what she needs!"
Rainbow dash hurriedly scribbled out a few more words, and smiled to herself. "Oh man, this is going to be perfect. All I need to do is get this note to Applejack, and everything's gonna be fine!" She tore the paper from the pad, folded it, up, and looked back down into the diner. "But I'm gonna need your help, Fluttershy."
"Oh, anything to help." Fluttershy said. "So long as it's not, um, scary or anything. Is it scary?"
"Naaah." Rainbow Dash said, and took to the air again. "Now, follow me, and keep quiet! We're going to have to be super sneaky."
"Okay, I'm really good at being quiet," Fluttershy whispered, quieter than usual.
Rainbow Dash nodded, then silently glided down to the back of the restaurant. She nodded over her shoulder at Fluttershy, then crept in through the kitchen door, planting each hoof carefully so she wouldn't make any noise on the tile floors. Rainbow Dash went through another door into a storage room of some kind, to judge by the boxes of dry food piled upon the shelves.
"Alright, perfect." Rainbow Dash said, "now we just need to wait here until a waiter comes in on his break--"
As if on cue, a young colt in a striped apron and matching hat walked in.
"You!" Rainbow Dash pointed at the server. "Take off your pants!"
The waiter's mouth dropped open, quite justifiably. He stared at the two pretty mares for a moment, and finally managed to speak. "This is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me."
"Too slow, get him!" Rainbow Dash yelled, and pounced upon the hapless waiter. Fluttershy just watched in horror as her friend quickly subdued the waiter, relieved him of his uniform, and bound him up with a nearby extension cord.
"Still the greatest thing that's ever happened to me." The waiter said.
"Quiet, you." Rainbow Dash stuffed an apple into the waiter's mouth.
"What....what are you doing?" Fluttershy murmured.
"It's all part of the plan! See, you're gonna wear this outfit as a disguise, and distract Rarity." Rainbow dash smirked, and placed the hat atop Fluttershy's head.
"I don't think that's going to work. They'll recognize me even if I've got a funny hat on."
"I know. That's what the fake moustache is for."
"You have a fake moustache?"
"Well, no." Rainbow Dash said, and looked at a broom laying in the corner. "Which is why I'm gonna make one. C'mon, we don't have much time!"
Applejack, Rarity realized, was actually pleasant company.
Not that she'd ever thought otherwise, of course. Once she'd decided not to dwell too much on the date/not date issue, the evening became a lot easier. It was just two friends, good food, and pleasant conversation.
"Like I said, ya got your work hats, n' ya got your fancy hats." Applejack shook her own hat from her head and put it on the table as a demonstration. "Mine? Mine's a work hat. I don't care iffin' it gets wet or dirty or sweaty or whatever- it can take a beatin'. My pappy gave me this hat when I was just a tiny filly, n' it's held up since then, n' I bet it'll hold up for a long time comin'."
"Makes sense." Rarity leaned in to look at the hat a little more closely. "It's constructed exceedingly well, but the felt's pliable enough that it'll just bend if pressure's applied, instead of tearing or warping."
"'course, there's a lotta folks who just got fancy hats, n' they try ta make like they're wearin' a work hat." Applejack took the hat in her mouth and flipped it back onto her head with practiced ease. "It's kinda insultin', iffin' ya ask me. Ain't honest."
"Ah yes, there's nothing quite as irritating as a poseur. Why, the last time I was at an art gallery opening in Canterlot, I came across an artist who claimed to be one of the leading painters in today's postmodernist movement, when anypony who looked at her work could obviously see it was merely neo-romanticism mixed with a bit of absurdism. Interesting, yes, but hardly revolutionary."
"Uh." Applejack said. "I guess ya had to be there?"
"I suppose so." Rarity said, if a little awkwardly. "I- wait, is that Fluttershy?" Rarity craned her neck up to get a better look across the diner. Sure enough, Fluttershy was trotting over, wrapped up in an ill fitting hat and apron. What was more distracting was the bristly, magnificent moustache taped to her upper lip. "What in the world are you doing, Fluttershy?"
"Maybe it's pegasus stuff." Applejack mused aloud.
"Um. Who's Fluttershy?" the moustachioed 'waiter' said. "I'm not Fluttershy. She doesn't have a moustache. Not that I've ever met her. Because I haven't. Because I'm not Fluttershy. I am just. Uh. A waiter."
"Riiiiiiight." Rarity said, and got to her feet. "Darling, are you feeling alright?"
"Oh. I'm fine. Perfectly fine." Fluttershy's moustache wobbled, and she reached up to hold it back in place. "But. Um. Miss Rarity. You, um, have a phone call in the back." She nodded. "It's for you. Just you. Very important."
Rarity squinted carefully at Fluttershy. "I...see." she said, carefully, and looked over her shoulder. "Applejack, I do hope you won't object if I take a moment to...sort this out."
"'course I won't. Anythin' I can do to help?" She began to stand.
"Not yet, I don't think." Rarity sighed, and shook her head. "But rest assured, if there's anything you can do, I'll be sure to let you know. Go ahead and order another round of coffees. I'm paying."
"Aw heck, I can't letcha do that. You paid for dinner on our last date."
Rarity winced, just a little. "Ah, yes. Well, tell you what, we'll sort it out when the check comes, hm? I'd like to talk to Flutter- er, I'd like to talk to our waiter, first."
"Um. Okay. Time to go. To the phone call. That's important. If it's okay with you." Fluttershy bustled Rarity away from the table and to the back.
"Huh. N' here I always thought Pinkie Pie was the crazy one." Applejack mused.
"Finally!" Rainbow Dash flung herself into the seat Rarity had just vacated. "I thought she'd never leave!"
"Rainbow! What the heck are you doin' here?"
"Helping you out, that's what."
"I don't need your help."
"Hey, don't argue! We don't have much time." Rainbow Dash reached under her wing and tossed the slip of paper onto the table. "When Rarity gets back, read her this."
"What is it?"
"Poetry!" Rainbow Dash couldn't conceal the smugness in her smile. "Girls dig poetry. Or, well, I don't, but I bet Rarity does. So I'm helping you out by writing some love poetry for you! I totally got the idea from Daring Do and the Baron of Bergerac. Just read this to her, and she's gonna be all up ons in no time!"
"Why do I get the feelin' this is a terrible plan?"
"'cause you haven't read the book, that's why! Just read the poem!" Before Applejack could object any further, Rainbow Dash flapped her wings and zipped back out of the diner. "Don't worry! I'm gonna hide out and keep an eye on you guys in case you need help!"
Applejack gingerly unfolded the paper, eyes skimming over the hastily scrawled words.
"Aw hay no."
"Fluttershy," Rarity peeled the fake moustache off of her friend as soon as they walked into the back room. "Tell me what's going on. Now."
"I'm sorry!" Fluttershy squeaked. "It's just that Rainbow Dash told me to distract you so she could talk to Applejack!"
"Why would she want to talk to Applejack? And-" Rarity paused as she saw movement from the corner of her eye. "...did you tie up the waiter?"
"Rainbow Dash did it!" Fluttershy's lower lip quivered, and tears began to form at the corner of her eyes. "She said that she had to give something to Applejack and it'd fix everything!"
"Oh no." Rarity facehooved. "I can only imagine what Rainbow's 'help' will entail. I know she means well, but...Fluttershy, could you do me just a teeeeensy favor?"
"Right. I want you to find Rainbow Dash, and keep her away from me and Applejack for the rest of the night. Can you do that?"
"Good. Now, just let me talk to Applejack, and I'll sort this whole affair out myself." Rarity shook her head, and trotted back into the diner. Hopefully, Fluttershy could keep Rainbow Dash distracted long enough for Rarity to say what she had to say.
She found Applejack where she'd left her- the only new addition to the table was a slip of paper she was staring at with a befuddled expression.
"Everything alright, darling?" Rarity said.
"Sure, just fine." Applejack replied. "Just, uh...just got this here note. From Rainbow Dash. I said it was a stupid idea, but she told me to read it--"
"Well, I suppose the evening couldn't get any stranger. Here, let me see." Rarity levitated the note from in front of Applejack, held it in front of her eyes, and read aloud:
"When it comes to beauty and class,
There's nopony who you don't surpass.
A flick of your mane,
drives me insane.
And I can't take my eyes off your- "
"I told Rainbow Dash I didn't need no poetry! Or, uh, I should have." Applejack blurted before Rarity could finish.
"Well, it's certainly...direct, I'll give it that." Rarity said, laying the note face-down on the table. She sighed, and then sat down in her chair, leaning in to look at Applejack. "So you say Rainbow Dash gave this to you?"
"Mmmhmm." Applejack nodded.
Rarity mulled the information over for just a moment before the epiphany struck her: Rainbow Dash was trying (in her own, reckless way) to seduce Applejack, thus giving the cowpony a reason to end the not-relationship before it even started.
"Gasp!" Rarity said the full word.
"What's wrong?" Applejack said.
"It's all falling into place now." Rarity chose her words carefully. It was bad enough Ponyville's fastest flyer was interfering, but having to explain it to Applejack would make it even more difficult. "I know exactly what she's trying to do. Fluttershy told me the whole story about how Rainbow Dash was going to . . . help. She means well, I suppose. But it's entirely too difficult to get her to change her ways once she's set her mind to something."
"Don't I know it! That there filly's 'bout as stubborn a pony as I ever met."
"Perhaps the...second most stubborn pony I've ever met." Rarity said with a sly smile. "But, that's beside the point. The real issue is that she's going about this all wrong."
"I know, right?" Applejack shook her head. "What happens 'tween you n' me ain't her business, or anypony else's."
"Exactly! I fear this whole thing is getting entirely out of hoof." Rarity looked up, meeting Applejack's gaze. "So, before things get even worse, I'd like to be a little more direct-"
"So would I." Applejack said, nodding. Suddenly, she turned and yelled across the resturant: "Hey, Rainbow Dash, watch this!"
Before Rarity could react, Applejack lunged across the table and pulled her into a passionate embrace. Their lips met in the sort of kiss typically reserved for the covers of tawdry romance novels, if one could look past the napkins and condiments scattered about.
After a momentously long few seconds, Applejack let Rarity go, gasping slightly for breath. Even though her cheeks were flushed red, her lips turned up in a broad, dopey kind of grin.
"Wow." said Rarity. She felt a not-entirely-unpleasant shiver run from the tips of her ears to the end of her tail. "I...wasn't expecting that. Wow."
"Heh. Hope I didn't get too fresh with ya, sugarcube. But, like ya said, direct action. Show off a bit, so somepony gets it into her head that I can fend just fine for myself." Applejack shot a glare in Rainbow Dash's direction, and then returned to smiling down at Rarity.
"Mission accomplished!" Rainbow Dash threw away the menu she'd been hiding behind and pumped a hoof.
"Um." Fluttershy stuck her head out of the break room. "Does that mean I can take off this moustache- oh!" She stared at the little tableau at Applejack and Rarity's table. "This is getting complicated."
"If by complicated, you mean 'sexy awesome,' then yes." Rainbow Dash said.
"But. Um. Rainbow Dash?" Fluttershy scooted up next to the other pegasus and whispered, "How is this supposed to help Rarity break up with Applejack?"
"Why would we want to split them up? I just went through all this trouble to get them together! Writing poetry's not easy, you know!" Rainbow Dash's voice echoed from the walls of the diner.
"What?" Rarity wriggled out of Applejack's embrace, finally regaining her breath. "Fluttershy, is that true? Have you been helping Rainbow Dash all along?"
"I don't know!" Fluttershy hid her face in her hooves.
"Hold up," Applejack said, "this don't make any sense. Why'd Rarity wanna break up with me when we've barely even started gettin' all relationshippy."
"Um. Well." Fluttershy opened one eye, just a little bit, "I think it was because Rarity said that there were a whole bunch of misunderstandings and those have lead to more misunderstandings and then whenever she tried to bring up the subject you just kept on getting more and more, um, interested. At least, um, that's what I've been noticing. I could be wrong. Please don't be mad at me!"
"Don't worry, Fluttershy. Ain't nobody's mad at you." Applejack said. She looked over her shoulder at Rarity and pulled in a deep breath. "But...I just wanna hear it straight from the horse's mouth, 'cuz it sounds like nopony's got the full story here. 'Cept you, maybe. This all true? Were ya really doin' all this ta break up with me?"
Rarity winced. "Well, yes, but-"
"Alright then." Applejack said, and pulled the brim of her hat down. "That's it, then. Wish ya woulda told me before. Coulda saved me a lotta--"
"Stop interrupting me!" Rarity said, frustrated, "that's how we got into this whole mess in the first place! Every time I tried to tell you exactly what was going on, you never let me finish!"
"Ain't my fault every time ya said somethin' ya got all swoony and dramatical!"
"I am not 'swoony' and 'dramatical.' In fact, those aren't even real words!"
"Well, excuse me iffin' I ain't up to your fancypants vocabulizin'. Or maybe I just ain't refined enough for you, issat it?"
"That's not what I said!" Rarity scowled. "Honestly, Applejack, you're making this entirely too difficult."
"Am I? Well, fine!" Applejack spat, "ya wanna make it easy? I'll make it easy. Iffin' you wanted ta break up with me, then all ya had to do is say so." The cowpony breathed in deeply, and then turned her back on Rarity. "Might as well end it now 'fore it gets any more embarassin'." Without waiting for the unicorn's reply, Applejack trotted out of the diner.
"Fine!" Rarity shouted at the closing door. The restaurant remained quiet for a few moments as the few patrons present all turned their attention to Rarity. "What're you all looking at?" she demanded of them, her voice emotional and shrill.
"Um. Rarity? Are you okay?" Fluttershy murmured.
"Absolutely not!" Rarity pounded the table hard enough to splinter the wood. "Can't you see what a delicate emotional state I am in?"
"Eek!" Fluttershy hid behind Rainbow Dash.
"My apologies, Fluttershy." Rarity rubbed at her eyes, where tears of frustration certainly were not beginning to threaten her carefully applied makeup. "It's just this whole evening's gone in a direction I wasn't planning on, and . . . I just don't know what to do next!"
"Need some help?" Rainbow Dash said, "'cause I've got an awesome new plan lined up. All we're going to need is a dozen roses, a whole bunch of rope, and a mandolin."
The corner of Rarity's eye began to twitch as she glared at Rainbow Dash.
"I'll...take that as a no."
Applejack tried not to think about Rarity.
In fact, she tried not to think about much at anything but the task at hoof. By her figure, she'd already wasted too much time with Rarity's fru-fru girlified romantical business, and thus it was high time to do something productive. Applebucking was productive.
It also gave her the opportunity to hit things. Hard.
Applejack's horseshoes left imprints on the bark of the apple tree, and a rain of fruit tumbled downwards. A few apples missed the waiting baskets, or bounced out- it was hard to get the placement just right in the dark. Still, the time she saved by working in the dark could make up for a little bit of lost crop, Applejack figured. She shrugged, and then started pushing the baskets into place beneath the next tree.
"Hey!" Applebloom poked her head out from behind a tree trunk. "Whatcha doin', Applejack?"
"Workin'." Applejack looked up, and squinted at her sister. "How come you're up n' about, anyway? Ain't you s'posed ta be in bed?"
"Uh." Applebloom flinched, caught red-hooved, "I, uh...maybe? But I ain't gonna get much sleep when you're out here makin' a racket!"
"So you are s'posed ta be in bed," said Applejack. "So go on, git!"
"Aaaaw, c'mon!" Applebloom trotted closer to her sister. "How come I can't stay up late? I'll even, y'know, do stuff! Oh! I know! What iffin' I could get a cutie mark for applebuckin', only -NIGHTTIME- applebuckin'? It'd be like an apple and a moon and then I could be best friends with whasserface- Princess Loony! The scary one!"
"Yeah, her!" Applebloom glanced skyward, perhaps wary of bat-winged chariots descending from the sky unexpectedly. Thankfully, none did. "Hey, waitaminute!" The filly continued, sitting down on her haunches as an epiphany struck her young mind. "What iffin' all the stuff me n' Sweetie Belle n' Scootaloo have been doin' has been just at the wrong time? We're gonna have ta do everythin' again when it's dark so we can get our cutie marks for doin' whatever it is we get cutie marks for at night."
"I don't think it works that way, Applebloom." Applejack rubbed at her eyes. "Just go ta bed."
"Aaaaaw. But I can help! What iffin' you're workin' all late n' then ya get hurt n' nopony's around ta help?" Applebloom trotted closer, and squinted her eyes against the evening's darkness. "Shoot! Looks like ya already got hurt! Y'all's all teary eyed like you been cryin'!"
"I ain't cryin'." Applejack nearly growled. "Now go back ta bed."
"Alright, alright!" Applebloom turned and headed back for the farmhouse. "But iffin' you're all sore n' cranky tomorrow mornin' 'cuz nopony's out here ta help ya, don't come cryin' ta me!"
"I told you, I ain't cryin'!" Applejack snapped, and rubbed at the corner of her eye, just in case. She waited a few minutes until Applebloom was back inside the farmhouse, and a few minutes after that to make sure the little filly got bored and wandered back to bed.
Applejack went back to work, and shoved another apple basket into place. She wiped briefly at the corner of her eye, only because she'd gotten some dust in it moments before.
Fluttershy tried not to think about Rainbow Dash.
Or, more accurately, she tried not to think about what Rainbow Dash was doing. Or, at least, what she was trying to do, even if Fluttershy had no idea just what that was.
"Please stop!" Fluttershy squeaked, flying as fast as she could after her friend. She'd been beating her wings so hard that she couldn't feel anything from her shoulderblades to her pinions. Though to her credit, she managed to keep Rainbow Dash in sight, which was more than many other pegasi could attest to.
"What?" Rainbow Dash spiraled around in midair, finally coming to a perch atop a handy cloud. "Why? Something wrong, Fluttershy?"
"Yes!" Fluttershy said, desperately. She swooped onto that same cloud and panted, trembling from the effort it took to even begin to match Rainbow Dash's pace. "I . . . uh . . . " she struggled to find the breath to form proper words, much less coherent sentences.
"C'mon Fluttershy! We don't have all night!"
"Promised . . . Rarity . . . "
"Oh crap." Rainbow Dash's voice cracked. Again. "Oh, jeez, you don't have to go any further, Fluttershy."
"I . . . don't?"
"You don't! I mean, aw jeez, I should've known! First you're always going to the spa with Rarity, and now you're getting your feathers all ruffled-- you've got a crush on her, don't you?"
"What?" Fluttershy gasped. "I never said that. At least, uh, I don't think I did."
"You didn't have to!" Rainbow Dash said, "like, it's totally one of those things that I can totally pick up on without anypony actually telling me! It's like something out of one of those cheesy romance novels that I totally do not read even if the library was all out of Daring Do books which is something that's never happened ever."
"Okay, I admit it!" Rainbow Dash clapped her hooves over her eyes in shame. "I totally got bored and read Pride and Pegasus that one time but that was only because I heard it had zombies in it but then it turned out that Twilight gave me the wrong edition!"
Fluttershy stared harder.
Rainbow Dash barreled forward anyway. "Besides, we're not talking about me, we're talking about you! Here I've been helping Applejack all night, not knowing it was breaking your heart the whole time!"
"Oh no, I'm not heartbroken. I'm really quite fine." Fluttershy said, finally getting enough air in her lungs to speak properly (if quietly).
"Gosh, Fluttershy, you're tougher than I thought!"
"Actually, um, I think there may be a miscommunication here." Fluttershy said.
"Oh. OOOOOOOOOH." Rainbow Dash said. "I get it now. You don't have a thing for Rarity."
"Whew." Fluttershy smiled in relief, "I'm glad we got that--"
"You're in love with Applejack, aren't you?"
Fluttershy cringed. She at least knew she was keeping Rainbow Dash distracted, which would buy Rarity and Applejack some time. And she wouldn't even have to wear a moustache this time around.
Rarity tried not to think about Applejack.
This was a bit hard, considering she was in the process of walking to Sweet Apple Acres. Thus, various stray thoughts of one particular inhabitant of Sweet Apple Acres could be entirely excused, given the circumstances. It wasn't too late, she realized. Not too late to just turn around, head back home, and pretend none of the affair had ever happened. Honestly, Rarity mused, there was absolutely no reason for a lady such as herself to be out and about, alone, in the dark.
Not that she feared for her safety; Ponyville was a fairly safe little town, provided one looked past the occasional parasprite infestation or giant monster. And, in case of such a disaster, she liked to think she knew how to handle herself.
Not that the evening wasn't pleasant, either. In fact, the pegasi of ponyville had outdone themselves, artfully arranging just the right amount of cloud cover to highlight the glinting stars and shining moon above. Rarity glanced upwards and made a note to herself to ask Rainbow Dash who was responsible for putting the evening's cloud cover together. The artful array was almost enough to take her mind off of the matter at hand. Almost.
As Rarity rounded the final bend to Applejack's farmhouse, she stopped. She shifted her weight from one hoof to another, faltering. It wasn't too late to go back, she realized. Applejack probably wouldn't even want to see her right now. Not to mention, of course, that a proper lady (such as herself) did not go out and about by herself at such a late hour. If anyone found out, the resulting wave of rumor would make things even more complicated, as no doubt there'd be some improper pony who'd think the only reason for her visit to Sweet Apple Acres was for some sort of assignation. And, of course, they'd leap to the logical conclusion that she was trying to charm Big MacIntosh. Not that she didn't appreciate the stallion's big shoulders and general ruggedness, but the stoicism was a bit of a turnoff. That, and she wouldn't even think of involving herself with a pony already in a relationship. And if she jilted MacIntosh's alleged special somepony, she'd never get a delivery on time again, and that would be terribly, terribly inconvenient to the proper running of her business.
And when one looked at it that way, Rarity realized, everything was perfectly logical. Ready to head home, she turned around on one hoof-
-and found herself nose to nose with Applejack.
"Whatcha want now?" Applejack said, narrowing her eyes in a scathing glare.
"YOU!?" Rarity took a step back, gasping softly.
"Aw hell, I thought the whole reason we got in this mess was 'cuz ya didn't want anythin' ta do with me, n' now you're changin' your mind? Figures."
"But that's . . ." Rarity sputtered, "I mean, you-- which is to say . . ."
"Y'know what? You can just stop talkin' now, sugarcube. I figure I got the gist of it already. You're too sophistimicated ta be seen associatin' with the likes of me. It'd be, what's that word ya like ta use? Scandalous."
"Well, yes, but--"
"But nothin'! Fact is, you don't want anythin' ta do with me. I got that much, but ya don't need ta lead me on just 'cuz ya think it's fun."
"You think I'm enjoying this?" Rarity said. She glared at Applejack, and leaned forward to prod her in the shoulder with one hoof. "Oh, yes, that's exactly it. I could be using my time to do something productive but instead I thought I'd string along one of my best friends for no reason whatsoever. Do you really think I'm that much of a sociopath that I'd take pleasure in seeing your feelings hurt?"
"Uuuuuuuh." Applejack said, and scratched at the back of her neck. "When ya put it that way, I guess it don't make much sense."
"Of course it don't!" Rarity's eyes whipped back and forth, making sure nopony had heard her grammatical flub. With no tongue-clucking grammarian (read: Twilight) around to correct her, Rarity breathed a sigh of relief. "I mean, of course it doesn't."
"Then what n' tarnation are ya doin' out here?"
"Because, Applejack, I wanted-- no, I needed to apologize." Rarity looked down at the dusty road. "It's just that everything's gone so...strangely today, and that was even before Rainbow Dash started meddling." Her words came faster and faster, like boulders building up speed in an avalanche. "Honestly, I just should have been more straightforward earlier, but I was too afraid of hurting your feelings. But now I've made it even worse, haven't I?" Rarity sniffed daintily.
"A li'l bit, yeah. But at least it ain't the end of the world." Applejack forced a rueful smile. "Here, let's just pretend none a' this ever happened. I mean, I understand why ya ain't interested-- prolly just wouldn't work anyway. Fancy pancy up n' comer like you's got better stuff ta do than fool 'round with some borin' farmgirl anyway, right?"
Blue eyes snapped open in shock. "Gasp!" Rarity said the full word. "Applejack, don't say such things! Why, you couldn't be further from the truth. For, as the matter stands, I am not nearly good enough for you."
"Aw heck, you're just sayin' that ta make me feel better."
"No, I'm saying that because it's the truth! I mean, look at it. Or, uh, look at me. True, I am beautiful and charming and so on...but I'm not without my flaws, you know. I'm vain, a workaholic, occasionally materialistic, and prone to bouts of obsession. I'm a pain to put up with sometimes, if you haven't noticed."
"Yeah." Applejack rubbed at her chin. "Sounds 'bout right."
"You weren't supposed to agree so easily." Rarity huffed. "But...as it is, you're right. It's bad enough that I've got an...artistic temperament. But on top of that, you're a particularly lovely filly, one far better than I deserve. I mean, there's the rustic charm, for one-- but I can tell that there's more to you than that. You're loyal and dedicated and you never do anything by halves, so I know that anypony you wind up . . . ah, involved with is going to be particularly lucky indeed. And--" Rarity stopped suddenly, and felt her cheeks tinge in a blush.
"And what?" Applejack leaned forward.
"Nothing!" Rarity said, entirely too quickly. "It's, ah. Nothing. Really."
Applejack narrowed her eyes.
"Oh, fine." Rarity said, and her blush grew deeper. "If you must insist, you're also quite a good kisser, to boot. Ahem." Rarity said the full word.
Rarity didn't reply, but the blush on her cheeks told the entire story.
"Well, uh." Applejack looked at anything that wasn't a unicorn. "Thanks? I think?"
"Anyway," Rarity said, pointedly, "the fact of the matter stands, I'm just not good enough for you, Applejack."
"The heck you ain't!" Applejack frowned. "Shoot, Rarity, you're all purdy n' charmin' n' ya smell kinda nice n' . . . dagnabbit, I ain't very good with this fancified sweet-talkin', but ya know what I mean! Now stop puttin' yerself down already!"
"I'm not putting myself down, I'm just stating the facts of the matter that you're the better pony than I. Now stop yelling at me!"
"I ain't yellin'! Yet!"
"It's close enough!" Rarity huffed. "Don't you see, Applejack? Your personality and mine- we're just not compatible! We'd be at each other's throats in no time at all. It'd be a disaster!"
"Oh, I get it." Applejack said. "You're scared, that's it. Go figure."
"Scared? Me? No!" Rarity sputtered, "that's not what I said!"
"That's what it sounded like." Applejack pulled the brim of her hat downwards.
"Well, maybe that's just because you're not listening! All I'm saying is that it'll be far easier and better for both of us in the long run if we just put these fleeting fancies behind us and save ourselves the trouble."
"Oh, I get it now." Applejack said. "Ya ain't scared, you're lazy."
"Stop putting words in my mouth!" Rarity stomped with all four hooves, her frustration overcoming her vanity as she scratched her delicate hooficure on the gravel road. "You, of all ponies should know that I am not lazy, and I am certainly not scared."
"Prove it!" Applejack said, mostly by reflex.
"Fine!" Rarity shot back, and immediately grabbed Applejack around the neck. She leaned in and mashed her lips against her friend's. This time, with the mostly clear night sky and a faint breeze rolling through, the kiss looked exactly like something off the cover of a tawdry romance novel.
Applejack made an uncharacteristic whimpery noise and melted into Rarity's embrace.
Rarity slowly drew back, though she kept her front legs wrapped around Applejack. She became suddenly aware of the warm flush in her cheeks and the steady pounding of her heart. She closed her eyes, buying time to compose herself. When she opened them, she found herself staring into a pair of glimmering green eyes.
"Uh." Applejack said, biting at her lower lip, "what just happened?"
"I don't know!" Rarity blurted. She shook Applejack and squeezed her eyes shut again, as if it might help (it didn't). "Damn it all, Applejack, how come you've got to make everything so difficult?"
"Well, mebbe I like difficult. Means it's worth doin'. Means you're worth doin'." Applejack paused, a look of embarassed horror crossing her face. "Er, wait, that came out wrong."
"Either way, I'm flattered." Rarity smiled wanly.
"So. Uh." Applejack said. "Now what?"
"Ah. Yes. That." Rarity said. "Well, uh. I . . . hadn't planned that far ahead." she awkwardly shuffled away from Applejack, attempting to compose herself. "I trust you're convinced that I'm hardly, ah, scared."
"If I say no, you gonna kiss me again?"
"Behave!" Rarity huffed, and pushed gently at Applejack's chest. She giggled anyway, feeling some of the nervous tension in her stomach fade away. "Don't you know it's terribly gauche to be one of those couples, always snuggling and baby-talking to each other in public and so forth?"
"Wait." Applejack squinted, warily. "You sayin' we're a couple now?"
"Not saying so much as admitting, I think. Which is not how I expected things would go today." Rarity sighed, and pulled herself closer to Applejack. "It's just . . . well, I think I didn't want to admit the possibility before. Nothing against you, of course, but I was afraid of complicating things."
"Think it's a li'l late for that, sugarcube."
"You know, if you an I are going to be an us, Applejack, you've got to stop being right all the time." Rarity teased. "In any case, ah. I don't suppose you'd like to do . . ." she trailed off. "Something? I hadn't exactly planned on the evening turning out this way, so I fear I'm slightly at a loss."
"'reckon I got an idear." Applejack grinned.
"And that is?"
"Welp, ma'am," Applejack tipped the brim of her hat in a country-polite gesture. "We ain't all that far from my barn, n' I got some records stashed away over there, so, ya wanna dance?"
"Darling, I'd love to."