Applejack was just about at her wit’s end. She and her six best friends had been running around like mad ponies for the past two weeks putting the finishing touches on the wedding between Fluttershy and Big Macintosh, and while Applejack couldn’t have been happier for the two, she had had more than enough of wedding preparations to last her a lifetime. From tying little bows on the wedding favors to seating charts to flower arrangements, she was about ready to call it quits and suggest the couple elope. No, it’s fine, she told herself, it’ll all be over in a few hours, and Big Mac and Fluttershy deserve such a nice weddin’. The orange earth pony let out a calming breath as she helped Pinkie arrange hors d’oervres on golden platters. Just as long as nopony shrieks again—
“Oh my Celestia, where on earth did I leave my pin cushion?!” Rarity’s frantic voice rang out through Fluttershy’s small, overly cramped cottage for the umpteenth time that morning. It took a monumental amount of effort for Applejack to keep herself from slapping her hoof against her own forehead.
“Rarity!” Twilight Sparkle shouted, grabbing the frantic white unicorn’s hoof and showing her the red pin cushion which she had indeed fastened there only minutes previously. Rarity blushed and gave a rather sheepish smile before extracting two needles with an aura of pale blue magic and fixing them to the hem of Fluttershy’s white gossamer gown.
“I’m sorry, girls, but I’m just so excited! Our very own Fluttershy, getting married,” Rarity gushed, stitching calmly despite Fluttershy’s trembling.
“Oh, I’m just so nervous,” the meek yellow pegasus admitted, though her shaking hooves hardly made the confession necessary.
“Not to worry, Fluttershy! I’ve got everything planned out right down to the I-do’s,” Twilight said, scanning her lengthy checklist. “Alright, ladies, we have to be ready to take our places in exactly one hour and thirty-six minutes. Applejack, Pinkie, make sure those appetizers are symmetrical and get them in the fridge so they have at least an hour to chill before the reception.” The two earth ponies nodded and Twilight made a sharp check on the thick yellow parchment in front of her. “Rarity, you have exactly fifty-four seconds to finish that hem before I need you to start on everypony else’s manes and make-up.”
“Don’t even need it, dear,” the fashionista replied, biting the last loose thread from the dress.
“Excellent. I need to run and check on the groomstallions and direct the band to the gazebo. I will be back in exactly,” the purple unicorn checked her watch, “twenty-two minutes and five seconds.” Twilight trotted briskly out of the cottage and Applejack breathed a small sigh of relief. She was sure glad that the overly-organized Element of Magic was handling things, but her constant time reminders were piling even more stress onto Applejack’s already tense withers.
“Ah reckon Ah best be gettin’ to the boys’ tent, too,” she said, adjusting her formal cowpony hat. “Big Mac’ll be needin’ help with his tie.”
“Well don’t dawdle, darling, I still need to do your mane,” Rarity called, wrestling with Pinkie Pie’s mass of curls. Applejack nodded and practically ran out the door, eager to leave the stuffy, perfumed cottage-turned-dressing room. She approached the white tent which would serve as the reception venue on the west edge of the meadow.
“Y’all better be decent,” she shouted before entering. The unicorn waiters were all busy levitating golden platters filled with delectable treats, and the groomstallions were all gathered round and dressed in their white suit jackets trimmed with gold. “Well, y’all cleaned up mighty nice,” she chuckled, ruffling Braeburn’s mane.
“Hey now, Ah just finished gettin’ it to lie flat,” her cousin replied in protest, attempting to smooth down his unruly hair. Applejack rolled her eyes and spied Twilight at the other end of the tent, apparently in the thick of an argument with Spike.
“Come on! Just a little mustache?”
Better not get in the middle of that, Applejack thought, peeking through the stream of waiters to catch a glimpse of her brother. Unable to spot his signature red coat in the flurry of ponies, she called out to Caramel, “Seen mah brother?”
“I think he’s out back,” Caramel replied, not bothering to pause as he practiced his dance steps. Applejack nodded her thanks and ducked out the back side of the marquee. Big Macintosh had indeed purloined a golden chair from inside and was sitting on the edge of the ghostly white tent. She grinned as she noticed he was, as she had predicted, struggling with his golden bow tie.
“Need a hoof, sugarcube?” Big Mac glanced up from his struggles and a flood of relief filled his apple-green eyes. Applejack could not help but feel a great sense of affection towards her brother as she fastened his tie perfectly around his collar, but she was surprised to notice a small sadness creep into her heart.
“Do Ah look that bad?” Mac joked, noticing the sudden gloom that had cast its shadow over her face. Applejack grinned.
“It’ll do,” she replied, but her smile was again replaced by a crease in her brow. “Just a little funny, Ah guess – from now on, Fluttershy’ll be the one tyin’ yer ties.” She cast her eyes down at the grass and kicked at a tuft of it, pulling the leaves loose from the rich earth. Mac lifted a large hoof and tilted her chin up.
“Come on now, AJ, it ain’t like Ah’m leavin’ Ponyville, or even movin’ out of the farmhouse. Yer my sister, and there ain’t nopony in Equestria who could take yer place.” Applejack nodded, alarmed to find her throat growing tight.
“Ah wish Granny Smith was here,” she mumbled, determined to keep the hot tears stinging her eyes at bay.
“Me too,” Mac said, “and Ma and Pa.”
“Ah reckon they’d be right proud,” Applejack said, gazing up at her brother through eyes glazed with sadness and love.
“Eeyup.” Mac nodded, and for several moments the siblings simply sat in silence, listening to the echoes of the years pass them by on the summer breeze.
“Hey, if it makes ya feel better, y’all can still tie my ties,” Mac finally said, and at this Applejack could not help but laugh.
“Darn right!” She pulled Mac into a fierce hug before straightening his collar. “Now come on, big brother! As best mare, Ah can’t rightly let ya be late ta yer own weddin’!”
Octavia struck a soft, low note on her cello, quickly followed by Noteworthy on the piano. This is it, big brother, Applejack thought, grinning at the scarlet work stallion from the back of the aisle. Big Macintosh was already in his place beneath the canopy of baby’s breath and peonies, and Applejack allowed herself a moment to drink in the sweet summer air and enjoy the hum of the bees and crickets in the field outside of Fluttershy’s cottage. If only Rarity hadn’t used so many dang hair pins, the earth pony cursed, rubbing a hoof at the vicious, claw-like metal barrettes that held her mane in place. She supposed it was awfully pretty, though; Rarity had created a neater version of Applejack’s usual side ponytail, and her straw-blonde hair hung in loose curls over her right wither.
The two musicians changed their tune as Symphony and Lyra joined in on their respective instruments, and the procession began. First went Rarity and Spike, his claw wrapped tenderly around her snow-white hoof as she beamed down at him, a vision in palest carnation. Next went Pinkie (dressed in her favorite bubblegum pink) and Braeburn, who hopped and giggled their way down the aisle; Applejack saw Rarity shoot them a look, but it quickly dissolved into a grin. Twilight followed the excitable earth pony couple in a cerise gown with Caramel, and though her lips held a smile Applejack knew by the crease in her forehead that the unicorn was mentally reviewing her checklists. The orange farm pony was so amused by the whole scene that she did not even see the pegasus standing next to her until she received a sharp poke in the side.
“Hay, it’s our turn,” Rainbow Dash whispered, but before Applejack could reply, her voice was lost in her throat. She had never seen the cyan mare look so breathtaking. Her gown was a deep shade of rose that precisely matched her eyes, and it seemed to glide along the ground with her agile movements. Small braids wove themselves throughout her signature rainbow locks, which were pulled into an elegantly messy bun, swirling the bright hues together in a symphony of color. The smallest amount of blush highlighted her sculpted cheekbones and her eyes seemed to radiate the sunlight that bathed the meadow with its glow.
Shucks, Ah never noticed her eyes before… Applejack thought, but another glance at the magenta orbs snapped her back to reality as they regarded her with confusion; she had been staring at the pegasus for several seconds and they had missed their cue. Twilight was gesturing at them frantically, and the wedding guests began to glance back at them curiously to see what the holdup was. Applejack felt a heat that had nothing to do with the sunny day envelop her face; she and Rainbow half-cantered down the aisle in order to make up for the delay.
Dagnabbit, what the hay is the matter with me? Ah look like a right foal, the orange mare fumed before she and Rainbow Dash took their respective places as best mare and mare of honor. She was certain her face was the same shade as her scarlet dress, but did her best to ignore the questioning looks her friends shot her from across the aisle.
Thankfully, the next moment all attention was drawn away from the frazzled earth pony as Apple Bloom and her friends began showering the aisle with peony petals in preparation for the bride; the now-former Cutie Mark Crusaders had refused to wear gowns that would cover their newly acquired cutie marks, and instead wore golden saddles. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo lined up next to the bridesmaids, but Sweetie Belle joined the band on the gazebo and took her place in front of the microphone. The young unicorn glanced at her best friends for reassurance, and after receiving their encouraging grins, began to sing as the band played behind her.
Everypony stood and faced the end of the aisle, where Fluttershy waited with her mother and father. The fear that made the bride’s lips quiver and hooves quake seemed to melt away the moment she caught sight of her groom, and she floated effortlessly down the aisle. Posey and Lancer each gave their daughter a quick embrace before taking their seats, and she too took her place beneath the flower-adorned arch.
“Fillies and Gentlecolts,” Mayor Ivory Scroll began, “we are gathered here today to celebrate the union between these two ponies…”
“Whoo-ee,” Applejack hollered, draining her second mug of cider, “that sure was some weddin’.” It was now evening, and the sides of the marquee had been drawn up to reveal the glorious sunset that Celestia was casting across the late summer sky. Pastel fairy lights floated and bobbed against the soaring white ceiling, and the quartet of musicians played instrumental renditions of Equestria’s hottest hits. All around were ponies dancing, laughing, and smiling, but none looked so content as the bride and groom, who swayed in the middle of the dance floor as though nopony else in the world existed. Applejack sat at a table with Twilight, Pinkie Pie, and the former Cutie Mark Crusaders, thoroughly enjoying herself.
“Pinkie,” Twilight said, eying the pony cradling a shockingly green beverage, “how many drinks have you had?”
Pinkie Pie gave the suspicious unicorn her biggest fake grin. “Um, I don’t remember?” She chirped before attempting to bounce back towards the dance floor. Twilight caught the bubbly earth pony in a cloud of hot pink magic and forced her to turn around.
“Let me see your wristband,” Twilight ordered. Pinkie offered up her left hoof in defeat; on it was a bright blue ribbon bearing two thick black lines of ink. Twilight smiled triumphantly. “I thought so. Alright, no more for another hour, Pinkie.”
“Aww c’mon Twi-Twi, I promise I’ll be go-od!”
“That’s what you said before the watermelon incident,” the lavender unicorn deadpanned, ignoring Pinkie’s pout. The pink party pony sighed but rallied quickly, declaring,
“Okie-dokie-lokie, then I guess I’ll just have to fill up on sugar!” And with that, Pinkie Pie broke away from Twilight and zoomed over to the dessert table, swallowing an entire plate of cookies whole before spitting out the silver platter with a clang.
“What was the watermelon incident?” Scootaloo asked. She, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle looked at Twilight expectantly, only to see the purple pony blush deeply.
“Um, well, you see girls—”
“Let’s just say Pinkie’s a mean drunk,” Rainbow Dash supplied, winking at the fillies. The adolescents burst into scandalized giggles and rushed off to join Pinkie for dessert. Applejack, however, had not heard the other mare’s approach, and nearly spit out her mouthful of cider when Dash’s raspy voice had tickled her ear. Equally alarming was the warmth that had filled not only her face but her chest when she felt the pegasus’s presence behind her. Just too much cider, Ah reckon, Applejack told herself. Rainbow Dash nonchalantly took Apple Bloom’s vacated seat and emptied her own glass with a satisfied smack of her lips.
“What’s up with you, AJ?”
“Huh?!” Applejack started, not realizing until the cyan mare spoke that she had been staring at the small trail of beer foam trickling down from Rainbow’s mouth. The pegasus regarded her with a look of sarcastic amusement and confusion, the latter of which was echoed on Twilight’s face. “Oh, uh, just thinkin’ about what Ah’m gonna have fer dinner,” she covered, rubbing her stomach and adopting a look of deep contemplation.
“Didn’t you already eat?” Twilight asked, pointing to the empty plate in front of Applejack on the table. Applejack resisted the urge to smack herself on the forehead for the second time that day.
“Uh, yeah,” the orange earth pony backtracked, “but Ah’m real hungry.” Inwardly Applejack could not have been more furious with herself; for the second time that day she had been caught staring at her best friend without even knowing it, and now it had caused her to lie. What in Equestria is wrong with me?
The orange earth pony snatched the traitorous plate from the table and stood with as much dignity as she could muster. “So if y’all will excuse me, Ah reckon Ah’ll head back fer seconds.” She trotted back to the buffet and loaded her plate with potatoes and carrots, despite her already bloated stomach groaning in protest.
Much to the orange mare’s chagrin, the rainbow-haired pegasus had not vacated the table when Applejack returned, the latter doing her best to pretend she had not been tracing her best friend’s lips only minutes before. Said lips were currently wrapped around a new bottle, taking a deep swig.
“You could stand to slow down too, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said wearily.
“Oh calm down Twilight, it’s Fluttershy’s wedding! As mare of honor, it’s my duty to get totally wasted,” Rainbow Dash retorted, knocking back another gulp with a mock salute. Applejack felt a twinge of annoyance at the pegasus’s swaggering facade, but bit her tongue.
“Alright, fine. I just don’t want to be foalsitting you and Pinkie all night,” the exasperated unicorn said. “Wait a minute… Where is Pinkie?” Twilight bolted upright, her eyes darting around the room. Applejack too realized that she had not heard any of the party pony’s tell-tale squeals for some time.
“Probably just in the bathr—”
“CANNONBALL!” An exhilarated yawp sounded through the tent like a battle cry. Applejack and her two friends watched in horror as Pinkie dove headfirst from the ice sculpture into the punch bowl; a tidal wave of sugary cocktail crashed down upon anypony unfortunate enough to be in a five-foot radius, which happened to include the mother of the bride.
“PINKIE!” Twilight screamed, rushing over to remedy the situation. She was beaten to the party pony by Rarity, however.
“Pinkie, just look at what you’ve done to your dress!” The fashionista shrieked, gesturing to the now soggy fabric. Pinkie glanced down at her dress, still lounging in the punch bowl as though it were a filly pool.
“Aww, don’t worry Rarity,” Pinkie said cheerfully. Withdrawing a two-foot long curly straw, the pink pony proceeded to empty the bowl, leaving both it and her dress miraculously dry. Hopping down, she zipped through the other punch-soaked guests and with a magnificent slurp, they found themselves completely clean, if somewhat bemused.
“Hay, I was going to drink that!” Berry Punch complained, frowning at her wrung out dress.
Pinkie paid no mind, however, and happily bounced back to the dance floor. Twilight, incensed that her lecture had been interrupted, followed Pinkie and attempted to chastise her while the pink pony busted a move with Braeburn.
Applejack was now keenly aware that she and Rainbow Dash were alone at the table, and for the first time in her life the farm mare was struggling for something to say to her best friend. Try as she might, Applejack could not escape the entrancing glow emanating from those rose eyes. She took a huge swig from her mug just to have something to do, only to choke as fizzy drink went down the wrong tube. Sputtering and spewing cider, Applejack did her best to contain her coughing, but in fact this only restricted her airway further and made her eyes water and her nose run.
Real smooth, AJ, she berated herself as a hoof came down on her back. Rainbow gave her a few solid thumps and a barely concealed smirk, clearly amused by her friend’s bumbling. Applejack glared back at the pegasus through wet eyes, her cheeks aflame.
“Hay, don’t be embarrassed,” Rainbow said, adopting a patronizing tone, “I had a hard time with my first drink ever too.” Applejack grit her teeth and restrained herself from knocking the cocky mare upside the head with her cider mug. The orange earth pony had already been flustered, and now she was getting down right frustrated.
“Ya know Ah could drink ya under this table,” she spat, finishing the last unspilled swallow of cider in a feeble attempt to prove herself.
“Oh yeah?” Rainbow Dash challenged, her voice fiercely defiant, “why don’t ya put your bits where your mouth is? First one to pass out loses.” A devilish grin played on Dash’s lips, and a fire that Applejack knew came only with competition burned in her magenta eyes, making the rose irises blaze like the brilliant sunset that surrounded them.
Applejack wanted nothing more than to accept, just so she could wipe that smirk off the pegasus’s gorgeous face, but she bit back her retort. “Ah’m not fallin’ fer it, Rainbow,” she said stoutly. “There is no way Ah’m gonna ruin my brother’s weddin’ by gettin’ sloppy and drunk.” With that, the farm mare stood and made to join her cousins on the dance floor, but she was halted when Dash’s low voice called out,
“Geez, AJ, I know I’m intimidating but I didn’t take you for a quitter.” Rage billowed up in Applejack’s stomach like bile.
“Careful, Dash,” the cowpony growled, turning back to face the other mare, “don’t make me lasso yer mouth shut.”
Rainbow Dash paid no mind to Applejack’s threat, and instead appeared to be engrossed in her hooves. “I totally understand,” she said casually. “I mean, after how badly I humiliated you at the Iron Pony competition, you just know you couldn’t stand losing again.”
“Ah didn’t lose!” Applejack barked, drawing the attention of several other guests nearby. “Ah was winnin’ ‘til ya started cheatin’!”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” Rainbow Dash replied smoothly, barely hiding her delight at Applejack’s fury. “Of course, I don’t know how I could sleep if I were such a chicken.”
That was the last straw. Applejack’s vision blurred and a rush of blood filled her ears; without knowing she had moved the earth mare found herself nose to nose with the taunting pegasus. Her voice was deadly low when she spoke. “What did ya just call me?”
Rainbow Dash no longer attempted to hide her wicked smile as she replied, “I called you a chicken.” Her slow words dripped with venom and oozed their poison into Applejack’s nerves with every syllable that slipped off of Dash’s tongue.
“Yer the one with feathers,” Applejack snarled back. “Ah may be many things, but Ah ain’t no chicken.” The moment after she said it, Applejack knew that this was precisely what Rainbow wanted to hear.
Three minutes later found the two ponies at the bar, hooves cupping shot glasses filled to the brim with thick amber liquid. Without hesitation Applejack threw her head back and drained the glass, letting the smoky liquor sear her tongue for a moment before swallowing it down. Not to be outdone, Dash easily finished her own whiskey and motioned to the barkeep for refills, which he gladly provided.
“Actually, Pilsner, you might just want to leave the bottle,” the pegasus told the bartender pony, who obliged and left the two mares to their rivalry.
Applejack was still irritated with her friend, but the alcohol helped to thaw her frosty attitude and she was beginning to enjoy the spirit of the competition. Few ponies understood as well as Dash the rush of a contest or race, the way adrenaline pulsed through your heart and made you feel as though your hooves could leave the ground and soar above all others, the struggle within to push harder and faster, and then when you felt like you couldn’t possibly give anymore, to force out that last ounce of strength before collapsing in a heap of pride and triumph.
“Hay, we’re cool, right?” Rainbow asked, breaking Applejack out of her thoughts. It was one of those rare moments when Dash allowed her vulnerability to show; the teasing tone had left the pegasus’s voice, and she regarded the farm pony with an uneasy stare. There were few ponies for whom Dash would abandon her ‘too cool’ demeanor, and it spoke to the strength of their friendship that she was willing to do so to ensure that Applejack was not lastingly angry with her.
“’Course,” the orange mare chuckled, and though her tone remained casual she could not help but feel a small beam of tenderness bloom in her chest.
“Good, because I didn’t want to find another drinking partner!” The sky-blue pegasus proclaimed, putting a foreleg around Applejack’s withers. The earth pony felt herself flush slightly and quickly poured them both another shot. They had only had a few each, but Applejack was already beginning to feel tipsy.
“Ya never know, maybe Fluttershy’s secretly an alcoholic,” Applejack chuckled, and the pair guffawed at the idea of the delicate yellow pegasus, still embracing her beau on the dance floor, passed out in some dive bar.
“Remember Cadence and Shining Armor’s wedding?” Rainbow asked; both ponies sniggered at the memory.
“Didn’t she pass out after two glasses of wine?” Applejack recalled, her belly trembling with mirth.
“Yeah, but not before she sang ‘Equestria Girls’ on top of one of the tables!”
Applejack whooped with hilarity so hard a snort escaped her, making the two ponies laugh even more. Wiping the tears from her eyes, the orange earth pony threw back her next shot and Rainbow followed suit.
“Thank Celestia there’s somepony who can keep up with me,” the cowpony observed with a tip of her hat to the rainbow-haired pegasus. “Just don’t feel too bad when ya lose!”
“Funny, I was just about to tell you the same thing,” Rainbow Dash shot back with a sly smile, filling the shot glasses yet again. Applejack leaned into her friend’s side as she reached over to take the small cup once more.
“Now come on, Rainbow, Ah know yer no Fluttershy, but there ain’t nopony what can out drink a country girl, ‘specially not with whiskey!” she announced, savoring the heady liquor as it swirled against her tongue.
“Is that so?” Dash inquired with mock innocence. “Then why don’t we make this a little more interesting?”
“What’d ya have in mind?” Applejack felt her stomach twist lightly as she stared back defiantly into the pegasus’s dusky eyes, ready to meet whatever challenge the other mare might pose.
“How about winner gets ten bits?”
Applejack hesitated; she despised gambling, particularly as all of her money went to her family and things were tight as it was. “That’s no fun,” she protested, hoping Dash would not realize how limited her bits were. “Real cowponies bet more important things.”
Rainbow raised an eyebrow, but did not argue. “Fine, how about whoever loses has to do whatever the winner says?”
“Sure,” the earth mare agreed, pondering excitedly what humiliating thing she could make Dash do. After a few moments she smirked triumphantly and announced, “If Ah win, y’all have ta buck apples fer a whole day dressed in a frilly princess dress.”
“Psh, is that the best you got?” Rainbow Dash asked, a teasing grin pulling at the corners of her mouth.
“Think ya can do better?”
“In ten seconds flat,” Dash boasted.
“Well let’s hear it then,” Applejack said, irked that the pegasus was once more trying to one up her. The alcohol was making her insides feel like a bumpy wagon ride; one minute she and Dash were closer than two apples in a bushel, and the next the farm pony wanted to buck her in the face. For all her irritation, however, Applejack could not deny that there was a definite thrill to it all, an electricity that seemed to jolt the air with every twist and turn.
The pegasus pondered for a moment before shrugging and pouring another round of shots. “I think I’ll save it,” she decided, sliding one of the glasses down the bar; Applejack caught it easily and had begun to swallow when Dash spoke again, “After all, you never know when I’ll need to put you in a compromising position.”
Rainbow’s words had precisely the effect that the pegasus had intended, and Applejack sprayed a mouthful of whiskey all over the bar and herself.
“Wow, that was the best spit take I’ve ever seen!” A bubbly voice exclaimed, and promptly a pinky pony popped out from behind the bar. Rainbow Dash chuckled appreciatively as the farm pony wiped her mouth and shot her a glare.
“Since you’re back there, Pink, how ‘bout you make us a couple drinks?” Dash proposed, “I need a break from whiskey.”
“You got it, Dashie!” Pinkie agreed, diving back behind the bar. The sound of ice cracking, glasses clinking, and the occasional animal call sounded before the pink earth pony reappeared, a neon green drink in each hoof.
“Is this what ya were drinkin’ earlier?” Applejack asked, wearily peering into the glass. The liquid within was so bright it seemed to give off an alien glow, and the orange mare felt her eyes watering after holding the glass too close to her face for more than a few seconds.
“Yepperooni, it’s my super-duper extra-fantabulous secret recipe Pinkie drinky drink!” Pinkie announced proudly. Applejack glanced over at the sky-blue pegasus, who shrugged and downed half her glass in one gulp. For a moment, Dash’s face remained unchanged. An instant later her eyes began gushing with tears; she was coughing wildly and nearly fell off her stool with the convulsions that racked her body. Dash’s mouth flew open, and for a moment Applejack was certain that chunks were going to fly, but instead the pegasus let loose an almighty belch, complete with a smoking tendril of green flame.
“What the buck,” Rainbow choked, “did you put in that?”
“I can’t tell you that, silly,” Pinkie giggled, “then it wouldn’t be a super-duper extra fantabulous secret recipe!” Dash groaned and Applejack called for a glass of water, which the pegasus accepted gratefully. “I’ve never seen anypony drink one that fast before, though!” Pinkie chirped, “I can only sip them, and I made them up!”
“Would’ve been nice to know,” Rainbow grumbled, now hiccoughing small green sparks. Applejack reached for her own glass and raised it to her lips, taking the tiniest bit of liquid into her mouth before swallowing. It was a burning eruption of fruit that raged against her throat; she could feel the alcohol slither all the way down before plopping with a sizzle into her stomach. Jarring, but not necessarily unpleasant, she decided. Raising an eyebrow at Dash, she took another sip, silently challenging the pegasus pony to do the same.
“Oh no,” Dash croaked, shaking her head furiously, “I’ll take three extra shots to make up for it, but there is no way in Tartarus that I’m drinking any more of that.”
“Suit yerself,” Applejack tittered, nearing the end of the shallow glass despite her uncharacteristically dainty sips. With each drink she attempted to uncover its contents, but found this difficult due to the mishmash of flavors. On her last gulp, Applejack detected the bitter sting of anise within the swirl of flavored syrups and overly sweet liqueurs and nearly spit out her drink yet again.
“Pinkie, where in Equestria did you get absinthe?” the farm pony demanded, holding up the glass with just a few drops of the hissing, violent green liquid in it.
“Um, I don’t remember?”
“Why, Ah oughta hog-tie yer tail,” Applejack said, but even as she attempted to glare at Pinkie the mare behind the bar split into three separate ponies, all grinning up at her cheerfully. Applejack’s vision was a dizzy of swirling pink, and her eyes could not seem to get one Pinkie Pie in focus before another presented herself. “Stay still, darn it!” She ordered, addressing what she believed to be the Pinkie farthest to the left.
“Not now Rainbow, Ah’m gonna get an answer outta her if it’s the last thing Ah do.”
“You’re staring down a stack of drink umbrellas.”
“Wha?” Applejack’s thoughts did not catch up with Rainbow’s words for several moments, at which point she saw that she was, in fact, giving her sternest look to a jar of miniature paper umbrellas.
“Oh ponyfeathers, where the hay did that girl get ta?” The farm mare lurched around in her stool and promptly found herself face to face with the ground, though she was pleased to note that she was not in any pain. She laughed stupidly and accepted Dash’s hoof up, holding on to the other mare even after she returned to a wavering stand.
“Are you sure Pinkie Pie didn’t put crazy juice in that drink?” Rainbow hiccoughed, earning another slurred chuckle from the orange mare around her withers.
“Ah’m gonna bake her inta a pie when Ah get mah hooves on her,” Applejack declared, though the threat was made considerably less intimidating by her subsequent giggle.
Pinkie, it transpired, had found her way to the microphone. “Come on, everypony, it’s time to get dow-ow-own!” She exclaimed, twisting low to the floor as she spoke. The crowd cheered, and Pinkie bounced with glee. “We’re going to have a dance circle! Half of you in one circle and the other half in a circle around that one. I want to see everypony, and I mean ev-ery pon-y on the dance floor!”
Applejack felt herself steered towards the dance floor and looked back to see that Pinkie had vacated the stage and was pushing both she and Rainbow Dash forward. The pegasus protested every step of the way, but was too distracted with the whiskey threatening to spill over the rim of the glass she still clasped to escape once plopped in her place in the outer ring. Applejack, for her part, attempted to steady her wavering vision and hooves, but the moment she began to feel secure everypony else began trotting to the music.
Round and round the ponies went, the inside ring shuffling to the right and the outside to the left, Applejack unwillingly keeping her eyes trained on a prominent rainbow mane in the other circle as it passed around the room. The farm mare’s alcohol-clogged brain was concentrating so resolutely on keeping tabs on Dash and staying upright that she did not hear the music stop, and swerved straight into the pony next to her. She forgot her apology, however, when she saw the object of her night’s frustration and laughter standing in front of her. The pegasus was having an easier time on her hooves than Applejack, but the farm pony could still see the glaze of alcohol misting Rainbow’s eyes.
“Ugh, I do not want to dance,” Dash slurred, shaking her head. “Dancing’s for sissies.”
“Come on now, it ain’t so bad” Applejack retorted, offering her hoof to the pegasus, “Ah can teach ya. Ah’ve been told Ah’m pretty light on mah hooves.” As if to prove her point, the farm pony stood on her back legs and fell into a bow before trotting out a few steps with an imaginary dance partner. She could not help but pretend through her drunken haze that she held Rainbow in her hooves, reveling in the pegasus’s warmth and pressed up against her lithe form. Applejack looked eagerly to her friend in the hopes of making this fantasy a reality, going so far as to nudge the other mare’s cheek with her muzzle.
The sky-blue pegasus snorted and pushed the orange mare away. “No way, you couldn’t get me to prance around like that for a million bits,” she proclaimed disdainfully, glaring around the room at everypony else entwined with their partners. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were the only two who stood alone in the middle of the great white tent.
Hurt and humiliation flooded Applejack’s veins like ice; she felt like a pathetic filly bringing home a prized art project only to have it thrown in the dirt. She withdrew her hoof and fought the color in her cheeks.
“So what, Ah’m not good enough fer ya?” She spat, her ragged voice thick with anger. The weather pony had the gall to laugh again and went to finish the last drops of whiskey in her glass before it was knocked out of her hand and fell with a resounding shatter onto the floor.
“What the BUCK, Applejack?!” Dash yelled, but Applejack didn’t hear her. Memories of Rainbow’s stupid pranks, her taunting laugh, and her arrogance rushed to mind in a tangle of incoherent fury, and something in the orange mare finally snapped.
“Ah asked ya a question,” she repeated, glaring at her friend with as much fury as she could muster. “Why am Ah not good enough fer ya?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking—”
“Is it ‘cause Ah work on a farm?” Applejack cut across, unable to hear through her drunken haze that she was bellowing at the other mare. “Is it ‘cause Ah don’t got much money?” The orange pony’s nostrils flared and her jaw twitched as she stood over the confused and cowering pegasus. “Realize after Ah didn’t wanna bet bits that Ah’m just working class?” Applejack cracked her voice like a whip across Dash’s face, trying to inflict on the pegasus the same pain from rejection that clawed at her heart and filled her head with its screams. She was so dizzy with booze and adrenaline that only her unadulterated rage kept her upright.
“Or maybe it’s just ‘cause Ah’m a lowly earth pony. Is that it?” she demanded, taking the pegasus by her withers and shaking her with all the anguished that howled in her soul and beat itself against her brain. “Ah ain’t got fancy wings, so Ah’m not worth yer time?!”
“No! I don’t even know why you would think—”
“Well maybe Ah don’t want ta dance with ya neither!” Applejack roared. “In fact, maybe Ah don’t want ya at all!” Her final cry echoed in the night, and it was at that moment that the farmy pony realized that the room was utterly silent; the band had stopped playing, and everypony’s eyes were glued to the two of them. The one pair of eyes that caught her attention as she glanced around the room were the same apple-green as her own, and held a heavy mixture of hurt, concern, and above all, disappointment.
“Ah…” Applejack started hoarsely, her foggy mind attempting to form the words to explain herself; now that her anger was dissipating, she had lost all sense of coherence. “Ah…” she tried again, but her face was growing unbearably hot from the alcohol and the concentrated gaze of the other wedding guests. Her throat felt tight with something beyond shame, and to her horror her eyes began to well up with searing tears. Like an ant under a magnifying glass, she did the only thing she could do.
She ran as hard and fast as her impaired balance and tear-stained vision would allow, ducking around trees and stumps, hoping that if she pushed herself fast enough she would leave herself behind, free herself from the cage of her useless body and poisoned mind. Perhaps if she could just reach Sweet Apple Acres, she could crawl in bed and wake up and it would all turn out to be a horrible dream.
But it was not a dream, she was forced to acknowledge as her words kept ringing in her ears in a nightmarish litany. Everywhere she looked she saw Rainbow’s eyes, staring up at her with fear and confusion. She had told Rainbow she didn’t want her as a friend, had practically spat in her face! And all because she simply couldn’t set aside her own stubborn pride, the same pride which had made her rise to Dash’s stupid drinking contest in the first place. Guilt raged through her alcohol-clogged mind, making hot, new tears stream down her face and coat her cheeks and lips with bitter salt.
Even if she had been able to stop the scene from replaying itself in her mind, she realized as she finally came to a stop, she had run herself in circles and no longer knew where she was. Applejack had assumed her hooves would carry her back home, as they often did without her needing to think about it, but the booze had hindered her internal compass, and she could not even manage to tell east from west.
“Ah don’t deserve ta go home,” she muttered, sinking to her knees in the moonlit, velveteen grass. “And Ah sure as Tartarus don’t deserve a mare like Rainbow, anyhow.”
“Eh, I could do worse,” a raspy voice sounded, making Applejack leap from her nest of self-pity and glance skyward. The very object of her mortification and joy fluttered just a meter over her head, her face bathed in Luna’s light. The initial swing of elation that had filled Applejack’s gut evaporated as quickly as it had come, only to be replaced with a lead brick. The orange mare lowered her head.
“Don’t.” Dash cut her off and Applejack let the feeble words die in her throat. The pegasus regarded her with solemnly. “You did your fair share of talking back there, and now it’s my turn.” The rainbow-maned mare did not continue until Applejack met her gaze and nodded her understanding of Dash’s terms.
“This wasn’t how I wanted this to go,” Rainbow sighed in frustration. “I always thought that maybe we’d go out to dinner or be on a beach or something, and I’d play a special song for you or get you a bouquet of flowers,” she paused. “That all sounds so lame when I actually say it out loud,” the weather pony groaned, slapping a hoof across her face.
Applejack couldn’t make heads or tails of her friend’s meaning; she had expected Dash to yell at her, or even to apathetically declare that their friendship was over, but the pegasus was rambling as though she had committed some transgression.
“I’m so bad at this,” Dash continued, stumbling as she paced the patch of grass. “But I—I have to say something. I can’t hide how I feel anymore,” she said, her voice straining and wings twitching as though she were the barest shred of a nerve away from taking flight. The rose irises in which Applejack had found herself lost so many times that evening regarded her with a desperate plea.
“I haven’t the slightest notion what yer talkin’ about.” Applejack responded honestly, though it disturbed her to see how distressed Rainbow was becoming over something that she was apparently supposed to have grasped.
“Celestia, AJ, are you really that slow?!” She shouted, half crying, half laughing from exasperation. “I like you, Applejack!” Her words were rushed, and their full meaning did not hit the farm pony until she saw the crimson blush that colored Dash’s cheeks. “A lot,” she finished weakly, her voice feeble but her magenta eyes filled with fierce courage.
“Why?” The question surprised both ponies, but Applejack knew that she would not be able to accept the flood of feelings that had invaded her soul until the other mare answered.
“What’d you mean, why?”
“Why do ya like me?”
“Are you joking?!” Rainbow exclaimed, her wings flaring in agitation. “Who wouldn’t like you, AJ? You’re funny, you always know how to have a good time, and you’re bucking beautiful!” the pegasus declared, stubbornly enduring the heat that still raged against her sky-blue face. “You care about your friends and family more than anypony else, and you’re the best listener I know,” she continued, reaching out for Applejack’s mane and letting the limp straw-colored curls fall over her hoof. “You’ve always understood me better than anypony; you call me on my bullshit and keep me grounded.”
“Not to mention you’re the only pony who can keep up with me. Most of the time,” she added, offering a teasing wink to the farm mare who smiled lazily before remembering her own foalishness.
“But Ah shouted at ya,” Applejack mumbled, lowering her gaze. “Ah hardly deserve to be called yer friend, much less somethin’ more.”
“Yeah, that wasn’t so cool,” Rainbow admitted, “but I understand why you were upset.”
“Of course. We’re best friends, I know when something’s bugging you,” Dash replied, crossing her forelegs. “I know I was pushing your buttons all night,” she acknowledged, “and I’m sorry about that. Just my pigheaded way of flirting, I guess. But rejecting you like that was just mean, and I never, ever want to see you hurt, especially because of me.”
Applejack could think of nothing to say that did not sound hollow or corny in response, and instead found herself chuckling drunkenly.
“Y’know, I’m sort of bearing my soul here, Applejack, the least you could do is keep a straight face.”
“It’s just, telling me yer sweet fer me and an apology all in one night?” Applejack said, trying to contain the laughter that racked her churning stomach. “What’d ya do with the real Rainbow Dash?”
“What can I say? You bring out the best in me.”
“Damn straight,” Applejack replied, wrapping a hoof around Dash’s withers.
“So, what do you say?” Rainbow asked. Her rose eyes were filled with doubt and uncertainty, but outshining both was hopefulness. “Will you, uh, be my marefriend?”
In response, Applejack did for the first time that evening what she should have been doing all along; she kept her mouth shut, and kissed the other mare with all the ferocity and fervor that had been fighting to escape her chest for far too long. The power of it knocked both tipsy mares to the ground, and on the rich, warm soil they embraced, the tattoo of their hearts matching the pulse of the living earth.
Applejack wasn’t sure how long they lay there like that, just feeling each other breathe and letting all the toxicity of the evening drain away to make way for something wild and terrifying and insurmountably wonderful.
“You know,” Rainbow grinned slyly, breaking the silence, “I did technically win our drinking contest.” Applejack raised an eyebrow at her. “I needed another shot after you ran off,” the pegasus admitted, rubbing the back of her neck with a hoof.
“But hay, that means you have to do whatever I want.” The sky-blue mare declared as she leapt up from the ground and extended her hoof to Applejack. “And I want you to dance with me.” Applejack lowered her gaze to the ground.
“There’s no music,” she mumbled, kicking at a tuft of grass.
“Hmmm,” Dash hummed, sticking her tongue out and screwing up her eyes as she thought. After a moment her expression cleared and her eyes lit up. “I’ve got it!” She announced, punching a hoof in the air. Applejack chuckled at the excessive display, but Rainbow regarded her seriously when she spoke again.
“Do you trust me?”
The orange earth mare knew by the pegasus’s tone that this was not a question to be answered lightly. Applejack thought back over the course of the evening, over the course of their entire friendship, but after it all, there was only one honest answer she could give.
The smile that bloomed across Dash’s face in the moonlight made Applejack’s heart skip, and she knew at once that it was the least foalish thing she had said all night. “Good,” the pegasus said, “follow me.”
Their course was not a smooth one and there was much stumbling from both still-tipsy ponies, but Applejack followed the mare in front of her tirelessly, content to let the other take the lead. Only when they were fifty feet away did Applejack realize that Rainbow was leading her back to the reception tent.
“Oh no,” Applejack said, grinding her hooves into the ground, “Ah can’t go back in there, Dash. Not after how Ah made such a mess of things.” The farm pony hung her head, wishing once more to sink into the earth beneath her hooves. A gentle touch lifted her chin, and her eyes found a pair of rose-colored ones staring at her with such tenderness that she would not have guessed possible for the pegasus to possess.
“You said you trusted me,” Rainbow Dash whispered, but Applejack dropped her gaze painfully, feeling wholly undeserving of Dash’s caresses. “Applejack,” the pegasus said, and though her voice was still full of care it was much firmer. “You have to trust me,” she said, and at last Applejack met her gaze. “This can’t work if you don’t trust me.” It was the final moment of truth. She felt they were perched on the edge of an abyss, teetering precariously, neither able to see what lay in the chasm below; in many ways, it was the greatest challenge Dash had ever given her.
“Ah trust ya, Rainbow,” Applejack said slowly, and at once the two ponies felt their hooves leave the earth. It took a moment for Applejack to realize that it was not simply the swooping in her stomach making her feel as though she was walking on air, but that they had literally floated off the ground. The earth pony’s eyes bulged and she struggled against Rainbow’s embrace, panic surging through her as they rose higher.
“What the hay?!” She exclaimed, but Dash’s eyes steadied her, reminding her silently of her promise. Despite all of her earth pony instincts screaming at her not to, Applejack relaxed into Dash’s grip and did not struggle as they continued to rise. Thankfully, their destined height was not more than twenty feet off the ground, which nevertheless felt much farther to the earth pony. It was only after Applejack worked up the nerve to glance down that she realized they had flown in a gentle arc and were now positioned over the top of the pearly marquee.
Through the white tarp the first strums of a guitar could be heard, soon accompanied by a bass, banjo, and fiddle. No doubt her cousins had taken over for the band, and the tune that wafted towards them had a soft, sultry twang and encouraged Applejack to forget that she was flying and sway her hips in time. It was the sort of song that strummed itself along her heartstrings and washed over her mind like a fresh mountain spring. It was by no means careless, but far from morose; the barely perceptible note of soreness and hurt that ran through it only made the soft melody all the sweeter. It was the sort of song that would not forget the past, but rather promised to carry those scars into the future, and on that late summer’s eve, it was the last thing two mares heard before they plunged together into the abyss.