She wasn't entirely sure how, but they had ended up playing Truth or Dare. Twilight Sparkle was in the middle of hosting a party at her home, and all of her friends had been invited. Thus far, the truths and dares themselves had been surprisingly tame - the very worst they had done had simply involved admitting crushes, or doing silly things in front of the others. Nothing too severe. Twilight turned towards Rainbow Dash and smiled. "Alright, Rainbow. Your turn!"
The pegasus rubbed a hoof against her chin as she briefly thought of what to do, but a grin soon began to spread across her face. "Alrighty... I pick Applejack! Truth or dare?"
"Oh c'mon, Rainbow! I've been picked by ya every single time it's been yer turn!" The earth pony huffed and crossed her forelegs as she glared at Rainbow Dash. "Fine. Dare, I guess."
"Dare, huh? Okay AJ, I dare you to... kiss Twilight!"
Such a dare caused mixed reactions throughout the circle of friends. Rarity had a hoof clamped over her mouth to stifle a giggle. Fluttershy was already blushing and doing her best to cover her face up. Pinkie Pie couldn't stop grinning and giggling, far too amused with the idea of one of her friends having to kiss another.
Applejack let out a groan, clearly not amused. She had played Truth or Dare with Rainbow Dash countless times over the years, and a kiss always seemed to be Rainbow's go-to dare when she wanted to embarrass a friend. Twilight Sparkle, on the other hand, looked positively horrified - she had played Truth or Dare before, of course, but it had never gone this far. Now that she thought about it, she had never been kissed by anypony except her own parents. To say she was nervous would be an understatement. She watched in silence as Applejack slowly inched her way towards her, shutting her eyes tightly as the earth pony leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek.
That... wasn't so bad. Heh, silly Twilight! Getting nervous over the smallest things!
"There. Good enough for ya, Rainbow?" Twilight opened her eyes once more, watching as the orange mare took her original seat and shot an angry glance at Rainbow. The expression on the cyan pegasus' face renewed her nervousness, however. Rainbow Dash was plotting something, and it was very clear that it was not good.
"Nah, kiss on the cheek won't do, AJ." Rainbow Dash grinned and rubbed her front hooves together, letting out a short cackle of glee before continuing. "You gotta kiss her on the lips!"
"Ya gotta be kiddin' me!" Applejack had already stood up from her seat and was pacing the room, her ears flapping with agitation. "Of all the... c'mon Rainbow, really?"
Rainbow Dash nodded, her grin never leaving her face, and Applejack let out another groan as she admitted defeat. The others were still acting the same way they had been earlier, and Twilight felt her heartbeat quicken as Applejack slowly stepped towards her. She stopped, inches away from her, and sighed. "Jus'... pretend it's me givin' ya mouth-ta-mouth again or somethin'."
"What? But how's that supposed to he-"
Twilight was stopped mid-sentence as Applejack quickly leaned forwards, pressing her lips against the unicorn's. Though the earth pony's eyes were shut tight, Twilight Sparkle's had shot wide open as soon as the kiss started, and she felt her face quickly grow hot. Shivers ran up and down her spine, and she simply sat there, unsure of how she was even supposed to return such a thing. Applejack eventually pulled away, glancing downwards as she turned to make her way back towards her spot. "Sorry 'bout that, Twi."
She didn't even hear Applejack speak - she was still trying to contemplate what had just happened. What just happened? Was that a kiss? Why is my mouth all tingly? Why is my heart still beating so fast? Is it hot in here or is it just me?
Is it even normal to feel like this after a kiss? If so, why do ponies willingly do this to themselves? What's the point of such a thing?
Furthermore, if it does all this to a pony... why do I want to try it again?
She blinked, quickly shaking her head as her thinking was abruptly interrupted. All of her friends were staring at her with the exception of Applejack, who was busy staring at the floor - no doubt still embarrassed about what had happened. Twilight simply stared back at them, creating an uneasy silence. Fortunately, Rarity managed to break it. "Oh goodness, you're still blushing about that? Relax, dear! It's just a game, after all!"
"Right! Yeah... just a game! I-I know! I uh... I need to go the bathroom real quick. Somepony else take my turn if I'm not back yet." She got up and hurried off towards the bathroom, quickly shutting the door behind herself and locking it. The unicorn turned on the water and leaned closer to the mirror that sat over her sink - it had been minutes now since the kiss had ended, and her face was still beet red. "Well, if they didn't know it was my first kiss, they definitely know now. Way to go, Twilight."
She grumbled, shoving her face under the faucet and sighing as she felt the cool water course over muzzle. None of this makes any sense! I know it's just a game, but the heart rate and the blushing and the-
Get a hold of yourself, Twilight! This is... normal! Perfectly normal!
It's not normal! I've seen ponies kiss before, and they definitely don't react like I just did! Oh Celestia, am I seriously arguing with myself in my head?
Yes, but it's definitely normal to act like this! It was your first kiss! You're gonna act differently compared to ponies that have done it plenty of times!
Well... what if I ask for another? Maybe it'll be different? I mean, it's just a game after all. No harm done!
No. Don't. Don't even think about that again.
There was a gentle knock at the door, causing the lavender mare to look over towards it. "Hey, um... Twilight? Are you alright in there? You're not feeling sick or anything, are you?"
"I'm fine, Fluttershy! I'll be out in a bit!" It was a bit of a fib, but she didn't want to worry the pegasus. If she did, she might never be able to forget this entire fiasco. Twilight sighed and reluctantly turned off the water, grabbing a towel with her magic and gently drying her face. She stared at herself in the mirror, and smiled somewhat - at the very least, her blush was gone. "Okay, Twilight. You can do this. Just act normal until everypony else leaves for the night. Just a few more hours."
Her confidence renewed, she strode out of the bathroom and returned to her guests. For what it was worth, the rest of the party went off without a hitch - Rainbow's dare had been the worst of it, and they had soon turned to other games to pass the time. They laughed, played, ate, and sang the hours away, and as the sun began to set, the guests slowly began to leave one by one. The last guest remaining was Applejack, and Twilight wasn't entirely sure if it was just sheer luck that she had been the last one left, or if there was another reason. Regardless, the dare had left things between them in a rather awkward state, and now that they two of them were alone, they both tried to correct it.
"Look... Twi. I'm awful sorry 'bout what happened. I didn' know Rainbow was gonna go an' dare me ta do somethin' like that."
"It's... it's alright, Applejack. It was just a game, after all. Nothing serious. Not like it means anything."
"Nope, not at all." Even with things seemingly cleared up between them, however, Applejack remained. She idly pawed at the floor with a hoof before speaking once more. "I jus' wanted ta ask... yer face was awfully red fer th' longest time after we um... finished. Was that...?"
Twilight felt her face grow hot once more, and she slowly nodded. It was pointless to try and hide her embarrassment now. "Y-yep. First kiss."
"Well, considerin' everythin' me an' you have been through, I guess it's... kinda fittin'. Once ya think about it, anyways." It was her turn to be embarrassed as Applejack coughed and looked away from the unicorn. "I mean, I brought ya back from th' brink of death. Ya helped me get over mah fears. Sharin' a kiss doesn' mean anythin'."
"R-right. I um... I should go put Spike to bed. Yeah." Twilight turned to face towards the stairs leading to her room, but she paused. No! Twilight, you can't ask that! It's too selfish, too... weird!
"Ah, alright. Well, uh... g'night Twi. Thanks fer the party."
Don't you dare ask that. You told her over and over again that everything the two of you did didn't mean anything. That you were just friends. Don't you dare ruin that now.
Ever since their journey, though, she had felt... emboldened. Assertive. Different. She wasn't sure if it was everything they had overcome, or if some of Applejack's own courage had rubbed off on her. She had changed, for the better.
My entire life, I've been Twilight the student. Twilight the friend. I've spent so much of my life holed up in libraries and behind books. I've missed out on so much, and just once, I want to take a risk. I want to dance with the fates.
Don't do it. Do not do it. I'm warning you right now, Twilight Sparkle.
Oh be quiet.
She squelched the voice of opposition within her head and turned back around, the earth pony already making her way towards the door. "AJ, wait. I... wanted to ask something."
Applejack stopped in her tracks and glanced over her shoulder at Twilight Sparkle. "Whatcha need, sugarcube?"
"Well, what I wanted to ask is... kinda selfish. Kinda." She already felt her ears flatten, and her gaze had quickly turned towards the floor.
"Ask what ya need ta ask, Twi. You an' me both know that I've been selfish before, askin' ya ta hold me every night while we were goin' after that fruit." Applejack slowly approached the lavender mare, stopping a few feet away from her. "Go ahead an' speak yer mind."
"And... promise you won't be weirded out?"
"Weirded out?" It was an odd enough question to cause the earth pony to raise an eyebrow, but she seemed to quickly get over it. "Sure, I promise. Now tell me what's botherin' ya, Twilight."
Twilight Sparkle sighed and closed her eyes, chewing on her lip as she slowly worked up the nerve to speak. "I-I wanted to know i-if... you could k-kiss me again?"
"I uh... I jus' gotta ask - why?"
The unicorn opened her eyes and blinked. She hadn't quite been expecting that question. "W-well, um... it was m-my first kiss and all, and i-it felt kinda weird but at the same time I want more of it and I d-don't really know why and oh Celestia I'm rambling I'm so sor-"
Applejack placed a hoof on Twilight's mouth and chuckled softly. "Ya got nothin' ta be sorry for, sugarcube. We've all been there at one point or another. Do ya really want me ta give ya another kiss?"
"I... um..." She bashfully nodded. She never thought that Applejack would take her question seriously, and yet... she had.
"Kinda surprised it's taken ya this long ta ask, considerin' how close we were that whole trip. Still, do ya want me ta be serious 'bout it?"
"Wait." Twilight's eyes shot open and she stared straight Applejack. "You... weren't being serious before?"
"Aw shoot, Twi." The earth pony chuckled once more, slowly shaking her head. "Ya told me how ya weren't all that naive while we were on our journey, but I'm findin' that awful hard ta believe now."
"Sorry for not being a social butterfly like you and the rest of the girls." She scowled at Applejack and quickly glanced off to the side, but an orange hoof pulled her gaze right back.
"C'mon, Twilight. I didn' mean it like that. Besides, yer kinda lucky. Whole lot of stuff is still new to ya." Applejack leaned over, whispering into Twilight's ear. "Jus' relax. It's better that way, trust me."
"Better? Better ho-" She found herself cut off once more as the earth pony leaned over and gave her another kiss. This one was different. It was powerful, passionate - 'serious', as Applejack called it. She stood with her eyes closed, slowly taking in every little sensation. The tingle in her lips, the shivers racing up and down her spine. Even her legs wobbled, and it took every ounce of effort to keep herself from toppling over. This was definitely different from the first kiss - it wasn't forced, and she had actually wanted it. And she was enjoying it. At this point, she was fairly certain how to return a kiss and she steadily worked up the courage to do so, gently pushing back with each kiss and mimicking her friend's movements as best she could. It had been enough to catch Applejack's attention, and the orange mare quietly snickered, continuing for a few seconds more before breaking away.
"Yer an awful fast learner, Twi."
Twilight blushed and nervously smiled. "D-did I do that right? I don't know if I did or not, but it felt like the right thing to do but I don't know and you're way too good at this and I'm rambling again aren't I?"
"Yer talkin' too much, sugarcube." Applejack slowly inched forwards, a sly grin on her face, and it didn't take long for Twilight to realize what she had planned.
Oh Celestia, she wants to go again. She actually wants to go again.
The earth pony inched closer and closer, and then...
Twilight Sparkle bolted upright in bed, gasping for breath. It had just been a dream, but... it had felt so real. She rubbed at her face, gently placing a hoof on her lips and feeling somewhat relieved upon finding no real sensation from it.
Why. Why why whhhhhy. Why do I keep having this dream?
She had been having this same dream for weeks now, and it wouldn't have bothered her as much if she knew why it was even happening in the first place. It hadn't just been Applejack either - the dream had involved the rest of her friends at one point or another, and even other stallions and mares had been involved at some points, though she hardly knew most of them. Applejack was the most common subject for the dream, though, and each dream had been more vivid than the last. The fact that she always dreamt of her friends 'teaching' her how to kiss - no, make out - and the fact that she was actually willing to do so and seemingly enjoyed it? That was terrifying.
I shouldn't be acting like this. Friends don't have horribly vivid dreams about doing... that with their friends.
At the very least, it was morning. She quickly brushed out her mane and cleaned her teeth before proceeding downstairs. Based on smell alone, breakfast was already ready, which meant Spike had been up for a while now. It was somewhat unusual, given that he often liked to sleep in, but she thought nothing of it. Twilight rounded the corner into her kitchen and smiled as the baby dragon placed a daffodil sandwich on the table for her. "Aw, you made my favorite for me! Thanks Spike!"
"Yep! I heard you talking in your sleep a whole bunch last night, so I figured you were having a bad dream. I thought this might make up for it." He turned and peered up at Twilight. "What were you dreaming about anyways?"
She froze - she didn't know she talked in her sleep. If she did, that meant that Spike possibly knew what her dreams had been about, and... oh that was not good at all. She didn't want to have to explain all of that. Twilight took a quick bite out of her sandwich, chewing and swallowing before continuing. "I... don't really remember. What was I talking about?"
"Well..." He bit a chunk out of an emerald and tapped a claw to his chin as he thought. "It was a bunch of gibberish, really. All I could make out was 'App' and... 'Ja'. That's what it sounded like, at least."
"Oh. No clue, then. Sorry, Spike." It was a fib, and a big one at that, but she didn't feel comfortable discussing this with Spike - not yet, at least. She finished her meal and put the plate away, leaving Spike to eat his gemstones in solitude. "I need to run some errands around town, and I need my number one assistant to do something for me. Think you're up to it?"
Even as the words were leaving her mouth, Spike already stood front and center, saluting her and puffing out his chest as much as he could manage. "Ready and able!"
"Excellent! See if we have any books on dream interpretation, and if we do, just set them aside for me. I need them for some... research. Yes." Twilight smiled at him, trying to make it as sincere as possible, and he briefly eyed her with suspicion. When Spike returned her smile with one of his own, she knew he had bought it, and though part of her felt terrible for hiding things from him, it was for the best.
"Sure thing, Twilight. We probably have a book or two laying around here somewhere... I'll have 'em ready before you're back." The lavender mare was already headed out the door, though, and Spike waved her off as she left for the day. With Twilight gone, he had the entire library to himself, and he definitely planned on napping later on. The dragon had business to take care of first, however. He grabbed the last gem from his bowl, a sapphire, and quickly devoured it before placing his bowl within the sink. All that was left was to search for the books Twilight had requested.
Leaving the kitchen, he made his way into the library himself and wandered about until reaching the 'D' section. After a quick ladder repositioning, he clambered up the rungs and began to dig through the tomes. Twilight was notoriously tidy, and her books were no exception. Despite how orderly she kept things, however, she never could find what she needed - it always struck the baby dragon as being a bit odd, but funny nonetheless. What Twilight often couldn't find though, he could, and he had already managed to find several books about dream interpretation. "Huh. More here than I thought. Why does she have so many books about dreams anyways?"
He thought back a bit and quickly remembered the brief psychology obsession she had during her days at Canterlot. It had only lasted a week or so, but had ended up with her gaining at least twenty new books for her collection. A knock at the door interrupted his reminiscing, though - though Twilight's home was also the Ponyville Library, visitors were actually somewhat rare. Spike carefully dropped the books onto the floor below and hopped down the ladder, running over towards the door and opening it. He smiled upon opening the door, happy to see a familiar face. "Oh, hey Applejack!"
"Howdy Spike. Say, is Twi around? Wanted ta ask her opinion on somethin'." The orange mare leaned over and began to glance about the inside of the library, frowning somewhat as Spike shook his head at her. "Shoot, she's probably out an' about then. I'll have ta catch her another time, then. Though, I gotta ask - ya'll got any books on dreams and what not?"
Spike chuckled and stared at her curiously. "Books? I didn't know you read."
"What's that 'spose ta mean? 'course I read, I jus'... never really get th' chance. Applebuckin' an' all." She sighed and looked at him once more. "So ya got any books on dreams or not?"
"Oh, we do, but um... they're all checked out right now. To Twilight."
"Twi's got 'em, huh? Mind tellin' her ta send 'em mah way when she's done? I keep gettin' these weird dreams, an' it's messin' up mah sleep somethin' fierce."
He nodded, and Applejack turned to leave before being stopped by another question. "I know Twilight's been having some bad dreams too. She keeps talking in her sleep and stuff. What kind of things have yours been about anyways?"
The earth pony sighed - if there was one downside to Spike, it was that he was immensely curious. She wasn't sure if it was because part of Twilight had rubbed off on him, or if he was simply curious because of his age. Applejack eventually relented, however. "Eh, I don' see th' harm in tellin' ya. Jus' don' tell Twi, or she might get after me fer puttin' ideas in yer head or somethin'."
"Don't worry, AJ! My lips are sealed!" He made a zipping motion across his mouth, and Applejack softly laughed before continuing.
"Alrighty, it all started when..."
Applejack didn't know how she got here, but she knew one thing - she was going to drown. She had been swimming before, of course, but that was different. This was... she wasn't quite sure what it was. A raging ocean, or maybe some violent rapids. All she knew was that every attempt to stay afloat had ended in failure, and she was sinking. Her own oxygen reserves were steadily running out, and her lungs were beginning to burn. Even as she continued to steadily disappear into the black depths of the water, she held her breath for as long as she could, somehow convinced that the situation would manage to turn itself around.
Unable to hold her breath any longer, the earth pony opened her mouth and took a breath, swallowing water and coughing it up at the same time. She began to panic, thrashing about as she struggled desperately for air, and her vision slowly began to grow dark. The last thing Applejack saw before losing consciousness was a shadowy form above her, and she mused that perhaps this was one of the mythical sea ponies she had heard about as a filly.
And then she blacked out.
"So your dream was about... you drowning? That sounds more like a nightmare, if you ask me."
Applejack sighed and shook her head. "Spike, didn' Twilight ever tell ya not ta interrupt somepony when they're tellin' a story?"
"Wait." The dragon blinked at her, then raised an eyebrow. "...you mean you weren't done?"
"No, I ain't done. Now lemme finish tellin' mah story. Like I was sayin'..."
When she awoke, the first thing she noticed was the feeling of grass beneath her, and the warmth of a fire. Applejack groggily looked around, taking in her surroundings - grass below her, trees above, and a camp fire. If this was the afterlife, it wasn't off to a bad start. The orange mare tried to sit up, but her attempt was met with a jolt of pain in her side. She grimaced and laid back down, staring at the fire. "Alright, if that hurt, I ain't dead. But... where the hay am I?"
Her ears twitched upon hearing the sound of hoofsteps, and she glanced around the camp to see a hooded figure approach her and sit at her side. The same figure gently levitated a bowl of water down to her, setting it down on the ground before her. Despite the light of the fire or the use of magic, however, she couldn't see the pony's face. She was definitely eager for answers, however. "Um... howdy there. I'm... guessin' yer th' one that saved me?"
"Oh. Uh, well... I 'preciate it. Do ya... mind tellin' me where we are, though?"
The figure sat in silence, maybe staring at her and maybe not. She didn't know for certain. It gave the bowl of water a gentle tap.
Applejack stared at the bowl of water momentarily, then looked back up at the figure. "...ain't ya gonna tell me where we are?"
Another tap on the bowl. It wanted her to drink.
"Alright, alright. I get it." It seemed rather odd, to be offered water after she had essentially drowned. Still, whoever this figure was had saved her life, and they were simply trying to aid her recovery. She slowly leaned over towards the bowl, carefully picking it up in her mouth and taking a few drinks. It was cool, crisp, and surprisingly refreshing. Despite feeling slightly better from the drink, she was still tired from the event, and the earth pony laid down and glanced up at the figure. "Thank ye kindly. Fer savin' mah life an' all."
The hooded figure remained silent and simply nodded, dragging a blanket over her with its magic, and she drifted off to sleep soon afterwards. All through the night, the figure remained at her side, never sleeping and never faltering from its unspoken duties. When she awoke the next morning, a small meal awaited her, and she ate after thanking her rescuer once more. She quickly regained her strength, and upon doing so, the figure lead her away from the camp and back to a small cabin within the forest. As much as she appreciated this figure's hospitality, she needed to get back home, and upon reaching the cabin itself, she asked about it. "Do ya happen ta know how ta get back ta Ponyville? Mah friends an' family are probably worried sick about me, an' I need ta get back home."
A shake of the head.
"Alright then, can ya at least show me where we are?"
Her savior lead her inside the cabin and pointed at a map posted to the wall - her heart sank upon discovering that she wasn't even in Equestria, and knowing that she might never see her friends or family again, she began to cry. The hooded figure took a seat at her side, offering a comforting hoof and keeping her company. As she cried herself to sleep, the figure resumed its watch over her once more, never sleeping and never faltering. Days flew by, and though she still wished she could return to Equestria, Applejack eventually accepted that this was her new home. She had even managed to befriend the hooded figure somewhat, though they hadn't spoken a word to the earth pony since meeting her.
Weeks began to pass as if they were minutes, and the orange mare finally had a semblance of happiness at her new home. Alongside the hooded figure, they both tended the land and took care of various chores, taking care of the cabin and one another. She was keenly aware at this point that the figure watched over her when she slept, but part of her appreciated such a thing - it made her feel safe and protected in this foreign land. On the day of her birthday, the figure presented her with a gift, despite her having never mentioned her birthday at all. How it knew about it was something she didn't know, but she accepted the gift nonetheless.
Within was a fruit, a single golden apple that softly glowed, and she immediately recognized it as the fruit she and Twilight had retrieved from their journey. But that fruit had been one-of-a-kind, and couldn't regrow for another thousand years. Applejack warily eyed it, unsure what to think as she turned towards the figure. "This... this can't be right. Me an' Twi got this fer mah Granny. There shouldn' be another one."
The figure stretched out a hoof from beneath its robes, and the the world outside the cabin shifted violently. What was once forest soon became desolate plains, and most noticeable was the inclusion of a very large tree - the Tree of Life. Applejack bolted out the door, staring up at the gargantuan trunk in shock. The runes engraved upon the bark had remained silent, but everything surrounding the tree when she and Twilight had seen it had been verdant grass. All that remained now was dry and cracked earth. The earth pony did her best to find a suitable explanation, but couldn't find any, and just when she had given up, a familiar face appeared.
We meet again, Child of Earth.
"He Who Watches?! But... where's th' ruins? I thought ya were bound to 'em?" She looked up at the golden figure, desperate for answers, and it would hopefully provide some.
These are special circumstances, Element of Honesty. You are lost in more ways than one, and you grow increasingly hopeless as you struggle to find answers. Tell me what you wish to know.
Applejack stood there momentarily, rapidly glancing about as she searched for questions she might ask. "Wh... what's goin' on? What happened ta all th' grass an' trees? Where am I, an' who is-"
The glowing specter held out a limb, and she quickly stopped talking. This is a scene of things to come. You have sacrificed much for the sake of others, and nothing for yourself. You have nurtured the growth of many, yet you remain withered and stunted. You walk a perilous path, Child of Earth, and only with the aid of another will you find what you need.
"An' then I wake up. Same place, every time. It's pretty darn weird, lemme tell ya."
Spike stared at Applejack, his mouth agape, and it took a few more moments for him to really register anything that had been said to him. "Wow, that's... yeah, that's some freaky stuff. I'll make sure Twilight sends over those books pronto, so you can get that crazy dream stuff sorted out."
"Thanks a lot, Spike. I sure do appreciate it." The earth pony gave the baby dragon a smile and wave, and she soon departed to return back to Sweet Apple Acres. It had been nice to get some of that dream nonsense off her chest, but it didn't solve things completely. She had been having this same dream night after night, week after week, and it was beginning to interfere with her applebucking and daily chores around the farm. It was frustrating, not only because it was getting in the way of her work, but because she still wasn't entire sure what kind of message the dream was even trying to give her.
Honestly - 'nurtured the growth of many', but I'm stunted or somethin'? What's that supposed ta mean? Is that some kinda insult? Or maybe...
"Bwuh?" The orange mare blinked and quickly shook her head, "Oh, howdy there Nurse Redheart. Sorry, I was... thinkin' 'bout somethin'."
"I didn't interrupt or anything, did I?"
"Naw, didn' interrupt anythin' important. Did ya need somethin'?"
The Nurse smiled and nodded, reaching back into her work bag and pulling out two small bottles, which she gently placed upon the ground. "Actually, I do. Those are for you and your brother, at his request."
"...pardon?" Applejack raised an eyebrow and looked down at the bottles with a scrutinizing eye.
"Well, Mister Macintosh requested something to help him fully kick his caffeine habit - said he wants to stop drinking coffee entirely. The other bottle has some sleep aids for you. He said you've been making an awful ruckus at night, and he thought it might help out."
"...thank ye kindly, Nurse Redheart." With a sigh, Applejack leaned down and grabbed both bottles in her mouth, giving the Nurse a brief nod before continuing her trip back home.
Sleep aids?! I swear, Macintosh, one of these days...
After a few more minutes of travel time, she managed to reach home once more and made her way into the farm house. Big Macintosh was seated at the table, currently enjoying lunch, and the orange mare expertly tossed one of the pill bottles out of her mouth, pegging him in the forehead. The stallion set down his meal and glanced over at Applejack with a raised eyebrow. "Well hello ta you too, AJ."
She quickly spat out the other bottle and turned to glare at her brother. "Honestly, Big Mac, sleep aids? I'm a grown mare! I can handle mah own problems! I don't need ya ta go blabbin' about stuff ta other ponies, just 'cause I ain't sleepin' well."
"Lemme just apologize fer bein' concerned about ya, then." Big Macintosh sighed and shook his head. "Besides, I got every right ta start blabbin' about stuff when it's affectin' others. Me an' Apple Bloom have had ta pick up yer slack with th' chores, 'cause ya always seem ta be out of it as of late. Yer not gettin' enough sleep."
Applejack hadn't really noticed any changes herself, but if it was having a big enough impact that even Apple Bloom was being forced to work harder, then something clearly needed to be fixed. She reluctantly picked up her bottle and made her way up the stairs to her room, giving her older brother an apologetic look as she left the kitchen. The earth pony quickly made her way into her room and gently shut the door, tossing the pill bottle onto her nightstand before flopping over onto the bed. In a way, she was somewhat disappointed that Twilight hadn't been around when she had stopped by the library. Ever since their journey for the fruit, they had been the best of friends, and it wasn't uncommon for them to spend a few hours a day with one another. Sure, the time was usually spent doing rather mundane things, like organizing Twilight's books or helping Applejack buck some apples, but it was still time well spent. They would talk and joke, and it made the most boring of tasks seem... well, fun.
She rolled back off the bed and undid the bands that kept her mane and tail tied up, chuckling softly as her hair sprawled out wildly. "Hoo boy, I 'spose I should probably get this mess trimmed some time." The earth pony walked over towards her dresser and grabbed the brush that sat on top of it, humming to herself as she brushed out her mane and tail. She didn't necessarily have to brush her hair, but she simply... felt like it. She was bored, and didn't exactly want to see Big Macintosh again just yet. It wasn't exactly difficult work, but with how long her hair had gotten, it was more trouble than it should have been, and she couldn't help but think back to when Twilight had brushed it out for her. The unicorn had done it so quickly and effortlessly, but that was just the magic at work. Everything was simple when you could simply make it levitate, instead of having to hold it in your mouth.
With every passing minute, Applejack became more and more irritated with how difficult it was to brush out her own mane, and she eventually sat the brush back upon the dresser as she placed the bands around her hair once more. It was way too much of a fuss, and she was tired of dealing with it. As she tied her hair up once more, the earth pony sat upon the floor and sighed as she glanced out the window.
"It'd be a whole lot easier if Twi were here."
"Spike! I'm back!"
It had been a shorter trip than expected. Almost every shop that had the magical components she needed was either sold out or not open at all, and Twilight Sparkle had been forced to simply mail an order form to Canterlot. Still, it meant she would have to put her experiments on hold, which in turn meant she would have a break from her work - not a bad thing at all. The baby dragon, roused from his nap, made his way down the stairs and threw the unicorn a halfhearted salute, followed by a yawn. "Ngh... morning, Twilight."
"Spike, it's the afternoon."
Another yawn, and Spike idly shrugged. "Meh. Same thing. I got the books you wanted, they're already down in your lab. Also, Applejack stopped by while you were gone. Left a message too."
"Applejack stopped by?" The lavender mare tilted her head and raised an eyebrow, curious to know more. "What did she want?"
"She was after those dream books too. Wanted 'em when you were done." Spike yawned once more and gave his belly a scratch. "We got any emeralds laying around? I've got a craving."
"Uh... yeah. Pantry, bottom shelf." Twilight turned and quickly made her way into her lab, shutting the door behind her as she descended down the stairs. At the bottom, as promised, sat a neat stack of books. Almost all of them were about dream analysis, though some of the titles deviated slightly - for the most part, they were all psychology books. Considering that most of the day would be about analyzing her dreams, she could probably invite Applejack over and kill two birds with one stone, but that was risky.
If she knew that I was dreaming about her, and the things that we even did...
An image of Pinkie yelling 'FOR-E-VER' flashed through her head, and she quickly pushed the thought aside. Twilight would invite Applejack over - after she had sorted out her own dreams. The unicorn picked out the first book from the stack and began to flip through it. "Let's see... R, R, where are the R's... Ah! Here we go!"
With the appropriate section opened, she grabbed a journal and quill and began to write as she read aloud. "Romance. Dreams with romantic situations can have a wide variety of meanings, but the most common is fairly straightforward, in that the subject of the dream is also the subject of the dreamer's desires."
She frowned. If that were the case, then that meant that she had some sort of yearning for Applejack, but... she never really felt anything like that. She enjoyed spending time with the earth pony, sure, but it never went beyond that. To complicate matters, she had dreamt about multiple ponies, not just one. She knew it couldn't possibly mean that she desired all of them, but rather, there was a trait shared amongst them all. A common link.
Determined, Twilight began to compile a list of every single pony she had ever encountered within that same dream. As the list continued to grow, however, it became increasingly clear that there wasn't really a common trait at all. Personalities didn't match, nor did genetic factors such as physical or mental capabilities. The only thing all the ponies shared was that they had shown up within the dream at one point or another. The lavender mare chewed on her lip and tapped the quill against her chin as she mulled it over.
"Hrm... no common links aside from appearing within my dreams at one point or another. From what I've read about psychology, that might just indicate somepony wanting companionship or a friend, but..." She sighed and sat the quill down, staring at the text once more. "...I've kissed all of them. So does... that mean that part of me wants to take things up a notch?"
What would I even look for, though? I don't even know what traits I find desirable, or whether I'd want a coltfriend or a marefriend.
Mares? Nonsense, Twilight! You've always liked stallions. Always. Besides, it'd be weird to date one of your closest friends.
I don't know that, though! I never really did much socializing in school, so I don't even know what I like! I mean, I've never really had much of a crush on anypony either. I'm just... curious, and oh Celestia I'm arguing with myself again. In my head, no less.
Twilight quickly shook her head and tore off a blank sheet of paper, setting it aside and starting a small list on it. The only things she would write down would be things she knew for certain from her dreams. At the top of the list, she placed her first bulletin.
1. Likely interest in a romance of some sort. Further self-exploration required for additional information.
"It's just... likely. It's not certain, just likely. Okay! Next step!" The unicorn set the book aside and retrieved another that she kept purposely hidden down here - Why Do Foals Fall In Love?: A Beginner's Guide. She had first gotten the book when her dreams had started up, and she was a little embarrassed that she actually required a guide, but romance was something completely new to her. She had never had a crush and never had a kiss. It was all new territory for her. Twilight's horn briefly glowed as she flipped through the pages, stopping in the 'T' section. "Traits. Let's see here... When looking for a mate or somepony to bond with, it's important to know what traits you desire so that you may look for those within individuals. To do so ensures the best possible compatibility. Simply looking at those closest to you is often enough to reveal what kind of traits you prefer."
Those closest to me? Well... there's my parents, Princess Celestia, Spike, and Appleja-
She stopped her self mid-thought, paused briefly, then continued.
We'll set AJ aside for now. Okay, my parents, um... loving, hard-working, trust-worthy. The Princess trusts me implicitly, and she's proud of me. Spike looks up to me and loves me.
Twilight had already made sure to list all of these qualities on a separate piece of paper, with the paper itself divided up into two columns. On the left were the traits she had found within those closest to her, and though the right side remained blank for the time being, the column was simply titled 'Applejack'. "Okay. Applejack. Applejack is..."
Applejack, from what Twilight had seen and heard for herself, was the best kind of pony she could ever hope to know. The earth pony was incredibly hard-working, always honest, and never hesitated to help a friend in need, even if it meant she had to sacrifice a little something in return. Not only that, but she was extraordinarily level-headed and patient, with a keen common sense. And although the orange mare was a bit hardheaded at times, she almost always made up for it with sheer determination.
"And she saved my life..." Twilight Sparkle finished filling out the list and looked over the paper, sighing upon finding out that almost all of the traits she liked were found within the orange earth pony. "Okay, that still doesn't mean anything. Just means AJ has all the traits I like. It doesn't necessarily mean I like her."
Alright, so everything basically points to me liking Applejack - or rather ponies like Applejack. Or... no, wait! Maybe I just admire her! Of course! Hah, why didn't I think of that sooner?
It was a suitable explanation for her, and for the time being, she was content with it. At the very least, it eased some of her fears. Satisfied with her work for the day, she carefully filed her papers away into their usual hiding spot, gathered up the books, and placed them within her saddlebags. Rather than invite the earth pony over, she decided to take the initiative.
Next stop - Sweet Apple Acres.
Rather than sit idle in her own room for most of the day, Applejack had decided to keep herself busy with the farm itself. Boards had been repaired, apples bucked, and the animals fed, and she now found herself with a bit of free time. She had already wandered down into the cider cellar, had a nice little bed of hay set up in the corner, and she was just about ready to take a nap as she laid upon it. It was certainly cooler down here, and was almost always quiet - Apple Bloom certainly never came down here, nor did Granny Smith. The only one who usually even knew where to find her was-
Her ears twitched as she heard a knock on one of the wooden doors to the cellar. "AJ? Miss Twilight's here ta see ya."
"Alrighty, Big Mac. Send her on down."
Hoofsteps on stone echoed throughout the cellar, and Twilight Sparkle slowly came into view, the saddlebags gently bouncing upon her back with every step downwards. Upon seeing her friend, the unicorn gave a nod and a warm smile. "Hey Applejack. I brought the books over for you, figured I'd help too."
"Really now? Awful kind of ya, Twi." The earth pony sat up slightly and moved over, giving Twilight a bit of room to take a seat beside her. The lavender mare took notice of the gesture and took her place beside Applejack, using her magic to lift the saddlebags off her back and setting them down in front of the both of them. The books were quickly and carefully pulled out and placed before them, and Applejack let out a low whistle as she browsed over each of the tomes. "Ya brought quite a few books with ya, sugarcube. Ya sure we're gonna need all of 'em?"
"Definitely. I can't help you until you tell me about your dreams, though."
Applejack nodded and began to recite her dreams once more for her friend. She talked of the drowning and the hooded figure, of the cabin in the woods and how she could never return to Equestria. She spoke of the passing days and weeks, the gift of the golden fruit, and the sudden reappearance of the Tree and He Who Watches. With journal and quill in front of her, Twilight took down note after note as Applejack told the unicorn about her dreams, and the lavender mare took a keen interest in her troubles. It was something the earth pony certainly appreciated.
Twilight Sparkle already had multiple books open, flipping through all of them simultaneously and stopping at several respective sections, and she was already reading, writing, and speaking at a frenzied pace. "Let's see, AJ... rough waters typically mean turbulent emotions, drowning might mean a feeling of being smothered by those same emotions. The hooded figure, you apparently found solace in it... never being able to return home, though, that sounds like you felt lost. The golden fruit - definitely about us, but I'm not too sure what it means. The dried earth and desolate plains, that could mean lots of things. Hopelessness, loneliness maybe."
"What about what He Who Watches said? Ya think that was really it, speakin' ta me in mah dreams? Or was that all me?" Applejack was already leaning over slightly, looking over Twilight's notes as she continued to help the orange mare decipher her dreams.
"I'm not sure. Considering He Who Watches is a spirit, maybe and maybe not. The words it spoke were definitely about you, though. The talk about sacrifice and nurturing... sounds like maybe you do too much giving and not enough taking. You apparently need the help of another, apparently to help you do... more taking, I guess?"
Applejack sighed and stared at the notes. "Well, shoot. Still got an awful lot of questions, but it's nice havin' some answers now. Wonder what it's all 'spose ta mean, though. Yer involved too, but we dunno ta what extent. Stuff in there 'bout emotions, gettin' help, an' spendin' some 'me' time."
"Not to worry, Applejack. I'll help you get all of this sorted out." Twilight gave her friend a smile, and was returned one in kind. For a few minutes, the two of them simply sat together on the hay, never speaking a word to one another. They had moments like this during their journey, and such silence no longer bothered either of them. Soon enough, however, Twilight began to gather up her books, slowly placing them back within her saddlebags as she prepared to leave.
"So Twi, what were yer dreams about?"
She froze, and cautiously glanced over at Applejack. It was probably best to tell the truth - kinda. "Um, well... it's been about... uh... romance. And stuff."
"Oh ho, romance, eh? Ya got some stallion of yer dreams or somethin'? Or maybe it's a mare?" Applejack chuckled and grinned, leaning over to give Twilight a playful poke with her hoof.
"Well c'mon now, don' keep a girl waitin'! Who is it?"
Twilight sighed and briefly looked away from Applejack. "I'd... really rather not say, AJ. Not yet, at least."
"Ah, well. That's alright, sugarcube." The earth pony leaned over and wrapped a foreleg around Twilight, giving her a gentle hug. "I shouldn' 'ave pressured ya. Take things at yer own pace an' all, yeah?"
"Yeah. That'd... probably be for the best." Twilight felt somewhat relieved to have dodged the question, but this had also been an excellent chance to tell her friend the whole truth - it had just been the two of them after all. Surely she would... no, she wouldn't understand. It was still too weird, even for the unicorn. And there were still so many variables that had to be tested and proved or disproved. Still so much to do, just to figure this 'romance' thing out. "I need to get going, Applejack. It's almost dusk, and Spike's probably starting to get hungry. It was... good to see you again."
Applejack smiled and nodded, leaning over to give her another brief hug. "Good ta see you too, Twilight. Hey, before ya go - ya doin' anythin' tomorrow?"
Twilight briefly thought for a moment, tapping a hoof to her chin. "I... don't think I am. Why?"
"Ya maybe wanna come over tomorrow? Me an' Big Macintosh are gonna be doing some cider samplin'. Ya know, make sure it's alright an' all." The earth pony grinned and winked, causing the unicorn to giggle in return.
"Oh, I don't see why not. I'll be over tomorrow, AJ. See you then?"
Applejack nodded, and the two ponies bid farewell to one another. Even as Twilight Sparkle made her way back home, she was already thinking about tomorrow. Drinking cider with the Applejack and her brother certainly seemed like it could be fun, and she was definitely looking forward to spending more time with her closest friend, but... there was one slight problem.
She had never had alcohol before.
Applejack stared at the bottle and gave it a gentle poke, tipping it over onto its side. She leaned over, giving the label a quick read. "One ta two pills per night before sleepin'. Do not exceed two pills within twenty-four hours."
She sighed. Had it really come to this? Forced to take medicine just so she could get a decent amount of sleep? The earth pony glanced over at her bed and then back to the bottle, staring at it once more. Reluctantly, she popped open the bottle and dumped out two pills, throwing them into her mouth and swallowing. After placing the top back on it, Applejack undid her hair bands and climbed into bed, pulling the covers tight over herself. Maybe tonight would be different, and she would actually get some rest.
She stood in a field, stalks of wheat gently blowing in the breeze and shimmering ever so slightly as the sunlight bounced off them. It resembled an ocean of amber, and Applejack slowly began to wander through the field. Blue skies and not a cloud in sight, along with a slow, steady breeze and the warmth of Celestia's sun - it was beautiful day. Off in the distance, however, something caught her eye. A lavender form, sitting in solitude. Curious, she began to walk towards it, and with every step Applejack took towards the waiting figure, a soft and somber melody played within her mind. She didn't recognize the voice, but it sounded warm and friendly.
I set my sail
fly the wind it will take me
back to my home, sweet home
The earth pony continued her trek forwards, the song never ceasing as she pressed onwards.
Lie on my back
clouds are making way for me
I'm coming home, sweet home
"Twilight?" With every step she took forwards, the figure seemed to slip farther away, and she picked up her pace to a trot.
I see your star you left it burning for me
Mother, I'm here
As the sun slipped behind a rogue cloud, the rest of the field darkened, yet the lavender figure shone just as brightly as it did before. It was a beacon, burning brightly compared to its surroundings, and it continually beckoned Applejack to come closer and closer. Her trot sped up, becoming a canter.
Eyes open wide
feel your heart and it's glowing
I'm welcome home, sweet home
The sun returned once more, but the lavender figure upon the horizon didn't appear any less faint. If anything, it blazed brightly, and the orange mare couldn't help but look as she chased after it. Such a sight didn't hurt to look at it, but was instead surprisingly beautiful. She simply had to see who this being was, and her canter become a determined gallop.
I take your hoof
now you'll never be lonely
not when I'm home, sweet home
The lavender shape no longer continued to slip away, but instead began to draw closer. She pressed on, a faint smile beginning to spread across her face as the figure drew near, and as she did so, she saw who it truly was. Twilight Sparkle sat in the midst of the field, staring out at the horizon as it stretched into the infinite, and she slowly turned as Applejack arrived, a smile upon her face. "I'm glad you could come, AJ. I wouldn't want you to miss this."
Applejack took her place beside her companion, and the unicorn scooted over until their bodies pressed against one another, though the earth pony hardly seemed to notice. She took off her hat and set it aside, slipping off the hair bands as well and grinning as her mane billowed in the breeze. To feel the wind like that, to know that she could share such a wonderful view with someone so close to her... it felt so wonderful, so free. The orange mare turned towards Twilight and gave her a warm smile, leaning over to give the unicorn a playful nudge with her muzzle. "I wouldn' miss this fer th' world, Twi."
I see your star, you left it burning for me
Mother, I'm here
She groaned as she slowly awoke, finding herself on the floor and her sheets tangled around her body. True to what they said, the sleep aids had indeed kept her asleep the entire night, and the dream, despite being a very different change of pace, hadn't entirely been unwelcome. As the morning sun danced across the walls of her bedroom, Applejack slowly got to her hooves, wiggling her way out of the sheets and making her way over towards her dresser. Even as she picked up the brush and began to run it through her mane, she couldn't help but notice how good she felt. Having a good night's rest had left her remarkably refreshed, and the cider sampling later on would simply add to her good mood.
The earth pony chuckled to herself and slowly shook her head, even as she smoothed out her hair - 'cider sampling' was a bit of a fib. She and Big Macintosh had every intent of having a few drinks to celebrate a successful applebucking season thus far, and now Twilight would be showing up too. She hadn't personally seen the unicorn ever drink anything, but she knew that Twilight had stayed in Canterlot during her studies. At the very least, she had to have had some wine at one point or another. Applejack slipped the first band around her mane and moved on to her tail, thinking to herself as she brushed.
Wonder how well Twi holds her liquor? It's gotta be better than what Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash can manage. Those two are serious lightweights, but that might jus' be 'cause they're pegasi.
With the knots in her tail gone, she slipped the last band on and set the brush atop her dresser once more. Pleased with herself, Applejack stepped out of her room and made her way downstairs and into the kitchen. Big Macintosh had managed to get up before her this morning, and was in the midst of making breakfast - he had deviated from his usual cup of coffee, and instead had a glass of apple juice set aside for himself. The stallion finished throwing together some sandwiches and set them down upon the table. "Sorry, AJ. Had ta use daisies. I know they aren' yer favorite. Yer lookin' awfully happy this mornin', though. Sleep well?"
"Like a baby. Woke up on th' floor, but I ain' gonna complain." Applejack took a seat at the table and picked up the sandwich, taking a quick bite out of it. "Dream kinda helped with that too."
The older brother took a seat beside her, taking a quick drink from his glass. "Did it now? What about?"
"Nothin' too big. Jus' me an' Twi doin' stuff." The earth pony shrugged slightly and took another bite of her sandwich, quickly chewing and swallowing. "Was kinda peaceful, really."
"If I didn' know any better, I'd say that with all th' time yer spendin' with Miss Twilight, ya gotta have quite th' crush on her. Yer even dreamin' about her now too." Unfortunately for Applejack, she had been in the middle of taking a drink of apple juice, and had promptly spewed much of it all over the kitchen table upon hearing her brother. The red stallion chuckled and slowly shook his head while his younger sister coughed.
It took longer than she would have liked to catch her breath, but when she did, she mustered up the sternest glare she could manage. "Big Mac!"
"Jus' a joke, little sister. Nothin' else."
"Well har har. Yer pretty damn funny, ain'tcha?" Applejack glared at him a bit longer and slowly returned to her meal. "Honestly, Macintosh... we're friends. That's it."
"Watch th' language - yer gettin' awfully defensive over this, lil' sis. But hey, if ya say ya don' got a crush, ya don' got a crush. I'mma go get everythin' set up fer when Miss Twilight comes along. Help me out when ya get done." Big Macintosh let out another chuckle and quickly ate his sandwich, leaving the table and giving his sister a playful poke. Applejack grumbled and continued to scowl at him even as he was leaving. It had been awfully low of him to try and say such a thing, and the earth pony was almost sure that this would ruin her good mood, and yet...
Now that she was alone, she thought back to the dream once more. The endless sea of wheat, the sunshine and picture-perfect day. Her and Twilight spending time with one another, just the two of them. It had been wonderful to be able to spend time alone with the unicorn, and she certainly enjoyed any amount of time they got to spend together. That's what friends did, though, right? They spent time with each other and they enjoyed it. The melody danced through her head once more, and she smiled as it brought back memories of the dream with it.
Eyes open wide
feel your heart and it's glowing
I'm welcome home, sweet home
With her mood restored, she finished up her meal and put her glass and plate away, softly humming to herself as she headed out the door to help her brother set things up. Nothing was going to ruin this day for her.
"Well... they said it would be in the cellar."
Twilight Sparkle stood at the top of the stairs leading into the cider cellar and slowly made her way down the stone steps. From within, she could already hear Applejack and Big Macintosh talking to one another, and the occasional clatter and clink of glass. The unicorn reached the bottom and rounded a corner, smiling as she saw the two earth ponies seated at a makeshift bar, coughing softly to catch their attention.
Applejack quickly looked over her shoulder and smiled upon seeing her, hopping off her stool and walking over to give the lavender mare a brief hug. "Good ta see ya came, Twi. Me an' Big Mac got started a lil' early, but it's nothin' major - only on th' first bottle. Ya ever had hard cider before?"
"Uh... yeah! Long time ago, though!" Twilight nervously laughed as she took a seat at the bar, and before she could say much else, Big Macintosh already had a bottle opened and sitting in front of her. Under the watchful eyes of both Applejack and her brother, she picked up the bottle and threw caution to the wind, taking a quick drink. Much to her surprise, it wasn't bad at all. The cider was sweeter than she had expected, with a very smooth finish. Twilight took a few more drinks, all smaller than the first, before setting the bottle down. "That's... actually pretty good, AJ."
"Hah! Knew ya'd like it! Don' tell nopony else, but a healthy chunk of th' business Sweet Apple Acres does is fer our cider. Strongest drink in Equestria." Applejack had already taken a seat beside Twilight and thrown a foreleg around the unicorn's shoulder, even as the earth pony took a drink from her own bottle. "It's th' little stuff that makes th' hard work all worth it."
Big Macintosh nodded in agreement and took a brief drink as well, setting his bottle down and leaning over towards Twilight. "Brief word of warnin' for ya, Miss Twilight. AJ's an angry drunk."
"I swear, Big Mac, keep this up an' I'll..." Applejack scowled at her brother and shook a hoof at him before taking another drink of cider. "I oughta just pop ya in th' mouth one of these days."
"Naw, ya wouldn' be able to. Ya never could beat me when we wrassled as kids." The red stallion chuckled and shook his head as he glanced around the cellar. "Jus' keep on dreamin', lil' sis."
For Twilight Sparkle, it was a bit of a shock to see Big Macintosh in such a talkative mood. His characteristic 'Yyyyep's and 'Nnnnope's were often the only forms of speech a pony could squeeze out of him, and anything else was usually met with a simple nod or shake of the head. He had always been an extraordinarily quiet pony. She pushed the thought aside and returned to the conversation, and the rest of the day gradually began to bleed away. The first bottle disappeared, and a second was brought out. The trio talked, danced, sang, and drank as the hours continued to drain away. The second bottle was gone, and then a third retrieved. She had already been feeling a bit lightheaded by the second bottle but had continued anyways, and the third had only exacerbated the problem. The lavender mare felt dizzy, her face was flushed, and she had been leaning on Applejack more and more as the day had gone on.
Twilight was, for lack of a better term, drunk. Her own goofiness in such a state might have even rivaled what Pinkie Pie was capable of, and she began to regale her friends with all manner of tales. "Hey. Hey you. Heeeeeeeey you. Ehehe."
"Whatcha need, Twi?" Applejack turned and looked at Twilight, an eyebrow raised. Both her and her brother were seasoned drinkers, and the cider hadn't affected them nearly as badly as the unicorn.
"Okay, so... so, this one time, waaaaay back when I was in Canterlot, I was... I was practicin' some spells, yeah? An'... an' I tried a teleport spell, an' the next thing I know, I'm in Celestia's tub! And she's there too! Aaaaah you should've seen the look on her faaaaace!" Twilight took another drink from the bottle, now her fourth, and set it down onto the bar. "Hey Big Mac. Heeeeey Big Mac."
The red stallion was in the middle of a drink of his own and carefully set the bottle down. "Yeah, Miss Twilight?"
"So whyyyy do they call you 'Big' Macintosh anyways? I mean... you're tall, but there's gotta be another reason!" Twilight had already climbed up out of her stool and was now crawling across the bar until she was nose and nose with Big Macintosh. "Oh! Wait! Is it because of how big your-"
Applejack grabbed the unicorn by the tail and quickly yanked her back onto her stool, clearly embarrassed by what had just happened. "Settle down there, sugarcube. Ya told me when we were on our trip that ya weren' gonna hit on mah brother."
Twilight turned and blinked at her before bursting into a fit of giggles, leaning over on the earth pony and repeatedly poking her with a hoof. "Whaaaat? Noooohohohoho... I wouldn't do that! That's just... that's silly. I'm just curious is all!"
"Right, jus'... try an' stay-" Before she could say anything else, the lavender mare had already left her stool again, and Applejack sighed and rubbed her face as she saw what her friend was up to. "-put this time, Twi. What th' hay are ya doin' on mah brother's back?"
The unicorn was currently perched on Big Macintosh's back, though neither he nor his sister knew how she managed to get up there so quickly. Twilight gently rocked back and forth, giggling and grinning. "Ahaaaaa, Applejack, look! I'm riiiiiding your broooother! Get it? It's a double entendre!"
Applejack groaned and shook her head as she retrieved her friend once more, though by that point, she seemed to have greatly calmed down. Twilight was leaning against her friend once more, looking much more tired than she did before. She yawned quietly, leaning over to give Applejack's neck a quick nuzzle and whispering to her. "AJ... I'm sleepy."
The orange mare did her best to hide her blush from such a show of affection, but Twilight was just drunk. This sort of thing happened, after all. Applejack glanced down at the unicorn and smiled faintly - Twilight Sparkle had already dozed off and was softly snoring. "Looks like she'll stay quiet this time. Mind doin' two things fer me, Big Mac?"
"Sure thin', lil' sis." He had already collected and disposed of most of the cider bottles, and was planning on finishing clean-up in the morning.
"Firs', help me get Twi on mah back. I'm gonna go give her a bath and then put her ta bed. Ya can smell th' cider on her awfully easy." Applejack carefully got down from her stool and continued to keep her slumbering friend propped up.
Big Macintosh chuckled and slowly shook his head. "A bath? Ya sure there ain' nothin' between the two of ya?"
"Shut up, Macintosh. Second, run over ta Twi's house an' tell Spike that she'll be stayin' with us for th' night."
The red stallion nodded and moved from his place behind the bar, carefully helping his sister move the sleeping Twilight Sparkle onto her back. With the first favor taken care of, he quickly left the cellar to carry the message to Spike, and Applejack slowly made her way up the stone steps, her friend's body gently bouncing with every step. She seriously doubted that much of anything would manage to wake Twilight up at this point, but she still didn't want to risk it. Even after leaving the cellar and making their way into the farmhouse and up the stairs to the second floor, Applejack still threw several cautionary glances over her shoulder to see if the unicorn was still asleep.
She pushed open the door to the bathroom and shut it behind herself, carefully sliding Twilight off her back and into the tub. Considering she would be working by herself, this would take a bit of time, but... this was her friend, after all. And friends watched out for one another, didn't they? After adding a bit of warm water to the tub, Applejack grabbed the nearest washcloth and bar of soap and began to gently scrub. Throughout it all, the unicorn quietly murmured in her sleep, though Applejack couldn't catch any of it. A soft knock on the door signaled Big Macintosh's return and subsequent trip to his own bed, but Applejack pressed on. Her work wasn't finished just yet.
With the last of the suds washed out of Twilight's mane and her lavender coat, the earth pony piled several towels on the floor and pulled her sleeping friend out and onto them. She began the arduous task of drying off the unicorn, working slowly and carefully as she steadily dried both Twilight's body and her mane. Even after all that, she didn't consider herself finished - a member of the Apple family never left a job half-finished. Grabbing a brush in her mouth, she began to run it through the unicorn's mane, slowly working out the kinks and smoothing it out. It must have taken an hour or more, as Applejack had to stifle several yawns during her work, but she had managed to finish nonetheless. She hefted Twilight Sparkle onto her back once more, leaving the bathroom and traveling to her own room, and it was a simple matter of getting her into bed at that point.
Applejack pulled the covers back with her mouth, rolled Twilight into bed, and then pulled the covers back across her once more. Through it all, she had managed to stay asleep, and the earth pony let out a small sigh of relief. Though she was exhausted and wanted to sleep in her own bed, Twilight needed it more - the floor would have to do for tonight. Applejack slowly approached her dresser and undid her hair bands once more before giving the pill bottle a stare. For a minute or two, she glanced between the bottle of sleeping pills and the slumbering Twilight Sparkle, but she soon made her choice. She shoved the bottle away from herself.
"Nah, not tonight."
Her work finished, Applejack gathered up some spare pillows and a blanket, creating a makeshift bed for herself on the floor. The orange mare gently laid herself down upon them and let out a soft sigh as she rolled onto her side and closed her eyes. It might be difficult, but she was determined to get some sleep of some sort.
Applejack's ears twitched, and she let out a soft groan as she woke up once more. A cautionary glance around the room showed that it was still the middle of the night, but something had managed to wake her up. She remained quiet as she listened for the sound once more.
Soft, faint murmurs, with whimpers mixed in between.
The earth pony slowly got to her hooves and made her way towards the source of the sound - Twilight Sparkle. Bathed in the light of Luna's moon, it was easy to tell that the unicorn was not sleeping soundly at all. Her brow was creased, her eyes closed tightly, and she repeatedly turned to bury her face in the pillow, as if she were trying to hide from something. Applejack pondered what to do for a moment, and though the solution was obvious, she chewed on her lip and avoided it for as long as she could. Still, it pained her to see someone so dear to her in such a state, and she pushed her own worries aside.
Applejack slid into bed as carefully as she could, taking a place behind Twilight and wrapping her forelegs around the lavender mare. She pulled the unicorn close against herself, whispering softly as she tried to ease her friend's troubles. "Shh... s'okay, Twi. I'm here. Yer not alone..."
Twilight relaxed within the embrace, reflexively moving to place herself closer to Applejack. The unicorn's expression softened and she murmured once more, loud enough this time for the earth pony to hear. "...App... ack..."
In that single moment, as the moonlight shone into the farmhouse, Applejack watched as Twilight slept and couldn't help but remark how calm and serene she looked. How beautiful she looked. A smile upon her face, the orange mare laid down beside the unicorn and gave her another hug, sighing softly and whispering again before drifting off to sleep.
"Sweet dreams, Twilight."
Twilight Sparkle softly yawned and opened her eyes, quickly shutting them once more and placing her hooves over her face. The light was far too bright for her liking, and even her own yawn had sounded much louder than she had anticipated. She felt somepony else's legs wrapped around her, and their gentle breathing on the back of her neck, and she was quite aware that she was in somepony else's bed. The hard part was trying to figure out how she had even gotten there in the first place.
The lavender mare could scarcely remember the night before, and without even realizing it, her own mind had begun to substitute her dreams into places that her memories could not fill. There had been a party with the other girls at Sweet Apple Acres, and Applejack had gotten the cider out for the occasion. They had played Truth or Dare, and she had kissed the orange earth pony, asking for another at the end of the night. Instead, Applejack had hauled her off to bed, and the two shared several tender moments together. They hadn't been overly intimate, but it had still been enjoyable, and she had fallen asleep in the earth pony's embrace.
With her eyes still closed tight, Twilight rolled over in bed, facing herself towards the sleeping Applejack. A smile slowly crept across her face as she leaned up towards the earth pony's muzzle. After everything they had done the night before, well...
One more won't hurt...
"I'm glad you could come, AJ. I wouldn't want you to miss this."
Applejack took her place beside her companion, and the unicorn scooted over until their bodies pressed against one another, though the earth pony hardly seemed to notice. She took off her hat and set it aside, slipping off the hair bands as well and grinning as her mane billowed in the breeze. To feel the wind like that, to know that she could share such a wonderful view with someone so close to her... it felt so wonderful, so free. The orange mare turned towards Twilight and gave her a warm smile, leaning over to give the unicorn a playful nudge with her muzzle. "I wouldn' miss this fer th' world, Twi."
"There's another reason why I wanted you to come out here, you know. A reason besides the view." Twilight Sparkle glanced over at Applejack and returned the smile, soon returning her view out towards the waving sea of wheat as it stretched on endlessly. "And, well... I kinda needed us to be alone for it."
"Alone, huh? Got somethin' on yer mind, Twilight?"
The unicorn slowly shook her head, the smile never fading from her face. "I think it'd be more accurate to say I've got somepony on my mind."
"Well, let's hear it then. Jus' th' two of us out here, sugarcube." Applejack turned towards Twilight once more, staring at the lavender mare as she seemed to pause in thought.
"It's... well, it's you, Applejack. It's you." The lavender mare sighed and slowly shook her head, intentionally staring out towards the horizon and avoiding the earth pony's gaze. "Day and night, you're in my thoughts. My dreams. I think about everything we've been through, and how you've made me laugh and smile. I think about how many times you've been there for me in my time of need. I think about how happy I am when I'm around you and with you, and I dream about... well, I don't think I need to say it. You can probably guess by now."
Applejack slowly nodded as she began to process everything she had just been told. Sure, Big Macintosh had just been poking fun at her when he said that she had a crush on Twilight, but... what if that hadn't been entirely false? She was willing to admit that she greatly enjoyed any time she got to spend with the unicorn, but there was still so much uncertainty. As Applejack searched her heart for the right answers, she heard He Who Watches once more, and everything began to fall into place.
You have sacrificed much for the sake of others, and nothing for yourself. You have nurtured the growth of many, yet you remain withered and stunted.
She finally knew what the dreams had meant - she had worked so hard to ensure that her friends and those closest to her were happy, and yet she had done nothing to make sure that she was happy. The earth pony was happy, but she wasn't truly happy, and though she had her friends and family, she had nopony else. Where others had that special somepony they could confide in or go to after a rough day, Applejack had nothing. Where others had that special somepony who looked forward to seeing them or spending time with them, Applejack had nothing.
Except for Twilight Sparkle.
She had told her darkest secrets to the unicorn, and they had always been there for one another through thick and thin. They always seemed to look forward to their next meeting, and every hour they spent together was usually pure bliss.
"Applejack? You're not weirded out, are you?"
The earth pony blinked as she was pulled out of her reverie. "Huh? Oh, no. It's jus'... a lot ta think about."
"Can I ask you something else?" Twilight looked over at Applejack, a pleading look upon her face. "Close your eyes for me?"
Applejack hesitated at first but relented, closing her eyes and remaining still. She patiently waited as the silence seemed to drag on forever, but she soon began to feel the unicorn's own breathing against her muzzle. Being this close, it was almost impossible not to catch Twilight's scent - a bit musty from all the old books she kept herself busy with, and a hint of brimstone from her near constant use of magic, but an overall 'clean' scent.
A few moments longer - the lavender mare was hesitating, nervous even - and the breathing drew a bit closer. Applejack now knew full-well what Twilight intended, yet she made no effort to move. Was it wrong for her to want this? To know that, after all this time, there was somepony who actually cared for her so deeply?
Nah. Not at all.
Twilight had been mildly surprised when Applejack had kissed back, even while she was still asleep, and as nice as it had been, there was something wrong about it.
The unicorn had felt it. She had felt the kiss. She hadn't been dreaming at all.
As the realization of what that entailed came crashing down on her, her 'memories' of last night slipped away just as quickly. She truly didn't know what she had even done the night before, only that she had ended up in Applejack's bed... with Applejack. And she had just willingly kissed the earth pony - not because she thought it was still part of the dream, but because she wanted to.
Okay Twilight, don't panic! Don't panic, there's no reason to panic! It's not like you just kissed your best friend!
Except you did. And you liked it.
Shut up. Just... shut up. Okay, deep breaths... stay calm. If she knows I'm panicking, she'll wake up and ask what's wrong, and then she'll get suspicious, and then she'll know.
So what? Just tell her. She's already told you some very personal secrets. Why should you hide this from her?
This is different! This is... I don't know what it is!
Twilight froze and slowly opened one eye, only to see Applejack staring back at her with a raised eyebrow. The unicorn quickly thought up something to keep the conversation going, lest the earth pony became overly suspicious. At the very least, it seemed like the orange mare hadn't noticed that she had been kissed. "Oh, uh... good morning, Applejack. Why um... why am I in your bed? With you in it?"
"Oh, that. Lemme jus' say that it's not what it seems like." Applejack snickered and let out a quiet yawn before continuing. "Ya drank an awful lot last night and ended up dozin' off on me an' Macintosh, so I carried ya off an' put ya ta bed. Would've been the end of it, but ya woke me up in th' middle of the night. Looked like ya were havin' a bad dream, so I decided ta keep ya company an' see if that helped any, which it did."
"Right, about that..." Twilight nervously laughed and opened the other eye as she looked back at the earth pony, though it still hurt to keep them open. "Last night may have um... been the first time I've ever been drinking. But... thanks for doing what you did."
"Any time, sugarcube. I assumed as much, though. Didn' take ya long before ya started actin' awful goofy." The earth pony quickly slipped out of bed and walked over to her window, closing it and shutting the blinds. "Better?"
The lavender mare let out a sigh of relief as the bedroom was darkened. "Much better. You're kinda loud, though..."
"Hangover. Happens when ya drink too much. Jus' drink plenty of water an' you'll be fine. If ya don' wanna try ta go back home jus' yet, ya can stay here until yer hangover dies down a bit." Applejack smiled and nodded, though she quickly stomped a hoof as she remembered something. "Oh! Speakin' of water, lemme go get ya some."
Twilight Sparkle out a sigh of relief as the earth pony trotted off, and she sat up and returned to her thoughts, picking up right where she left off.
I don't have a crush on AJ, though... do I? I mean, I really like spending time with her and all, and I'm almost always in a good mood by the time I leave.
That's a crush.
She usually knows just the right things to say to cheer me up, or make me laugh.
And she saved my life... and she's always been there for me.
You're still going over this, Twilight?
I'd strangle my own conscience if I could.
Before she could argue with herself any further, Applejack returned, gently kicking the door shut and setting a glass of water upon the nightstand for the unicorn. "There ya go, Twi. There was somethin' else I wanted ta talk about, though - think I managed ta figure out mah dreams."
"Did you now?" Twilight had already picked up the glass with her magic and chugged down half of it before she decided to set it down.
"Yyyyep. Been spendin' too much time makin' others happy, an' not enough time makin' myself happy. Truth be told, I've been kinda lonely as of late. Think it's high time I try an' find somepony special again, ya know?"
"Oh, I... think I do. I'm in the same boat, so to speak." The lavender mare laughed nervously and mustered a smile - luckily for her, Applejack bought it. "...er, wait. Again? What do you mean by that?"
At the mention of that, the orange earth pony's cheerful mood quickly disappeared, and Twilight instantly began to regret every mentioning it. "I'd... rather not talk about it, Twi. It's fer th' best."
"I... I didn't know. Sorry, AJ."
"Eh, s'alright, Twilight. It's in th' past. What's done is done. Ya got anypony in particular that ya wanna go after?"
The unicorn nervously tapped her hooves together. "Uh... well... I can't really think of anypony right now, but maybe if you tell me who you have in mind, it'll jog my memory."
The awkward silence that followed may as well have been the stuff of legends. Both mares sat there, staring at one another for minute after minute, and neither one mentioned the choice that was first and foremost in their mind. For Twilight Sparkle, she was still horribly confused by the whole concept of 'love' and 'romance' - she had too many questions and not enough answers, and the idea of her liking Applejack as more than a friend still bothered her somewhat.
For Applejack, she was reluctant and worried - her heart had already been broken once already, and she wasn't quite ready to risk it happening a second time. Her grasp on love was certainly stronger than what Twilight had, and the earth pony knew that it wasn't entirely uncommon for friends to become... well, more than friends. Still, she knew she had liked stallions, but mares were foreign territory for her, and despite her experience with the subject, she was still nervous.
They both knew the silence couldn't last forever, and one of them would have to break it eventually - Twilight Sparkle decided to take the initiative, though her choice was a bit... unwise. "...um... Macintosh, I guess."
"Macin... oh fer th' love of..." Applejack huffed and stared at the unicorn, and it was clear that the earth pony wasn't pleased. "Ya promised me while we were gone that ya weren' gonna hit on mah brother! An' now yer thinkin' that ya wanna go out on a date with him or somethin'?"
"Or a pony like Big Macintosh! I don't know!"
The earth pony sighed and took a seat upon the floor, staring down at the wooden floorboards. "Look, jus'... if that's what ya wanna do, then do it. I won' stop ya. Jus' know that there might be somepony else out there, waitin' for ya."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Twilight peered over at Applejack, an eyebrow raised, and the orange mare huffed and shrugged her shoulders as she attempted to hide a blush.
"I don' know! I'm jus' sayin', is all. Jus' go on an' ask Big Mac like I know ya wanna. He's right downstairs. I'll jus'... wait here."
Twilight Sparkle hesitated momentarily, then slipped out of bed and proceeded downstairs. She couldn't see it as she left, but Applejack had already hung her head in defeat and shame. Minutes passed, then hours, and the unicorn never returned. The earth pony knew that Twilight had already gone back to her library, but she couldn't bring herself to move from her seat on the floor.
Apple Bloom eventually hopped past the open door, peering into the room and grinning from ear to ear. "Hey sis! Did ya hear? Big Macintosh got himself a date with Twilight! But um... why are ya sittin' in th' dark?"
"...go away, Apple Bloom."
The filly had seen this kind of behavior out of her sister before, back when Granny Smith had been ill and Applejack had lost all hope. As Apple Bloom quickly shut herself within her room, Big Macintosh looked up the stairs from his place within the kitchen. Like it or not, he had heard everything, and he had been dreading the day that this would happen once more. The red stallion left the farmhouse as quietly as he could, making his way out towards the barn and locking himself within - this was a sensitive matter, one that he would tell in due time.
Big Macintosh made his way towards a forgotten corner of the barn, brushing back several heaps of hay and revealing what lay beneath, a simple wooden crate. The stallion easily pushed the lid aside and began to rummage through the contents within. Inside were photographs, mementos, diary entries, all of them painful reminders of an event Applejack was all too eager to forget - her first love, and first heartbreak. One photo, in particular, made the normally stoic brother practically seethe with rage. It was a portrait of Applejack and her first love, a handsome earth pony stallion, and the memories were just as bitter for Big Macintosh.
Everything the stallion had promised, everything the stallion had said, everything the stallion had done - lies. All lies.
Big Macintosh was not about to let this happen - not again. He wasn't nearly the simpleton that everypony thought he was. Oh no, he was more perceptive than that. Much more. He had seen the signs. He knew what was going on, even if they didn't. And after everything his dear sister had been through, he wasn't going to sit idly as her heart was broken once more. He was going to set this right and help make it work, even if it meant telling the full story to another.
Like it or not, Applejack was in love.
I don't want to be here. I don't deserve to be here.
Twilight Sparkle sat at a table within Sugarcube Corner, surrounded by Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy as they celebrated her imminent date with Big Macintosh. The lavender mare had hoped and prayed that such a thing would have remained a secret, but that hadn't been possible once Apple Bloom had been involved. The filly had told Sweetie Belle, who then told her sister... and the rest was history.
"I'm shocked that Applejack isn't happier for Twilight and her brother. You'd think that this would be good news, but the girl looked extremely agitated instead." Rarity rolled her eyes as she plucked another cookie from the plate sitting in the middle of the table, and Fluttershy tapped her hooves together while Pinkie Pie helped herself to said cookies.
"I dunno... I mean, what if something's bothering her and we just don't know it? You know how she gets when something's on her mind..."
"Or maybe Applejack is being a grumpypants. Ooh, I know! We should bring her some cookies!"
As Rarity, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie continued to talk, Twilight tried to distance herself as much as possible from the conversation. Nearly every line they spoke was about Applejack, and it was a constant reminder as to why she felt as bad as she did - because it was her fault. Asking Big Macintosh on a date had been a total cop-out on her part, and she had gone against Applejack's wishes in the process. All so she could avoid talking with the orange earth pony again.
I can go up against Night Mare Moon and Discord, but I can't even be honest with my closest friend. What does that even say about me?
Somepony feels guilty.
Guilty and remorseful. I shouldn't have just left like that.
But you did. And it's too late to take it back now.
What was I supposed to do, though?! What do I even say?
You speak what's on your mind, and what's on your heart.
"Twilight, dear? Are you feeling alright? You look a little... out of it."
Twilight Sparkle blinked and quickly shook her head as Rarity's question pulled her out of her thoughts. She seized the opportunity in front of herself and feigned illness, anything to get her away from this place and back to the solitude of her library. "No, not really... I think I ate too much. I... appreciate the party, girls, but I'm gonna head home. Thanks, though."
Before they could even bid her farewell, there was a bright flash of light, and the space where Twilight had been standing at was left vacant. The only thing marking her departure was a faint scorch mark upon the floor.
She was gone.
"Ow, ow... okay, stop. Just... stop." Rainbow Dash hopped around briefly, wincing and breathing through gritted teeth as she attempted to walk off her injury. Her and Applejack were sparring, something they had started up in an effort to vent their frustrations in a relatively constructive manner. Though the earth pony normally kept her strength well in-check, she had made no such attempts to hold back. It had resulted in a rather rough kick to the cyan pegasus' ribs, and though it had already begun to bruise, it thankfully hadn't been enough to break bones - pegasi skeletons, given their lighter nature, were also more fragile. "Damn, AJ... I'm gonna feel that one tomorrow. Mind tellin' me why you're being so rough on me?"
Applejack took a quick look at the bruise and sighed, slowly shaking her head as she took a seat upon the grass. "I'm awful sorry, Rainbow. I'm jus'... stressed out right now. Busy thinkin' about somethin'."
"Well, c'mon. Spit it out." The pegasus took a seat beside the earth pony, wincing once more as she sat down. "Oww... remind me to never get on your bad side, Applejack."
"Noted. I ain't gonna talk about it, though. Too personal." The orange mare sighed once more and glanced over at her friend. "I need a favor."
Rainbow Dash grinned and briefly chuckled, though even that was enough to cause further pain and discomfort, and she quickly decided not to ask any further. She had known Applejack long enough to know that the earth pony did not like prying when it wasn't welcome. "You know the rules, AJ - cider for a favor."
"Fine, I'll getcha a bottle of cider. But I really need this favor, an' ya gotta promise me that yer gonna stay as quiet about it as ya can. Got it?"
"Yeah, yeah. So what do ya need?"
Applejack turned to stare the cyan pegasus straight in the eye, and her tone made it clear that she wasn't kidding around. "Go talk ta Soarin'. Tell 'im that I wanna go out on a date with 'im, this Friday."
"Um... wow. You're... you're totally serious about this too, aren't you?" The stern glare and complete silence from the earth pony made that quiet clear, and Rainbow Dash continued. "Alright... I'm gonna have to really pull some strings, but I'll see what I can do. If I can get through to him, I'll have him contact you personally."
"Thanks, Rainbow. Really." Applejack had already stood back up and was preparing to leave - she planned on wandering around for a bit. She needed time to herself to think, to clear her head a bit.
"Hold on, AJ. Before you go, I just gotta ask..." Rainbow Dash's statement had been enough to give the earth pony pause, and Applejack stopped and glanced over her shoulder, listening patiently as the pegasus continued. "You've only talked to the guy... what, once? At the Gala, when you sold him a pie? Why do you wanna go on a date with him so badly?"
"Jus' somethin' I need ta do, Rainbow. Ya know how it goes."
"Yeah... I do. Good luck with everything, AJ. I gotta go nurse this bruise a bit, and then I'll see what I can do for ya." With that, the pegasus took off to return to her home, leaving Applejack to wander around by her lonesome. Rainbow Dash had a good point - why did she want to go on a date with Soarin'? Soarin' was still a fairly attractive stallion, but they had met once, and only briefly. Why ask him out?
The answers she got hadn't been what she had been hoping for. Time and time again, both her mind and her heart told her the same thing. She had done it out of spite, out of petty revenge for Twilight asking her brother out, and she had done it out of jealousy.
The Element of Honesty, so well known for being kind and considerate, had resorted to this - just so she could attempt to get even. The thought of such a thing was enough to give her pause, and Applejack stopped and took a seat upon the grass once more as she stared up towards the sky.
"...what th' hay is wrong with me?"
Big Macintosh had picked this spot out for his date with Twilight Sparkle for several reasons. First and foremost, it was quiet and secluded - it wasn't as if he was going to try to make a move on her or anything. As polite and pretty as the unicorn may have been, the red stallion had no interest in her. Rather, he planned on telling Twilight a thing or two about both herself and his own sister, and to do so, he was going to have to dig up some secrets that had been buried long ago. Such things were best discussed away from others, lest they begin to spread about, and these were already rather sensitive things to be discussing with another.
The second reason? That was easy enough - he had come to this place time and time again whenever he needed to think about something. It was a tiny pond, with a babbling brook and a tree hanging over it, and it was almost the very meaning of 'serene'. Macintosh had spent a lot of time here after his sister's first romance had begun, and he had spent even more time here after it had ended. It was his own little sanctuary of sorts, a place where the stallion could go to distance himself from the rest of the world while he thought on various things. The faint sound of hooves upon the grass quickly told him that he was not alone, though.
The red stallion turned and looked over his shoulder, offering the new arrival a friendly smile. "Looks like ya found me easy enough, Miss Twilight. C'mon over an' have a seat."
Twilight Sparkle did as told, slowly walking over and taking a seat beside Big Macintosh. She fidgeted and glanced around the area, and her ears repeatedly flapped for one reason or another - things that did not escape the stallion's watchful eye. It was clear that the lavender mare was nervous, but whether or not she would actually admit to such a thing was unknown. "So, um... nice spot. It's... really nice?"
"Miss Twilight, I didn' bring ya out here 'cause of th' date. I brought ya out here 'cause there's somethin' ya need ta know."
"Oh." Twilight seemed surprised at how blunt Big Macintosh was, though it seemed to run in the family. Applejack acted much the same way at times, as did Apple Bloom. "Sooo... what do I need to know?"
"Do ya know why I only use one-word responses?" He turned to look at the unicorn, and when she remained silent, he continued. "It's so folks think I'm a simpleton."
She blinked at him, confused by such a statement. "...and that does what, exactly?"
"Well, when folks think I'm a simpleton, they let their guard down. All th' other ponies go 'Oh, that's jus' Macintosh. He ain't too bright, so it's not like he's gonna know any better', an' they jus' go ahead an' blab away with me right there. They underestimate me, an' I use that ta mah advantage. 'Cause of that, I've grown awfully perceptive over th' years. I see an' hear a whole lot of things, an' I know how ta find those same things."
"So, wait. Lemme get this straight - you've purposely been acting the way you do, just so you can get an edge?" Twilight seemed utterly astounded by such news. She knew Big Macintosh was an incredibly hard worker, and both Applejack and Apple Bloom always stated that he was the best brother a pony could wish for, but she had no idea that he was such a shrewd businessman. "...you purposely play dumb, you see and hear more than you should, and you use that to your advantage."
"Eeexactly. I've always told AJ that it was jus' 'cause I've got social anxiety or somethin', but a lot of th' farm's success has been 'cause of mah little game. Applejack was always a lil'... too honest ta do it. Made her awfully gullible when she was younger too." Macintosh turned away from Twilight and looked towards the pond. "Ya see, Miss Twilight, I see an awful lot of things. Things other ponies don' see. Small, subtle things, but I still see 'em."
Twilight Sparkle raised an eyebrow and looked up at him. "Big Mac, I'm not sure what this has to do with our da-"
"Yer livin' a lie, Miss Twilight."
She stopped herself mid-sentence and stared at the stallion. "...w-what?"
"I said yer livin' a lie. Yer deludin' yerself. This entire date of yers is a waste of time, but I know why. I've seen th' signs. I know ya couldn' see it for yerself, but when AJ firs' came back from th' trip you two went on, she was pretty darn happy. It wasn' jus' because Granny was gettin' better - there was somethin' else, and it took me forever ta figure out, but I finally got it. It was you, Miss Twilight. You were that somethin' else." Big Macintosh turned back towards the lavender mare and smiled at her, though she seemed completely shocked by what she was being told.
"What... what are you trying to say, Macintosh?"
"I've seen how both of ya are. How ya look at each other. How ya talk ta each other. How ya act an' move around each other. AJ's got a bit of a crush on ya, Miss Twilight. Talks about ya in her sleep some times. Shoot, some days, yer th' only pony she even talks about. She'll mention how she wants ta see ya, or talk with ya. She's got a crush on ya, Miss Twilight, and it wouldn' surprise me if ya felt th' same."
Twilight was absolutely flabbergasted as she heard everything the red stallion told her, and she was a bit unnerved at just how much Big Macintosh apparently knew. If she didn't know any better, she would've sworn that he had used some long-forgotten spell to delve into her thoughts, but he had done everything purely through detective work. He had watched their body language and seen things that neither of them had, and a small part of her was impressed by such work. At this point, however, it was futile for her to try and hide things any further, especially after everything he had apparently seen. "...okay, so... I might have a bit of an infatuation with your sister."
"Might have an infatuation? Miss Twilight, it's a full-blown crush. Gotta say, though - you two make fer an awfully cute couple. Took a peek into AJ's room after ya spent th' night with us, an' I saw both of ya in bed together."
"Y-you saw that?!" The unicorn blushed furiously and placed both front hooves over her face as she tried to hide it. "It wasn't what it looked like! Honest!"
Big Macintosh chuckled and slowly shook his head. "Naw, I know you two didn' do nothin', Miss Twilight. I'd say that blush of yers gave away how ya really feel, though... didn' it?"
"...maybe? Okay, even if I did have a crush on your sister, wouldn't that be a little... weird? Having a crush on your best friend?" Twilight pulled the hooves away from her face and glanced up at the stallion. She honestly had no idea why she was still trying to pretend like she didn't have a crush on Applejack. After all, Big Macintosh had seen right through that.
"Miss Twilight, yer new at this, aren' ya? It's actually pretty normal fer two friends ta end up bein' more than... well, friends. That's how Mister an' Missus Cake apparently ended up together - jus' friends, an' it got bumped up a notch."
The lavender mare blinked at him for a moment. "Okay, so... it's completely normal for this sort of thing to happen. But what if I try and talk to her about it, and Applejack ends up hating me for it?"
"Hate ya? Why would she go an' do that? After everythin' th' two of you have done, I doubt she's gonna hate ya simply 'cause ya spoke yer mind an' told her what was botherin' ya. Besides, AJ's got a crush on ya herself, even if she won' admit it jus' yet. I think she's still a bit sore over ya askin' me out, though."
Twilight groaned and covered her face with her hooves once more. "Not my finest moment... I shouldn't have just left like that. I should've told her how I felt, or maybe-"
Big Macintosh placed a hoof on her mouth, silencing her, and he slowly shook his head. "What's done is done, Miss Twilight. Ya can' ever change that, but ya can make up fer it. There's still time ta get this all sorted out. If yer dead-set on tellin' AJ how ya feel, though, there's somethin' else you oughta know."
"I get th' feelin' ya already know. Ya see, yer not th' firs' ta catch AJ's attention - there was another, a year or two before ya came ta Ponyville. I need ta tell ya th' full story of that. I jus' gotta, so that... maybe I can keep it from happenin' again. Ya see, Miss Twilight, it all started when..."
It all started when he showed up in town. He was an earth pony stallion, light brown coat and piercin' blue eyes. A 'farmer like us', he said. The guy soon proved to be stiff competition, selling his oranges right alongside our own apples. Applejack didn't take kindly to that - you see, in Ponyville, everypony knew everypony else. All the vendors knew to give one another plenty of space so we could all hawk our wares, but this guy didn't care. Sat up his cart right next to ours every single morning, even after myself and AJ both tried to tell him how things went around here.
This happened morning after morning, and my sister finally got fed up with it. She marched right up to him and stared him down, demanding to know why he wouldn't move his cart. "I'm just looking to do a bit of friendly business," he said. "Or are you afraid of some competition?"
Now this fella had a real silver tongue to him. Knew just what to say and when to say it. He riled up AJ awfully bad with those words, and he intended to do it too. I've never seen Applejack work so hard to sell our stock, and sales were good for a while. Over time, she began to calm down, and the presence of the new guy irritated her less and less. Eventually, we introduced ourselves - he seemed to recognize the Apple family name, though looking back on it, it was probably another one of his lies... I'll get to that part eventually.
He introduced himself to us as Midsweet. Said he was a traveling salesman, traveling Equestria to carry on his family tradition of selling oranges. His travels had brought him to Ponyville, and he was looking to sell most of his stock before winter, at which point he would return home. As for where 'home' was, he would never tell us. Dodged the question every time. Instead, he'd turn it around on us, asking about our family or Sweet Apple Acres. He was starting to look like a rather shifty character to me, but I stayed quiet. After all, he was new in town, and it wasn't exactly polite of me to be suspicious of newcomers. Things between us and Midsweet stayed cordial... for a while.
Then something began to change. I can't point out when or where it started, but him and AJ began to have an eye for one another, and it became increasingly common for the two of them to chat during any breaks. Eventually, Applejack began to ask me to keep my distance during breaks, so she and Midsweet could chat in private. Not long after that, she asked me to stop coming to the market entirely. "I can sell the stock myself," she said. "You've been working too hard."
I knew better than that. Her and Midsweet were starting to get awful close, and she was afraid I wouldn't approve. I didn't care much, really - she had been a grown mare for a few years at that point, and I knew it was only a matter of time until she found that special pony. Only thing I really cared about was her own happiness, and so I stayed quiet on the matter. Went with her plans, so she could continue to spend time alone with him.
Applejack came home one day, said she had some good news. Midsweet had asked her out on a date during one of their breaks, and she had gladly agreed. They went out later that week, and from everything I could see, it went well. I mean, AJ was happy. Not much else mattered. They went out on another date, and then another. Now, back in those days, I took care of all the financial stuff for the family. Slowly but surely, Applejack's personal savings began to dwindle. I stayed quiet on the matter - after all, it was her money, not mine. She could do what she wanted with it.
I began to have my suspicions, though. AJ had never really been a big spender, and she still isn't even to this day. Her savings had only started to drain after Midsweet showed up in town. I confronted her and pointed out that she had been spending quite a few bits as of late. She brushed it off, said that she and Midsweet had been buying gifts for one another, to show their affection. I asked where the gifts were that he had gotten for her. "Oh, he has to ship them in from out of town. They'll come eventually," she said. They never did.
Remember when I said that AJ was awfully gullible when she was younger? Somepony else had taken advantage of that, and I knew just who it was. I warned her to stop seeing Midsweet and to stay away from him, that he was using her. My little sister flew into a fit of rage, said that I 'didn't understand'. That, deep down, he was a nice guy. That I was wrong. I wanted to believe her, I really did - I mean, he made her happy. Happiest she had ever been. And now I wanted her to stop seeing him, just because I was suspicious.
She was right, to an extent. It wasn't fair of me to demand such a thing out of her, and so I no longer brought it up. Days went by, and then weeks. Her and Midsweet went on more dates, and her money continued to disappear. I still had my suspicions, of course - every time I saw Midsweet, I'd ask him about his past. Sometimes, the stories changed. Sometimes, they stayed the same. He seemed to get real nervous around me, like he knew that I knew something was up. Still, I stayed quiet about it around AJ. It was her choice after all.
Applejack came home one day, as happy as could be. I asked what was going on, and she beamed up at me. "Midsweet proposed to me! He just needs a bit of money so he can move the rest of his stock up here from home, and then we'll open a farm of our very own!" she said. I tried to be happy for her. I wanted to be happy for her. I simply couldn't.
I should've said something, and I didn't. I stayed quiet, like I said I would. Like I had promised. I was a damn fool.
AJ gave Midsweet the money and he left town, saying that he would be back as soon as he had everything gathered up back home, and that they'd be together forever soon enough. Days went by, then weeks. Then months. Day after day, my sister patiently waited, saying that he'd be back soon enough. That he just had an awful lot to pack, and then he would return.
Then one day, I had to sit her down, and do the hardest thing I had ever done - I had to tell her what had happened. That she had been conned and scammed. That everything Midsweet had said and done had been a farce. A lie, just so he could squeeze some money out of her. And the worst part about it?
He didn't truly love her. He never had.
She laughed at me at first. Denied it all, and said that I was crazy. I can hardly blame her, you know. Her entire world was crashing down around her, and she didn't want to watch it. She didn't want to know that so much within her life had been undone by false promises. She denied it for several weeks, and as she began to finally accept it, she became furious. AJ broke an awful lot of furniture that week... but her heart had been twisted and broken. I think any of us would have done the same thing in that sort of situation.
Eventually, she calmed down and retreated inwards. Applejack became a shadow of her former self, barely eating and drinking, and hardly ever saying a word to any of us. Her life was in shambles, her money gone, and her heart broken, all because of one stallion and his lies. It was all because of him. To see her so hopeless broke my heart, and it pained me to know that my cheerful and hardworking sister had been reduced to nothing.
All because of him.
I took everything she had that was about Midsweet and placed it within a crate, hiding it in the barn, away from prying eyes. I wanted to burn it all, to destroy everything about that awful man and his 'legacy' - but I couldn't. It was a reminder of happier times, but also a painful lesson for both myself and Applejack. It took a few months for AJ to recover, and she was eventually smiling once more, but she had been forever changed. She became especially distrustful of outsiders, and refused to go the market by herself. She only recently got over those things, did it a few months before you first showed up.
I made a vow the day that I hid that crate. I knew that, one day, Applejack would yearn for another, and when that day came, I would have to be ready. Whoever it was, I would have to tell them everything, so that maybe I could keep this from happening again.
And that somepony is you.
"I..." Twilight Sparkle blinked and slowly shook her head, still slowly comprehending everything she had just been told. It seemed Applejack was full of all sorts of secrets, though it was quite obvious some of those were best left buried. "...poor Applejack. I never knew she went through that sort of thing."
"Yyyyep. There's a reason she don' like talkin' about it." Big Macintosh sighed and tilted his head a few times to stretch his neck. At the very least, the hard part was over - with the tale now out in the open, Twilight at least had a bit more insight into Applejack's past.
"...Midsweet is such a bastard."
The red stallion snorted and chuckled, glancing over at the unicorn and grinning. "We can both agree on that, Miss Twilight. There's jus' one more thing I need ta ask ya. I ain't gonna tell ya whether ta go after this crush of yers or not - that's yer choice, not mine. But... if ya decide ta do this, an' ya really do care that strongly about mah sister, stick with it. She's had her heart broken once already, an' I don' wanna see it happen again."
"I'll try, Big Mac. I... can't really make any promises, but I'll try." The lavender mare looked over at Big Macintosh, and he nodded knowingly. She still had a question of her own, though. "Macintosh, I gotta ask... why are you doing all this? I mean, I thought the Apple family was usually a little more... conservative. And I'm a mare, who may or may not have a crush on your sister. So, assuming I go through with this... they're not exactly gonna approve, are they?"
"Mm. That." The red stallion briefly closed his eyes, looking upwards for a moment before opening them once more. "Not all of us are like that, Miss Twilight. It's true, some of th' older generations are still a bit stuck in their ways, like Granny Smith or Uncle Apple Strudel. They say it's 'tradition', but th' younger generations know better. We know it's a changin' world out there, an' a lot of us are startin' ta see it a bit differently. Some of us, well... we'd rather jus' see folks happy than throw a fuss about what we think is right."
"So you really don't care?"
"Me? Naw. I'll admit, I'm still a bit stuck in th' old ways - I still sometimes think it's a bit odd ta see some couples out an' about, but... I'm tryin' ta change that. An' honestly, th' only thing that matters ta me is whether or not mah family's happy. If AJ is gonna find th' love an' happiness she deserves with another mare, I ain't gonna complain. Shoot, I'll probably root for it. That answer yer question, Miss Twilight?"
"It does." Twilight Sparkle sighed and looked down towards the ground, pawing at it with a hoof before continuing. "Big Macintosh, I just wanted to say thanks for... you know, talking some sense into me, I guess. The past few days have been kinda hard for me. I've had an awful lot on my mind, and I didn't know what was right or wrong, but... seems like all it took to get me through that was a story and a guiding hoof from another pony."
Macintosh smiled and nodded. "Sometimes that's all a pony needs, Miss Twilight. Somepony else ta give 'em a different perspective on things. I think it might be time fer us ta head out, though - we both got ponies we need ta have a lil' chat with. Jus' be a bit subtle when ya talk ta AJ. though. Simply ask if she wants ta meet ya somewhere. Trust me."
"...never thought I'd get dating advice about Applejack from her own brother, but... thanks again." The unicorn giggled and grinned as she stood up to leave, looking towards Big Macintosh one last time. "I'm kinda curious, though... who's the pony you have to talk to?"
"That, Miss Twilight, is a secret. I'm sure you'll hear 'bout it soon enough, though." He winked at her and stood up as well, quickly galloping away from the area and leaving Twilight Sparkle to ponder everything she had been told. It had been a bit of an odd 'date', but she felt much more comfortable knowing that everything she was going through was perfectly normal. Even better, Macintosh had seemingly approved of it and caught it long before either of them did - the stallion had surprised her quite a bit.
There were still some things she was a bit unsure about, but for the most part, her confusion was gone. She was feeling much more confident with herself, and the more she thought about it, the more she was sure that she was making the right choice and that this was truly what she wanted to do.
"I wonder if Applejack likes meteor showers..."
Wasn't expecting this, but I don't see why not. Might be kinda fun. I'll be by your place at 5 PM on Friday. Your friend already gave me the address.
See you then.
"Huh." Applejack continued to stare at the letter, unable to believe that the Wonderbolt had actually accepted her request. The earth pony honestly wasn't sure which surprised her more - the fact that Soarin' had agreed to the date, or that he still remembered who she even was. A quick peek at the calender showed that with the current day being Thursday, she only had one day to fully prepare, and the orange mare groaned as she looked back at the letter once more. "...Aw shoot."
She quickly opened one of the drawers on her nightstand and hastily stuffed the letter away, shoving the drawer shut as she walked over to her mirror. If she was going out on a date - with one of the Wonderbolts, no less - she needed to look her absolute best. Unfortunately, that meant dressing up in 'frou-frou stuff', something she utterly despised. With a huff, she grabbed her brush and undid her hair bands, steadily sweeping the teeth of the brush through her mane. As she worked, her thoughts continually shifted back to Twilight Sparkle and Big Macintosh - her brother had returned from his date with the unicorn just last night, but he had refused to speak of anything they had said or done. The red stallion normally didn't talk much anyways, so perhaps it was just his way of saying that things 'went well enough'.
Several loud thuds quickly drew Applejack's attention away from her own thoughts, and she glanced out towards the hallway, a frown upon her face as she sat the brush aside. "Apple Bloom, what did I tell ya about jumpin' up an' down on th' floors?"
"Oh. Right." The thuds stopped, but the filly's hooves still clattered along the floor as she ran to peek into her sister's room. "Sorry, sis. I'm jus' excited, is all. Macintosh got himself another date!"
"Another, huh?" Applejack did her best to feign interest on the subject, and gave a simple nod of the head in return. "Guess things went well enough with him an' Twi, then."
"Nope! Not with Twilight!"
The orange mare paused and slowly raised an eyebrow. "Not... with Twilight? Somethin' go wrong between him an' Twi?"
"Nuh uh." Apple Bloom shook her head furiously, grinning as she continued. "Only said that they had a lil' chat, an' that was it."
"Alright, so who th' hay does he have a date with now?" Applejack narrowed her eyes and peered at her sister, and the filly was quick to reply.
"Nurse Redheart! He went over to th' clinic earlier an' asked her, an' she said yes!"
"Redheart?" The orange earth pony rubbed a hoof against her chin as she thought it over, and in a way, it did make sense. Nurse Redheart was just a year or two older than Big Macintosh, and she had apparently stayed in the guest room while they were off on their journey for the fruit. It wasn't out of the question to think that both Redheart and Macintosh had spent extended periods of time with one another, and the white mare had done her best to care for the entire Apple family, as opposed to just Granny Smith - that was certainly an admirable trait in Applejack's eyes.
"Huh? Sorry, AB. Was doin' some thinkin'."
The filly raised an eyebrow at her sister, then quickly turned and walked off. "...adults are weird."
As Apple Bloom left, however, it gave Applejack more time to consider everything she had just been told, and such a thing probably wasn't for the best. She had set up the date with Soarin' as some form of childish revenge against her closest friend, but things between Twilight and Macintosh had apparently fallen through - if that were the case, then what was the point of the date anymore? With the date just a day away, however, it wasn't as if she could simply cancel it. She would have to simply go through with it anyways, and the earth pony sighed as she saw the mess her emotions had made.
"So, Applejack! Are you doing anything this Friday? ...No, no. Too vague."
Twilight Sparkle currently found herself standing in front of her mirror, practicing over and over for the perfect way to speak to Applejack. She had been doing this for hours now, and she would have missed lunch if Spike hadn't walked in to ask about it. Immediately afterwards, though, it was right back to practicing. This simply had to be perfect - Applejack was her closest friend after all, and considering what she was planning on telling the earth pony... anything less than perfection simply would not do.
"Hey, Applejack? Are you busy this weekend?" Twilight let out a groan and slowly shook her head. "Ugh, no. Still too vague. What was it Big Macintosh said again? 'Be subtle and ask if she wants to meet somewhere'?"
The unicorn thought back a bit further to everything they had discussed that evening, and she slapped a hoof against her forehead as she remembered her trump card- the meteor shower. Twilight Sparkle cleared her throat and stared at the mirror once more as she gave it another go. "Hey Applejack, there's gonna be a meteor shower this Friday, and I don't have anypony to go with me. Would you like to come?"
It was much better than her other attempts, but it still felt a bit 'off'. She took another breath and tried once more. "Hey AJ, there's gonna be a meteor shower this Friday... do you wanna come watch it with me?"
Perfect. It was the right balance between telling too little and telling too much, and it still got the message across clearly. There was something else she was curious about, however, and so Twilight remained in front of the mirror. She eyed herself, took another breath, and tried something else. "I love Applejack."
That much was certainly true, as she did indeed love Applejack - as a friend. She loved all of her friends. The lavender mare pushed past that thought, and began to think of Applejack as more than a friend, and of them as being more than friends. "I l-love..."
She couldn't even bring herself to finish the sentence, and her own furious blush betrayed her emotions. Twilight quickly brought her hooves to her face, rubbing her cheeks and letting out a sigh.
"You love what?"
Twilight let out a yelp and quickly turned around, laughing nervously as she spotted Spike. "Books! I love books! I thought that was obvious, right?"
"I'm just... gonna go nap some more. You keep doing that thing you're doing." The baby dragon stared at her for a moment, then slowly began to back away. As Spike waddled off to return to his bed, Twilight turned and looked at the mirror once more, staring at her reflection as she planned her next move.
Okay, so... definitely practiced. Just gotta ask.
And you're sure you want to do this?
And if she says no?
Then we'll still be friends. Nothing will change that.
With Spike asleep, now was the perfect opportunity to carry out the next part of her plan.
Next stop - Sweet Apple Acres.
As Celestia's sun began to make its slow evening descent, Applejack took the time to ask her brother about his apparent interest in Nurse Redheart, and the two of them had since retreated to the farmhouse. Their chores had already been taken care of anyways, and they had more than enough free time to allow such a discussion. The red stallion went into great detail, explaining the talks he and the nurse had while Applejack and Twilight were gone. Redheart had kept a very watchful and concerned eye upon the entire Apple family during Granny Smith's illness, and Big Macintosh had been no exception. The white mare had apparently woken herself up on several nights, just to keep the stallion company while he battled his own bouts of insomnia - such an act surprised the orange earth pony. Even after Granny Smith had been cured, Macintosh and Redheart had apparently stayed in touch with one another, and as Applejack now knew, it culminated with him asking the nurse out on a date.
Applejack slowly shook her head and chuckled as her brother finished up his story, and she could still scarcely believe it. "Well, shoot. Jus' like that, Macintosh?"
"Jus' like that. Went in during her break, asked her, an' she said yes."
"I'm awful happy for ya, Big Mac. Really." She smiled at her brother and gently patted his back. It wasn't a fib either - she was genuinely happy that her brother had managed to find somepony special for himself.
Macintosh, however, had something planned. He always had something planned, simply on account of who he was. "Funny of ya ta say that, AJ. Ya didn' seem none too pleased when Miss Twilight asked me out. Why's it different with me an' Nurse Redheart?"
"...Uhh, well. Ya see..." Applejack blinked and quickly found herself fumbling for the right words to use. She had been caught off-guard by that latest question, and it was painfully obvious. "It was 'cause... you asked Redheart out! Instead of... ya know, you gettin' asked out."
"What? Ya don' believe yer own sister?" The orange earth pony leaned over and stared her brother straight in the eye, and even seemed a bit irritated when he grinned in return.
"...not entirely, lil' sis."
"An' what th' hay is that supposed ta mean? Are ya tryin' ta say tha-" There was a knock at the door, and Applejack slipped out of her chair to answer it. As she opened up the door, she quickly found herself face-to-face with Twilight Sparkle, and the lavender mare was sporting a rather warm smile. "Oh, uh... hey Twilight. Wasn' really expectin' ya ta come over today."
Twilight giggled nervously at the mention of that, and from her spot within the doorway, she could spot Big Macintosh inside the home - the red stallion smiled upon catching sight of the unicorn, and she quickly returned it in kind. "Sorry for popping up unannounced, AJ. There's just... something I wanted to ask you."
"Alrighty, sugarcube. I'm listenin'."
At that moment, the full realization of what she was about to say dawned on Twilight, and she found herself growing increasingly more nervous. This wasn't Night Mare Moon, an Ursa Minor, or Discord - this was her closest friend, and though she shouldn't be afraid of simply speaking with Applejack, she was. It wasn't the fact that she was talking with Applejack, but rather, what she was going to be talking about. Subtle or not, it represented a very big leap for the unicorn, one that she still wasn't sure if she was quite ready to make. Sometimes, though, one has to make that leap of faith before they can truly discover what's worth living for, something she soon began to realize. Twilight stared at the precipice for a few fleeting moments, and then made her decision - she leaped.
"Well, there's... a meteor shower this Friday, and I was kinda wondering if you'd... wanna go with me?"
"Oh, uh... well, y'see..." Applejack sighed and quickly broke eye-contact with Twilight, absentmindedly rubbing a hoof on the back of her neck as she continued. "I... kinda got plans fer Friday already."
Twilight Sparkle's ears almost immediately flattened, and the unicorn began to slowly nod. "...Oh, that's... that's alright, Applejack. Knowing you, it's probably important."
The lavender mare had already begun to turn away and was preparing to leave when Applejack called out to her once more. "Twi, look... I ain't sayin' 'No'. Jus'... fer right now, it's a 'Maybe', alright? I dunno if I'll be able ta show up or not, but if I can, you bet I'll be there - no promises, though. Sound good?"
It wasn't quite the answer she was hoping for, but Twilight's ears perked up once more and she gave another nod before departing. "Alright. See you later, AJ."
As her friend slowly trotted off into the distance, Applejack retreated into the confines of the farmhouse once more, and slowly made her way up the stairs to her room. Big Macintosh watched her every step as she ascended the stairs, and as he heard her bedroom door click shut, he sighed and shook his head. Based upon body language alone, he already knew which emotion was first and foremost within his sister's heart.
Friday started like any other day for Applejack - she rolled out of bed, bathed, brushed her teeth and ate breakfast, then finished up her chores in record time. In just a few hours, Soarin' would be stopping by to pick her up for their date, and she planned on looking her best for him. Such a thing meant a trip to Carousel Boutique, and Applejack begrudgingly made her way towards Rarity's shop.
Not surprisingly, the fashionista had already caught wind of earth pony's impending date with the Wonderbolt, and Rarity quickly proved to be far more excited about it than Applejack was. The orange mare did her best to feign interest and excitement as her friend continued to bombard her with all manner of questions and comments, even while Rarity continued to toy with her mane. "My goodness, Applejack, a Wonderbolt! How exciting!"
"I honestly had no idea you - no, that color won't do - had no idea you had a thing for pegasi. When did that come about?"
"Uh... well, at the... the Gala, I 'spose."
"The Gala, of course!" Rarity held up a strip of cloth with her magic, quickly comparing it against Applejack's coat and mane before discarding it. "So much easier to stick with earthy tones with you, my dear. Now then, which one is it again? I know there aren't too many stallions, but- Oh goodness, is it a mare? You never struck me as the sort!"
Applejack sighed and slowly shook her head, even as the fashionista began to style it. "No, Rarity... it's jus' Soarin'."
"...isn't that the one you sold the pie to?"
The earth pony groaned and slowly nodded. "...yes. Yes it is."
Rarity giggled and grinned as she finished braiding Applejack's mane. "I never really expected you to have interest in one another over the sale of a single pie, but I suppose these sorts of things happen. Are you two planning on doing anything afterwards? I've heard rumors about the Wonderbolts, after all."
"Rumors?" Applejack raised an eyebrow and peered at the unicorn as she began to compare cloth colors once more. "What kinda rumors?"
"Oh, you know... those rumors. It might do you some good to have a little fun of that sort! You always seem so uptight..." Rarity smiled and let out a soft squeal as she found the appropriate color scheme. "Ah, perfect!"
"Rarity, I... ain't exactly comfortable talkin' about this. Could we uh... change subjects?"
"Of course, Applejack! I didn't mean to upset you or anything - I was simply trying to make conversation." The white mare had already gotten to work on her sewing machine and idly chatted with the earth pony while she worked. "Twilight stopped by earlier, you know. Asked me to make her a blanket. It didn't take long at all, of course."
Applejack blinked and quickly trotted over beside Rarity. "A blanket? Did she say what it was for?"
Rarity gave a quick shake of her head and shrugged. "Some meteor shower that's apparently happening tonight. She wanted the blanket so she'd have something to lay on while she watched it. You know how she is about astronomy and the sciences."
"Did she say anythin' else?"
"She did, actually. Mentioned that she already asked you if you wanted to go, but she seemed rather disappointed when she said you weren't sure if you could. I'm sure the poor dear understands, though - you've got a date with a very special pony, after all!" Rarity smiled and began to hum to herself as she continued working on what would eventually become a dress, and she tossed the occasional glance towards the earth pony while she sewed.
"Heh. Yeah..." Applejack forced herself to give the most convincing smile she could manage, and she was partially relieved when Rarity bought it. The mere mention of Twilight Sparkle and the meteor shower had left her stomach in knots, and simply thinking of their conversation from the previous day made her even more reluctant to go on the date with Soarin'. She was stuck with her decision now, however, and her only real option was to make the best of it.
"Applejack, dear, why the frown?"
"Huh?" The orange mare blinked and quickly looked back at Rarity. "Sorry, was jus'... thinkin'. It's no big deal."
"If you insist. Shouldn't take much longer for me to finish your dress. Oh, you're going to look great!"
Applejack sighed and slowly nodded, frowning once more as she returned to her own thoughts.
"Yeah... I bet."
"Applejack? Isn't that the farmer pony that sold you the pie at the Gala?"
"Never pegged you as the type to be into earth ponies, Soarin'. If Rainbow Dash managed to con you into this date with her friend, I'm surprised she hasn't already squirreled her way into tryouts."
Soarin' huffed and shook his head as he stuffed his uniform into his locker, and the light blue pegasus quickly turned around to face his teammate. "Rainbow Dash didn't 'con' me into anything, Spitfire. Applejack seemed like a nice enough mare when she sold me the pie, so I figured 'Why not?'. Besides, I'm looking forward to the time off - feels like it's been forever since I've gotten out of Cloudsdale."
"Fine, fine. I won't say anything else about it." Spitfire had already removed her own uniform and hastily crammed it into her locker before slamming the door shut with one of her wings. "Just no funny business, lover boy. We've got practice in the morning."
"Yeah, alright mom. I'll be back by nine." He snickered and tossed his goggles up into his locker, and with the uniform fully taken care of, the stallion gave the door a gentle push and closed it. As Spitfire walked past him, however, the mare gave his flank a playful kick, and he snorted and shook his head as she continued towards the door. "Ever the flirt, aren'tcha?"
Spitfire paused in the doorway and grinned in return, giving him a nod. "It's what I do. Don't take anything I said too personally, though. Just enjoy yourself, bud."
Soarin' smiled and nodded, and as Spitfire left, the light blue pegasus began to trot around the locker room. It wasn't out of nervousness, but rather, necessity - they had just finished practice, after all, and he needed time to 'warm down'. Tonight marked a much-needed break for the Wonderbolt, and he already knew the perfect place to take Applejack. It was a quiet little bar nestled on the outskirts of Ponyville, and he had been there numerous times in the past. Better yet, he personally knew the owner, and the media attention was kept to a minimum as a result. As great as being a celebrity was, sometimes he preferred simply being 'Soarin' the pegasus' rather than 'Soarin' the Wonderbolt'.
With the day steadily coming to a close, the stallion gradually slowed his trotting and made his way out the door. He kept his pace the entire time, and even as he wound his way down various alleys and shortcuts within Cloudsdale, he never slowed down. It was tradition for the Wonderbolts to tell one another of these same shortcuts - they came in handy for reducing travel times or avoiding the media, and all of them knew these passages by heart. In mere minutes, Soarin' had already made his way out of the city and was silently gliding down towards Ponyville. After all the work he had put in at practice, it was nice to give his wings a bit of a rest from flapping, and simply feeling the cool air pass through the feathers was enough to soothe his muscles somewhat.
As he lived up to his namesake, Soarin' could already spot the bar he and Applejack would be visiting, and in the distance, he could already make out countless red specks upon the ground. The stallion had memorized the directions well beforehand, and knew that the spots of crimson upon the ground had to be the orchards of Sweet Apple Acres. After making several minute adjustments, he began a slow and steady descent, and prepared himself for contact with the earth. Despite all his years of practice, the Wonderbolt still hit the ground running, and it took him several feet before he could bring himself to a stop. He did well enough, though, given what he had to work with - landing amongst countless trees wasn't exactly simple. He had chosen his landing spot wisely, as the farmhouse itself was just a very short walk away. Soarin' had already begun to trot through the rows of apple trees, quickly taking in his surroundings as he approached the home, and he paused just outside the door.
"Alrighty, here goes..." Soarin' brought a hoof up to knock upon the door, and was about to bring it down upon the wood when the door suddenly flew open. The Wonderbolt quickly placed the hoof back upon the ground and smiled as he found himself greeted by a rather imposing red stallion. "Um... hi there. I'm here for-"
The red earth pony briefly raised an eyebrow at the visitor, only to sigh and glance away from Soarin'. "AJ. Yer date's here."
Before the pegasus could say anything else, the red stallion had already left, and Soarin' simply blinked as he stood in the open doorway. He wasn't entirely sure what to make of what just happened, but a soft cough interrupted his train of thought, and he smiled as his attention was drawn to a familiar orange mare. "Ah... hey Applejack."
"Howdy, Soarin'. That was mah brother, if ya didn' know. He doesn' talk much, but he means well." Applejack smiled in return as she quickly began to eye her date for the evening. Both her mane and tail had been braided, and the earth pony was sporting a dress not unlike the one she had worn at the Gala - it was less extravagant than the one she had worn before, but it still appeared to be fancy enough. "Yer lookin'... good, Soarin'. An' more under-dressed than I thought ya'd be."
"I was gonna say that you seem a little... over-dressed for what I had in mind, but I don't wanna sound rude or anything. Your mane looks good, though." The light blue pegasus chuckled nervously and looked away from Applejack. "I was kinda planning on us just going to a bar. Little place not far from here, called Sky High."
"...I can actually be myself there. You try doing that when you're a Wonderbolt." The stallion's voice carried a hint of disappointment upon speaking that last phrase, though he was quick to look back in the orange mare's direction.
Applejack blinked and grinned sheepishly in return. "Eh heh... good point. So uh... does that mean I can get outta this dress? 'Cause... if I can..."
Soarin' grinned and slowly nodded. "I think it's safe to say you won't need the dress for a bar, Applejack."
"Thank Celestia fer that."
It only took a few more minutes for Applejack to remove the dress, but the orange mare had elected to leave the braids in for the occasion. The two of them set out not long afterwards, and thankfully, the trip through Ponyville had been highly uneventful. Though the citizens certainly knew who the Wonderbolts were, the group of fliers had yet to formally visit the town, and that meant most everypony didn't recognize Soarin' out of his uniform. They, of course, knew who Applejack was, and many inquiring minds asked who the stallion was that was traveling with her. The earth pony had remained quiet on the matter, simply referring to him as an 'old friend', and it was often enough to sate their curiosity.
Before long, they had already reached the outskirts of Ponyville, and with it, the bar itself. 'Sky High' sat emblazoned in neon lighting over the entrance, and though the bar gave the outward appearance of being somewhat run-down. Soarin' pushed one of the doors, holding it open for the orange mare, and he himself quickly hurried inside. As he and Applejack both made their way over to the bar itself and took a seat, the light blue pegasus gave an enthusiastic wave at the bartender. "Barley! How you been?"
The bartender was a rather large and brutish-looking pegasus stallion, sporting a light brown coat, a dark mane, and hazel eyes. He gave a grin and quickly reached over the bar to give the Wonderbolt a playful punch. "Soarin'! Been a while since we've seen you 'round these parts. Practice got ya busy, eh?"
"You know how it is, Barley. With the season starting to wind down, though, the schedule's eased up a bit. I'm ready for some free time, you know?"
"Aye, I think we all know that feeling." Barley nodded and quickly glanced over towards Applejack, raising an eyebrow as he caught sight of the earth pony. "And who's this lovely lookin' lass? Friend of yours?"
Soarin' groaned and placed a hoof upon his cheek, slowly shaking his head. "Ah, shoot... forgot the introductions. Barley, this is Applejack, my uh... date for the evening. Applejack, Barley."
"Whoa now, Applejack? The Applejack?" The bay stallion let out a low whistle, chuckling to himself as he began to pour their first drinks. "Never expected a Wonderbolt to bring in one of the Bearers, but I 'spose there's a first time for everything, eh?"
Applejack had remained quiet thus far, but as the first drink was served to her, she smiled at Barley and nodded once. "Thank ya kindly. You've... heard of me, though?"
"Oh, sure! Awful hard not to know about ya when we've got Princess Celestia herself honorin' ya - twice now, too. You run Sweet Apple Acres, don'tcha?" Barley grinned and passed a drink over to Soarin', giving a wink at the pegasus. "Just like ya like it, Soarin'."
Soarin' nodded as a show of thanks and eagerly took a swig, letting out a sigh as he finished his first sip, but Applejack didn't pay much attention to it. The earth pony glanced down at her drink and gave it a cautionary sip - it was surprisingly sweet, and it became quickly evident that it was hard cider, the very same that she helped make every year. Either Soarin' had tipped Barley off in advance, or the bartender knew her better than he let on. "Well... kinda. It's a family thing, it ain't just me. Mah brother does most of the work."
Barley pounded a hoof on the bar and quickly placed it to his chin, idly tapping it as he thought. "Aw damnit... I've had somepony from Sweet Apple Acres in here before, but I can't think of the name. Red earth pony stallion, really tall and not much of a talker?"
Applejack blinked and took another drink of her cider. "That's... mah brother, Big Macintosh. He's been in here before?"
"Not that often, of course. Usually only see him once a year, but it's awful hard to forget a stallion that tall. Boy sure loves his hard liquor." Barley offered one last smile and gently tapped a hoof upon the bar. "I got others to serve, but if you two need anything, just lemme know."
"Appreciate it, Barley." Soarin' smiled as the bay stallion ran off, and the pegasus quickly turned to face Applejack. "Really nice guy once you get to know him. One of the few that treats me like any other pony, too."
"Yeah... seems like it." The earth pony slowly nodded in return, and as the Wonderbolt took another drink, she let out a soft sigh. Even now, her thoughts were almost constantly spent on Twilight Sparkle, and she felt a pang of guilt as Rarity's words echoed in her head.
Mentioned that she already asked you if you wanted to go, but she seemed rather disappointed when she said you weren't sure if you could. I'm sure the poor dear understands, though - you've got a date with a very special pony, after all!
That was the problem though, wasn't it? Twilight didn't understand - Applejack didn't want to risk hurting the unicorn's feelings, and so she hadn't been entirely honest when asked about the meteor shower. Like a great many things the orange mare had done as of late, it had come back to haunt her, and she found herself staring at her drink as she tried desperately to push the thoughts aside. It took the soft cough of a Wonderbolt to snap her out of it, and Applejack quickly looked up at Soarin'. "Huh? Sorry, was... doin' some thinkin'."
"S'alright, Applejack. You just seemed a little... out of it. You need another drink?"
The light blue pegasus was staring at her with a raised eyebrow, and his expression appeared to be one of genuine concern. It even appeared as if he had moved his seat to be a bit closer to hers, but Applejack wasn't entirely sure if truly had moved closer or not. Her initial reaction was to state that she still had plenty in her glass, but as the earth pony took another look, she saw for herself that it was quite the opposite - the glass was empty, and even the clock upon the wall had shifted several minutes. "...y-yeah, sure. That'd be great."
He still seemed somewhat concerned about her, but nonetheless ordered another glass of cider for her, to which Barley happily obliged. The two ponies spent the next few hours simply talking and getting caught up with one another on everything they had done since their first meeting at the Gala. Applejack mentioned the struggle she and her friends endured against Discord, as well as the various adventures and misadventures they had all gotten themselves into since then. Soarin' spoke about the countless practices and performances he had put on with the rest of the Wonderbolts, and throughout it all, the stallion sounded rather tired. "I envy Rainbow Dash sometimes, you know. She doesn't realize just how good her life is."
Applejack took a quick sip from her glass and peered at him. "What do ya mean?"
"Well, I know how badly she wants to be a Wonderbolt, and I can sympathize with her. Lots of pegasi grow up wanting to be Wonderbolts... but as great as being a celebrity is sometimes, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Practices every day, performances at least once a week - it gets awfully repetitive. Feels like you're just going through the cycles, rather than really living your life, you know?" The stallion idly poked and pushed his own glass of beer around the top of the bar, smirking to himself as he continued. "And privacy? Heh, good luck getting any of that. I don't think I've gotten any actual privacy since I joined the Wonderbolts full-time. We've even got our own little alleyways in Cloudsdale that we use, just to avoid the paparazzi."
"I can kinda understand why that might get awfully tiresome. I know RD usually sleeps in, does her thing with th' weather team, an' then she spends th' rest of the day practicin' her flyin' or spendin' time with us."
Soarin' grinned and slowly nodded as he began to speak once more, and he now found himself staring at his drink, just like she had earlier. "Lemme say this much, though - by no means do I hate my job. I get to entertain countless ponies, and what I do helps foster an awful lot of hopes and dreams within those same ponies, but... some days, I just wanna do something different. Just for a change of pace."
"Have ya ever... tried askin' fer a break? A vacation or somethin'?" The earth pony took another drink of cider, being careful to keep her attention on Soarin' through most of it. "I mean... it ain't that big of a deal, right?"
"Oh, you'd be surprised. I know it looks like we live the good life, but the trainers and staff are pretty hard on us. We're supposed to be the best of the best, after all. That means no slacking off, and especially no vacations." He shook his head and grabbed his drink, downing the rest of his beer and quickly setting the glass back down onto the bar, eying it as it clattered about on the wood. "We don't even get Hearth's Warming off, if you can believe that. No holidays. No birthdays. No exceptions."
Applejack frowned as Soarin' rattled off the rest of the things they weren't allowed, and it didn't take much longer for her to offer him a comforting hoof around the shoulder. "That... sounds horrible, Soarin'. I kinda wanna tell Rainbow about it now, jus' so she doesn' have ta mess with any of that."
"Nah, don't do that. Rainbow's a good gal, and I know how long she's been chasing this dream of hers. She thinks we don't know, but... we do - I know how hard she works at it. I know she works on it every chance she can get. I know she pours her heart into it, and hopes that maybe one day, it'll finally come true, and she'll join the ranks of the Wonderbolts." Soarin' smiled faintly as he stared at his own subtle reflection within the glass, and he gave it another prod. "I know, because I was like her once. A young pegasus, ready and willing to face the world, and with every expectation that it'd be me performing in those stadiums one day. No matter what happened to me while I was growing up, I always had that dream. It was my rock and my beacon. If I had a bad day at flight school, or if my parents were arguing again, I'd just think about my dream... About me being a Wonderbolt. We all have our dreams, and those dreams push us and guide us forward, day after day and week after week. I want her to have something to hope for and look forward to, Applejack. Don't take that from her, and don't take that from yourself either. It's something we all deserve to have, and I don't want to be known as the one that shattered hers."
The orange earth pony simply blinked and stared in return, and for the longest time, she simply didn't know what to say. What could she even say in such a situation? Applejack instead leaned over and gave the light blue pegasus a hug, causing Soarin' to snicker and glance at her, and she was quick to glare at him in return. "You better not be laughin' at me fer this."
"Nah, I'm not. Just find the whole situation kinda funny... I gave you some big speech when I didn't really mean to. Appreciate the hug, though." The stallion smiled and pushed his glass away from himself, and he idly began to rub at the back of his neck with a hoof. "Promise me you won't tell Rainbow Dash about what it's like?"
"Shucks, after hearin' ya talk like that, I don' think I'd be able to. I won' tell her... promise." Applejack pulled away from Soarin' and took a quick look at the clock, quickly frowning as she caught sight of it - it was already 10, and she was definitely beginning to run the risk of missing the meteor shower at this rate. She had already begun to fidget on her stool, but it seemed the Wonderbolt hadn't noticed at all.
"So, Applejack..." Soarin' leaned against the bar and stared the earth pony in the eyes. "What kind of dream do you have? I know Sweet Apple Acres probably means a whole lot to you, but there's something else you want out of life, isn't there?"
"Uh... well, I'd... like ta get a place of mah own, an' settle down with that special somepony." Applejack winced slightly as an image of Twilight flashed through her head upon finishing her sentence, and she seemed slightly relieved upon discovering that the pegasus seemingly hadn't noticed it. She gave another look towards the clock, and her ears flattened as she found that the time had suddenly lurched forward another half an hour.
We aren' even sayin' that much! How is the clock movin' so damn fast?!
Yer runnin' out of time, Applejack - either stay, or go.
"...Applejack? You feeling okay?"
How the hay am I 'spose ta pick?! Twilight's been a great friend an' all, an' I don' wanna disappoint her by not comin' ta th' meteor shower, but Soarin's been awfully polite an' I don' wanna be rude.
I can' just pick!
"Barley, check please. Just put the tabs together, I'll cover it... nah, I don't think she's feeling well. Figured I'd get her back to her home."
Applejack shut her eyes tight, and her dreams and memories began to rush through her mind, and every passing thought was about everything she and Twilight Sparkle had done.
The earth pony's eyes slowly opened, and she nodded to herself before turning towards the light blue pegasus at her side. "Soarin', I need ta leave."
"...Leave?" The Wonderbolt quickly looked away from Barley and stared back at Applejack, an eyebrow raised as he peered at her. "Nah, don't worry. I just need to pay the bill, and then we can get you back to Sweet Apple Acres. You've been acting funny."
"I'm fine, Soarin'. I just need ta leave. There's somethin' I need ta do." She hopped off her stool and began to make her way for the door, but Soarin' hopped down in front of her and stopped her.
"Applejack, what are you talking about?"
"I've been runnin' fer too long, Soarin'. I've been scared an' awfully reluctant ta confront somethin', when I should've embraced it. I'm tired of runnin' - I've been a damned fool, and I'm tired of runnin'. I'm ready ta make a stand, ta do somethin' I should've done already."
The Wonderbolt slowly shook his head and began to approach her. "You're not making any sense. Whatever's going on, we need to get you out of here."
"I'm fine, damnit!" Applejack glared at him angrily, and the stallion had already recoiled from this sudden outburst. Already realizing what she had just done, the orange mare let out a sigh and slowly shook her head. "Look, Soarin'... I'm sorry fer yellin' at ya, but I've been doin' an awful lot of thinkin' over the past few days an' tonight, an' I've been runnin' from my own emotions. There's somethin' I need ta do before I lose mah chance at it ferever, an' I need ta go - now."
He narrowed his eyes at her, raising his own voice as he spoke back. "So what is it, then? Just what's so damn important?"
"There's... somepony else. Somepony very close ta me, an'... somepony I should've talked to already, but I haven'. I was too scared." Applejack's ears flattened, and the mare quickly broke eye-contact with him and began to stare at the floor. "I'm sorry, Soarin'. I'm so sorry, but I gotta do this."
"So... the entire date was basically a sham."
The stallion's nostrils flared, and he quickly began to approach Applejack once more. He was visibly irritated, and understandably so. "So you basically lead me along?! And for what? For shits and giggles?"
"Soarin', it ain't like that! I was... I was angry an' frustrated when I asked Rainbow ta set up th' date! I wasn't thinkin' clearly, but I couldn' just cancel, an' I didn' wanna be rude either! But..." She sighed and looked back up at Soarin' with pleading eyes. "I've finally got a chance at mah dream, a chance at bein' truly happy fer once... but unless I leave now, I might lose that chance. Please... Soarin'. Lemme leave."
Upon hearing the mention of her dream, the Wonderbolt froze in his tracks and quickly backed down, and his eyes darted about the room as he thought to himself. When he finally spoke up, he locked eyes with the earth pony and never once broke away. "Looking back on it, I guess... I did tell you not to take your dreams away from yourself, didn't I? If this is what you need to do Applejack, I... I can't stop you. I shouldn't. We all deserve our dreams, after all. And as angry as I am that this date wasn't entirely honest, I'm... kinda thankful. You actually spoke to me and treated me as if I were any other pony, and that... doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd like. Besides... tonight was kinda fun. Thanks, Applejack. For everything."
The orange earth pony gave him a soft smile and slowly approached him, leaning up to give him a peck on the cheek. "That's fer everythin' ya've done fer me tonight. It was good ta see ya again, Soarin'."
She turned and began to make her way for the door, only to be stopped by the Wonderbolt once more. "Applejack, I won't keep you much longer. I know you're short on time, and I don't want to get between you and your dream, but... could you do two things for me?"
The mare glanced over her shoulder and turned around to face him once more. "Whatcha need?"
"Could we... keep in touch?" The light blue pegasus actually managed to blush a bit upon mentioning that, and began to idly paw at the floor with a hoof. "It's just... well, I don't have many friends outside of the Wonderbolts, and I kinda liked just being myself tonight. I'm not asking too much, maybe just a letter every now and then or something.
"Or maybe we could come back here fer drinks." Applejack grinned and slowly nodded. "I've got no problem with that, Soarin'. What's th' second thing?"
"Well, I've done some thinking of my own. About having dreams, and about what you said. The thing about being tired of running."
"...what are ya gettin' at?" She raised an eyebrow and peered at him, and the Wonderbolt continued to blush, just as he had before.
"I was wondering... could you maybe tell me where Rainbow Dash lives? I'd like to stop by some time. Just... say hello, hang out a bit, get to know her better."
Such a request confused her at first, but she didn't see the harm in it. Besides, Rainbow Dash would likely be ecstatic at having a Wonderbolt spend the day with her. "I'll mail her address to ya. I... kinda need ta go an' all."
"Right, right... go on then, Applejack. Your dream's waitin' for ya."
Applejack smiled and nodded, leaning up to give him another peck on the cheek. Before Soarin' could say much else, she had already dashed out the bar doors and galloped off into the night, and the pegasus soon returned to the bar to pay off the bill. As he pushed the bits forward, Barley took them and let out a grumble, slowly shaking his head. "Ya got a heart of gold, Soarin'. Ain't easy letting go of such a pretty and polite gal, but for what it's worth, I think you did the right thing."
Soarin' smirked and slowly nodded, tapping a hoof upon the bar as he looked up at the bay stallion. "Thanks, Barley."
"A shame, though. You see the haunches on that girl? Workin' them orchards did her a whole lot of good, if you know what I mean!"
"...shut up, Barley."
"Spot for the meteor shower - check!"
Twilight Sparkle's horn softly glowed as her magic held the list and pencil aloft, and she checked off the item upon the list. She had returned to her favorite stargazing spot for this night, and it was the very same hill she and her friends had stood upon when they had watched the same meteor shower many months ago. It was far from the lights of Ponyville, and was fairly tall as well - perfect for an occasion such as this.
"Blanket to lay upon - check!"
All it had taken was a brief stop by Rarity's, and the fashionista had managed to whip a new blanket together in just a few short minutes. It was fairly simple, consisting of nothing more than a white and purple checkerboard pattern, but all the lavender mare had wanted was something to keep her from laying upon the grass. The ground could get colder than most thought during the night, especially once dew had begun to form, and a mere blanket would be enough to keep her warm and comfortable.
"Telescope and snacks - check and check!"
It had been a bit of a hassle, but she had managed to drag her telescope, a basket full of snacks and drinks, and the blanket out to the hill. While it may have seemed like overkill to some, the unicorn had every intention of being out there for several hours, and that meant dragging along the necessary supplies. A blanket would keep her comfy, a telescope would help her watch, and the snacks and drinks would keep her belly full throughout the entire meteor shower. She had even remembered to pack some extras within the basket, in case any of her friends came along. Twilight proceeded towards the next item on the list, and her ears flattened slightly.
"Applejack... not check."
She had heeded Big Macintosh's advice, and had asked Applejack out in the most subtle way she could think of, but now that plan looked as if it would fail to bear any fruit. The orange earth pony had said she would attend if she could, but she made it sound as if she was going to be awfully busy, and it now seemed doubtful that she would even show up. Twilight closed her eyes briefly as she conjured forth a clock, and she frowned as she read it.
With a sigh, she dispelled the magical clock and took a seat upon the blanket, setting both the list and pencil down beside herself. She knew not whether Applejack would even show up at this point, but all she could really do at this point was one thing.
She couldn't recall the last time she had ever run this hard, or this fast - not even the various hazards of the Trial of Earth had pushed her this much, and yet Applejack pressed onwards. The orange earth pony had thrown herself into a full gallop immediately after leaving the Sky High and Soarin' behind, and she hadn't slowed down since, nor did she intend to ever do so. That had been miles ago, though, and she should have been out of breath by now, yet no such thing ever happened. Her muscles neither ached nor burned, and her lungs never once strained for air. Something was driving her ever onwards, and she still wasn't sure if she had herself to thank, or if it were some unseen force.
Applejack tossed the thought aside, and managed to increase her pace even further. It was a speed that surely would have left Rainbow Dash in the dust at the Running of the Leaves, but that was then. This was now. The earth pony's breakneck pace, in addition to her own steady and methodical galloping, had continually worked her braided mane and tail loose, but she didn't have the time to worry about things as trivial as her appearance - Applejack winced slightly as a bead of sweat made its way into her eye, and she quickly shook it off.
At the very least, the night had been cool enough to greatly alleviate the strain of her running such a distance. Had she done this during the day, she had no doubt in her mind that she would have been sweating profusely, and likely would have been on the brink of dehydration. To feel the breeze running through her mane, however, had been a great relief, and it was enough to keep the sweat at bay as she galloped through the outskirts of Ponyville. Though much of the town had already gone dark for the night, some homes still remained lit up, partially lighting Applejack's path as she journeyed onward. It all felt a bit eerie, to say the least - a situation such as this greatly resembled the nightmares she once had about waking up alone in Ponyville, with not a soul in sight. Those days had long since passed, though, and it had all been because of Twilight.
Twilight. The orange mare's thoughts drifted back to that night together in the tent, when she had revealed more about herself to a friend than she dared tell most of her family. Such a thing had been deeply personal, an old and bitter secret that she had kept buried for countless years, and yet she dug it up for the lavender mare and nopony else. The 'why' hadn't surprised her - she trusted Twilight implicitly, and she knew that the same was returned in kind. Around Twilight, she felt safe, comfortable, and at peace. No, what had surprised Applejack was what ensued immediately afterwards. In her time of need, when she openly wept, Twilight Sparkle had embraced her and held her close. She had loved her unconditionally, from one friend to another.
As the earth pony made her way into Ponyville's square, she allowed herself to stop for the first time since leaving the bar, and she panted as she leaned against a lamp post. Her race across the countryside had completely torn the braids loose, and her mane and tail both gently billowed in the breeze. It had been far too long since she had felt the wind move through her hair so easily, and she let out a soft sigh as she slumped onto the ground. "Alright, jus' takin' a quick break, then we gotta get movin' agai-"
The strum of a lyre broke the silence, and Applejack quickly looked up at the source of the sound. Sitting upon the steps of the town hall was a lone unicorn mare with a mint green coat, singing softly as she played along.
I set my sail
fly the wind it will take me
back to my home, sweet home
Applejack let out a quiet gasp, her eyes widening as she quickly realized that the song being played was the very same one from her dreams. The orange mare began to cautiously approach the steps, her eyes never leaving the musician.
Lie on my back
clouds are making way for me
I'm coming home, sweet home
I see your star you left it burning for me
Mother, I'm here
The lyre gently bobbed up and down, held aloft by the unicorn's magic as she continued to strum and sing, and her eyes never once opened - it was clear that she took great pride in her music, and was focusing every bit of her concentration upon it. Her hoof deftly moved across the strings of the lyre, playing out several somber notes as the song carried onwards.
Eyes open wide
feel your heart and it's glowing
I'm welcome home, sweet home
The earth pony had since taken a seat in front of the steps, her mane covering much of her face as she sat in silence. As curious as she was to know just where the unicorn had heard the song, such a performance was best left uninterrupted.
I take your hoof
now you'll never be lonely
not when I'm home, sweet home
I see your star, you left it burning for me
Mother, I'm here
The musician gave her lyre one last strum, gently setting her instrument down at her side - and quickly opening her eyes upon hearing the sound of hooves clapping together. The mint green unicorn blinked, momentarily surprised by the sudden show of praise, and replied in a manner rather befitting given the situation. "...thank you? I wasn't really planning on having an audience tonight."
"Oh! Awful sorry. Didn' mean ta sneak up on ya." Applejack grinned sheepishly in return, and lowered her head slightly. "I jus'... heard th' song you were playin', an' I recognized it."
"Did you now?" The unicorn's horn briefly glowed as she moved her instrument into a nearby saddlebag, and she was quick to turn her attention back to the earth pony. "It's not often heard around these parts. Rather simple to play and sing, but I enjoy it - I like the message behind it."
"Ya mind if I ask where ya learned it?"
The musician smiled faintly and pointed a hoof towards the west. "It was some sheet music from Apploosa, a gift from a fan. The song used to be pretty big amongst the settlers, from what I understand."
Applejack leaned forwards slightly, her mane shifting as a breeze ran through the town. "An' now?"
"Not so much. It isn't played that often anymore - 'too sad' is usually the excuse, but I simply think they're interpreting the song wrong."
"So, uh... what do ya think it means?" The earth pony peered up at the musician, and a pair of orange eyes looked back in kind.
"I think it's about returning home. Not to the mother the song refers to, but... somepony else. Friends, family, somepony you love. Even 'home' itself could mean any number of things. It's a fantastic piece, and it's a shame it isn't played more often." The musician leaned against one of the posts of the town hall, sprawling her legs out in front of herself as she sat on her haunches - as unnatural as it looked, she still appeared to be rather comfortable. "Though, I do have to ask... what are you doing out at this time of the night?"
Applejack sighed and hesitated briefly as she searched for the best way she could phrase it. "I'm... chasin' mah dreams. What about you?"
"Ahh, chasing your dreams. Aren't we all." The mint green mare grinned and slowly shook her head. "I'm still chasing after my own. One day, I'll be in Canterlot, playing in front of crowds and finishing my performances to thunderous applause as I get showered with roses. It's... taking longer than I'd like, but I'm getting there. And you?"
"...well, uh... I jus' wanna have that storybook endin' that every filly gets told. Ya know, settle down somewhere nice with that somepony special. I've already got the somepony special sorted out... I think. I jus' hope I ain't too late."
The unicorn smiled softly and nodded. "A noble goal. I wish you the best of luck."
"Thanks, an'... you too. Ya never answered mah other question, though." The earth pony cocked her head slightly, her mane drifting away from her face ever so slightly.
"A simple bout of insomnia. Nothing more. From the sounds of things, though, you already sound a bit in a hurry. I won't keep you any longer."
Applejack nodded and got to her hooves, turning and beginning to walk away before stopping herself and turning around once more. "Ya know, I never caught yer name."
The unicorn smiled as her saddlebag gently bobbed up and down at her side, her orange eyes affixed upon the earth pony.
The lavender mare flopped over onto her side, rolling onto her back and looking up at the night sky. The meteor shower had yet to start, but that didn't mean that she couldn't admire what was already there, and Twilight was already beginning to pick out the various constellations that dotted the heavens above.
"There's Cassiopeia... Cepheus..." The unicorn held one of her hooves in the air, tracing the outline of each constellation as she found them. "Perseus and Andromeda... let's see, what else..."
The sound of shifting grass caused her to quickly turn and sit up, a large smile upon her face as she went to greet what she assumed to be Applejack. Instead, there was nothing - the wind had merely rustled the blades of grass. Her ears flattened and she lay upon the blanket once more, her horn briefly glowing as she conjured forth the clock. "11:14."
She sighed as she ceased the spell, rolling onto her back and gazing up at the sky once more, and her thoughts quickly began to roam as she picked out even more constellations. Twilight knew it was dangerous to make assumptions, especially considering how scientific she could be at times, but love was... different. All previous attempts at explaining it had failed - she knew that chemistry and pheromones were involved, but if that was all it took, then everypony would love everypony else. Such a thing simply did not happen.
No, there was something more. Love was... a bond, both physical and spiritual. It was an unspoken connection, incredibly durable and also quite powerful. While friendship may have been magic, as her studies and own experiences had proven, love was something else entirely - the two simply could not begin to compare. As happy as she was when she saw her friends or spent time with them, nothing could compare to the elation she felt whenever she saw Applejack. Any afternoons the two spent with one another were some of the happiest days Twilight had ever experienced, and she wanted nothing more than to experience those same moments over and over.
It wasn't infatuation, that much she knew. Infatuation was ephemeral and often purely physical, and though the unicorn certainly thought of Applejack as being attractive, there was more at work than just appearances. It was the earth pony's personality that made her so special in Twilight's eyes - she was extraordinarily hardworking, trusting, loyal, and honest. Not only that, but she cared deeply for her family and those closest to her. That much had certainly been evident while the two of them were on their journey for the fruit, and they both had a level of trust and understanding that the others still couldn't quite comprehend, even after all these months.
That raised another question, however. Assuming Applejack showed up and was willing to give things a try... how would they even explain it to the others? Several of her friends all had their respective crushes, but none of them had yet to actually date anypony. Assuming the date worked out, she and Applejack would have to tell Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash sooner or later - a secret such as that couldn't be kept forever. To make matters even worse, she would also have to tell Spike. The baby dragon was intensely curious, and it was likely that Applejack would be coming over to the library much more often. And then there were her parents, Night Light and Twilight Velvet - they had always teased her when she was a foal, telling tales of how she would one day find her prince to sweep her off her hooves. She simply had to explain that the 'prince' was actually a 'princess', but they had always been deeply understanding, and their daughter's happiness had always been their primary concern.
Those were assumptions, though. If Applejack didn't show up, or if she wasn't willing to try being more than friends, then all of it was moot. They would still be friends of course, but they wouldn't become anything more. As disappointing as that might be, it was still an acceptable outcome to her. With a sigh, she picked out another constellation and continued to wait.
The orange earth pony had already left both Lyra and the town square far behind herself, and it didn't take long for her to reach the same gallop she carried herself with earlier. It seemed to be a recurring theme that evening for others to talk about their own hopes and dreams, and it did nothing but feed the fire within her. Spurred onwards, Applejack galloped off into the night, her mane whipping about in the wind as she headed towards the same hill she and the others had used the last time they all went stargazing together - if there was anywhere Twilight Sparkle would be, that was it.
It had been rather surreal to both hear the song from her dreams and to find out that it was, in fact, quite real. This wasn't something she had simply conjured up. It actually existed, which meant that at some point or another within her life, she had heard it. She simply didn't know where. Even now, the song played within her head, a combination of both the dream's version and Lyra's version. It formed a duet of sorts, and as the lyrics and notes of the song played out, she drove herself onwards, the soft and somber melodies keeping her company as she pressed herself to go faster.
I set my sail
fly the wind it will take me
back to my home, sweet home
Lie on my back
clouds are making way for me
I'm coming home, sweet home
I see your star you left it burning for me
Mother, I'm here
She knew full-well that she was racing against time itself at this point, and Applejack had every intention of being there in time for the meteor shower. She simply wanted to be there at Twilight's side, so the two of them could watch the spectacle together. After all, Applejack knew her friend quite well - if there was anything Twilight especially loved, it was astronomy. This event meant quite a lot to the lavender mare, and given how quiet it was bound to be, it would be the perfect opportunity for Applejack to tell the full truth about what had been going on as of late.
Eyes open wide
feel your heart and it's glowing
I'm welcome home, sweet home
Off in the distance, sitting atop the hill and illuminated by the pale light of Luna's moon, sat a lavender silhouette. A smile slowly began to creep across Applejack's face, and she gave her body one last push as she desperately tried to bring the figure closer to herself. "Jus' hold on, Twi. I'm comin' home."
I take your hoof
now you'll never be lonely
not when I'm home, sweet home
I see your star, you left it burning for me
Mother, I'm here
As the song slowly went silent within her mind, she steadily made her way to the top of the hill, and the crunching of grass beneath her hooves caused Twilight Sparkle to turn and face her, a wide grin upon her face. Applejack returned it in kind and she slowed her pace as she neared the blanket, walking slowly and panting as she caught her breath. "How... howdy, Twilight."
The lavender mare was quick to wave a hoof, beckoning the earth pony to take a seat beside her. "You look completely exhausted, AJ... c'mere."
Applejack eagerly did as told, walking onto the blanket and collapsing beside Twilight Sparkle. She let out a faint groan as she finally gave her legs a rest, and she tossed a wayward glance at the basket - now that she had actually stopped running, she began to realize just how dry and sore her throat was. "Any water in there, Twi?"
"Mhm!" Twilight's horn glowed softly as she opened up the basket, pulling a bottle of water out for her companion and opening it for her. "You know, I'm glad you came, AJ. I wouldn't want you to miss this."
The orange earth pony was already busy chugging out of the water bottle, but she nearly coughed and gagged upon hearing Twilight speak. The dream was almost beginning to seem prophetic at this point. First the song had ended up being real, and now this? Without even realizing what she was saying, Applejack set the bottle down and turned to face the unicorn. "I wouldn' miss this fer th' world, sugarcube."
"We've got the perfect night for this too. Not too hot, not too cold, not a cloud in the sky... conditions are completely ideal for stargazing. And it's just the two of us."
"Ya didn' invite anypony else ta come watch this with ya?" Applejack raised an eyebrow at Twilight, and a blush quickly showed up upon the unicorn's face as her ears flattened.
"Because I..." Twilight hesitated for a moment and nervously gave her lip a bit before continuing. "...I wanted to talk to you about something. Just the two of us. Nopony else."
Applejack brought a hoof up to her face to brush her mane aside, and she crossed her forelegs as she looked back at the unicorn. While she was distracted with her mane, Twilight had scooted over a bit closer to her, still leaving a bit of a gap between the two of them. "What's on yer mind, Twi?"
"Well... an awful lot as of late, really. Your brother helped out quite a bit, though."
"Macintosh helped ya? When?"
"While we were um... on the date." The unicorn let out a soft sigh and tapped her front hooves together. "We spent the entire time talking, and he helped me figure out an awful lot about myself. Walked me through some things I've been feeling, and he... sorta gave me the push to do something I've been meaning to do for a while."
The orange earth pony raised an eyebrow once more, peering at her companion. "So uh... what is it you've been meanin' ta do?"
"I'm getting to that, AJ. Basically, he... told me a bit of a story, and explained some things. It turns out that some of the feelings I've been having are actually perfectly normal, and it happens all the time, which was a relief. It's... complicated, Applejack."
"Well c'mon now. We've known each other fer a while, an' if there's anypony ya can talk to about it, it's me."
Twilight Sparkle sighed once more, looking up and staring the earth pony in the eyes. "We've been through an awful lot, you and I. We journeyed to the ends of the earth, fought off bandits and met spirits, and saved one another, all for a piece of magical fruit. But... we did it, and we were there for each other throughout all of it. We became the best of friends, Applejack."
"That we did, Twi... I get th' feelin' there's more ta this, though."
"There is. It's just... well... you've done a lot for me. More than you probably realize. You were the first pony I truly met when I came to Ponyville, and ever since that day, you really have been the 'loyalest and most dependable pony'. You always seem to be the first pony willing to lend a helping hoof, and it was your own determination that kept me going a lot of times during our journey. But... ever since we've been back, I've been... different. I smile and laugh a lot more. I'm less stressed out. I'm... happy. I'm the happiest I've ever been in my entire life, and it's all because of... because of you." The lavender mare blushed furiously and quickly looked away from the earth pony at her side.
Applejack leaned over slightly as she tried to get a peek at Twilight's face, but it was impossible to do so from this angle. Another breeze gently moved across the hill, causing her mane to billow once more. "...Twi?"
"You've probably never realized it, but... you have no idea just how much I look forward to spending time with you each day. I'm always happiest whenever I'm with you. It doesn't matter what we're doing, I just... like to be around you. You actually make me feel appreciated, and I... I just can't get you out of my head. I'm almost always thinking about you, and... I don't want it to end. Ever. I want every day to feel like this." The unicorn turned back towards the earth pony, the blush still present upon her face. "There. I said it. That's everything."
The earth pony had one hoof placed over her mouth, not out of disgust, but out of shock - as eerie as it was, her dream about the field was coming true. Applejack cocked her head and stared over at the blushing unicorn. "Twi, are... are you sayin' what I think yer sayin'?"
"...yes. Yes I am." Twilight quickly turned to face Applejack, and in spite of her blush, she put on the most determined face she could manage. "I... I love you. I know you probably think I'm an idiot for saying it, but... there you go."
To admit such a thing took a tremendous amount of courage, and yet, Twilight Sparkle actually seemed a bit hurt by her own words. She had already shifted her focus away from Applejack, and was currently staring at the blanket, her ears flattened and her blush more visible than it had been before. The earth pony reached a hoof over to the lavender mare, a faint smile upon her face as she gently pulled Twilight's face back towards herself. "Twilight... I don' think yer an idiot. That was actually really brave of ya."
Even after having her muzzle pulled so she directly faced Applejack, the unicorn did her very best to avoid eye contact. "But I am an idiot... I just told you right to your face that I loved you."
"Twi, look at me." Applejack moved herself towards Twilight, leaving mere inches between the two of them, and though the unicorn was initially hesitant to do as told, she soon brought her violet eyes up towards the earth pony. "Yer a lot more brave than ya think. You did somethin' I haven' been able ta do. You fessed up about yer feelings, an' you've been honest. I... haven' been. Not ta you, or mahself."
The lavender mare raised an eyebrow, the blush slowly beginning to fade from her face. "...What do you mean?"
"Well, when ya asked Big Mac out, I... I got jealous. I was already feelin' kinda iffy on things, but when ya went an' asked him out on th' date, it... kinda hurt, so I had Rainbow set me up with Soarin' ta try an' get back at ya. That's... sorta why I told ya that I wasn' sure if I'd be here tonight - the date with him was th' same night as this."
"But... shouldn't you still be on the date?"
Applejack answered simply enough, a faint grin upon her face. "I left."
"You... you left a date with a Wonderbolt, to come to this? Why?"
"Because I saw how wrong I was, an' I finally figured it all out. Mah dreams, mah emotions... all of it. It all comes down ta th' same thing, time an' time again - it all comes down ta you. You've been there fer me, no matter what. You didn' hesitate ta help when Granny Smith got sick, an' ya kept me company during some of th' hardest times of mah life. An' then when we got back here... well, you weren' th' only one that looked forward to our lil' get-togethers. Twi, fer once in mah life, I feel wanted. I feel like somepony actually cares about me. I've spent so much of mah life runnin' an' bein' alone - I'm tired of it."
"S-so... um..." Twilight inched towards Applejack, closing the gap and causing their bodies to lightly press against one another. "Does that mean...?"
The orange mare brought her muzzle closer to her companion's, a faint smile upon her face. "Twilight... I want you. I need you."
"...so are we... dating now?" The unicorn blushed furiously, causing Applejack to snicker and give her a teasing grin in return.
"I dunno, sugarcube... ya might have ta ask me out first."
"Oh. Um..." Twilight softly coughed to clear her throat, and then locked eyes with the earth pony. "...Applejack, will you go out with me?"
Applejack leaned forward and gave the unicorn's cheek a nuzzle. "Gladly. Gotta seal the deal now, darlin'."
"If we're gonna be datin', I think ya deserve a special nickname. You don' mind, do ya?"
"Oh, no! Not at all! I... I kinda like it, actually. It's cute." Twilight grinned sheepishly in return, her heart already sent aflutter from this latest turn of events. "But... how am I supposed to 'seal the deal'?"
"We both do somethin' we've been meanin' ta do fer an awful long time." Applejack grinned slyly, and it didn't take long at all for Twilight Sparkle to realize just what it was she was hinting at. The first meteor streaked overhead, but at this moment, it was pointless for either to wish upon a falling star - their wishes had already been granted.
From their spot upon the hill, and underneath a cascade of fire and rock, the newly-formed couple leaned towards one another and shared their first true kiss.
Hours. It was hard to believe, but several hours had already passed since they had finally admitted the truth to one another. In the time since, the two mares had kissed, cuddled, and seen one another in a different light, all beneath a blanket of meteors and stars. It had been a truly beautiful sight, and neither one was sure they could have ever found anything better for such an occasion - even now, Twilight Sparkle and Applejack lay beside one another on the blanket, faint smiles upon their faces as they gazed up at the night sky.
"And that one's Aquila."
"Which one, Twi?"
The lavender mare raised a hoof towards the heavens, pointing out the constellation. "See it?"
"Wait... I think I got it. Looks kinda like a bird."" Applejack squinted her eyes and raised her own hoof, following the general outline of the constellation. It was rather difficult to discern for the untrained eye, but she was fairly certain she had found it.
"Mhm! An eagle, to be precise." Twilight lowered her hoof and rolled onto her side, her horn faintly glowing as she used her magic to rummage through the basket of snacks. They had seemingly run out, however, something that caused a faint scowl to appear on her face. "Welp, we're out of food... and it is starting to get late. Do you think we should head back?"
The earth pony let out a soft grunt as she quickly sat up, her eyes peering up at the unicorn. "Yeah, startin' ta get a bit chilly anyways. Big Mac's probably worried sick 'bout where I'm at."
"And Spike's probably still up, wondering when I'll be back..."
"I uh... I guess this is good night then, darlin'." Applejack hopped to her hooves and was already leaning forward to give Twilight another kiss, only to find herself stopped by the unicorn.
"AJ, wait... It doesn't have to be good night. You could always stay the night with me, and if Big Macintosh gets mad at you tomorrow, just say that... it was too late for you to make the walk home or something!" Twilight Sparkle briefly grinned, glancing about before setting her gaze back on Applejack. "That... that would work, wouldn't it?"
"I... 'spose it would, an' ya do got th' spare bed an' all."
"Applejack, I was kinda thinking that we'd just share my bed. Since we're um... dating now and all." The unicorn blinked and gave her head a quick shake. "...It still feels weird to say that. Anyways, we've shared a bed before, so this isn't that big of a deal."
The orange mare chuckled and slowly shook her head, grinning as she stared back at Twilight. "'cept I'm yer girlfriend now. We can do an awful lot besides jus' sleep."
"...u-um... like what, exactly?"
"Oh, you know... ya run a library, Twi. I'm sure ya've got books about it."
Prodded on by Applejack's words, Twilight Sparkle's own thoughts immediately shifted towards more risque subjects, causing her to blush once more. "Applejack, I... I don't know if I'm quite ready for that. I mean, we just started going out!"
"...I meant cuddlin' an' stuff. What th' hay were ya thinkin' about?" The earth pony raised an eyebrow at her, and Twilight quickly backed away, her face beet red from embarrassment.
"I'll just... go get my things. Um. Yeah."
For Spike, tonight had been a very long night thus far. Despite the fact that he was indeed growing up with every passing year, he was still technically a baby dragon, and baby dragons needed sleep. He simply couldn't go to bed while Twilight was still out, however - he needed to make sure she got home safe and sound. After all, he was her number one assistant, and these things were to be expected of someone with such a title. A quick glance at the clock on the wall revealed the time to be 3:43, and he let out a groan as he flopped over onto the table. "Ugh... where are you, Twilight? I wanna go to sleeeeep."
Not surprisingly, Owloysius was up and about, and turned around to face the baby dragon. "Hoo."
"Twili- wait, no. I'm not doing this again. You get me almost every single time this happens. Well, not today!"
"Tonight. Same thing."
Before the two of them could say anything further, a creak emanated from the front of the library, and it was one Spike knew quite well. He and Twilight had oiled the hinges on the front door time and time again, if only to get rid of the creak, but nothing ever worked. They had eventually given up on it and had simply decided to deal with it. The sound of hooves upon the wood floor made it quite clear that some ponies had arrived, and Spike had a fairly big hunch that he knew who they were. He rounded the corner into the entryway of the library, and the smile upon his face soon turned into one of confusion as he saw not one, but two mares. "Hey Twilight! And... Applejack? That's... a pretty crazy mane you've got going."
Applejack blew her mane away from her face once more, sighing and seemingly agreeing with the baby dragon. "Howdy Spike."
"Soo... what are you doing here?"
"Stayin' th' night."
"Oh. Another slumber party?"
"Eh..." The orange earth pony nervously glanced over towards Twilight and chuckled. "Somethin' like that."
Spike seemed utterly confused at this point, and continued to glance back and forth between the earth pony and the unicorn. "Twilight, you seem a little... more awake than usual. I mean, you're usually completely zonked out when you stay out this late!"
The lavender mare clearly hadn't been paying attention, considering she had been staring at Applejack's face almost the entire time, and she quickly blinked and directed her gaze at the dragon. "Bwuh? No, no... I'm fine! Perfectly normal!"
"You keep giving Applejack really funny looks..." Spike brought a claw to his chin, rubbing it as he peered up at Twilight.
"Oh, uh... look at the time!" The unicorn made a wide yawn, and Applejack quickly caught on, yawning as well. "Guess me and AJ should get to bed! You should too, Spike - you've been up all night, after all!"
The baby dragon stared at her, still quite skeptical, and eventually threw a claw into the air. "Have fun with your sleepover or whatever. I'll sleep in the basement. It's quieter down there."
Spike then grabbed both his bed and a blanket and promptly dragged both into the basement, shutting the door behind himself and leaving Applejack and Twilight to simply stand there and wonder what had just happened. Both had been expecting a confrontation, as well as an explanation of sorts in regards to their newly-formed relationship, but it seemed neither would happen just yet. The two mares quietly made their way up the stairs to Twilight's bed, and Applejack was already in the midst of yanking back the covers when she found herself interrupted by the unicorn. "Oh no you don't. I'm not letting you go to bed with your mane like that. C'mere and let me brush it."
"Twi, it's jus' gonna get messy again. Bedhead an' all that."
Twilight grinned and placed a hoof to her chest as one of her brushes floated up and down at her side. "Well, it still looks like you had a pretty rough night, and my sugarcube deserves better than that!"
"...Sugarcube? Reusin' mah nicknames now, huh?" Applejack chuckled and raised an eyebrow at the lavender mare, only to get a nervous laugh in return.
"I'm trying it... still getting used to all this, after all."
Applejack had already made her way over to Twilight Sparkle and had taken a seat before her. She saw no harm in having her mane brushed before bed, and she certainly needed it, even if it would just get messy again. The earth pony let out a soft sigh as she felt the brush begin to pass through her mane, and a faint smile crept across her face - she could get used to this. "Twi, you seemed awful nervous tonight. Jus' th' way ya acted an' all."
"Well... yeah. It's... kinda my first time dealing with this sort of thing." Twilight began to hum to herself as she sorted out the tangled and knotted mess that was Applejack's mane, and she could hardly contain her own smile either.
"So... I'm yer first? As in, first everythin'? First love, first kiss, all that?"
"Mhm. I spent so much time buried in my studies back in Canterlot, I never really gave myself the chance to form crushes or anything. There weren't ponies I liked, or wanted to marry... it was just me and my books - and then I came here and saw what I was missing out on."
Applejack chewed on her lip and then glanced backwards towards Twilight. "Twi, be honest when ya answer this... how long have ya been feelin' this way towards me?"
The unicorn hesitated for a moment and stopped the brushing as well, though she continued soon afterwards. "...a month or so. I started having dreams about you and the rest of the girls, and it steadily progressed to just... you. And as time went on, they got increasingly more vivid and um... heated. Not a day went by where I didn't dream or think about you. It only took this long because... well, I was nervous. And confused. I wasn't sure if what I was feeling was normal, or what I should even do about it. Your brother helped me sort it out, and he was kinda the one that encouraged me to ask you out on a date. The um... meteor shower was supposed to be said date."
"An' ta think, I almost missed it..." The earth pony let out a sigh and slowly shook her head. "I'll have ta give Mac a hug next time I see 'im."
"You should. You mean an awful lot to him, Applejack, and he was only trying to watch out for your best interests." The unicorn set the brush aside and smiled. "All done!"
With a smile of her own, Applejack sat up and gave her head a shake, chuckling softly as her mane moved about. Though it still covered most of her face, it wasn't nearly as troublesome as it had been earlier, and a lavender hoof soon brushed some of the strands of her mane aside. "Thanks, darlin'. Already feels a whole lot better. Ya ready fer bed?"
"Oh Celestia, yes. I think we've both had a really long day." Twilight had already galloped towards the bed and lept into the air, bouncing and giggling as she landed upon the mattress. "Ahh, my first time sharing a bed with my girlfriend!" The unicorn quickly covered her eyes with her hooves, wiggling her legs and letting out a faint squeal. "I have a girlfriend!"
"Awful excited, ain'tcha?"
"...c'mere, you." Applejack crawled into bed, slipping beneath the covers, and it didn't take long at all for the unicorn to do the same. With a brief burst of magic, Twilight snuffed out the candles illuminating her room, and the two mares were quick to embrace one another in the darkness. As tired as they may have been, neither one could really fall asleep - they were far too busy talking and enjoying the presence of the other. In between the pauses in their talks, the two would sneak in a quick kiss or a nuzzle, and sometimes even a brief ear nibble. The last one, in particular, often left Twilight extremely flustered, much to Applejack's amusement. "So, Twi... what happens next?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well... when are we gonna go about tellin' th' others?"
"Soon. I'd rather have us tell them ourselves, instead of having it slip out. We should probably tell Spike in the morning... he already seems a little suspicious, and I know how he is. He won't stop asking questions until we spill the beans. We'll tell the others afterwards." The lavender mare let out a soft sigh and brushed away some of Applejack's mane once more. "And then I'll eventually have to take you to meet my parents."
"Ooh... how do ya think they'll handle it? I mean... you datin' another mare."
"I think it'll go better than it sounds. They've always been rather loving, and sorta... scholarly, I guess? They're pretty open-minded, to be honest."
"Well, at least it'll go better than th' meetin' with Granny Smith... I ain't lookin' forward ta explainin' that one at all." Applejack rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling, a scowl on her face. "I jus' know that's gonna end in a fight, an' knowin' Granny, she'll probably try ta get th' others ta disown me."
Twilight sat up slightly and gave the earth pony a concerned look. "Macintosh said your family was pretty conservative, but... I didn't think it was anything like that."
"Th' younger ones are fine. They know that love is love, no matter who it's with, an' they're okay with that. Th' older ones, though? They'd throw a fit. There's a 'right' way an' a 'wrong' way fer them. I ain't lookin' forward ta that talk at all."
"We'll figure something out, AJ - we seem to have a knack for doing that. Besides, it's not like you'll be alone. I'll be there with you, and we'll do it together." The lavender mare leaned over, giving Applejack a quick kiss before settling back on her side. "Let's get some sleep, alright? We can talk about this more in the morning."
"Sounds good... g'night, Twi. Love ya."
The unicorn wiggled over slightly, wrapping her forelegs around the earth pony and smiling as they both relaxed into the embrace. As the two of them gradually fell asleep, Twilight let out one last yawn and leaned up to whisper into Applejack's ear.
"Love you too."
For Spike, there were three things in the world he loved - Rarity, gems, and sleep. The third one had been sorely lacking the night before, and the baby dragon now found himself slowly climbing the steps out of the basement, grumbling to himself with every step forward. As quiet as the basement was, it was also cold and damp, and neither one ever contributed towards a good night's rest. A faint frown upon his face, Spike kicked open the door and slowly made his way towards the kitchen, dragging his blanket behind himself and letting out a yawn. Not only was he still sleepy, but now he was hungry, and such a thing would not go unpunished.
"Ngh... what do I even want?"
The baby dragon glanced around the kitchen and made his way towards the pantry, throwing open several doors and pulling out shelf after shelf as he searched for the most delectable of treats - gems. He still had no idea which kind he even wanted, of course, but he was more concerned with simply feeding himself at this point. No matter where he looked, however, he simply couldn't find a single gem. Such a thing was always a possibility, but typically never happened, as Twilight Sparkle usually made sure to keep a gem or two stashed away for such an event.
But such a stash simply did not exist, it would seem. There wasn't a single ruby, sapphire, or emerald within the house, and Spike wasn't about to resort to eating 'pony food' - though he could stomach daffodils and other flowers, he had never particularly enjoyed the taste of any of them, and they certainly couldn't compare to a ripe gem. He had just about given up when he heard a rather loud crash from upstairs, and the baby dragon rolled his eyes. "Twilight probably knocked something over again..."
Still, that meant that the unicorn was up and about, and if so, now was the perfect time to ask if there was anything decent to eat within the library.
"...good morning to you too, Applejack." Twilight Sparkle let out a loud yawn and shuddered as she stretched, blinking as she stared into the earth pony's eyes. "Two questions, though... how long have you been up, and why are you on top of me?"
"Oh, uh... well... I've always been a bit of an early-riser. Farm pony an' all." From her spot on top of the lavender mare, Applejack casually shrugged and smiled as she stared back down. "I got a lil' bored, but I didn' wanna wake ya either, so I uh... did this. Besides, it's jus' like we're cuddlin' or somethin'."
Twilight smirked and slowly shook her head. "Except it's vertical instead of horizontal?"
"Mhm. Not much ya can do when I've got ya pinned either, an' quite a bit we can do."
As Applejack leaned down and gave Twilight's neck a gentle kiss, the unicorn was already finding it incredibly difficult to keep herself from blushing. "...l-like what?"
"Plenty of things, darlin', and even a few things that are a lil' more... intimate, if ya catch mah drift." The earth pony grinned slyly, and both her expression and choice of words had caused Twilight to blush furiously. As the lavender mare began to nervously chew on her lip, Applejack chuckled softly. "Oh stop that, Twi. I was only jokin'. I know ya ain't ready fer that sort of thing jus' yet."
Twilight let out a small sigh of relief and smiled faintly. "O-oh, uh... good. Now get off of me, and let's get some breakfast."
Applejack grinned once more and leaned down to give the unicorn's ear a quick nibble. "I ain't done with ya jus' yet."
"A-Applejack, stop that." Twilight was already beginning to squirm around, chewing on her lip as her blush quickly resurfaced.
Undaunted, the earth pony gave the unicorn's ear one last bite before leaning back a bit. "Yer so cute when yer flustered."
"Honestly, AJ... I hope you don't act like this when you're with me in public." The lavender mare looked up at Applejack with just the faintest hint of a frown, and it was enough to make the earth pony raise an eyebrow.
"What do ya mean?"
"Well... the ear nibbles and the kisses, and... everything else." Twilight sighed and stared Applejack in the eye. "It's not that I don't like these things - I do, because... well, it makes me feel wanted by you. I don't really know how to describe that feeling, aside from 'fuzzy'. But those sorts of things aren't exactly... appropriate out in public."
"Well shoot, I know that. Was probably jus' gonna give ya nose rubs or somethin'." The earth pony rolled her eyes and sat up a bit, lightening her hold on the unicorn. Sensing a chance at her freedom, Twilight began to sit up, only to feel herself be pinned down once more. "Oh no ya don'. Yer not goin' anywhere jus' yet."
With a scowl on her face, Twilight's horn briefly glowed as she picked a pillow up off the floor with her magic and flung it at Applejack - only to miss and have it topple over a vase that was sitting upon her dresser. Both ponies winced as the porcelain shattered upon the floor, and the unicorn let out a sigh. "...okay, apparently my aim isn't too great while I'm lying down. Lemme uh... go clean that up."
The earth pony leaned down once more, pressing her muzzle against Twilight's and staring her in the eye. "I think somepony owes me an apology fer throwin' stuff at me."
"Applejack, now is not the time for... wait, do you hear something?"
As he trudged up the steps, Spike's stomach let out another growl, and he promptly looked down and gave it a stare. "I know, I know! Hungry, I get it! I just gotta ask Twilight where all the food is..."
He had been up these same steps time and time again, yet now, they felt like they dragged on forever. It was likely just his own hunger that was warping his perception, but he still found it rather unsettling. As the baby dragon neared the top of the steps, he heard two sets of voices - it seemed both Twilight and Applejack were up and about. One of the voices spoke up once more, one that he easily recognized as belonging to the unicorn.
"...wait, do you hear something?"
Spike reached the top and let out another yawn as he walked towards Twilight's bed, his eyes squinted shut. "Twilight, is there anything decent to eat around here? I can't find any..."
The baby dragon opened his eyes, and blinked as he simply stared at what lay before him - Applejack on top of Twilight Sparkle, both mares under the covers and staring back at him. Though the earth pony seemed surprised more than embarrassed, Twilight looked absolutely mortified, and the unicorn laughed nervously. "Uhh... morning, Spike. I um... I can explain."
Spike looked from one mare to another, tapping a claw to his chin, and he struck a pose as the thought finally came to him. "Now I know what I recognized this from!"
"Yeah, I saw this same sorta thing in one of those magazines you hide under your bed!"
"SPIKE!" At this point, the unicorn's face was beet red, and her face had contorted into a look of horror.
Applejack blinked and redirected her own surprised look from Spike towards Twilight, a faint smirk on her face. "...you never struck me as the sort of gal ta own pornography."
"It was supposed to be private!" The lavender mare let out a groan and quickly shot a glare towards the baby dragon. "Spike, you're grounded for a month." Spike huffed in response, but quickly drew Twilight's ire once more. "Don't you huff at me. After all these years, you should know better than to rummage through my things."
The baby dragon sighed and hung his head. "...Sorry, Twilight."
"Apology accepted, but that still isn't getting you out of this grounding." The unicorn tossed a brief glance up towards Applejack and sighed before looking back at Spike. "Though... I guess since you're already here, I'll explain what's going on to you. Applejack and I were going to tell you this morning anyways. Spike, have a seat."
The dragon did as told, taking a seat upon the floor, and Applejack leaned towards Twilight. "Should we really be tellin' him this while I'm still on top of ya?"
"Doesn't matter now." Twilight sighed once more and quickly continued, staring at Spike throughout it all. "Look, Spike. Applejack and I weren't exactly... honest with you last night when we said we were having a sleepover. I mean, I did invite AJ to stay the night, but... not exactly to have fun. It was more so we could spend time with each other."
"An' there was a reason Twi kept givin' me 'funny looks', as you put it."
"Basically, Spike... me and Applejack are kinda... together now."
The baby dragon tapped a claw against his chin, tilting his head as he looked at the two mares. "So, is that 'together' as in... best friends? Or..."
The unicorn let out a groan and gave Spike a deadpan expression. "Dating. We're dating."
"...ohh. So... is AJ moving in?"
"Er, no. Well, not yet... I think. We um... haven't really planned that far ahead." Twilight looked up at Applejack and grinned sheepishly before returning her attention back to her assistant. "For the time being, Applejack is gonna be coming over more often, and I'll probably be going to Sweet Apple Acres more often too."
"So uh... Spike." Applejack brushed a bit of her mane away from her face and eyed the dragon. "Is there anythin' else ya wanna say or ask me an' Twi? Why we're datin' one another, anythin' like that?"
Spike's stomach gave another growl, and the baby dragon shook his head. "Nah. As long as Twilight's happy, I'm happy. I just wanna know where to get some food..."
Twilight Sparkle gave Applejack's chest a gentle prod with her hoof, and the earth pony rolled off of her. Finally free, the unicorn slipped out from underneath the sheets and headed towards the stairs. "I know we've got some gems, Spike. Lemme show you where they're at. Coming, AJ?"
"Coming? Shoot, I'm gonna show ya'll how ya make a real breakfast."
"Can Applejack come over more often?"
The reason for the dragon's request was soon explained - the earth pony had prepared a veritable feast, with all manner of foods to choose from, and the most surprising thing was that few of the foods actually involved apples at all. There were sandwiches of various sizes and flavors, salads, pancakes and waffles, hay fries, and countless other items. Spike was already salivating at the prospect of sampling them all, but his jaw dropped when Applejack brought out the last bit of food. Sitting upon the plate was a stack of pancakes, covered in syrup and emeralds, and some of the gems were actually embedded inside the pancakes themselves. The orange mare set the plate down in front of him and grinned widely. "I told ya'll that I was gonna show ya how ta make a real breakfast, an' a promise is a promise. Hope ya like it, Spike."
The baby dragon was already digging into the stack of pancakes, and that alone seemed like evidence enough that he was pleased. Satisfied with her work, Applejack took a seat beside Twilight at the table and leaned over to give her cheek a kiss. In return, the unicorn grinned and slowly shook her head before looking back at the earth pony. "I don't think I've ever seen so much food in my life! Well... aside from when you introduced me to your family."
"Eh, it's a special occasion, so I thought 'Why not?'. Besides, I don' get ta cook that often back home anyways. Macintosh usually beats me to it."
"Well, you did a wonderful job, Applejack. Thanks for making breakfast." As Twilight leaned over to give the earth pony a kiss in return, Spike caught sight of it, and quickly gestured as if he were about to throw up. In spite of that, however, breaking the news to the baby dragon had gone over far better than either of them had expected, and Twilight found it rather endearing that Spike simply wanted her to be happy in life. "Spike, I've changed my mind about the grounding."
"Mmf?" The dragon looked up at her and attempted to speak, bits of pancake and gems falling out of his mouth. He quickly swallowed the rest and repeated his sentence. "Yeah?"
"Yep! You're only grounded for a week now."
"...oh. That's it?"
Twilight narrowed her eyes and raised an eyebrow at him. "Should I make it a month again?"
"No, no! I uh... I think I'm good with the week."
A smile upon her face, Twilight pulled a bowl of salad towards herself with her magic and nodded. "That's what I thought."
Spike simply grumbled in return.
The day had scarcely begun, and already, Twilight Sparkle and Applejack knew they were going to be busy. A couple for mere hours, they had already been forced to reveal their little secret when Spike walked in on them, and though he had promised not to speak of it until he had been told otherwise, both mares knew it was a race against time at this point. Regardless of what he had promised, Spike was rather talkative at times, and it was inevitable that he would eventually slip up - neither Twilight nor Applejack wanted that to happen until they had explained things on their terms.
After cleaning themselves up and instructing the baby dragon to simply take stock of things within the library, the unicorn and earth pony both departed. There were places to go and ponies to see, and it seemed as if there wasn't enough time to do either. It would all get done soon enough, however - for the time being, both ponies couldn't help but notice a change that had overcome the other. Each step was livelier than what it normally was, and both mares seemed to have a bounce to their step as they trotted through Ponyville. Now and then, their tails would playfully intertwine with one another, drawing faint smiles from one another.
"Is it jus' me, or is everythin' today jus' goin'... right? I mean, we've got each other. Things went over well with Spike."
The lavender mare giggled as she and Applejack continued to make their way through the town. "And the sun is out."
"That too. How do ya want this ta play out, Twi? I mean, we could gather all th' girls up an' tell 'em all at once, or we tell 'em one by one."
"Well..." Twilight briefly stepped to the side to avoid an oncoming cart and quickly returned to her spot beside Applejack. "At first I was thinking that we could just gather all of the girls together and tell them all at once."
The earth pony chuckled softly and peered at her companion. "I'm sensin' a 'But' there, Twi."
"...but I think we owe it to them to tell them one-on-one. I'm kinda worried, though."
"Well... I know the girls are understanding and all, but... what if they aren't? What if they think we're weird for dating another mare, or for dating each other? Or what if-"
Twilight quickly found herself silenced and brought to a halt as Applejack stepped in front of her, standing in her path and staring her in the eye. "Twi, darlin'... I know this is still an awful lot ta think about. Shoot, it's an awful lot fer me too. But ya gotta remember, these are our girls we're talkin' about. Th' same ones we've both known fer well over two years. Th' same ones that've helped us take down Night Mare Moon an' Discord. I'm pretty sure they're gonna be fine with it."
"And... you're sure? I mean, you've known some of them longer than me."
"Positive. Jus' trust me, everything's gonna work out jus' fine." Applejack leaned forwards and gave the lavender mare a quick peck on the cheek before pulling back and smiling at her. "Now c'mon. It's almost lunch time, an' we haven't even started yet. Who do ya wanna tell first?"
The unicorn briefly blushed at the display of affection and smiled back. "Well, um... Rarity's pretty close, so I guess we can stop at the Boutique first."
"Perfect. If we get movin' now, we can probably tell her an' one of the others before noon. Ya need to stop stressin' out over this, Twi. Ya worry too much."
With an actual destination now in mind, the pair continued their walk through Ponyville, and Twilight Sparkle simply nodded as she looked back ahead.
"Sweetie Belle, be a dear and get the door for me. I'd do it myself, but... no no, that won't do at all..."
The filly quickly nodded and set down the cloth she had been holding, and she trotted over to the front door, opening it and peering up upon seeing the two ponies in front of her. "Oh. Hey Twilight and Applejack. Guessing you're here to see my sister."
Twilight Sparkle slowly nodded in return. "Uh... yeah. Is she busy right now?"
Another voice from within the Boutique quickly spoke up, and it was easily recognizable as belonging to Rarity. "Twilight, is that you, dear? Come in, please!"
Sweetie Belle pulled the door open and stepped to the side, watching in silence as the two mares walked past her. As she slowly shut the door, she quickly trotted off towards the kitchen - if anything, the sudden arrival of Twilight and Applejack would keep her sister busy, and that meant she wouldn't be working. Now was the perfect time for a snack.
As Twilight began to glance around the Boutique, Applejack walked up to Rarity's side and tilted her head. "Guessin' ya got an order, Rarity?"
"What? Oh, yes. Sweetie Belle's helping me for the day, though I suppose now would be as good a time as any to take a break." With a little help from her magic, the white unicorn quickly dragged a couch over and hopped upon it, smiling at her guests. "So what brings you two to my humble abode?"
"We uh... wanted ta talk to ya about somethin'. Ya got time?"
"Oh Applejack, please! You know I always have time for my friends. Have a seat, both of you! Plenty of room, after all!" Rarity continued to smile as she watched both Twilight and Applejack join her on the couch, and she cocked an eyebrow at them. "Now what did you need to tell me?"
"Well, it's... kinda important."
Twilight chimed in as well, tilting her head ever so slightly. "And also kinda big."
The white mare slowly waved a hoof. "No need to beat around the bush. Just tell me what's going on."
Both Twilight and Applejack exchanged glances, and the earth pony simply nodded at the lavender mare - it seemed Twilight was 'lucky' enough to get the first go. She quickly cleared her throat and then stared Rarity straight in the eye. "Rarity, Applejack and I have been doing some thinking..."
The earth pony quickly nodded. "An' we've been doin' some talkin'."
Twilight smiled and nodded at Applejack, and quickly returned her attention to Rarity. "And we're uh... kinda dating now."
For a moment, Rarity simply blinked at them, and glanced back and forth between the two of them. She slowly brought a hoof to her mouth, tears beginning to well up in her eyes, and her voice squeaked slightly as she spoke. "...r-really?"
"Is... that a bad thing, Rarity?" Twilight peered across the couch at Rarity, a look of concern upon her face, and the white unicorn suddenly burst into giggles.
"A... a bad thing? No! Goodness, no! It's just... I knew you had gone on that date with Applejack's brother, and I was... happy. I mean, to be perfectly honest, I never really expected you to ever go on a date with anypony." The lavender mare glared at her, and Rarity simply grinned in return. "And, well... I knew it apparently put Applejack in quite the foul mood, but I couldn't begin to understand why. But now I know, and... oh, I'm just so happy for the two of you!"
The white unicorn leaned over and pulled both of them into a hug with a strength that neither had expected out of the fashionista. With a smile upon her face, Applejack slowly raised her foreleg and gave Rarity's back a gentle pat. "Thanks, Rarity. Me an' Twi knew we needed to tell y'all, but we were kinda nervous."
"Ah, not a problem, Applejack!" Rarity released the both of them, and could barely contain her own fits of laughter as she continued. "Oh goodness, this is... I never really expected any of this. Good news is always appreciated, however, especially when my own friends are involved. I mean, I knew you two were spending an awful lot of time together after you got back from your little journey, but I never thought this sort of thing might happen. How long have the two of you been a couple, hm?"
Twilight Sparkle laughed nervously and rubbed a hoof against the back of her neck. "Well, we... both kinda confessed to each other just last night, and we agreed upon it too."
"Last night? But... that was Friday. Applejack, did things with you and Soarin' go sour?"
The earth pony slowly shook her head. "He was fine with it, Rarity. We talked fer a bit about dreams an' all, an' I knew I needed ta do it. So he jus'... let me go."
"Well, that was awfully sweet of him. It's rare to find a true gentleman these days... ah, and last night was the meteor shower too! I'll admit, if you two confessed to one another during that, I'm going to be a bit jealous..."
"We did, actually." Applejack glanced over towards Twilight, a faint smile upon her face, and Rarity broke out into giggles once more.
"Oh, you two are simply adorable! Confessing your deepest feelings to one another, all beneath a meteor shower... that's quite the romantic setting." Rarity began to grin and leaned over towards Twilight Sparkle, carefully eying the lavender mare. "...Twilight, did you plan all of that out for that very reason?"
She simply blushed in return and slowly nodded. "Um... yes."
"Twilight! We've known each other for over two years, and not once have you ever struck me as the romantic sort! I must say, I never thought you had it in you."
"Yes, well... I suppose we're all full of surprises, aren't we?"
"So it would seem. Are you two doing anything later tonight? Any big plans to celebrate?"
Applejack idly shrugged. "Don' think so. Me an' Twi were jus' sorta content to spend time together."
"Well, if you change your mind, just let me know. After I get these dresses out of the way, I was planning on unwinding with a bottle of wine. You two ought to come over!"
"We'll think about it, Rarity." Twilight Sparkle smiled and hopped off the couch, turning to face the white unicorn. "Looks like you're kinda busy anyway, so we won't keep you tied up. I... kinda think Sweetie Belle's ready to get back to work anyways."
Sure enough, Rarity's younger sister had walked up while the three of them had been tied up in their conversation, and none of them had even noticed until Twilight had pointed it out. The filly looked expectantly up at her elder sibling, and Rarity sighed and nodded. "Very well then. Back to the daily grind, I suppose. I appreciate you both stopping by and telling me - really. If you girls need anything else, don't hesitate to ask!"
Both Applejack and Twilight nodded in return and proceeded to the door, even as Rarity and Sweetie Belle returned to their work. The two mares let out a collective sigh as they stepped out the door to Rarity's Boutique and shut it behind themselves. So far, things had gone over very smoothly - both Spike and Rarity had accepted the news with little trouble at all. Two down, three to go.
With a faint smile on her face, Applejack turned to face Twilight as they began to trot through town once more. "Well, that went well. Who do you wanna tell next, Twi?"
"Uh... well, we've still gotta tell Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Rainbow. Sugarcube Corner is pretty close, so I guess we can go there next."
"Don' look now, but it looks like our job jus' got easier." Applejack briefly stopped to point a hoof forwards, and ahead of them stood a yellow pegasus. "'ey, Fluttershy!"
The yellow pegasus quickly looked up and glanced around for the source of the sound, and though it took her a bit to discover it, she smiled as she turned around. "Oh, hello girls. I'd stay and talk, but um... I really need to get back home."
"Guessin' yer busy, then?"
"Well, it was feeding time for the animals, but I ran out of food midway through, so I had to run down here to get some more. Like I said, I'd stay and talk, but I need to get back home so I can feed the others. You um... you understand, don't you?"
Twilight Sparkle smiled and nodded. "Of course we do! Are you gonna have free time later, though?"
Fluttershy placed a hoof to her chin and gently tapped it as she thought. "Well, after I put Angel Bunny down for his nap... I think I'll have some time. Maybe you could stop by then?"
"Perfect! We'll be sure to visit later." The yellow pegasus simply nodded in return and quickly continued her journey home, and both Applejack and Twilight waved as she disappeared into the distance. As soon as she had left their sight, the two ponies had promptly turned around and continued their trek once more. "So like I was saying... Sugarcube Corner seems close."
Applejack chuckled softly. "Tellin' Pinkie about all this is gonna be a hoot."
"Yep. And since I told Rarity, it's your turn to tell Pinkie."
Given the time of day, Sugarcube Corner was remarkably quiet. From the looks of it, the Cakes were completely gone, and if the lights hadn't been on, it would have been easy to assume that the store was closed. As Applejack nudged open the door, the first thing she caught sight of was Pinkie Pie, sitting behind the counter and idly drumming her hooves on the surface. She looked rather bored, which was a rare event itself, given how the pink earth pony typically acted.
Even as Twilight shut the door behind herself, Pinkie had yet to notice either of them, and Applejack coughed to catch her attention. The pink pony quickly looked up from the counter and began to grin upon catching sight of them. "Well hey, you two!"
Applejack grinned and waved in return, though it was largely pointless now that she had seen them. "Hey yerself. Seems awful quiet 'round here. Guessin' it's been a slow day?"
"Ugh. Yes." Pinkie flopped down onto the counter, her head resting against the side of the cash register. "The Cakes took the babies off to a play-date at the park, and it's been soooo slow. I've had maybe two customers show up the entire day."
"Ouch. Only two?"
"Yyyyep. What are you two doing here, anyways?" Pinkie Pie straightened up in her seat and propped herself up on her forelegs as she leaned on the counter. "I mean, I doubt you two are here to buy anything, probably because I could just make it for you and give it to you for-"
"Slow down there, Pinkie."
"But I didn't even say that much!"
"You were gonna. I know how ya are." The orange mare winked at her and took a seat upon the floor, settling down on her haunches. "Me an' Twi are jus' here ta talk."
"Talk, huh?" Pinkie Pie hopped off her stool and stepped out from behind the corner, and she quickly made her way to the front of the store. Before either Applejack or Twilight could say anything, the pink pony had already flipped the sign in the window from 'Open' to 'Closed', and the door had been locked. With that taken care of, Pinkie promptly took a seat in front of both of them. "If anypony yells at me, I'll just say I'm on lunch break. So, what's up?"
"...uh, well. We wanted ta talk to ya about somethin'."
"Oh! Ohh! Can we make it into a guessing game?"
Applejack gave a quick glance towards Twilight, and the unicorn simply shrugged in return. "I... guess we could do that, Pinkie."
"Woo! Okay, um... you said 'we', so does it involve both of you?"
"Does it... involve me?"
The orange earth pony nodded.
"Is it... about a birthday? One of your birthdays? Ooh, I love birthday parties!"
Twilight Sparkle let out a soft sigh. "No, Pinkie. We already celebrated my birthday, and Applejack's birthday isn't for a few more months."
"Oh." Pinkie Pie frowned slightly and tapped a hoof against the floor as she thought. "Is it... important?"
"Now yer on th' right track."
"Alright, umm... it involves the two of you and it involves me, aaaand it's important. Are you two going on another super-awesome adventure like last time, and I get to come with you?"
"Er... no, Pinkie. We aren' goin' on some 'super-awesome adventure'."
"...huh. Could've sworn that was it. You two are better at this than I thought." The pink earth pony began to hum to herself as she pondered her next move. "Okay, uhhh... I think I might need a hint."
"...a hint? Really?"
"Hey, this game is hard!"
"Alright, uh... lemme see what I could use for a hint." The orange earth pony began to look around the room, both to help her think and to help her find something to use as the potential hint. Her eyes eventually settled on one thing, and she began to grin. "Hey, Twi?"
The unicorn hadn't been paying complete attention to the conversation, and was still off in her own thoughts. She quickly snapped to attention and turned to face the source of the sound. "Yeah, Appleja-"
Before she could scarcely say another word, Applejack had already locked lips with her, and Pinkie Pie let out a quiet gasp as she watched on. It was a brief, albeit passionate kiss, and the orange mare soon broke away to face Pinkie Pie. "Good enough?"
"Not for me."
Applejack froze, and slowly turned to face back towards Twilight. A mischievous grin was plastered upon her face, and before the earth pony could even object, the unicorn had already toppled her over and pounced upon her. One kiss lead to another, which lead to another, and the two mares began to roll about on the floor as their emotions ran their course. Through it all, Pinkie Pie simply sat and watched in stunned silence, her mouth agape. Even as the minutes ticked by, there was only one thing Pinkie was ever able to say about what she was witnessing.
"...uhh. Wow. So, um... are you two dating or something?" Both Twilight and Applejack came to a halt, pulling away from one another to stare at the pink earth pony. Quickly realizing the error of her ways, Pinkie simply grinned back at them. "Well, if you two love birds ever need whipped cream, you know where to go!"
Twilight simply blinked up at her. "Whipped cream? But we're not making..."
"Um. Twi." A beet red Applejack leaned towards the unicorn and began to whisper into her ear. It didn't take long for her to begin blushing as well.
As the door swung shut behind them, Twilight Sparkle shook her head. "I can't believe we made out in front of Pinkie..."
"Hey, yer th' one that wanted more."
"Well, you're... uh... really persuasive sometimes."
Applejack sighed and turned to face Twilight as the two of them walked away from Sugarcube Corner. "Twi, I didn' even say anythin'."
"With the way you kissed, you didn't need to."
It was the earth pony's turn to blush, and Applejack briefly turned away from the lavender mare. "Quite the flatterer, ain'tcha?"
"Simply being honest, AJ." Twilight smiled faintly as she eyed her companion, and she soon came to a halt as they reached their next destination - the market. "It's almost noon, so I think now would be a good time to take a break. We can tell Fluttershy and Rainbow after we finish. Anything sound good to you, sugarcube?"
Applejack couldn't help but laugh - it still felt odd to be on the receiving end of a nickname she had created. She slowly shook her head as she glanced about the market. "I ain't that hungry, 'cause of breakfast an' all. Was thinkin' I might jus' get a snack or somethin'."
"Oh. Uh, well... I kinda wanted to get a sandwich or something. Do you just wanna split up, and we'll meet back here in an hour?"
"Sounds good, darlin'. See ya then."
The two mares gave each other a quick nose rub and went their separate ways, each of them eager to fill their bellies. As Twilight disappeared around a corner, Applejack couldn't help but look around the marketplace. She was here almost once a week, but that was typically so she could sell some of their stock - it was rare for her to even be here as a customer.
The earth pony soon found herself wandering past several fruit and vegetable stands, and contrary to what others may have though, she did indeed eat things besides apples. Bananas were a favorite of hers, but were rather difficult to open without magic. Strawberries and grapes, however, were much easier. She was browsing such a stand when her ears twitched, and she soon began to glance around. Somewhere amid the hustle and bustle, she recognized one of the voices, and it was one she had fervently hoped she would never hear again.
She pushed her way through the crowd, weaving in between ponies as she tracked down the source of the sound. She eventually reached a clearing, and sure enough, there he was, right beneath a tree. The stallion sported a light brown coat and light blue eyes, and a single orange was emblazoned upon his flank. He was currently in the midst of chatting with another mare, and already, Applejack began to feel her blood boil.
That son of a bitch! It's happenin' all over again, I jus' know it! Well it ain't gonna happen, not on mah watch!
The stallion quickly spun around to face her, and he narrowed his eyes at the orange mare. "Who the hell are you, and how do you know my... you."
"Surprised ya still remember me, 'specially after everythin' ya put me through. I gotta say, yer a dumb son of a bitch if ya really think you can pull th' same stunt twice." Applejack felt herself begin to grin as she continued on her tirade - it felt good to finally get much of this off her chest. "So... what? Ya thought you could swindle me an' break mah heart, then skip town for four years, an' then you'd do it all over again?"
Not wanting trouble, the mare Midsweet had been talking with had already galloped off, leaving the two of them to talk by themselves. Midsweet slowly shook his head and smiled faintly at Applejack, and such a sight unnerved her. "Applejack, baby..."
"Don't you 'baby' me. Yer nothin' but scum, an' I want nothin' ta do with ya."
"Oh c'mon. Just think about all the good times we used to have. Hell, I could show you some of those things again..." He grinned and brushed a hoof against her cheek, which she angrily pushed away.
"Get yer damn hooves off me. I said I want nothin' ta do with ya. Besides, you were a lousy lover anyways."
Midsweet seemed taken aback by such a statement, and he glared at her. "But... but I made you-"
"Faked it. Ya always had such a fragile ego. I didn' wanna hurt ya or nothin'."
"You... I'll show you." Fury in his eyes, Midsweet stomped towards Applejack and roughly grabbed her by the tail as he attempted to drag her off. "You never said 'No' back then. Why say it now?"
Her patience long gone, Applejack quickly lashed out at him, kicking him in the side with her hindlegs. The stallion let go of her tail, recoiling and briefly touching a hoof to his side. An expression of pain upon his face made it evident that she had likely broken a rib or two, and she felt relatively pleased with herself - until he began to move once more.
"You... you BITCH!"
He moved with a speed that belied his size, and Applejack barely had time to react. In the few moments that followed, Midsweet unknowingly caused his own downfall.
Because she had heard.
Finding a vendor that sold sandwiches was hardly a difficult thing to do within the marketplace. It was chock full of both tents and carts, all of which had a pony or two hawking their respective wares, and it was a simple matter of tracking down what one wanted. In this case, it was a daffodil sandwich - her favorite. Luckily for Twilight Sparkle, daffodil sandwiches were a common item, and so it hadn't taken long at all for her to get one.
With her sandwich floating by her side, Twilight found a quiet spot within the market and sat down, letting out a sigh before taking the first bite. Things had gone remarkably smooth thus far - Spike, Rarity, and Pinkie all knew what was going on now, and all of them approved. That was certainly good news. All that remained was to tell Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, and then they'd have to tell their families as well. Applejack seemed especially uneasy about breaking the news to her family, but Twilight remained confident that they would get things sorted out.
The market grew a tad bit noisier, and off in the distance, she could hear yelling. The unicorn quickly ignored it and returned to her meal, however. After all, markets were naturally noisy, and whatever argument she was hearing was likely over something silly, such as prices. It was always about money with most of these vendors, and almost all of them would cheat you out of your bits if they could get away with it.
She took another bite, smiling faintly as she tried to imagine how things would go when Applejack finally met her parents. Her happiness had always been first and foremost for them, and she knew that they would accept their relationship - the meeting itself might be a bit comical, however. Twilight was about to take another bite out of her sandwich when she heard a faint 'thwack' echo across the market. Much of the marketplace soon fell silent, and she soon knew that something was amiss. Markets didn't go quiet unless there was a very good reason.
As her sandwich fell to the ground, Twilight galloped off towards the market, weaving past several ponies as she tried to see what the fuss was all about. It wasn't exactly difficult to find - all she had to do was simply follow their gazes. Up ahead, a large crowd had formed, and there was something - or someone - in the middle of it all. The unicorn forced her way through the group, and soon caught sight of what was in the middle. She immediately regretted doing so.
Applejack was laying upon the ground, her forelegs covering her face. Above her stood a stallion with...
...a light brown coat, and piercing blue eyes. Is... is that Midsweet?
Already, she felt her control over her magic begin to weaken and strain.
No! Not now!
KILL HIM. CLEANSE HIS FILTH FROM THE WORLD.
She quickly shook her head and forced the thought aside, only to push her way past the crowd and into the middle. The lavender mare narrowed her eyes at the stallion and spoke up as best she could. "Get away from her, you bastard!"
He quickly turned his attention towards her, glaring in return. "And who the hell are you? Here to play hero for the damsel in distress?"
"No! I'm..." Twilight hesitated, and looked around herself at the circle that had formed around them. She certainly didn't like revealing their secret to so many ponies at once, but now more than ever, she needed to be strong for Applejack. "I'm Twilight Sparkle, and... I'm her girlfriend."
"Girlfriend? Girlfriend?!" The stallion let out a derisive laugh. "You mean to tell me that bitch ran straight to another mare?"
"Aw, did I strike a nerve? What about-"
"I said shut up! You're a liar, a scoundrel, and a thief, and we don't want you here. Leave." She took a single step towards him, somewhat surprised at herself. She couldn't recall the last time she had ever made a stand of this sort. "As Princess Celestia's personal student-"
"Oh whoopty doo, like I give a damn about some Princess! Besides, what are you gonna do to stop me? Are you gonna use your magic on me or something?" Midsweet leered at her, and the unicorn took a step back.
"No? What, don't have enough juice to get the job done?"
"If it weren't for my teachings, you'd be nothing but a scorch mark on the ground."
"Hah! Right." Midsweet gave Applejack's head a kick, causing her to whimper and eliciting a snarl from the lavender mare. "She was such a whore back in the day... she ever tell you about that? About how many times me and her had a little fun?"
Twilight felt herself seethe with rage, and her self-control was rapidly deteriorating.
KILL HIM. END HIM NOW.
"I bet she didn't. Calls herself honest, and then hides all sorts of secrets from you."
BURN HIM. LET HIM SCREAM IN AGONY.
"You should've seen her. So young and so gullible... and dumb enough to believe it all. And to see her beg during some of the nights..."
END THE WRETCH.
She couldn't take it anymore, and to hear such awful and wicked words any further would have driven her to madness. Before she could scarcely realize what was even happening, she felt her body begin to turn, and her hindlegs kick out. She felt her hooves connect with something, causing a loud and sickening 'crack' to ring out across the market, and then there was a wail. A loud, and painful wail.
Midsweet stumbled backwards, falling to the ground and rolling about in agony as he quickly drew his forelegs to his face. Even as Twilight ran to Applejack's side, she heard murmurs throughout the crowd, and the one she heard time and time again was 'broke his jaw'. Just as she began to tend to the orange mare's injuries, however, she noticed a pair of earth pony stallions push through the crowd and make their way towards her. Their uniforms alone made it obvious enough that they were law enforcement, and one cleared his throat and approached the unicorn. "Miss Sparkle?"
To say she was nervous would be an understatement. Her closest friend and now girlfriend had been injured, she had likely broken another pony's jaw, and now the police had arrived. "U-um... yes?"
"Look, we hate to do this, but... you'll need to come with us. Just need to ask some questions."
"...b-but." She glanced towards Applejack, a frown upon her face, and one of the stallions gave her a comforting pat on the back.
"We'll make sure she's taken care of. Don't worry."
Twilight leaned down and gave Applejack's muzzle a brief kiss, then reluctantly left her side. As she followed the police officers and trotted away from the scene, she saw a pair of pegasus ponies fly down and begin to take care of both Applejack and Midsweet - paramedics most likely.
It pained her to leave, but at the very least, Applejack would be alright.
The Ponyville Police Station was an extremely small building - Ponyville, like most of Equestria, was almost completely devoid of crime. Twilight Sparkle found herself sitting at a table in a small questioning room, and opposite of her, the two stallions sat upon the floor. There wasn't much room for chairs at all. "Naturally, you can see why this is such a serious event, Miss Sparkle. I mean, you did break the guy's jaw."
"I know! B-but..." The lavender mare sniffled and rubbed at her reddened eyes. During her brief stay at the station, she had cried once or twice, and understandably so - she had gone from having the best day of her life to sitting in a police station and facing the prospect of jail time. "...I was defending her!"
One of the officers idly flipped through a notepad, reviewing notes. "We gathered as much from some of the other witnesses. Looks like the poor girl was pretty roughed up, and possibly could've gotten it worse if you or somepony else hadn't intervened."
"So that's... that's a good thing, right? And she'll be okay?"
"Ponyville Medical says she'll be quite alright. No permanent damage. And yeah, you intervening was indeed a good thing..."
"So... c-can I go?" Twilight looked across the table at the two stallions, a hopeful look upon her face.
One of the officers shook his head, however. "I'm sorry, but... no. I'm afraid you'll have to stay the night, just as a precautionary measure. We can't really let you go until we've gathered more information and gotten the whole picture."
"So... I h-have to sleep... in there?" She pointed a shaky hoof towards the only jail cell in the entire station, and both officers nodded in return.
"Afraid so, Miss Sparkle. Now, look. I know you're in a crumby mood. You're probably angry and scared right now, but... you've got a clean record, and we both know you're not a 'hardened killer' or anything. We'll try and make things as comfortable for you as possible." He gave the unicorn a comforting smile, and it seemed to improve her mood somewhat. "Like I said, we're not doing this because we want to. This is just a precautionary measure."
It was a rather short walk from the questioning room to the jail cell, and the lavender mare winced as she heard the door lock behind herself. True to their word, the police officers had done everything they could to make her brief stay as comfortable as possible. They brought her a book to read, as well as a blanket and an extra pillow for the cot. She respectfully declined the dinner, however - her appetite had completely disappeared due to the day's events.
She had already laid down on the cot and was prepared to try and get some sleep - any sleep at all - when a knock upon the bars made her stir slightly.
"Miss Sparkle? You still awake?"
"You got a visitor."
"A visitor?" She certainly hadn't been expecting such a thing, and she quickly sat up in the cot and turned towards the door of her cell, letting out a small gasp as she caught sight of who it was. Standing at the bars, a faint smile upon her face, was Applejack. The earth pony's mane was untied and disheveled, and she even still had her hospital gown on, yet there she was. The lavender mare quickly ran over and leaned on the bars, sliding her hooves through and giving the orange mare a light hug. "Oh, AJ... I'm so glad you're okay. How have you been doing? Everything alright? Feeling okay?"
"Hey, shh... I'm fine, darlin'. Tell me how yer doin', though."
Even now, despite her present condition, Applejack's thoughts were about how Twilight was doing, and such a thing brought a faint smile to her face, though it soon vanished. "Well, I'm... I'm in jail, Applejack. Never thought I'd see the day where I could say that, but... yeah. Just... I wish we hadn't split up. I could've been there!"
"An' then what?"
"I..." She surely hadn't been expecting that kind of question, and it made her stop. "I... don't know. I could have defended you, though. Just... agh!"
"Twi, no reason ta beat yerself up over it. It's done an' over with. All ya can do is move on." Applejack glanced towards one of the officers, and he soon trotted over and unlocked the cell, allowing the orange mare to step in. Something seemed rather odd, however - Applejack's mane covered the entire left side of her face, and she was taking great strides to ensure that Twilight never saw it.
As the cell door clicked shut once more, Twilight walked over and attempted to brush Applejack's mane out of the way, only to have the earth pony move away from her. "Applejack? Is everything alright?"
"It's... it's fine, Twi. Really."
"If it's fine, then stop moving." She tried to brush the earth pony's mane aside once more, only to have her turn away from her.
"Twilight, it's nothin'. Stop worryin' about it."
"If it's nothing, then you'd let me look, because nothing's wrong at all. Everything you're doing now is telling me that something is wrong. Just... hold still. Please."
"Alright, Twi, but... you asked fer it." The orange mare let out a sigh and sat still, a faint frown spreading across her face as Twilight's hoof slowly pushed her mane to the side.
With the last of her mane brushed aside, Twilight frowned and looked at Applejack. "AJ..."
Hidden behind the golden mane was a black eye, bruised and swollen shut after she had been struck by Midsweet. Applejack looked towards the unicorn with her one good eye and forced herself to smile. "I look like shit, don' I?"
Twilight seemed shocked to hear such a question, and pulled back somewhat to stare at her. "Wh... why would you even ask such a thing, Applejack?"
"I dunno... jus' curious, I guess. Jus' be honest with me, Twi."
"I... well." Twilight gently pressed a hoof against the injury, and she flinched upon hearing Applejack let out a hiss through her teeth. "Yeah, it's... kinda bad, AJ. But it'll clear up."
"Well, that's good. Can't have ya bein' th' only good lookin' one in th' relationship." The earth pony grinned, and Twilight couldn't help but giggle in return.
"Oh, stop that! I still think you're awfully cute, even with a black eye."
Applejack chuckled and pressed her muzzle against Twilight's. "Yer jus' sayin' that."
"Nope. I mean it." The lavender mare smiled and began to lean forward to give the earth pony a kiss, only to find herself interrupted by a rather odd event. There was a sudden flash of golden light, as well as a faint 'pop' sound, and a single scroll dropped down onto the floor. For a moment, both mares eyed it, and Twilight soon wandered over to investigate. The unicorn levitated the scroll up and inspected it, blinking in surprise as she discovered just who it was from. "It's... from Princess Celestia."
"But I thought she needed Spike ta send ya letters an' stuff?"
"That's what I thought too, but... apparently not. Hold on, lemme see what it says." Twilight hastily opened the scroll and unfurled it, reading aloud so Applejack could hear as well.
To My Faithful Student,
I've had all potential charges cleared against you. I know you acted with noble intentions, and given the circumstances, I can hardly blame you for what you did.
I'm proud of you for standing for what you believe in, and for defending those you care for, but please try to do so verbally in the future, rather than physically.
You two make for a rather cute couple. The next time you're in Canterlot, you two should stop by and visit.
"So, wait." Applejack blinked and scratched her head. "...she knows about us?"
"Huh. Well, you bein' cleared of charges is definitely good news."
Applejack walked over and leaned towards the unicorn, a faint smile upon her face as she pulled the unicorn into a brief and passionate kiss. When they finally broke away, the earth pony chuckled softly and grinned. "So, I heard about Midsweet."
"You did now, huh?" Twilight smiled faintly and looked towards the orange mare. "And what did you hear?"
"That ya broke his jaw. How did it feel?"
"Well..." Twilight giggled and slowly shook her head, burying her in Applejack's neck and whispering towards her ear. "It felt good. Real good."
"That's mah girl."
It was a rather odd request, and neither of the police officers could believe it at first. Despite having all charges cleared against her, Twilight Sparkle stubbornly refused to leave her cell. Regardless of the situation, she was determined to finish out her sentence, and she didn't plan on leaving until the twenty-four hours were up. Instead, she requested two more items for her cell within the police station - another cot, and another book.
The first request initially confused the police officers on duty, but they soon realized just what - or who - it was for. Despite only being a visitor, Applejack had also refused to leave the cell, and instead wished to spend the night with the unicorn. Had the circumstances been any different, the officers would have been well within their rights to decline such a request. And yet... they hadn't. An additional cot was taken out of storage and taken to the cell, as well as another book, and it didn't take long before both cots had been pushed together to form a makeshift bed.
Underneath the blankets, Applejack let out a content sigh as she snuggled up to Twilight Sparkle's side. "Been a helluva day, Twi..."
"Mhm." The lavender mare looked down at the earth pony and smiled faintly, letting out a sigh of her own as she pulled one of the books over and levitated it in front of her face.
"...whatcha got there?" With her one good eye, Applejack squinted at the object. "A book?"
"Yep! The Lay of the Wayward Knight, written by-"
"...sounds like a romance novel, if ya ask me."
Twilight frowned somewhat. "Well... kinda. It's a historical text. There was only ever one copy within the Canterlot Library, but I asked for another copy to be made once, so that I could take it with me."
Applejack glanced up at her incredulously. "Then how'd it get here?"
"Spike delivered it. When I didn't come back home, he started to get worried, and apparently he contacted the police, who then told him about my um... 'situation'. He's been keeping his eyes and ears open since then." The unicorn looked to her companion, a hopeful look upon her face. "Applejack, do you... want me to read to you?"
"A bedtime story?" She grinned and leaned up to give Twilight's cheek a gentle kiss. "I'd like that, Twi. Mah vision's shot ta hell anyways. Screwy depth perception an' all that."
Twilight couldn't help but blush faintly at the show of affection, and she pulled the book a bit closer so that Applejack could read along if she so desired. "It's got a bit of Old Equestrian, so if I stumble a bit with the dialogue, that's why."
"S'alright, darlin'. Yer jus' tryin' yer best." The earth pony let out a quiet yawn, and the lavender mare soon began to read.
"Once upon a time..."
As the first light of dawn began to pour through the windows of the police station, Twilight Sparkle found herself trying to turn away and hide her face. Her sleep the previous night had been adequate, at best - she awoke several times throughout the night, sometimes due to a noise or something else, but often without reason. The first time she woke up had been caused by the shuffling of chairs, due in part to the arrival of the next shift of police officers. A stallion and mare had been sitting at the table, playing cards with one another, and one of them cast a quick glance towards the cell before returning to their game. Twilight had gone back to sleep not long after.
Through it all, however, Applejack had managed to stay asleep. The earth pony was still curled up against her, a faint smile upon her face. With a smile of her own, Twilight brushed Applejack's mane aside and leaned down to-
"G'morning, Miss Sparkle. You got another visitor, if you're ready for 'em."
"...Oh. Uh... alright." The unicorn let out a soft sigh and slowly sat back up, carefully slipping out from underneath the blankets and letting out a groan as she stretched her legs. As she made her way towards the cell door, she blinked in surprise upon seeing the visitor in question - he was awfully hard to miss anyways. "Big Macintosh?"
The red stallion simply smiled and nodded in return. "Mornin', Miss Twilight. Heard what happened."
"You uh... you did, huh?" The lavender mare laughed nervously as she looked up at him. "What um... what have you heard?"
"Well, Spike came over late last night an' told me what went down."
Twilight audibly gulped. If Spike had told Macintosh what had happened, there was also the distinct possibility that the baby dragon had mentioned them. "And... what did he tell you?"
"Gave me th' rundown. Said that you an' AJ went out ta run 'errands', an' that you two apparently had a run-in with ole' Midsweet."
"Yeah, we... we did. I um..." The unicorn shifted her gaze from the stallion to the floor, and she idly pawed at the ground with a hoof. "I kinda... broke his jaw. He got a hit in on Applejack, though."
Surprisingly enough, Macintosh chuckled. "She'll live. She's always been a stubborn girl anyways. Besides, I believe I owe ya a beer for gettin' in a bit of vigilante justice on Midsweet. Bastard deserved it."
"Thanks... I think?"
"How's she doin'?"
Twilight looked over her shoulder towards the cot and couldn't help but smile. "Out like a light. She got a pretty nasty black eye out of it, but it should clear up in a few more days. Pretty sure she stayed asleep the whole night too."
"Good. I'm guessin' you had somethin' ta do with that, eh?"
"Wh-what? I um... well, you see..."
"Miss Twilight..." The red stallion chuckled once more and slowly shook his head, somehow slipping a hoof through the bars to place it upon her shoulder. "You of all ponies oughta know better than ta try an' hide it from me. I can tell what's goin' on, an' I jus' wanted ta say congrats."
"...Thanks, Macintosh. Really. That means a lot coming from you."
"Not sure if that's an insult or a compliment, Miss Twilight." He briefly grinned before eying her somewhat more seriously. "That's... partially why I'm here too. Ya see, a lot of th' town knows both of ya are datin' one another now, and fer th' most part, they're all fine with it. There's one pony, in particular, who probably won'."
Twilight Sparkle sighed and slowly shook her head. "...it's Granny Smith, isn't it."
"Yyyep. Now, she wasn' at th' market yesterday, so she don' know yet. Ya'll are lucky I caught it before she did. I'll try an' keep her out of th' loop for as long as possible, but I won' be able ta do it forever."
"So... what do you think we should do?"
"Finish up whatever plans the two of ya already got goin' on, an' then get ready for it. As soon as Granny catches wind of it, she's gonna want ta talk, and yer gonna have ta be there." Macintosh sighed and placed a hoof to his temple, gently rubbing it. "I got th' feelin' that's gonna get messy. Jus'... whatever ends up goin' down when that lil' talk finally happens, jus' know that I'm rootin' fer th' both of ya, an' I'll do what I can ta support ya."
Twilight was already looking up at the stallion, and she almost appeared to be at a loss for words. "Big Mac, I... you'd... you'd do that for us?"
"Miss Twilight, after everythin' you've done fer AJ an' Granny Smith, you may as well be part of th' Apple family. I'm jus' tryin' ta take care of ya."
"That's... very kind of you, Macintosh." The best she could do was simply smile back - words were rather hard to come by, considering she had never expected to hear such news from the stallion. "Is there anything you'd like me to tell Applejack once she wakes up?"
"Nothin' too big. Jus' tell her ta be ready. Oh, an' Nurse Redheart got her this. She can use it if she wants." Macintosh slipped an eyepatch through the bars and nodded once, a faint smile upon his face. As the unicorn took it from him, he turned around and began to make his way towards the exit.
He paused and glanced over his shoulder. "Yeah, Miss Twilight?"
"Thank you. Really. If I can ever find a way to repay you, I will."
"Jus' give mah lil' sister th' happiness she deserves. That's all I'm askin'. Think you can do that?" Twilight nodded enthusiastically, and he gave her a quick grin before making his way for the door once more. "Good."
And with that, he departed.
Not long after Macintosh had left, Applejack woke up, and Twilight soon delivered the news. She had panicked at first, though it wasn't exactly difficult to calm her down after a bit of persuasion on Twilight's part. Said persuasion consisted of a reassuring kiss, followed by additional excerpts from The Lay of the Wayward Knight, and it wasn't long at all until lunch rolled around.
It was a fairly simple meal - sandwiches, and not much else - but both mares were seemingly content. The police officers from the day before arrived not long afterwards, and both were rather surprised to see that Twilight Sparkle was still there. After all, she had been free to go at any time, and yet there she was, still sitting within her cell. At that point, it was a matter of principle to her more than anything else, and she was determined to stay put until her time was up.
Which... wasn't much longer. About an hour or so after lunch was over, the cell door swung open, and after calmly collecting her books, Twilight and Applejack both left the police station. Unlike yesterday, it was slightly overcast out, no doubt in preparation for a coming storm. The earth pony slowly shook her head and sighed. "Are th' pegasi behind schedule again?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. I honestly have no way of knowing with them sometimes."
"This eyepatch is so dang itchy." Applejack grimaced and shook her head, her nose scrunching up as she tried to stop an itch. "Gonna be glad when I can take it off."
"Well, once your eye heals a bit, then you can probably take it off. Until then, it's likely best to just leave it on - might keep the stares to a minimum. Fluttershy's house isn't much further." Twilight tried to give a comforting smile, but it wasn't helping nearly as much as she would have liked. With a town as small as Ponyville, everypony knew everypony else, and the pair had been stopped constantly times during their trip through the town. Some of the ponies congratulated the two of them on their relationship with one another, but most of them simply asked about the eyepatch, something that had quickly begun to irritate Applejack. As a result, Twilight Sparkle had tried to follow the fastest route through town, avoiding others when they could.
After several agonizing minutes, they finally arrived at Fluttershy's cottage, and Applejack let out a huff as she took a seat upon the ground. A faint frown upon her face, Twilight decided to take the initiative, and she gently knocked upon the door. She tapped a hoof against the ground as she waited for a response, and she began to worry that the yellow pegasus might not even be home, but the door eventually cracked open.
"Oh... hello girls. I kept waiting for you to show up yesterday, but you never did."
The lavender mare grinned sheepishly. "Eh heh... yeah. About that."
"I already heard what happened. Are you two alright?" Fluttershy quickly threw the door open and began to hastily inspect both mares. "You're not hurt or anything, are you? I mean, if you are, maybe I could help or..."
The pegasus soon trailed off, and Twilight let out a sigh and cocked her head. "You found the eyepatch, didn't you?"
As Fluttershy frantically flew around her, Applejack let out a sigh. "Fluttershy, I'm fine. Really."
The yellow pegasus furiously shook her head. "You have an eyepatch, and eyepatches aren't just handed out unless it's serious!"
"Fluttershy." The earth pony grabbed hold of the pegasus, bringing her to a stop and staring at her. "It's jus' a blackeye. Nurse Redheart got this fer me so maybe folks wouldn' stare so much... hasn' helped much, though."
Twilight Sparkle took a step towards the both of them, her head still tilted. "Fluttershy, remember when Applejack and I saw you in Ponyville yesterday, and we asked if you had some free time?"
The yellow pegasus slowly nodded.
"Well... could we come in so we could talk?"
"Oh, um... not to be rude or anything, but if it's about the two of you, I kinda already knew..."
Both Applejack and Twilight simply blinked at her, and the earth pony eventually spoke up. "...uh, what?"
"Well, I mean, you and Twilight did start spending an awful lot of time together after you two got back, and with the way you both acted around one another, I started to think that something might have been there. And then when Twilight asked your brother out on that date, it seemed like something was really bothering you." Fluttershy barely lifted herself off the ground and began slowly hovering back and forth as she continued. "And then there was everything that happened yesterday. Twilight, can I... ask you something? I mean, if it's okay, that is. I don't wanna make you angry by asking about what happened in the market."
Twilight nodded and raised an eyebrow. "Sure, I guess?"
"Okay, so... Applejack's ex hit her. And then you showed up and intervened. And then you hit back, right?"
"You were angry at him, weren't you?"
"Angry? That uh... might be an understatement." The unicorn lowered her head slightly, ears flattening. "I was furious. I... I wanted to kill him."
"Yeah. I mean, he hurt Applejack, and I just wanted to protect her, but..."
Fluttershy leaned towards her. "You were trying to defend her because you cared about her."
"I... well... I care about you too. You and the rest of the girls."
The yellow pegasus smiled faintly. "You know what I meant, Twilight."
"Yeah... I do." Twilight turned towards the earth pony and gave a smile of her own. "Applejack means a lot to me. I just didn't want to see her get hurt.
Applejack blushed faintly, and Fluttershy flew between the two of them, pulling them both into a hug. "I'm so happy for the both of you! It's always nice to see love blossom, especially when it's between two of your friends."
Both Applejack and Twilight returned the hug, and the yellow pegasus soon landed, letting go of the both of them and smiling at them. The earth pony cleared her throat and peered towards Fluttershy. "So, one thing I wanna know is... jus' how did you know all this? I mean, nopony's told ya or anythin', right?"
"Oh, no. Nopony told me anything. It's just, well... when you take care of animals as long as I have, you learn to look at all the little details. I mean, they can't always tell you if they don't feel well, so you have to watch for the signs yourself. I... had a bit of a hunch anyways." Fluttershy smiled sweetly in return, and Applejack couldn't help but chuckle.
"Awfully perceptive, aren'tcha?"
"Mhm! I-" A crash from within the cottage caused Fluttershy to quickly turn around, and she let out a sigh. "I wish I could stay and talk, but Angel Bunny is probably digging around for a snack again..."
Twilight nodded and gave Applejack a gentle nudge, causing the earth pony to get back up. "Well, thanks for being so understanding Fluttershy. It means a lot to know that you and the other girls support us."
"Oh, any time, Twilight! I'm just proud of you both for opening up to one another."
With that, the yellow pegasus hastily retreated into her home and shut the door behind herself, and muffled yells were heard within not long after - more than likely caused by Fluttershy admonishing Angel. As Twilight and Applejack trotted back towards Ponyville, the orange mare turned towards her companion. "So, jus' Rainbow Dash left, right?"
"You uh... remember she lives in that cloud house, right?"
"...let me get the balloon."
Rainbow Dash had managed to exceed her checkout limit - again. The cyan pegasus had already moved beyond the Daring Do series and had set her sights on other books. It often meant that she had to travel to other libraries, some as far away as Canterlot, but it was almost always worth the trip. Still, she now had a hefty stack of books to read, and she had every intention of reading them all.
It had taken more pillows than she initially thought, but she was now comfortably propped up on her bed, her nose buried in yet another book. Her latest find was a bit of a guilty pleasure for her - romance novels. Given that she and the rest of her friends had risen to prominence as a result of their deeds, it was only natural that some of the characters were often based upon them, or they actually were the characters. It could be a bit awkward at times, but she had learned to ignore it. And sure, the writing had the tendency to be a bit cheesy, but the other parts of the story almost always overcame it. The adventure, the drama, true love... with a grin on her face, she quickly returned to where she had left off, reading aloud as she continued her story.
"The remains of the sundered godling raged helplessly as she molded a mortal shell around it, giving it the form of a clawed horse, milk-white of coat and black of eyes. "I condemn you," she said again, "to life. You will tarry here until you understand." With a small fraction of the power she'd taken from the godling, she bound its essence to the twisted forest it had created, imprisoning it more surely than Celestia ever had. "Now," she hissed. "Run." It bolted into the darkness, vanishing among the trees."
Upon reading about yet another villain being vanquished, Rainbow Dash let out an excited little laugh. She already knew what was coming next, however, and it sent her own heart aflutter.
"Now she turned her attention to the fallen unicorn, for whom less than a breath had passed. There was a spark of life there, but it was fading. She gathered up all the misused godhead she had stripped from the spirit, filtered through her essence and cast again into a precious dowry. Luna was not a goddess of healing, and this was far beyond her abilities. But while she might not be able to restore Twilight, she could still save her. Gently, gently, she lifted the unicorn's body up. Slowly, slowly, she leaned forward. And tenderly, tenderly, she pressed her muzzle against Twilight's own in a soft kiss. And through that kiss, she breathed divinity."
"I knew it!" The cyan pegasus pulled the book to her chest and squealed, pushing her glasses back up onto her muzzle and opening the book once more. Glasses - sometimes she wasn't sure if she loathed them or liked them. They looked a bit goofy at times, but ever since she had picked up her reading habit, she had become increasingly more prone to getting headaches while she read. The glasses seemed to alleviate it, and for that, she was thankful. Rainbow Dash was just about to continue reading when she heard a knock at her door, and she set aside her copy of Apotheosis as she walked over to investigate. "Yeah? Who is it?"
There was a soft voice on the other side, one she was both familiar with and also didn't quite expect for obvious reasons - Twilight. "It's me, Rainbow Dash. I've got Applejack with me too. Have you got time t-"
The door swung open and Rainbow Dash looked back and forth at both mares. "How did you even... oh. Right. Balloon and the-"
"Cloudwalking spell. Are you-"
"Yeah, I remember now." The cyan pegasus paused for a moment and stared at Applejack, tilting her head ever so slightly. "...what's with the eyepatch?"
The earth pony stared right back at her, and Twilight Sparkle had apparently joined in. "Uh... I think a better question is, 'What's with th' glasses?'."
"I whooped ya th' last time we sparred. Don' make me do it again."
"...alright, fine. But you gotta answer my question after I tell you." Rainbow Dash sighed and pushed the glasses back up. "I... got glasses because I started getting headaches if I read for too long. And they work, so... yeah. That's the only time I wear them anyways."
Twilight couldn't help but giggle and grin. "Aw, you got reading glasses!"
The pegasus groaned and slowly nodded. "...yeah, Twilight. I did. Now c'mon, AJ, spill the beans."
"Fine." Applejack huffed and brushed a bit of her mane across her face, likely with the intention of covering the eyepatch up. "Me an' Twi were out an' about yesterday. Stopped ta get lunch, an' I ended up runnin' into mah ex."
"...you had an ex?"
"Shush, RD. I ain't done talkin'. Anywho, we got ta arguin', an' then he tried ta drag me off so he could... well, I'd rather not say. So I kicked 'em in th' side. Probably broke a rib or two. An' then he managed ta get a hit in on me."
The cyan pegasus seemed rather skeptical of that. "He managed to get a hit in on you? How?"
"That son of a bitch is faster than he looks. An' it was jus' one hit, but he got me good. Got all wobbly on mah hooves an' I ended up fallin' down."
From her spot off to the side, Twilight frowned. "...that sounds like a concussion. Applejack, those are serious."
"Don' worry, Twi, I told 'em at th' hospital. S'alright. Anywho, he gave me a pretty nasty blackeye, so Nurse Redheart got me an eyepatch. That's why I got one."
Rainbow Dash was leaning against the doorframe of her home, and she continued to eye Applejack even as the earth pony finished her tale. "Huh. So uh... I get the feeling you two came here to do something besides tell me about how Applejack got beat up."
The orange mare quickly scowled at her, and Twilight Sparkle ignored it for the moment, stepping forward. "We did, actually. Applejack and I were going to show up yesterday so we could talk, but uh... yeah. Things got complicated."
"Alright. I'm listening."
"Well..." The unicorn gave a quick glance towards the earth pony, and soon directed her attention back at Rainbow Dash. "Do you want the long version or the short version?"
"Short version's fine."
"Alright. Um..." Twilight sighed, mentally prepared herself for what would come next, and continued. "Applejack and I are... dating."
That certainly seemed to catch the cyan pegasus' attention, and Rainbow Dash immediately straightened up and began to glance back and forth between the two of them. "...the two of you? Really?"
"Yeah? And?" Twilight leaned forwards, peering at her, and Rainbow Dash let out a nervous little laugh.
"Eh heh, well... I mean, I knew you two were friends and did a lot together, but I never um... you know, expected the two of you to get together. Like, ever."
"An' what th' hay is that 'spose ta mean?" It was Applejack's turn to join in, and the pegasus quickly realized that she was beginning to tread on thin ice.
"Well, it's just... okay, look." Rainbow Dash sighed and placed a hoof to her forehead, gently tapping it against her skull. "You guys are a lot alike at times, but at the same time, you two can be complete opposites! I mean, yeah, you've both got a lot of common sense and stuff... usually. But you're really physical, and Twilight just... isn't."
Twilight raised a hoof, a faint grin upon her face. "Um, Rainbow? I broke a guy's jaw yesterday."
"...um. Wow. Really?" She pushed her glasses up once more, and upon getting repeated nods from both Twilight and Applejack, chuckled softly. "Dang, Twilight! I never knew you had it in ya!"
"Yeah... me neither." Twilight leaned over and took a peek into Rainbow Dash's home. She found it rather entertaining to see several stacks of books upon the table, but what really interested her was the book that was lying open and face-down upon her bed. "Hey... Rainbow?"
"What book are you reading?"
The pegasus blinked and shuffled nervously. "It's uh... it's Apotheosis. Why?"
"Apotheosis... I know that one." Twilight sighed and slowly shook her head. "Are you honestly reading a romance novel about myself and Princess Luna?"
"I... uh..." Rainbow Dash began to blush and nervously glance around. "...maybe?"
Applejack cleared her throat and spoke up. "Is it bad that I'm more interested in why RD's readin' romance novels, rather than th' fact that mah girlfriend is in it?"
"Hey, they're good! I mean... the writing might not be, but there's always a happy ending. And uh... some of the other writing also helps." The cyan pegasus coughed and quickly continued. "And besides Twilight, just think about it! If you had hooked up with Luna, you could have been a Princess!"
Twilight simply rolled her eyes and smiled. "I'm pretty sure that would never happen anyways. And besides, I think I got something better."
Rainbow Dash snickered and let out a whistle. "Smooth operator. Somepony's gonna get laid tonight."
"Dangit, RD..." Applejack groaned and placed a hoof to her face. "Twi ain't ready fer that sort of thing, so no, she ain't gettin' laid."
"Well, she still seems to know just the right words to say, so... point still stands." The cyan pegasus sighed and pushed her glasses back up onto her muzzle once more. "Stupid things keep slipping... you two need anything else?"
"No, Rainbow. Twi, I'll wait fer ya back at th' balloon." With that, the earth pony promptly stood and turned around, walking away from the both of them.
"Sheesh, what's her problem?"
Twilight Sparkle sighed and took a seat upon the cloud, rubbing at the back of her neck with a hoof. "The whole day, ponies have kept asking about the eyepatch, and her patience is basically gone. Your jokes... haven't exactly helped, Rainbow Dash."
"Yeah... about that." The cyan pegasus let out a sigh of her own, and she looked Twilight dead in the eye. "Look, I know I poked fun at the two of you, but... I'm happy for you guys. Really."
The lavender mare stood up and turned to make her way towards the balloon, and as she did so, she glanced over her shoulder and gave Rainbow Dash a smile. "I know, Rainbow. And thank you."
With those last few words, Rainbow Dash returned a smile of her own and soon disappeared back into her home, and Applejack and Twilight Sparkle began their descent back to Ponyville. There was trouble brewing on the horizon, and they both needed to be ready for when it finally came - at the very least, they needed to be there for one another.
And that was something they both planned on doing.
Sunday hadn't exactly been a busy day for Macintosh. He had already stopped by the police station, spoken with Twilight Sparkle, and given his approval. It pleased him to know that his sister finally had somepony who would actually take care of her and treat her right, but he couldn't rest just yet - he still had to set things up in preparation for the impending talk with Granny Smith. That would have to wait until tomorrow, however. For now, he had something else that required his immediate attention.
Namely, his date with Nurse Redheart. Like with the 'date' he and Twilight Sparkle had gone on, he had decided to settle on his little sanctuary, and the stallion had already gotten things properly set up. A checkerboard blanket covered the ground, and Macintosh had brought a basket along as well, filled with food and other snacks. He had even managed to procure a bottle of wine, though he wasn't entirely sure if he would even use it. With everything ready, the red stallion patiently waited, humming a few songs to himself as he counted down the time within his head.
Let's see... got here 'round four, took about an hour ta set up, an' it's been thirty minutes since then. Redheart said she'd be here 'round 5:30, so...
"...I didn't even know this spot existed, Mister Macintosh."
Right on time.
With a grin upon his face, Macintosh turned to glance over his shoulder at the new arrival. "An' what's that 'spose ta mean, Miss Redheart?"
"Well, I've taken a few walks through your orchards before, usually when your family runs that little event in late August. Folks get to pick the apples themselves." The white mare had already walked over and taken a seat on the blanket, and Macintosh couldn't help but notice how she looked when she wasn't on-duty. Without the nurse's cap and her mane tied up in a bun, she looked... different. 'Different' was a monumental understatement, of course - the mare was almost unrecognizable compared to how she normally looked, and even now, she seemed far more relaxed than normal. Before Macintosh could continue his train of thought any further, Redheart had already managed to break it with a quiet little laugh. "Even after all those times picking my own apples, though, I never began to suspect that a place like this existed. I mean, it's quiet... peaceful."
"Eeeyup. Usually come here when I need ta do some thinkin'." The stallion cast a wayward glance towards Redheart, but soon directed his gaze towards the small pond. "So tell me about about yerself, Redheart."
"Oh, I doubt you'd want to hear about it, Macintosh. It's nothing special, really."
Macintosh turned and smiled at her. "C'mon now, Redheart. I told ya about mahself durin' some of those sleepless nights while Granny was sick. I think you owe me."
As she thought back to some of their night-time talks, the nurse couldn't help but grin. "Alright, alright. But if I end up boring you, it's your own fault."
"We'll see 'bout that."
"Well, uh... for starters, I was born and raised in Manehattan."
"Really now? Manehattan?" The stallion sat up and peered towards her - she had evidently piqued his interest.
"Mhm! Finished up highschool there, and then I started hunting for colleges. I already knew what I wanted to do long before then, of course - it was just a matter of finding a place with a good program."
"So what'd ya settle on?"
"I ended up picking Baltimare University. Not the best nursing program in Equestria, but I liked the campus. Pretty place. The town was nice too." Redheart snickered and began to grin. "I uh... met my first boyfriend there too. Didn't work out, but... we split on good terms with one another. I still send him letters, just to see how he's doing."
"Guessin' he stayed there?"
She slowly nodded, the grin never leaving her face. "Yeah... I swear, sometimes he loved that town more than he loved me. He'd always want to go on walks down by the bay, especially liked it during the fall. After we got through nursing school, we both ended up getting jobs at Baltimare Medical, but... I dunno. I just didn't like it."
Macintosh looked towards her, an eyebrow raised. "Any reason?"
"Well... I know this is going to sound really silly, especially because I was born and raised in the big city, but Baltimare was just... too big for me. I needed something quieter."
"So ya came here."
Redheart smiled and turned to face the stallion. "Yep. That was... oh gosh, three years ago, maybe? I don't regret it at all, though. Working and living here in Ponyville has been great."
"Well, that's good ta hear." Macintosh gave her a warm smile and flipped open the lid to the basket, and he eventually managed to get an apple to tumble out. "Never good goin' through life with regrets."
The white mare nudged the fruit towards him, apparently helping - for what good it did, at least. "So, Macintosh... I've got a question of my own."
"Yeah?" The stallion picked up the apple by the stem, throwing it into the air and catching it in his mouth. It would've been far too much for a normal pony, but Macintosh wasn't exactly 'normal' as far as size was concerned.
"Why me? I mean... I dunno if you've noticed, but you've had quite a few mares looking your way. You could have your pick of the litter, if you wanted."
Macintosh finished up his apple and swallowed, then stared at the pond as he thought it over. "Hm. An' ya wanna know why I picked you fer th' date?"
Redheart nodded once in return. "Pretty much."
"Well... I guess it's 'cause ya sorta went above an' beyond when ya were stayin' at th' farm an' takin' care of Granny Smith. Ya didn' jus' take care of Granny, but ya took care of th' whole darn family. Awful nice ta find somepony willin' ta go that far."
"Oh. It's... nothing, Macintosh. I was just doing my job."
"Yer job was takin' care of Granny. Nopony said ya had ta take care of me or Apple Bloom, or that ya had ta get up in th' middle if th' night jus' ta keep me company."
At that, the white mare faintly blushed. "Yes, well... somepony had to take care of you, since you wouldn't. And I had trouble sleeping anyways."
"What, don't believe me?"
"Mm, not entirely."
Redheart glanced towards the picnic basket and smiled as she caught sight of something within it. "Crack open that bottle of wine, and let's talk. Just the two of us."
"Jus' like if it was three in the mornin'?" He grinned and briefly glanced in her direction before carefully pulling two wine glasses out of the basket, and as he began to work on opening the bottle, he heard soft laughter.
"Just like if it was three in the morning."
After a long day of practice, the Wonderbolts began to pack up and head for home. Two of them, however, decided to deviate from their path for a change. The two friends had much to discuss, and there was no better way to do so than head to Sky High for some drinks. It hadn't taken long at all before they had already been served their drinks - considering that it was a Sunday, the bar was already rather quiet, and Barley was quick to serve them both.
"I swear, Soarin', you've been holding out on me." Spitfire sighed and took a quick sip of her whiskey, grimacing slightly after she swallowed - never could get used to the burn. "Should've told me this place was around sooner."
"Yeah, well... I gotta keep some things secret." The light blue stallion chuckled and grabbed his own mug, taking a long drink.
"So, c'mon now. Tell me how things went on Friday. You've dodged the question every single time I've asked."
"It went... fine."
"...fine? That's it?"
Soarin' sighed and briefly eyed his drink before turning to face Spitfire. "Yeah. Fine. Me and Applejack had a few drinks, and we talked for a bit."
"And then... what? You took her home? Maybe to a hotel or something, and then the two of you f-"
"Spitfire, just... stop. We had a few drinks, talked for a bit, and then she left early. Said she wasn't feeling well."
The yellow pegasus grinned, briefly glanced down towards his waist, then returned to her drink. "Well, you know how earth ponies are. Maybe she thought you wouldn't last long enough."
"It was for me. And hey, maybe if I feel bad enough for you and you buy me enough drinks, I'll let you take me home."
"We both know that's not gonna happen."
Spitfire idly shrugged and took another swig of whiskey, shaking her head as she put the glass down. "Yeah, you're too good of a guy anyways. Smarter than the other stallions on the team, at least."
Soarin' couldn't help but chuckle at that, and he simply watched as Barley cleaned another glass. "You've got almost all of them utterly convinced that you're gonna sleep with them. We might as well change your title from 'Team Captain' to 'Team Flirt'."
"Hey, if I don't do it, Misty will. Besides, if it makes 'em work harder in practice and in shows, then I'll flirt as much as it takes."
"That's... one way of doing it." The blue pegasus finished off his mug of ale and pushed the glass aside, turning on his stool to face Spitfire. "So, hey. There's something I wanna ask, and you gotta promise not to make fun of me for it."
She could hardly hide her own grin, and she simply feigned innocence and shrugged her shoulders. "And why would I do something like that?"
The yellow pegasus sighed and rubbed her forehead - 'Spits' was an old nickname of hers, one that Soarin' had mockingly used once upon a time when they were just kids. It had become an endearing term of sorts, one that the blue stallion only used when he was either trying to get her attention or when he was trying to get her to be as serious as possible. "Hey, what I do is just for fun and games, but... I'm listening, Soarin'. Now c'mon, bud. Tell me what's on your mind."
"Well, I wanted your opinion on something."
"And that would be...?"
"Basically, uh... Applejack didn't leave on Friday because she was sick. She said she needed to go, so I let her go."
Spitfire straightened up on her stool and leaned forward a bit. "Really now?"
"Yeah. And I kinda... asked for Rainbow Dash's address too, so I could just stop by and say hi. Maybe spend time with her too."
"And by 'spend time', you mean 'f-"
"Alright, alright! I'll stay quiet!"
The blue pegasus sighed and slowly shook his head before continuing. "Anyways, I guess what I wanna know is... what do you think about her? Rainbow Dash, I mean."
"Rainbow Dash?" Spitfire tapped a hoof to her chin and she spun around on her stool for a few seconds. "Good flyer, lots of potential. Got a lot of guts too. Definitely like her attitude - seriously wouldn't mind if some of the other Wonderbolts practiced as often as she did."
"Well, definitely jealous of her ma- wait." Spitfire leaned even further forwards on her stool, and her muzzle was now pressing against Soarin's as she looked him in the eye. "Are you thinking about doing what I think you're gonna try to do?"
Soarin' laughed nervously and returned the gaze. "Uhm... maybe?"
The yellow mare let out a laugh and quickly leaned back, pounding a hoof against the bar and grinning from ear to ear. "Soarin', you dog! You're looking for something serious, aren't you? Putting your mare-conquering days behind you?"
"I really don't like when you say it like that..." True, his status as a Wonderbolt made it rather easy for him to work his way into somepony's bed, and when he had first joined the Wonderbolts, he had done so at every opportunity. That was years ago, though, and he was younger then. Things were different now. "Just... I dunno. When me and Applejack talked on Friday, it got me thinking. A fling's fun every now and then, but... I'm kinda ready to settle down. I want something a little more solid, you know?"
Spitfire simply smiled in return, and the mare brushed her mane back a bit as she ordered yet another drink. "No, no. I hear you there. I gave a lot of that up a few years back anyways."
"Did you now?"
"Yeah. I just... got bored of it. I was younger back then. Dumber. But then I grew up a bit." As the next glass of whiskey was sat down in front of her, she briefly stared at it before turning to face her friend. "You've done the same, haven't you? And c'mon, Soarin', be honest with me."
"...yeah, Spits. I have."
Another glass of whiskey was soon placed upon the bar, and Spitfire pushed it towards Soarin', a smile upon her face. "Good on ya. Now c'mon, a toast for the two of us."
Soarin' slowly picked up his glass and held it aloft, peering over towards the yellow mare. "And... what should we toast to?"
"Here's... to us."
"...and to the future, whatever it may bring."
"And to friends..." Spitfire shot a glance towards Soarin', the smile never leaving her face. "For being there for one another through thick and thin."
The blue stallion chuckled as he returned the glance. "I wouldn't be able to leave you anyways, Spits."
"D'aw. Shut up and drink so I can give you a hug."
And drink they did.
In the days following the news of Applejack and Twilight Sparkle's relationship, things were surprisingly normal. After returning from Rainbow Dash's house, the two mares bid one another farewell, and Applejack headed home - she had been gone for days, after all, and the earth pony certainly didn't want to her family to worry.
For a while, things were quiet. Pleasant. Peaceful. In many ways, it was almost as if nothing had really changed at all. Twilight had her studies, Applejack had her orchards, and both mares still spent time with each other and with their friends. What moments they did share with one another, however, were often some of their happiest. Even when out in public or in the midst of their friends, they seemed to always have time for one another, some little way to show their affection. Perhaps their tails would playfully intertwine, or they would sneak in a nose rub here and there - whatever the case, it almost always lead to gleeful giggles from their friends, and a faint smile from each other.
Both Applejack and Twilight knew they were living on borrowed time, however. Big Macintosh had done an admirable job thus far in keeping Granny Smith unaware of their budding relationship, but they would have to open up soon enough, and neither of them were looking forward to such an event. The Apple family, as Twilight was already well-aware of, certainly leaned towards the conservative side, something that had steadily been disappearing over the past few years. At the end of the day, though, the elders within the family were still in-charge, and Applejack certainly wouldn't be able to rest easy until they had given their approval.
Such a thing was certainly going to be a monumental feat, but Twilight Sparkle had already told herself that she wasn't going to worry over it until the day itself finally rolled around. She had almost immediately begun organizing for an eventual trip to Canterlot, and it didn't take long at all until she had bought two round-trip tickets. Said tickets currently sat upon her table, and the unicorn was currently in the midst of writing a letter to her mentor.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Well, it's official - Applejack and I will be in Canterlot within a week! All I could find were some late-night train tickets, but it'll have to do. Our friends all know about our relationship now, and they all approve, but we still have to open up about it to our families. I'll admit, I'm both excited and a little bit worried about introducing Applejack to my parents - there's not a doubt in my mind that they'll be fine with it, but I'm still nervous about it.
What I'm really worried about is breaking the news to Applejack's family. The Apples have apparently always been against that sort of thing, and though we've got the support of Applejack's older brother, I'm still not sure if it'll be enough. It'll be any day now, and as nervous as I am about it, I think we'll get through it together. As long as we've got each other, I think we can handle anything.
And of course, I'll be sure to visit while Applejack and I are in Canterlot. I'm still not sure how you managed to figure out we were together, but you have no idea how happy I am that you seem to approve of it. It's been an awful long time since we've talked at-length anyways, and I'm sure you'll love talking with Applejack. If you'll excuse the pun, she's incredibly down-to-earth, and I think she'll enjoy getting to talk with you herself.
See you soon!
Your faithful student,
With the letter finished, she set her quill down and carefully rolled up the parchment before stamping it shut with a wax seal. Just as she was about to pull a book out to keep herself busy, however, there was a knock at her front door, and she quickly hurried towards it. As she pulled open the door, Twilight found herself faced with something that hadn't been entirely unexpected - a rather solemn-looking Applejack. "AJ?"
The earth pony sighed and glanced off to the side. "She knows, Twi."
"...Horseapples." Twilight Sparkle frowned and slowly shook her head. "How bad was it, Applejack?"
"Bad. Never seen Granny so mad in mah entire life. 'course, it was Apple Bloom's first time hearin' about it too, so she's got an awful lot of questions. Macintosh is keepin' th' peace for th' time bein' though, an' Granny told me ta come an' get ya. Said she's gonna 'straighten this nonsense out'."
The lavender mare rolled her eyes. "Gee, wonder what that could mean."
"Whatever it is, it ain't gonna be good." Applejack briefly glanced around once more before looking in Twilight's direction. "C'mon, sugarcube. Might as well get this over with."
The unicorn turned around and promptly yelled back into the library."Right. Spike, I'm going out for a bit! Dunno if I'll be back tonight! Take care of yourself and don't burn the place down!"
There was an unintelligible yell back, but it apparently satisfied Twilight, and the two mares soon set off. As they began to make their way toward Sweet Apple Acres, Applejack let out another sigh. "Twi, can I be honest with ya?"
"I thought you were always honest, AJ?"
"That's not what I meant. I meant... more honest than usual."
Twilight raised an eyebrow and briefly glanced towards the earth pony. "Sure, Applejack."
Applejack stopped in her tracks, and after Twilight followed suit, the orange mare slowly shook her head. "...I'm scared, Twi. Really scared. I mean, Granny doesn' get angry. It just doesn' happen. But... what I saw today. She wasn' just angry, Twilight. She was furious."
The unicorn leaned forward and gave her girlfriend a reassuring peck on the cheek, as well as a comforting smile. "We'll get through this, Applejack. We've been through hell and high water - we can do this. Just trust me, okay?"
Slowly, Applejack nodded and continued her march towards the farm, and Twilight quickly resumed as well. There was no looking back now, and as they pressed on, the earth pony spoke up once again, a hint of anxiety in her voice.
"I'll try, darlin'. I'll try."
Immediately upon arriving at Sweet Apple Acres, Twilight Sparkle could already tell something was amiss. The very same orchards she had visited so often in the past now seemed rather foreboding, and she cast a worried glance towards some of the trees before hurrying to catch up with Applejack. Every step made towards the farmhouse was one of reluctance, and Twilight continued to nervously look around as she followed the earth pony. She didn't want to admit it, especially not now, but there was something about the place that simply made her feel unwelcome. She had been here time and time again, and yet it now felt as if she wasn't wanted there.
After a few more steps, they stood outside the front door to the farmhouse, and Applejack let out one last sigh before slowly nudging the door open and stepping inside. Twilight quickly followed her in, and immediately noticed the presence of three familiar faces at the kitchen table. At the head of the table sat Granny Smith, a scowl upon her face, and Twilight quickly had the feeling that the mare was watching her every move with intense scrutiny. To Granny's right sat Big Macintosh and Apple Bloom - the stallion had a faint frown upon his face and was nervously rubbing his front hooves together, and the poor filly looked absolutely scared to death. To Granny's left were two empty chairs, and it was fairly obvious who they were intended for. Begrudgingly, both Applejack and Twilight Sparkle made their way towards the empty chairs, and both of them carefully took a seat.
Silence prevailed for the next few minutes. Granny Smith glared at the both of them, and Twilight found herself intertwining her tail with Applejack's as a small show of support. Macintosh continued to simply stare at the table, and Apple Bloom quickly glanced back and forth between the two of them. The time seemed to simply drag on, but at last, Granny Smith cleared her throat and spoke. "Ya'll know why I brought ya here."
Both Twilight and Applejack briefly looked towards one another, and the unicorn quickly deferred to Applejack. The earth pony lowered her head and sighed, her voice barely above a whisper. "...yes'm."
"Thought ya could jus' slip right on by an' keep up this silly little affair without me knowin'?"
"We were gonna tell ya, Granny." Applejack glanced towards Granny Smith, but quickly went back to staring at the table. "Honest."
"We? We?" The elderly mare let out a derisive laugh, and narrowed her eyes at her granddaughter. "Yer honestly goin' along with all this, Applejack? Thinkin' yer gonna be happy with this harlot?"
The very mention of such a thing set Applejack off, and the orange mare quickly stood up, knocking her chair backwards as she pounded a hoof on the table. "Don' you dare call her that!"
"It's the truth! All this 'colt-cuddlin' and 'filly-foolin'... it never ends well. Never! Th' Apple family has spent generation after generation, raisin' our kids th' right way an' teachin' 'em how things are supposed to be done. Yer never gonna be happy with her, an' you know it."
"That ain't true, Granny!" Applejack pounded a hoof once more, and she was beginning to visibly shake as she yelled back at her grandmother. "Twi cares about me! We went through so much jus' tryin' ta save you, an' ever since me an' Twi got together, it's th' happiest I've ever been! You... yer not gonna try an' ruin all that, are ya?"
Granny Smith huffed and shook her head. "Ain't about ta lose one of mah granddaughters ta this filly-fooler nonsense. You turn ta her an' tell her yer done, then th' two of us are gonna have a talk."
"...what did you say?"
"I said no." Applejack narrowed her eyes at Granny Smith and leaned on the table as she stared the elderly mare down.
"I can't believe what I'm hearin'!" Granny Smith let out a groan and shook her head, pounding a hoof of her own upon the table as she returned the stare. "An' what would yer parents think about all this, hm?"
Upon hearing mention of her parents, Applejack's eyes flew open and she began to back away from the table. "...s-shut up. Jus'... shut up!"
"Do ya think they'd be happy about all this, Applejack? Happy ta see what their own daughter has become?"
"I said shut up!" Tears were already beginning to well up, and the earth pony shook her head furiously.
Granny Smith scowled at her and pounded a hoof once more. "I ain't gonna let my own granddaughter back-sass me! I think yer parents would be pretty damn ashamed of ya! Yer a damned filly-fooler, an' a disgrace to th' Apple family name!"
Such a verbal and emotional onslaught had caused Applejack to begin to tremble, and before she could say anything further, the earth pony burst into tears and fled up the stairs to her room. Everypony at the kitchen table, save for Granny Smith, winced upon hearing a door slam shut. There were further sobs from upstairs, and all too soon did Twilight realize that she was beginning to shake as well. The unicorn stared at Granny Smith in disbelief, slowly shaking her head. "How... how could you say such a thing? Why would you say such a thing?!"
The elderly mare closed her eyes and sighed. "She needed ta be taught a lesson. All this coulda been avoided if you had jus' kept yer mouth shut and stayed quiet about how ya felt. This is all yer fault."
Twilight Sparkle could scarcely believe what she was being told, and she let out a little laugh. "...my fault? This is my fault? I wasn't the one who sent her running upstairs in tears! That was you!"
Granny Smith narrowed her eyes and snarled at the unicorn. "It was still yer fault! If you had kept quiet, none of this ever woulda happened! I know I raised mah grandkids right - it's yer fault. You did somethin'."
The unicorn blinked, taken aback. "W-what? What are you even trying to say?"
"I'm sayin' you did somethin' ta mah granddaughter. You probably put a spell or somethin' on her while you two were out an' about, somethin' ta help ya seduce her."
"You... you can't be serious! I helped save your life! I saved Applejack's life too!"
Granny shook her head again and huffed. "I ain't hearin' it. I don' want you goin' near mah granddaughter ever again. Usin' yer magic ta twist another pony's emotions... you oughta be ashamed of-"
Before the elderly mare could speak any further, she found herself cut off, and she quickly backed away from the table. What shocked her wasn't the fact that somepony was trying to fight back, but rather, it was who that somepony was. As Granny Smith stared across the table, Macintosh and Twilight Sparkle soon joined in, and the three of them stared at a rather defiant-looking filly. Apple Bloom had hopped up onto the table and was glaring at Granny Smith, and both Macintosh and Twilight soon began to understand the gravity of the situation - Apple Bloom had been taught most of her life to respect her elders, and for her to even stand up to somepony such as Granny Smith was a big deal indeed. The filly stomped a hoof upon the table and let out an irritated growl as she stared down her own grandmother. "Granny, how could ya say such mean things? Applejack's yer own granddaughter, and Twilight's always been awful nice! She's helped out on the farm, and she even saved ya!"
Granny Smith certainly couldn't tolerate such insubordination, and she angrily stomped a hoof upon the floor. "Apple Bloom! Mind yer elders an' get down from there this instant!"
"I ain't gonna! You keep spoutin' off this garbage about how mom an' pop would hate Applejack fer what she's doin', an' how ashamed they'd be, but it's wrong! It's all wrong! Pop was yer own son, an' you don' even know him!"
"Apple Bloom! Be quiet!"
"No!" The filly stomped a hoof once more, and she angrily shook her head. "He loved us! All of us! An' Macintosh always told me that he'd love us an' be proud of us, no matter what! An' instead, yer twistin' it all! Yer a liar!"
The elderly mare certainly hadn't been expecting such a tirade from little Apple Bloom, and she found herself increasingly shaken by each and every word. "A-Apple Bloom! Stop it this instant!"
"Yer nothin' but a bitter old hag who don' give a hoot about her own grandkids! Yer so caught up in what you want that yer willin' ta destroy everythin' that makes Applejack happy, jus' so you can be happy! If anypony oughta be ashamed, it's you!" With tears beginning to well up in her eyes, Apple Bloom hopped off the table and stomped up the stairs, and it was soon followed by the slam of a door.
Granny Smith fell to her haunches and began to slowly shake her head, and as she did so, Macintosh hopped off his chair and made his way towards the stairs. She quickly looked up towards him, a pleading look upon her face. "Macintosh! You think I'm right, don'tcha?"
The red stallion glared at her and shook his head. "I'm not gonna be part of somethin' so hurtful, 'specially not if yer willin' to do this to AJ. There's some things in this world more important than 'tradition'. It's high-time you learn that, Granny."
As Macintosh made his way up the stairs, the only two ponies still left in the kitchen were Twilight Sparkle and Granny Smith. For the longest time, Twilight simply stared at Granny, pity in her eyes as she watched the elderly mare. As the minutes ticked by, she continued to watch Granny Smith, until she eventually had enough. With a huff, Twilight hopped off her chair and stared at the earth pony before heading towards the stairs. "You brought this on yourself, Granny Smith. I hope you're happy."
After it was all said and done, only a few minutes had passed, and yet so very much had changed. From her spot upon the kitchen floor, the elderly mare let out a sigh and lowered her head. It had been a harsh lesson to learn, especially because of how fast it had all happened, but she had certainly learned it. And now, she would be left to ponder it.
Not surprisingly, the rest of the day had been a rather delicate state of affairs. After the confrontation in the kitchen, Big Macintosh and Twilight were left with the rather difficult task of attempting to repair the damage Granny Smith had caused, and both of them had immediately set to work.
While Macintosh checked in on Apple Bloom, Twilight busied herself with trying to cheer Applejack up, and she soon realized just how hard that might be. The earth pony's parents had always been a sore spot for her, and to have them used against her by her own grandmother had been more hurtful than Twilight initially thought. Applejack was nearly inconsolable, and despite using nearly every trick in the book, nothing the unicorn did really seemed to help at all. She tried reading, words of encouragement, and various displays of affection, but none of that ever made a real difference. After exhausting her list of options, Twilight Sparkle simply held Applejack close, shutting her eyes tightly as the earth pony continued to cry. It had hurt before to see Applejack in such emotional pain, and now that they were together, it hurt even more.
Eventually, Applejack began to settle down, and she fell asleep not long after. With a bit of magical effort on her part, Twilight managed to move the earth pony into her bed, and she let out a weary sigh after tucking her in. Despite the fact that Applejack was now fast asleep, Twilight was fiercely determined not to leave her side, and the lavender mare slowly lowered herself to the floor, groaning as she gave her legs a stretch. Even though she was tired, she couldn't sleep, nor did she want to - she simply wanted to rest.
The unicorn picked up her head and looked towards the door, a faint smile beginning to spread across her face. "Hey Apple Bloom."
"...Sorry, didn't mean ta bother ya."
"Nah, you're not interrupting anything." Twilight picked herself up a bit and waved a hoof at the filly, beckoning her to come further in. "C'mere. You've... no doubt got some questions."
Apple Bloom nodded and slowly walked into the room, taking a seat in front of the unicorn. "Kinda, yeah."
"Well, what's on your mind?"
"How's Applejack doin'?"
Twilight briefly glanced over her shoulder, then laid down again once more, resting her head against the floor and looking up at the filly. "She'll be fine, I think. She's asleep right now, but she's had a rough day. We all have, really."
"Guessin' that's why yer on the floor?"
"Mhmm... I'm tired, but not tired enough to sleep, if that makes any sense."
"It does." Apple Bloom briefly tapped a hoof against the floor, then looked over at the bed. "So... mah sister's got a special somepony now?"
The unicorn smiled and sat up once more, nodding. "Yep. Do you... have anything you wanna ask? I mean, I know this is all really new for you, but..."
"I jus' dunno yet, Twilight. It's an awful lot ta think about, but... I'm glad Applejack's got a special somepony now." The filly briefly glanced about before lowering her voice to a whisper. "Mah sister would never admit it, but she always got kinda mopey around Hearts an' Hooves Day."
"Yeah... think she was startin' ta get lonely. But yer gonna fix that now, right?"
"Right." Twilight slowly nodded and briefly chewed on her lip before looking towards the filly. "Apple Bloom, I just wanted to say that... what you did down there, in the kitchen? That was... thoughtful of you."
"It wasn't anythin' special. It's jus' that... after hearin' Granny say those things ta Applejack, and hearin' her treat you the same way, I jus' couldn't take it anymore."
"...so you spoke up."
Apple Bloom slowly nodded. "Mhm."
"Well, thank you. It's always nice to know somepony's got your back." Twilight gave her a warm smile, and the yellow filly quickly returned it before darting out the bedroom door. As she left, the lavender mare laid her head upon the floor once more and let out a soft sigh. Going by the shadows that danced across the floor, she was willing to bet that it was mid-afternoon. It wouldn't be long before Macintosh would begin to make preparations for dinner, but Twilight had the feeling that neither she nor Applejack would want to eat.
After everything that had transpired, however, it was likely for the best if the earth pony simply continued to sleep. With a soft yawn, the unicorn gave her legs another stretch and slowly closed her eyes.
Sleep sounds nice...
When she next awoke, night had already fallen, and Twilight let out a soft groan as she began to sit up. She had certainly slept longer than she anticipated, and as she looked around the moonlit room, she noticed that Applejack had moved from her former position and was now facing towards the window. As the unicorn slowly got to her hooves, she let out another groan, and her ears twitched as a voice called out to her.
"Guessin' yer up, Twi."
The lavender mare turned towards the bed, a faint yawn slipping out as she gave her hood a good shake. "How long have you been up, AJ?"
"A while. Can't get back ta sleep either, an' I didn' wanna wake ya up, so..." The earth pony let out a sigh and she shifted slightly. "...been layin' here, lookin' at th' moon."
"Applejack, you could've woken me up. I wouldn't have cared."
"I know, jus'... didn' want to." Applejack glanced over her shoulder at Twilight before settling back down. "You comin' ta bed?"
"Well, I'm not exactly tired now, but I wouldn't mind some 'us' time." With a grin on her face, the unicorn made her way towards the bed and quickly slipped beneath the covers, letting out a content sigh as she snuggled up against Applejack. "...feeling any better?"
The orange mare was more than eager to press back against her, and Applejack seemed to relax a bit in Twilight's embrace. "A lil' bit. I stepped out fer a bit while you were asleep, an' Macintosh told me what went down after I left."
"So... you know about what she said to me, then. And about what Apple Bloom did."
"Mhm." Applejack quietly snickered and shook her head. "That girl's just as stubborn as me, but... I'm pretty darn proud of her fer doin' what she did."
"I think we all are, AJ." Twilight's horn softly glowed as she used her magic to pull a few errant strands of Applejack's mane away from her face, and the unicorn frowned somewhat. "What about Granny? Has she said anything else?"
Another head shake. "Nah. All Macintosh said was that she's been doin' some thinkin', an' that she's been awfully quiet."
"Oh... well, maybe she'll have an answer for us in the morning. We should probably get some sleep."
"That's th' thing, Twi. I can't go ta sleep. I've got too much on mah mind now."
"I think somepony is a little stressed out right now..." The unicorn gave Applejack's neck a nuzzle, a faint smile upon her face. "Want me to fix it?"
"...Fix it?" The earth pony rolled over in bed, turning to face Twilight. "Fix it how?"
"Oh, I have an idea..." Twilight leaned towards Applejack's nightstand and opened it up, rummaging through it and she had eventually managed to find what she needed. With a mischievous little grin, the lavender mare slipped beneath the covers. "I think you'll like this."
"Uh, Twi? What th' hay do ya mean by th-" Applejack's eyes flew open, and she let out a quiet yelp. "Alright, definitely wasn' expectin' that."
"Quit moving and just try to relax a bit."
"Alrighty." The earth pony settled down somewhat, and as she began truly relax, she let out a delighted sigh. "This... actually feels pretty darn good, Twi."
The bump in the covers shifted slightly, and soon spoke up. "What, you've never had this done before?"
"Oh ho, I'm just getting started."
"Hoo boy..." Applejack gave her neck a stretch, and a low groan escaped her lips not long after. "Ohh, right there, Twi!"
The orange mare nodded fervently and groaned once more. "...that's th' spot. Oh Celestia, that feels great..."
Over the next few minutes, Applejack could simply feel her stress begin to melt away, and there were several more sighs and groans. Much to her embarrassment, there was even a moan or two, something that elicited giggles from Twilight. In fact, Applejack was so caught up in what was happening, she had failed to notice the knock upon her door, as well as her brother's arrival.
"Applejack, ya mind keepin' it down? Some of us are tryin' ta-" The stallion paused, mid-sentence, and stared at Applejack. She stared back. And then he noticed a rather large bump in the blankets. With his face now beet red, Macintosh began to apologize profusely, and quickly backed out of the room. "So sorry, AJ! I mean, I knocked an' all, but ya didn' answer, an'... so sorry fer disturbin' the two of ya."
"Wait, it ain't what it..." Applejack frowned as the door quickly shut, and she sighed. "...looks like."
Not long after, Twilight popped up from beneath the blankets, a faint frown upon her face. "Wait, Macintosh?"
"He was here?"
"...and he thought we were..."
The unicorn sighed, her ears flattening slightly. "Oh dear. That's gonna be difficult to explain in the morning."
"Tell me about it."
"So... I'm guessing you don't want me to file your hooves or massage your legs anymore?"
"Nah, s'alright darlin'. I do feel a bit better though." Applejack pulled Twilight up, giving her muzzle a gentle kiss. "Though, I gotta ask..."
Twilight quickly placed the file back in the earth pony's nightstand, closing it before rolling over to embrace Applejack once more. "Hm?"
"Where th' hay did ya learn ta do those things?"
"Oh, that." The unicorn blushed faintly and gave a sheepish grin. "I read about it. A girl's gotta know how to take care of herself."
"That she does." Applejack grinned in return and gave the lavender mare a hug. "I think I'm ready fer some shut-eye. Gonna join me?"
With a smile upon her face, Twilight gave the earth pony a quick kiss and eagerly snuggled up against her.
With the break of dawn the following morning came the possibility of both hope and a positive answer, and though Applejack and Twilight Sparkle were both rather sluggish in getting out of bed, they soon picked up the pace, cleaned themselves up, and headed downstairs for breakfast. Apple Bloom was already seated at the table, and Macintosh stood hunched over the stove, finishing up what would likely be breakfast. Granny Smith remained curiously absent, something all of them had apparently noticed and remained silent about. The members of the Apple family all knew that she never missed breakfast unless it was for a very good reason, and Twilight had the feeling that Granny had a bit of unfinished business with her - as for what that 'business' might be, she was still unsure. Either she still had a bone to pick with the unicorn, or she was going to give both Applejack and Twilight a definitive answer in regards to the future of their relationship. Regardless of the possibilities, the creaking of the wooden stairs made it rather clear that they would soon find out.
Granny Smith slowly made her way down the steps, her hips cracking and popping with every move, and as she took her seat at the table, the elderly mare cast a wary glance at both Applejack and Twilight, and such a look made both mares feel rather uneasy. They found themselves scooting towards one another, both for protection and comfort, and as Macintosh brought several plates over, Granny Smith spoke up. "So."
Applejack narrowed her eyes at her own grandmother, unwilling to suffer a repeat of yesterday. "So."
"Been doin' some thinkin'."
"And?" A plate of food was set down in front of her, and Applejack quickly looked towards her brother. "Thanks, Macintosh."
As a plate of food was also set down in front of Granny Smith, the family elder briefly eyed it before looking across the table once more at her granddaughter. "I underestimated ya - both of ya. Didn't think y'all felt that strongly about one another, an' I definitely didn' plan on someponies in this family doin' what they did."
The orange mare toyed with her food, never breaking her gaze with Granny Smith. "An' that means?"
The rest of the table soon turned to watch Granny Smith as well, and even Macintosh froze in place as he awaited the answer. After glancing around the table for a bit, Granny sighed and hung her head. "...I give up. I won't say 'No' to th' two of ya."
Upon hearing that, Applejack nearly dropped her fork, and she leaned over the table to put herself a bit closer to her grandmother. "...what?"
"I said th' two of ya can stay together. I won't tell th' other elders of th' Apple family about the two of ya." Granny Smith glanced around the table once more, eying each of the figures present, and she huffed. "Besides, it's obvious that I ain't in the majority."
A smile slowly began to creep across both Applejack's and Twilight's faces, and both mares soon pull one another into a hug. The earth pony peeked out from behind the unicorn and looked towards Granny Smith, a large smile upon her face. "Oh, you won't regret this, Gr-"
The smile quickly vanished from both Applejack's and Twilight's faces, and as they pulled away from one another, Applejack narrowed her eyes at Granny Smith once more. "...But what?"
"If yer gonna stay together with her, yer not gonna do it under this roof."
"...Granny, what are you sayin'?"
"I'm sayin' I want you gone, Applejack. Out. I don' wanna see you unless I gotta."
Applejack stared incredulously at her grandmother, and she even managed to nervously laugh. "Yer... yer kickin' me out?"
"Yep." Granny Smith nodded and scowled in return, staring Applejack down. "You stay with Twilight Sparkle, and I won't tell th' rest of th' family ta disown ya - but ya won't be livin' here anymore. I'll still let ya work th' fields, but you sure as hell won't be stayin' here."
"Or, you break things off with her, an' you can keep livin' here on Sweet Apple Acres. Won't say nothin' ta th' family, so long as you stop datin' her. Yer choice."
Applejack simply stared at Granny Smith, her mouth agape, and the rest of the table had gone silent as well. Apple Bloom simply stared at her grandmother, utterly horrified, and Macintosh had a frown upon his face. Twilight soon leaned over towards Applejack, her ears flattened as she spoke to the earth pony. "Applejack, if... you want to break things off with me, I... I understand. I know how important family and Sweet Apple Acres are to you."
For a few minutes, Applejack lowered her head and simply stared at her plate of food, as she mulled over the decision. It certainly wasn't one to take lightly, and nopony at the table even bothered to touch their food during the silence. After what seemed like a lifetime, the earth pony placed two hooves upon the table and looked up towards her grandmother, her voice low as she made her reply clear. "I'll go pack mah bags, then."
Granny Smith's own expression had quickly shifted from one of determination to one of shock, and the elderly mare blinked and slowly shook her head. "Yer... yer pickin' her?"
"If yer so hellbent on ruinin' mah life, it's probably best if I left you out of it." Applejack hopped off her chair and began to make her way towards the stairs, stopping only to turn and face Granny Smith one last time. The earth pony's expression had undergone a noticeable change, and the orange mare now stared back at her own grandmother with a look of stern determination. "You wanna kick me out just 'cause of who I love? Fine. Consider yourself down a granddaughter, 'Granny'."
As Applejack made her way up the stairs, Macintosh approached Granny Smith, a look of horror upon his face. "Granny... what have you done?"
The elderly mare slowly shook her head in return. "I... I didn' think she would..."
Twilight quickly hopped out of her own chair and ran up the stairs after Applejack, leaving the Apple family to deal with the fallout of Granny Smith's decision. After making her way to the second floor, the unicorn stepped down the hall and nudged open the door to Applejack's room, only to find the orange mare sitting upon the floor and staring at it, a half-filled suitcase beside her. Her hairbands had already been torn out, and her mane currently hung about her head in curtains, obscuring much of her face. Twilight took a few cautious steps towards the earth pony, not wanting to catch her off-guard. "...Applejack?"
The response she heard back was in clear opposition to the determined voice she had heard just moments ago - Applejack's confidence was completely gone, it would seem, and she barely glanced over her shoulder before speaking in a voice just barely above that of a hushed whisper. "...hey Twi."
"Applejack, you... you didn't really mean what you said back there, did you? I mean, are you even thinking any of this through?"
Applejack quickly looked up towards her own girlfriend, her own voice surging forth. It wasn't one of confidence, but rather, of anger. "You don't understand, Twilight! You don't know what she's put me through, what she's put all of us through! Ever since the day Pop dropped the three of us off here at th' farm, Granny's basically been runnin' mah life. Tellin' me what ta do, how ta do it. She's been groomin' me ta run th' farm, and any time I said or did somethin' she wasn't happy with, she disciplined me. I'm... I'm tired of it, Twi. I'm so tired... I'm tired of bein' her. I just wanna be me, an' I can really only do that with you. An'... if she doesn't want me around because of that, fine. I'm done, Twilight. I'm done livin' her life, an' ready ta live mine."
"You're... serious, then."
"Yep." The earth pony held her signature stetson within her hooves, then placed it within the suitcase. "Lemme finish packing, then I'll be ready ta go. Don't have much left."
"Right." Twilight took a seat upon the floor, remaining silent as she watched her girlfriend pack the rest of her things. Applejack traveled light, it would seem - all the earth pony had really packed had been some pictures, her hat, and some clothing, as well as a few other keepsakes. With a sigh, the unicorn lowered her head slightly, her ears flattened. "I'm sorry it came to this, AJ."
"I'm not. If Granny thinks she's gonna get in mah way an' keep me from followin' mah dreams, she's got another thing comin'. And accusin' you of castin' spells on me, an' usin' mah own parents against me like that? She jus' put herself firmly on mah shit list."
Twilight Sparkle winced slightly upon hearing Applejack curse, and she stood up from her spot on the floor. "Applejack, don't you think that's a little... harsh? I mean... she's family."
"Not anymore, she ain't. It was sorta bound ta happen eventually, given how often she tried ta boss me around." As the earth pony shut her suitcase, her expression softened and she let out a sigh. "...just wish it hadn't happened like this."
"I'll be honest, Applejack. You never really struck me as the sort that wanted to get out and do things on her own, and I definitely didn't know things were like... well, this."
Applejack smiled faintly and slowly shook her head. "Granny's sweet an' all - she normally is, at least - but she can also be sorta bossy at times. You girls definitely don't see that side of her. An'... when I went ta Manehattan? I sorta liked th' freedom. Not th' place, 'cause of how noisy an' crowded an'-"
"...uptight it was?"
"Especially that. I still needed greenery. I needed th' earth, an' I needed ta be able ta work with mah bare hooves. Couldn't do that in Manehattan, but I could do it here." The orange mare huffed and picked up her suitcase, turning to look towards Twilight. "Jus'... didn't like workin' under Granny is all. I wanna do things on mah own terms."
Twilight smiled and took a step towards the earth pony, giving her an affectionate nuzzle. "You wanted an orchard of your own, you mean."
"Exactly. Fer now, though..." Applejack returned the nuzzle with one of her own, stood up from her spot on the floor, then glanced around. As she continued to look around, a frown steadily spread across her face, and the orange mare let out another sigh. "...I'm gonna miss this room. Slept in it ever since I was a filly, an' now... I'm leavin'. And I dunno if I'll ever be back."
"I'll do my best to make the library feel like home for you, sugarcube."
Hearing herself called by that nickname caused Applejack to brighten up a bit, and the earth pony nodded. "I know ya will, darlin'."
The unicorn took a few steps towards the door, pushing the door open for Applejack and glancing back towards her. "You ready to go, AJ? I mean, take as much time as you want. This is... was home, after all."
"Let's... just go."
Both mares made their way out of the bedroom, Applejack's suitcase in tow, and as the earth pony pulled the door closed, she briefly placed her hoof upon it before turning and walking away.
"...I need some distance from this place anyways, Twi."
Applejack's departure from Sweet Apple Acres hadn't exactly gone without a hitch. Both Macintosh and Apple Bloom had begged their sister to stay, to which Applejack hesitantly refused. This latest altercation had been the breaking point, it would seem, and she simply had to leave. Macintosh understood, of course, but things were much more difficult for the younger Apple Bloom. It took several explanations and reassurances that she would still be there to work the fields before the filly managed to calm down, and throughout all this, Granny Smith remained entirely absent. The elderly mare had evidently locked herself in her room, refused to come out, and by the time she eventually did, it was too late. Applejack had already left.
The next few days would soon prove to be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for both Twilight and Applejack. Though the earth pony had initially been rather determined and confident in regards to leaving Sweet Apple Acres, it soon became evident that she was anything but - her own mood steadily declined, and Twilight Sparkle's own disposition wasn't too far behind. By the second day, Applejack began to sleep in much later than she normally did, something that struck Twilight as being extremely odd. Applejack was a farmer, after all, and had woken up at the crack of dawn her entire life. By the third, her own actions had become rather sluggish and apathetic. She had been and still was in peak physical condition, yet she could hardly muster the energy to do much at all. Applejack had been one of the frontrunners in the Running of the Leaves, and for her to be this tired all the time simply wasn't normal at all. By the fourth, the earth pony no longer left the library at all, and instead spent most of her waking hours staring out the windows. She said and did little, even around Twilight Sparkle, and despite being known for having a bit of an appetite, she hardly touched any food offered to her.
After everything that had happened, it seemed Applejack had ceased to be... Applejack. She was no longer herself, and indeed, Twilight knew fully well that something was amiss. This had been one of her best friends, after all, and she was now her girlfriend as well. The unicorn did everything she could think of in an effort to cheer up the earth pony, but nothing seemed to really ever work, and even if it did, it was often only temporary. She tried books, art, music, talking, playing, and too many other things for her to even keep track of. Twilight had run out of options, and she did the only other thing she could think of: She turned to her friends.
Seated around a table within Sugarcube Corner were Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash - Rarity had been called away to Canterlot on business, and had been unable to attend their little meeting. Twilight sat slumped over the table, an iced tea not far from her, and the unicorn let out a groan. "I just... I don't know. I hate seeing her like this, and I've tried everything I can think of to cheer her up, and... none of it has worked at all. Any ideas?"
Pinkie flopped over onto the table as well, staring at Twilight. "A party, maybe? I mean... those always cheer me up."
"I'd be willing to give it a try, but... this wasn't something petty that put her in this mood. She got kicked out by her own grandmother, simply because we're dating. I... don't think a party is gonna help, Pinkie."
The pink earth pony sighed and nodded, her cheek rubbing against the table. "It was worth a try. What about you, Flutters?"
Fluttershy frowned and tapped two of her hooves together. "I don't know... I mean, none of us have ever gone through something this serious, so everything we've tried before probably won't work. I'd tell you to maybe spend time with her, but... you've been trying that, and that hasn't worked either."
"No, it hasn't." Twilight sat up and peered across the table at the last of her friends, an eyebrow raised. "You've been awfully quiet, Rainbow Dash. It's not like you."
The pegasus' response was simple enough. "I've been thinking."
"Well." Rainbow Dash fidgeted in her seat, gave her wings a quick stretch, then leaned against the table. "I think I know what's wrong with her. We sparred just the other night, and she was just... out of it the whole time. Kept missing easy kicks, and kept getting hit when she normally would've dodged. When we took our break, I just sorta... watched her. Listened to her."
Twilight idly rubbed at her eyes with her forelegs, then stared at Rainbow Dash once more. "You said you think you know what's wrong with her, so... out with it."
"It's easy, Twilight. Given how close the two of you already are, I'm surprised you didn't guess at it yourself - she's homesick. The way she talks, the way she moves... it's clear she's depressed. But what gives it away are the eyes."
"How do you figure?"
"Because I know that look. I mean, you know how us pegasi are, right? We love being able to fly and all, and being grounded for any real length of time is... well, hard. Cloudsdale isn't our home, and neither is Ponyville, or the rest of Equestria. The sky is. If a pegasus can't fly, whether from bad weather or just an injury... we start to miss it. We want it back, and until we can get it, we get kinda... mopey."
The unicorn frowned and placed a hoof to her chin as she mulled it over. "...which explains why you always seem to be depressed every time you get grounded after an injury."
"Exactly. We don't get depressed because we're stuck in a hospital or whatever. We get depressed because we can't fly. We can't go home. The entire time I hung around AJ the other day, she always seemed kinda... distant. Like she was looking somewhere else. Kept looking... northeast, I think it was."
"And where do you two usually spar again?"
"Just some field, not too far from here." Rainbow Dash pointed a hoof in the direction of said field, and the other three ponies quickly turned to follow it. "That way. Why?"
"...because, if I remember right, Sweet Apple Acres is northeast of that spot." The lavender mare slumped in her chair a bit, then turned towards Rainbow Dash once more. "Okay, so... Applejack is homesick, and I've done everything I can to try and cheer her up. Got any ideas?"
The pegasus was quick to raise an eyebrow at her, and shrugged her shoulders. "Why are you asking me?"
"Because you're the only one who has actually been able to help, Rainbow. If there's anything else you think I could do to help AJ, I'm willing to try."
"Alright, just... gimme a sec, Twilight. I need to think this over... sheesh, you're supposed to be the egghead, not me." Rainbow Dash closed her eyes and tapped a hoof against the table, her face occasionally scrunching up. After a minute or so, she opened her eyes once more and beat her hoof against the table, causing Fluttershy to yelp slightly. "Sorry, Fluttershy. Anyways, what I'm thinking is... you go to Applejack, and tell her that you'll take her anywhere she wants to go. That's the key here - let her pick. Even if it's something you don't wanna do, just go with it. Whatever she picks, you take her there, and the two of you just spend time together or do... whatever it is a pony does at whatever place she picks."
"And... you think that'll work?"
"Well, here's the way I see it. If you tell her to pick a place she wants to go to, and the two of you go there and have a good time... you're showing that what she says matters to you, and that you're putting her needs before your own. Sounds like a win-win, if you ask me."
From her spot at the table, Pinkie Pie blinked and raised an eyebrow, leaning over to stare at Rainbow Dash. "...when did you get so good with relationship stuff, Dashie?"
"I... well, um... you see..."
Fluttershy also quickly spoke up, adding to the conversation. "Pinkie's got a good point, Rainbow. You are awfully good at this... and I thought you said you've been single your whole life?"
"Well, not exactly! The thing is..."
Twilight was the last to chime in, and the unicorn simply rolled her eyes. "It's probably all the romance novels she reads."
Both Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy spoke in unison at that point, faint grins upon their faces. "...you read romance novels?"
Rainbow Dash let out a groan and placed a hoof against her forehead. "Yeah, I read romance novels. So what? I mean, I managed to help Twilight, didn't I?"
"She's got a point." Twilight hopped off her chair and quickly walked around the table to give Rainbow Dash a quick hug. "Thanks, Rainbow. I'm gonna go try what you said. I'll let you know how it goes, alright?"
"Yeah, yeah. Any time, Twilight."
The unicorn quickly ran out of Sugarcube Corner and headed straight for the library, and as soon as she had left, Fluttershy quickly turned towards Rainbow Dash and spoke up once more.
"So... which romance novels have you read?"
Though she had arrived just a few minutes later, a quick check showed that Applejack was still in bed, and Twilight was rather hesitant to wake her up just yet. Instead, she elected to let her sleep in for another hour or so, and until then, the unicorn kept herself busy around the library by performing some of the many tasks that needed to be done. Spike couldn't do them all, of course, which still left many to her. At the very least, this list of chores would keep her busy for another two hours or so. Books need to be sorted, shelves cleaned, and papers filed away. It was tiring but necessary work, and as she trudged on, Celestia's sun slowly slipped closer towards the horizon.
As the clock in the library rang out the chimes for six in the afternoon, Twilight set aside her things and headed for the staircase to the second floor. A small part of her hoped that Applejack was already up and about, but that was unlikely - the earth pony had spent more and more time both in bed and isolation since slipping into her depression, and she had a feeling that the earth pony would still be there. Upon reaching the top of the steps, she frowned upon finding herself proven right. Laying in bed and facing the window was Applejack, and it seemed as if the orange mare hadn't moved at all. Twilight quietly called out to her as she tried to carry things out in the most delicate manner possible. "...Applejack? You up?"
There was silence at first, but then a voice spoke up. "...yeah."
"Applejack, I... wanted to ask you something. Mind rolling over in bed so I can at least see you?"
The earth pony sighed then did as told, rolling over to face her girlfriend. As she brushed a bit of mane away from her face, she frowned and then settled her gaze upon Twilight. "Whatcha wanna ask?"
"Well, I wanted to know if... you wanted to go somewhere. Just the two of us. I'll let you pick where we go, and... we'll go. No questions asked."
Applejack looked away from Twilight and began to chew on her lip as she mulled it over. "...anywhere I want?"
"Anywhere, AJ. Think of it as..." The unicorn paused midsentence and tapped a hoof against her chin before quickly continuing. "Think of it as our first real night out as a couple! Sounds fun, right?"
"I guess. Just... no questions asked or anythin', right?"
"Right. So... what do you say, Applejack? You up for it?"
The earth pony pursed her lips and rolled away from Twilight, and for a moment, the unicorn feared as if Applejack was going to say 'No'. She soon sat up in bed and slid out from beneath the covers, however, and as she walked back around, she gave the lavender mare a quick peck on the cheek. "Gimme a few minutes ta get ready, Twi, then I guess I'll be set."
Pleased with the result, Twilight clapped her hooves together and sat patiently while she waited. Such a thing never took long either, as Applejack had never really prided herself on her appearance - sure, she liked to look her best when the situation called for it, but those situations were few and far between, and a night out with Twilight likely wouldn't be overly extravagant. As such, she simply brushed out her mane and put it up in the ponytail she was so well known for, and with that taken care of, both mares left for the evening.
Applejack already knew where she wanted to go, of course. She refused to tell Twilight Sparkle just where they were going, and had instead decided to simply lead her to it. To top it all off, the earth pony had actually been rather talkative during their walk, something that pleased Twilight greatly - perhaps there was something to what Rainbow Dash had said after all. Wherever they were headed was evidently quite a distance away as well. They had already managed to pass through the bulk of Ponyville, and were essentially on the outskirts at this point. After a few more minutes of traveling, they at last arrived at their destination, and Twilight found herself gazing up at neon lighting, with the name of the business clearly displayed - 'Sky High'. "...a bar?"
"Uh huh. Soarin' showed it ta me just a couple days ago. Didn't even know it existed 'til he brought me here."
"I didn't either. Definitely don't remember this on any of the Ponyville maps."
"'Cause it ain't on 'em. Soarin' said that this place is technically part of Cloudsdale... or somethin'. Not too many ponies come here, though." Applejack stared up at the sign briefly before looking back down at the door, and a smile had even begin to spread across her face. "C'mon, Twi. Kinda hungry anyways."
Applejack took the lead and passed through the door first, with Twilight right behind her, and as the door swung shut, the unicorn had already begin to look around the place. It certainly seemed homely, though it was a bit too dark for her tastes, and it was definitely quieter than what she had ever expected of a bar. Off in one of the corners sat a pegasus couple, both of them a shade of blue and far too busy with one another to even notice the new arrivals. Aside from them, no one else was even in the bar, and Twilight gave the couple one last look before hurrying after Applejack.
The earth pony had already taken a seat at the bar, and as Twilight joined her, the orange mare spoke up. "It's... Barley, right?"
The bartender quickly turned around to face her, and Twilight Sparkle already found herself shrinking away a bit from such an intimidating figure. Instead, he let out a boisterous laugh and gave the earth pony a light tap on the shoulder. "Well, look who it is! I'll admit, didn't expect to ever see ya again, 'specially after ya left the last time ya came here."
"That's... th' only time I've been here, Barley."
"True enough." The bay stallion quickly turned to look towards Twilight, looking the unicorn over. "And who did ya bring with ya?"
"That's Twilight. She's... she's mah girlfriend."
"Really now?" Barley leaned upon the counter, glancing back and forth between both mares, and a smile slowly crept across his face. "Applejack an' Twilight Sparkle, eh?"
Twilight blinked upon hearing this stranger call her by her full name, and she leaned forward a bit as well. "You've uh... you've heard of me, huh?"
"'course I have! Everypony's heard of you, Miss Sparkle! Town librarian, Princess Celestia's personal student - and now, the girlfriend of Miss Applejack. Aye, it's a right lovely story. The both of ya start from humble beginnin's, ya both went and saved Equestria on several occasions, and now, ya got each other." The stallion sighed and swiftly placed a hoof against his chest as he stared at the ceiling. "Warms my heart, it does."
Twilight backed away from the bar a bit and leaned towards Applejack, whispering into her ear. "This guy is crazy."
The earth pony sighed and shook her head, leaning back over to whisper a response. "He ain't crazy, just friendly."
"Now then, ladies!"
Both mares quickly sat back and smiled at the pegasus, unsure if he had heard what they had said at all.
"What can I get for the two of ya?"
Applejack briefly glanced towards Twilight, then looked back towards Barley. "Uh, well... I'm kinda hungry, so... I guess hay fries fer me, an' a beer as well."
Barley raised an eyebrow in return and leaned on the bar once more. "No hard cider this time, eh?"
"Nah, I've... kinda had a bit of a rough week. Wouldn't mind somethin' a bit stronger."
"Aye, I understand, lass. No need to get into details." The bay stallion quickly shifted his weight, sliding from in front of Applejack until he stood in front of Twilight. "And for you, Miss Sparkle?"
Twilight laughed nervously and waved a hoof in front of herself. "I uh... I don't really know, to be honest. I'm not much of a drinker anyways, so..."
"Just a water, then?"
"That's fine, um... Barley. And please, just call me 'Twilight'. I'm sorta used to that anyways."
"Suit yourself, Twilight. I'll get yer order out and ready in just a few minutes." Barley walked over to the far side of the counter and leaned on it, yelling out in the bar itself. "OI, SOARIN'!"
Both Applejack and Twilight blinked in surprise and briefly glanced towards one another before turning around. In the corner of the bar sat the pegasus couple, and slowly but surely, one of the pegasi turned to face towards the bartender, revealing themselves to be none other than Soarin'. "Yeah, Barley?"
"'bout time I get your attention! You're goin' deaf, lad! You need anythin' else before I put this order in?"
The light blue pegasus shook his head. "I'm good for now. Thanks, though!"
Barley simply chuckled in return, and quickly spoke up once more. "And what about you, Rainbow Dash?"
That last name certainly caught the attention of both Applejack and Twilight, and both mares spoke up in unison as they stared towards the couple. "Rainbow Dash?"
Another light blue pegasus slowly leaned out from behind Soarin', and the rainbow-colored mane already made her rather unmistakeable - the name simple sealed the deal. From her spot on Soarin's lap, Rainbow Dash laughed nervously and stared back at the bar, her face beet red. "Um... hey, you two! What um... what brings you two out here?"
Applejack had already hopped off her stool and quickly walked over towards both pegasi, eying them both before looking back towards Rainbow Dash. "Twi took me out fer th' night, said I could pick where we wanted ta go. I picked this. So why th' hay are you here and on Soarin's lap, no less?"
If it was possible for Rainbow Dash to blush any harder at that moment, she most likely was. The mare tossed a quick glance towards Soarin', and when he gave her a simple nod in return, she let out a loud sigh. "...ponyfeathers. I was gonna tell you guys eventually, since you two came and told me. I was just... waiting for the right moment, is all."
"Ya mean a moment when yer not sittin' on some guy's lap?"
"Especially that, AJ." Rainbow Dash huffed and glanced towards Soarin' before looking back at Applejack. "Basically, um... Soarin' stopped by my house a few days ago, and said he wanted to hang out, so... we did. And then he did it the next day, and the day after that."
"...and then he asked ya out on a date, huh?"
The colorful pegasus chuckled lightly and rubbed a hoof against the back of her neck. "...yeah. He did."
Applejack smirked in return, glancing between both pegasi before settling her eyes on Rainbow Dash once more. "So... the two of ya?"
"Yeah. He asked about half an hour ago, and I said yes. Then we..." Rainbow Dash looked towards Soarin' and grinned. "...celebrated, I guess you could call it."
"Well, congrats you two. I'd offer ta buy ya both beers, but Twi's treatin' me tonight, so ya'll are gonna have ta ask her."
"Nah, that's... that's fine, AJ. I think Soarin's got me covered." Her grin quickly disappeared in favor of a warm smile, and she nodded towards the earth pony. "Thanks, Applejack. I'll let you get back to Twilight, since... you know. You two are having your dinner date and all."
"Alrighty. One more thing before I go, though..." The earth pony leaned towards Rainbow Dash, peering at her. "Wonderin' what you two plan on doin' fer date nights. I mean, Soarin' knows yer a bit of a bookworm now, right?"
Rainbow Dash simply blinked at her, then idly shrugged. "...y-yeah, he knows. I mean, a few of the times he came over, we just sorta read together. And then, um... we cuddled on the couch and read together another time. That was sorta nice. So... I guess we'd just do that again?"
Applejack snickered and grinned. "Been teachin' Soarin' ta read, huh? Bet you've been givin' him plenty of incentive too, eh?"
Soarin' couldn't help but laugh and grin upon hearing that, and Rainbow Dash quickly began to blush once more. "Hey, he can read! And besides, it's not like... uhh... okay, I'm just... gonna stop talking. Go back to Twilight or something."
"That's what I thought, sugarcube. Have fun you two." With a grin and a wink, Applejack left both pegasi to themselves and returned to the bar, taking her place beside Twilight Sparkle once more. The unicorn appeared completely and utterly confused by the events of the past few minutes, something Applejack had apparently noticed. "What's wrong, Twi?"
"...what just happened? I mean... there's Soarin' and Rainbow. And then you walked over there, said a bunch of stuff, and she started blushing and got all flustered." Twilight simply blinked and slowly shook her head as she continued to stare at the two pegasi, and she slowly spun around on her stool until she was facing the bar once more. "Just... I dunno. I'm still trying to comprehend what just happened."
"Soarin' and Rainbow are datin' now."
"That's... huh. Unexpected, I guess?"
"Mhm." Applejack leaned towards Twilight and gave her shoulder a gentle tap. "Food's here, darlin'. I'm willin' ta share too, since yer payin' an' all."
The unicorn smiled sweetly in return and shook her head before taking a sip of her water. "Thanks for the offer, AJ, but... really not hungry right now."
"More fer me, then."
Applejack immediately dove into the hay fries, and simply seeing the earth pony actually eat was enough to make Twilight happy. The two of them talked at length about a wide variety of topics, and little by little, both their drinks gradually emptied, only to be replaced by another round. Twilight simply had another water, whereas Applejack went for another beer. The clock continued to tick onwards, more drinks were had, and both Soarin' and Rainbow Dash eventually stopped by to bid the two farewell. Of course, a simple goodbye soon turned into even more talks, and by the time both pegasi left, Applejack and Twilight were on their fourth round of drinks.
The earth pony apparently had a rather strong alcohol tolerance from what Twilight Sparkle had been told, but it was clear that it was beginning to get to Applejack. When the orange mare called for a fifth round of drinks, the unicorn reluctantly agreed - this trip had been for Applejack's sake, after all, and she didn't want to do anything that might risk ruining this sudden improvement in her girlfriend's mood. A quick glance towards the clock showed that it was nearing midnight, however, and Twilight soon beckoned Barley over in order to pay the bill. When asked by the bartender how the food and drinks had been, Applejack's only response had been a loud belch, followed by a laugh.
The walk back home soon proved to be rather... troublesome. Twilight already knew that Applejack was apparently a bit of an angry drunk, something she had been told by Big Macintosh himself. What he hadn't told her was how 'needy' his sister apparently got when she was drunk. As they walked back, Applejack continued to lean against the unicorn, playfully nipping and kissing at Twilight's neck. When she at last spoke up, it had been with a decidedly sultry tone. "Soo... how's about when we get back ta the library, I thank ya for takin' me out tonight an' all..."
Twilight had already been blushing a bit from some of the shows of affection, but she certainly wasn't ready for what Applejack had said, and she especially hadn't been ready for that sort of tone from her. "I um... t-there's no need for that, AJ. It was my treat."
"Aw, c'mon darlin'... it'll be fun! Besides, I wouldn't mind makin' ya scream a lil', if ya know what I mean."
"Ohh, I-I know. Trust me." The unicorn laughed nervously then quickly looked away from the earth pony, trying to hide how red her face was. "I... I dunno, AJ. How about we just... go to bed when we get back?"
Applejack simply giggled and buried her face in Twilight's neck, slowly shaking her head. "I ain't tired enough yet, but I'm sure we could find somethin' ta tire us out. C'mon, Twi... I know ya want it. Probably as bad as I do."
As the earth pony leaned in to give her neck another gentle bite, Twilight found herself grimacing slightly - truth be told, she had known Applejack long enough and certainly loved her enough to the point where it had no longer become a question of 'if', but rather, a question of 'when'. Given the state of their relationship, sex was inevitable, and as much as the unicorn wanted to say 'Yes', this was neither the time nor the place for such an important step in their lives. Applejack had gone through a rough week and was now decidedly drunk, and to take advantage of such a situation was simply... wrong. With a huff, Twilight quickly stepped away from Applejack, almost throwing the earth pony off-balance, and the unicorn stared her in the eye. "Applejack, just... stop. I'm not ready for that sort of thing. You know it, I know it, and you're drunk anyways. So stop asking, and let's just head home already."
Applejack quickly began to grimace, and the orange mare huffed as she glared back at Twilight. "What's the matter, Twi? I ain't good enough for ya or somethin'?!"
"Applejack, it's not tha-"
"Oh, don' you lie ta me. I know liars, an' yer doin' it right now." Applejack quickly walked towards the unicorn, placing her muzzle right against Twilight's as she continued her tirade. "I thought ya loved me, Twilight. I try ta do somethin' nice fer ya, try ta do somethin' special 'cause of how well you've been treatin' me, an' what do ya do? Ya throw it back an' ya spit on me.""
"But I do love you! And I only said no because-"
"Bullshit ya do! Ya know how many ponies I've ever offered mahself to? Two of 'em, and yer one. An' what do ya do? You don' want me. Don' want me at all."
"Don' you 'AJ' me!"
By this point, Twilight's patience had quickly run out, and she let out a huff before speaking up, her tone firm. "Macintosh wasn't kidding when he said you were an angry drunk, was he?"
Applejack blinked at the unicorn and stammered a bit. "W-what? I... I ain't an angry drunk!"
"Yes you are! I took you out, thought I could cheer you up a bit, and instead I'm being berated by my own girlfriend simply because I said I wasn't ready!"
To find herself on the receiving end was a bit of a sobering experience, and Applejack quickly began to regret what she had said. "Twi... I... I didn't mean ta-"
"No. Not another word. We're going back to the library." The unicorn scowled at her and shut her eyes, her horn beginning to brightly glow.
Before Applejack could truly comprehend what was going on, there was a bright flash of light, and as the library began to materialize around them both, she began to realize that they had been teleported. It took a bit longer for her to really regain her senses, but as she did so, she saw Twilight beginning to make her way up the stairs. "Twi, wait!"
Twilight quickly turned around to face the earth pony, glaring at her. "If you've got something to tell me, Applejack, you can do it in the morning. I'm going to bed, and I suggest you do the same."
"Don't bother trying to get into my bed either. I've still got the guest bed, so just use that. Goodnight, Applejack."
"...g'night, Twilight." With a sigh, Applejack lowered her head and made her way up the stairs to the second floor. Upon arriving at the top, the earth pony glanced at both beds - to the left, the empty guest bed, and to the right, the bed with her love curled up beneath the sheets. Twilight was facing away from the stairs, however, and it was then that Applejack began to realize how harsh the last few days had been for the unicorn.
Applejack may have been kicked out of her home and gone through some rough arguments with Granny Smith, but through it all, Twilight had been there for her. Twilight had been her rock, always there for her when she needed somepony to comfort her or stabilize her. Twilight had offered her own home to Applejack, without hesitation, and she had even been willing to end their relationship prematurely if it meant saving the earth pony's ties to her family. In doing so, Twilight had borne the brunt of a hefty amount of punishment, and had never once said anything or complained - Applejack's own needs were more important than hers.
Everything Twilight Sparkle had done over the past few days had been for Applejack, and instead of being the least bit thankful, she had been anything but. She had been unwilling to help around the library and unwilling to do much at all, and when offered the chance to go out for the night, she had instead gotten drunk... and then attempted to seduce Twilight. The earth pony sighed and closed her eyes, slowly shaking her head - as much as she wanted to apologize to Twilight, right then and there, the unicorn had told her to wait until morning. If that was what needed to be done, then so be it. A few more hours wouldn't kill her.
Applejack made a reluctant turn to the left, heading towards the guest bed and sliding beneath the covers. She briefly sat up in bed, looking towards Twilight one last time and blowing the unicorn a kiss. As she laid down once more and pulled the blankets tight around herself, the earth pony sighed and whispered out into the darkness.
"...Love you too, Twi."
Sleep would not come easily for Applejack that night. After the past few days, she had grown used to sleeping with Twilight Sparkle, and to be deprived of it was jarring. She tossed and she turned, and though she even tried to hold her pillow close to herself to give her some semblance of normalcy, it just wasn't the same. She certainly didn't remember when she managed to eventually fall asleep, but it certainly took far too long - the light of Celestia's sun was a harsh awakening for her, and the earth pony grimaced and turned away to try and shield herself from it. When it soon became evident that her efforts weren't doing much good, Applejack let out a huff and sat up in bed.
"AJ, you up?"
She sighed and slowly nodded, even though nopony could even see her. "Yeah, Twi. I'll be down in a bit."
As she slid out from beneath the covers and planted her hooves upon the floor, Applejack walked towards the mirror and frowned. Last night had certainly been a sleepless one, and it showed - with dark circles beneath her eyes and an especially messy mane, she certainly didn't look 'well'. She took a seat upon the floor and began to attempt to clean up her mane, only to hear a voice call out from below once more.
"Applejack, come down here please. We need to talk."
We need to talk - it was those four words that nopony in a relationship ever wanted to hear. It almost always meant that bad news was inevitable, and the earth pony hesitantly turned towards the stairs and began to make her way down. As reluctant as she may have been to head down towards the kitchen, this was something she needed to do. She had always been one to fess up to her mistakes, and last night had certainly been a doozy of a mistake. With the last of the steps behind her, Applejack continued to slowly walk along, and leaned around a corner as she looked into the kitchen. Twilight sat seated at the table, a faint frown upon her face, and two glasses of apple juice at the table, no doubt for her and Applejack. The earth pony cleared her throat and gave a hopeful smile to her girlfriend. "Uh... mornin', Twi."
Twilight's own expression softened somewhat, though the frown stayed firmly upon her face. She gestured towards a chair next to herself and spoke softly in return. "Have a seat."
Applejack's ears quickly flattened, and she slowly made her way towards the table, hopping up into the chair and avoiding any and all eye contact with the unicorn. She knew quite well just what the talk was about, and yet she didn't want to say anything about it. It wasn't like she even needed to - her body language alone made it quite clear just how guilty she felt.
The lavender mare eyed her briefly and let out a sigh. "So, about last ni-"
"Twi, I'm so sorry about last night. What I did was wrong of me, an' I shouldn't have done that to ya. It was stupid of me ta put you on th' spot like that, and accuse you of th' things I did, an'... I'm an idiot, Twilight, an' I just... I hope you can forgive me." Applejack hung her head and slowly shook it, her voice barely above a whisper as she spoke once more. "...I don't like havin' you mad at me. S'not a good feelin'."
Twilight hadn't quite been expecting such a response, and she blinked momentarily before leaning over towards the earth pony. "Applejack, I'm not mad at you. I'm just... disappointed. I thought you knew better."
"Yeah... so did I." Applejack idly scratched at the back of her neck with a hoof, and she briefly glanced towards the unicorn. "Sorry, jus'... this whole week has been rough an' all, an' I haven't quite been mahself."
"AJ, look at me." She placed a hoof beneath the earth pony's chin, drawing her gaze towards herself. "It's been a rough week for both of us, and you can't blame yourself for anything that's happened. Like I said, I'm not mad at you or anything, I just... need to know some things."
"Well... the alcohol. I know you like drinking, and I'm fine with that - a drink every now and then is okay. But if you're gonna go out and get drunk like this every time we hit a rough patch, I don't know how long things are gonna last between us. It's... not exactly conducive to a relationship."
The earth pony blinked at her and raised an eyebrow. "Conduwhat?"
"Conducive. When something is conducive, it's helpful, and when it's not-"
"I get it, Twi. Gettin' drunk ain't good fer th' both of us. I uh..." Applejack coughed and smiled sheepishly. "I 'spose I had too many drinks last night, huh?"
"...alright, I had too many drinks."
"And you'll cut back on it?"
"I'll cut back on it, Twi."
Twilight smiled faintly at that, and leaned a bit closer. "Pinkie promise?"
With a groan, the earth pony nodded and began to go through the necessary motions. "Cross mah heart, hope ta fly, stick a cupcake in mah eye."
"Good. And the only other thing I need to know is... well, it's something a bit more personal..."
Applejack leaned towards Twilight and attempted to intertwine her tail with the unicorn's, a faint smile appearing upon her face when she managed to succeed. "C'mon, hun. You know you can tell me."
"What I'm getting at is... I'm not ready. Um... sexually, that is." Twilight was quickly beginning to blush, and she sighed and shook her head. "Oh Celestia, this is embarrassing..."
"Can't be as bad as when ya got drunk off cider an' started hittin' on mah brother."
"Sorry, Twi. Had ta be said."
"Right, well... all I'm saying is, I just need to know that you understand that, and that I'll be ready when I feel ready."
The earth pony slowly nodded. "Yeah, I know. S'partly why I feel so stupid about last night. I knew perfectly well that ya weren't ready, and yet I-"
"AJ, I already forgave you for that."
"I know, I know... I don't feel any better about it, though."
With a grin, Twilight leaned over and gave Applejack a kiss on the cheek. "What about now?"
"...well, that helps."
"Good." The unicorn hopped off her chair and looked towards the earth pony. "Go get cleaned up, and I'll get started on breakfast. We'll also need to pack later."
Upon hearing that, Applejack hopped off her own chair and quickly trotted over to Twilight's side. "Pack? We goin' somewhere?"
"...I told you about that, right?"
The earth pony simply stared at her and slowly shook her head.
"Well, uh... we're going somewhere!" Twilight did her best to feign enthusiasm, but it was clear that Applejack wasn't buying it. Upon realizing that, she quickly cleared her throat and eyed her girlfriend. "We're gonna be going to Canterlot, so you can meet my parents. Princess Celestia wants to see us anyways."
"Seems kinda fast for us ta be doin' that, especially with how well things went with Granny..."
"It'll be fine, Applejack! My parents have always been awfully supportive, and I'm sure they'll love you! Besides, I've been sending them some letters, so they know all about you and the rest of the girls. It's not like you're gonna be a complete stranger or anything."
The orange mare slowly nodded, though she already seemed rather apprehensive. "Sounds... fun. When are we leavin', anyways?"
"Oh, that?" Twilight was already in the midst of preparing breakfast, and had two bowls and several oats floating above her head as she turned to face Applejack. "We leave tonight - midnight train and all. Why?"
Applejack huffed and tilted her head. "A lil' late ta be tellin' me that, Twi."
"I doubt it'll take you long to pack. We're both light travelers, anyways." The unicorn giggled and grinned, then quickly returned to her work. "Now go get cleaned up. I can help you pack after breakfast, kay?"
"I'm goin', I'm goin'. Just... wanna know one thing mahself."
Twilight turned back around, her head tilted. "What is it, AJ?"
"I uhh..." The earth pony chuckled faintly and glanced about before looking towards the unicorn, a grin upon her face. "Do I get somethin' if I behave?"
"...I'll admit, I haven't really thought about that."
"But now ya are?"
The lavender mare gave Applejack a sly grin, and she began to steadily approach her, speaking in a sultry tone. "Well, if you're a good girl..."
Within her mind's eye, everything was working out flawlessly - Applejack was completely and utterly entranced by her, and she could've sworn her own hips were swaying in just the right way as she sauntered towards the earth pony. The art of seduction was certainly Rarity's forte rather than her own, but several talks with the fashionista and a great many romance novels had essentially made her an expert as well...
...or so she thought. From Applejack's perspective, Twilight looked more like Berry Punch attempting to walk a straight line. The unicorn's steps were rushed and unsteady, and as she placed one hoof in front of the other, she wobbled about, attempting to regain her balance. It soon became evident that Twilight Sparkle had reached the tipping point, and her steps continued to increase in both speed and lack of grace, until she eventually managed to tumble over herself. Next thing she knew, she was sprawled on her back upon the floor, and Applejack stood over her, grinning from ear to ear. "And what th' hay was that 'sposed to be?"
Twilight grinned rather sheepishly in return, her embarrassment made obvious by her reddened face. "I was... trying to saunter."
"I think 'tryin' is th' keyword there, hun."
"...how bad was it?"
"Do ya want me ta speak to you as a friend, or as yer girlfriend?"
"Twi, Blueblood's got better moves than you."
The unicorn frowned and glanced off to the side. "Ouch."
"Aw, c'mon! 'twas a joke!" Applejack giggled faintly, but quickly leaned down to offer Twilight a hoof. "As cute as ya look on th' floor, we should probably get ya back up."
"Yeah... probably." She wrapped a foreleg around the one that had just been offered to her, and quickly found herself being pulled back up - Applejack was a rather strong pony, after all, and it was hardly surprising that she could easily lift Twilight's weight. With a faint sigh, the unicorn shook her head and smiled appreciatively towards the earth pony. "Thanks, AJ."
"Any time, darlin'. I'll hold you ta that offer, though."
Applejack soon trotted off towards the stairs, no doubt to clean herself up, and Twilight Sparkle giggled to herself as she returned to her own work.
"Sounds good to me, Applejack... sounds good to me."
Night had long since fallen upon Equestria, and as Luna's moon continued its nightly trek across the sky, a lone train rumbled north to Canterlot. From her spot within their car, Twilight Sparkle stared out the window and sighed - packing had been a rather simple affair, and their entire day had been extremely quiet. All that remained was their train ride to Canterlot, and though she had originally imagined it as being a relaxing trip, it had soon proved to be anything but. As much as she knew that her parents would no doubt accept of her relationship with Applejack, she couldn't help but find herself stressing out over it. Sure, it was likely that they would be fine with things, but what if they weren't? The unicorn frowned as she thought back to her own meeting with the Apple family, and the fallout of such an event. It certainly hadn't been pretty, and the emotional aftermath had been rough on both her and Applejack. To have it happen again would likely be disastrous.
Twilight Sparkle briefly closed her eyes, then turned towards the bed they had been given. The darkness made it a bit hard to see, but she could still catch the glint of moonlight off a pair of emerald eyes. "Yeah, AJ?"
"You comin' ta bed? It's an overnight trip an' all, and I don't want ya dead on yer hooves when we get ta Canterlot. Still gotta meet your folks, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. Just... ugh." She huffed and walked over, quickly sliding beneath the covers and cuddling up against the earth pony. Even as she felt herself being pulled into Applejack's embrace, she didn't find herself feeling any better. "I'm just... stressing out, I guess. Worried something might go wrong."
"It's not gonna go wrong, darlin'. Yer parents sound like awful nice folks anyways, an' I doubt it could go as badly as it did with mah family."
"But what if it does go wrong?"
The earth pony sighed and brushed a bit of the unicorn's mane aside, giving her forehead a kiss. "Twi, I've known ya for years now, an' ya always do this. You start stressin' out over somethin', then ya start tryin' ta plan fer every possible result, an' then it all spins out of control. Just relax a lil'."
"I would if I could."
"How 'bout we read a book together, like at th' jail?"
Twilight slowly shook her head. "Not really in the mood for reading, AJ."
Applejack frowned and idly rubbed at the back of her neck with a hoof. "...well, definitely makes things harder when th' bookworm doesn't wanna read. Lemme think."
"It's fine, I'll just... fall asleep eventually."
"We both know I ain't gonna let that happen. How about I... sing you a lullaby, Twi? To make up for the whole bar thing?"
"I already forgave you for that."
"I didn't forgive mahself, though. Just lemme do this, hun." The earth pony pulled Twilight a bit closer to herself, giving her a hug. "Please?"
In return, the unicorn sighed and buried her muzzle in Applejack's chest. "...if you want."
"Thanks, Twi. It's... been kind of a long time since I've heard this or sung it, so I might get some of th' words wrong, but I'll do mah best."
Twilight simply giggled at that, and smiled up at her girlfriend. "Oh, I know you will."
There were a few moments of silence as Applejack began to prepare herself, and when she did begin to sing, Twilight Sparkle found herself rather surprised. She knew the earth pony could sing - she and the rest of the girls could sing, after all - but she hadn't been expecting this. Applejack musical contributions tended to be hearty and boisterous, but this was more akin to a true lullaby, sweet and quiet.
Lay down, your sweet and weary head
Night is falling, you’ve come to journey's end
Sleep now, and dream of the ones who came before
They are calling, from across the distant shore
The mention of a shore quickly caught Twilight's attention, and her ears perked up as she continued to rest her head against Applejack's chest.
Why do you weep? What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see, all of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms, you're only sleeping
Applejack gave the unicorn another squeeze and looked down towards her, a faint smile upon her face. It was clear from Twilight's perspective that there was a great deal of affection hidden behind that smile, and despite how simple it may have been, it sent her heart aflutter.
What can you see, on the horizon? Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea, a pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home
And all will turn, to silver glass
A light on the water, all souls pass
As the lullaby took a bit of a melancholic turn, the lavender mare found herself somewhat saddened by it, yet it was clear that the song wasn't finished just yet.
Hope fades, into the world of night
Through shadows falling, out of memory and time
Don't say: "We have come now to the end"
White shores are calling, you and I will meet again
And you'll be here in my arms, just sleeping
It still seemed just as depressing as the previous stanza, and yet there was something within it that also comforted her, something that gave her the feeling that this life was not the end of things, nor would it ever be. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking on her part, but the way Applejack had sung it and the way she had looked at her all made it seem as if their bond would be capable of transcending death itself. It soon became evident that the lullaby was drawing to a close, and as it did, Twilight Sparkle listened intently.
And all will turn, to silver glass
A light on the water, grey ships pass
Into the West
As the song came to a conclusion, Twilight took another look up towards Applejack, and to her surprise, saw that the earth pony's eyes were brimming with tears. With a frown upon her face, she quickly leaned up to place herself at eye-level with her girlfriend. "AJ, what's wrong?"
"Sorry, Twi." Applejack chuckled quietly and wiped away her own tears, giving the unicorn another smile in return. "Singin' the lullaby brought up some memories, is all."
"...What kind of memories, if you don't mind me asking?"
The orange mare remained quiet for a moment, then gave Twilight a quick hug. "That was a lullaby mah mom used ta sing ta me, before she passed away."
Twilight's own eyes lit up, and she leaned a bit closer to Applejack, nuzzling the earth pony's neck. It hadn't taken her long to realize the gravity of the situation - the topic of Applejack's parents had always been an incredibly touchy subject for her, one she never wanted to talk about openly. Not wanting to risk making things any worse, the unicorn instead decided to play it safe. "I won't ask any more questions about it, Applejack. I know it's a bit of a painful topic for you."
"Nah, see..." Applejack sighed and brushed a bit of her mane away from her face, sitting up in the bed slightly. "After havin' that little talk with Granny, I realized somethin' - mom an' pop always loved me, Mac, an' Apple Bloom. Everythin' they did was for us, and if somepony thinks they're gonna try an' use mah own parents against me as a weapon, that just ain't right. I've spent too long mournin' them, an'... I don't think they would've wanted that."
"Still sorta hurts ta talk about, but... I feel a little better about it, and you helped with that. I know you wouldn't leave me, no matter what." With a faint grin, the earth pony leaned down and gave Twilight a quick peck on the cheek. "I think she would've really liked ya."
The unicorn nervously chewed on her lip, but gradually worked up the courage to ask another question. "What was she like?"
"Quiet. Soft-spoken. Definitely th' more patient of th' two, compared ta pop. She was always th' voice of reason in our family. Pop's side of the family never cared much for her, though. Granny Smith didn't care much for her either - thought she was too 'different'."
"...Different? Different how?"
Applejack quickly hopped out of the bed and walked over to her own suitcase, opening it up and hastily digging through. She eventually returned with a rather large book, and as she slipped back into bed, it soon became obvious that it was a photo album of sorts. "Mind givin' me a little light, darlin'?"
A brief spurt of magic later, and the candle over the bed was aflame, bathing the room in warm light.
"Thanks." The earth pony cracked open the album and began to flip through several pages, until coming to a stop at one of them. Despite its small size, a single photograph was placed upon the page, and below it was a written name - 'Sea Spray'. Within the picture itself was a mare of average size, her body toned and mane tied back in a ponytail.
"Guessing that's your mother?"
"Mhm. I know th' picture's in black an' white, but notice anything special 'bout the photo?"
Twilight took a closer look at the picture, then tilted her head. "...is that the ocean behind her?"
"Eeeyup. Ya see, mah mom an' her family were kelp farmers. Staple for ponies livin' on th' coast, but a bit of a delicacy further inland."
"That's why your father's side of the family didn't like her?"
"Pretty much. She was a farmer, just like pop, but she had th' sea instead of th' land. Made her just different enough for them ta not like her. Pop met her while deliverin' some apples ta Baltimare, an' both of 'em kept in touch. Eventually ended up movin' in together and started a family. From what I've been told, Granny wasn't happy about it, but pop didn't care." Applejack flipped a few more pages, stopping at what appeared to be a wedding photo. Pictured within it was the same mare as the previous photograph, but with a stallion by her side. He was rather tall and heavily built, and bore an uncanny resemblance to Big Macintosh - it seemed rather fitting, given that this stallion was the father. "Sea Spray an' Cortland. Made fer a good couple, huh?"
"They did." Twilight sat up in bed as well and leaned against Applejack, resting her head on the earth pony's shoulder. "Have you ever met your mom's side of the family?"
Applejack slowly shook her head and placed a hoof on the wedding photo. "Nah. Like I said, pop's family didn't care much fer her, and when they both passed away, we got left in their care. So... we never heard anything out of 'em. I dunno if they ever tried ta stay in touch with us or anything."
"And your Aunt and Uncle Orange?"
"Pop's side of th' family."
"Oh..." The lavender mare frowned and quickly looked up at Applejack, her expression hopeful. "I could try and help you find them when we get back. I mean, I could pull a few strings, and-"
"Twi." Applejack sighed and shut the photo album, setting it aside. "I'm just now gettin' over this. Diggin' any further into things... I dunno if I'm ready fer that. Maybe another time."
"You'll at least keep it in mind?"
"'course I will." The earth pony sat up a bit further and blew out the lone candle, then pulled Twilight close as she settled down once more. "We've got a big day ahead of us tomorrow. May as well get some sleep."
Twilight Sparkle slowly nodded and cuddled up against Applejack, giving her lover's neck an affectionate nuzzle and a kiss. "Right. Thanks for telling me about your parents a bit, AJ."
"And thanks for listenin', hun. Was nice to talk to somepony about 'em." Applejack gave the unicorn's forehead a kiss, a content sigh escaping her lips as she closed her eyes. "G'night, Twi."
As the train continued its journey northward, Twilight Sparkle buried her muzzle in the earth pony's coat and let out a sigh of her own before slowly drifting off to sleep.
"Sweet dreams... my love."
When the earth pony next awoke, it was to an empty bed and the light of the morning sun. The train had evidently stopped, and it was rather likely that it had been stopped for quite some time - with a groan, Applejack sat up and rubbed at her eyes with one foreleg as the other pushed the sheets aside.
"Morning, sleepy head."
She quickly turned towards the source of the noise and squinted, letting out a quiet yawn. "Mornin', Twi. Guessin' we're here?"
"We've been here for about half an hour already, AJ. After the conductor found out who we were, he was nice enough to simply let us stay on until you woke up. I already had the bags sent off to the castle."
Twilight Sparkle blinked, somewhat confused, and tilted her head. "Did I forget to tell you that too?"
"Uh... yeah. Ya did."
"Well, Princess Celestia invited us to stay in one of the spare rooms at the castle while we're here, and I definitely didn't want to decline. We don't get to talk that often anyways, and I know she and Luna haven't really gotten to meet you or any of the other girls. Figured it'd be the perfect opportunity to fix that!"
"So I get ta meet yer parents and both Princesses." Applejack sighed and brushed some of her mane aside before shaking her head. "This is gonna be fun."
"Applejack, it'll be fine. I haven't really gotten to see Princess Luna since she showed up on Nightmare Night, so she might be a bit of a wildcard, but Princess Celestia is going to love you. She's always been awfully eager to know more about her subjects."
"Still nervous about yer mom an' dad?"
The unicorn hesitated for a moment, then slowly shook her head. "...not really, no. Last night certainly helped, and I think I have a certain somepony to thank for that."
"Yeah, well... just doin' what I do, Twi. Ain't anything special."
"Still appreciate it. Hurry up now, I don't wanna keep my parents waiting."
Applejack was about to answer, but soon found herself enveloped in a faint red glow, floating through the room against her will. She recognized it quite easily as belonging to Twilight Sparkle, and let out a huff. "Twilight, put me down! What the hay do ya think yer doin'?"
The response was quick and to the point, accompanied by a faint grin. "Speeding things up, of course."
Before she could even protest, the earth pony found herself attacked from all sides by several brushes, each of them moving much faster than she could even hope to see. She found herself wincing almost constantly as several knots in her mane were worked out, and it didn't exactly help that Twilight was a bit rough with things. She certainly felt the teeth of the brushes scraping against her scalp on more than one occasion, and by the time the unicorn finally set her down, Applejack felt slightly dizzy and torn between feeling thankful and feeling irritated. "Twi, could ya... not do that again? Aw ponyfeathers, room won't stop spinnin'..."
"It wasn't that bad, was it?" Twilight still seemed rather incredulous, but a quick look at one of the brushes made her blink in shock as she saw just how much hair she had inadvertently ripped out. It wasn't enough to affect Applejack's appearance, but... "Oh wow, that's..."
"What? What is it? I still can't see straight."
"Nothing! It's... uhh..." The unicorn coughed rather loudly and opened up a nearby window, chucking the brush outside and snapping it shut. "Nothing at all!"
"Erm... if ya say so. Gimme a few more minutes, hun. Still seein' funny."
"Right... how about I just teleport us outside?"
The mere mention of 'teleport' was enough to make Applejack remember the last time she was teleported by Twilight, and she feverishly shook her head. "WAIT WAIT WAIT, N-"
There was a pop and a flash of light, as well as a faint scorch mark upon the floor, then silence - aside from the coughing and gagging noises outside, at least.
"I hate you so much, Twi."
Applejack continued to cough and gag, dry-heaving on several occasions as she laid upon the ground. It was quite obvious by now that teleportation simply did not agree with her, and for some reason or another, Twilight Sparkle found it amusing. "Oh, I haven't the slightest clue what you're talking about, AJ."
There was another gag, followed shortly by a more guttural sound, and Twilight soon found herself feeling as if her hooves were rather wet. A quick look down revealed the source, and she let out a groan of disgust.
"...You oughta know by now that I don't like teleportin'. I was already dizzy ta begin with, so this was yer fault."
"You threw up on my hooves!"
"And you teleported me when ya should've known better." The earth pony looked up at Twilight and narrowed her eyes, and they briefly stared one another down. After a few seconds, however, the unicorn broke the gaze, causing Applejack to snicker. "That's what I thought."
Twilight Sparkle simply let out a sigh and looked down at her own hooves, a frown upon her face. "...can't believe you threw up on me."
"Sorry, hun." After a bit of preparation, Applejack hefted herself back up onto her hooves, wobbling about slightly before regaining her footing. "You got some sort of magic ta clean that up, right?"
"Yeah. Won't get rid of the smell, though." The frown intensified, and even after cleaning up the mess with a brief spurt of magic, she still didn't quite seem satisfied. "Ugh. Let's just go, Applejack. We're still a bit of a walk away from my parents anyways."
"If you say so." The orange mare nodded and began to walk out of the train station, briefly taking the lead - she knew Canterlot about as well as her grandmother knew politeness, but she had been this way once before when she and the rest of the girls had visited for Hearth's Warming Eve. The lack of snow was a little jarring at first, but she still recognized several of the storefronts that lined the street. A faint smile spread across her face as she felt another tail curl around her own, and she knew well enough just who it belonged to as the owner sped up alongside her. "So Twi, if got ta call me 'sleepy head' this mornin', can I call you 'slowpoke'?"
"As long as you don't throw up on my hooves again, I won't say anything about it. Promise?"
"Good." Twilight craned her neck and peered out past Applejack, grinning slightly as they walked past one of the store windows. "If you were anything like Rarity, it'd probably take us hours to get to my parents. I swear, if Ponyville had a mall, she'd practically live there."
"Probably a good thing I ain't like her, then."
"Mhm! I love you just the way you are."
"D'aw." The earth pony leaned over to nuzzle Twilight's neck, but stopped short when she heard a cough from behind. A glance over her shoulder revealed a stallion glaring at her, and as she turned back around, she saw several more pairs of eyes, all of them affixed upon her and her girlfriend. With a grumble, Applejack began to quickly walk away from the area, and Twilight Sparkle was close behind. "...what the hay was that all about? Try ta do somethin' nice, an' I've got folks givin' me dirty looks?"
Twilight let out a sigh and slowly shook her head. "I know it might sound bad, but... you have to remember where we are. This is Canterlot - ponies are more worried about how they look than anything else. I've already seen us get a few looks, simply for walking with our tails together."
"Twi, have I ever told ya how I hate this place?"
"I... don't think so, AJ."
"Well I do. Sooner we can get back ta Ponyville, th' better. We got congratulated there, but it's been nothin' but stares here."
"I know, Applejack, just... try and hold on. As soon as I introduce you to my parents and the princesses, we can head back to Ponyville."
Applejack grumbled once more and hung her head slightly, staring ahead as they continued to walk. "Only doin' it for you."
"Thanks, love. I think we're almost there anyways."
With a nod and a faint smile, Twilight Sparkle quickened her pace, passing Applejack ever so slightly and leading the earth pony along. It had been a while since she had wandered these streets, especially since her move to Ponyville, but she still knew them well enough to have a good idea of where she was. She looked towards the right, her smile growing as she spotted two stores she had always been fond of - first was the toy store she had loved as a foal, and right beside it, the book store that had quickly replaced it. Both seemed to still be open, and if that were the case, she just might have to stop by and see how things had been since her absence. With a luck, she might still have her frequent buyer card stashed away somewhere, or maybe-
"Twi? Is this it?"
As she snapped out of her own thoughts, Twilight Sparkle blinked and stared at the building in momentary confusion. There was no way they could already be here, and yet... The unicorn frowned and quickly began to look over the house from top to bottom, analyzing every little detail. The flower boxes had roses and not petunias, which had always been her mother's favorite. Not only that, but-
Twilight huffed and briefly looked away from the house. "What is it, Applejack? I'm trying to think."
"...hun, there's a sign right here."
"A sign. S'got your cutie mark on it."
She blinked and took a few steps forward, walking past Applejack to get a better look at the sign itself. In front of the house, hanging from a simple pole, was a weathered wooden sign with a painting of her cutie mark superimposed upon a sun. She gingerly placed a hoof upon it, running it over the cracked and peeling paint, a faint grin spreading across her face. "...I remember this. My parents put this up after I got accepted as Princess Celestia's personal student. Thought the walk was farther than this."
"Guess not. I'll uh... let ya knock first. Ya know, since they're your parents an' all."
"Right." Twilight took a few tentative steps towards the door, then briefly knocked upon it, stepping back as she waited. A few seconds passed with no answer, and she stepped forward to knock once more, a frown upon her face.
"Maybe they ain't home?"
"They said they'd be h-" The door creaked open, and Twilight Sparkle quickly redirected her attention to it. "See?"
"Huh. Guess so."
As the door slowly swung open, Applejack got to get her first look at her girlfriend's parents. Not surprisingly, both were unicorns - the stallion was essentially blue from top to bottom, his coat just a few shades lighter than his hair, and the mare at his side seemed to be a rather light gray. The stripes of purple and white in her hair made it rather obvious just where Twilight had gotten it from, and she did her best to smile widely as both parents stepped out to greet their daughter.
The mother peered at Applejack for a moment, then looked back at her own daughter knowingly, a grin upon her face. "So, that's her?"
Twilight Sparkle nodded eagerly in return. "Mhm! Mom, dad, meet Applejack."
Both parents gave a slight nod, preferring to stay silent for the time being. The earth pony certainly didn't mind, especially since she didn't know...
"Applejack, this is my mom, Twilight Velvet. Dad's name is Night Light."
...their names. Applejack smiled widely once more and gave them both a slight curtsy. "Nice ta meet y'all."
Twilight Velvet returned the smile, and it was comforting to know that it at least seemed genuine. "The same to you, dear. Our Twilight's told us so much about you and her other friends."
Night Light nodded in agreement and quickly spoke, perhaps with a little too much enthusiasm. "She's told us all about how great you are with animals! You must be a natural charmer!"
"Um." Applejack blinked, momentarily confused. "I... think ya got me mixed up with somepony else. That sounds more like Fluttershy."
"Oh! Uh." Twilight's father nervously glanced about, then gave a sheepish grin. "Well, she's... told us an awful lot about how great of a baker you are!"
"I'm a darn good cook, but... pretty sure that's Pinkie Pie."
"It's... not you?"
Applejack sighed and slowly shook her head.
Twilight Velvet let out a hacking cough, then began to hurriedly usher everypony into the house. "Oh, look at the time! Having Twilight and Applejack over for lunch and I haven't even started on it!"
Twilight Sparkle tilted her head and stared at her mother. "Mom, you didn't invite us for-"
"Yes I did."
"Yes I did."
As her mother's intentions finally dawned on her, the lavender mare began to slowly nod, a faint smile on her face. "Ohh, right! I forgot you mentioned that in your letter back! Lunch! Guess we better head inside, AJ!"
Twilight Sparkle and her mother quickly ran inside, leaving both Applejack and Night Light to get one another nervous looks. With a bit of hesitation, the two of them soon stepped inside as well, and the door closed behind them just a few moments later - magic, no doubt. The inside of the home was much larger than it seemed on the outside, and it seemed more akin to a library than an actual home. Countless shelves of books lined the hallways, with a spiral staircase leading upstairs. Knowing Twilight, there were likely even more books up there, and such a thought caused Applejack to smirk.
Up ahead, Twilight Velvet took a turn into another room, and she poked her head back out not long after. "Applejack, would you mind helping me get lunch ready? Twilight's told me about some of the things you've made, so I know you can cook."
"Yes ma'am." The earth pony nodded and picked up her pace, taking the same turn as she ducked into what she assumed to be the kitchen. It was a bit on the small side, but fully functional from what she could tell. At one of the counters stood Twilight Velvet, and Applejack slowly walked towards her. "There isn't a lunch, is there?"
"Awfully perceptive too."
The orange mare smiled faintly. "I try."
"No, there's no lunch. I was just trying to keep my husband from embarrassing himself or you any further." The grey mare sighed and slowly shook her head. "He means well, but I honestly don't know what goes through his head sometimes."
"Well, I... appreciate it, ma'am."
"There's no reason to be formal, dear. I think I know you well enough from my daughter's letters for us to be past that. Besides, you're just making me feel old."
Applejack frowned slightly, her ears flattened. "Awfully sorry. Didn't mean to or anythin'."
"No need to apologize, Applejack. I wanted to talk with you in private anyways."
The earth pony raised an eyebrow. "About?"
"Nothing serious, so don't worry about anything. I just wanted to talk to you, one-on-one, mother-to-prospective-daughter-in-law."
"That's..." Applejack swallowed and frowned once more. "...a little early ta be talkin' about that."
"My sense of humor is a little... odd, at times. It was a joke."
"I just wanted to tell you that... well, I was skeptical at first. About a lot of things." Twilight Velvet chuckled softly and began to grin. "Our Twilight's always been a little... different. All the other foals wanted to make friends and play when they were growing up, and Twilight simply wanted to read and study. We thought that maybe her becoming Princess Celestia's personal student would help out with things - fame is a magnet for others, after all - but nothing ever really came of it. She was still essentially friendless."
"So... you were worried?"
"A little. When she started going through several years of school, we were a little terrified, but eventually, we just sort of... accepted it. That was simply who she was, and we more or less got used to it. We still wanted her to be happy, of course, and that's often much easier to accomplish when in the company of others. After she was sent to Ponyville, we weren't entirely sure what might happen, but... when she sent that first letter back to us, telling us about how she had made several new friends and about how she wanted to stay?"
Applejack smirked. "Bet that pleased ya."
Twilight Velvet nodded, still seemingly lost in her thoughts. "It did. There were a few other things her father and I thought about, mostly in regards to the future, and... having a little to do with her making friends. Our daughter was... mocked a few times while she attended school, mostly when dances started to pop up during the academic year. Proms, that sort of thing."
"She never had a date." The earth pony tilted her head somewhat, peering at Twilight Velvet. "Did she?"
"No, she didn't. A small part of us hoped that maybe she would meet some nice, young stallion while she was studying here in Canterlot, or even when she went off to Ponyville. We didn't really think to consider that maybe the stallion would, well..." Twilight's mother briefly eyed Applejack, a sly grin spreading across her face. "...be a mare."
Such a sentence was much less amusing to Applejack, and the orange mare simply narrowed her eyes at the unicorn.
"I..." Twilight Velvet placed a hoof to her head and shook it, sighing as she did. "Sorry, my sense of humor at work again. I didn't mean anything bad by that. All I meant is that you're... not what we expected."
"And that's supposed ta mean...?"
The grey mare walked over towards one of the doorways and beckoned Applejack over. She paused for a moment, walking over only after huffing and rolling her eyes, and both mares remained quiet as they listened in on the adjacent room. Both Twilight Sparkle and her father seemed to be in the midst of an argument of some sort, and though it was faint, they could still pick up on what was being said.
"Alright dad, since you say that you read every letter I send to you... what did I wear for Nightmare Night?"
"You didn't read it, did you?"
"Dad, do you at least remember what my birthday is?"
From her spot at the doorway, Twilight Velvet simply shook her head and sighed once more, speaking under her breath as she walked away. "December 3rd. Applejack, you've dealt with Twilight's... nervous tics, yes? The ones where she gets really stressed out and starts panicking because she's worried things will no longer go according to plan?"
"More than I can count, though I ain't sure what that has ta do with anythin'."
"What I'm trying to say is... my husband's forgetfulness can be rather hard to deal with at times, but he means well - Twilight is no different. You've dealt with them, and no matter how bad they've been, you still care about my daughter enough to do everything you've already done. We may have been expecting a stallion to be the one to care for our daughter and take care of her, but I truly don't mind if it's a mare. I... may have been watching you two as you strolled up to the house. The way she looked at you, and the way you two walked side-by-side. You mean something special to her."
Applejack quickly found herself blushing, and she gave a sheepish grin. "Don't I know it..."
"Applejack, so long as you treat her right and make her happy, you've more than earned my approval."
The earth pony gave another quick curtsy to show her thanks. "That... means an awful lot ta me, 'specially after th' last few days."
"So I've heard." Twilight's mother went silent for a moment, then continued. "Twilight told us about that as well. If there's anything you need, dear, just let me know - any friend of Twilight's is more than worth the effort."
"Thank ya kindly, but I think I'll be just fine. Twi's helped... well, a lot. Dunno if I'd have been able ta get through this without her help."
"She always has been awfully keen to help other ponies, though I'm sure she's got some extra incentive with you." Twilight Velvet playfully nudged Applejack and gave her a brief grin before heading over towards the doorway once more. "I think it's time we meet up with the other two. Knowing how they are, they're likely still arguing."
True enough, a few steps in the direction of the doorway proved to be a rather loud journey - both Twilight and her father were still in the midst of their argument, and as Applejack followed Twilight Velvet through the doorway, she caught sight of her girlfriend standing nose-to-nose with Night Light. "I can't believe you lied to me! You haven't read a single letter I've sent you!"
"Honey, I've read them all!"
"You said Applejack was part of the weather team!"
"It was an honest mistake!"
"Dad, she isn't even a pegasus!"
Twilight Velvet simply coughed, and the mere act of doing so was enough to halt the argument and cause both ponies to turn towards her. "Night Light?"
The blue stallion nervously grinned. "Yes, dear?"
"I believe you owe somepony an apology."
He huffed, then lowered his head slightly. "Twilight, I'm so-"
"Not her." The grey mare giggled faintly, then pointed a hoof at Applejack. "Our guest."
"Oh. Right." Night Light managed to blush enough to almost turn purple, and he turned to face Applejack, ears flattened. "I... apologize if we've gotten off on the wrong hoof. You're my daughter's special somepony, after all, and I should've taken the time to at least know who you were before you arrived."
Twilight Velvet leered at him. "And?"
"...and I shouldn't have blindly guessed things about you."
Another sigh. "Honey, do I really need to-"
"...and I've done nothing but embarrass myself and you."
She giggled once more, her expression brightening. "Good! Applejack?"
The earth pony blinked. "Huh?"
"Do you accept my husband's apology?"
"Oh, that!" She chuckled and nodded, a faint smile upon her face. "S'alright! Ya had good intentions, even if it was a bit... erm... lackluster."
"Perfect! Twilight, dear?"
Upon hearing her name spoken by somepony besides her father, Twilight Sparkle quickly perked up and looked towards her mother. "Yes?"
"Don't you think you two should be going? I hear you have an appointment with the Princesses, after all."
"Going? Already? But it's not even..." The lavender unicorn took a quick glance towards a nearby clock, and her face quickly paled. "It's been an hour already?! But... the appointment's at..."
Twilight Velvet quietly snickered, then leaned towards her daughter. "Soon?"
Rather than give an answer, Twilight Sparkle quickly snatched up Applejack with her magic and threw open the front door, dashing outside and dragging the earth pony through the air behind her. "GOTTA GO LOVE YOU BOTH OKAY BYE!"
As the two ponies disappeared into the streets of Canterlot, both Twilight Velvet and Night Light were left staring at the open door, which had been opened hard enough to rip it off its hinges. Twilight Velvet let out an airy sigh, a smile upon her face. "Ahh, reminds me of her magical spurts from when she was a foal!"
"Yeah... except those destroyed more than just a door."
"Just think about how far she's come, though! And Applejack is such a sweet girl - a shame you two didn't really get to talk. I think you would've liked her."
"...so um, you gonna fix the door?"
"I'll get my tools."
Throughout Twilight Sparkle's long and storied history as Princess Celestia's personal student, she had never been late for a single thing - the Ponyville incident, she had been told, didn't count, as Celestia had never expected her to report back that often. As such, her record remained unblemished... for now, at least. The lavender mare panted as she sprinted through Canterlot, and her unwilling passenger had drawn more than a few stares by now. Applejack had since accepted her fate, and now sat encased in the magical bubble, her forelegs crossed.
At the very least, the earth pony had gotten to take in the sights while she was being dragged along. From what little she could see, Canterlot was essentially nothing but shops, and certainly lived up to its reputation as a unicorn city - almost everypony she saw was a unicorn, and what few non-unicorns she could see seemed to be military in some way or another. They began to pass several guardponies at this point, all of them either giving the pair a puzzled glance or crying out some form of 'Miss Sparkle?', and it was enough to make Applejack faintly grin. It seemed her girlfriend was more than capable of making heads turn, no matter the situation.
As they neared the front gate, Twilight gradually slowed her pace and eventually came to a stop, the magic bubble dissipating as she caught her breath. Applejack landed on her hooves rather gracefully, given that she hadn't been given any warning about it, and she soon walked over to give the unicorn a nuzzle. "Never seen you run so fast, Twi."
In between breaths, Twilight Sparkle managed to get out a reply. "Five... five minutes early..."
"Want me ta carry you, hun?"
"N... no... just need to... catch my breath."
Applejack nodded once and began to wander about as she gave Twilight Sparkle time to rest, her attention mostly focused upon the castle. She had been here before, of course, but it always seemed unnaturally large on the outside - some might even call it imposing. The walls themselves were high, and the gold-capped spires even higher, with the Equestrian flag affixed atop the tallest one. Guards roamed the walls, ever-vigilant for whatever threat might come at them, and Applejack found herself rather amused at the situation. Those guards, each and every one of them, all had to worry about some unknown and unseen threat... and she and her girlfriend had to worry about being late for a meeting. It certainly put things into perspective, but she doubted it would make Twilight worry any less.
The earth pony quickly turned back around and walked towards the unicorn. "Yeah?"
"Do you..." Twilight Sparkle was apparently still catching her breath, but she seemed to be faring much better than she had been just a few moments ago. "...do you have any spare hair bands?"
"'course. I always carry a few extras under mah hat, in case any of 'em break." As if to prove her point, Applejack took a seat upon the ground and removed her hat, pulling a few of her trademark red bands from one of the inside seams. "Why?"
"I need them."
The lavender mare narrowed her eyes and huffed. "...my mane? I'd like to at least be presentable for our meeting with Princess Celestia, and it's an absolute mess right now."
Applejack cocked her head and raised a brow. "Looks fine ta me, hun."
"If we were back in Ponyville, I might agree with you." Twilight sighed and blew a bit of her mane away from her face - it didn't look much different at all, aside from being a little disheveled, but it was apparently enough for the unicorn to deem it a 'mess'. "But this is Canterlot, and we're meeting with royalty. So can I have the hair bands?"
The earth pony shrugged in return and tossed two of the bands towards Twilight Sparkle, chuckling to herself as both hair bands were snatched out of the hair by a wisp of magic. The unicorn worked rather quickly, smoothing her own mane and tail out with some tendrils of magic, only to slip a band around each mere seconds afterwards. Whether it had been intentional or not, Twilight had tied up her hair in much the same way that Applejack had, and the orange mare began to grin as she eyed her. "Awful good look for ya, Twi."
Twilight Sparkle had to quickly fight a blush, and her ears flattened somewhat as she looked towards Applejack. "You think so? I mean, I know this is your look, but-"
"But nothin'. Certainly don't mind if ya borrow it, 'specially if that's th' result."
"...you're just saying that."
"Twi, darlin'... I mean it. Ya look cute." Applejack took a few more steps towards the unicorn and brushed up alongside her, giving her a peck on the cheek. It was enough to draw a few glances from some of the nearby guards, but she didn't care much at that point. "I ain't sayin' it 'cause it's my look, I'm sayin' it 'cause I mean it. Now c'mon - don't wanna keep th' Princess waitin', do ya?"
"No... I guess we shouldn't." She threw a hopeful smile towards her girlfriend and quickly returned the kiss before taking a few cautious steps towards the gate. "Here's hoping the Princess will at least be... receptive."
They wouldn't have to wait long to find out.
It hadn't taken long at all before both ponies had been given an escort by one of the guards, and they had been quickly ushered into the halls of the castle - dropping the name 'Twilight Sparkle' had that sort of effect, after all. This sort of walk was nothing new for the unicorn, especially when one remembered that it had essentially been a second home for her. She had no doubt walked these same corridors numerous times throughout her life, and she probably could have found her way to Princess Celestia on her own if she had wanted. Applejack, however, was another case entirely. The earth pony had been inside for several ceremonies and events, and yet the areas she had been in were but a small portion of the castle. She would have gotten hopelessly lost without somepony to guide her around, and if that somepony had to be a guard, then so be it.
Just like with the exterior, the inside of the castle seemed to be unnaturally large. The halls seemed to be tall enough for a pegasus to comfortably fly through, which was certainly no small feat, and if anything, it had been purposely done. The majority of the guards were pegasi, after all, and both of the Royal Sisters were easily capable of flying as well. Floors and walls alike seemed to shine, as a testament to just how clean they truly were, and banners seemed to adorn a wall here and there - it didn't seem as if there was any real pattern to it at all. They seemed to take several turns at random, but Applejack never mentioned a word of it. Instead, she continued to follow Twilight Sparkle and the nameless guard, allowing herself a look around every now and then.
As they took another turn, Applejack quickly found herself in a much larger hall than all the ones before, if such a thing were even possible. Lining both sides were stained glass windows, each one telling a story of some sort. She certainly didn't recognize some of the tales that were being referenced, but as they continued on, she definitely remembered two of them in particular - the windows that had been dedicated to herself and her friends, for their actions against Nightmare Moon and Discord. She would have continued to stare at the windows if it weren't for the fact that her train of thought had been interrupted by another voice, one that was deceptively loud, yet soothing and warm sounding.
"So good to see you again, my faithful student. I see you've brought your friend along as well."
The earth pony quickly let out a yelp and dropped herself into a bow. The very same hall they were in was apparently the throne room, and on the throne itself sat Princess Celestia, a rather amused smile upon her face. Applejack would have sworn under her breath if she thought she could get away with it, but in the presence of Celestia, she hardly thought such a thing possible. "Awful sorry, yer Majesty. Was thinkin'."
"You say that as if thinking is a crime, Applejack." The monarch of the sun allowed herself a chuckle, and as she rose from her seat upon the throne and began to descend the steps, she glanced towards one of the stained windows. "I'll admit, those two are some of my favorites, but... perhaps I'm biased."
There was a grin and a wink in the direction of Twilight Sparkle, and the unicorn quickly returned it in kind. "It's good to see you too, Princess."
"Trying a new look, my faithful student? Perhaps taking inspiration from your friends?"
It took a bit for Twilight to register that Celestia was referring to her mane and tail, and as she did, she grinned faintly and did her best to hide a blush. "You could call it that. We're, um... we're not too late, are we?"
"On the contrary, Twilight - you're about twenty seconds early. Looks like your record lives to see another day, hm?" Such a statement caused a nervous laugh on Twilight's behalf, and Celestia soon directed her gaze towards the earth pony. "No need to keep bowing, Applejack. I doubt you want to be stuck in that pose all day."
"Er..." Applejack quickly stood up and gave the alicorn a sheepish grin. "...probably not."
"I thought as much. Come along, you two - I'm sure you'd rather discuss things with me in private, rather than here in the throne room. These are sensitive matters, after all, ones important to the defense of Equestria." Celestia's last statement was certainly louder than the others, and some might have said that it had even been purposely done. It drew its fair share of glances and stares from the guards and other castle staff, all of whom quickly resumed their duties, and the Princess hardly seemed to pay any mind to them at all. Instead, she simply walked, and Twilight Sparkle and Applejack both quickly began to follow her. "I trust that your trip here was a safe one?"
Twilight picked up her pace and walked alongside her mentor, looking up at her. "It was rather uneventful, but I did discover that Applejack isn't exactly fond of teleportation."
The alicorn grinned and briefly glanced over her shoulder at the earth pony. "I have a feeling there's a bit of a story behind all this."
"Let's... just say that I should probably clean my hooves."
Celestia let out a hearty laugh and looked over her shoulder once more. "Doesn't agree with your stomach, hm?"
Applejack simply sighed and shook her head.
"You get used to it with repeated exposure, believe me." The Princess faced forward once more and seemed to idly muse to herself as she walked. "I still remember the first time Luna tried teleportation. Poor thing was vomiting for the next few days."
The unicorn at Celestia's side let out a sound akin to a 'bwuh' and looked up at her mentor, slightly confused. "Wait, Luna? As in, 'Princess of the Night' Luna?"
"The one and the same. She's much better now at it, of course - doesn't get sick anymore. I think she prefers to use her wings, though... something about the feeling of the open air." The white alicorn sighed and tilted her head somewhat. "Luna's always been unusually poetic when it comes to describing things. Sometimes I wish she would simply say what was on her mind, rather than be cryptic about it. I doubt I would need a team of translators dedicated solely to her if she did."
"That was a joke."
From behind the both of them, another voice made itself known. "Ain't a good one, if that was what you were goin' for."
Twilight Sparkle quickly snapped at the source. "AJ!"
"What? I'm just speakin' mah mind!"
"Well, don't do it in front of royalty!"
Princess Celestia snickered and took another turn as she continued to lead the two ponies along. "I don't mind the honesty, Twilight. It's a welcome change of pace when you have to deal with politicians most every day. And besides, it's rather cute to see you two bickering like an old married couple."
That mention alone was enough to silence the both of them, drawing yet another laugh from the Princess. They were in a much quieter section of the castle this time, as shown by the relative lack of both staff and guards. The stone here seemed older than the rest - just as clean as the rest of the castle, but the wear and tear on it was certainly evident. It gave the impression that the castle had never been built all at once, but instead, had been merely added upon over the centuries. Twilight Sparkle had a fairly good idea of where they were at, and her suspicions were soon confirmed as they arrived at a set of huge golden doors.
"I apologize if this seems a little over-the-top." Celestia slowly shook her head and gestured at the doors in front of them. "I'm afraid I gave the architect a little too much freedom when they were designing this particular room. Still, a bedroom is a bedroom."
Applejack blinked and stared up at the doors. "This is yer bedroom? I think th' doors are bigger than mah room ever was."
The alicorn seemed to find a hint of humor at that. "It's possible. But yes, these are my private chambers - I figured this would be as good a place as any for us to have our little talk. I'm typically not bothered at all while I'm here, so I doubt we'll be interrupted."
Without another word, the doors slowly swung open, revealing Celestia's own personal sanctum - unlike the doors themselves, the bedroom seemed to be fairly average in size. 'Average' for royalty was still large, however, and as one of the Royal Sisters, it seemed rather fitting for the Princess to have such well-furnished quarters. A row of bookcases lined one of the walls, some filled with scrolls rather than books, and Celestia's bed sat on the far side of the room. To their left was the entrance to her bathroom, and directly to their right was a fireplace. Above the hearth was a rather large painting done by an unknown artist, and in front of the fire itself sat-
Twilight Sparkle cocked her head. "...Princess Luna?"
The dusky alicorn turned to face towards the door and simply yawned instead. She certainly appeared tired, and as Celestia lead the other two ponies into the room, she was quick to greet her sister. "Sorry to keep you waiting, little sister. I know this is early for you, but I wanted you to be here as well."
Luna let out another yawn and slowly shook her head. "It's fine, I... oh heavens, I'm too used to sleeping in."
"Not a morning pony?"
"...what do you think?"
"Oh, I already knew the answer. I was just trying to judge how crabby you were."
The young sister huffed. "Not funny."
"Sorry. In any case, Luna, this is-"
"I'm rather well acquainted with Twilight Sparkle, at this point. 'tis good to see you again, little one."
The lavender unicorn gave a slight bow in return, preferring not to speak just yet.
The Princess of the Night soon directed her attention towards the earth pony, and she squinted her eyes somewhat. "And as for you... I remember you, from Nightmare Night. You were the straw pony."
Applejack coughed. "Scarecrow."
"And just how many times has it lived up to its name?" Such a question could only be answered with silence, and it was shortly followed by a chuckle from the younger Princess. "I thought so."
Luna's query managed to draw both a cough and a stern glare from her elder sibling, and Celestia soon walked over to sit at her side. "Now is not the time to be witty, Luna. Twilight Sparkle and Applejack are here at my invitation and they came to talk, not so you could make snide remarks at them."
The dusky alicorn sighed and lowered her head somewhat. "...my apologies, Applejack."
Upon hearing the apology, Celestia's own features brightened somewhat, and she gestured towards the open area in front of her and Luna. "Have a seat, you two. I'm sure there's much you'd like to discuss."
Both Applejack and Twilight did as told, sitting down directly across from Celestia and Luna. Their tails reflexively wrapped around one another, and there was a brief exchange of smiles before Twilight Sparkle turned to face her mentor. "Well... yeah. I think we've both got a lot on our minds."
"Too much on your minds, and no idea of where to start. Perhaps I can be of assistance." The white alicorn smiled and leaned forward somewhat, though Luna preferred to simply stay put for the time being. "How have the two of you been since admitting your feelings to one another?"
"It's been... different. Better, but different. I mean, Applejack and I are still friends - nothing is going to change that. But this has been..." The unicorn frowned and placed a hoof to her chin. "It's hard to put it into words."
The earth pony quickly spoke up, adding her own say to things. "I think what Twi is tryin' ta say is... neither of us were expectin' somethin' like this ta ever happen, but it sure ain't unwelcome. It's one thing ta know that you got a whole bunch of friends willin' ta stand by ya, no matter what. It's another ta know that there's somepony out there that's yours, willin' ta do... well, everything Twi has done."
Luna began to snicker and grin. "...such as breaking a pony's jaw?"
"Somethin' like that. Still, after everything th' two of us have been through..." Applejack let out a content sigh and gently leaned on Twilight Sparkle, giving the unicorn's cheek a nuzzle. "...kinda nice knowin' it's got a happy ending."
The show of affection made Celestia smile widely, and she regarded both mares rather fondly. "A much-deserved 'happily ever after', it would seem. Neither of you seem to regret what's happened, but tell me - what of your friends and family?"
The question made Applejack's own expression sour somewhat, but she stayed by Twilight's side, seemingly taking comfort in her presence. The unicorn looked towards the Princess of the Sun, her expression hopeful yet pained. "It's been... conflicting. All of our friends have been supportive, as have my own parents. But... Applejack's family..."
"Not so much?"
"There's pain and anger in your voice, Twilight. You feel rather strongly about it, don't you?"
"Because it isn't fair to Applejack at all! Her family means the world to her, and to have them reject her just because of who she loves? It's childish! Wrong!" Twilight Sparkle huffed and looked towards the floor. "...the things Granny Smith said to me and accused me of."
Celestia frowned and tilted her head. "This has been eating at you for quite some time, hasn't it?"
"Yeah... I just don't understand how a pony can say such things. I mean... is it really so wrong for me to love somepony else? They act as if it's a crime, but-"
"Twilight, my dear... the only crime is to deny yourself the opportunity to love and to be loved. I know it may be difficult, but give Granny Smith some time - the announcement of any relationship should be a joyous occasion, but instead, it left her conflicted. She's being confronted with something she was raised to think is wrong. And when you spend your entire life thinking that there is a 'right' and a 'wrong' way to love and be loved, well... any deviance from that can be difficult to accept. Change is often neither subtle nor slow, and it can be difficult to swallow, especially when those closest to you are involved."
"Just like Applejack. All you need is time." The Princess of the Sun turned towards Luna and smiled - her younger sibling had apparently dozed off, yet Celestia made no attempt to wake her. "...that was something I learned myself."
"I don't think it'll be as simple as waiting, Princess Celestia."
The alicorn redirected her attention towards her pupil, her smile turning into a grin. "And if you're anything like the Twilight I've taught, then you're likely searching for another solution."
"Well... yes." Twilight briefly grinned in return, and she quickly turned to face Applejack before looking back towards her mentor. "I don't have anything planned - yet - but I'm still looking. There's always multiple ways of doing something, it's merely a matter of finding them."
"As inquisitive and resourceful as always, I see."
The unicorn beamed giggled faintly. "I try to live up to my reputation, Princess."
"And you more than exceed it." Celestia regarded Twilight momentarily before turning her attention towards the earth pony at her student's side. "You've been awfully quiet, Applejack."
Applejack stirred slightly, and stared at the floor before slowly bringing her eyes up towards Celestia's. "Just... waitin', I 'spose."
Celestia chuckled softly, smiling as she eyed the orange mare. "And what are you waiting for that involves me?"
Applejack hesitated momentarily. "I just wanna know whatcha think about all this. Yer opinion on it. How ya feel about it."
"My opinion on... the two of you, I'm guessing?"
The earth pony nodded and began to lean against Twilight Sparkle once more, and as she did, the Princess of the Sun closed her eyes and seemed to mull it over. Both parties remained silent, and the only real sounds within the room were the crackle of the fire and the soft snores of Princess Luna. Hopeful as they may have been, both Applejack and Twilight were woefully anxious - they had come all this way, if only to maybe earn the ultimate approval from one of the rulers of Equestria.
The elder Princess tilted her head, her eyes still closed, and she soon began to speak. "Applejack, there's something I wish to tell you. It's hardly public knowledge, and I don't think even Twilight knew, but I feel that telling you two the truth may put your hearts at ease. As powerful and long-lived as my sister and I may be, we're still ponies. We still have wants and needs, and sometimes, we grow lonely. We yearn for companionship, and sometimes, something more. Over the course of my life, I've been with many a pony - some of them stallions, and some of them mares. And though the sands of time inevitably claimed them from us, the end result was always the same... we loved them just as they loved us, and it was our memories of them that subtly guided us, helping us to turn Equestria into a place they would have proudly cherished. It's our memories of them that remind us why we do what we do and drive us to become better at it - because it's what they would have wanted. My sister and I are better beings for simply having known and loved them, and receiving that same love in kind. Love is not something to fear, nor is it something to crush. Love is something one should cherish and foster, and so long as you have and love one another, do the opinions of others really matter?"
Applejack repeatedly opened her mouth as if to speak, only to close it each and every time. The Princess' question had apparently left her stumped... or perhaps at a loss for words. She turned towards Twilight Sparkle, possibly seeking direction, a hint of some sort - instead, all she found was a frown. That frown, little by little, began to turn into a smile, and both mares looked back towards Princess Celestia.
The alicorn had since opened her eyes, and was studying the both of them rather closely. "You may not be able to answer such a question with words, but you've already answered it with your actions. Your grandmother gave you an ultimatum, and in the end, you chose to ignore her opinion. You chose what your heart desired. Still, I can tell that despite my ramblings, you still want a definitive answer - allow me to give you one. Twilight Sparkle, my most faithful of students, and Applejack, my most dependable of ponies... if the two of you yearn to spend the rest of your days beside one another, you needn't ask. You've more than earned my support, especially after all that you two have done for one another and for Equestria. It's easy to see how much you mean to each other, and I wouldn't dare get in the way of that, even if I did oppose it for whatever reason."
There was a squeal of joy from both Applejack and Twilight Sparkle - how else was one supposed to react to such news, after all? - and both mares threw their forelegs around the others neck, pulling each other into a tight hug. The noise was more than enough to wake Princess Luna from her slumber, and the dusky alicorn lifted her head as her eyes slowly fluttered open. "Wh... what'd I miss?"
Celestia briefly eyed her sibling, and soon turned her attention towards the celebrating couple once more. Both mares had pulled one another into a brief kiss, and though they quickly broke away, they soon returned to hugging one another. Such a scene already left the Princess of the Sun grinning, and it was then that she decided to speak - her response, in contrast to most everything she had already said, would prove to be simple enough.
"Something wonderful, little sister."
In the end, Twilight Sparkle and Applejack had stayed a while longer, excitedly chatting with both Princesses. Luna actually managed to stay up this time, offering a bit of her own advice in the process, though some of it was rather... outdated. Such was to be expected from a being who had been gone for over a thousand years, however, and it was accepted just as graciously as Celestia's advice had been. Things were eventually forced to come to an end, though - Luna had a meeting with several gryphon ambassadors, and Celestia would get to sit through several appeals from some of the Canterlot nobles. The Princess of the Sun seemed particularly thrilled by the idea of sitting through such a thing, until it was pointed out by Applejack that she was simply being sarcastic, something Celestia quickly admitted.
The meeting had taken longer than any of them had expected, but it still left the couple with the rest of the afternoon and the evening. It was time that they decided to spend with one another, and indeed, much of it was spent out and about in Canterlot. The young couple roamed the streets, staring through the various storefront windows and even stepping inside some to take a closer look. It was really only then, in those moments of normalcy, that things would begin to catch up with them - they weren't just doing things as 'Applejack and Twilight Sparkle'. They were doing them as a couple. It may have been nothing more than slight distinction, but just that little difference was enough to make them both happier than they thought possible.
Their day was ended with a stop at Pony Joe's donut shop, and though the stallion had been surprised to see Twilight Sparkle, he had been even more surprised to hear the news of her recent change in relationships. It was easy enough to see where he stood in regards to things - both mares had quickly been served an over-sized donut, and at no cost at all to either of them. The treats were quickly devoured, and despite staying a while longer to chat with Pony Joe, it was soon time to settle down for the night. With full bellies and soaring spirits, Applejack and Twilight made their way back to their room at the castle, their steps made light by all that had transpired.
That had been hours ago, however. As the light of Luna’s moon danced across the bedroom floor, Twilight Sparkle simply couldn’t fall asleep, and the unicorn found herself thinking over everything that had happened that day. The meeting with her parents had gone surprisingly well, after all - as surprised as they may have been, they had supported her fledgling relationship with Applejack, and had even gone so far as to openly accept the earth pony. It was the best possible way for her parents to have given their approval, and they had done so without hesitation. Even Princess Celestia, after several questions and lengthy statements, had given them her full support, though that had hardly been a surprise. There was essentially nothing left to stop them, something that brought a faint smile to Twilight’s face.
Still, there were other things on her mind, things she had been thinking about ever since their relationship had first started. Slowly but carefully, Twilight rolled over in bed until she was facing Applejack, and she gave the earth pony a gentle kiss. “Don’t doze off on me just yet.”
“Mm? Sorry, Twi...”
“S’okay.” The lavender mare hesitated briefly, then smiled towards Applejack as she began to open her eyes. “AJ, there’s... something I wanna ask you.”
“Oh, you know me. Always willin’ ta help a friend.” With a snicker, Applejack leaned towards Twilight and rubbed noses with her. “‘specially you, darlin’. Whatcha need?”
“Well... we’ve been through a lot over the last week or so. We’ve... weathered an awful lot, you and I, even before we started dating.”
“And I didn’t wanna say anything until I really knew for certain that this would work out, but... I know better now. I know that you would never leave me, and I would never leave you. I know how much we mean to one another. I guess what I’m trying to say, Applejack, is that um... I think I’m ready.”
The earth pony let out a quiet yawn and raised an eyebrow. “Ready? Ready how?”
“Oh...” Twilight was already beginning to blush, but with a faint smile upon her face, she shoved a single hoof under the covers. "...I think you know."
The reaction was almost immediate, and the orange mare let out a sharp gasp, her face quickly turning red. "A-alright, I get what yer sayin'."
"So." With a grin, Twilight grabbed hold of Applejack and pulled her on top of herself. “What do you think?”
“I’d say that’s a ‘Yes’...” The earth pony didn’t hesitate at all, and she leaned down to give Twilight’s ear a quick nibble before whispering into it. “So... how do ya want this ta happen? I mean, I could be gentle, or-”
The unicorn pulled Applejack into a tight embrace, and as they locked eyes, Twilight gave her a firm and heated look. “I... I want this. Applejack, I want you to love me like this day was our last.”
Slowly, Applejack nodded, and the earth pony gave her a brief and passionate kiss before breaking away. “I'll do more than that, darlin'.”
As the orange mare leaned down and began to nibble and kiss at Twilight’s neck, the unicorn let out a soft gasp, and slowly but surely, a smile began to spread across her face.
The arrival of dawn brought with it another event arranged by Princess Celestia - breakfast with her and Princess Luna. Applejack and Twilight had gotten ready as quickly as possible and hurried off to the dining room, only to discover that both Royal Sisters had been patiently awaiting their arrival. As the earth pony and unicorn took their places at the table, the dusky alicorn let out a grumble and turned away from them. Curious, Celestia leaned towards her sibling. "Something wrong, Luna?"
"No, 'Tia, I... it's nothing."
The Princess of the Night continued to remain silent, though her face slowly began to grow red.
Celestia chuckled and leaned a bit closer towards Luna, giving her a playful nudge. "Oh come now. If nothing were wrong, you wouldn't be blushing."
"Fine." The younger sister huffed and looked back towards Applejack and Twilight Sparkle, her eyes narrowed. "I spent the entire night trying to paint, or trying to map constellations, and I couldn't. All because those two were going at it. Nothing but moans and cries and... agh!"
Princess Celestia let out a rather loud snort as she began to laugh, and her laugh simply grew even louder upon spotting the reddened faces of both her prized pupil and the earth pony, both of whom were far too mortified to even dare speak. "Oh goodness, this is simply too much!"
"It's not funny, Celestia!"
"It is to me!" The white alicorn snorted once more, prompting her to laugh even further. "You... you never thought to change rooms?"
"I couldn't! All my supplies are in that one room, and I can't move a telescope without having to recalibrate it! So I had to spend the entire night listening to the things they were doing to one another, and during my night no less!"
Celestia had managed to calm herself down, and she grinned rather widely as she eyed her sister. "You do know that a great many ponies do that very same thing during your nights?"
"I... but this is different!" Luna sighed and placed a hoof to her head. "Heavens, now I'm stuck with far too many mental images, and I can't get any of them to stop."
The Princess of the Sun was clearly amused by this point and decided to simply leave her sister be for a bit - the abundance of mental images would no doubt keep her occupied. With a grin, Celestia turned towards Twilight Sparkle and leaned down somewhat. "So, it sounds like you two had your fair share of fun."
Twilight nervously glanced about, doing her best to avoid any and all eye contact with her mentor - understandable, especially when one considered what had just been mentioned. "...y-yeah."
"Well, how was it?"
The unicorn coughed, her ears flattened. "Um... good."
"That's always good to hear." The white alicorn briefly levitated a cup of coffee and took a sip from it, setting it down and turning to face her student once more. "I'm woefully curious to know more, but I know you'd rather stay secretive of it for the time being. 'twas something special for you, after all. A bit of a pity - I like watching Luna squirm whenever I mention something that makes her uncomfortable."
"Like..." The lavender mare had seemingly regained her composure, and looked up towards Celestia. "Like... intimate acts?"
"Like that. Rather amusing, given that she's engaged in a few of them." Such a statement drew a horrified stare from the Princess of the Night, and Celestia let out a hearty laugh. "I already mentioned our prior relationships to them while you were asleep. Perhaps if you hadn't dozed off..."
The younger sibling simply huffed and returned to her own cup of coffee. Applejack had been quiet for the entire conversation, and upon further examination, it was clear that the earth pony had visibly shrunk, and quite literally as well. She had slouched down - likely on purpose - in some attempt to try and hide herself from Princess Celestia.
"...did I embarrass you, Applejack?"
The orange mare sat up a bit more, slowly nodding. Her face was still woefully red, but it had certainly improved. "...just a lil' bit, yer Majesty."
"Mm. My apologies. I suppose I do get a little too curious sometimes. I didn't mean anything bad by it."
"Nah, of... of course not. Apology accepted." Applejack sat up a bit more, but instead busied herself with a bread roll that sat in front of her - better that than risk trying to converse with the Princess of the Sun.
"So, with that being said, what does the happy couple have planned next in life?" Celestia took another sip from her mug, then eyed both Twilight and Applejack. Given the earth pony's preoccupation with the bread, however, most of her attention was placed squarely upon her pupil. "You haven't been together that long, but I find it can be fun to think about the future."
The introduction of a decidedly more 'tame' topic was a bit of a relief, and Twilight Sparkle immediately perked up. "Well, uh... remember our meeting yesterday, when I said was searching for another solution to our little problem?"
The elder Princess' expression brightened, and with her curiosity piqued, she leaned a bit closer. "You think you've found it, then?"
"I believe so."
"No need to keep us waiting, my faithful student."
And with that, Twilight Sparkle began to eagerly chat away, explaining in great detail just what her possible solution was.
As for whether or not it would work, well...
As the first light of dawn broke across Sweet Apple Acres, Applejack was already up and about, preparing herself for another day of tending the orchards. Breakfast, for now, was naught but a cup of coffee, something she was more than content with. From her spot up in the loft of the barn, the earth pony took a single sip from her mug, and felt herself smile as she looked out upon the countless rows of trees.
After all, Twilight Sparkle's plan had worked, and Applejack might have even dared to say that it had worked flawlessly. The entire plan had hinged upon a single, inconspicuous error, a loophole of sorts that Granny Smith had unknowingly created when she first demanded that Applejack leave - so long as she remained with Twilight, she wouldn't be allowed under their roof. That roof was just one of many on Sweet Apple Acres, and through that one statement, the unicorn had managed to find a way to get Applejack back to the orchards she held so dearly. Of course, that then raised the question of where she was supposed to live.
Such a question was soon answered when it was pointed out by Big Macintosh that it wouldn't be difficult at all to convert one of the many barns on the property into a home of sorts, and sure enough, it hadn't been. That created its own slew of problems, however, the most prominent of which was something more... personal. Twilight and Applejack had both grown rather used to staying and sleeping with one another - to live in separate homes now was... silly. Pointless, even. They had moved beyond that, and they were both more than aware of it. And so, Twilight Sparkle made a decision that neither she nor Applejack had ever expected. She sold her home and moved out.
Applejack had initially thought of such a thing as bordering on insanity, but all of that quickly came to an end when Twilight explained her reasoning - "It's easier to move a library than it is to move an orchard". That single phrase, unintentional as it may have been, made it quite clear just how serious the unicorn had been in making their relationship work. The library was sold, all of Twilight's belongings had been moved into the barn, and... that was it, really. Spike found things a little jarring at first, but soon grew to enjoy his new home. The abundance of nearby apples may have helped, of course, but they were willing to look the other way if the baby dragon ever felt like grabbing himself a snack.
Granny Smith was even starting to come around a bit, though she seemed rather reluctant to even change her position. After all, that was tantamount to admitting that she was wrong, and so things were taking much longer than expected. Still, in spite of all that, things were... just about perfect. She was back on Sweet Apple Acres with a home of her very own, and she and Twilight were truly living together. They had their fights every now and then, but what couple didn't?
There were a few hoofsteps behind her, though Applejack made no attempts to turn to see who it was - she already knew. A warm kiss on her cheek, one in sharp contrast to the October weather they were now experiencing, simply confirmed just who it might have been. "Mornin', Twi."
The unicorn took a seat in the loft beside the earth pony, cuddling up to her and giving her cheek another kiss. "Morning, love. Sleep well?"
"I think you know th' answer ta that already."
A faint giggle. "I know, but I figured I'd ask."
"Fair enough." Applejack took another sip and let out a sigh as she gazed out at the trees. "Helluva view, ain't it?"
"Mhm. See it every morning, but it somehow manages to get better every time. I think the trees just get more vibrant." Twilight leaned her head against Applejack's shoulder and stared out towards the orchards, smiling as her eyes met the horizon. "Running of the Leaves is coming up soon, you know."
"Yyyep. RD won't stop mentionin' it every time we meet up or spar - think she wants me ta enter it with her."
"You going to?"
"I dunno. Maybe."
"We could always enter it together. I think it'd be fun. And who knows, you might manage to beat me this year!"
It may have been a thinly veiled insult, but Applejack certainly knew that Twilight meant well by it, and so she faintly laughed in return. "Hun, you keep that up, and I'm gonna make you eat yer words."
"I'd like to see you try." The lavender mare stuck out her tongue, giggling and grinning at the earth pony.
In return, Applejack gave her girlfriend a smile and a kiss on the forehead, pulling her a bit closer as the two of them watched the sunrise. For a few precious minutes, the two of them simply sat by one another, enjoying both the view and one another.
"Applejack, can I ask you something?"
The earth pony turned slightly, grinning as she caught sight of Twilight - the unicorn was staring up at her, with an inquisitive expression. "Twi, darlin'... you oughta know by now that you can ask me anything."
"Alright, well... I was wondering..."
Applejack began to drink from her mug, still listening intently as Twilight Sparkle spoke.
"...have you ever wanted to have foals?"
And then, in the morning light, a spray of coffee slowly turned into a fine mist.