The Cutie Mark Crusaders were up to their usual shenanigans from the break of dawn, most of the town marketplace still startled by the loud crash in the middle of it. An error in judgment had resulted in Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, who were riding in the red cart attached to the back of Scootaloo's namesake vehicle, to go vaulting head-first over Scootaloo, who only faceplanted into the side of a market stall. Both Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle managed to land in a heap on Applejack's unattended stall. They both groaned while Scootaloo stumbled over towards them, all three of them dazed and incoherent as Apple Bloom took a step forward off of the top of the stall and fell limply atop of Scoot, making them both grunt and fall over each other. Apple Bloom's grunt was muffled though, an apple partially bitten into when she first landed, wedged into her mouth and blocking anything she tried to say.
"Oh wow....Scootaloo, did you hit a box of TNT or something....?" Sweetie Belle whimpered out, reaching up and rubbing her nose, a sharp pain running through her snout when she gave it a little testing poke. Yup, she came pretty close to breaking it, if she didn't actually already do it. "Oooww....!" she whimpered out, her teeth clenching and brow furrowing while a hissing breath was drawn in through those pearly whites. Suddenly, she noticed a light snickering coming from Scootaloo....and she was visibly infuriated. "What's so funny?! I think my nose is broken!" she half-shouted at her small-winged friend.
Scootaloo just kept laughing, eventually opening her mouth wide in a somewhat raucous laughter that had Sweetie Belle's cheeks lighting up in embarrassment. It didn't help that Apple Bloom was laughing as well, though muffled still by that apple wedged in her mouth. "No no Sweets, it's not tha-hah!-that....!" she said, her eyes clenching shut after she finished speaking, mouth pressing closed firmly to try to stifle herself, but Scootaloo much like her idol Rainbow Dash, lacked the willpower to control herself in the presence of something so funny. "You-you've got a safety apple on your horn!" she said slightly louder than last she spoke, finally breaking down alongside Apple Bloom.
Sweetie Belle's eyes widened and she reached up to touch her hoof to her horn, finding something wet coating it. That was when she started to notice the coldness surrounding a good majority of its length, and then some of the juice dripped down in front of her eyes. "Eeeww! Hey, that's not funny, Scoot!" she snarled at her friend, her horn glowing and slowly easing the apple off of itself, the speared fruit plopping down onto the cobblestone road messily. Sweetie looked over to Apple Bloom after that and giggled some herself, wincing slightly as the slight shaking of the laugh made the pain in her snout flare up. "Nnf....! M-maybe we should help Apple Bloom out, Scootaloo."
Sweetie Belle's predicament had been pretty funny, but Apple Bloom's situation was downright hilarious! That apple had wedged itself in so perfectly that she couldn't open her mouth up far enough to pull it out, and it was far enough in that she couldn't get her hooves on it well enough to tug it out. Apple Bloom mrph'ed and grunted muffledly, eventually sitting down and grunting in frustration, her glaring at Sweetie Belle when she started to laugh. She could only blush and lower her head when Scootaloo started laughing anew at the sight of her as well, Apple Bloom just sitting silently, not wanting to give them more laughter fuel by trying to talk to them.
Eventually, Scootaloo calmed down enough along with Sweetie Belle, who was trying her best to get a grip on that apple with her magic, but she had no real skill with doing that sort of thing, and it was stuck in Apple Bloom's mouth GOOD. Scoot hrm'ed and walked up next to Sweetie Belle, who let out a worn breath and hung her head, the magic lighting up her horn dissipating just as suddenly. "Ugh, I can't get it out! Any ideas, Scoot?" she asked, looking to the Pegasus pony curiously. Scootaloo sighed and rubbed the back of her head. "Well, yeah...." she muttered, but Sweetie Belle spoke up suddenly after that. "Hey, how come you're not hurt?! You crashed into the side of a stall!"
Scootaloo just grinned at her Unicorn friend. "I'm not hurt because I'm AWESOME like that. Now then!" she said, looking around at the crowd they'd managed to grab the attention of. Most of them had dispersed enough to make Scootaloo vaguely comfortable with doing what she had in mind. It was the only method she could think of at this point, without going to get AJ and a crowbar that is. She looked to Sweetie Belle, then back to Apple Bloom, who just quirked a brow and tilted her head expectantly, waiting to see what she had in mind....but then, Apple Bloom's eyes went wide when Scoot started drawing in closer, her lips getting closer.
Scoot wasn't exactly happy with this idea all that much, but Apple Bloom's mouth was open enough. It only counted as kissing if the lips kiss, right? Right. She swallowed hard and bared her teeth, carefully placing her forehooves on Apple Bloom's shoulders, teeth biting semi-deep halfway into the apple, head turned sideways so that she could get as good a grip on it as possible, and slowly began to tug at it. She blushed a crimson red when she saw Sweetie Belle moving to sit only a foot away from the two, staring hard at them both so that she could perhaps catch Scootaloo mistakenly grazing Apple Bloom's lips with her own. Sure enough, she did when she turned her head a little to try and get a better grip and twist the apple out of Apple Bloom's mouth, the tactic succeeding, but not before her lips touched her friend's.
She quickly spat out the apple while their Earth Pony friend groaned and flapped her jaws a few times, rubbing her jaw this way and that to work the ache out of it while Sweetie Belle grinned and trotted around both of them. "AB and Scoot-a-loo, sittin' in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G!" she chanted in a sing-song tone, Scoot's blush intensifying. "Shut up, Sweetie Belle!" she shouted at her friend, the Unicorn filly continuing on while AB's cheeks began to light up as well, her jaw too sore to really say anything. "First comes love...." she said, grinning as Apple Bloom stood up from her sitting position and glared at her menacingly. "Be quiet Sweetie Belle, ah'm warnin' ya!" she mumbled more quietly than she would've preferred, her jaw throbbing from doing so.
"Then comes marriage...." she muttered, her eyes closed and her trot starting to look just as smug as the expression on her face. Both Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were fuming, Scoot's wings extending as she lowered to the ground and took aim at Sweetie Belle, AB doing much of the same. "Then comes the baby in the baby carriage!" she spoke in finality, stopping in place and laughing heartily. "THAT'S IT!" Scootaloo cried out, her and AB pouncing on Sweetie Belle and quickly starting to fight, the three of them kicking up dust as they became a mass of swinging hooves and legs, flat teeth biting and tugging at one another while a multitude of yelling voices rose up from them, barely able to make sense of what they were trying to say to each other.
Finally, Applejack had made her way into the marketplace. She had woken up late thanks to fretting and researching various economic laws, possible ways out, and no matter which way she looked at it, she was up a creek without a paddle. She could have applied for a loan, maybe even a business loan, but that wasn't a guaranteed way out of this predicament. No, she knew of ONE truly guaranteed way out of this, even a way to be set for the rest of her life and able to take care of her family for years, but....that was a disgusting option. She had barely gotten to sleep when Big Macintosh had grabbed her by her mane and dragged his exhausted sister into her room to make sure she went to sleep at that point, since he was the one that woke up that early every day, giving her some time to rouse herself and wake herself up, AJ far from being a morning pony.
She was definitely plenty awake when she spotted her trusty stall, partially broken with the produce she'd stocked on it during her first trip into the market around ten minutes ago. It would have been a longer trip, but she was antsy and anxious from the current monetary issues the farm had, so she was rushing back and forth. She broke out into a gallop however, when she spotted the trio duking it out with one another, with some wooden planks broken off of the stall and mashed apples cluttering the ground around the brawling young fillies. "WHAT in tarnation is goin' on here?!" she could be heard shouting at them from only a few feet away.
The fight was over very suddenly, it becoming clear that Scootaloo and AB were playing co-op against Sweetie Belle during this bout. Apple Bloom had produced a rope from one of her packs during the scuffle and hogtied Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo was rubbing a mushy apple all over the Unicorn's cheek. At the same time though, with Sweetie Belle almost completely helpless on her back, her horn was glowing and an apple was levitating within her grasp, smacking against Scoot's forehead hard over and over with an audible wet 'splup!' sound. Needless to say, the whole scene was exactly what you'd expect from the Crusaders.
Applejack was far from amused. On the contrary, all of her current issues had boiled over into the aggravation she was feeling more and more as she looked upon her semi-ruined stall, and the produce lost to their haphazard control when riding around together. "Why is mah stall destroyed, girls?" she asked in a surprisingly calm tone, though the expression on her face betrayed that tame voice. "How exactly did y'all manage t'do this?"
Apple Bloom cowered a little, looking into her sister's eyes and away again, lightly tapping her left forehoof against the ground timidly, nervously. She always lost her bravado when her sister gave her such an angry stare like she was doing now, though it was directed at all three of them equally. AJ glared at Scootaloo, who put her mushy apple she was rubbing into Sweetie Belle's cheek off to the side, while Sweetie Belle's horn stopped glowing and the squished apple she was using was tossed aside. "W-well, ah was just....ah mean, we were just ridin' down the street when somepony wheeled their cart out in front of us," she explained, pausing to give the knot she'd tied in the rope around Sweetie Belle's legs a few tugs, tugging it loose and setting her friend free. "We didn't mean to!"
Scootaloo spoke up quickly after AB, stepping into Applejack's line of sight. "It was my fault! I'm really sorry, Applejack," she apologized with a genuine, worried and apologetic expression, the brown pegasus hanging her head some while AJ looked between the three of them. She eventually looked back to her banged-up stall, sighing and quietly facehoofing, lightly running the back of her curled right forehoof down the bridge of her nose, fwipping her lower lip as she dropped it down to the ground again with a stamping force. "It's....it's alright, girls...." she said, letting out a heavy sighing breath and hanging her head. "Can't do nothin' 'bout an honest mistake. Y'all are tellin' the truth, right?" she asked them, eyeing each of them as they vigorously nodded their head.
Golden Harvest, one of Applejack's best businesspony partners, walked over from her own carrot-themed stall full of some of Applejack's grown produce, oddly enough. For reasons of variety so that she didn't 'put all her apples in one basket' so to speak, Sweet Apple Acres grew all different sorts of fruits and vegetables, only keeping apples as their main crop of choice. The tactic saved them a multitude of times in the past, it often being the reason they didn't go completely under. "Oh, Applejack, it really was an accident. I saw the whole thing," she said, placing a forehoof on AJ's shoulder. "Somepony walked a cart in front of Scootaloo while she was looking back at Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, she didn't see it until it was too late."
AJ averted her gaze from the Crusaders to listen to her friend for a moment, a small sigh escaping her and her features softening up after Harvest was done talking, Applejack nodding to her and smiling while waving to her as she turned and went back to her own stall. "Ah'm sorry 'bout that girls. I've just been all kinds o' stressed out lately, an'-....ah well, nevermind that," she said, waving off the discussion with a hoof and putting on a smile, the tell-tale sign of exhaustion forming some big, heavy-looking bags underneath AJ's eyes, something Apple Bloom had become keen at noticing. "Aw, don't worry 'bout it sis, we understand. Right gals?" Apple Bloom asked, looking to Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, who both just 'mmmhmm'd and nodded in agreement.
Applejack smiled to that and was about to send them to take care of this problem, or at least get someone that could take care of it quickly, when who else but Rarity would show up, with Pinkie Pie bounding in her hopping way right on by, with her Basket Hat on full display and picnic baskets bouncing up and down on her back and beneath her mouth. "Oh, hel-LO there girls, Applejack!" Rarity said in her usual overt flair, the Crusaders smiling and Sweetie Belle grinning at the sight of her sister. Pinkie Pie didn't even stop to say hello, her just continuing along at her steady yet casual pace, hopping up and down, constantly moving forward. Applejack noticed this, and quirked a brow. "What's got Pinkie Pie in such a rush?"
Rarity giggled a little at the prospect of being able to break this news to Applejack herself, it was such a potentially deviant thing to discover! However, the Cutie Mark Crusaders were there, and they would likely blab all about this exciting situation with Rainbow Dash if she dared to say anything where they could eavesdrop. "Oh! W-well, Pinkie Pie is VERY excited about a spur-of-the-moment get-together idea that she had for us, and you just know how much she loves to throw parties for her bestest friends. Not to mention how FUN they are~!" she said with an almost musical flourish towards the end.
Applejack quietly adjusted her Stetson atop her head, finding it slumping at an odd angle on her head, partially blocking out her line of sight in her right eye. "Dagnabbit, gotta git th' string on this thing fixed," she grumbled to herself under her breath, recalling the elastic string she had attached to her hat a while back so that it didn't go flying from an errant breeze. "Well, ah'd love a break, Rarity, but....well, actually...." she said, gazing over at Apple Bloom and her friends, a smile creeping across her lips. "Apple Bloom, girls, can ah talk to y'all over here?" she asked, motioning them to follow while looking over to Rarity. "Ah'll just be a minute, a'right?" she asked, and Rarity just nodded to her, only vaguely curious about what the Crusaders had to do with this predicament. "Oh! Well, sure, take however long you need, darling!"
Apple Bloom and her friends seemed confused as they stepped aside with Applejack, though AJ had motioned Apple Bloom to step away to talk with her one-on-one for a moment. "Whatcha suppose they're talking about?" Scootaloo idly pondered, looking over to Sweetie Belle, curious whether or not the Unicorn knew something she didn't. "Well....Applejack does look really tired lately. She's got those baggies under her eyes that my sister says a proper lady should always make sure she never gets," she said, humming a little. Scootaloo just shrugged. "Well, apparently it has something to do with all of us, I can't think of any other reason AJ would need you and I to come along."
Apple Bloom seemed confused, and a tad bit worried, looking back to her friends and then to AJ, when her sister took a seat and lowered down to talk more face-to-face instead of looming over her. "A'right, lil' sis, ah'm trustin' ya with this, 'cuz ah'm....well, ah'm exhausted," she said, her ears flattening somewhat as she said it. She did NOT like admitting her weakness, even if it was justified, the stubborn pony that she was. "Ah could really use this break....with that said, ah got a job fer you an' yer Crusader pals," she said with a wider smile, trying to brighten up despite her drastically tired expression. "Y'see, ah can't leave the stall unattended, an' it needs to get fixed up real quick-like. So, there're two things ah wan'cha t'do. First thing, is to go tell yer big brother what happened so he can grab his tools and git started repairin' the stand," she explained, her tone warm, but firm at the same time, looking straight into her little sister's eyes. "Now Apple Bloom, y'all already know how t'work the stand, ah taught'cha how t'sell products....if ah leave ya in Golden Harvest's care, can ya teach yer friends how to help ya sell apples?"
Apple Bloom was taken completely by surprise, not just by being given the task of tending the apple stand, but also because her sister was being....well, she was being truthful about her physical condition! "....Who're you, and what'cha done with mah big sister?" she asked, her eyes wide and her voice monotone, as if she were in shock. She snapped out of it a moment later, grinning wide. "Really, sis?! Yer really really REALLY gonna trust me t'do this?! Aw, this is awesome, Applejack! Ah promise ah'll do mah best, ah'll sell lots of apples! Ah'll-" she started to rant and rave in her excitement, the little filly practically vibrating along the ground, she was hopping around so rapidly. "Apple Bloom, Apple Bloom! Calm down, sugarcube!" AJ called out to her, the younger filly going still, but shuffling in place a bit with a wide grin on her lips.
Applejack was having second thoughts, but a break from all of her concerns, even if it meant leaving Apple Bloom in charge for a little while, was far too tempting for her tired mind to say no to. "AB, ah gotta hear it from you....can ah trust ya t'do this right? Can I? Please tell me yer gonna do this right. No funny business, no foolin' 'round with th' customers? No sneakin' apples into passersby's saddlebags?" she said, taking on an accusatory tone right at the end there. Apple Bloom shrunk a little at the almost desperate tone in her sister's voice, but her happy mood could not be suppressed for more than a moment. "You got it sis! Ah'll do ya proud an' sell plenty of apples, the right way!" she stated enthusiastically, her grin never fading. Applejack nodded to her and looked to Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, walking over to them both and sitting down to talk to both of them about the same thing, both of them agreeing to help Apple Bloom just the same.
Rarity was confused at what she both overheard and saw occurring between her friend and the easily excited youth that seemed to almost be employed by AJ by the time the Stetson-clad Earth Pony approached her once more, seemingly ready to go. Before they left though, Rarity's eyes bulged when she heard what Applejack asked of Golden Harvest, walking alongside Rarity and keeping almost perfect pace with her. "You left the Cutie Mark Crusaders in charge of your stall?!"
She just shrugged and shook her head. "Apple Bloom knows what she's s'posed t'do, ah taught 'er last time she wanted t' help me, how she should handle things," she explained, smiling a bit. "Been 'round two years since we went n' gave that a try, but ah'm sure she can do just fine with 'er friends helpin' 'er out. Anyways....let's git goin' to that party!" she said, Rarity smiling and nodding a couple of times. "Of course, Applejack! But....you look absolutely exhausted darling. Are you sure you don't want to just rest instead?" Rarity asked, looking over AJ's face closely.
Applejack just leaned away from her friend's close examination, shaking her head. "Ah'm FINE, Rarity. Okay? Don'cha start gettin' all concerned about me," she said with some slight frustration, shaking her head. "Big Mac said the same thing, talkin' 'bout me bein' all on-edge n' whatnot, but I know ah'm just fine! Just....y'know, workin' hard lately, busy Applebuck Season this time."
They continued to talk back and forth, passing information to each other about their given businesses. Though, Applejack found herself tuning Rarity out every time she started to go on a tirade about fashion and modern trends. Just the same, Rarity repeatedly tuned Applejack out every time she brought up the number of apples she collected, and whenever she started to talk about her new favorite tree, Bloombundt. The only thing they both got equally enthusiastic about, was when they brought up their income and conversation about the ponies they did business with. Where Applejack did lots of unseen trade and sales with ponies in and around Ponyville, not to mention less celebrity-ish ponies that bought a lot of her apples, to stock and supplement their own supplies for their own businesses in the bigger cities. Rarity on the other hoof, she had more personal work to do for customers like Sapphire Shores, DJ Pon-3, and multitudes of other well-known ponies. Throughout the entire conversation though, Applejack couldn't help but think that perhaps Rarity could help her out. But no, that just seemed far too desperate in her mind, so she kept her mouth shut on such matters. She was NOT desperate!
Fluttershy was busy the entire morning, a bag of bird feed stowed away in her saddlebags, while a bunch of carrots were packed away in the other saddlebag, balancing out the weight she had on her back. With a soft grunt, she stopped short of a bunch of burrows belonging to some rabbits that decided to live close to Fluttershy's home, away from the Everfree Forest, which they moved away from. They met her as she approached, a large carrot being set down in front of each of their burrows. "There you go, little bunnies. You have a very big family, but I have plenty here for each of you," she said in her usual, calm and sweet way, her naturally gentle voice accompanied by a warm and loving smile, everything that made the animals love Fluttershy unconditionally.
After setting most of the carrots out, Angel Bunny approached Fluttershy after eating his morning carrot, his little pink nose wiggling and his discerning eyes looking over the many bunnies that moved close by. Just when Fluttershy was about to move on to the birds she spotted another bunny, one with a more pink-tinted body of fur, Angel Bunny blushing hotly when she touched noses with him in an adorable little bunny-kiss, their little noses wiggling against each other. "Oh, my! Angel Bunny, you never told me that you had a mate...." she said, her close animal friend quickly pulling away and stamping his foot soundly against the ground. He didn't lash out, he just behaved as grumpily as he always did around Fluttershy, her just figuring that was his way of trying to show respect and also to seem 'grown up'. It was endearing.
The pink-furred rabbit giggled, little paws covering her mouth when Angel moved away from her with such embarrassment. She quietly moved up behind him and let out a little squeak, half-pouncing on him and wrapping her arms around his shoulders, squeezing him there in a hug, making him slouch and his face twist into an angry expression, him glaring in Fluttershy's direction. Fluttershy just giggled quietly and covered her mouth with her hoof while doing so. "Why are you looking at me like that, Angel? It's not my fault~," she said in a sing-song tone, waving goodbye to him. "I'll go and feed the birds now. Have fun, Angel!" she said, Angel squeaking out some choice words in a language that only her animals could understand while Fluttershy began walking away. However, halfway to the tree her birds gathered at for musical practice, Fluttershy felt a long foot beating lightly against her ankle.
"Oh! Yes, Angel? Was there something else you wanted?" she asked, watching as he eagerly pointed at the cottage, hopping up and down a few times and motioning to having some kind of invisible object on his back. When Fluttershy just gave a look of confusion, he got on all fours and hopped high off the ground, up and down, smiling wide until he looked akin to a certain pink pony, but still Fluttershy didn't get it. He smacked his paw against his face and drug it down over his nose and his lips, grumbling and hopping up in front of her face, bopping her on the nose and pointing insistently towards the cottage. "Well....okay Angel Bunny, but I've only been out here for a few minutes. Who could have shown up at home while I was out?" she mused, putting her bag of bird feed down so that she didn't have to carry it back to the cottage. Angel Bunny just rolled his eyes at the question that she asked, him pondering on whether or not Pinkie would wind up startling his owner. Of course, before he could follow, pink arms grabbed him and spun him around, his eyes going wide when he felt his mate giving him a more long-lasting smooch. His eyes looked left, then right, scanning what he could see. Then, seeing no one around, he just smiled blissfully and dropped his grumpy exterior, resting his paws on his mate's sides and pressing in towards her, deepening the kiss she'd started.
She trotted up towards the cottage slightly faster when she heard the familiar voice of Pinkie Pie talking to somepony, though who she'd be talking to Fluttershy had no idea. Of course, when she got close enough to make out exactly what she was saying, it all became plenty clear. "I don't know where she is Gummy! She must be taking care of her animals or something, she's always busy like that," Pinkie said, blinking and quirking a brow at her gator. "Huh? Whatcha mean, she's coming? Why would she....oh! Hi there, Fluttershy!" she called out, waving to her as she stepped around her cottage from behind it.
Fluttershy walked up to Pinkie casually, calm as ever and relaxed, smiling happily at the sight of her friend. "Hello there Pinkie Pie! It's nice to see you....what can I do for you?" she asked with that same happy and cheerful tone. Pinkie just grinned and pointed at her Basket Hat. "Oh, you're having another party?" she asked, and Gummy jumped off of the top of Pinkie's head over to hers, his toothless mouth chomping down on the back of Fluttershy's neck, then down along her mane in cute nomming bites, eventually stopping at her ankles, gumming at one, then the other, then her hindlegs, lather rinse repeat. "Wow! Gummy isn't normally this energetic at this time of day. Must be all the sun he's been getting this morning. Anyways Fluttershy, you gonna come to my party? It's gonna be great, we get to meet a new friend, and have lots of drinks and food and we get to meet Rainbow Dash's new coltfriend that we're not supposed to know about and she and he have been really secretive about!“ she said, grinning and hopping up and down with clear excitement.
Fluttershy was taken aback by what Pinkie Pie just said. Rainbow Dash had a coltfriend, and she hadn't told anypony? That was surprising....normally Rainbow Dash was so ready to proudly tell anypony that would listen. "I wonder why Rainbow Dash would hide something like having a coltfriend from us....how did you find out, Pinkie Pie?“ she asked, raising a hoof that had Gummy attached to it, pointing idly at the pink pony. "Oh, I have my own custom Pinkie Pie ways! But, if you really wanna know....“ she said, leaning in close and almost touching noses with Fluttershy, looking her in the eyes. "I teased him about buying her Rainbow Cupcakes!“ she said suddenly, after a fairly long moment of silence, giggling and backing away. "Come on Gummy! We have to get going so we can set everything up and fetch Rainbow Dash and her coltfriend!“
Gummy complied rather quickly, waddling with small twists of his body, hopping up onto Pinkie's head once more just before the pink pony took off, leaving a confused Fluttershy standing there alone. "But....where do we-“ she started to ask, only to have Pinkie appear behind her, Fluttershy swearing she saw Pinkie go over the crest of the hill. "Easy! We meet up at Starlight Hill. Where did you THINK we were going, you silly filly?“ she asked with a grin, hopping past Fluttershy for a second time, and after a few seconds of looking around, she was sure that Pinkie had really left this time. Fluttershy just let out a breath and shook her head, going to finish her chores before meeting up with everypony. Of course, she idly wondered where Angel Bunny had disappeared to, but she didn't want to let her mind dwell on it. His mate seemed very sweet and friendly, and that was all that mattered to Fluttershy, when it came to her animal friends and their happiness.
Rainbow Dash waited with a slight impatience on a cloud right next to their chosen meeting location, forelegs crossed in front of her, hanging off of the edge of the cloud she was laying on along with her head, hanging low and decorated with the most bored expression the pegasus pony could come up with. "Where is he....?“ she muttered lazily, rolling over onto her back and examining the cloud layout, mostly focusing on a batch of clouds that had gathered together and started to become a more dark color. "Huh, that's odd,“ she mused, standing up and spreading her wings, getting ready to take off and deal with the oddity.
Wind Strider was late, but he was good at having excellent timing, as he proved when he called out to Rainbow Dash while streaking towards her from behind. "Hello there, beautiful!“ he called out to her, drawing the eyes and attentions of a few passersby, making Rainbow Dash seize up for a moment and blush. Ditzy Doo had happened to be passing by, and she laughed a little at Dash's reaction, making the rainbow-maned pegasus glare in her direction. "Don't you have some letters to deliver?“ she said in a huffy, semi-upset tone, Ditzy Doo just waving and flying back down and away from the pair, Strider having reached Rainbow within the time it took for her to recompose herself.
He just grinned when she bapped him upside his head lightly. "WHY did you do that?! You knew I'd react that way, didn't you?“ she asked, smirking at him and shaking her head, fluttering lazily back and away from him, her eyes shifting this way and that slowly, discreetly, her wanting to make sure nopony was around to watch them. Finding them alone for the moment, Rainbow Dash smiled and flapped close to him again, wrapping her forelegs around his neck to hug him good and tight, nuzzling her cheek against his as well, a hot blush forming on her entire face.
Strider was surprised at the sudden show of affection, but he certainly wasn't avoiding it. He leaned in against that hug, their life-long experience as pegasi causing them both to flap their wings in a way that let them press together more firmly and brace against one another in that hug, his forearms wrapping around the back of her neck in return. They stayed that way for a good minute, Strider easing out of that hug first, him staying quiet while gazing into her eyes. Finally, he chuckled and rubbed the back of his head, ruffling that long flowing black mane of his, smiling a little more widely. "S-so, what brought that on?“
Rainbow Dash was still blushing hard enough to cook an egg with her face, but still she shrugged her shoulders, looking away and scratching one of her cheeks with the tip of her hoof. "Well, you said that I should....you know, be less shy around you, so I just....kinda....went for it,“ she said, taking a moment to look around more intently once more, still seeing nopony around. "At least nopony caught us....“ she said in that subdued tone of voice yet again, Strider just chuckling and touching his hoof to her shoulder. "Heh, relax Rainbow Dash! It's no big deal.“ he said, but he'd almost completely forgotten about the wound to his leg....the one that had gotten a fairly creative leaf bandage and herbal medication applied to it. Though, to Zecora's credit, the fairly bloody cut didn't hurt hardly at all anymore.
Rainbow Dash noticed almost immediately when he reached for her with his foreleg. How couldn't she? It was directly to the right of her eyes from where he was reaching for her from. "Whoa....what happened?“ she asked, grasping his foreleg and holding it outstretched when he tried to recoil, him forced to let her look over it for a couple seconds before she let his leg go, him clearing his throat and thinking quickly for a moment. "Well, you remember that....that thing, I had to do earlier? Well, you see, Princess Luna, she wanted me to investigate the Everfree Forest. I'd really rather not divulge exactly what she wanted me to look for, so please don't ask.“
She tilted her head and flew away for a minute, grabbing a few clouds and squishing them together so that she and Strider could sit together on it, pushing the packed-together clouds back over in front of her coltfriend. She tucked her wings in after landing gently atop the plus-sized cloud, gently patting the space next to her, smiling at the dark-blue pony hovering in front of her with a puzzled, curious expression. "Alright, then why don't you tell me how you got hurt? That's a pretty big bandage....and what kind of bandage is that?" she asked, letting his foreleg go after giving it a closer examination, brief as it may have been.
Strider was getting a familiar feeling from these questions. That feeling of dread that made his mind boil and his stomach churn. All of these lies meant nothing good on his end. "Oh, I uh....stumbled across Twilight in the Everfree Forest, I think she was going to visit Zecora, and she brought me with because she thought that my wound looked worse than it actually was. Zecora put some medicine on it and wrapped it up, that's all!" he said, hoping he had his story straight as he could afford to have it. Then again, he was already losing track of what he'd already told Twilight to get the lavender Unicorn off of his case. However, with the look in Twilight's eyes, he could only assume that he hadn't eluded her inquisitive nature, and that concerned him greatly.
For Rainbow Dash though, this all seemed to be plenty to satisfy her curiosity, not that it mattered, since a shout from a familiar pink pony down below called them both to attention. "Heeeeeeey~! Rainbow Dash, Colt-I-Don't-Knoooooow~!" she shouted out to them in a more sing-song voice, waving up at them with a hoof. When they took too long to respond, she hrmph'ed and smirked, narrowing her eyes. "Don't make me get my Pinkie-Copter!" she said in a mock-threatening tone. "I'd hate to catch you two in the act!"
Rainbow Dash leaned over the edge of the cloud that she and Strider were sitting on, waving down to Pinkie Pie in return. She was blushing again, very intensely, even Pinkie could make it out. "Wh-what?! We're not-I'm....erm, don't worry, we'll be right down!" she said, sitting up and looking back over to Strider. "Doesn't look like we're getting privacy 'til later, huh?" she asked, and Strider just nodded his head. "Sounds about right, I seem to be running into a lot of ponies you know today." he said, spreading his wings alongside Rainbow and making his way down to Pinkie, landing almost perfectly in time with his fellow pegasus.
Pinkie Pie grinned when they both came down to meet her, the earth pony staying standing with her Basket Hat still adorning her head, having Gummy sitting inside of it, his beady eyes glancing and staring into Strider's own. Strider just stared at the alligator for a few moments, barely even noticing Pinkie beginning to talk. "So this day is turning out great! I have a surprise for both of you!" she said, hopping up and down. It was then that Strider took notice to the picnic baskets that Pinkie was carrying around, Rainbow Dash apparently noticing the same. "Uh, what's with all the....oh. You've got a party planned, don't you?" Rainbow asked, smirking and eyeing her prankster friend knowingly.
"Yup! You're such a smart pony, how'd you guess?" she asked in her usual tone. Oh, how Rainbow Dash knew that it was near-impossible to figure out whether or not Pinkie Pie was being sarcastic, or genuine, and this was easily one of the impossible moments with her. "Yyyeah....well, where's this party happening?" Rainbow asked, and Pinkie just pointed in the direction of Sweet Apple Acres. "We're all meeting up at Starlight Hill! Be sure to come by soon, everything's almost ready!"
Strider exchanged a look with Rainbow Dash, then looked to Pinkie Pie, smiling. "Can I assume I'm invited as well, erm....Pinkie Pie, right?" he asked, holding a hoof out to the party pony in offer, Pinkie responding in kind with a bro-hoof of sorts. "Yup, name's Pinkie Pie! Nice to see you again," she said, grinning and turning to head to the place she'd be setting up her little picnic party. "Don't be late! The girls are looking forward to meeting you, Mystery Pony!" she said while rushing away from them to leave them alone. But then, she came back just as suddenly as she'd left them standing there looking at each other in confusion. "Oh, by the way, have either of you seen Twilight? I checked the library, but Spike said she ran off to the Everfree Forest, I was wondering if she came back yet."
Strider held up a hoof, smiling. "Oh, I spotted her while heading out of the Everfree Forest earlier, she was just visiting her friend Zecora. She should be back in a while, they were very chatty with one another," he explained, Pinkie turning away from them after he finished. "Okie-dokie-lokie! I'll find 'er, don't worry! You two just head on up to Starlight Hill after I leave, the picnic should be all set up by the time you get there." With that, Pinkie went bounding away, leaving Strider and Rainbow looking at each other curiously, both of them shrugging their shoulders. Rainbow laughed shortly after and shook her head a few times, a blush staining her cheeks. "I guess you were right....she knows!"
Strider just smirked and shrugged at the prospect. "Well, it's a perfect time to come clean, isn't it? I'm tired of hiding it from everypony anyways," he said, flapping his wings a couple of times before tucking them in and relaxing. "So.....shall we go?"
Twilight continued down the path, grumbling something to herself, feeling the fatigue from the headache, all of the walking making her blood pump more intensely, and in doing so it made her headache worse. Eventually she stopped and took her third breather, sitting down against the base of a tree next to the main path. "Ugh, this was a bad idea....I'm gonna be sick by the time I get back, I should've eaten breakfast too!" she said, chastising herself. "But then, if I had taken the time, I would've caught that Wind Strider pony hanging around here, I don't even HEAR a Manticore anywhere near this area!"
"Can you help me, please....?" an ethereal voice asked, Twilight perking her head up and looking around. "Who's there?!"