++ Twilight ++
Honestly, when Spike told me he’d seen our two pals out in the snow, I’d scoffed at him. After all, he can be prone to flights of fancy, particularly when Rarity is involved. That crush shows no signs of fading, the silly boy. My number one assistant had been adamant enough that I finally squinted through the blowing snow. Color me surprised to see the familiar patterns of Rarity and Applejack out by the well. What else could I do but go see if everything was okay?
It was a little startling to have Rarity scamper off so quickly, but I don't mind. She lives just on the other side of town and has her sister to be concerned about. Sweet Apple Acres would be a far greater hike for Applejack. As much as a repeat of our sleepover would have been fun, I'll be thrilled with just Applejack's company. I feel that we have much in common, yet we are different enough that she fascinates me. There never seems to be time to get closer to this intriguing earth pony and her existence so close to the natural rhythms of the land. I have always been so dependent on magic and things at the farm are the opposite of that. Being so endlessly curious and book learned, I want to know more about how she lives. I want to know more about her...
“I, uh, I should really get home. Granny’ll worry so,” Applejack stammers and the wave of sharp disappointment makes my throat hurt. Some of that must show on my face, because she stops backing away, shuffling her rump through the snow. Had I been pursuing her?
“Oh, okay,” I force myself to say quietly, trying to keep my dratted ears from falling flat with disappointment. “Will you be okay in this cold? With bare hooves?”
Conflicted, Applejack chews at her lower lip and I can’t help but watch the unconscious movement. Does she really dislike my company this much? It’s disheartening really, especially since I really do want to get to know her better. Even with practicing on my group of friends here in Ponyville, I have trouble with the rules of relationships. The static words in books are far more comprehensible to me. They always have been.
Doing my best to force cheerfulness, though I fear I’m failing miserably, I back away with a nod. “Okay then. You better get moving before this gets any worse. Be safe.”
A sharp, implacable yank on my tail stops me short, whipping my head around to find out what is going on. Imagine my surprise to see Applejack with a mouthful of blue and pink hair. Her head is low, her ears lower, and her expression so hang-dog that Spike would be impressed. “Ah’m sorry, Twilight,” comes out muffled as much from the heavier snowfall as my tail. “I don’t mean to be so dang rude. Just ain't myself today.”
There’s something in her expression, in her supplicating body language that sharpens my focus, makes me strangely hyper aware of her closeness, the tension on my sensitive tail. Releasing the blue strands, Applejack steps closer, breath hot against the star-burst shaped cutie mark that is a summation of who I am.
“It’s cold out and I ‘magine Spike must be worried ‘bout you.”
The moment feels strange and surreal. The snow muffles everything, making me feel as though we are the only two living things in the whole world. I’m having trouble concentrating and I really don’t understand why. Without thinking, driven by some sort of instinct as foreign to me as winged flight, I turn and press my nose to hers.
The magnetic eyes are as green as spring leaves and I feel like I could get lost in her forest. “Your nose is cold. Come inside.”
Silently, she nods and we walk together, shoulder to shoulder.
The blast of heat in the library is quite a shock after the plunging temperatures outdoors. Spike flounces over to fuss over us both. “I was getting worried! Did Rarity come with you?”
Applejack’s chuckle warms me as she leans down to give the little dragon a warm look. “Sorry, Spike. She had to head home to make sure that mean ole’ cat of hers didn’t wreck the shop.”
Poor Spike is the very picture of dejection a moment before perking up. “Okay. Hey, you two come in and get warm. I’ll run a hot bath. That’ll help!”
“Sorry ‘bout your clean floors, Twilight,” Applejack demurs as Spike runs off. She’s dripping everywhere, the soaked scarf trailing on the ground. It’s a strangely adorable sight. Now where did that thought come from?
“Don’t worry about it. You’re warm and safe now, that’s all that matters. Shall we try slumber party part two?”
Sheepishly, she chuckles and nods. “Ah’m not sure I’m up to party games t’night.”
That's pretty obvious as she looks worn out and sort of jumpy. Maybe I can get her to talk about what’s bothering her. After all, isn’t that what friends do?
With minute effort I magic our sodden clothing to drape neatly on the fireplace grate to dry, not even noticing that my horn glows as it always does when actively using my unicorn magic. Then I lead the way to the bath where we can both warm up. Applejack remains quiet and introspective, her mind clearly a million miles away.
“Are you okay?”
It’s amazing how tentative I sound… how tentative I feel. For a long moment, Applejack doesn’t react save her eyes twitching a little nervously. I feel like I’m doing something wrong, or have done something wrong, or I’m failing somehow as a friend…
“Stop yer brain wrackin’, Twi,” Applejack suddenly chuckles and she’s looking directly at me now. “It ain’t like that.”
Now I’m completely confused and complain, “But I didn’t say anything.”
“Nope. But you got one lousy poker face, pretty girl.”
It’s all too true and I rest my chin on the tub edge to pout. “Yeah, I know. Princess Celestia always thought it was amusing.” Yes, my royal mentor had tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to teach me that calm, unruffled face to show the world. She would also tell me, with her characteristic patience and kindness, that I would learn in time.
“You’re sweet, Applejack.”
There it is again, the melancholy thoughts behind her green eyes. I don’t know what they mean, but I can see them, almost feel them. My instincts are trying to tell me something, give me some information about these strange emotional waters.
“It is me,” my voice accuses with no input from my common sense. Applejack cringes like I’ve bucked her in the teeth and I’m aghast. Crushed by the rejection, hurt by how she’s acting, I do my best to escape, the mess of water be damned. Once again, she is too fast for me, yanking me flat to the slippery floor with a bite to the tail.
“Dang it, Twilight! Please, please gimme a chance to try and explain. This is really hard for me.”
She’s dripping all over me where I’m sprawled on the floor, her stronger body towering over me almost aggressively. Without thinking, I rest my front hooves on her legs and consciously remind my equine instincts not to kick her in the belly. I see the comprehension dawn over the freckled face and she steps away with a murmured apology.
“Well, you’re obviously upset about something.” I hadn’t meant to sound so accusing… or whiny.
“Ah know, ah know. Just let me get my brain on track and I’ll come clean. In the meantime, we should dry off.”
Right on cue, Spike skids in, nearly dropping a pile of towels nearly as tall as he is. “Whoa!”
With a coiled neck and a strong shoulder, Applejack saves him from a tumble, the towels falling over her face. “Careful there, Spike.”
She looks nonplussed when Spike jumps on her back to begin vigorously rubbing down the glossy orangey-buff hide. Magic suffices me just fine, animating the thick cloth to wick away the heaviest moisture.
“Hey, you’re really strong,” Spike admires as he crawls all over Applejack’s back and withers. He’s right, of course. I noticed the finely tuned musculature the first time I met her.
“Sweet Apple Acres is hard work,” I comment and she smiles gratefully. I’ve helped enough this first summer and fall to get a glimpse of her lifestyle. It still amazes me how much I enjoyed it. The farm is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I come from a city existence, from a long line of scholars and sorcerers. The earthy existence of a farm is something my books never really made… real.
Once again, the admired muscles are muted as the short, dense fur dries. With a thought, I add a magicked towel to the fray, working on upper neck and forelock. Another engulfs her tail and Applejack actually laughs. “I feel like some sorta froufrou experiment at Rarity’s place. Y’all ain’t gonna weave ribbons in my mane, are ya?”
Enjoying the cessation of the mysterious tension, I magic over my hairbrush to tame the wild blonde forelock and a blue ribbon that earns me a tolerant glower. Giggling, I groom her and tie off her forelock above the big green eyes.
Spike laughs and jumps down to towel off her sides.
“Thanks, you two. Ah’m used to just standing ‘round till I dry naturally.”
“Being friends with a unicorn--”
“And a dragon!”
“And a dragon, has its perks. Now I don’t know about you two, but curling up in front of the fire with a snack sounds like an excellent ending to our brief adventure with the first snowfall of winter.”
Thoughtfully, Spike has laid out even more towels in front of the fireplace where we ponies can rest and finish drying off. With a long, almost grunting sigh, Applejack sprawls out on her belly, hind legs stretched out and front hooves aimed at the fire. I’m content with my favorite childhood pose, the one that made mother always call me ‘kitten’.
“Is Rarity okay?”
Poor Spike sounds so worried! Immediately, Applejack raises her head and smiles at the little guy. “Rarity’s fine, Spike. She was actually helpin’ me with a problem, not the other way ‘round.”
“Oh, that's good. Not that I’m happy that you have a problem.” His verbal stumbling is comical and I stifle a giggle. Setting down two bowls that look too big for his small stature to manage, Spike flops down beside me and picks out an apple to chomp. I’m content with the salad and Applejack tears into a couple of sandwiches.
They both fall asleep with crumbs on their faces.
It’s easy enough to magic Spike up to his little bed, I have plenty of practice, but I don’t want to disturb Applejack. After I’ve tucked in my assistant and picked up after our snack, my pony companion has rolled onto her side, breathing evenly. Hopefully she won’t mind as I lay close and rest my head on her ribs. Beneath my ear sounds the whoosh of breath and the rhythm of her strong heart. What’s troubling this powerful mare? She always seems so strong and self-assured, even to a fault.
And my admittedly rough instincts still tell me that I have something to do with her problem.
I must have dozed off, because I’m startled awake by my pillow shifting and Applejack’s voice murmuring brokenly. Before I can even gather my wits to react to what sounds like distress, she stills and softly my name moans up from her throat.
That gets my attention!
Head snapping up, I stare at my friend, who is now on her back, hooves curled adorably, the left still hooked loosely over my shoulder. Had she been hugging me? With a snort, Applejack blinks awake, looking slightly startled that I’m so close. The imprint of my head in her chest fur embarrasses me, but also gives me a strange thrill.
“Hey,” she murmurs drowsily, startling when I stand to pin her in place with all four limbs. It feels strange and empowering to feel as though I have physically bested this powerful mare. “What’s wrong?”
“You tell me. A moment ago, you were moaning my name.” The accusing edge to my voice isn’t intentional and Applejack’s eyes get nervous and shifty again. So I lean down, pressing my forehead to hers, enjoying the closeness and feeling the press of her skull against my horn. “C’mon, AJ,” I coax. “You can tell me.”
She squirms, brushing against my legs, again chewing at her lip, clearly wanting to talk but still so reluctant. Sighing, I step aside and sit to bemusedly watch her leap to her feet and pace the dim room like a caged wild thing. “Look, I know ah’ve been actin’ like I got hoof in mouth, nervous as a cat and jumpier than a snake, but I just don’ know how to say what I has to say!”
She’s babbling and I find it strangely charming.
“Words are hard here, findin’ ‘em and puttin’ ‘em in order so that I don’t sound like an idiot when I tell you how I feel about ya and what’s goin’ on and Rarity’d be mockin’ me somethin’ fierce right now for not just spittin’ it out. Some Element of Honesty ah am.”
The pacing stops and I stop processing this whole scene and focus on her. Clearly, I’m missing something quite obvious here and I must figure out the puzzle.
“Ah like you, Twilight Sparkle.”
“I like you too, Applejack.” And, strangely, this is clearly not what she wants to hear. Practically prancing with distress, she sways in place, wracked with whatever is eating her up. Honestly, I’m getting concerned and carefully step closer. “Applejack, how is liking me bad?”
Hanging her head, she murmurs barely loud enough to be heard. “Because I want ta be more than just your friend.”
Time seems to slow as my brain goes into a full gallop, processing what I’ve heard. Wants to be more than my friend? How could she be more? That statement doesn’t even make any sense… unless…
“Do you have a crush on me?”
My voice is high-pitched with astonishment, proof that I really am not good at this sort of thing, these dangerous swamps of emotion that I have never learned to navigate well. Applejack makes some sort of a pathetic noise, like a kid goat afraid for its life, and actually starts to shake.
“Yes,” she croaks and looks at me in abject, pitiful distress. Again, for long moments, my mind races, calculating all that I have suddenly learned from this trusted friend. Then, with surprising clarity, the sudden possibilities that she has offered me dawn like spring after winter.
The delighted smile escapes me, unbidden as I stretch out to nuzzle the flaxen forelock. “Okay. I like that. I like you. Give me a chance and I bet I could learn to more than like you too.”