Steam rose in great waves from the barrel and Rarity Unicorn let out a long exaggerated sigh as she dipped her hooves into hot water. The scented salt crystals she had added filled the air with the wonderful aroma of lilies. The fashion pony rolled her shoulder and grimaced at the knot she felt there. Already the water was relaxing her hooves and the steam was clearing her sinuses. The home spa-set had been given to Rarity for her birthday as a combined gift from Twilight and Fluttershy. It was a truly generous gift and Rarity used it as much as she could.
For the moment, the Carousel Boutique was at peace. The entire shop was best described as a war-zone. Drawing paper was wadded, crumbled and tossed with ruthless dismissive-ness or used as make-shift projectiles. Crayons, hoof-paints and glue stained the floor, walls and somehow the ceiling. A streak of gold and blue glitter swirled around the ceiling, flowing in seemingly impossible ways. Paper lay cut and torn in hearts, stars, circles and failed snowflakes alongside stub-nosed safety scissors. The bran-new set of paint brushes Rarity had bought this very morning floated horribly abused in a cup of murky brown water. Somehow an entire box of peanut crackers had been devoured and the box tossed carelessly to the ground; Rarity had not been aware of having a box of crackers anywhere in the house.
This riot of colors and shades hurt Rarity's eyes; garish pinks, pastel blues and even colors Rarity was not sure had ever existed before this day. This was an unstoppable force sweeping through her store. This was the inevitable result of leaving three fillies alone for fifteen minutes while she was out picking up pizzas and cupcakes.
This was the Cutie Mark Crusader arts and crafts day.
Rarity let out a long, labored breath. Right now the three fillies were in the master bathroom upstairs taking a bath. Their fur had been crusted with paint, glue and glitter. Rarity had not scolded them; it would have been pointless. Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo and AppleBloom were too cute for their own good, and at the end of the day, they meant well. They always meant well. Rarity doubted there was a selfish bone anywhere in their little bodies.
Still, it would not do for the three fillies to have dinner while so dirty. Rarity demanded some standards from the three. So long as it was a sleepover at her house, they would at least not track paint everywhere. Rarity was determined to make the three fillies into ladies someday, no matter how much they resisted.
Rarity sipped from the glass of tea she had poured earlier. She heard a thump and the shouts of little ponies from upstairs. The unicorn could only imagine the horrors the Cutie Mark Crusaders were committing to her bathroom. A shiver began to run up Rarity's spine, but she ignored it. She loved her little sister and her little friends. Whatever horrible bubble disaster the little ponies had accomplished would be cleaned in due time. Right now, Rarity would let the fillies be fillies. The unicorn had learned her lessons from Applejack well. Under the careful eyes of her best friend, Rarity had learned to give in just enough to keep Sweetie Belle happy and how to push back just enough so the Crusaders learned from their mistakes.
Rarity sighed to herself. Applejack was off again, visiting that gorgeous hunk of stallion Soarin'. The unicorn was envious of her friend. It wasn't that she was jealous; at least not anymore. A single ill-conceived kiss at a single ill-conceived party had ensured Rarity knew never to feel jealous of Applejack.
Rarity gulped back her third glass of wine and tried not to scowl at Applejack as her friend left to go to the filly's room. The farmer had been nice enough to bring Rarity to one of the WonderBolt's socials. She had neglected to mention that most of the ponies would be talking sports or politics; two topics Rarity found it hard to care about. And much to Rarity's dismay it seemed that the entirety of the stallion WonderBolts already had fillyfriends. There was an ever-present protectiveness radiating from every mare that had been lucky enough to snag one of the WonderBolts. They were all aware of the lustful, envious looks their coltfriends were getting from mares just like Rarity.
Rarity found herself looking at Soarin' with lustful eyes and in that moment the unicorn wished she had never distracted Rainbow Dash from the WonderBolt. If Applejack and Rainbow had been too busy competing with one another, Rarity could have effortlessly taken the WonderBolt in her hoof. And then she would be the pony with the sculpted stallion, not that apple farmer. The thought made Rarity smile and she cast a quick glance over her shoulder. Applejack had just rounded the corner into the hallway. Rarity figured she had a few minutes before the farmer was back. That was all the time she needed.
"So…Soarin'…" Rarity purred as she leaned closer to the Wonderbolt. Her head was dizzy and the wine she had was giving her pleasant warmth in her stomach. Her mouth seemed to move on its own, without thought or respect to the normally lady-like unicorn. Soarin' looked at the alabaster unicorn and gulped. She was attractive. Hell, she was hot! Everypony knew it but more importantly she knew it. Rarity traced her hoof in idle circles over Soarin's hard muscles and seductively licked her lips.
"If things don't work out...you know, between you and Applejack." She sipped from her glass and leaned closer to whisper in his ears, making sure to breathe deeply to warm his ear. She saw the stallion shutter and he closed his eyes to take a deep breath. Somewhere in Rarity's drunk mind she was impressed at his resistance. He truly was trying not to notice her hoof, her voice or her proximity.
"Brava to him" thought Rarity.
When she spoke again, there was a hint of well-placed longing and a little desperation in her voice, "You'll call me, right? If you ever get…lonely?"
"Rarity, how much have you had to drink?" Soarin' asked as he tried to pull away. The unicorn draped her arms around his neck and stared at him with wild eyes.
"How much do you need me to drink?"
"Don't do this." Soarin' said as he pushed her away, "AJ is your friend. She's my fillyfriend."
"Humph!" Rarity scoffed, "What does that farmer have that I do not?"
"You know that's not what I meant."
"Then tell me." Rarity breathed and lunged at him. She pressed herself against him, and kept her mouth only inches from his, "Why not me? What's so special about Applejack?"
"Applejack is the pony I want." Soarin' said as he tried to pull away from the drunken mare, "I can't explain it any better. If you and I had started to date, I'm sure this would be my favorite position for us, but we're not dating Rarity. I'm with Applejack, and that's the way I want it to stay. Come on, let go."
"One kiss." Rarity almost begged, "Just one."
"I can't!" Soarin' said and she could see the conflict in his eyes. On one hoof, he wanted Applejack. On the other was Rarity Unicorn. What stallion in their right mind turns her down?
"Don't think." Rarity whispered and brushed her lips on his. It was instantly intoxicating and she pushed herself on to him, lips trying to force themselves on the WonderBolt even as he tried to pull away.
"Get yer' froufrou colt-stealing hooves off my coltfriend!" Rarity barely had time to register the voice and the menace it contained. A pair of hooves collided with her head and sent her reeling to the floor, dazed. The unicorn's vision swam and her head rung as if it was a school bell at the start of recess. A pony was standing over her, anger and sadness portrayed in equal measures on her features. Applejack looked down at Rarity with a mixture of disbelief and disgust; the unicorn was drunk, she didn't know what she was doing. The farmer turned to the shocked WonderBolt and advanced on him, each step echoing loudly.
"You!" She hissed between her teeth, "What in tarnation is ya' doing smoochin' Rarity?" Her eyes brimmed with tears of anger, "If ya' thinks I'm the type of pony to do them three-pony-bucks, ya' got another thing comin'! How could ya' Soarin'? I thoughts ya' was different?" She turned and was about to leave in a flood of tears when Rarity spoke.
"Applejack, wait!" The unicorn staggered to her feet, a hoof to her aching head, "It wasn't him. He uh-" Rarity stumbled but regained her balance, "He said no. I…I threw myself at Soarin'" Saying the words made the reality of the situation dawn on Rarity. She sat down heavily and looked at the spinning floor, "He tried to push me away. He said he only wanted you."
"That true?" Applejack snapped at Soarin'. Her eyes were far from forgiving, but he saw hope there. She wanted to forgive him, wanted him to have been remained true. Applejack knew that eventually her relationship with Rarity would mend. Her friends would see to it personally if it didn't happen naturally. But Soarin was another matter. He was her secret; her burden and her blessing. If he had-
"Applejack, I would never cheat on you." Soarin' said as he stood, "Least of all with Rarity."
"What's wrong with me? What has Applejack got th-"
"Finish that sentence and I'll buck ya' into next Tuesday." Applejack said, glaring at the unicorn. She turned back to Soarin' and her features softened. "For trues?"
"Of course." Soarin' said, and wrapped his hooves around her.
"He was such a gentlecolt, I-umph." Applejack gave Rarity another kick as she hugged Soarin'; for good measure.
"Shut it." The farmer said to the unicorn and pulled back slightly from Soarin'.
"What say we go to that ice-cream store down the street? My treat?" Applejack said with a bashful grin. Soarin' nodded then looked down at Rarity.
"What about her? Will she be ok?" Applejack gave her friend a measure stare. Rarity was relieved not to see any hate in the farmer's eyes. if anything, Applejack felt sorry for her. Rarity Unicorn held herself to a high standard; higher than the standard she set for her friends, sisters, or clients. Applejack was not looking forward to the now inevitable endless apology letters or muffin baskets. Didn't that grey Pegasus at the post office like muffins? Maybe Applejack could fork the extras on her.
"Rarity has a thick skull on her; stubborn as a mule, that one. She'll keep until we gets back." Applejack said and walked away. She cast one last glance at Rarity and gave her a gentle smile and a slow nod. The unicorn acknowledged the look but her eyes were already filling with tears. She needed to be alone, and that was in part why Applejack had not brought her along; that, and she wanted to kiss Soarin' until the cows came home.
Rarity's jaw had been swollen for almost a week, and Applejack had refused to make eye-contact with her. By all rights Applejack should have never spoken to Rarity again. But like the Element of Harmony that she was, Applejack believed in friendship. And Rarity's misbehavior had simply been another test. Still, Rarity had had baskets of flowers, fruits and muffins delivered to her friend.
When Applejack finally came to Rarity, a week after the night, the unicorn had done everything save grovel on the floor to ask for forgiveness. Applejack had offered it freely though, explaining that in a weird way, it was flattering; at least Applejack could pick stallions that met Rarity's standards. The two had laughed, and then Applejack had told Rarity she was going out to visit her WonderBolt. Rarity had been shocked; Applejack had been nowhere near presentable. And so the now tradition of full make-up and styling before dates had started.
Yesterday when Applejack had left for another date, Rarity had been sure to spoof her mane extra and polish her hooves to a mirror shine. It was the least she could do. Applejack had even spoken about Soarin'. He was taking her someplace special, but like a good coltfriend he was keeping it a secret. Rarity wondered where they were; the royal opera, or maybe Soarin' had gotten her box-seats to the turkey derby 500?
The door to the Boutique exploded open, almost rocking off its hinges. Rarity spat out her wine in surprise and tried to stand. She tripped on the lip of the bucket at her feet and toppled over, screaming in surprise and anger. Warm scented water spilled to the floor, splattering over Rarity's face and mane. She growled in anger and opened her eyes.
"Rarity?" A thick accented voice called out, "Rarity were is ya'?" hooves went to and fro as Applejack ran throughout the boutique calling for her friend. She spotted Rarity on the floor, growling at something. "Get up! We ain't got time for naps!"
"You had better have a good reason for charging in here like a bull, Applejack." Rarity spat as she brushed herself off, "I thought you were-" Rarity trailed off and cast a worried glance back at the stairs. The Crusaders were still upstairs and Applejack's relationship was a strict secret, "-out of town."
"I cames back." Applejack said quickly and began to pace back and forth, "I needs to talk to somepony. Somepony who knows about all this romancin'."
"Maybe this isn't the best time, Applejack?" Rarity said, glancing again at the stairs.
"No, now!" Applejack said, staring at her hooves as she walked, "I don't know what I'm gonna' do. I don't know how-"
"Really, Applejack, we should not be talking about this here." The sound of little hooves on wooden floors echoed from upstairs. The Crusaders were on the move. "Perhaps we should-"
"Rarity, I love him!" Applejack suddenly yelled, tears in her eyes, "We…" She took a deep breath, "we-went-to-the-Pomegranate-Promenade-and-he-was-such-a-gentlecolt-and-we-kissed-and-we-held-hooves-and-there-was-a-pie-contest-and-a-photo-of-Granny-and-Grampy-and-we-kissed-more-and-we-watched-the-fireworks-and-I-said-I-loved-him!" Rarity stared blank eyed at the earth pony as she spoke at a speed that Pinkie Pie would have found hard to follow. The hooves had stopped but Rarity was too transfixed by her friend to turn around.
"What do I do Rarity?" Applejack said after catching her breath, "I've never felt this way before. I look at Soarin' and my heart starts thumpin' so loud I can't hear anythin' else. I feels better with him then I does after buckin' apples. Buckin' apples, Rarity! And I'm an apple-farmer!" She took another breath and the dreamy smile fell from her lips, "How is I gonna' tell Big Mac and AppleBloom about Soarin'? How does I say Applejack, the most dependable and get-alongingness pony you ever gonna' meet, has been sneaking about with a colt behind their backs?"
"Applejack?" The word was little more than a whisper, spoken in a squeaky, innocent voice. Both adult mares felt their blood go cold and turned to the stairs. The three Cutie Mark Crusaders stared in shock at Applejack, their fur covered in fluffy bubble clouds. A wet trail of soap and bubbles had been left in their wake. One of the mounds of bubbles approached slowly, and Applejack looked on in horror as the familiar hazel eyes regarded her with hurt disbelief.
"Ya…ya' been lying to us?" Applebloom squeaked out, "Ya' aint been visitin' cousin Braeburn?"
"I tried to tell you." Rarity hissed in Applejack's ear, "Sweetie Belle brought her friends over for a sleep-over." Applejack shot the unicorn a look then looked at her little sister and sighed in defeat.
"Ya." Applejack couldn't look at the wide-eyed Crusader, "Ya I've been as dishonest as a snake."
"But why Applejack?" The tone of the Crusader caused both Rarity and Applejack to flinch. Applebloom was hurt and disappointed; two things Applejack had never wanted directed at her.
"Because I…" She sighed again, "I didn't want to upset Big Macintosh and I…I didn't want ya' thinking poorly of ya' big sister."
"Why would Big Mac be angry?"
"'Cause I'm datin' a Pegasus." Applejack said, "One of 'em WonderBolts. Big Mac thinks they is all a bunch of show-offs. He thinks they is rotten to the core."
"Big Mac hates Pegasus?" Scootaloo squeaked, suddenly wide-eyed with fear.
"Never!" Applejack said, "He just doesn't wannna' see his sister hurt by one of them WonderBolts. He's all-"
"Wait wait wait." Scootaloo cut in, "You're dating a WonderBolt? Eeeeeee! I can't wait to tell RainBow Dash!"
"No!" Both mares screamed at the same time. This gave the Crusaders a pause.
"Ya'll can't tell RainBow." Applejack said, "She…uh…well…"
"What Applejack is trying to say, dear, is that RainBow Dash would react…poorly…if you were to tell her." Rarity said, "Applejack should be the one to tell her, right Applejack?"
"Ya'll lied to me, Applejack." AppleBloom suddenly whispered, "Ya' lied right to my face." She approached the near-to-tears Applejack slowly. With each step the Applejack seemed to shrink in size, her guilt and shame robbing her of her height. AppleBloom looked at her big sister with tears in her eyes, turned and bucked her. The little filly's hooves smacked Applejack square in the face. Although it was done in anger, there was still little force behind the blow. AppleBloom was just a filly, and Applejack was a full-grown mare with years of hard work to her name. But the message was clear. As Applejack stood there in shock, AppleBloom turned back to her big sister and embraced her.
No pony knew what to say as AppleBloom gripped her sister tightly. Applejack responded instantly and wrapped her hooves around her bubble covered sister. The two apple farmers held each other in a tender embrace. This was AppleBloom's way of dealing with her emotions; a single outburst then forgiveness. Applejack loved that about her little sister. AppleBloom could never hold a grudge. The little filly farmer mumbled something.
"I said I wanna' meet him!" AppleBloom said with more force this time. She glared at her older sister and Applejack nodded.
"O' course lil' sis." Applejack said, "Next time I-"
"No!" AppleBloom said, "Today! I wanna' meet your coltfriend today!"
"Take me too!" Scootaloo called out.
"And me!" Sweetie Belle said.
"Sweetie!" Rarity gasped, "You shan't be going with-"
"Were you lying too, Rarity?" Sweetie Belle asked with a grin. Rarity held her sisters glare for a moment and relented.
"A trip out of town does sound nice." She said with a sigh.