Applejack watched listlessly as her purple friend trotted away from the huge red barn. Her thoughts were not even close to focused on the unicorn, and each new thought sparked deeper feelings of anger and regret. She was so confused as to how the day could have begun so amazingly, and ended with her at the farm alone. Big Macintosh had gone to stay at Fluttershy's cottage for the night, which left little in question as to their intentions. Applebloom was having a sleepover at Rarity's boutique with the other Cutie Mark Crusaders, and, as usual, Granny Smith was already in a deep sleep. Applejack had specifically told Rainbow Dash not to return to Sweet Apple Acres, and it seemed the pegasus had taken the order.
Applejack both deeply regretted her statement to her marefriend, and was proud of herself for it. She knew that it stood as a testament to the fact that she would not bend to Dash's will in the relationship, but she hadn't thought through the truly wounding power of her words. Had she been told by somepony that she had to stay away from Rainbow, it would tear her up inside and she would make it her mission to find a way to see her lover; which is where the anger sparked from. If Dash felt the same way, she surely would have returned with some heartfelt apology by now. Applejack had not taken her own warning into account when pondering this. If she had, perhaps she would have realized her lover would just be taking the cowpony's word, and was probably back at her own home in Cloudsdale.
There was no possible way she could have known that the pegasus was not in Cloudsdale, nor could she be. With a broken wing dragging lamely at her side, Dash walked slowly toward her destination in the Everfree Forest. Streams of tears flowed freely from her eyes, and the shattering of her heart had deafened her to the dull and constant pain of a broken limb. Her wingtip left a trail in her wake, marking where she had been. Without looking up, Rainbow knew she had reached the cave where she would be staying. She wiped her eyes and looked inside the cavernous mouth. Inside there were many different and odd features, including a punching bag filled with hay and a mound of the same substance on the opposite wall.
Normally, Dash would work her anger out on the punching bag, slowly beating the hay into submission. This time, however, she couldn't bring herself to touch it. She simply stood there, imagining why she would want to hit the thing. She was aware of the fact that Applejack was the source of anger, and Rainbow knew that she could never bring herself to hit AJ, be it real or imaginary. Instead, she looked around the damp cave. It hit her that this cave was not unlike the one she and Applejack had confessed their feelings inside just a day before, and soon she began to sob again. Rainbow Dash swung herself around to attack the punching bag, her vision blurred by bitter tears. Before she hit it, she saw her orange marefriend standing in its place. She lost all will to hit her target and collapsed into heaving sobs. She hugged the punching bag as though it were the real Applejack, and prayed the mare would come find her.
At Sweet Apple Acres, Applejack stood, still pondering her situation. Her anger had slowly given way to even deeper regret as she had feared it would, and she hung her head in despair. Walking back inside, her hooves clopped slowly up the wooden stairs. Once she was inside her room, she opened the window and sat gently on the sill. She slid the Stetson off of her head and held it in her hooves. Dashie wore this earlier. . . Dash, what have Ah done? Please come back. . . Applejack thought, and her tears soon left darker brown splotches on the fabric. She didn't know how long she sat there, but after while, she turned her gaze to the sky.
The sun had gone, and the crater-covered surface of the moon shone brightly in the night sky. The dark of night normally gave Applejack a sort of peace of mind, but now it just reminded her of the darkness in her heart. Even the radiant light reflecting off the orchard didn't penetrate the dark cloud over Applejack's head. She continued to watch the sky, praying silently to Celestia that Dash would return. Her eyes stung as she refused to blink, unwilling to miss a single second. The moon slowly made its course across the sky, and eventually gave way to the sun once more. Still, Applejack watched the air, but she knew it was too late. She would have to find her marefriend herself. Or so she thought as she heard a pounding at the door to the barn.
The orange mare quickly galloped to the door, thinking that it was Rainbow Dash. When she opened the door wide, the smile dropped from her face. In front of her, Rarity, Twilight, Pinkie, and Fluttershy all stood, looking nervous. Twilight was the first to speak, as usual.
"Hay, Applejack, have you seen Rainbow Dash anywhere? I went to see her in Cloudsdale, and she wasn't home, so I went to see if the fillies had seen her," she said, gesturing behind herself. "Pinkie and Rarity haven't seen her in days, and Fluttershy and I haven't seen her since yesterday. I thought maybe she spent the night here, seeing as she was here on the farm when I saw her."
Applejack immediately got nervous. If Dash hadn't gone home after leaving Sweet Apple Acres, where could she have gone? A million and one thoughts raced through Applejack's mind, and a hundred different situations presented themselves, the most prominent being that Dash had run away.
"Sorry, fillies, Ah haven't seen her since yesterday," Applejack admitted, struggling to blink back more tears. "Ah'd be more than glad to help yah look, though." She closed the door behind herself, and began walking with the other four mares. She kept to the back of the group until Fluttershy hovered over.
"Applejack, what do you know?" The yellow pegasus whispered, her intuition telling her there was more to Applejack's silence than the presented emotion.
Applejack once again fought back bitter tears as she explained the situation to her friend. "Ah. . . Ah tried to kiss Dash, an' Twilight was standin' there. Dash told me she was afraid, ashamed even, of her seein' us together, so she played it off like a joke. Ah told her she was being self-centered, an' Ah told her not to come back. . . Oh Shy, what have Ah done?" The farm pony cried, tilting her hat down to prevent her friends from seeing her tears. Fluttershy simply rested a light wing on Applejack's back and nodded understandingly.
"Applejack, it's okay to cry. Dash just wasn't ready to admit to everypony how she really felt and you were. You need to be strong, though. If not for yourself, for Rainbow. She probably misses you more than you miss her," Fluttershy said reassuringly. Applejack simply nodded, and casually wiped the stream of tears from her face. Lifting her chin, the mare called out to the front of the group.
"Fillies, where the hay are we heading anyway?"
Twilight teleported next to Applejack, causing her to jump into the air. "Well, we already checked everywhere else, so we're headed for-"
"The Everfree Forest?" Applejack cut in, realizing what the only possible last resort would be. Twilight nodded solemnly, confirming Applejack's fears. They continued to walk, and Applejack slowly steeled herself for the search. While the other ponies were wearing themselves, Applejack knew each step brought her closer to Dash, and she soon found herself leading the group. After awhile Pinkie's energy finally gave, and she was forced to walk instead of hop. Rarity began to complain of the soreness of her hooves, but Applejack continued to walk without uttering a single complaint, or even a single word. She refused to halt, and was barely keeping herself from breaking into a run. Eventually, they came to the Everfree Forest.
Its darkness was formidable, its sounds instilling fear into weaker pony's hearts. Applejack was oblivious to all of this, as her hope to find Dash triumphed all other fears. Secretly, she was more fearful than ever. She feared the fact that Rainbow might be injured, or worse. That she might outright reject Applejack after their fight. Applejack battled these worries in the back of her mind, her outer confidence and resolve acting as a beacon for the other Elements of Harmony. The dark of the forest quickly descended upon the group, and the damp of the air chilled to the bone. They could hardly see their own hooves in front of their faces, but they trekked onward, hoping for any sign of the cyan pegasus.
Off in a cave in the very same forest, Dash was beyond weeping any longer. She hated herself for how she had acted and proceeded to thrash the punching bag. She pictured herself this time, and a rage like no other stemmed from the thought. She was the real reason that she was alone, the real reason that she was crippled. She had considered trying to return to Sweet Apple Acres, but realized quickly that she was no longer welcome. It had been her fault anyway, so she had begun to beat on the bag. The beating had become so continuous that the hay-filled innards began to burst out of the tough exterior. In a way, Rainbow felt as though she really was beating herself.
She had forced herself to be tough on the outside, unwilling to show her softer side to everypony else. In the process, she had hurt Applejack and herself, and she would never forget her stupidity. She tore into the bag with everything she had, attempting to wear herself into the same state as the bag. Little did she know, the one she prayed to see the most was not as far away as she thought. Applejack and the others had come to the place where Dash had landed, and could not make heads or tails of it.
"Ah just don't get it. It looks like she landed her, but where the buck could she be!" The farm pony cried out, bucking a nearby tree in frustration. Twilight just shook her head, ashamed that her analytical skills were failing them in their time of need. There were clear signs that the impact had been rough, most likely unexpected. But after that, she couldn't understand. The mark didn't suggest Dash had flown off, but it didn't suggest she had walked away. Her thoughts were interrupted when Pinkie cut it.
"Oh look! Twilight, over here! C'mon, over here!" The pink pony exclaimed, hopping up and down.
"Alright, what is it Pinkie?" Twilight asked, expecting some useless bit of information. Instead, she found Pinkie Pie pointing toward a new mark on the ground. This one was more of a divot, showing a clear direction. When Twilight closed one eye, she could see that the muddy ground suggested this one had been formed after the first she had seen. There was an obvious slope down and then back up, and the purple unicorn turned toward the direction she believed to be the correct path. After a bit of searching, she found another divot; however, this one did not slope back up. Instead, the mud had been dragged into a tree, suggesting some form of slide.
This breakthrough had brought them much closer to finding Rainbow Dash, Twilight was sure of it. Applejack ran over and looked over the mark. She was almost sure that Dash had gotten hurt, but she still hoped she was wrong. Looking closely, she noticed a line in the soft earth leading away from the tree. Applejack was more than confused by the scratching, but she had a good feeling that it would lead her to her lover. She sprinted off, following the line closely with her eyes. She could feel her friends trailing behind her, but her excitement prevented her from slowing. If anything, she was speeding up, slowly losing herself in the dense foliage.
After about ten minutes of running, Applejack came to a large, dark cave. She was pensive to enter, but all hope that Dash was inside forced her through the dark mouth. She soon noticed shafts of light breaking through the surface and lighting parts of the cave in front of her. A pile of moist hay rested on the left side, and a mangled bag sat on the other side. As she slowly approached, she could identify it as a punching bag. The bag had been torn apart, its hay strewn in every direction. When the bag shuddered, Applejack leapt back. She tensely approached again and noticed the tip of a limp cyan wing among the hay surrounding the moving bag.
Excited didn't come close to the joy Applejack felt as she pulled the bag away to reveal a sullen and restlessly tossing pegasus. Not just any pegasus though. This one had beautiful cyan feathers, strong muscles, a striking lightning bolt shaped Cutie Mark, and majestic rainbow hair. Applejack threw herself onto Dash, and the pegasus woke with a cry of pain. Stepping back, Applejack looked at her marefriend, fearing she had hurt her. Dash stood shakily, her wing remaining limp at her side. It was at this point that Applejack understood the trail she had followed had been made by the crippled wing. Rainbow's mind took a second to comprehend that the real Applejack was standing before her.
Once she came to the conclusion that is was no hallucination, she threw herself toward the earth pony, crying sweet tears of relief and joy. Dash was so incredibly overjoyed that she didn't even notice the other four mares walking toward them. Her voice choked with tears, Dash barely managed to whisper, "You came for me. I thought you hated me, but you came." She gave in to weak sobs, and Applejack just rubbed her back calmly.
"O' course Ah came, Dashie. It was one fight. Ah said terrible things, an' Ah shouldn't have. Ah'm sorry," Applejack admitted, hoping to mend the hole in their relationship. Rainbow just hugged her ever closer, and the other Elements of Harmony all watched, uncomfortably confused. Well, all except for Fluttershy who had a few happy tears rolling down her own cheeks. Twilight cleared her throat, breaking the reunited couple apart.
"You fillies care to shed a little light on the situation because something tells me we aren't getting the whole picture here," the purple unicorn said, speaking for the rest of the rest of the crowd. Applejack and Rainbow Dash shared a quick glance and the farm pony stepped forward.
"Well, you fillies know Dash is mah best friend, an' Ah was scared for her safety. That's all," the mare lied, which was not easy, being the Element of Honesty. Twilight just nodded slowly, as if trying to find it in herself to accept the lie.
"Well if that's-" The Element of Magic started before Dash cut her off.
"AJ, I can't do it again. I lied to Twilight last time, I can't ask you to lie to them all. Besides, I know this is the right thing to do," the pegasus told her marefriend, who was smiling sadly. They were both aware that this was the make-or-break moment for their group, and Applejack was proud that Dash had been brave enough to step forward with the truth. "You see. . . I've been friends with Applejack for a long time. Longer than the most of you fillies. So we've had plenty of time talk, and play, and bond. I can't speak for Applejack here, but somewhere along the line, I started. . ." Dash's voice trailed off before she got to the most important part. "I developed feelings for Applejack. Like, the kind that mares get for stallions."
Rainbow waited a moment for reality to dawn on the other mares, and they all soon nodded in understanding, even Pinkie. "Well, I told Shy, and she gave me the courage to tell AJ that. . . I like mares," Dash said, gesturing to both the orange mare beside her and the yellow pegasus off to one side of their group. "I guess what I'm getting at is-" Rainbow began again before she just tossed her gentle approach out the window. She grabbed Applejack, pulled her in for a close hug, and kissed her tightly. Oh, how she had missed those kisses. She had truly believed she would never experience them again, and it had been brutal on her. When she broke the kiss, Dash noticed the stunned faces of her friends.
"I love her. I love her endless eyes, her warm coat, her adorable accent, even her terrible sense of humor," Rainbow continued, looking deep into Applejack's eyes now. She was both conveying the feeling that she was genuinely sorry for what she had done as well as the feeling that she had never stopped loving her partner. Applejack didn't even take note of the false insult, and her eyes shimmered as she took in all of the cyan pegasus's love.
Applejack herself turned toward the others and told them, "And Ah love her back. Ah love everythin' about her. Ah could stand here all day namin' things Ah love about her. But we already knew that about each other. We feel downright awful about not telling you fillies, but we were scared," the orange cowpony admitted. Twilight cocked her head to one side in confusion.
"Scared of what?" She asked.
"Why, scared yah'd hate us. . . Fillyfoolers," Applejack said, the term bringing a bitter taste to her mouth. Twilight laughed audibly at the comment, leaving the couple confused.
"Hate you? You must be joking! I can't speak for Pinkie, or Rarity, or Fluttershy, but I still love you guys. You're still my friends, and that fact that you are together only makes me happier!" The unicorn explained, rushing over to embrace the lovers. Fluttershy hovered over without a word, her feelings having already been expressed the day before. Pinkie was tearing up slightly, and she began to bawl as she rushed into the group hug.
Rarity hesitated at first, still a little surprised by the turn of events. She simply shrugged off all other thoughts and embraced the group. In the center, Dash was in a state of bliss. Everything had turned out alright, and although her wing was broken, she was sure that she would be more than fine. So in the cave she had dedicated to her bouts of fury, the six of them stood. Together, they gave a more powerful radiation of magic than they had when using the Elements against Discord and Nightmare Moon. For this time, they showed the true meaning of friendship.