The arrival of a traveling magician seems to be marked by some strange occurrences in Ponyville. As these events start to strain the friendships of each pony that holds an Element of Harmony, two ponies start to come closer and closer together.
The cold air burst forth as Applejack opened the entrance to the stairwell, contrasting the late-summer heat. The stairs leading to the cellar were a narrow wooden-walled hallway with long wooden steps, as to avoid the chance of ponies losing their balance as they descended down the staircase. She hadn’t been out long that day, but it was still comforting to be somewhere cool instead of outside, where the sun was constantly beating down on everything. She walked inside with two bushel baskets hanging over her back full to the brim with apples, and closed the door at the entrance of the stairwell.
It wasn’t actually Applebuck season, when a large majority of the Sweet Apple Acres orchards all across Equestria became ripened and ready to be picked, but some trees would just grow a little bit faster than the rest. Her brother, Big Macintosh, wasn’t checking the orchard that day, so when Applejack found some trees where the apples just perfectly ripe while doing some pruning, she decided to finish the job herself. No reason to bother her brother about it, who was at the market in town.
Applejack flipped the light switch on, dimly illuminating the stairwell so that she could see the steps. She carefully trotted down the stairs, making sure not to drop any of the apples she was carrying with her. She had cleared about 10 trees, each taking four bins to collect every apple that fell, and was finally getting the last two bins dropped off down below. At the bottom of the stairs, she opened the larger, heavier wooden doors that revealed the apple cellar that resided below the house, and even part of the orchard.
The cellar was immense, about 50 paces in length and about 60 paces in width, covered from floor to ceiling in wood. Applejack felt a small tinge of pride as she looked across the room, a vault with wooden supports doting the room that were ten feet tall. There were several long shelves that stretched the length of the cellar, stacked two-tiers high, each large enough for the bins full of apples that would start to fill them over the next month or so. Getting the second shelf wasn’t always easy, but small stairs at the end of each shelf that led to a small walkway along the side of each shelf were meant for that. Right now, only one single row at ground level, at the furthest to the left of the doors she had entered through, was filled with bins of apples. She slowly walked over to it, the slightly-humid and chilled air brushing her blond mane and orange coat, sapping heat and relaxing the earth pony. She didn’t go down into the cellars often, but the cooler air always felt good. She wasn’t so keen on the humidity, but thankfully the air outside was dry, so it felt a little better than it might normally feel.
She laid the bins on the shelf, taking note of how much shelf-space was being taken up. Only 40 bins that day alone had been collected. She hadn’t noticed any other trees that looked entirely ready, but she was fine with that. She had been busy making sure most of the trees had been completely trimmed and kept in check over the past week, and she dearly missed her friends. She thought about how she hadn’t seen them since Twilight’s birthday party eight days earlier and how much she wanted to be in their company again. Well,
she thought to herself, that was partially a lie. Ah’ve definitely SEEN them around Ponyville, with Pinkie Pie pickin’ up some apples for the bakery and Fluttershy or Twilight stoppin’ by to get some food, but we haven’t hung out in a good while.
She sighed to herself at the thought of Applejack. Rainbow Dash has seemed down lately, maybe ah should go see her.
She started walking out of the cellar. She turned off the lights, closed the doors, proceeded up the stairs, opened the other set of doors at the top, and locked them tight as she emerged into the house. It was only the early afternoon, so she figured Rainbow Dash was sleeping, taking one of her signature naps. With Rainbow Dash out of the question, she thought about what she really did want to do that day. She’d be free the rest of that day and the next two days, since her brother had volunteered to take care of the orchards, which seemed to no longer need the same kind of attention as when they were younger, growing trees. She didn’t mind free time, but she liked working the farm more. She got antsy when there wasn’t enough to do, but her brother had seen how hard she was working that week, and volunteered to spend some of his time in the land. She had begrudgingly agreed to let him work a bit extra, but didn’t realize until then that she was, once again, having trouble keeping herself from work. She knew she had to make herself relax and enjoy friendly company occasionally, and started to silently appreciate what her brother had done.
Even after only having worked for a few hours that morning, she was still sweaty. The sun had been pretty bright, and it definitely gave her no quarter as she was working the orchard. She decided she’d quickly take a shower before going into town, needing to clean up a bit. Taking a right after just emerging from the cellar stairwell, she quickly came to the family bathroom.
It was modest, and if nothing else, white. White tile, walls, cupboards and counter where the sink was, it looked like a public restroom almost, but one kept much more tidy and clean. It was probably Applebloom’s doing; cleaning and designing was always her thing. She took her cowboy hat off, took the hair bands off of her mane and tail, and stepped into the shower, turning a knob and letting the hot water cover her.
She loved being clean. She was no Rarity, oh Celestia no, even the thought entering her head made her want to gag. Cleaning up, to her, meant that she would be physically, washing off the dirt and sweat. It meant she’d be renewed, pepped up and re-energized, mentally ready for a new day’s hard work. She didn’t spend more than five minutes cleaning up with shampoo and standing in the shower. Feeling clean, she got out of the shower, quickly tried herself off with a towel, once again lamenting that they didn’t have a hair dryer, which made the process faster and every so easier for most of her back. Well, guess ah’ll just find one in town later.
She trotted, both jolly in demeanor and happily humming to herself, down the hallway. She traveled past the kitchen, which was both brown with wooden cupboards and green with tiled floor and countertops, and past the family room, made up of a few tables, couches, chair, and other such commodities. She walked more quietly past her grandmother, asleep in a chair in the family room, and to the front door as she entered the great outdoors.
The warm summer sun met her face, almost piercing when compared to the cool cellar and breezy house. It shone in the cloudless sky all over the fields, pastures, and buildings, bathing them in warm, yellow light. She decided that she needed to see Rainbow Dash. Not just because she was her oldest friend in Ponyville and she would be the easiest to talk to, but because of a few other reasons. Namely what had happened at Twilight’s birthday party only a week earlier.
It wasn’t until that night that the confident pegasus told everypony, giving the long explanation that stopped the party completely for a time. She explained what exactly had happened besides the vague details she and Fluttershy had told everypony of what had transpired two months prior to that party. Rainbow Dash had risked her life to save the shy pegasus, using a Sonic Rainboom to disable an enraged dragon that had vengeance out for Fluttershy. She had broken a leg and in the forest where they gotten lost, and broken a wing almost in half as well. Through some magical plant, she had accidentally admitted bottled up, undefined emotions that weren’t even true at the time, causing both of them to go through an emotional roller coaster. On the night of Twilight Sparkle’s birthday party, Rainbow Dash had admitted that she loved Fluttershy, the emotions then more defined and truly felt. Fluttershy said she couldn’t see Rainbow Dash the same way.
Applejack wasn’t sure what to think of it. There was nothing strange about the events, or explaining them. Applejack was sure, just like the tragic tale of how Rainbow Dash had discovered she like other mares, that she really had been bottling up what happened the few days she was lost in the forest with Fluttershy. But one small piece of information had been told to the workhorse by Fluttershy the one time she had stopped by for some apples for her animal cares, and it still struck her as odd. The two still saw each other every day, like one might expect from a couple.
There was some plan going on, and she wanted to figure out what it was. She couldn’t understand what Rainbow Dash was thinking, and simply planned to ask her herself. Somewhere in her mind, she had to know why Rainbow Dash was doing what she was doing.
The fork in the dirt-road just down the path from Sweet Apple Acres was a familiar one. To the left was a dirt road, that eventually turned into a stone path, that lead all the way to Fillydelphia. It was the general direction where Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash had gotten lost, and it was also the path that lead to the outskirts of Ponyville, which meant finding Rainbow Dash’s cloud house, and Fluttershy’s cabin. To the right was a hill that winded down, and finally ended at Ponyville’s main square, which included various businesses and city buildings. Not quite yet needing to head to Ponyville, she veered left, keeping her pace. Rainbow Dash’s house quickly came into view, and so did the sleeping pegasus. She was atop a cloud, lying on her stomach, her legs pointing out in every direction. She was snoring quietly, the cloud unmoving as it hovered ten feet above the ground.
Applejack didn’t feel like being particularly polite, for no particular reason. “Rainbow!”
Rainbow Dash yawned, rolling ever-so-slowly over as her head poked out from seemingly out of the cloud. Her rainbow-colored mane, sloppy and unkempt, flipped over, covering half of her face. She opened her magenta eyes slowly, as her light-blue fur seemed to get lost in the sky of the same color. “A-applejack?” She blinked a few times, rubbed them with her hooves, then looked down more intently. “Oh, hey Applejack. What time is it...” she yawned again.
Applejack had to withhold some chuckles, seeing how apparently out of whack the pegasus’s sleep schedule was. “It’s a bit past one. You ready to join us in the world of the livin’?”
Rainbow yawned again. “Sorry... I’m just waking up...”
“Wait, are you sayin’ this isn’t just another nap of yers?”
She nodded weakly. “Sort of not. I did some weather work at six, just clearing about half of the clouds, and then I came down to this cloud and I was sleeping ever since...”
“Tain’t like you to not get much sleep Rainbow. You normally sleep like a rock.” Applejack lowered her hat a bit, to block some of the glaring sunlight that was catching her eye as she looked up at the tired pegasus.
Rainbow Dash, finally at least a bit awake, stood up and floated down slowly, landing a few feet from Applejack. She shook her head a bit as if to break the bonds of sleepiness that held onto her face, and finally responded. “Fluttershy’s been waking me up every night.”
Applejack, now curious that her intended conversation piece had now come up, now felt slightly concerned that the problem was with Fluttershy. “How come?”
“She told everypony that we’ve been together every night right? She’s been having really scary nightmares, and she wanted me to spend time with her. Unfortunately, this makes getting sleep kind of hard, since she tends to stay up late, wake up, and then sleep for basically the same amount of time again. It’s been killing my nap schedule, and making my work a bit harder...”
“Why doesn’t she ever go to any other pony? You’d think she wouldn’t mind seein’ Rarity, who’s basically her best friend...” Applejack asked, concerned.
Rainbow Dash seemed to have a prepared answer. “You remember how I told everypony what happened to us? Out in the forest?”
“Well, we didn’t exactly mention both of the memories we had; the flashbacks. When I was having those nightmares, it was about my friend from Flight School... Sky Swallower. And how she fell to the ground after an accident... because I couldn’t perform a Rainboom that day to catch her.“
“We’ve talked about her before Rainbow. It’s okay.”
Rainbow Dash nodded solemnly, as if holding something back. “Yeah yeah.” She cleared her throat. “Well, okay, the REALLY short of the short of the long of it is that when Fluttershy was a little filly she knew this baby-dragon, much younger than spike, and they were friends. Then one night, some unicorn had broken into her house, and tried to... kill Fluttershy, and the dragon shielded her, and died instead.”
Applejack nodded. That seemed pretty bad, but she figured it was even more traumatizing for Fluttershy than she could know. I hope she wants to talk about it... someday..
. “So why does she only see you about this?”
“The dreams are really similar to that memory. Except I’m the one who saved her. Just like I was the one who defended her against those bullies in Cloudsdale, I come to her rescue, only to die myself...” Rainbow Dash sighed. “So every night I’ve been with her, comforting her and telling her I won’t leave her again...”
“Golly, why would she be dreamin’ about somethin’ like that?” Applejack was only feeling more concerned with her friend. She was losing her alone-time, her sleeping schedule, spending all the time with a pegasus who she loved, but didn’t love her back. It must have been tearing apart Rainbow Dash somewhere, she knew the pegasus too well to know she’d take it in stride.
“No idea. But they’re really scaring her, so I’ve been sticking with her all the time. Heheh, I don’t... mind at all...” as she finished speaking, glancing to the ground with a sigh. She looked away from Applejack, as if finding a faraway cloud and locking onto it. She must be holding back tears. Ah bet she still loves her...
Finding out why they were spending more time together didn’t give Applejack any solace. In fact, it only made her more concerned. Then she had a different feeling. Some fear in this mysterious feeling. She looked at the silently sad pegasus in front of her and felt ashamed of her suddenly. Her mind left her, her thoughts coming to her like a waterfall she couldn’t control, and she started speaking fluidly and loudly, completely unwavering. She just doesn’t really know what she’s feelin’ yet.
“You love her Rainbow Dash-“
“Maybe I did.” She interrupted. “Maybe I was caught up in the moment, and all those thoughts had been cooking in my chest for a while. Maybe I wanted something more from somepony... but after a few days, it didn’t matter. I was starting to be scared of... not being there for her – to protect her. So I have been. You know she’s cried herself to sleep every night?!” This sudden defensive outrage was catching Applejack off guard as she flinched at the yelled question.
Applejack felt a weight. A power. A meaning. It was an unwieldy thought in her mind that she couldn’t heave or push or rip out. She feels like she knows what she wants, but she doesn’t know.
“Ah don’t mean anythin’ by it. Ah just don’t want you to force yerself to do something you don’t need or want to do. Seein’ you all sad and stuff... It don’t fit you.” She huffed a bit, calming herself down. You don’t get mad at a friend when she’s torturin’ herself
. “What ya just described sounds a bit like what some stallions say about the mares they love, and if yer still in love with her, it isn’t fair to you-“
“It doesn’t matter what I want, it’s what she needs!” Rainbow Dash was still yelling. Applejack only replied with a hardened look. The blue pegasus continued again, her voice sputtering but still angry. “She’s been through tough times Applejack, and I’m not about to let her just sit by and be alone when she wants somepony to be there. It wouldn’t be fair to her. She’s put so much faith in me...” her eyes suddenly looked distant.
Neither pony spoke for several moments. Applejack’s thoughts stewed, unsure of what they were leading her too. She was more than concerned, she was scared. She knew enough about Rainbow Dash to see that she was definitely confused and torn up about this as well. When her friends and loyalty were called into question, she was always defensive. Applejack didn’t want to see her friend hurt so much. She had to speak up, tell her what she thought. She’s wrong, she can’t be doing this to herself, it isn’t right.
“Ah can’t say ah like-“
“You don’t have to LIKE it Applejack. It’s what I’m doing.”
“Lemme finish Rainbow.” Suddenly, her mind started to fill with thoughts. Thoughts of a maddened Rainbow with a poor, crying Fluttershy. There was no sound. It overtook her, and she started speaking, barely hearing herself. She’s just blindin’ herself, she’ll see. She just doesn’t understand it yet
. ”Ah don’t want ya torturing yourself, but ah know why yer doin’ it, and it’s easy enough to see. You love her, and you don’t want her to be sad. And you know what? That’s fine. Can you just think about how concerned ah am for you? That you have to spend all that time with her? Yer not getting’ anythin’ out of it either.”
“You BETTER not mean what I think you mean-“ I can’t let her do this, what if she just... accidentally... once... and loses her forever? They end up hurting each other forever?
“Why wouldn’t ah? Yer a fillyfooler ain’t ya?! Why wouldn’t ya want to do somethin’?!”
Rainbow Dash moved faster than Applejack had ever seen. The workhorse felt a hoof to her face, then her whole body hitting the soft dirt on the ground. She felt a throbbing pain in her nose; it was bleeding. She didn’t know what was even happening, as if she was in a daze. She looked up at Rainbow Dash; she saw anger, with streams of tears rolling down her face. Upon seeing Applejack look up, the pegasus above her kicked her with hind legs, sending the work horse lying on the ground, sprawling several feet. She landed with a painful thud; her stomach felt like it would make her throw up. She just coughed. She couldn’t think, the throbbing pain on her face and her abdomen taking all of her attention. She heard the words her friend spoke to her. The pegasus was crying. The voice was almost shuddering, but something about them stung Applejack. They left scars in her memory, the words remembered like chiseled in stone.
“I thought you, of all the ponies in Equestria, would understand how I feel. I trusted you and you were my best friend, but I guess that was all a lie. We’re done.”
Applejack stared as the sobbing pegasus who flew up to her cloud house, walking inside of it. The orange earth pony took a hoof and wiped her hose of the moisture she felt. Blood. She felt her chest, drawing the hoof back when she pressed where she felt the kick. Nothing broken, just bruised. If Rainbow Dash had wanted to hurt her more, she would have.
Applejack got to her feet. She could stand, and she could walk, so she walked back to Sweet Apple Acres. The throbbing pain kept her from thinking. She fell over once, and got back up quickly enough, continuing the short trek back.
Applebloom must have gotten out of school early that day. She saw Applejack walking up to the property, the farmer’s face stained with a small trickle of blood from her nose. Applebloom yelled something to her brother, who was in the house. Applejack sat on a bench at the edge of the property. They had them scattered around, one near the barn, some near the fence, one near the house. She’d never sat on one of them before. They were meant for the parties Pinkie Pie might haphazardly throw there.
Her siblings ran out to meet her. They looked horrified. “What happened, AJ?” Was all the little yellow-and-red filly asked her.
Applejack wiped her face off again. She shook her head, trying to think. The pain finally started to ebb, freeing her to think.
“Ya sure ya don’t wanna see a nurse ‘bout this?” Asked her older brother.
Applejack shook her head. “Just a bloody nose and a bruised stomach, nothin’ I can’t sleep off.”
“So what happened?!” Applebloom asked again, the filly concerned deeply for her sister.
“Ah... ah don’t know... ah lost myself... ah just kept thinkin’... ‘don’t let Dash be a Fillyfooler...’” something clicked in her mind, like a key twisting in a lock, and she fainted.