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When the earth pony next awoke, it was to an empty bed and the light of the morning sun. The train had evidently stopped, and it was rather likely that it had been stopped for quite some time - with a groan, Applejack sat up and rubbed at her eyes with one foreleg as the other pushed the sheets aside.
"Morning, sleepy head."
She quickly turned towards the source of the noise and squinted, letting out a quiet yawn. "Mornin', Twi. Guessin' we're here?"
"We've been here for about half an hour already, AJ. After the conductor found out who we were, he was nice enough to simply let us stay on until you woke up. I already had the bags sent off to the castle."
Twilight Sparkle blinked, somewhat confused, and tilted her head. "Did I forget to tell you that too?"
"Uh... yeah. Ya did."
"Well, Princess Celestia invited us to stay in one of the spare rooms at the castle while we're here, and I definitely didn't want to decline. We don't get to talk that often anyways, and I know she and Luna haven't really gotten to meet you or any of the other girls. Figured it'd be the perfect opportunity to fix that!"
"So I get ta meet yer parents and both Princesses." Applejack sighed and brushed some of her mane aside before shaking her head. "This is gonna be fun."
"Applejack, it'll be fine. I haven't really gotten to see Princess Luna since she showed up on Nightmare Night, so she might be a bit of a wildcard, but Princess Celestia is going to love you. She's always been awfully eager to know more about her subjects."
"Still nervous about yer mom an' dad?"
The unicorn hesitated for a moment, then slowly shook her head. "...not really, no. Last night certainly helped, and I think I have a certain somepony to thank for that."
"Yeah, well... just doin' what I do, Twi. Ain't anything special."
"Still appreciate it. Hurry up now, I don't wanna keep my parents waiting."
Applejack was about to answer, but soon found herself enveloped in a faint red glow, floating through the room against her will. She recognized it quite easily as belonging to Twilight Sparkle, and let out a huff. "Twilight, put me down! What the hay do ya think yer doin'?"
The response was quick and to the point, accompanied by a faint grin. "Speeding things up, of course."
Before she could even protest, the earth pony found herself attacked from all sides by several brushes, each of them moving much faster than she could even hope to see. She found herself wincing almost constantly as several knots in her mane were worked out, and it didn't exactly help that Twilight was a bit rough with things. She certainly felt the teeth of the brushes scraping against her scalp on more than one occasion, and by the time the unicorn finally set her down, Applejack felt slightly dizzy and torn between feeling thankful and feeling irritated. "Twi, could ya... not do that again? Aw ponyfeathers, room won't stop spinnin'..."
"It wasn't that bad, was it?" Twilight still seemed rather incredulous, but a quick look at one of the brushes made her blink in shock as she saw just how much hair she had inadvertently ripped out. It wasn't enough to affect Applejack's appearance, but... "Oh wow, that's..."
"What? What is it? I still can't see straight."
"Nothing! It's... uhh..." The unicorn coughed rather loudly and opened up a nearby window, chucking the brush outside and snapping it shut. "Nothing at all!"
"Erm... if ya say so. Gimme a few more minutes, hun. Still seein' funny."
"Right... how about I just teleport us outside?"
The mere mention of 'teleport' was enough to make Applejack remember the last time she was teleported by Twilight, and she feverishly shook her head. "WAIT WAIT WAIT, N-"
There was a pop and a flash of light, as well as a faint scorch mark upon the floor, then silence - aside from the coughing and gagging noises outside, at least.
"I hate you so much, Twi."
Applejack continued to cough and gag, dry-heaving on several occasions as she laid upon the ground. It was quite obvious by now that teleportation simply did not agree with her, and for some reason or another, Twilight Sparkle found it amusing. "Oh, I haven't the slightest clue what you're talking about, AJ."
There was another gag, followed shortly by a more guttural sound, and Twilight soon found herself feeling as if her hooves were rather wet. A quick look down revealed the source, and she let out a groan of disgust.
"...You oughta know by now that I don't like teleportin'. I was already dizzy ta begin with, so this was yer fault."
"You threw up on my hooves!"
"And you teleported me when ya should've known better." The earth pony looked up at Twilight and narrowed her eyes, and they briefly stared one another down. After a few seconds, however, the unicorn broke the gaze, causing Applejack to snicker. "That's what I thought."
Twilight Sparkle simply let out a sigh and looked down at her own hooves, a frown upon her face. "...can't believe you threw up on me."
"Sorry, hun." After a bit of preparation, Applejack hefted herself back up onto her hooves, wobbling about slightly before regaining her footing. "You got some sort of magic ta clean that up, right?"
"Yeah. Won't get rid of the smell, though." The frown intensified, and even after cleaning up the mess with a brief spurt of magic, she still didn't quite seem satisfied. "Ugh. Let's just go, Applejack. We're still a bit of a walk away from my parents anyways."
"If you say so." The orange mare nodded and began to walk out of the train station, briefly taking the lead - she knew Canterlot about as well as her grandmother knew politeness, but she had been this way once before when she and the rest of the girls had visited for Hearth's Warming Eve. The lack of snow was a little jarring at first, but she still recognized several of the storefronts that lined the street. A faint smile spread across her face as she felt another tail curl around her own, and she knew well enough just who it belonged to as the owner sped up alongside her. "So Twi, if got ta call me 'sleepy head' this mornin', can I call you 'slowpoke'?"
"As long as you don't throw up on my hooves again, I won't say anything about it. Promise?"
"Good." Twilight craned her neck and peered out past Applejack, grinning slightly as they walked past one of the store windows. "If you were anything like Rarity, it'd probably take us hours to get to my parents. I swear, if Ponyville had a mall, she'd practically live there."
"Probably a good thing I ain't like her, then."
"Mhm! I love you just the way you are."
"D'aw." The earth pony leaned over to nuzzle Twilight's neck, but stopped short when she heard a cough from behind. A glance over her shoulder revealed a stallion glaring at her, and as she turned back around, she saw several more pairs of eyes, all of them affixed upon her and her girlfriend. With a grumble, Applejack began to quickly walk away from the area, and Twilight Sparkle was close behind. "...what the hay was that all about? Try ta do somethin' nice, an' I've got folks givin' me dirty looks?"
Twilight let out a sigh and slowly shook her head. "I know it might sound bad, but... you have to remember where we are. This is Canterlot - ponies are more worried about how they look than anything else. I've already seen us get a few looks, simply for walking with our tails together."
"Twi, have I ever told ya how I hate this place?"
"I... don't think so, AJ."
"Well I do. Sooner we can get back ta Ponyville, th' better. We got congratulated there, but it's been nothin' but stares here."
"I know, Applejack, just... try and hold on. As soon as I introduce you to my parents and the princesses, we can head back to Ponyville."
Applejack grumbled once more and hung her head slightly, staring ahead as they continued to walk. "Only doin' it for you."
"Thanks, love. I think we're almost there anyways."
With a nod and a faint smile, Twilight Sparkle quickened her pace, passing Applejack ever so slightly and leading the earth pony along. It had been a while since she had wandered these streets, especially since her move to Ponyville, but she still knew them well enough to have a good idea of where she was. She looked towards the right, her smile growing as she spotted two stores she had always been fond of - first was the toy store she had loved as a foal, and right beside it, the book store that had quickly replaced it. Both seemed to still be open, and if that were the case, she just might have to stop by and see how things had been since her absence. With a luck, she might still have her frequent buyer card stashed away somewhere, or maybe-
"Twi? Is this it?"
As she snapped out of her own thoughts, Twilight Sparkle blinked and stared at the building in momentary confusion. There was no way they could already be here, and yet... The unicorn frowned and quickly began to look over the house from top to bottom, analyzing every little detail. The flower boxes had roses and not petunias, which had always been her mother's favorite. Not only that, but-
Twilight huffed and briefly looked away from the house. "What is it, Applejack? I'm trying to think."
"...hun, there's a sign right here."
"A sign. S'got your cutie mark on it."
She blinked and took a few steps forward, walking past Applejack to get a better look at the sign itself. In front of the house, hanging from a simple pole, was a weathered wooden sign with a painting of her cutie mark superimposed upon a sun. She gingerly placed a hoof upon it, running it over the cracked and peeling paint, a faint grin spreading across her face. "...I remember this. My parents put this up after I got accepted as Princess Celestia's personal student. Thought the walk was farther than this."
"Guess not. I'll uh... let ya knock first. Ya know, since they're your parents an' all."
"Right." Twilight took a few tentative steps towards the door, then briefly knocked upon it, stepping back as she waited. A few seconds passed with no answer, and she stepped forward to knock once more, a frown upon her face.
"Maybe they ain't home?"
"They said they'd be h-" The door creaked open, and Twilight Sparkle quickly redirected her attention to it. "See?"
"Huh. Guess so."
As the door slowly swung open, Applejack got to get her first look at her girlfriend's parents. Not surprisingly, both were unicorns - the stallion was essentially blue from top to bottom, his coat just a few shades lighter than his hair, and the mare at his side seemed to be a rather light gray. The stripes of purple and white in her hair made it rather obvious just where Twilight had gotten it from, and she did her best to smile widely as both parents stepped out to greet their daughter.
The mother peered at Applejack for a moment, then looked back at her own daughter knowingly, a grin upon her face. "So, that's her?"
Twilight Sparkle nodded eagerly in return. "Mhm! Mom, dad, meet Applejack."
Both parents gave a slight nod, preferring to stay silent for the time being. The earth pony certainly didn't mind, especially since she didn't know...
"Applejack, this is my mom, Twilight Velvet. Dad's name is Night Light."
...their names. Applejack smiled widely once more and gave them both a slight curtsy. "Nice ta meet y'all."
Twilight Velvet returned the smile, and it was comforting to know that it at least seemed genuine. "The same to you, dear. Our Twilight's told us so much about you and her other friends."
Night Light nodded in agreement and quickly spoke, perhaps with a little too much enthusiasm. "She's told us all about how great you are with animals! You must be a natural charmer!"
"Um." Applejack blinked, momentarily confused. "I... think ya got me mixed up with somepony else. That sounds more like Fluttershy."
"Oh! Uh." Twilight's father nervously glanced about, then gave a sheepish grin. "Well, she's... told us an awful lot about how great of a baker you are!"
"I'm a darn good cook, but... pretty sure that's Pinkie Pie."
"It's... not you?"
Applejack sighed and slowly shook her head.
Twilight Velvet let out a hacking cough, then began to hurriedly usher everypony into the house. "Oh, look at the time! Having Twilight and Applejack over for lunch and I haven't even started on it!"
Twilight Sparkle tilted her head and stared at her mother. "Mom, you didn't invite us for-"
"Yes I did."
"Yes I did."
As her mother's intentions finally dawned on her, the lavender mare began to slowly nod, a faint smile on her face. "Ohh, right! I forgot you mentioned that in your letter back! Lunch! Guess we better head inside, AJ!"
Twilight Sparkle and her mother quickly ran inside, leaving both Applejack and Night Light to get one another nervous looks. With a bit of hesitation, the two of them soon stepped inside as well, and the door closed behind them just a few moments later - magic, no doubt. The inside of the home was much larger than it seemed on the outside, and it seemed more akin to a library than an actual home. Countless shelves of books lined the hallways, with a spiral staircase leading upstairs. Knowing Twilight, there were likely even more books up there, and such a thought caused Applejack to smirk.
Up ahead, Twilight Velvet took a turn into another room, and she poked her head back out not long after. "Applejack, would you mind helping me get lunch ready? Twilight's told me about some of the things you've made, so I know you can cook."
"Yes ma'am." The earth pony nodded and picked up her pace, taking the same turn as she ducked into what she assumed to be the kitchen. It was a bit on the small side, but fully functional from what she could tell. At one of the counters stood Twilight Velvet, and Applejack slowly walked towards her. "There isn't a lunch, is there?"
"Awfully perceptive too."
The orange mare smiled faintly. "I try."
"No, there's no lunch. I was just trying to keep my husband from embarrassing himself or you any further." The grey mare sighed and slowly shook her head. "He means well, but I honestly don't know what goes through his head sometimes."
"Well, I... appreciate it, ma'am."
"There's no reason to be formal, dear. I think I know you well enough from my daughter's letters for us to be past that. Besides, you're just making me feel old."
Applejack frowned slightly, her ears flattened. "Awfully sorry. Didn't mean to or anythin'."
"No need to apologize, Applejack. I wanted to talk with you in private anyways."
The earth pony raised an eyebrow. "About?"
"Nothing serious, so don't worry about anything. I just wanted to talk to you, one-on-one, mother-to-prospective-daughter-in-law."
"That's..." Applejack swallowed and frowned once more. "...a little early ta be talkin' about that."
"My sense of humor is a little... odd, at times. It was a joke."
"I just wanted to tell you that... well, I was skeptical at first. About a lot of things." Twilight Velvet chuckled softly and began to grin. "Our Twilight's always been a little... different. All the other foals wanted to make friends and play when they were growing up, and Twilight simply wanted to read and study. We thought that maybe her becoming Princess Celestia's personal student would help out with things - fame is a magnet for others, after all - but nothing ever really came of it. She was still essentially friendless."
"So... you were worried?"
"A little. When she started going through several years of school, we were a little terrified, but eventually, we just sort of... accepted it. That was simply who she was, and we more or less got used to it. We still wanted her to be happy, of course, and that's often much easier to accomplish when in the company of others. After she was sent to Ponyville, we weren't entirely sure what might happen, but... when she sent that first letter back to us, telling us about how she had made several new friends and about how she wanted to stay?"
Applejack smirked. "Bet that pleased ya."
Twilight Velvet nodded, still seemingly lost in her thoughts. "It did. There were a few other things her father and I thought about, mostly in regards to the future, and... having a little to do with her making friends. Our daughter was... mocked a few times while she attended school, mostly when dances started to pop up during the academic year. Proms, that sort of thing."
"She never had a date." The earth pony tilted her head somewhat, peering at Twilight Velvet. "Did she?"
"No, she didn't. A small part of us hoped that maybe she would meet some nice, young stallion while she was studying here in Canterlot, or even when she went off to Ponyville. We didn't really think to consider that maybe the stallion would, well..." Twilight's mother briefly eyed Applejack, a sly grin spreading across her face. "...be a mare."
Such a sentence was much less amusing to Applejack, and the orange mare simply narrowed her eyes at the unicorn.
"I..." Twilight Velvet placed a hoof to her head and shook it, sighing as she did. "Sorry, my sense of humor at work again. I didn't mean anything bad by that. All I meant is that you're... not what we expected."
"And that's supposed ta mean...?"
The grey mare walked over towards one of the doorways and beckoned Applejack over. She paused for a moment, walking over only after huffing and rolling her eyes, and both mares remained quiet as they listened in on the adjacent room. Both Twilight Sparkle and her father seemed to be in the midst of an argument of some sort, and though it was faint, they could still pick up on what was being said.
"Alright dad, since you say that you read every letter I send to you... what did I wear for Nightmare Night?"
"You didn't read it, did you?"
"Dad, do you at least remember what my birthday is?"
From her spot at the doorway, Twilight Velvet simply shook her head and sighed once more, speaking under her breath as she walked away. "December 3rd. Applejack, you've dealt with Twilight's... nervous tics, yes? The ones where she gets really stressed out and starts panicking because she's worried things will no longer go according to plan?"
"More than I can count, though I ain't sure what that has ta do with anythin'."
"What I'm trying to say is... my husband's forgetfulness can be rather hard to deal with at times, but he means well - Twilight is no different. You've dealt with them, and no matter how bad they've been, you still care about my daughter enough to do everything you've already done. We may have been expecting a stallion to be the one to care for our daughter and take care of her, but I truly don't mind if it's a mare. I... may have been watching you two as you strolled up to the house. The way she looked at you, and the way you two walked side-by-side. You mean something special to her."
Applejack quickly found herself blushing, and she gave a sheepish grin. "Don't I know it..."
"Applejack, so long as you treat her right and make her happy, you've more than earned my approval."
The earth pony gave another quick curtsy to show her thanks. "That... means an awful lot ta me, 'specially after th' last few days."
"So I've heard." Twilight's mother went silent for a moment, then continued. "Twilight told us about that as well. If there's anything you need, dear, just let me know - any friend of Twilight's is more than worth the effort."
"Thank ya kindly, but I think I'll be just fine. Twi's helped... well, a lot. Dunno if I'd have been able ta get through this without her help."
"She always has been awfully keen to help other ponies, though I'm sure she's got some extra incentive with you." Twilight Velvet playfully nudged Applejack and gave her a brief grin before heading over towards the doorway once more. "I think it's time we meet up with the other two. Knowing how they are, they're likely still arguing."
True enough, a few steps in the direction of the doorway proved to be a rather loud journey - both Twilight and her father were still in the midst of their argument, and as Applejack followed Twilight Velvet through the doorway, she caught sight of her girlfriend standing nose-to-nose with Night Light. "I can't believe you lied to me! You haven't read a single letter I've sent you!"
"Honey, I've read them all!"
"You said Applejack was part of the weather team!"
"It was an honest mistake!"
"Dad, she isn't even a pegasus!"
Twilight Velvet simply coughed, and the mere act of doing so was enough to halt the argument and cause both ponies to turn towards her. "Night Light?"
The blue stallion nervously grinned. "Yes, dear?"
"I believe you owe somepony an apology."
He huffed, then lowered his head slightly. "Twilight, I'm so-"
"Not her." The grey mare giggled faintly, then pointed a hoof at Applejack. "Our guest."
"Oh. Right." Night Light managed to blush enough to almost turn purple, and he turned to face Applejack, ears flattened. "I... apologize if we've gotten off on the wrong hoof. You're my daughter's special somepony, after all, and I should've taken the time to at least know who you were before you arrived."
Twilight Velvet leered at him. "And?"
"...and I shouldn't have blindly guessed things about you."
Another sigh. "Honey, do I really need to-"
"...and I've done nothing but embarrass myself and you."
She giggled once more, her expression brightening. "Good! Applejack?"
The earth pony blinked. "Huh?"
"Do you accept my husband's apology?"
"Oh, that!" She chuckled and nodded, a faint smile upon her face. "S'alright! Ya had good intentions, even if it was a bit... erm... lackluster."
"Perfect! Twilight, dear?"
Upon hearing her name spoken by somepony besides her father, Twilight Sparkle quickly perked up and looked towards her mother. "Yes?"
"Don't you think you two should be going? I hear you have an appointment with the Princesses, after all."
"Going? Already? But it's not even..." The lavender unicorn took a quick glance towards a nearby clock, and her face quickly paled. "It's been an hour already?! But... the appointment's at..."
Twilight Velvet quietly snickered, then leaned towards her daughter. "Soon?"
Rather than give an answer, Twilight Sparkle quickly snatched up Applejack with her magic and threw open the front door, dashing outside and dragging the earth pony through the air behind her. "GOTTA GO LOVE YOU BOTH OKAY BYE!"
As the two ponies disappeared into the streets of Canterlot, both Twilight Velvet and Night Light were left staring at the open door, which had been opened hard enough to rip it off its hinges. Twilight Velvet let out an airy sigh, a smile upon her face. "Ahh, reminds me of her magical spurts from when she was a foal!"
"Yeah... except those destroyed more than just a door."
"Just think about how far she's come, though! And Applejack is such a sweet girl - a shame you two didn't really get to talk. I think you would've liked her."
"...so um, you gonna fix the door?"
"I'll get my tools."