Appreciation, that was about the only word Rarity could think about as she looked at her latest dress, the likes of which sat proudly upon a ponyquin before her. It was a magnificent blend of natural colors, finely crafted seams and beautiful hues, all put together perfectly into the object of its inspiration. Upon the ideas’ conception, Rarity had little idea of what she'd been picturing. Yet as time went on and the thought of the final product developed, she’d come to realise that what she now appreciated more than ever had simply been inspired by the very place she called home. The beautifully natural look of Ponyville and its inhabitants, at least on a base level. It was no secret to the fashionista that there was a far deeper meaning to this particular design, but she couldn’t bring herself to admit it.
That wasn't to say she didn't think so highly of any other product she produced, every dress she made was a work of art in itself, each one crafted with care and love from a seed of inspiration that was never the same as any that preceded. In that fact, she would always know that everything she made was different and unique, the perfect technique for a pony of her line of work she was quite sure. Yet the dress before her felt different, she appreciated it more than most, so much so that the feeling even overcame her pride for completing yet another masterpiece.
The idea of it had always been in the back of her mind. As far back as she could recall she'd wanted to make something exactly like this for a long time and she'd never known why. That was until a few years ago when she'd met the five ponies that were now her closest friends. In that moment all of the things she'd adored and valued had taken on a new identity; yet they had not done so in a way she'd ever expected.
Her dreams’ new form was not a masterfully painted portrait of a noble prince, or the magnificent image of some great landscape bathed in the light of a romantic sunset as she'd always imagined. Instead, it was in fact a pony. It was that moment that she'd seen that one of her now closest friends embodied everything she'd ever admired, and her fillyhood dreams and fantasies of a perfect future with her beloved prince charming had been brought right back to earth. Just like the pony who had stolen them.
At that small flood of respect Rarity sighed and turned away from the dress that had sparked her sudden burst of emotion. Her horn flared and she levitated the sewing supplies and tools she'd used in its creation back into their rightful places, then she looked up to find another pony staring right back at her. The alabaster mare with curled, purple mane, red glasses and weary, sapphire eyes that gazed back at her from the mirror looked tired if nothing else. She yawned at exactly the same moment Rarity did, before uttering words in perfect union with the unicorn.
"One day maybe I'll be able to show a certain pony just how much I appreciate her."
The only other sound that filled the air as those words concluded was that of heavy rain as it steadily fell outside. Another downpour orchestrated by Ponyville's new head weather pegasus, she surmised as her ears twitched and flicked in perfect tangent with the patter of rain against the window. It was at that moment that something else caught Rarity's eye, and she looked down to the side of her dresser to see that her pet cat, Opal, hop up onto the stool that accompanied fine furniture. The prim, white feline looked up at her for a long moment, then graciously began to groom her forepaw with a few slow licks. Rarity reached out and placed a forehoof on the beloved pet's head lightly.
"But right now it looks like I'm simply out of luck," she added to herself, levitating her glasses from her muzzle as she frowned.
Opal did nothing other than purr at the offer of affection, yet the cat was only the focus of Rarity's attention for a few seconds more, before something disturbed them both. Rarity's head shot up instantly at the ringing sound of the bell that sat above the door of her boutique, and an instinct conjured by years of repetition kicked in almost instantly.
"Coming!" she called elegantly, before turning and trotting right out into the main part of her boutique with equal majesty. "Welcome to Carousel Boutique, where every garment is chic, unique, and magnifique."
She entered the room with her head held high and eyes closed. A sales pony’s smile adorned her muzzle as she looked down and open her eyes, only to pause as she saw who it was that had entered her store.
"O' hey Rarity, sorry 'bout turnin' up all sudden like, but ah was wonderin' if ya' could do me a favour," said Applejack as the orange earth pony stood just before the door, doing her best to remove the mud from her hooves on the doormat.
Any thought of mentioning the state of her friend's dirty hooves, dripping hat, soaked saddle bags, wet coat or sagging, blond mane left Rarity and she simply smiled. She then swiftly retrieved a towel and levitated it over to Applejack.
"Thank ya' kindly, sugarcube," Applejack said appreciatively as she took the towel and began to dry herself off.
It was at that moment that Rarity collected herself, and broke free of the small stupor Applejack's abrupt appearance had summoned, then she promptly made her way over to the farm pony.
"Oh think nothing of it dear, though I must ask what it is that has driven you to endure such dreadful weather?" Rarity asked as Applejack finished with the towel and shook herself off like some form of giant wet dog.
If it had been any other pony to do such a thing, Rarity would imagine she'd have been battling the urge to recoil in disgust right now. Instead, she gave a weak laugh at her friend's antics, raising a hoof to shield herself from the droplets of water that were flung from Applejack's mane. She liked to think she had no idea why that was, even she had to admit that she'd once viewed Applejack's many less than exquisite actions and tastes with disdain. Yet these days she admired them almost as much as the dress she'd just finished. Of course she really did know why, she knew exactly why she admired her earth pony friend so much, the only problem was she couldn't bring herself to confess how she felt.
"Aww, it ain't that bad Rarity. Though ah have got a good mind ta tell who ever this new weather manger is ta take it a lil’ easier on the rain. This much water ain't good fer the farm," Applejack responded, handing the towel back to Rarity.
The fashionista looked at the muddy thing cautiously, before tentatively taking it in her magic and swiftly removing it from her sight. As much as she adored and respected Applejack, dirt lacked all dignity when it was no longer in the same mental image as her.
"Of course, darling," she said, tossing the towel off to one side where it landed in a trunk filled with other dirty attire. "Now you must tell me why you're here, dear. You mentioned something about a favour?" At those words Rarity turned and moved back into the main room of the boutique, Applejack following behind her.
"That ah did, was wonderin' if ya' could take a look at somethin' for me?" the earth pony asked, and Rarity paused.
"Of course darling, you know I'm always happy to help. What is it that needs attention?" The moment Rarity asked, Applejack shifted to one side and reached into her damp saddle bags.
"Ah was wonderin' if ya' could take a look at ma buckball uniform, thang got a lil’ roughed up in the practice match me and Rainbow had before the game," Applejack explained, producing a soggy blue shirt and holding it out to the alabaster mare.
At the mention of the event however, Rarity froze. For those long moments the only motion was that of her right ear as it started twitching.
"Ah, you mean when you two took Fluttershy and Pinkie out to Appaloosa, I did wonder what you were all up to there," she said, her voice a little more shrill than she'd liked as she levitated the shirt out of Applejack's hoof.
"Sorry it's so wet an' all, if there were any other way over here ah'..." Applejack began as if she'd been rehearsing the line ever since leaving her home in the rain, yet at Rarity's seemingly care free response she stopped herself.
"Wait, how'd ya' not know 'bout that? Ah thought me and Rainbow told everypony in town?" She expressed, seeming only a little ashamed of that latter fact.
Rarity nodded without a word, straightening out the shirt on a desk before smoothing out most of the creases with her magic and leaving it to dry. It took her a moment longer to turn back to Applejack, all the while the earth pony was just looking at her curiously.
"Sorry Applejack it must have slipped my mind. But it's nice to see I can be appreciated again, even if it is only to fix your uniform." Those words came out a little blunter then Rarity had intended, and she secretly scorned herself for allowing emotions to get the better of her voice again as she pressed a hoof to her mouth.
It wasn't that she was angry with Applejack, nor was she oblivious to what she, Pinkie, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash had done when they'd all gone out to Appaloosa. Applejack was right about at least one thing, Rainbow alone had told most of the town and Rarity was the last pony to allow any gossip to go unnoticed. That was not what had sparked a hint of envy in the unicorn at the motion of the event however, what did was what she knew had come only a day or two before. Specifically the training of unicorn team members, none of which had been her.
Meanwhile, Applejack regarded her fashionista friend carefully. It was not like Rarity to be so abrupt or remained quiet about something for so long afterwards, and within a few moments a flash of concern went through the farm pony's mind.
"Hay y'all alright Rarity, ya' seem a lil’ off?" she asked, and in that moment Rarity tensed, before a paper thin smile formed upon her muzzle.
"What? Of course, I'm perfectly fine Applejack... Just a little, well..." She trailed off, and immediately Applejack's suspicions were confirmed.
"Come on, Rarity. Ah know when somethin' ain’t right," she persisted, moving closer to Rarity and placing a hoof on her shoulder gently.
The unicorn tensed stiffly, then sighed as she looked up at her friend. Even now her mind flashed back to images of the perfect dress she'd completed only a few minutes ago. Yet now those admirations were amplified tenfold by the real sigel of her affection. Applejack was like the lightning rod that all of the burning bolts of her dreams had lanced towards. Only then had all of her wild fantasies been drawn down into the earth, and had she even entertained the idea of a perfect life she'd enjoy with somepony she adored.
Of course that was only half of the whole thing, everything else involved the trivial aspects of what she wanted. The fact that, not only was Applejack another mare, but she was also one of her closest friends and a pony who was descended from those who Rarity might once have turned up her nose at. Yet in the end that was just another thing admiring the earth pony had taught her. Another idiotic idea of arrogance that had been brought forwards and shown how to be good and generous. All that thanks to the wonderful friend that was now stood right beside her with a very worried look.
Rarity's eyes lingered upon Applejack's face for a long moment, then she let out a long sigh and lifted her head. Applejack's hoof slipped away as Rarity took another deep breath and collected herself.
"Okay Applejack, to tell the truth..." She swallowed, thinking about her next words very carefully. "I admit it, I may have been a little jealous."
At that, confusion flooded Applejack's expression and her face contorted. Her green eyes studied Rarity's own look closely as her ears sank back against her soggy mane. All the while Rarity looked at her friend silently, secretly begging Celestia that the farmer didn't think this was some kind of silly joke. After a long moment of silence however, her own head sank and her ears fell flat as she frowned.
"It sounds ridiculous I know, but now you know, so feel free to think what you will of me." Rarity expressed, then her horn flared and she enveloped Applejack's uniform in her magic. "I'll have this back all fixed up for you tomorrow," she went on dully, moving off towards the rear room of the boutique with the blue shirt levitating behind her.
It was then that Applejack shook herself free of confusion and ultimately considered exactly what her friend might mean by being jealous.
"Hey wait a second Rarity, ah don't think any of that sounds ridiculous at all." She reached out for the unicorn, arriving at Rarity's side as the weary mare reached the door to the rear room.
Rarity's head perked up and she looked back at Applejack, head tilted in confusion as her magic pushed the door before her open. The moment she saw that Rarity was looking at her, Applejack paused and blushed slightly.
"Begging ya' pardon Rarity, it's just ah don' quite understand what it is y'all were jealous of?" she explained, masking her slightly bashful look by allowing her hat to slip down over her eyes.
Rarity's mind ground to a halt at that, and she battled to figure out whether the new revelation made the situation more awkward or not. On one hoof the fact that Applejack seemed oblivious to her feelings toward her made simply denying them all the easier. Yet on the other, she knew she'd never forgive herself if she didn't tell Applejack exactly how much she adored her. Not only that, but she knew the idea and feelings would never leave her if she kept them all pent up.
"Oh, well you see Applejack it's not quite that simple..." she began, words getting stuck in her throat as it were stuffed with cotton wool.
Applejack considered that, and her embarrassment slowly faded into a smirk as she looked up from under the rim of her sunken hat.
"Oh ah see, y'all were jealous ya' weren't there ta see Ponyville beat Appaloosa," she surmised, the competitive part of her mind about the only thing offering any answers in the wake of her shameful confusion.
Despite everything, Rarity rolled her eyes. Of course part of her knew she should have expected as much, and moments later shook her head before continuing.
"No it's not quite like that either darling... You see, I wasn't focused on the game but more on the ponies involved, one mare in particular who..." Her voice fell silent once more as the confession of love flowed with her words, yet she slammed her muzzle shut before it could escape and the phrase succeeded only in dancing about her tongue in a futile effort to break free before fading.
"The ponies? What the hay was the problem there...?" Applejack's words were cut off with an equal lack of context, then her blush returned as she looked at Rarity blankly.
"O'," She said simply as realisation dawned, and her mouth hung open.
Rarity smiled and nodded as her own cheeks turned bright red, and for a brief moment she didn't feel afraid of opening herself up to her adoration. Then Applejack spoke again.
"Ya' tellin' meh that ya' like Rainbow Dash or summin'?" she asked suddenly, and Rarity's expression fell utterly flat, as did her ears.
"What! No of course not.” Rarity waved her forehooves around in emphasis. “While I will admit that Rainbow Dash has a very fine figure and she is a great friend, her personality is all too brash for me. No dear, I was talking about a pony who is far more down to earth." At the point Rarity felt as if she were more focused on some form of complex guessing game then the terrifying prospect of even considering a life with the mare now completely dumbstruck before her.
"Pinkie Pie?" Applejack asked as she inched forwards, and at that Rarity fought the urge to face hoof.
"No darling, and not Fluttershy either," she finally admitted, a simply desire to spare her friend the trouble overcoming her fear.
Only then did all of her doubts catch up with her, and as Applejack's green eyes went wide, her jaw falling slack, Rarity sank back.
"Wait a gosh darn minute, y'all are sayin' that ya’ were jealous of me?" she asked bluntly, pressing a hoof to her chest as in emphasis.
Rarity opened her mouth to respond, but all that escaped her was a weak stutter. Instead, she slowly back peddled through the door into the rear room of the boutique with a timid smile upon her bashful face. Applejack took a moment to consider exactly what it was she'd just been told, stuttering to herself all the while, then she finally forced herself after Rarity.
"Wait Rarity, ah'm sorry, ah mean.. O' horse apples, ah don' know what ta say... ah..." Applejack mumbled profusely as she entered the rear room, only to find Rarity standing motionless just in front of her.
The dreary sunlight that filtered in from the dark clouds illumined the mare, who stood so still she could have almost been mistaken for one of the many ponyquins that encircled her. Slowly Applejack shook off her damp saddle bags and crept up to her friend. Rarity didn't move, and soon Applejack's creep became cautious, the same way one may approach some form of venomous animal. That was until she finally found herself at the unicorns' side.
"It's utterly ridiculous isn't it... So un-lady like, uncouth," Rarity muttered emptily, staring out of the window and into the pouring rain.
Applejack considered those words for no more than a millisecond before shaking her head.
"No, it ain't Rarity. An’ if it's all the same ta ya', ah don't think y'all are that bad lookin' neither," the farm pony assured the fashionista, wrapping a hoof over her shoulders.
Rarity could not hide the shivers that went through her at those words, the fact that Applejack may reciprocate the same feelings was nothing short of life changing after all. Yet it was not the only thing still plaguing her mind.
"There's more to it than that though, isn't there?" she asked weakly, and once again Applejack's face contorted with confusion, before Rarity finally elaborated. "It wasn't just the whole buckball thing, ever since we met all those years ago you've always struck me as a pony that embodied all I once dreamed off, only in a more realistic way. But I never had the nerve to tell you any of that, especially since I thought you were growing closer to Rainbow Dash, and I was always too busy trying to change how I really felt by flirting with every handsome stallion that came my way."
"Hey, ah'll admit same as y'all that Rainbow's a darn good lookin' mare, but she ain't nowhere near mah type in any way other than a friend," Applejack stated with a smirk, the wry motion ushering at least a small laugh from the alabaster mare at her side.
"Yes, well I guess not. But the whole buckball fiasco was what got me thinking. I knew you were asking unicorns to take part and yet you never asked me." At that Applejack paused, and a genially guilty look formed upon her face.
"Sorry Rarity, ah just didn't think it was yer thang. Ah didn't want ta disturb ya' that's all," she admitted, her head sinking ever so slightly.
Rarity took another deep breath, then turned away from Applejack and looked right into the mirror. Opal Essence was still sitting on the stool at its side, apparently not yet satisfied with the level of grooming her front legs required. Yet all that Rarity was focused upon was the image of the tired looking unicorn looking back at her, curled purple mane covering one of her weary, sapphire eyes.
"Well I suppose it's all in the past now. But in all honesty, I just assumed I was buck out of luck," Rarity sighed, her reflection mirroring the dry expression.
Then another doppelganger appeared beside the first as Applejack materialized at Rarity's side once more, her muzzle curled into a smile. .
"Rarity, ya' don' need luck, y'all are already perfect enough," the farm pony observed, and Rarity shot her a wry glance, one eyebrow raised. "Ah mean, in yer own special way. Y'all are still the prissiest unicorn ah' know, not that ah'm sayin' ah don' like that. Ah mean, we got over all those differences ages ago an' all but..."
Applejack began to ramble as she fumbled for the right words, then she finally stopped herself and took a breath.
"I suppose what ah'm sayin' is that… Yeah ah kinda like ya' too, an if y'all wanna try being marefriends that's... Well ah think ah'd kinda like that."
At that Rarity grinned and turned to the blushing earth pony, unable to help but see the complete reversal of roles. This time it was unicon who placed a hoof over her friend's shoulder, and her grin widened slightly as she gazed into Applejack's quivering eyes.
"Are you saying that you'd like to go out on a date Applejack?" She asked, secretly hoping that this wasn't some kind of dream despite her new found confidence.
Applejack finally stiffened, her body straightening and legs going as rigid as strong tree trunks, then she looked right into Rarity's eyes as she responded.
"Yeah. Ah suppose ah am."
Rarity leaned into the orange mare at that, pressing her head into the ruff of Applejack's neck in such an affectionate way that even Opal paused in admiration. Meanwhile, Applejack wrapped a hoof over her new marefriend’s back and held her tightly, so enrapt in the loving embrace she failed to notice as Rarity's horn began to glow and a sapphire aura lifted the farm pony’s hat up into the air. The thing sailed gently through the air, before finally coming to rest atop the head of the ponyquin that boasted the fashion designers' latest dress. The dress originally inspired by her new and loving marefriend.