Three's A Crowd

by Sir0Chicken


At Odds

From the moment Fluttershy's cottage came into view, each step became more and more difficult for Applejack to complete. It was a visceral reaction. It wasn't that she disliked Fluttershy, and it wasn't that she didn't see the need to speak with the demure pegasus, but even so, she knew that this would be difficult.

She knew that this would be painful.

After every few steps, Applejack's chest heaved with a deep sigh. She slowly made her way to the front door, glancing from side to side to see if she could find Fluttershy somewhere tending to her animals. No such luck. At last, she halted at Fluttershy's doorstep, taking time to straighten herself before lifting her hoof and knocking it against the door.

For a moment, the knock echoed emptily in Applejack's ears, jarring her consciousness and leaving just as suddenly as it arrived. She winced at the sound, so repulsed by the noise that she almost turned away from the cottage. This had to be done, though, and she gritted her teeth as she resolved to see things through.

Fluttershy opened the door just in time to see the farm pony's harsh, determined expression at the height of its potency. Recoiling, she fought the urge to slam the door shut in Applejack's face and hid behind her mane.

"Eep! I mean, um," Fluttershy forced herself to speak even as her body quaked. "Nice to see you."

Realizing what had shaken her friend so much, Applejack pulled back a bit and softened her glare, chuckling as she rubbed the back of her neck. "Heck, I'm sorry, Fluttershy." Trotting through the door as Fluttershy let her in, she spoke in a subdued tone, keeping her head up but not lifting it high either. "I reckon we need to talk about some things, so if you aren't too busy, then—"

"Is it what I think it is?" Fluttershy interrupted, her voice quiet but forceful. "What you want to talk about, I mean."

A grimace spread across Applejack's face as she nodded. "I think so. That whole thing with Twilight, I'm, well, I'm not sure what I am, as a matter of fact. You know what, I'm sorry for what I said last night, I think I know that much." Every word came only after a struggle, and Applejack had to make a conscious effort not to gnash her teeth in frustration. "I… I need to figure some things out, and I shouldn't have just run off like that."

Fluttershy nodded. "You looked very upset, Applejack." She put a hoof on the farm pony's shoulder. "What happened on the farm yesterday?"

Applejack's shoulder slumped as she let out a long sigh. "My guess is the same thing that happened to you," she admitted, shaking her head. "We hit it off so well, and I just never realized how much we have in common." She turned her head away from Fluttershy and pulled her hat as far down as she could. "I'm sorry, Shy. I'm so, so sorry."

Suddenly, she felt Fluttershy's hoof against her chin, pushing it up until the two ponies looked each other in the eyes. "There's nothing to be sorry about, Applejack," the pegasus said. "You feel what you feel. There's nothing you or I can do about it, and I respect that."

Applejack chuckled without humor and shook her head. "Doesn't mean we can share Twilight," she commented.

"No, I know we can't." Fluttershy lowered her head and backed away a step. "We can still try to figure things out, though. I mean, we can try to make a decision together."

"You know I made my decision already, Fluttershy. I told you what to do yesterday." Tears welled up in Applejack's eyes, but she blinked them back. "Just go to her. Only reason I'm here is 'cause I figured you'd need to hear it again."

"No." Fluttershy stomped a hoof against the floor. Even though the gesture really amounted to little more than a gentle tap, it stunned Applejack into silence, letting Fluttershy lean forward with a stare Applejack had seen precious few times before.

"I know you're trying to be nice, Applejack, and you want to put my wants first, but this isn't about me," the pegasus said, pacing around the room and punctuating the occasional phrase with a more forceful step. "This is about me and you—and Twilight, too! And you know you like her. You like her a lot—otherwise you wouldn't have come here. I don't care if I was first or if friends do favors for friends. This isn't the sort of favor you want to do for me, and it's not the sort of favor I want done."

Fluttershy continued pacing for a few moments after she stopped speaking, retaining her aggressive demeanor as if she had yet to finish. Eventually, she realized that she was, indeed, finished and came to an awkward stop in the middle of her living room, glancing at Applejack and blushing. "I'm sorry. Was that too mean?"

"Shy, I don't think you have a mean bone in your body," Applejack insisted. "Still, what do we do?"

The uncertainty that flickered in Fluttershy's eyes told Applejack all she needed to know. Even so, the farm pony had no way to anticipate the pegasus's answer. "Um, I may have told Twilight I love her."

Applejack could only laugh. "Of course you did." Seeing Fluttershy lower her head, she held a hoof out and shook her head. "No, no, Shy. I didn't mean it like that. It's just, well, I guess the decision's made at this point, right?"

"But I just said—"

"It's not about who was first, Shy," Applejack interrupted, putting a hoof on Fluttershy's shoulder. "Twilight's got enough on her plate just figuring out things with you. She doesn't need two ponies putting that sort of pressure on her—let alone two friends."

"You can't just avoid her, though." Fluttershy began to pace before she realized what she was doing and stopped herself. Keeping her head low, she continued, "If you're around her, Applejack, don't lie to her. At least promise me that."

Applejack opened her mouth to speak and realized that she had no words to offer. Blinking and shaking her head, she finally managed, "Alright. Fine. If you say so, Shy. It's not like I could if I tried—Element of Honesty and all."

A smile crept onto Fluttershy's expression, but she stopped short of laughing. "So, I guess I haven't really asked you the question," she commented.

"Beg pardon?" Applejack tilted her head and arched a brow.

"Do you love her?" Fluttershy stood tall and confident for a moment, but the effect was shattered when she flinched and corrected, "I mean, do you think you love her at least?"

Applejack hesitated for a moment, but when she nodded it was without reservations. "I can't say it for sure, but she's definitely something more than the rest of y'all—no offense of course." Fluttershy waved the apology off with a smile.

Clearing her throat, Applejack went on. "I guess I could be wrong, seeing as it's not like I've spent all that much time alone with her, but yesterday was… Well, I only know one other pony who's made me feel that way." She tried to hold back her tears, but a couple pushed past her eyelids and streamed down her cheeks.

"Lost love is a terrible thing," Fluttershy almost whispered. Applejack's eyes widened slightly as she turned to face the pegasus more directly. "It's okay, Applejack. I know what it's like to have that sort of thing happen."

"Oh yeah?" Applejack drew her lips into a thin line and rolled her eyes. "The love was lost, sure as sugar, but it wasn't because of plain bad luck."

"Bad breakup," Fluttershy stated more than asked.

Applejack broke into a grin that just barely avoided becoming a grimace. "I guess you could say that."

"Well, if you ever want to talk about that, I'm here. I won't pry, though—I wouldn't want to be a bother."

"Shy, you ain't a bother." Applejack felt like she was comforting her little sister, and she brought a foreleg around Fluttershy's withers to grip her in a firm half-hug. "And remember you can talk to me about anything too." She tried to smile mischievously, but the end result looked mostly sad. "Even Twilight things."

Fluttershy noticed the sorrow in Applejack's expression, so she lowered her head and turned away. "Don't," she pleaded quietly. "Don't lie to me, and especially don't lie to yourself."

"I didn't even say nothing!" Applejack protested, pulling away from Fluttershy so she could stand tall.

"No, but you lied anyway." Fluttershy shook her head, but she remained subdued and melancholy. "We'll see what Twilight wants to do with her life. I mean, I'd like her to choose me, but I'd be happy if she chose you too, and there are so many ponies in Equestria… Oh my! Either way, you know you want her to choose you, so don't act like this isn't anything." She brushed her mane so it covered more of her face. "Please," she added, unable to keep her eyes on Applejack.

"Why won't anypony just make this easy?" Applejack shot back, her voice suddenly carrying a sharp edge. "Twilight's yours. Just take her, darn it!"

"But—but—"

Applejack shot a harsh glare Fluttershy's way, silencing the pegasus. "I won't take any more of this," she growled, her voice breaking as tears returned to her eyes. "I—I'm leaving." Gritting her teeth, the pony began to gallop for the front door.

"Applejack!" Fluttershy held a hoof out, fearing she was already too late, but she was thankfully mistaken. At the pegasus's pleading, Applejack stopped with her hoof on the door handle, shoulders slouched and eyes downcast. Slowly lifting her head to face Fluttershy, she took a deep breath and hesitated before finding the resolve to speak.

"Why won't it just end?" she asked, casting her sad eyes to Fluttershy. "I know you want to be nice, Shy, but now you're just torturing me."

A gasp escaped Fluttershy's throat. "Don't even say something like that!"

"I'm only saying the truth, Shy. I want you to go to Twilight—I need you to—" The words caught in her throat, and she stopped to collect her emotions before she could finish her sentence. "I need you to go to her. So long as she's still there, I—well, I'll deal with it, but you need to go to her. Please."

"Stop it, Applejack!" With Applejack's motives finally out in the open, Fluttershy looked absolutely livid. Thrusting a hoof forward accusingly, she snapped, "How do you think this makes me feel? You're telling me that whatever I do, I'm hurting you, and it's awful!"

Silence followed as Fluttershy searched for what to say next. At last, Applejack tried to protest. "But—"

"No, Applejack. Let me finish. Let me… think." Her eyes drifted upward as she did just that, but this time Applejack remained silent and still until Fluttershy was ready to continue.

"Thank you," the pegasus said when she had figured out what she wanted to say. "I think it's time to come clean. Um, I'm sorry, Applejack, but I can live with letting Twilight decide, no matter who she chooses." Fluttershy fixed her gaze on Applejack and asked, "Can you?"

Applejack blinked a few times and took a step back that only led to her bumping into the wall of the cottage. "Course, Shy. Why wouldn't I?" She glanced all about, looking at everything in the room but Fluttershy.

Fluttershy sighed as her suspicions were confirmed by Applejack's shifty behavior. "It's one thing to give things to other ponies. That's your choice; you can control that. It's different to want something and work so hard to get it with no guarantee it will ever be yours. Don't you agree, Applejack?"

"Well, it hardly seems fair," she admitted, but she knew Fluttershy expected more. Still, wishes don't always come true, and Applejack said no more.

"I know this is difficult, Applejack, but you have to admit your feelings one way or another. Either you'll speak your mind or I'll keep guessing at the truth." Fluttershy bit her lip, adding, "And I'm really sorry, because this seems so rude, but It's really for the best. I promise."

Applejack snorted, unable to take another moment. "I don't need this," she grumped, opening the door and stepping outside. "I'll be going home now, Shy. I reckon Twilight's heading over there right now." She tried to maintain a stern expression, but it dissolved to sadness before too long. "If she goes to you, don't say no, Shy. Don't you dare say no."

With a smile, Fluttershy nodded. "I never would've dreamed of doing that."

Rolling her eyes, Applejack shut the door and trotted down the road toward Sweet Apple Acres.



Twilight recognized the rainbow-colored blur streaking away from Sweet Apple Acres the moment she saw it, but that didn't make Rainbow Dash's sudden arrival directly in front of the unicorn any less surprising. As the pegasus skidded to a stop at the outskirts of Ponyvile, Twilight yelped and jumped back a step, remembering countless collisions in the past and knowing that even a flyer as skilled as Rainbow Dash could make mistakes.

"Hey!" Rainbow protested, recognizing the source of Twilight's fear. "I had it under control. I wasn't gonna hit you."

"Better safe than sorry." Even so, Twilight relaxed once her friend was well and truly stopped, knowing the danger had passed. "Either way, what were you doing out at Applejack's house?"

Rainbow plastered a smile over her face and shifted. "Just, uh, going over the weather schedule and stuff," she answered, eyes darted left and right as she began to sweat. "You know, what with new plants being, uh, planted." Rainbow stopped, unhappy with how the last sentence sounded.

"New crops notwithstanding, I hope you'll forgive me if I don't believe you right away." Twilight pursed her lips and arched an eyebrow. After a moment, though, she brushed off the suspicious expression and shrugged. "Doesn't really matter in the end, though." She began to continue toward Sweet Apple Acres as she said, "I'm off to help Applejack for the day, so nice to see you."

Rainbow's eyes widened and she flew over Twilight to land in front of the unicorn again. "Hold on," she insisted. "How about you…" Tapping a chin thoughtfully for a moment, Rainbow perked up as inspiration struck. "How about you go read a book or something, eh?" She nudged Twilight as a she smiled broadly. "Eh?"

Some ponies are masters of subtlety and manipulation. That's not to say that they were bad ponies—diplomatic was the better word. They could mask their own feelings well enough to blind their peers and colleagues to any hidden agendas they might have had, and they could guide events with grace and reserve.

Rainbow Dash was no such pony.

With that in mind, it was little wonder that Twilight simply frowned and rolled her eyes in the face of Rainbow's suggestion. Sighing, she replied, "I don't know what's gotten into you, Rainbow, but I told Applejack I would help out on the farm today. That means I'm going to help, even if—" She caught herself and cleared her throat. "Um, nevermind."

Now it was Rainbow's turn to grow suspicious, opening her mouth slightly as she tilted her head. "Even if what?"

"Nothing!" Twilight insisted, but she knew it was in vain. "It's none of your—well, you weren't there."

This time, Rainbow decided it was best to feign ignorance—to learn what Twilight thought about the situation. Leaning forward, she furrowed her brow and snapped, "Hey, Twilight! Don't try keeping things from me. If something happened between you and AJ, I deserve to know."

"Fine." Twilight slouched her shoulders and sighed. "Last night, after you left… Everything was weird, okay? First Applejack said something to Fluttershy and ran away without saying goodbye, and then Fluttershy—" Her voice caught and she shook her head. "One problem at a time," she muttered.

"Anyway, Fluttershy said Applejack told her to take care of me—whatever that means." Twilight immediately came to regret her decision to try and tackle what happened with Applejack without discussing the full context of the night. "Well, actually, Fluttershy sort of said she loves me, so I guess that's what Applejack was talking about, but like I said: one problem at a time."

"Alright," Rainbow agreed, waiting for her friend to continue. Twilight nodded curtly and paced briefly before taking a breath to continue.

"Okay. Anyway, I don't know what Applejack was so upset about." Twilight began to speak louder as she grew more agitated. She started to gestures more and more, lending as much force to her points through actions as through words. "As a matter of fact, she was acting weird starting with yesterday morning. One moment, we're being friendly and joking around, and then all of a sudden she gets this weird look on her face and she tries to pull away. It's driving me crazy!" She paused for a moment and took the time to wave her front hooves in the air.

Setting all four hooves back on the ground, Twilight closed her eyes and took a moment to collect herself. Taking a deep breath, she looked up at Rainbow and said, "You've known Applejack for a long time. Do you have any idea what might be wrong with her?"

Normally, Rainbow might have taken the opportunity to take a sarcastic jab at the farm pony, but given the circumstances and her audience, she resisted the urge and took a moment to consider her answer.

"I'm… I mean, it sounds like Applejack needs some space to think," she offered, unsure of how much she should reveal. Her answers came slowly, and she spoke with the same sluggishness that seemed to have taken hold of her mind. "She, um, she didn't mention all this when I was at the farm, but she seemed like she was handling it okay. I'd say wait till tomorrow. You know, let her figure things out."

Twilight seemed dissatisfied with Rainbow's suggestion, but she nodded nonetheless. Frowning, she said, "It's so frustrating, but I guess you're right."

Smirking, Rainbow brought a hoof up to her chest and said, "Naturally."

With a roll of her eyes, Twilight chuckled and moved on. "Of course, Rainbow Dash. Thanks for the advice."

"No prob, Twilight. So whatcha gonna do today?" Rainbow began to flap her wings, hovering just above the ground as she prepared to say goodbye.

"I think I've got a good idea," Twilight answered, a hint of relief creeping into her expression. "I'm going to head to Rarity's place. Want to head over that way with me?"

Rainbow took all of two seconds to make up her mind about the offer. Snorting derisively, she rolled her eyes and said, "Nah." If Twilight had thought for a moment, before asking, she wouldn't have expected anything different.

Giggling a bit, the unicorn shrugged and said, "Alright, then. I didn't mean to actually go to Carousel Boutique with me. I need to talk with Rarity about something." She shook her head and waved a hoof. "It doesn't matter, though. See you later, Rainbow Dash."

"See ya, Twilight!" With that, Rainbow was off, leaving nothing but a gust of wind and a rainbow trail behind her as she sped off into the clouds.

As she watched the pegasus fly away, Twilight turned toward Ponyville and took a few steps before stopping. Blinking rapidly, she glanced back in the direction she had seen Rainbow flying in and looked back at Sweet Apple Acres.

She hadn't quite bought Rainbow's reason for visiting Applejack, but it hadn't seemed important at the time. What did she care when her friends hung out together, or even why? Even so, Rainbow's obvious lie rankled with her.

Twilight turned around to face Sweet Apple Acres; maybe it was time to go see Applejack anyway. She would tell Twilight why Rainbow was there. At least then she'd have one answer to the thousand questions swirling through her head.

As the impulse faded, Twilight shook herself and turned back to Ponyville, blinking once more and working her mouth silently. A wave of guilt passed through her as she realized what she had just felt. Had she been jealous? What did she even have to be jealous about? Twilight groaned as those questions joined the swarm of unanswered mysteries.

At last, Twilight began to make her way toward the Carousel Boutique. Rainbow was right; whatever problems Applejack was dealing with would take time to get sorted out. It would be best to let Applejack make some headway on her own first before going to see the farm pony again.

Besides, Rarity would know what to do about Fluttershy. She would have the answers—or at the very least know how Twilight ought to look for those answers.

In such a strange, confusing time, that was just the sort of information Twilight needed.