“Take the Long Way Home”
by Donny’s Boy
Synopsis: Applejack reached up with a fore hoof to touch the brim of her hat. It was habitual, almost unconscious. She could feel, nestled safely underneath the hat, her two most precious treasures--a single blue feather and a small snippet of purple mane.
They were precious, more precious than anything besides her family and her farm, because they were only pieces of them she’d ever have.
“Lonely days turn to lonely nights.
You take a trip to the city lights
And take the long way home,
Take the long way home …”
--Supertramp, “Take the Long Way Home”
Applejack smelled wrong.
Applejack was supposed to smell like cinnamon and apples, like straw and like hemp. She was supposed to smell like the wind in autumn, and she was supposed to smell like hard work and hard play.
She was supposed to smell like Applejack.
But Applejack didn’t smell like Applejack. As the farm pony brushed past Rainbow Dash as they worked side by side out in the orchards at Sweet Apple Acres, the pegasus caught a whiff of her friend and immediately froze. She’d know Applejack’s scent anywhere--though if anypony ever thought to ask, she’d deny it to her grave--but what she was smelling right now wasn’t Applejack at all.
Instead of cinnamon, there was something oppressively floral, and instead of the wind, there was a hint of perfume, a hint of facial powder. It wasn’t the smell of a pony who plowed fields by day and slammed down hard ciders by night. It was the smell of a pony who worked inside all day, who fretted over her mane, her hooves, her wardrobe.
“You okay, sugarcube?”
Dash blinked. “Huh?”
Applejack grinned at her, nice and easy, and it hurt more than if the earth pony had bucked her right in the chest. “You look a little like you were daydreamin’.”
“Nah. Nah.” The pegasus puffed out her chest and flared her wings. She gave a long snort, too, if only to get that smell out of her nostrils and out of her head. “I’m totally fine! I’m fine ...”
Applejack smelled wrong.
Applejack was supposed to smell like cinnamon and apples and sweat and grass. She was supposed to smell like freshly-plowed dirt in the spring. She was supposed to smell like hard cider and stubbornness incarnate.
She was supposed to smell like Applejack.
But she didn’t. As the farm pony deposited a barrel of fresh-picked apples at Rarity’s hooves, leaning down close enough that her golden mane brushed against Rarity’s cheek, the unicorn felt her heart thud in her chest as she breathed in Applejack’s scent. The smell of Applejack was a smell that Rarity knew as well as she knew Canterlot’s latest fashion trends, a smell that haunted her dreams and caused her to wake up flushed and panting for breath.
Now, though, there was no hint of cider, no whiff of solid, steady earth. Instead of grass, there was fresh rain, and the unmistakable scent of storm clouds, electric and dark, replaced the friendly and familiar smell of apples. It wasn’t at all the smell of a pony as reliable as the day was long. All those scent spoke, instead, of a pony who thirsted for danger and lusted for speed.
A lump rose in Rarity’s throat, and she quickly swallowed it down.
Applejack glanced up from the apples she’d just dropped, and her eyes were wide and green. “How’s it goin’, Rare?”
“I …” Rarity swallowed again. “I beg pardon?”
“The apple sorting.” The earth pony nodded towards the piles of apples all around. “You need any help? I can go fetch Twi or Fluttershy if’n you think you’ll--”
“No,” interrupted Rarity quickly, shaking her head. It helped a little--helped to get rid of that awful scent, helped to loosen that terrible tightness in her throat. “No, thank you, I mean. I believe I’m doing quite all right on my own ...”
Everything was wrong.
The sun was shining, the apples were ripe, and the sky was a perfect shade of blue … but none of it mattered in the least. Because even as the apples filled up buckets at an impressive rate, even as her closest friends chatted and laughed as they worked alongside her, Applejack could smell it.
Could smell them.
Could smell rain and cloud, flowers and perfume, adventure and romance. Her nose and her mind were both filled to overflowing with an entire avalanche of competing scents, scents that brought up a corresponding avalanche of memories and feelings and aching desires. She almost felt sick to her stomach from the intensity of it all, and she was not a pony with a naturally weak constitution
As Applejack crossed the orchard and prepared to begin bucking the next row of trees, she reached up with a fore hoof to touch the brim of her hat. It was habitual, almost unconscious. She could feel, nestled safely underneath that hat, her two most precious treasures--a single blue feather and a small snippet of purple mane.
They were precious, more precious than anything besides her family and her farm, because they were only pieces of them she’d ever have.
Applejack winced a bit as her legs connected with the apple tree harder than she’d intended, leading to a loud crack that caused Fluttershy to glance over with a concerned expression on her face. Applejack just smiled back awkwardly and moved on to the next tree.
Her next kick was gentler and quieter. She reached up and readjusted her hat again, as sweat began trickling down her face. The sweat stung her eyes, but it didn’t sting quite so much as the truth of what that sweat represented--that she was a plain old farm pony, who lived in a plain old town and who led a plain old life. But that pegasus and that unicorn? They were anything but plain, and the honest truth was that neither of them would ever be happy with plain old lives.
And someday they’d be long gone, off to bigger and better things. And Applejack wanted that. She did. She wanted her friends--all of her friends--to be happy. But she also knew that, when that someday finally came, she would have nothing with which to comfort herself except for that solitary feather and that tiny bit of mane that rested underneath her hat.
She knew someday was coming, but she hadn’t thought, couldn’t have known, that it would come quite so soon. And yet here they were.
It was the end of the story. The end of their shared story, anyway, but that was the only story that Applejack really cared about.
She stood on the narrow little platform outside Ponyville’s train station, head high, smile wide, and she waved as the train slowly pulled away. There wasn’t anything else to do, after all. So she stood, and she smiled, and she waved. Twilight reached over to place a gentle hoof on her shoulder, but Applejack shrugged her off.
She didn’t know why Twilight was bothering with her, when Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie were right next to the unicorn and both bawling their eyes out. Well. Pinkie was bawling, at least. Fluttershy was more just sniffling. At any rate, they were both crying, as would anypony who’d just had to watch their best friends pack up and leave town, and Applejack reckoned that Twilight Sparkle would do a lot more good by comforting those two than she could by messing around with a stubborn old farm pony.
In fact, she was the only one not crying at all. But then, she didn’t cry over much, nowadays. Besides, Rarity and Dash hadn’t been able to shut up about finally moving to Canterlot for months now. Wasn’t as though it was a surprise, like it’d been when her parents had--
The point was, she was fine, and she didn’t need Twilight’s comfort or Twilight’s pity. She’d survived the return of Nightmare Moon, the great apple blight, the return of Discord, a changeling invasion, and a whole heap more. She’d survive this too.
Just like she always did. Just like she always would.
There wasn’t anything else to do.
Rarity was dying.
It didn’t seem like it, at first glance. She seemed to have more energy than ever, as she set about the time-consuming tasks of setting up her new boutique in Canterlot and making the rounds of all the most fabulous and elite social gatherings. Her smile never wavered, never faltered, never failed, and her outfits always succeeded in drawing startled gasps and appreciative murmurs whenever she walked into a room.
And yet, Rarity was dying.
Every smile cost her, cost her something ineffable, something intangible, something so much more real than all of the fake laughter and fake friendship in all of Canterlot. Every outfit was tossed onto the floor by her opulent, king-size bed and left in an inelegant heap as soon as she returned home from a party. Every day was just the tiniest bit harder than the day before, and every day Rarity died just a little more.
She pretended to herself that she didn’t know why this was so, but she did. She was a mare of keen intellect and finely tuned perception. She couldn’t fail to see the truth of things, even if she didn’t always choose to verbalize that truth, and the truth was that all of this had been caused that blasted apple farmer in Ponyville.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. None of it. Canterlot was supposed to be the pinnacle of her career, the crowning jewel in her jewelry box, the culmination of so many years of dreams and hopes and fears and endless toil. Canterlot was supposed to be the goal she ran towards … not simply the place where she took refuge after running away.
But run she had, like a fool and a coward. She’d run away from Ponyville and away from its apple farms that smelled of clean sweat and fresh cider. Had run away from green eyes that burned through her worse than any dragon-fire, away from strong hugs that almost left bruises yet never, ever lasted quite long enough. Had run away from arguments that left her heart pounding and blood pumping, from hours-long conversations that lasted deep into the night and left her mind buzzing with new thoughts and new ideas.
She’d run away from all the things she shouldn’t want and tried desperately not to want and absolutely could not stop wanting.
And she was running still, in this huge new city, running from party to show to boutique to theater, never stopping, never daring to stop. But she couldn’t quite run fast enough to escape the dreams filled with eyes as green as the grass back in Ponyville or the ghost of fiddle music drifting on the breeze.
And so, day by day, little by little, Rarity was dying.
Rarity was dying.
Rainbow Dash knew that Rarity was dying--had seen the evidence herself--and every bit that she knew that, she also knew it was up to her and her alone to save her friend. Whether that stubborn unicorn wanted saving or not.
It was hard, though. Dash’s days were filled with trainings and work-outs and practice flights, while her nights were filled with team parties and nightclubs and adoring fans. And she loved it--it was, unlike so many things in life, even better than she’d hoped--but she couldn’t sleep at night knowing that one of her very best friends was miserable and in pain just across town. She couldn’t just go to bed knowing that any more than she’d been able to walk out of Dodge Junction while leaving Applejack behind.
She wasn’t the Element of Loyalty for nothing.
So she tried, as best she could. Every single second that wasn’t already claimed by the Wonderbolts was spent at fashion shows and at high-society parties. Rarity always blanched as soon as she spotted the pegasus and tried to turn away, but Rainbow just turned up the wattage on her smile and tossed a foreleg around her friend’s shoulders. She made mind-numbingly boring small talk with Fancy Pants and Fleur de Lis, and she submitted to Photo Finish styling her mane. When Rarity needed a last-minute model, she let the designer stuff her into a constrictive, overly fussy gown, and she did so without a single grumble or eye roll.
She did everything she knew to do, even though all the while she knew none of it would be enough. Because as much as she had to give--and Rainbow Dash was a pony of no small number of talents--she couldn’t give Rarity what the unicorn truly wanted. She couldn’t give Rarity what Rarity needed.
She couldn’t give Rarity that blasted apple farmer in Ponyville.
Not that Rainbow Dash ever said any of that. The pegasus was a mare of action, after all. Besides, if she ever let on that she knew just why Rarity was suffering so, it would only lead to uncomfortable questions all around.
And as loyal as Rainbow was, and as good a friend as she strove to be, maybe there were some things that didn’t need sharing. Maybe Rarity didn’t need to know that the reason Dash understood so well was because looking into Rarity’s exhausted eyes was like looking into a mirror. Maybe Rarity didn’t need to know that at night Dash dreamt of a mane that smelled like straw and sun, dreamt of the sound of hooves thundering against blankets of fresh fallen leaves.
Maybe Rarity didn’t need to know how much the new fame and endless adoration that was being heaped upon Dash’s head inexplicably failed to satisfy, failed to thrill, in the way that winning a simple barrel race once had.
And if Rainbow Dash was dying too? Slowly but surely, little by little? Well, maybe Rarity didn’t need to know that, either.
It was the end of the story, but Applejack had always been too stubborn to realize when it was time to make a graceful exit.
The morning after she’d said goodbye to two of her best friends in the entire world down at that tiny little train station, the sun rose over her apple orchards just as it always did. Big Mac woke up and started a pot of coffee, the same way he did every morning, and Applejack trudged into the kitchen to drink some coffee and eat some flapjacks. Then she saw Apple Bloom off to school before heading out into the fields, like she had every morning prior.
There wasn’t anything else to do.
As the sun crept higher and higher, she kept moving right along. She walked into the barn, to fix the old broken plow, then she walked out to the animal pens. With well-practiced efficiency, she slopped the hogs and fed all the chickens. After that, she walked down the long rows of apple trees, checking the progress of the season’s current crop and inspecting the trees for health, and then she headed back into the house to fix some lunch for Granny Smith.
All day she just kept on walking. Kept on working. Pushing, pulling, hammering, hauling.
If she worked hard enough and long enough, she’d be too tired to think. And thinking was what got ponies into trouble. Thinking about everything a pony had and everything a pony didn’t. Thinking about everything a pony wanted. Wanting things, that got a pony into trouble, too. So did wishing, which was an awful lot like wanting--wishing that her foolish heart had been able to finally choose, wishing that she’d owned up to how she felt, wishing that she’d been able to say or do something, anything.
Wishing they hadn’t left. Wishing it wasn’t inevitable that they would.
But wishing and wanting didn’t get a pony anything at all in this life, and so Applejack didn’t wish and Applejack didn’t want. She didn’t think about how the sky was a certain color blue, about how the water in the troughs sparkled under the sun like diamonds. She didn’t think about how, despite the shining blue sky and sparkling water, everything seemed so much less alive and so much more gray.
No, Applejack didn’t think about any of that. She pushed, and she pulled, and she hammered, and she hauled.
There wasn’t anything else to do.
Rarity was awoken by a very loud snort. She didn’t need to open her eyes or to roll over to know to whom the snort belonged, to discover the identity of her vile sleep-thief, but she did both those things anyway. And as she opened her and turned her head, she found exactly what she knew she’d find.
She found Rainbow Dash.
The pegasus lay right beside her, that rough multi-colored mane such a strange contrast to the silken, pure white pillow cases it laid against. Dash’s mouth hung open, just slightly, just enough that a small trickle of saliva could ooze its way down her chin. All the while, Dash kept snoring away like a drunken lumberjack.
It should have annoyed Rarity, and indeed, it did annoy Rarity. Rainbow Dash was never quite so unattractive as she proved to be when dead asleep.
Nevertheless, Rarity scooted over a few inches and wrapped a foreleg around the pegasus. She buried her nose in Dash’s warm mane. Dash’s mane smelled of clouds, as it always did and despite the fact that clouds really shouldn’t have any smell at all. And yet, Dash smelled distinctly of clouds.
It reminded Rarity of all the Wonderbolts trainings and performances she’d attended of late. Reminded her even more of the end of all those events, where Rainbow would rush up and tackle her while wearing a broad, silly smile. It reminded her of the endless social engagements that the fashion world found necessary and which Rainbow attended alongside Rarity with a certain obstinate tenacity. Perhaps most of all, it reminded her of home.
Whatever that meant, and wherever that was.
“You stupid mare,” she murmured into the coarse hairs tickling her nose. “You stupid, beautiful mare.”
As she snuggled against Rainbow Dash’s warm, firm body, she did what she often did on such mornings. She tried to puzzle out how all of this began.
Oh, certainly she remembered well enough that very first morning she’d awoken with an incorrigible blue pegasus beside her, but she also knew that wasn’t the beginning. Not really. Perhaps the true beginning was when they’d both moved to Canterlot together, Dash to join the Wonderbolts and Rarity to open her new boutique. Perhaps it was when Rainbow actually volunteered to model Rarity’s designs and pretended to enjoy it, while Rarity pretended not to notice the worried look in Rainbow’s eyes.
Perhaps it was that day she’d realized that Rainbow Dash was in love with Applejack, too. That she and this daredevil pegasus shared more than she’d ever expected. Though, increasingly, she wondered if perhaps she should have expected it.
Dash gave another loud snort, and a pink tongue lolled out the side of her muzzle. It was absolutely revolting. Rarity closed her eyes and hugged the pegasus a little tighter. She could feel the steady rise and fall of Dash’s chest, a soothing lullaby that stood in stark contrast to her own wildly beating heart.
Rarity didn’t quite know where it all began, but more importantly, she didn’t know where it was all going to end. All in all, she didn’t know what scared her more: the thought that she was using Dash as an excuse not to go back home … or the thought that perhaps, just perhaps, Rainbow Dash was home.
Rainbow Dash was awoken by a quiet sniffle. She didn’t need to open her eyes or to roll over to know whose sniffle it was, but she did both those things anyway. Rarity smiled at her as soon as she’d rolled over, and Dash smiled back for a moment. Then she leaned forward to deposit a gentle kiss on the very tip of Rarity’s nose.
“Your breath smells absolutely wretched,” said Rarity, the smile never leaving her face. “If I didn’t have a sink full of dried toothpaste proving otherwise, I’d think you never brushed your teeth.”
Rainbow kept right on smiling, too. “Yeah. I know. You say that every morning.”
“Well, it’s true every morning.”
Rainbow just chuckled and kissed the unicorn again. When Rarity wrinkled her nose in distaste, Rainbow chuckled even harder. That earned the pegasus a withering glare in response, but it didn’t last long before Rarity sighed and nuzzled her face into the fur of Dash’s chest.
Rainbow rested her chin against the top of the unicorn’s head. “So, what’s up?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You were crying.”
There was a pause before Rarity replied, “I most certainly was not.”
Rainbow couldn’t resist the urge to roll her eyes, even though Rarity couldn’t see. “C’mon, Rare. That junk works on Fluttershy, not me.” She draped a foreleg about the unicorn’s shoulders and held her tight to her chest. “Is this about Applejack?”
The question, of course, was a mere formality. It was always about Applejack.
“No,” retorted Rarity in a petulant tone. Then, after a moment’s silence, came a sigh. “Perhaps.”
Rainbow Dash nodded and, as she did, wondered at the incredible silkiness of Rarity’s mane against her chin. She didn’t even know how Rarity got her mane to be this soft. It wasn’t anything like Applejack’s mane--soft instead of bristly, flowery instead of earthy--and that used to bother Dash. Sometimes it still did. But this morning, as they lay in Rarity’s big four-poster bed with the dawn’s soft light filtering in through the lace curtains, it didn’t bother her at all.
She wasn’t sure what that meant. Or if it even did mean something. So she simply kissed Rarity again, a kiss dropped into the very thick of that soft, floral mane.
“Rainbow, tell me something. Where is … where is home?”
Dash snorted at that. What a ridiculously easy softball of a question. She opened her mouth to say so, if only to needle Rarity a little, but then she paused. As her eyebrows drew together, she shut her mouth again.
“Not so easy a question as it seems. Is it, darling?”
The pegasus frowned. She reached up to rub Rarity’s back as she pondered over the question that had been posed to her. She wasn’t a natural egghead like Twilight Sparkle, and she wasn’t good at figuring out nuances like Fluttershy could, but she’d known Rarity long enough that she thought she had a decent sense of what that aggravatingly cryptic unicorn was getting at.
And the answer, once she understood the question, really was easy.
“Rare, if you … if you wanna move back to Ponyville, to be with AJ and stuff, that’s cool. I mean, don’t get me wrong! You’re great, and being with you is great, but …” Dash shrugged. There wasn’t anything else to do. “You’re two of my best friends. I want you to be happy.”
“Oh, Dash. That is … that is exceedingly generous of you.” There was a long silence before Rarity continued on, in a voice just a touch louder than a whisper, “I’m afraid there’s something I must confess. It isn’t I that Applejack desires. It’s you.”
Rarity pulled away from Dash’s embrace and crossed her forelegs in front of her chest, hugging herself tightly, almost as if trying to ward off a winter frost even though they were in the middle of a pleasantly balmy spring. She wouldn’t meet Dash’s eyes.
“I shouldn’t have kept it from you. It was terribly selfish of me. And disloyal, of course, to not even mention in passing all of those little glances and excuses to engage in physical horseplay. Let alone that feather she keeps under her hat!” Rarity bit her lip and glanced down. “Oh, Rainbow, I do hope that you can forgive me for--”
“AJ doesn’t have a thing for me. She’s got a thing for you.” Rainbow cupped Rarity’s face between her fore hooves and forced the unicorn to lift her head. “I mean, all that flirty arguing and always galloping to your rescue and stuff? C’mon! And it’s not a feather under her hat, it’s a couple hairs from your mane ... though Celestia knows how she got her hooves on that ...”
Rarity simply blinked back at the pegasus in confusion.
Rainbow Dash found herself doing the same.
“Darling, I know what I saw. And what I saw was a distinctly blue feather.”
“This totally makes no sense. This is, like, Pinkie Pie levels of not making sense. Unless Applejack was actually--”
Then it hit her. Like a bolt from the blue.
And slowly, like Opalescence stretching in a sunbeam, Rainbow smiled.
It was the end of the story. Or, at least, that’s what Applejack had figured. That was always how things ended in the movies, anyway--with somepony boarding a train and heading off into the distance, not even glancing back once.
Though maybe she should’ve known better. Should’ve known that things wouldn’t play out quite like they did in the movies.
Rarity had looked back at her. Those deep blue eyes had passed over all of them on the platform--first Twilight, then Pinkie, barely touching Fluttershy and Spike--before they’d come to rest on Applejack alone. The farm pony had figured it was just because it was easier for Rarity to keep her eyes on Applejack rather than the others. Easier for the unicorn to keep focus on the one of them who wasn’t making a fuss, who wasn’t making a scene.
Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash had kept her eyes straight ahead the entire time, her jaw tight and tense, up until the train started moving. Then her eyes had flicked back to the train platform, just for a moment, just for an instant.
If Applejack hadn’t been staring so hard at her, she probably wouldn’t have seen Rainbow’s glance at all.
So maybe she should’ve known better than to think it was really the end, that day at the train station, and maybe she shouldn’t have felt quite so surprised to see a certain unicorn and a particular pegasus standing in the middle of her orchard right now. Maybe. But “maybe” didn’t get a pony a lot in life, and “maybe” sure as Tartarus wasn’t something to hang one’s hopes on.
Applejack gave a tug on her hat before she spoke, in a voice a bit gruffer than she intended, “Well, now. Didn’t expect to see the fancy fashion designer and big, important Wonderbolt down here on my farm.”
It was unfair and, even as she spat out the words, she could hear the unfairness in them. But looking at the two ponies before her--seeing those faces she’d forced herself not to think about, those eyes that were full of more strength and more dazzle than any she’d ever seen--had stirred up an awful feeling inside her. A deep hurt and an anger that burned away with all the slow heat of the sun.
Rarity and Rainbow Dash exchanged glances with one another. The unicorn leaned over and whispered something in Rainbow’s ear, and Rainbow frowned in reply and shook her head.
Then, with a mighty roll of her eyes, Rarity began, “We’ve been thinking, over the last few months, and we … well, things don’t always go as one expects that they shall and …” She paused and cleared her throat. “What I am trying to express is--”
“We missed you,” muttered Dash, staring down at the dirt.
Rarity shut up.
Applejack stood there and stared. Neither pony before her would meet her eyes, but she knew they could feel her gaze, as they fidgeted under the weight of the silence that had fallen over the orchard like thick fog. The earth pony’s heart was hammering a mile a minute. Firmly she told herself that Dash hadn’t meant it like that. That the pegasus had simply meant she and Rarity missed all of their Ponyville friends. But even as Applejack told herself that, she didn’t believe it.
She reached up and gave her hat another tug, just to give her shaking hooves something to do. Then, still fumbling for a response, she glanced up at all of the trees that surrounded her, with all of their apples shining in the sun. They looked brighter today. Shinier. Even a little bit redder, maybe.
But then, things always looked bright and shiny at the beginning of a story, didn’t they? When the whole world was new and full of promise, full of hope?
When she finally turned back to look at Rarity and Dash, she found that they’d both lifted their heads and were looking straight at her. Rarity was smiling, a tentative smile that seemed so strange and out of place on that usually confident face, while Rainbow Dash looked like she was three seconds away from vomiting up her breakfast.
Applejack gave a small nod and whispered, “Welcome home.”
Rainbow Dash lay flat on her back, staring up at a mostly cloudless sky. Almost involuntarily her mind began categorizing the mistakes the weather team had made--that single stray cumulus, that over-bunching of cirrus that could mean an unexpected shower--but Dash found it nigh impossible to actually care. A few measly clouds in the sky weren’t going to ruin her afternoon.
After all, she was out enjoying the sunny spring day with a picnic lunch spread out before her on one of Ponyville’s prettiest hills and she had her two best mares right by her side.
Well, sort of. Applejack was by her side, that golden-maned head leaning against Dash’s shoulder. Rarity, meanwhile, was resting atop the both of them. To keep her coat from getting dirty from lying on the ground, she’d explained, and it had been a convincing argument at the time. All of Rarity’s arguments were convincing arguments at the time.
But at the present moment, Rainbow found that Rarity’s weight was starting to get just a tad bit uncomfortable. Not that she’d ever admit that out loud--it’d only earn her a death glare from the unicorn and some razzing from Applejack about being a wimp. Fortunately, Rainbow knew exactly what to do.
With a wicked grin, she reached up and lightly ran a hoof along Rarity’s flank. Immediately the unicorn let out a terribly undignified yelp and leapt to her hooves.
Applejack burst out laughing as Rarity scowled. Her laughs were deep, hearty chortles, and Rainbow Dash’s grin grew even wider. She loved hearing Applejack laugh, and she loved even more knowing that she was the one who’d caused that laugh. She loved making Applejack laugh just about as much as she loved making Rarity take on that hilariously offended expression that the unicorn was wearing right now, in fact.
And as Applejack turned over to laugh into Dash’s shoulder, Dash found her nose buried in the earth pony’s mane. She caught a whiff of apples and of perfume, of straw and of flowers. She breathed in that smell like a drowning mare would breathe in air, and she felt a pleasant warmth spread throughout her entire chest.
A few measly clouds in the sky weren’t going to ruin her afternoon, she repeated to herself silently. Nothing was going to ruin this afternoon.
Rarity glared down at the pegasus and earth pony who still lay on the ground, giggling and holding onto one another like a couple of silly foals. She held onto her glare for as long as she was able. It was one of the more useful skills she’d acquired, over the years, and she flattered herself to think that she’d perfected glaring to the point where it actually became something of an art form.
“You two are the most impossible ponies I have ever met,” she huffed, primly lifting her nose into the air. But despite the indignation dripping from her voice, she could feel a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. “I honestly don’t know why I put up with you.”
Applejack raised an eyebrow at that. “Oh? Is that so, now?”
Rarity didn’t dignify the question with more than a quiet harrumph.
In response, Applejack just grinned up at her, a slow, lazy grin that Rarity didn’t like in the least. Those sparkling green eyes cut over to Dash, in what Rarity supposed was Applejack’s attempt at subtlety and subterfuge, and the pegasus gave a tiny nod in reply. In unison, the two ponies hopped up from the ground and crouched forward, like panthers preparing to pounce upon their prey.
Rarity observed them with a cool, disinterested eye for a beat or two of silence. And then she lit up her horn with a small flicker of blue magic.
Immediately the grin dropped from Applejack’s face. “Uh-oh ...”
Rainbow Dash held up her fore hooves in a placating manner. “Hey, wait! It was Applejack’s idea, not mine!”
“Perhaps some eye shadow for the both of you,” Rarity mused aloud, as though she hadn’t heard either of them, “or even a touch of lipstick …”
“Some Element o’ Loyalty you are,” hissed the earth pony to her co-conspirator, not taking her eyes off Rarity all the while. “Besides, you’re the one who went and tickled her!”
“You’re the one who went and laughed at her, though!”
“Well, yeah! I laughed ‘cause it was mighty darn funny!”
As Rarity gazed down affectionately at the two bickering ponies, the smile that had been threatening to break through this entire time finally overtook her face. It almost hurt, she was smiling so broadly, but she found that she didn’t really mind. She had a stomach full of Applejack’s truly superb cooking, a lovely blue sky above her head, and two wonderful, beautiful, and amazing mares right before her.
Two wonderful, beautiful, and amazing mares who were about to get involuntary yet fabulous makeovers.
But just as Rarity managed to get a magical grasp on Rainbow Dash’s tail, a bright pink fluffy missile came out of nowhere and tackled the pegasus to the ground, dislodging Dash from the unicorn’s hold. The two ponies rolled head over hooves for a few yards, before ending up in a heap of fur and feathers next to a large tree on the hill.
As soon as they’d come to a full stop, Pinkie Pie beamed down at Dash from her position atop the pegasus’ chest. “Dashie! We gotta go play pranks, because it’s been forever since we’ve played any pranks together, and I really miss playing pranks with you!”
Rainbow simply blinked up at her cheerful assailant for a few moments before glancing over to Applejack with a pleading look in her eyes. Rarity turned in time to see Applejack gave Dash a small nod of approval.
“All right, Pinks, let’s go play some pranks,” said Dash, shoving the other pony off of her. “Pretty sure I have some trick candles with Twilight’s name on ‘em ...”
The two pranksters began heading off, Pinkie bouncing along as Dash flew overhead, and Rarity shook her head and chuckled. No true harm ever came of their shenanigans but, all the same, she was glad not to be Twilight Sparkle at the present moment. Then, when they’d gotten about halfway down the hill, Pinkie Pie glanced back over her shoulder with that broad smile of hers still firmly in place.
“Oh, Rarity! I almost forgot!” Pinkie waggled her head a bit and giggled. “Fluttershy told me to tell you that she’s gonna have tea at the new tea shop in town, if you wanna go with her. But she said it’s okay if you don’t wanna go and she doesn’t wanna bother you if you don’t wanna go.”
“Thank you for relaying the message, dear.” Rarity cast a glance over to Applejack. “If you wouldn’t mind, please tell Fluttershy that I’d love to go but I have other plans for the--”
“It’s no big deal, sugar cube,” cut in Applejack, grinning. “You go ahead along with ‘em, tell ‘Shy I say howdy and all that.”
Rarity scoffed in reply. “But, Applejack, at the least I ought to help you clean up after the picnic.”
Applejack ambled over and deposited a gentle kiss on the unicorn’s muzzle. As Applejack leaned in to kiss her, Rarity shut her eyes and breathed in the other pony’s warm, familiar smell. The smell of cinnamon and rain, of earth and of sky. Rarity smiled into the kiss and, when Applejack finally pulled away, she was smiling still.
“Go on, now. Git.” Applejack gave her a wink. “We all know you and Dash weren’t actually gonna help me do any of the clean-up, anyway.”
Applejack watched Rarity trot off with Dash and Pinkie down the hill. As they reached the bottom and headed down the winding dirt road that led towards Ponyville, chatting and laughing with one another all the while, Applejack kept on watching. She kept on watching until they were nothing but tiny dots on the horizon. A tiny smile played upon her lips as she watched them go.
It might’ve hurt, once upon a time, standing there and watching them leave her. It had hurt, once. But it didn’t hurt anymore.
Because she knew, as sure as she knew the sun would rise tomorrow in the east, that they’d be back.
So it was with a jaunty whistle and a content heart that Applejack set herself to the task of cleaning up the picnic leftovers. She was pleased to find that there was less than she had expected. Rarity had only eaten about half of her plate, but Dash had polished off the rest. How that pegasus could eat and eat and remain thin as a stick was something that baffled Applejack--and something about which Rarity complained at length, from time to time--but perhaps not everything was explainable in this life. And maybe that was all right.
Applejack had just finished packing up the wicker picnic basket when she heard a voice call out from behind, “Hey, there, filly.”
“Howdy, Granny,” replied Applejack, turning around to give her grandmother a smile.
Granny Smith didn’t smile back. “Them friends o’ yours take off and leave you all on your lonesome?”
“Yup. They went to spend some time with our other friends in town, since it’s been a while since the last time RD and Rare got to visit Ponyville.” Applejack took a deep breath. She knew exactly what her granny was getting at, and she decided it was best to just grab the bull by the horns. “I told ‘em to go, Granny. I wanted ‘em to go.”
The older mare made a noncommittal noise in the back of her throat, something between a snort and a grunt.
Applejack took a step forward and, when she spoke next, was careful to keep her voice soft and calm. “It’s all right. We had a nice picnic, and there’ll be plenty of time to see ‘em later tonight.” She paused and frowned. “It’s still okay for ‘em to stay for dinner tonight, ain’t it?”
Granny Smith sighed. “AJ, you know darn well that any friends o’ yours are welcome for dinner any old time. Always have been, always will be. I just … I just worry about ya.”
“Well, you’re my granny. Reckon that grannies worrying about their grandbabies is just how it is.”
“Those big-time city ponies left ya once,” replied Granny Smith, as blunt as a buck to the head. “What’s to stop ‘em from leaving again?”
Glancing down at the feathery grass beneath her hooves, Applejack chewed the inside of her cheek and pondered over her grandmother’s question. It was a good one. It was, in fact, a question she’d asked herself many a time, ever since those two ponies had unexpectedly showed up in the orchard months ago.
“Way back when, I left for the big city,” Applejack murmured at last, “and I came back, didn’t I?”
Her grandmother didn’t reply. There was no need to do so, as they both knew the answer.
In a firmer voice, Applejack continued, “And I stayed, too, didn’t I? Sure, I’ve been on a few adventures here and there with the girls, been out to Appleloosa and Canterlot and everything, but I always come back to the farm ‘cause this here’s my ...”
And that was when it hit her. That was when she realized just why and how she knew that Rarity and Rainbow Dash would be coming back. That they would always come back.
“ … because this here’s my home.”
For a long time, the two mares stood on that hill that overlooked the orchards, staring into one another’s eyes. Applejack dared not blink and dared not glance away. It was a test, of some sort. She wasn’t sure just what she was being tested on, but she knew she was being tested.
Granny Smith at last gave a single, brief nod. “Well, then. I better get back down to the house and tell Apple Bloom to get supper started.” She bit her lip thoughtfully before adding, “I’ll tell ‘er to make one of them recipes from that cookbook your aunt and uncle Orange sent us a few years back. Your little Canterlot friends oughta like that fancy Manehattanite grub, don’t you reckon?”
Applejack grinned and swallowed down the sudden lump in her throat. “I reckon they’ll like it just fine, Granny.”
Author's Notes: This was a story commissioned by tailsic over on deviantArt, who requested a story where there's a love triangle between Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash that is resolved by the three ponies ending up in a three-way relationship. I hope this story meets up to her expectations.
While writing this, I used some shorter pieces I originally wrote for Thirty Minute Pony Stories writing prompts. Those stories are ones I wrote for the prompts "Follow your nose," "One of the Mane Six is dying," and "You can('t) go home again."