A sickening rattle filled the air as the barn door creaked open, revealing the midday sun as it illuminated every patch of rot and every speck of dust in the old, decrepit building. Applejack crinkled her nose as she smelled a stench somewhere between filth and decay, and blew out a long sigh as she and Twilight Sparkle entered the aging barn.
The barn had been a fixture of Sweet Apple Acres for years, but few visited it anymore. It was old, a defunct relic of a bygone age. New structures, new technologies, new fields—they had all conspired to leave this barn unused, unneeded, and unwanted. The Apple family was in the process of expansion and renewal, though, and it was far easier to let the old barn fall into disuse than to spend valuable time and effort tearing it down.
Twilight barked a laugh and shook her head. "I can't believe it, Applejack. You really just left this barn rotting here all this time?"
Applejack chuckled and looked away. Lots of things had changed in the month since she and Twilight started dating. Apparently, that includes how I run the farm. "I know it's not ideal, sugarcube, but we've had other priorities lately."
"Come on, Applejack. You know I—" Twilight blushed and cleared her throat. "You know I like you very much, but this barn is positively ancient. When's the last time you actually used it for anything?"
Applejack tugged on her hat and glanced away. "Uh, I don't quite know. A few years maybe."
Twilight arched an eyebrow and exhaled sharply. "Well, it's good you have me here, AJ. We'll get this fixed quick as can be."
With a roll of her eyes, Applejack nuzzled Twilight's cheek. "And I'm glad to have you, Twilight, but really? AJ?"
"What?" Twilight took a step back, scoffing loudly and holding a hoof over her heart. "I thought it was endearing," she drawled. "Besides, you call me sugarcube, so I ought to have a nickname for you too."
"I call everyone sugarcube, Twi—" Applejack began, but Twilight thrust her hoof forward, eyes wide.
"There's another one!" Twilight shouted, a broad grin on her face. Her expression changed to a smirk as she said, "You know, there's a better nickname if you just let me use it."
"Oh no, Twilight." It was Applejack's turn to hold up a hoof. "I already told you, I'm not about to let anypony call me Jackie. You know darn well that's off the table."
Twilight's shoulders drooped. "But, Applejack, it's such a beautiful nickname!"
Applejack grit her teeth and tapped one of the barn's support beams. A rattling sounded off from somewhere over head and a renewed plume of dust engulfed the two ponies. "Whoops," she mumbled, blushing and hiding her face. "Sorry about that."
Twilight only giggled and shrugged her shoulders. "That's why we're here, honey," she said, tilting her head and arching an eyebrow. "How was that one?"
Applejack let out a loud guffaw and offered up a lopsided smile in response. "If you like it, sugarcube, then it's fantastic."
A smirk found its way onto Twilight's face as she looked up at the roof of the barn.
"What are you thinking?" Applejack asked, stepping forward and looking up with Twilight.
Twilight bit her lip. "I'm not sure," she mumbled, taking a moment to glare at Applejack when she chuckled in response. Clearing her throat, she began to pace about the middle of the barn. "I mean, it should be simple enough to salvage the materials with the help of a little magic, but there's so much rot around here. It'll be tough to sort the good from the bad."
Applejack grunted and lowered her head, but Twilight sucked in a quick breath and held up a hoof. "Hold on," she said as she rubbed her chin. "As long as you don't mind waiting a week or two, I might be able to find a spell to repair the rotten wood."
"Well shoot, Twi." Applejack let out a low whistle and drew Twilight in for a hug. "Are you sure you don't mind going to all that trouble?"
Twilight's cheeks reddened as she hid her face in Applejack's shoulder. "Um, it's nothing really."
Applejack gave Twilight a brief squeeze. "Thanks for being such a huge help, sugarcube."
"I'm just sorry we can't make any progress today." Twilight pulled away and smirked at a particularly decayed corner of the barn.
Not even a shadow crossed Applejack's face as she chuckled and grinned back at Twilight. "I wasn't planning on doing any real work today, sugarcube." She pointed out the barn door at the sun, which was already beginning to sink toward the horizon. "Aren't you supposed to be the one who's planning first and jumping headfirst into things later?"
With a roll of her eyes, Twilight began to trot out of the rickety building. "You've had years to plan this, Applejack." She nudged Applejack's shoulder and winked. "If somepony's dragging her hooves all day, I don't mind doing a little role reversal for once."
Applejack arched her eyebrows. "I'm dragging my hooves now, am I?" She tossed her hair back and scoffed. "Well, at least I'm not extremely ticklish." Before she finished her sentence, she was on Twilight, moving her hooves from her marefriend's stomach to her neck, and everywhere in between.
"H-ha—hey!" Twilight sputtered, gasping for breath as Applejack continued her relentless assault. "Stop i—ha ha—stop, Applejack!"
Applejack didn't notice when Twilight's horn began to glow, but a gasp escaped her lips as she felt her legs being lifted skyward. Before she had time to react, she was floating upside down in midair, and she could only offer a toothy grin as Twilight slowly stood up.
"Uh, I stopped for you," Applejack said, still smiling wide enough to show every one of her teeth.
Applejack's smile finally began to waver as she saw the lopsided grin on Twilight's face. "So you say you're not ticklish?" Twilight asked, pouting as she trotted to Applejack's side.
"Ah, well I wouldn't say that now." Eyes wide, Applejack shook her head. Her smile only existed as a pale shadow as Twilight's grew with each passing second. "I just meant to say that you're more ticklish than me is all. You know what I meant, right, Twi?"
"Oh, I know what you meant, honey," Twilight cooed. A feather materialized in the air next to her as she gripped it with her magic. "I know just what you meant."
"Twilight, no—oh!" Applejack howled with laughter as the feather darted all over her body. From head to toe, nothing was safe from Twilight's magical onslaught, and Applejack could only shout an incoherent mix of laughter and protest as the feather did its mischievous work.
Twilight's magical field left plenty of room for Applejack to squirm and spasm in a vain attempt to escape the relentless feather, but before too long, she was too exhausted to do even that. By the time she was gently lowered to the ground, she could do nothing but gulp loud, deep breaths and roll onto her side. Her chest rose with each wild breath, and Twilight stroked her mane as she struggled to regain her bearings.
"Okay, Twilight," Applejack finally gasped. "You win." She stood up on shaky legs and leaned into Twilight for support. "And now I'm definitely too tired to do any work on that barn."
Twilight glanced at the horizon one more time and nodded. "Fair enough. Are you still up for dinner tonight?"
"You still want to do it at your place?" Applejack began to walk toward home and arched an eyebrow.
"Hey!" Trotting up to keep step with Applejack, Twilight frowned. "What's with that?"
Applejack smirked. "I don't know what you're talking about, sugarcube."
"That," Twilight replied, pointing at Applejack's face. "All that." She huffed and tilted her chin up. "I'll have you know that I am a very capable cook, AJ."
The arched eyebrow returned to Applejack's face as she leaned into Twilight. After a moment, Twilight backed away, lowering her head and blushing. "Okay. Spike will be there to help if that makes you feel better."
Applejack laughed and shook her head. "I'm just teasing, Twi. I'd feel wonderful either way." She nuzzled Twilight's cheek.
Twilight tried to hide the furious blush that erupted onto her cheeks, but Applejack just chuckled. With a sigh, Twilight straightened herself and said, "I already told you, it's only fair that I get to treat you to dinner once in a while. You and your family go out of your way to spoil me, and it's really sweet of you." She planted a rushed kiss on Applejack's cheek before she could react. "I just want to do the same for you every so often."
"I won't argue," Applejack said, kissing Twilight back and rubbing against her as the two mares continued to approach the Apple family home.
As they neared the house, Twilight began to slow down and bit her lip. Applejack stopped in front of her and asked, "You okay, sugarcube?"
Twilight flashed a grin. "Oh, I'm fine, AJ. I was just wondering, um, if you…"
"If I what?" Applejack stepped toward Twilight, who began to blush once more.
"Would you like to sleep over at my place tonight?" Twilight's hooves fidgeted as she asked the question, and she bit her lip again as soon as she finished asking it.
Applejack stood stock still, eyes widening as she absorbed Twilight's offer. "Uh," she managed, gulping as she glanced away for a moment.
"I could put Spike in the guest bedroom, and that way you wouldn't have to walk back here in the dark." Twilight opened her mouth and closed it before opening it again. "But, um, you know, it's fine if you don't want to."
"Well, it sure sounds great, Twi." Applejack began to rub the back of her neck. "It's just that I've got to get working on the farm bright and early, and I, um…"
"Yeah." Twilight lowered her shoulders and fixed her gaze on the ground. "Yeah, it's fine."
Applejack grabbed Twilight's shoulder and shook her head. "I didn't say no, sugarcube," she said. "Let's just focus on dinner first, okay?"
Twilight hesitated a moment before smiling in response. As she resumed her walk to the Apple family home, she said, "That sounds good." Her voice dropped to nearly a whisper as she added, "We can figure that stuff out later." She reached the porch before Applejack and opened the door. "C'mon, AJ. Let's grab your things and get going."
Rainbow groaned as sunlight filled her weary eyes. "I hate mornings," she mumbled to no one in particular, rolling over on her cloud bed in an attempt to shield herself from the sun's unwanted intrusion.
Her eyes snapped open as she realized that she was now plummeting toward the earth. Above her, all she could see was the blue sky and a small, pillowy cloud.
Oh yeah, she thought as she pieced together her situation. That was an afternoon nap. She chuckled as she opened her wings and leveled off her ever accelerating descent. Well, mornings still suck.
Blowing out a deep sigh, Rainbow flapped her wings and straightened herself to slow down. Glancing at the sun, she figured that it was about two o'clock. Probably part of my weather duty shift, she thought, scratching her head and pursing her lips. The truth of that statement was quickly proven meaningless, because when she scrutinized the wide open sky before her, Rainbow Dash saw nothing but clear blue skies.
"That seems about right," Rainbow mumbled, biting her lip as she thought back on the schedule she'd been given at the beginning of the week. Thursday: Sunny. She snorted and crossed her forelegs. Of course, the one day I need something to do, the rest of the weather team has its act together.
As she exhaled out of the corner of her mouth, Rainbow turned her gaze earthward, looking for something—anything—to do. Ponyville itself looked typically busy, with the market in full swing and plenty of ponies out enjoying the warm sun, but nothing seemed too terribly interesting to Rainbow. As her gaze wandered farther away from the town, though, her eyes fixed on a particular little cottage near the Everfree Forest.
Fluttershy's house, Rainbow thought as a small smile found its way onto her face. Let's see what she's been up to lately.
Just as Fluttershy returned to her cottage from feeding a nearby rabbit warren, she heard a whoosh of air. She stifled a squeal as her eyes twinkled and a grin burst across her face. Here comes Rainbow Dash.
As if on cue, Rainbow zoomed into view, landing next to Fluttershy and flipping her rainbow-hued mane as part of it threatened to fall over her eyes. "Hey, Fluttershy," she said, trotting alongside her friend as they approached Fluttershy's cottage. "What's up?"
Fluttershy lifted her wing slightly, jostling her saddlebags and drawing Rainbow's attention to them. "I was just feeding the bunnies down by the Everfree Forest." She hid her face behind her head, but Rainbow could still see her smirk. "You know, Rainbow Dash, I can almost tell time by when you stop by."
Rainbow halted, but she quickly shook herself and flew into the air when Fluttershy turned to see what was the matter. "I'm just making sure you get your daily dose of awesome, Fluttershy," she said, hovering above her friend with her forelegs spread and her chest puffed out.
Fluttershy took a step back and lowered her gaze. "Oh, I was just teasing, Rainbow," she said.
Landing on the ground, Rainbow laughed and rolled her eyes. "What do you think I was doing?" she asked, giving Fluttershy a light jab in the shoulder.
Fluttershy flinched from the contact, but she smiled up at Rainbow from behind her mane even so. "Well, would you like to help me take care of the animals?"
Rainbow's lopsided grin never left her face even as she sighed. "I thought you were just doing that."
"It's all a process, Rainbow," Fluttershy replied, tossing her mane. "It takes time."
Rainbow shook her head. "Sometimes I don't understand how you can stand to spend so much time, though."
Fluttershy stopped and reached a wing into one of her saddlebags. After a moment of rummaging, she pulled out an acorn and held it out in front of Rainbow. "Do you know who gave me this, Rainbow Dash?"
"A squirrel?" Rainbow asked more than answered, arching her eyebrow.
With a shake of her head, Fluttershy replied, "Oh, no. I wouldn't have let a squirrel or a chipmunk give me something like this. It was a blue jay. I helped her fix her nest this morning and she was so grateful." As Rainbow rolled her eyes, Fluttershy put the acorn back in her pocket and resumed her stroll to her cottage. "I know it doesn't look like much, Rainbow Dash, but it's not just the acorn that counts."
"I'd hope not." Rainbow snorted.
"It isn't." Fluttershy frowned at Rainbow, eliciting, a grimace from her friend. "It's about the love behind the gesture, Rainbow, and you can't get that by just dropping off some food and saying 'Hello.' Love is a process, Rainbow. It takes time, but it is always worth it in the end."
"If you say so, Fluttershy." Rainbow threw her head back and trotted up to join Fluttershy once more. I guess it makes sense with how long it took her to fall for Twilight.
Rainbow shook her head. That had been weeks ago—almost a month, in fact. She took it hard, but we got through it. She got through it. I just helped her along.
She'd been helping with a lot lately. Ever since Fluttershy heard that Twilight and Applejack had started dating, Rainbow had been by her side almost every day. She provided an extra set of hooves and wings around the cottage, a shoulder to cry on, and a sympathetic ear to talk to. Fortunately, Rainbow thought, I think she's worked past most of the pain.
"So, how's Twilight?" Fluttershy asked after a moment of silence.
Rainbow held off from answering for a second. She always asks the second question.
"How are Twilight and Applejack, I mean?" As Fluttershy sighed, she entire body seemed to deflate. Her shoulders and wings drooped and her ears were press flat against her head.
Rainbow furrowed her brow and grabbed Fluttershy's shoulders, pulling them up despite Fluttershy's best efforts to keep them down. "They're doing their thing. I haven't really seen them lately." Rainbow forced Fluttershy to look her in the eyes. "You know you asked me that same question yesterday, right?"
Fluttershy took a step back. "Maybe."
"And the day before, and the day before." Rainbow put a hoof on Fluttershy's shoulder. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes." Fluttershy's lips trembled, but she forced the words out. "It just takes time, is all."
Rainbow draped a wing over Fluttershy and pulled her close. "It's been almost a month, Fluttershy. You need to stop living in the past and look forward to the future."
Fluttershy buried her face in Rainbow's feathers. "Have you ever loved somepony so much it hurt, Rainbow Dash?"
Rainbow blinked and fixed her gaze on Fluttershy's cottage. "I don't think so," she said, drawing out every syllable as her brow furrowed.
Fluttershy sniffled under Rainbow's wing. "You can't just let go sometimes. There needs to be somepony else to fill in that space, if that makes sense."
Rainbow pulled away from Fluttershy, a smirk on her face. "Yeah? Well, I'm here, and I've got more than enough awesome for the both of us."
A giggle escaped Fluttershy's lips. "Oh, Rainbow Dash, not just anypony can fill that kind of hole." She bit her lip and looked away as she saw a slight frown on. "I mean, no offense."
After a moment's hesitation, Rainbow waved a hoof and flipped her mane. "I was kidding, Fluttershy," she said. "Just remember, I'm still here. Matter of fact, I think you've got too much time on your hooves, so starting tomorrow, we're gonna start hanging out more often."
Fluttershy smiled and shook her head. "But Rainbow, you already see me almost every day."
"Well let's drop the 'almost' and start actually going into Ponyville," Rainbow said, resuming her trot toward Fluttershy's cottage.
"But I couldn't impose," Fluttershy protested as she caught up with Rainbow. "Besides, you have your job and I have my animal friends."
Rainbow snorted. "We can work something out. I know for a fact that these animals don't take up all of your time, and you know me. I can clear the sky in ten seconds flat!"
Fluttershy finally reached the front door of her cottage and opened it. "If you say so, Rainbow Dash."
"I do say so." Rainbow flew a few feet into the air and puffed out her chest.
"You know what?" Fluttershy shifted her forelegs glanced toward her kitchen. "I was planning on starting dinner. Would you like to join me, Rainbow Dash?"
Rainbow exhaled sharply. "Would I?" She trotted into the cottage and pulled the door closed behind her. "What are we having anyway?"
"Oh, I hadn't decided." Fluttershy made her way over to the kitchen. "Would you like to help me make it?"
Rainbow shrugged as she joined Fluttershy and grabbed a jar of spices. "Sure. Why not?"