Where They Are Joined

by Cloudy Skies

Chapter 4

The palace was darker at night than Fluttershy had expected. Hours after dinner, the halls that shone in the daylight were gone, replaced by deep interiors lit only by firefly globes, and for all that they made the polished floors glitter where they struck, they were far and few between.

“The room’s just down the hall there,” Twilight said, crossing her neck with Fluttershy’s in a brief hug. “Thank you for your help unpacking and going through the lists and everything. Tomorrow’s going to be crazy, so I guess we better get as much rest as we can. I still can't believe Celestia cleaned out the entire wing for us.”

Fluttershy took a deep breath and nodded. If the darkened castle halls were a little frightening, the idea of the entire palace crawling with ponies there to see her and Applejack was downright terrifying. Steeling herself, she closed her eyes and breathed through her nose. She would have to be brave for Applejack, and for all her other friends besides.

“Okay, well, good night,” Fluttershy said, turning.

“Good night.”

Twilight's hoofsteps echoed and faded as the unicorn disappeared in the opposite direction. Soon enough, the only sound was the clops of Fluttershy’s own hooves against the cold stone floor. When she reached the end of the hallway, she had to wonder at how quickly the darkness had stopped being scary in favor of so many other things. She knew the day after tomorrow was sure to be the happiest day of her life, but in the wake of Applejack’s departure, questions had kept popping up, and she couldn’t answer half of them.

Fluttershy reached for the door on the left. It had to be one of these two doors.

The happiest day of her life, and she had to believe. She had to know that it wasn’t just her—

“Fluttershy! Hi!”

Fluttershy squeaked, immediately coming face to face with a beaming pink face on the other side of the doorway. Rainbow Dash lay resting on a bed inside the chamber, waving over the rim of a book, and the heat of the warm, cozy room washed over her.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you, I was just looking for my own room,” Fluttershy said, backing away, but she’d taken no more than two steps before Pinkie’s forelegs reached out and yanked her inside, scooping her up in a crushing hug.

“Nuh-uh! First, I get to hug you and ask you if you’re half as excited as I am even if I know you’ll say no if you know what you’re talking about, because I’m really, really excited!” Pinkie said. Fluttershy made only a token protest, and soon enough Pinkie let go, depositing her on the floor and closing the door behind her.

“Um, and then?” Fluttershy's eyes wandered the room. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash had wasted no time in getting comfortable here. Balloons dotted the ceiling, forever locked straining against the unyielding stone, and the fireplace opposite of the large bed was crackling with flames that left the room almost oppressively hot.

“And then I tell you that you’re very silly, because your room’s on the other side of the wing!” Pinkie said, scratching her head.

“Yes, well, I know,” Fluttershy said, nodding. “And yes, I'm very excited.”

“Hey Fluttershy,” Dash called, turning a page. “You gonna be okay tomorrow?”

“Oh, yes. Why wouldn’t I be?” Fluttershy trotted towards Rainbow Dash to sit at the plush carpets by the bedside. Pinkie Pie followed, pronking along and taking a great leap when she neared the bed. Rainbow Dash yelped and rolled away just as Pinkie crashed onto the spot where she’d lay a second before, liberally scattering pillows and blankets all over the room. Fluttershy winced as a pillow visited soft and barely-noticeable doom on her head.

“What the hay was that!?” Dash's voice cracked the tiniest bit.

“It was a hug!” Pinkie said, her head popping up from behind a mound of pillows.

Rainbow Dash gave an exasperated sigh and put her book on the bedside table, though Fluttershy could see her lips were curled up in the beginnings of a smile.

“Pinks? That wasn’t a hug, that was an attack. You are so asking for a pillow fight.”

“Oh? Oops. Silly me.” Pinkie giggled.

“I should be going anyway,” Fluttershy said, backing away towards the safety of the door. Pillowfights were one thing. Pillowfights with Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were something else. Rainbow Dash paused with a pillow in her mouth, the pegasus’ body crouched low to the ground.

“Oh, yeah. Wait, uh, hang on,” Dash said just as Fluttershy reached for the doorknob. “What’s up with Applejack? I tried to talk to her but she was all grumpy and busy and whatever.”

Fluttershy winced. Rainbow Dash’s eyes were trained straight at her, and the humor in her oldest friend was gone in a second. A pillow bounced off her head, but Dash just shrugged it off, just like she ignored Pinkie Pie biting onto her tail and worrying away like Winona with one of her chew toys.

“You okay?”

Fluttershy nodded, simple as that. Behind Dash, Pinkie Pie giggled.

“Of course she’s not okay, she’s great!” Pinkie said, hopping up and down on the bed with reckless abandon. “This is going to be the best wedding ever! It’s going to be fantastic and a lot of other words I haven’t even made up yet!”

Again, Fluttershy nodded, smiling at Pinkie Pie. “I’m sure it’s going to be just wonderful,” she said. Dash poked the inside of her cheek with her tongue and nodded back ever so slowly, her eyes never leaving Fluttershy.

“Right. Cool,” Dash said, and that was that. Fluttershy slipped out and closed the door behind her just as Pinkie Pie’s shrieks of laughter filled the air. Dash pounced on her marefriend, but even after she left them behind, Fluttershy couldn’t shake that stare. Rainbow Dash knew her better than most. Possibly better than even Applejack, in some ways. Fluttershy reached for the door opposite of the two ponies’ room, but paused. There were so many things she wanted to ask, but they all lead to the same ridiculous, silly notion which she knew was wrong. She should ask, but she knew she wouldn’t, for fear that she’d get the answer she so desperately did not want.

Fluttershy sat down the cold floor. Without thinking, she nosed her saddlebags open and fished out the little black box that held the key to her happiest of moments. How long she spent staring at its contents, at the quartz butterflies and ruby apples, she did not know. Hours might have passed while she did not so much as think. They seemed to glitter even though there was barely any light to reflect.

“What’s up?”

Fluttershy stiffened at the voice, but the second she recognized it as Rainbow Dash, she let out a deep sigh. Fluttershy closed the box and put it back inside the safety of the saddlebags.

“Where’s Pinkie Pie?”

“I distracted her. Told her we’re playing hide and seek,” Dash said. A second later, she gave a violent sneeze. When Fluttershy turned, she saw the other pegasus was almost entirely covered in white feathers.

“She won the pillow fight,” Dash added. “Seriously, what’s up?”

“Lots of little things. I’m sorry. I don’t really want to talk about it,” Fluttershy lied.

“Yeah, I don’t know about that. Applejack interrupting Princess Celestia was weird, I didn’t think AJ had it in her, but Rarity’s probably right. Nerves."

Fluttershy could feel more than she heard Dash move closer. A slightly darker shadow crept up on her when Dash stood close enough to touch, and it helped a little.

“Maybe. It doesn’t explain why she didn’t tell her family about the wedding.”

Dash made an inquisitive noise, and that little “hmh?” was enough. The words tumbled forth faster than Fluttershy could stem the tide, and it was all she could do to keep her voice low and quiet.

“Apple Soup didn’t know about the wedding being this weekend, and I don't think the other Apples around Equestria do, either. I never really asked why because she invited them to a get-together later. We wrote the invitations last month, planning a big celebration. It was ever so nice.” Fluttershy smiled at the memory, two whole evenings spent writing letters to every Apple in Equestria.

“Applejack, she’s, um, she’s kind of the Apple family’s darling, so the wedding is a really big deal. I—I didn’t think too much about it at first, but it doesn't look like she wants them to come. I don’t understand. Big Mac, Granny Smith and Apple Bloom are coming tomorrow with Spike and everypony else. I don’t understand why she didn’t tell Apple Soup and the rest.”

Rainbow Dash’s stepped in front of her, frowning. “What, you think she doesn’t want them to know?”

“No! I mean, yes? Maybe? Like I said, they’re invited later, but I don’t understand, and there are all these other little things. I can tell when she’s not happy. That’s—of course I can, and she’s not!” Fluttershy swallowed.

“So you think she’s ashamed or whatever? That doesn’t make any sense!” Dash's eyes were hard and her features set. She turned around to glare at the door opposite of her own room.

“You can’t tell her!” Fluttershy hissed. Quickly as she can, she slipped between Dash and the door, wings spread in full. “It’s probably nothing! She’s probably just a little nervous, or maybe she had a plan, I don’t know, but you can’t tell her!”

“If I’m not telling her she’s being an idiot, then you ask her what's up!” Dash shot back, her wings half spread as she lowered her head.

“No, I—I can’t.”

“This is stupid! You know she loves you, even I know that, and I try not to look.” Dash rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out. “You just need to ask her what’s up!”

Fluttershy’s heart hammered in her chest. That one dreadful question loomed again, threatened to be spoken. No rational thought went into her reply, but she could feel her wings go rigid as steel, and her voice was crisp as winter hissed forth from between clenched teeth.

“You’re not telling her,” Fluttershy’s voice said.

Rainbow Dash’s expression softened bit by bit, accentuated by the occasional glance at Fluttershy’s back. She rolled her jaw and took a single step back, nodding very, very slowly, as Fluttershy herself might have done to placate a wounded animal.

“Right. Okay. Whatever. I still think this is a load of gunk.”

Fluttershy looked away and nodded. She had no reply for that. No comeback. Even if she wanted to try to understand everything, she needed to get some sleep. Whatever else happened, what all of her friends had commented on tonight was a simple truth; tomorrow would be very busy.

“I—I should probably get some sleep."

“Yeah. Night.” Dash snorted and turned on the spot, nudging her own door open and slipping inside, kicking the door shut in her wake. Fluttershy took a deep breath before she reached out to open the door opposite.

Though the room had the exact same layout as the one Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash occupied, here there was none of the same warmth. The chambers were dark and cold, and the curtains of the room’s two open windows billowed in the wind. Fluttershy made for her bed, breaking stride only for a second to slip out of her saddlebags.

“Thought we weren’t supposed to see each other before the wedding and all,” Applejack said.

Fluttershy climbed atop the large, plush bed. They’d prepared separate chambers for them, sure, but each of these beds could easily fit a half-dozen ponies. Shivering, Fluttershy slipped in under the covers. Applejack lay facing away from her, a dark and immobile lump.

“I never cared about that,” Fluttershy said. “I don’t like sleeping alone. You know that.”

“Yeah. That and a lot of other things about the way you like to sleep, and sorry to say, I ain’t much feeling like a big spoon tonight.” There was little humor in her marefriend’s voice, but Fluttershy smiled all the same. She wriggled a little closer, resting a foreleg atop Applejack and nuzzling into her mane.

Applejack let out a sigh, still looking away. “So what do pegasi do, anyway?”


“You were gonna say something about pegasi. How y’all do this marrying business.”

Fluttershy blinked in the darkness. “Oh. At dinner. Right. Um, nothing much. You know, my mom is an earth pony, and dad is a pegasus, so they didn’t follow any of the traditions. Some pegasi go for a flight together, but I guess that’s stuff you’d expect. Other ponies tie their wings together for a whole day afterwards, but that sounds really silly. And perhaps a little bit sweet." Fluttershy giggled. Applejack was quiet for a long while afterwards.

“I’m sorry.”

Fluttershy nodded, rubbing her snout against Applejack’s neck. Usually she’d say it was okay. That she didn’t need to apologize, despite—or perhaps exactly because that she knew how hard it was for Applejack to admit it when she’d done something wrong.

Except she both desperately needed to hear that word, and she had no idea what exactly went into that apology; whether she was sorry for leaving dinner with a huff, or something else.

“Okay,” was all Fluttershy could think to say back.

The silence stretched on. “I, um. I’m a little nervous too, I guess,” she said, fishing for a reply, for anything. Applejack turned halfway around and offered her a weak smile in return. The terrible feeling in Fluttershy’s chest persisted, but she wasn’t about to assume, to curl up and cry because she could interpret everything in such a way as to come back and haunt her—to be about her. It was even a little selfish, to think that everything was about her.

“Roll over again,” Fluttershy said. “Please.”

Applejack blinked. “Pardon?”

“Roll over?”

This time, Applejack complied, flopping over onto her side again, giving her a curious look that lasted only until Fluttershy sat up and put her hooves to Applejack’s body. With expert precision, Fluttershy leaned over to press down on one of Applejack’s shoulders, rubbing in small circles on one of the major muscles, her other forehoof steadying her as she worked.

“I don’t deserve you,” Applejack said, a languid grin spreading across her face, one that Fluttershy returned.

“Now you know how I feel every time I have a taste of your fresh-baked apple pie.” Fluttershy slowly worked her way down Applejack’s body. She nudged the covers aside, and on impulse, leaned forwards to slip Applejack’s hairband off. Her mane spilled over her body in the darkness, and Fluttershy paused to nuzzle into it.

“Or when we bring out the warm apple cider in the evening,” she said. “Or when there’s little to do around the farm and I wake up in the morning with you hugging me, and I know you pretend you just woke up, except I know you always wake up an hour before me.”

Fluttershy lay her ears flat and shook her head. “Um, sorry. We can pretend I didn’t say or know that. That would be wonderful, actually.” She pulled the covers away completely and ground her hooves into Applejack’s sides. The earth mare gave a soft grunt, but Fluttershy knew it was a good noise. She doubted she could hurt Applejack even if she wanted to.

“Or when you pretend Angel doesn’t annoy you and say nothing until he gets tired and leaves you alone when we have lunch at the cottage.”

Applejack swallowed so heavily, even Fluttershy heard it. She could have sworn she saw Applejack’s eyes glisten as she stared out the window, but her voice was the same confident tone as always.

“Yeah. Well, don’t you use all them nice words today. Need some for the wedding." Applejack breathed out through her nose and lowered her voice a tad. “I’m gonna try harder tomorrow. I love you, sugarplum.”

Fluttershy’s hooves continued their quest, rubbing circles, tapping, scratching and grinding at Applejack until the earth mare was putty in her hooves and her tell-tale soft snores filled the chamber. The time to ask what it was that needed her to try harder came and went.

When at long last Fluttershy’s forelegs began to ache, she refused to let herself think, least of all assume anything. Without a sound, she lay down behind Applejack, wrapping her forelegs around her fiancées neck. It felt entirely insufficient. A second later, a hindleg snuck atop her flank, and her one free wing draped over Applejack’s side, curled around her belly, clutching her tighter than ever.

She’d still said those magical three words. She loved her, and Applejack never lied. That, at least, hadn’t changed.

Applejack cracked an eye open. Panic welled up in her and made her whole body rigid for a split-second before she realized that the sunlight streaming into the room wasn’t cause for alarm. Not today. Even in winter, there were things that needed doing, but it only took a single glance to remember she wasn’t in her own bed. Foreign dark silken sheets on a huge and soft bed, foreign curtains against foreign stone walls, foreign high-mountain winter’s chill streaming in through the windows—and a very familiar warmth against her body.

Memory didn’t flood so much as it painstakingly slowly crept back to her. She’d fallen asleep under Fluttershy’s careful ministrations, that much she knew, yet still she felt stiff and achey. The cause was obvious. Fluttershy was wrapped tighter around her than the bark around an apple tree, the pegasus so tangled with her, she could barely move. Applejack twisted around to peck her on the cheek.

Fluttershy did not stir, instead pulling her closer; her wings were surprisingly strong like that. It was painfully slow work to extract herself from the pegasus’ grasp, and more painful still to slip off the bed and leave her there. Applejack bit onto the blanket and tucked Fluttershy in as tight as she could, giving her a kiss on the snout. The poor thing could have a few more minutes, but there was a lot to do today. Grabbing her hat from the nightstand, Applejack made for the door. Already she could hear noises outside.

She would do better today. She had to. She was the luckiest mare in the world so long as she had Fluttershy, and she wasn’t about to ruin their wedding over some silly notions. Taking a deep breath, Applejack bit onto the door handle and eased it open—

—only to be met by a wall of sound thicker than apple sauce.

Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash stood in the open door opposite amicably chatting away with a pair of strange ponies wearing chefs’ hats, while two other ponies Applejack didn’t recognize stood nearby very clearly trying to get a word or two in edgewise. She just caught a snippet of Rarity’s tail disappearing inside of a room further down the hall, followed by a gaggle of palace staff. The entire hall was packed tighter than the Ponyville market at noon, and she’d barely taken half a step outside before she was accosted by a host of ponies—and one baby dragon—vying for her attention.

Spike beamed. “Hey Applejack! Twilight said she needed to see you as soon as you woke up. Oh, and hi!”

“Uh, hey Spike, glad you could make it,” Applejack said, reaching over to give him a half-hearted noogie. “Will do.”

“Hi!” a young apple-flanked colt butted in. “We heard!”

“Long time no see, Apple Butter—” Applejack began to reply, only to be cut off by an older mare at his side.

"You’re getting married! I mean, we figured, what with the invitations for the party next week and all, but we didn’t know the wedding was here in Canterlot,” she said. “We jumped on the overnight train as soon as we heard!”

“‘Course you did. Heya, Apple Fritter. Right, so I got—”

“Oh, and Rarity wanted to let you know she wants to triple-check the fitting for the dress,” Spike said, the baby dragon holding up hand to count on his claws. “Some of your cousins—”

“Bumpkin’s twice removed,” Apple Fritter said.

“—uh, sure, they wanted to see you down by the entrance because they needed somepony to ask Princess Celestia about more rooms, Princess Luna found some old books she wanted you to look at about wedding customs or something, and finally, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash wanted to check with you about the kitchens.”

“We’re right here, you know,” Dash called above the din, hovering up above them.

“I just wanted your help with the cupcake recipes,” Pinkie said, her head bobbing in and out of sight as she hopped up and down to be seen.

Rainbow Dash craned her neck to see past Applejack. “And I need to talk to Fluttershy. She awake yet?”

Applejack sighed and reached up to rub her eyes. Despite having just woken up, she felt about ready to go back to bed. Surrounding her were dozens of expectant faces, all ready to help her with the best wedding ever. At least, that was how they saw it.

Sometimes, even she wanted something that was truly perfect. It just wasn’t as important as certain other things. Applejack stuck her head through the still-open door. Upon the bed, a yellow pegasus lay outlined in the sharp morning sunlight clutching a pillow in Applejack’s absence, her body rising and falling with her breath. As quietly as she could, Applejack closed the door.

“Let her sleep,” Applejack said. She closed her eyes and breathed deep. That usually helped at least a little. “Right. Kitchens, then I’ll see Twilight about whatever it is. Let’s go.”