The night air outside the Everfree Forest was, to put it delicate, quite brisk. So brisk, in fact, that even Rainbow Dash, tucked safely away in Fluttershy's cottage, felt the slightest chill creeping into her hooves as she sprawled herself across the large green couch in Fluttershy's living room.
Thankfully, the blankets Fluttershy gave her took away some of the cold's bite, but Rainbow was shocked to feel herself on the verge of shivering. I live in clouds, for Celestia's sake! Rainbow shifted her blankets, grumbling all the while.
When tossing and turning proved ineffective at keeping the night chill at bay, Rainbow groaned and slowly lifted herself off the couch. Bleary eyed and scowling, Rainbow trudged upstairs to Fluttershy's bedroom. I'm sure she's got some other blankets to spare.
Rainbow moved with singular purpose and constant speed on her way to rouse Fluttershy, but she hesitated when she reached the bedroom. Fluttershy had left the door open, and Rainbow could see her chest rise and fall with each slow, deep breath. Her mane draped itself over much of her face, lending the illusion of an all-encompassing cocoon protecting Fluttershy's prostrate form. Each time she exhaled, she made a sound that fell somewhere between a squeak and a sigh. Through it all, Rainbow could still see the soft smile on Fluttershy's face.
Staring at Fluttershy, Rainbow took a step forward through the doorway, then stepped back. She frowned and furrowed her brow. Maybe I can find something in another room, she thought, scratching her head as she took yet another step back.
"Is that you, Rainbow Dash?"
Rainbow froze in place, one hoof still lifted as she stopped in mid-step. She stayed silent for a moment before whispering, "Yeah. Sorry."
"It's fine," Fluttershy mumbled, brushing her mane out of her face. "Is something wrong?"
"Nah." Rainbow waved a hoof and tossed her head back. "It's just a bit chilly, is all."
"Oh." Fluttershy began to curl into a ball before stopping and shuffling to the side of her bed. She seemed as if she could hardly keep her eyes open. "I could let you use my bed if you'd like."
Rainbow's wings flared as she yelled, "No!" louder than she intended. The sound grated on her ear, and she refolded her wings as her ears went flat. "I mean, that's fine. I didn't mean to bug you."
"Um, okay." As Fluttershy grew more awake, her eyes opened wider as she began to frown."I'm sorry. There are some more blankets in the closet." Fluttershy glanced and nodded at the closet door on the opposite side of the room.
Rainbow lifted her foot to take a step and held it up for a moment. She grimaced and let out a weak chuckle. "Thanks," she mumbled, finally mustering the courage to dart over to Fluttershy's closet and grab the blankets she needed.
With her goal already achieved, Rainbow left Fluttershy's bedroom on shaky hooves. As she rushed out, she whispered, "G'night," over her shoulder. She didn't look back to see Fluttershy's reaction.
Back on the couch, Rainbow shook her head vigorously. "What the hay?" she hissed, slapping a hoof against her face. "Way to make things weird." She pulled the additional blankets over herself and snorted. "She was only being nice," she muttered as she rolled onto her side and closed her eyes—
"Good morning, sleepy head."
"Augh!" Rainbow pushed herself backward only to find that she was sending herself tumbling off the couch she had been sleeping in moments earlier. Hooves flailing in the air, she landed with a loud thud.
Almost before Rainbow hit the ground, Fluttershy was at her side inspecting Rainbow's wings and legs. Her ears went flat and her eyes grew wide as she gasped, "Oh, Rainbow Dash! Are you okay? I'm so sorry."
Rainbow waved her away and grinned despite the blush spreading through her cheeks. "I'm good. I'm good." It took her a moment to stand, but when she did she jabbed Fluttershy lightly in the shoulder. "Come on. You know it'd take more than a little spill to take me down." Suddenly, she noticed how bright it was outside. "What time is it?"
"It's around noon." Fluttershy walked toward the front door and picked up a small basket. "I'm sorry to wake you, but I wanted to ask if you'd like to go to the market with me."
"Sure." Rainbow shook herself and trotted to Fluttershy's side. "I'll make sure none of those shopkeeps try to to take advantage of you."
"Oh, they're just trying to make a living," Fluttershy insisted, opening the front door for Rainbow.
Rainbow rolled her eyes. "Then we'll give them a fair price—and nothing more." She emphasized her point by stomping a hoof.
A bubbly laugh erupted from Fluttershy's throat, and she said, "Would you mind going now?"
Rainbow was already out the door. "I figured we were doing that anyway."
Applejack woke with the rising of the sun. Twilight did not. As the light grew brighter and she felt the urge to rise with the new day, Applejack smiled and snuggled closer to Twilight's sleeping form. The day can wait, she thought. Right now, I've got something more important to take care of.
Fortunately, Applejack's waiting did not take long. As Applejack brought herself closer to her marefriend, Twilight began to open her eyes. Soft groans and squeaks escaped her mouth as she stretched and yawned. Just as the yawn ended, her eyes shot open as Applejack planted a kiss on her muzzle.
"Morning, sugarcube," Applejack said, drawing Twilight into a hug.
"Did I keep you waiting, AJ?" Twilight returned the hug, burying her face in Applejack's chest.
"No, Twilight, of course not." Applejack stroked Twilight's back with a soft smile on her face.
"I'm sorry I made you waste your time here," Twilight murmured, still wrapped in Applejack's embrace.
Applejack pulled Twilight's head up and looked her in the eyes. "There, there. There's no need to say something like that. Nothing's a waste of time as long as I'm with you, Twilight."
Twilight rolled her eyes, but her smile shone all the same. "I'm glad you're here, too."
The pair lapsed into comfortable silence as they got out of bed. Twilight immediately set herself to the task of making the bed, and while the blankets were being spread and the pillows were being fluffed, Applejack glanced at the clock. "Ten o'clock," she muttered, turning to Twilight. "Land's sake. I think that's the latest I've slept since the end of your first Applebuck season in Ponyville."
"The one when Big Mac hurt his shoulder?" Twilight never took her eyes from the bed as she shifted the comforter one way, then another. "Why won't this come out even?" she hissed under her breath.
"That's the one." Applejack walked up to Twilight's side and gave her a half-hug. "And the bed's fine, sugarcube. Look's right as rain."
Twilight shook her head violently. "No, it's not! It's crooked, and I've got to fix it."
Applejack end her half-hug and took a step back, putting a tentative hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "Relax, Twi, it's just—"
"I've got to!" Twilight didn't know when it had started, but she suddenly realized that she was panting. "I've got to," she repeated, her voice quavering. "The princesses just gave me the chance of a lifetime. I can't slack off now."
"If this is about the letter, Twilight, I think you need to take a step back," Applejack said, straightening herself and staring down Twilight's crumbling expression. "I know it's an honor, Twi—heck, only one pony can be chief adviser to a princess." Applejack paused and rubbed her chin. "Maybe two, but that's not the point. It's just a job offer, Twilight. I know the princesses would never force you to leave your friends behind, and you know it, too. Just calm down."
Twilight could barely force words past her own incoherent spluttering. "Really? 'Calm down?' Have you ever read a book on counseling, Applejack? Or an advice column? Do you even have a newspaper?"
Applejack raised a hesitant hoof. "I thought they banned newspapers after the whole Gabby Gums thing."
Twilight threw her forearms in the air and scoffed. "Who the hay would do something like that?"
Applejack scrunched her muzzle up and her gaze drifted upward. "I might've done that." She slouched her shoulders and scowled. "I don't trust them anymore."
Twilight blinked and shook her head limply. "I don't even…" She kept shaking her head for far too many seconds, continuing to speak only when she was finished. "Anyway, don't you ever tell me to calm down. It's so—do I even have to explain this?"
Applejack frowned, but the expression soon changed to a sort of smirk. "Not at this point, I guess not."
"Good." Twilight exhaled sharply and walked past Applejack into the living room. "Sorry for getting so upset, by the way."
"No problem." Applejack exited the guest room and bowed her head. "I'm sure it was warranted." Her eyes snapped wide open as she stiffened and glanced back at the guest bed.
Tapping Twilight in the back, Applejack rubbed her own shoulder as she asked Twilight, "Have you seen my hat around here?"
Twilight furrowed her brow. She pursed her lips for a moment before she snapped to attention. Without a word, she trotted into the dining room and emerged with Applejack's stetson floating behind her. "You must have left it after dinner," she explained, levitating the hat over to Applejack's head.
With the stetson returned to its rightful place on her head, Applejack breath a deep sigh and smiled. "Good thing I came back," she said, chuckling.
"Yeah." Twilight giggled, but the laughter died down almost as soon as it began. Both ponies shifted about in silence for a moment. Then, at once, the two ponies opened their mouths to speak.
"I guess you should be going." Twilight spoke first as Applejack recoiled and shut her mouth.
"Guess so," Applejack replied, head held low as her stetson cast a shadow over her face.
"I…" Twilight stopped and bowed her head. She took a deep breath and, after a moment lifted her gaze again. "I'll be out and about if you need me today. I think I'd like to go on a nice, long walk with my thoughts."
Applejack nodded, blowing out a sigh. "Have fun with that," she said, forcing a weak smile onto her face.
Small as Twilight's answering half-smile was, it positively glowed in Applejack's eyes. "I'll try." Twilight opened the front door with a flare of her horn walked up to Applejack's side. "Want me to walk you out?"
A laugh escaped from Applejack before she could so much as react to it. "Sounds like you're going to anyway, sugarcube," she said, rolling her eyes as the two ponies made their way out of the library.
As the two ponies left the buildng, Twilight shut the door and, without thinking, flipped the sign hanging in its window from "Closed" to "Open." As she did so, she hesitated and glanced at her bedroom window. "I don't think Spike's up," she mumbled. After a moment, she shrugged and trotted up to Applejack. "Well, if anypony needs him they can wake him up."
"My, my." Applejack let out a long and low whistle. "Somepony made a hairpin turn overnight."
Twilight shrugged again and gave Applejack a peck on the cheek. "He's the one who wants to be all grown-up, after all."
Applejack snorted a chuckle. "Careful what you wish for," she commented.
As Applejack's words hit her ears, Twilight seemed to deflate. Her ears flattened, her shoulders slouched, and she bowed her head as Applejack winced and pulled her up in a tight hug.
"I didn't mean it, sugarcube," Applejack hurried to whisper. She stroked Twilight's mane until she felt her marefriend return the hug. Lingering for a moment, she pulled away and said, "I'll see you later, Twi."
Twilight nodded, eyes misty despite the smile on her face. "See you later, AJ."
With that, Applejack left. Once, when she was around a block away from Twilight, she turned back and waved back at her marefriend, but Twilight only stood and watched. When Applejack finally trotted out of sight, Twilight sighed and began to trudge away from the library.
I think it's Friday. Twilight fixed her gaze in the direction of Ponyville Town Hall. Cantertrot Avenue should be that way. She began to walk over to her new destination, but the oppressive weight did not leave her steps. This is going to be a long day.
With nopony nearby as Twilight walked toward the busier areas of Ponyville, Twilight had only her sighs and her thoughts to keep her company. "If only I could just…" Twilight let out a long sigh as she trailed off. Though the end of her sentence remained unspoken, the thought screamed with perfect clarity in her mind.
Cantertrot Avenue in Ponyville had been the location of the town's marketplace since its founding, and Ponyville was a town that stuck by its traditions. When Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash arrived, the street was filled with ponies buying and selling goods. It was a typical Friday afternoon, and any Ponyville vendor worth his salt knew that Friday was the busiest day of the week on Cantertrot.
Needless to say, Fluttershy was terrified.
"I should have done this earlier," she mumbled, keeping close to Rainbow's side. "Maybe I can wait till next week to get my groceries."
Rainbow stopped and grabbed Fluttershy by the shoulders. Forcing her friend to look her in the eye, Rainbow said, "We're doing this, Fluttershy. They're just ponies. There's nothing to worry about."
Fluttershy took a deep breath and nodded. "I'll try," she said, forcing a smile onto her face.
"That's what I like to hear." Rainbow approached a nearby carrot vendor. "Now, how many carrots did you say you needed?"
Fluttershy didn't respond. After waiting for a moment, Rainbow turned to see a Fluttershy blinking rapidly and pointing across the street. "Is that Twilight?"
Somewhere in the crowd, Rainbow caught a glimpse of lavender, then another, then more than a glimpse. True to Fluttershy's word, Twilight was walking along Cantertrot Avenue.
That, however, was not the thing that surprised Rainbow. What surprised her—and what caused her to crinkle her nose—was the frown on Twilight's face, the heaviness of her steps, the slouch in her shoulders.
Apparently, Fluttershy saw the same things. Gasping, she immediately rushed to Twilight's side. "Oh, Twilight, are you okay? What's the matter?"
Twilight lifted her bowed head and chuckled. "Hey, Fluttershy. I guess it's appropriate that you're the first pony I see here."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Rainbow rushed to Fluttershy's side, shielding Fluttershy with one wing as she glowered at Twilight.
Twilight flinched and grimace. "Sorry." She sighed. "I've been saying that a lot lately."
"It's fine, Twilight." Fluttershy took a moment to cast a sharp glance at Rainbow before stepping closer to Twilight. "Just tell us what's the matter."
Biting her lip, Twilight glanced about before answered. "Okay. I guess the only way to say it is that the princesses offered me a job."
Rainbow cocked her head. "What, like egghead-in-chief?"
Twilight glared at her. "Yes, Rainbow. That's exactly it." Turning her attention back to Fluttershy, she said, "Princess Luna wants me to be her chief adviser. Celestia herself recommended me."
Fluttershy nodded, a frown on her face. "I think I understand, Twilight."
"I don't." Rainbow shrugged and tossed her mane. "That sounds like the coolest thing ever. So how're you gonna advise her from out here? Do you have some sort of crystal ball or something to reach her with or…" Rainbow trailed off as he saw the deepening frown on Twilight's face. "Oh." Her wings drooped as her voice grew quiet. "Bummer."
"Don't you have any choice?" Fluttershy asked.
Twilight began to nod but just shrugged instead. "They said that I shouldn't feel obligated to accept, but what does that even mean? My whole life has been building up to this. How can I say no to the opportunity of a lifetime?"
"Maybe you should talk with them," Rainbow suggested, her posture straightening and voice rising in volume with each syllable.
"They said they want me to visit them in Canterlot so we can discuss the position," Twilight said. "I'm not sure when I should do it, though."
"Do it as soon as you can," Rainbow answered without missing a beat. "Sometimes, you've just got to get things done." She nodded at Fluttershy. "Isn't that what I say?"
Fluttershy giggled and nodded. "It's true."
Twilight shook her head. "I'll need to talk to Applejack about it. We already have so many things to do and plans to make…" She flared her nostrils and snapped, "Why does it have to be now?"
Fluttershy's heart sank, and she could think of nothing to do but pat Twilight on the back. "There, there. Just let it out, Twilight. It's okay."
With a sigh, Twilight let out a quiet chuckle. "Not really, but thanks, girls." She pulled away from Fluttershy and began to walk away. "I think I'll be going now."
"Are you sure?" Fluttershy asked, eyebrows furrowed and mouth agape.
Rainbow nodded. "Yeah. You sure you don't want to talk about this?"
Twilight shook her head and offered a small half-smile. "I think I ought to sort things out in my own head first," she said. "Thanks for the offer, though. I'll see you around."
"Yeah," Fluttershy and Rainbow both said, looking down at their own hooves. By the time they looked up, Twilight was lost in the crowd, trotted off without a hint as to where she had gone.