Two Paths

by Sir0Chicken

Two Steps Forward

As soon as Twilight left, Rainbow felt a chill course through her body. She shifted her wings, stretching each muscle as she tried to drive out the strange discomfort, but it refused to disappear. Fighting the urge to fly off, Rainbow turned and put a hoof on Fluttershy's shoulder.

"What was that stuff you needed again, Fluttershy?" she asked. She shook her head when she noticed that she was speaking much faster than intended.

"Um, just some ingredients for a vegetable soup I'm making tonight," Fluttershy answered. Leaning in, she asked, "Are you alright, Rainbow Dash?"

Rainbow grimaced and tossed her head back. "Yeah. Sure. I'm fine. I guess I'm just bummed out for Twilight and Applejack."

Fluttershy frowned and looked at the ground. "I hope they can figure things out soon. It must be so hard to make a choice like that."

"Yeah." Rainbow furled and unfurled her wings, gritting her teeth as she shifted about. "Look, can we get moving. I just want to go back home and try to get this out of my head."

Rainbow raised an eyebrow at how Fluttershy's shoulders slouched, but then Fluttershy said, "You mean you don't want to go back to the cottage?"

Rainbow's eyes snapped open as Fluttershy's gaze fell earthward. Rainbow shook her head violently. "No, no," she said, firmly grabbing Fluttershy's shoulders. "That's not what I meant." She chuckled as she pulled Fluttershy in for a quick hug. "I was talking about your house, I guess." She laughed again. "Weird."

Fluttershy joined in the laugh, albeit somewhat louder than Rainbow. "It's not that weird," she said. She grabbed a slip of paper from her saddlebag and handed it to Rainbow. "Here's my shopping list. If you want, we could split it. Divide and…" Fluttershy crinkled her nose and shook her head. "Divide and buy things faster."

Rainbow failed in her best attempt to stifle a guffaw. "Alright, Fluttershy," she said, tearing the list roughly in half and giving the smaller piece back to Fluttershy. "See you when you finish up." She leaned in and whispered, "We'll see who can conquer their shopping list first."

Fluttershy sighed and rolled her eyes, but that didn't mask the hint of a blush that blossomed in her cheeks. "Sounds good," she said. "Would you mind meeting back up at the Carousel Boutique? I'd like to visit Rarity while I'm out here."

"Sure," Rainbow said, unfurling her wings and turning toward the myriad shops. "Anything you want." She stretched her hind legs and glanced back at Fluttershy. "I'll be done in a dash," she said, and she was gone in a multicolored blur.

A smile crept onto Fluttershy's face as she watched her friend rush off. "I'll see you later, Dash," she murmured. She took a moment to watch the streak of color Rainbow left behind as it began to fade. As Rainbow's trail slowly diminished into nothing, Fluttershy checked her part of list and trotted over to a nearby tomato stand.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of ponies mulled about the marketplace. Ponyville's busiest street was awash in colors and voices and emotions and conversations, and everypony seemed in high spirits as they basked in the warm light of the midday sun.

All, of course, except for Twilight.

What do I do? The question echoed in Twilight's mind endlessly, refusing to leave or indeed to soften its constant clanging in Twilight's head. What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?

There was no easy answer. Twilight Sparkle, the pony who had defeated Nightmare Moon, Discord, and King Sombra, could not overcome the dilemma posed by one simple letter by with one simple purpose. But what is my answer?

On one hoof, this has to be the opportunity of a lifetime, Twilight thought, weaving through the throng of ponies walking along Cantertrot Avenue. It's what I've wanted since I was a foal. She could feel a sour taste spreading across her tongue, unable to determine whether it was real or imagined. Of course, things have changed since then. How can I just leave Applejack here when we've only just started dating?

Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight saw a mint-green unicorn—Lyra was her name, if she recalled—waving. She forced a herself to smile and waved back, but she lowered her head as soon as Lyra passed her. Nice pony, she thought as some small fraction of a smile returned to her face. A bit odd, maybe, but she really has a passion for her studies. I probably wouldn't know half the things about advanced scrying magic if it weren't for her.

A thought screamed into Twilight's mind, bringing her to a stop and leaving her face pale. She probably wouldn't know half those things either. In the years since her arrival in Ponyville, Twilight had found a role for herself in that quiet little town. She was a source of knowledge, expertise, organization, and leadership for everypony. I've helped Lyra with her studies for all these years. If I go, who will run the library? Who will run Winter Wrap Up? Who will substitute teach for Cheerilee?

Yet again, her train of thought led only to more questions. She grit her teeth. I could just scream! I could slam the ground with my hooves, growl and shout and gnash, call down fire with a flare of my hooves, run and run and never stop running…

But she didn't. All she did was stand stock still in the middle of Cantertrot Avenue, eyes staring straight ahead as ponies glanced her way before passing by without a second thought.

The meeting. The thought broke Twilight out of her daze and she shook her head. I should go see the princesses. Soon. Really soon. Now.

Suddenly, Twilight found herself cantering along, unable to stop, unable and unwilling to slow down. I should probably send a letter ahead of time so they can prepare, but they should have some time this weekend. She glanced toward the northwest end of town and the Ponyville Train Station. They should have trips well into the evening, she thought, but she slowed down as yet another thought struck her.

I should probably let Applejack know. She sighed. Her ears went flat and she closed her eyes as she pictured her marefriend's face. Poor Applejack. She probably won't like that one bit. She blinked as she realized how misty her eyes were and shook her head. I'll have to make sure she's okay first.

Either way, she thought, I can leave first thing tomorrow morning, as soon as I get anything squared away. I'll have Spike write a letter— She furrowed her brow and hesitated. What will happen to Spike?

She brushed the question away with a shake of her head. I can only deal with so much. It's like Rainbow Dash said. Right now, I need to get things done. She put on a smile and lifted her gaze, finally giving her meandering walk some direction. Stop one: the library. Stop two: Sweet Apple Acres.

When Rainbow, gripping bags full of various vegetables with her wings, arrived at the Carousel Boutique, Fluttershy was nowhere to be seen. No surprise there, Rainbow thought, smirking as she approached the door to Rarity's home and place of business. She walked in and waved as she saw Rarity and Fluttershy talking near the kitchen.

Rainbow stopped and blinked. "Huh?"

Fluttershy was the first to notice her. "Hello, Rainbow Dash," she said, waving and trotting up to her.

Rarity was soon to follow. "Why, Rainbow Dash, how are you?" Her eyes seemed to sparkle as she gasped loudly. "I haven't seen you in so long."

"It's been, like, three days," Rainbow deadpanned. She set her groceries down and nodded to Fluttershy. "Did you have any problems getting anything?"

Fluttershy tapped one of her saddlebags with a hoof and grinned. "I got everything we need."

Rarity's lips were starting to curl up, and her nose was crinkled up. It took Rainbow a moment to notice, but as soon as she did, she lowered her head a bit and said, "Sorry for interrupting."

Rarity raised her head and painted a smile onto her face. "Oh, it's fine, Rainbow," she said stiffly. "We were just talking about Twilight's unfortunate predicament." She turned to Fluttershy. "Do continue, Fluttershy. Please."

Fluttershy nodded, a frown beginning to dawn on her face. "Like I was saying, she has to go to Canterlot to speak with the princesses. I just hope she can figure things out. Poor thing."

"That's just dreadful." Rarity covered her mouth with a hoof. "And just imagine how Applejack must feel. Opening her heart to somepony and just watching it all unravel. It's so tragic."

Rainbow bit her lip and cleared her throat. Rarity glanced at her, and she seized on the opportunity. "Things aren't over yet, Rarity. They'll figure things out." She averted her eyes. "I'm sure they will."

Rarity stiffened and looked away. "Ahem, well, yes. Perhaps." She patted her mane with a hoof and lifted her muzzle skyward.

"So, uh, how are you doing?" Fluttershy ventured. Her eyes darted between Rainbow and Rarity.

"Oh, same old, same old," Rarity said with a shrug. "I haven't seen you around too much lately. We barely even have our regular spa appointments any more."

Fluttershy flinched. "I know," she whispered, hiding behind her mane. "I promise I'll visit more. It's just… things get busy."

Rarity arched an eyebrow and leaned forward. "Busy? I don't recall you using that excuse since, well, you know." She cleared her throat loudly and grinned at Fluttershy, but she killed it as soon as she saw a glare flash across Fluttershy's face. She straightened herself and brought her head back up. "Well, erm, indeed. We will simply have to enjoy each other's company when we can."

Fluttershy smiled back, ignoring Rainbow's furrowed brow and tilted head. "That sounds nice."

Rarity took a peek outside a window and nodded. "I don't want to keep you two. I heard that it'll be a new moon today. You should get home before it gets too dark."

Fluttershy nudged Rainbow and turned to the door. "Okay. Thank you for the warning. It's been nice catching up with you."

Blinking rapidly, Rainbow grabbed her bags and nodded. "See you, Rarity," she said, hastening to join Fluttershy.

"Yes." Rarity followed her two friends as they exited the boutique. "Do come back soon. Take care, Fluttershy. Goodbye, Rainbow Dash." Not too long after her friends walked out, she reached the door and pulled it shut with her magic. Smirking, she started to whistle a tune and walked upstairs to her studio.

Outside, Rainbow fixed her gaze on Fluttershy and raised an eyebrow. "How'd you finish up so fast?"

"I guess I just got lucky." Fluttershy smirked and nudged Rainbow. "You also gave me the short end of the list."

Rainbow chuckled and hefted her bags. "Yeah, I guess so."

"So how much do I owe you?" Fluttershy began to pull out her coin purse, but Rainbow shook her head.

"It's on me," Rainbow said, grinning as she shifted her grip on the groceries.

"Oh, no," Fluttershy gasped. She pulled out her purse anyway and began to open it. "I couldn't just take all that from you, Dashie. I don't want to take advantage of you."

Rainbow laughed loudly, almost dropping her bags in her mirth. "I insist, Fluttershy. It's the least I can do since you when you're letting me hang around your place." The two ponies continued their walk in silence for a few moments, watching the Everfree Forest come into view as they reached the edge of Ponyville.

Suddenly, some impulse gripped Rainbow. Stopping the the middle of the street, she pulled Fluttershy into a tight, if brief, embrace. "You're my best friend," she said. "You know that, Fluttershy?"

Fluttershy giggled even as she shrunk away and blushed. "I know that," she mumbled. She shook herself and hugged Rainbow back. "You're my best friend too, Dashie."

"I mean it." Rainbow stared directly into Fluttershy's eyes. "You've been my friend since flight school, and you stuck by me for all these years." She set her jaw and took a deep breath before continuing. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Fluttershy." She broke eye contact and turned away. "Just, uh, I guess I wanted you to know that, or something."

Fluttershy let her mouth hang open for a moment and raised an eyebrow. "I don't think I've ever heard you talk like that before, Rainbow Dash." She nudged her friend and giggled as they both resumed their walk out of town. "Why aren't you like this more often"

"I know." Rainbow started to wave a hoof before thinking better of it and just shrugging. "I mean, I've got a reputation to keep, you know? I can't be all sappy in front of everypony."

Fluttershy pouted and looked Rainbow in the eyes. "Why not? I'm sure nopony would judge you for being yourself."

With a snort, Rainbow shook her head. "That's the thing, Fluttershy. Of course you'd say that." It wasn't that cold out, but she felt the urge to lean against Fluttershy. "You're not like most ponies. You're just… I don't know. I can just be myself around you. It's cool."

Fluttershy just nodded and leaned back into Rainbow. "I'm glad to hear that, Dashie. And you really shouldn't worry about it so much. You're wonderful just the way you are."

"Yeah. You too." Rainbow faced Fluttershy and grinned. "Thanks for being a friend, Fluttershy."

Fluttershy nuzzled Rainbow's cheek and beamed back. "Thanks for returning the favor, Dashie."

Getting a letter sent to Princess Celestia was simple enough—just as Twilight expected. After so many years, it was almost second nature for Spike to transcribe Twilight's words. Her stop at the library was brief—she wanted to see Applejack before sundown and couldn't afford to waste time—but she still left with a smile on her face. Spike had promised a nice dinner when she got home, and that promise left Twilight with something to look forward to at the end of her impending conversation with Applejack.

Before long, just as the sun began to set, Twilight arrived at the Apple family's front door. The wooden porch creaked with her every step, and the noise left her paralyzed as she prepared to knock. Just as she broke out of her hesitation and began to lift a hoof, the door swung open, revealing none other than Applejack.

Almost on instinct, Twilight backed away, then stepped forward to give Applejack a hug. Applejack, on the other hoof, wasted no time reaching forward to embrace Twilight. She wore a grin and held Twilight close as she murmured into her marefriend's ears, "I'm glad you stopped by, Twi. Oh, Celestia! I'm glad you're here."

"Hi, Applejack," Twilight replied, forcing herself to grin in the hopes that it would mask her faint blush.

Twilight needn't have worried. The two ponies rocked back in forth in their embrace. Applejack closed her eyes and buried her face in Twilight's coat, letting everything wash away. Unfortunately, the hug couldn't let forever, and Applejack finally pulled her head away from Twilight. She squeezed her marefriend one more time and asked, "What're you doing out here?"

Twilight sighed. "Well, actually, I sort of had a reason for coming." She reached for another hug, and Applejack gave it without hesitation.

"It has to do with the letter, doesn't it?" Applejack asked in a low voice.

"Yes." Twilight nodded slowly.

Applejack gulped. She opened her mouth, but it took her a moment to speak. "I… Do what you think is right. Don't just try to do what you think I want to you to do or anything. This is about you, and… Uh." Applejack drew her lips into a thin line before speaking again. "Yeah. I'll support you no matter what you choose."

Twilight smiled and kissed Applejack on the cheek. "I still haven't decided, but thanks. I actually wanted to talk about that trip to Canterlot the princess want me to take."

"You trying to figure out when to go?" Applejack shrugged. "I thought you'd try a few weeks from now. Give us some time to square things away here so we don't have to scramble too much when you've got to choose. How long are they giving you to accept, again?"

Twilight's face fell. When she started speaking, she started slowly. "Well, they said I have four weeks, but I was thinking that I shouldn't put things off too long." She paused and lowered her gaze. "I was thinking that I'd go tomorrow."

Applejack's eyes snapped wide open. "What?"

Twilight stepped back. "I'd be back by Sunday night. It'd only be a two day trip, and that way I could talk to them in-person before I make a decision." She straightened herself and leveled her gaze back at Applejack. "I have to go some time. It might as well be now."

"But, Twilight, so soon?" Applejack hung her head. "What about all the things we have to do? There's the old barn we've got to tear down, there's telling everypony else, and that's not even counting just run-of-the-mill, everyday stuff."

Twilight crinkled her nose and frowned. "I sent a letter to the princesses already, Applejack. I'm going tomorrow. I promise I'll come back as soon as I can. Besides, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy already know."

"Well what's the point of asking me for feedback if you're just gonna up and do whatever you feel like?" Applejack planted her feet, stopping short of a full scowl.

Twilight had no such reservations. Glaring at Applejack, she said, "Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy thought it was a good idea."

Applejack rolled her eyes. "Rainbow told you so? Well I guess I'd obviously listen to her and all. No reason to doubt her or nothing."

Twilight continued to glare for a moment, but her resolve soon faltered, and all she could offer was a sheepish smile. "I guess that's fair," she said. Taking a deep breath, she wiped the smile off her face. "I just wanted to let you know what was going on. Look, I'm having a tough time with all this too. We have a whole four weeks before I have to make a final decision. This way, I can be here the rest of that time."

Applejack nodded, and after a moment her glare dissipated into a softer frown. She grabbed her hat and held it against her chest. "I'm sorry, Twi," she said. She grit her teeth and forced herself to keep speaking. "I… I'll miss you. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Yes." Twilight lifted a hoof, hesitated, and shrugged. "I'll miss you too. Will you meet me at the train station tomorrow morning?"

Applejack flinched and as her muscles tensed up. "I… can't," she managed. "I've got so much to do, and I'm…" She growled, letting the sound build up to a guttural scream. "I'm sorry."

Twilight nodded as her ears went flat and her shoulders slouched. "That's fine," she said. "I'll be back in a couple of days. The farm comes first." She leaned forward and hesitated. "Uh, good night."

"Good night, Twi." Applejack leaned forward and kissed Twilight on the lips. The contact was hesitant, fleeting, but it was there. Both blushing, they began to shuffle away from each other.

"Well… I'll have Spike let you know what time I'm coming back." Twilight stopped short of lifting a hoof and kept her head low. "Maybe you can be there when my train pulls in."

"Yeah." Applejack followed suit, seeming as if she'd collapse into herself. "Maybe."

"Well, bye." Twilight turned and began to walk away. She forced her head up, but it hung limply from her neck all the same, and she walked back to the library on heavy hooves.

The afternoon sped by in a whirlwind for Rainbow Dash, and the night came before she had time to realize it. As much as she loved speed, her heart sank when the realization finally sunk in.

"Would you just look at the time?" Fluttershy remarked. She glanced out a window at the gathering darkness. "And it's so dark outside. I guess Rarity was right about that new moon. Don't you think so, Dashie?"

Rainbow nodded limply. She knew where this was going.

She noticed that Fluttershy's face was creased with worry. Before Rainbow could do anything, Fluttershy was upon her, draping a wing over her withers and leaning into her side. "Are you okay, Dashie?"

"Yeah." Rainbow shrugged. "I guess I'm just tired or whatever."

Part of a smile returned to Fluttershy's face, but she stayed by Rainbow's side. "Well, it is getting late."

Rainbow nodded. "Yeah," she said with a shrug. "I guess so."

Fluttershy pointed at the couch. "Well, I left your blankets out, so let me know if you need anything."

Rainbow nodded and scuffed a hoof on the floor. "Okay." She stepped forward and reached for a hug.

Grinning broadly, Fluttershy wrapped Rainbow in a tight embrace. It didn't last long, though, and she was heading off to her room in a matter of moments. "Good night, Dashie."

"Uh… Yeah." Rainbow blinked a few times and began to meander back to the couch. "Night." With nothing left to do, Rainbow doused the lights and wrapped herself in her blankets, ready for another good night's sleep…


It only took a few minutes for Rainbow to realize that she was cold. Again. Even after Fluttershy had given her extra blankets the night before. She rolled her eyes and tried to pull the blankets closer to her body, but it was no use. She couldn't keep away the creeping chill that nipped at her hooves. After trying to squeeze her eyes shut and overcome the cold through sheer force of will, Rainbow threw up her hooves and groaned.

Time for another trip to Fluttershy's room.

Rainbow flicked her tail as she stood to go see Fluttershy. With no moon to light the night sky, darkness surrounded her, and it took a mammoth amount of attention to keep from banging into one or another of the pieces of furniture Fluttershy filled her house with. Everything served a purpose, and Rainbow could hear the quiet breath of sleeping animals coming from many of the would-be tripping hazards, but Rainbow could only furrow her brow and push forward. Great day for a new moon.

Despite the unusual blackness, it didn't take long for Rainbow to reach Fluttershy's room. If anything, the cold was more severe this night, so Rainbow didn't hesitate to walk right up to Fluttershy's sleeping form. Poking Fluttershy in the shoulder, she said, "Hey, Shy. Fluttershy."

After a few prods, Fluttershy's eyes slowly opened. A quiet squeak escaped her mouth as she yawned and rolled over to face Rainbow. Her eyes drooped as she smiled and asked, 'Is something wrong, Dashie?"

"Nah." Rainbow waved a hoof and tossed her head back. "It's just a bit chilly, is all."

"Oh." Fluttershy's grin grew wider and her eyes narrowed. She rolled over so her back faced Rainbow, glancing to her friend as she said, "I'm pretty cold too."

"Um, yeah." Rainbow bit her lip and poked Fluttershy again. "So, uh, sorry for waking you and all."

"We can snuggle, if you want to." Fluttershy buried her face in her blankets, but Rainbow could see her ears redden.

In fairness, Rainbow was blushing just as furiously. "Uh, you sure?" she forced herself to say. Her wings began to spread, and she quickly unfurled them before forcing them back to her side.

"Of course." Fluttershy drew in a deep breath and rolled over to face Rainbow. "I mean, if you don't mind."

Rainbow nodded silently. She opened her mouth and let out a strange strangled sound. Clearing her throat, she said, "Sure."

Fluttershy shifted herself to the far side of the bed. "Come on in, then."

Rainbow wasted no time. She buried herself in blankets and wrapped her hooves around Fluttershy. She didn't know what Fluttershy was talking about—She doesn't even feel cold—but she didn't say a word. All she did was smile and close her eyes as Fluttershy nestled her head in the crook of Rainbow's neck. This feels nice, Rainbow thought.

"Good night, Fluttershy," she said after a moment, eyes still closed.

Fluttershy nodded, tickling Rainbow's neck with her mane. Rainbow couldn't see it, but her smile was almost impossibly wide as she said, "Good night, Dashie."