Two Paths

by Sir0Chicken

Worlds Apart

Twilight trotted up to the only platform of the Ponyville Train Station. Her luggage levitated beside her and Spike trailed a few feet behind her. She stepped up to the edge of the platform and peered out into the distance, seeing nothing but train tracks stretching southward to Ghastly Gorge.

It was dark. It was quiet. The train wasn't scheduled to arrived for quite some time. Twilight sighed.

"Come on," Spike called, pointing in the direction of a nearby booth. Inside, a pony sat with his head resting against a hoof, eyes drooping along with his entire body. "You've gotta get your ticket, Twilight."

Twilight forced herself to smile and nodded. Trotting over, she flashed her grin at the pony inside, who smirked and snorted.

"Not a trip for pleasure, I take it," he said, glancing down at a sheet of paper. "Where'll you be getting off?"

Twilight stopped and tilted her head. "Uh, Canterlot," she stammered before leaning in and narrowing her eyes. "What are you talking about?"

The pony shrugged. "You just looked like you weren't too happy. That'll be twenty bits."

Twilight scowled and dropped her bits onto the counter. "Well, that was pretty rude of you to say either way."

For a moment, the pony's eyes went wide, and he sat up and cleared his throat loudly. He offered up a toothy grin and said, "Uh, sorry. Look, lady, just don't tell my manager."

Now it was Twilight's turn to snort. "I don't know," she snarled. "I might just go find him and tell him about how rude you just were."

Before the ticket pony could respond, Twilight jumped when she felt a scaly claw poking her in the side. On reflex, she glared down at Spike, who backed away and chuckled. "Uh, sorry, Twilight, but maybe we should, uh, watch for the train," he said. He pointed to the end of the platform farthest away from the ticket booth. "Over there."

Twilight glowered at the ticket pony out of the corner of her eye and snatched up her ticket in her magic. "Sure, Spike. Let's." Without a word to the ticket pony, she turned and stomped back to the edge of platform.

The ticket pony pressed his hooves together and said, "Good day, miss." When she only swished her tail in reply, he bit his lip and buried his face in his hooves.

"Don't you think that was a little harsh, Twilight?" Spike asked. "Like, what the hay?"

Twilight huffed and rolled her eyes. "He was being rude. Didn't you hear him?"

Spike crossed his arms and stared back.

Twilight let out a sigh. "Okay, maybe I'm a bit testy this early in the morning, but he still shouldn't have said those things."

Spike's arms remained crossed.

Twilight rubbed her face and groaned. "Why can't I just disappear, Spike? Just curl up in a ball and let everything go away?"

"Uh…" Spike hugged Twilight's leg. "It's okay, Twilight."

Twilight sat down and shook her head. "It's not," she said. "Not really. I just hope Applejack will be okay over the weekend."

Spike hid a roll of his eyes by glancing away toward the train tracks. "I'm sure she'll be fine," he said. "I'm more worried about you right now."

"Oh, Spike, that's sweet of you to say." Twilight nuzzled him, but he pushed her head away.

"Not really," he said. "Twilight, this is, like, the most important thing ever. You just got a job offer from the princesses, and all you can think about is Applejack."

Twilight frowned and narrowed her eyes. "I'm worried about her."

Spike sighed and nodded. "I know." He put a claw on Twilight's leg. "But remember to worry about yourself, too. Make sure you're doing things for the right reasons."

Twilight was silent, her face unreadable. For a long moment, she stared at Spike, then tore her gaze away with a sigh. "Make sure you don't just eat junk food all day," she mumbled.

Spike's gasped and put his claws on his cheeks, but Twilight wasn't looking. With a loud harrumph, he crossed his arms and said, "I've got it covered. And by the way, I can keep the library running while you're gone."

Twilight, with downcast eyes, chuckled. "I hadn't even thought of that," she remarked. "I'm… glad you're on top of things."

Spike poked Twilight in the side again. "Dude, you're acting like this is the end of the world or something. All you're doing is having a meeting with the princesses. No big deal."

Twilight nodded. "We'll see."

The sound of a train whistle flew in from the south, and Twilight glanced down the tracks to watch the Friendship Express as it pulled into Ponyville Station.

"Well, that's my ride." Twilight offered a thin smile to Spike. "I'll see you in a day or two, okay?"

Spike saluted her before giving her a hug. "I've got it covered. Have fun in Canterlot."

Twilight guffawed and shook her head. "We'll see," she said. "I'm not counting on it."

Just as the train came to a full stop, Spike threw his arms up and rolled his eyes. "You've got to be less of a grump," he said. "What would Pinkie say if she saw you like this?"

"Pinkie…" Twilight sighed and lowered her head. "I can hardly remember the last time I saw her. I should visit her when I get back. Can you make a note of that." She turned to Spike to find that he already had a scroll in hand.

"Done and done," he said, grinning as he scribbled away with his quill. After a moment, he rolled the parchment back up and put it away—where to, Twilight had no idea.

Twilight smirked. "I guess I need you more than you need me," she said, which only prompted another, tighter hug from Spike.

"I'll miss you, okay?" Spike squeezed Twilight's leg again as Twilight embraced him with her other foreleg.

"I'll miss you too, Spike." She blinked back the tears that were rapidly forming in her eyes and pulled away. She lifted her luggage with her magic as she said, "I need to go. I'll see you soon."

Spike smiled. "See you!" he said, turning to run away as Twilight walked onto the train. It only took a moment for Twilight to find a seat, and from there it was a matter of minutes before the train resumed its long steady crawl to the capital city of Canterlot.

As always, Applejack awoke with the sun. She got out of bed and sighed. Twilight's probably gone by now.

Twilight would be back soon, but that did nothing to fill the hole in Applejack's stomach as nibbled at her breakfast. She didn't enjoy it much. The food was tasteless. Just got to work. Put one hoof in front of the other. Keep moving forward.

Applejack made her way out to the fields before the sunrise had ended. Best to get the day over with as fast as possible. I'll feel better tomorrow. The thought rang hollow even in her own mind, but she just pressed on. She had orchards to tend to, fields to plow, crops to plant, and barns to check.

Applejack hesitated on her way to the apple orchard and rubbed her chin. Might as well check the barn first.

Twilight was right: the barn long overdue to be demolished. As she approached the building, she could see the peeled paint and rot that covered every inch. It was a relic of a bygone time, and Sweet Apple Acres couldn't afford to cling to the past. Things had changed. It was best not to let things drag out.

Applejack suddenly realized that she was sweating. She blinked and shook her head, taking a deep breath to slow her heart's rapid beating. I'm just worried that I can't get this thing torn down right away, is all. She took another deep breath and opened the barn door.

Instantly, the acrid taste of musk and decay washed over Applejack. Her cheeks bulged as she fought the urge to vomit. Land's sake! It's even worse than before. Fighting down her breakfast, she forced herself to walk into the barn. Each step filled her nostrils with more of the barn's stench, and before long her eyes began to sting as well.

"This barn needs to go," she muttered, gagging as she continued to struggle against the noxious odor. She stumbled and reached out for the wall so she could lean into it. I hope Twilight's can learn those spells she was talking about fast. I don't think this can wait much longer.

Applejack scowled. Twilight, she thought with a snort. If she were here, there wouldn't be a problem. I could just go get her right now. She grit her teeth. Why didn't she just talk to me?

Applejack raised a hoof and aimed it at the barn door only to let it fall back to earth. She sighed, blinking back tears caused by far more than the barn's noxious odor. She stomped around looking for somewhere, anywhere to go. To start, she galloped out of the barn.

I need to talk to somepony, she thought as she continued to gallop, covering as much ground as possible as quickly as possible. I need to talk… to who?

Almost as soon as she thought of the question, Applejack had the answer: Fluttershy. She slowed to a canter and blew out a sigh. I know she had it bad for Twilight. I know I basically stole the love of her life from her. I also know that it has to be her.

Applejack slowed again, this time to a trot. She should be alone. She smiled and nodded to herself. So what if Rainbow Dash has been spending more time with her lately? Rainbow's day won't start for hours to come. She's probably sleeping away on some cloud up there. She glanced at the sky and snorted.

Picking up her pace, Applejack found the road out of Sweet Apple Acres and left the farm. Better get there before anypony else does, she thought, checking the sky again with a frown on her face. Fluttershy'll set things straight. She'll calm me down.

Fluttershy woke from the most wonderful dream. A smile was still plastered across her face as she awoke, and it grew wider as she remembered how her dream had played out.

For a moment, her face scrunched up as she thought she felt a hoof on her shoulder. She rolled over onto her other side…

And there was Rainbow Dash.

Fluttershy's stomach filled up with butterflies as her smile grew impossibly wide. It was no dream, she thought. It was no dream. She hugged Rainbow's sleeping form tightly and nuzzled her nose, stifling giggles all the while.

It happened, she thought. I did it. She wondered who she should thank. Celestia? Luna? Rainbow Dash herself? It didn't really matter. All that mattered was her best friend, her closest of friends, her something-more-than-a-friend snuggling up against her after a good night's sleep.

Fluttershy nuzzled Rainbow, who promptly began to snore in her face. Fluttershy only smiled and snuggled up closer, burying her face in Rainbow's chest. No reason to wake her up. No reason to make this end.

Small clouds of dirt flew up with each step of Applejack's hooves as she trotted up the windy road that led its way, slowly but surely, to Fluttershy's cottage. She plastered a broad grin over her face, and though her misty eyes belied her true mood, one could see a slight shimmer in them that grew more pronounced with each step.

When Applejack reached the front door, she could feel a tingle in her hooves that reached up her legs and seized her heart. Her stomach filled with butterflies, rabbits, and all manner of tiny critters as she raised a hoof, and her anxiety reached a crescendo just as she moved forward to knock.

Suddenly, the door swung open, and Applejack yelped as she nearly fell on her face. Clearing her throat, she straightened herself and opened her eyes. And blinked. She blinked repeatedly as she realized that it was not Fluttershy, but Angel who had opened the door. The tiny rabbit, by some means Applejack could only guess at, had let her in, and he was standing in the doorway with a paw over his mouth.

Applejack crouched down and said, "Hey A—" but stopped when she saw his piercing glare. Flinching, she lowered her voice. "Sorry. Where's Fluttershy, little guy?"

Angel removed his paw from over his mouth and pointed at Fluttershy's bedroom. He shook his head vigorously for a moment before putting his paws together and resting his head against them as he pantomimed snoring.

Applejack nodded. "Well, sorry about this, but I really have to talk to her, so…" Applejack shrugged and stood. With Angel pulling at her hind legs the entire time, she walked over to the bedroom door and opened it just a crack. She whispered only one word:


In the bedroom, Rainbow's eyes snapped open. She knew that voice. What's she— "Augh!" Before Rainbow could gain her bearings, she tumbled out of bed and landed with a loud crash.

Rainbow was still sprawled one the ground when the door swung open. Applejack rushed forward just as Fluttershy rolled over to see what was happening.

"Are you al—" Applejack stopped as her gaze fixed on Rainbow's prone form. She looked up at Fluttershy, then back to Rainbow Dash, then Fluttershy…

Rainbow grinned and stood up on shaky legs. She chuckled. "Uh…"

Fluttershy pulled her blankets close. "Uh…"

For a moment, Applejack's right eye began to twitch, then both eyes snapped open. A broad grin spread across her face, stretching her cheeks as she threw her head back and laughed.

"Howdy, girls," she said, continuing to cackle as she took a step back. "Can't say I was expecting this."

"What the hay are you doing here?" Rainbow shouted, stepping forward. She began to take another step, but the sound of Fluttershy clearing her throat reined her in.

"Do you need something, Applejack?" Fluttershy asked. She glanced down at her sheet and pushed them away so she could stand.

Applejack shook her head and let out a guffaw. "I guess I needed a kick in the flank, but y'all got that covered already." Her whooping laughter filled the room, but it failed to cover her tears.

In Applejack's mind, everything collapsed in on itself. She needed to run, needed to talk. Couldn't stay, couldn't leave. Couldn't look, couldn't look away. Couldn't believe… Couldn't stand…

Applejack fell to a sitting position as the last of her giggling died away. She stared down at the floor, letting her tears flow silently down her cheeks.

Fluttershy was the first to step forward. "I'm sorry, Applejack," she said. "I know you must miss Twilight, but she'll be back soon."

Rainbow joined her and reached to put a hoof on Applejack's shoulder. "Yeah," she said, though she failed to work up anything more.

Applejack brushed away Rainbow's hoof and turned away from her friends. "It's fine," she said as she got back on her hooves. "I think I've got things figured out just fine."

Rainbow reached out, wings flared. "Look, Applejack, we didn't—"

Applejack stomped a hoof. "This isn't about you," she snapped, drawing a flinch from Rainbow. She hung her head and squeezed her eyes shut. "I've got something I have to deal with."

Rainbow pulled her wings back in and hung her head.

Fluttershy, on the other hoof, stepped forward with eyes narrowed and wings spread wide. "I can't let you leave here like this," she said, trying to stop the tremble in her voice. "Let us help, Applejack. I mean it."

Applejack didn't even look up. She just shook her head and smiled. "I'm fine." She swallowed and finally met Fluttershy's gaze. "Really. I just need to get back to the farm."

"Don't you walk away." Fluttershy's voice could have been blown away by the wind, but she stood firm. "I won't let you leave her acting like this." She stepped forward. "Feeling like this."

Applejack turned away from her advancing friend. "You don't have to let me," she said. "I'm leaving." Fluttershy reached for her, but Applejack was already off. The sound of her galloping filled the cottage until she rushed out the front door, and Fluttershy could hear Applejack's clattering hoofsteps for what felt like an eternity as her friend fled with as much speed as she could muster.