Trial Run

by UnlicensedBrony

Chapter Three: Two days 'til Hearts and Hooves

The dawn of the following day brought with it what felt like the hottest Sun that Rainbow had felt in years. After she'd hurriedly wrapped up her morning's work of clearing the sky, she took cover indoors to get out of the blistering heat, until the time came for her date with Applejack, of course. And, by then, she'd come up with a pretty good idea of how they were going to spend it...

“Oho, Dash, you're a genius, y'know that?” said Applejack with a grin as she looked down over the sharp edge of the hilltop.

Rainbow rubbed a hoof against her chest and smirked proudly. “Yeah, I know.”

Here, on the hilltop just on the outskirts of Ponyville, the two of them had the perfect diving spot. The surface of the lake below shimmered invitingly in the afternoon sunlight, promising a cool, refreshing shield from the heat. If Rainbow Dash found that idea appealing, then she could only imagine how Applejack felt, having spent the whole morning at work out in her orchards.

The smile that Applejack cast across at her summed it up well enough.

For her part, Rainbow didn't think anything needed to be said. The impulsive pegasus unfurled her wings and flapped them once before galloping forwards and leaping into the air. She spun and twisted as she dived towards the water, until she finally broke the surface with an awesome splash and quickly re-emerged to take a gasp of air.

Another splash came from beside her, making her close her eyes to shield them from the wave of water that followed. Applejack poked her head up and let out a content, ear-twitch-inducing whistle. Her hair was wet and plastered to her coat, but her hat hadn't moved an inch. Somehow, Rainbow wasn't surprised.

The wet-maned farmpony turned her emerald eyes on Rainbow Dash with a smirk. “Got to admit, RD, I figured you for one of them pegasi who're afraid of swimming,” said Applejack casually. She kicked off and started propelling herself through the water with her hooves as Rainbow shot her a look.

“What d'you mean? You've seen me swim loads of times!”

“Actually, I haven't,” Applejack said matter-of-factly. “Only time I've seen you in water deep enough to swim in, you were waving your hooves all over the place in a panic.”

Rainbow didn't have to think hard to bring up the memory, and she rolled her eyes when it came back to her. “That was one time. For your information, I'm an awesome swimmer.”

“Sure. If you say so...”

Applejack smirked and turned away to start paddling towards the middle of the lake. Rainbow stuck her tongue out defiantly, before flipping over to lay on her back atop the water's surface with her wings spread at her sides. “...I'm not afraid of anything,” she muttered, almost on reflex, as she looked up towards the sky, eyes half-squinting to shield them from the sunlight.

“Well, that's a load of hooey,” said Applejack shortly.

Rainbow furrowed her brow and turned her head to watch Applejack paddling by. The other mare wasn't looking at her, but it had sure sounded like an accusation...

“Everypony's afraid of something,” Applejack elaborated. “I reckon even you've got something that scares you.”

“Nope,” said Rainbow, closing her eyes. It was true—she couldn't remember anything that had really scared her recently. Equestria wasn't exactly a very scary place, outside of the Everfree Forest, at least. And even that wasn't scary at all when you had friends watching your back.

“Really?” said Applejack. “So, you ain't afraid of snakes, ghosts, clowns... nothing? I find that a bit hard to believe.”

Rainbow gave a casual grunt. “Guess I'm just the bravest pony in Equestria... as well as the most awesome.”

Applejack chuckled at that. “Guess you must be,” she muttered. “Well then, I guess you ain't afraid of getting off your flank and swimming a few lengths with me, hmm?”

Their swim lasted the better part of an hour before its novelty started to wear off and the touch of the water became more itchy than comfortable. They raced the last length to the shore and clambered out of the lake together, stepping up onto the warm grass.

Rainbow found herself frowning in thought as she rolled her neck. It'd been a pretty cool hour, of course, but now it was over, and Rainbow realised that she had absolutely no idea as to what they were going to do next. She glanced over at Applejack, searching for an answer, only to be met by a unexpectedly stunning sight.

Applejack was sat back on her haunches, wringing her hat with her hooves. Her mane and tail still clutched, in places, to her coat, the wetness of which caught the sunlight at just the right angle to make it shine. On top of all of that, the Sun's heat beating down on Applejack had already started to dry out the farmpony's damp coat, so steam had begun to rise in a cloud around her.

She caught Rainbow looking and gave a little, sheepish smile as she adjusted the hat atop her head, hiding her eyes. “What're ya looking at?” she asked quietly.

Rainbow shook her head hurriedly. “N-nothing!” she said, turning to look idly out over the plains that rolled away from Ponyville, towards Canterlot. She could feel Applejack's eyes on her, and her own cheeks heating up. She gulped.

Stay cool, Dash, she told herself. It wasn't like she'd never been caught staring at Applejack before—when the farmpony wore her hair down or when she was working out in the orchards, all sweaty-looking. But somehow this felt different. Weirder, warmer and a whole lot more embarrassing.

'Whose stupid idea was this date thing, anyway?'

Something brushed against her fetlock. Turning, she saw Applejack standing beside her with a questioning smile on her lips. Rainbow opened her mouth to say something, only to close it again a second later and shake her head, which she hoped would let Applejack know that she was okay.

Applejack stared for only a little longer before looking up the sky, apparently dismissing it. “Sun's still out for a good while,” she said. “Reckon we should take a walk to dry off?”

Rainbow, suddenly becoming aware of the wet strands of hair that hung down over her face, brushed them aside and nodded, grateful for the change of subject. “Yeah, not like we've got a towel,” she granted. “And my wings are too wet to fly.”

Applejack smiled at her. “The park, then?”

“You're kidding me!” cried Rainbow Dash, giving Applejack a dramatised look of shock as they walked along the trail leading through Ponyville Park. “How can you have never seen 'Of Mares and Magic'?!”

Applejack gave an indifferent eye shrug. “Like I said, no theatre in Ponyville. Only play I ever saw—'cept from in school, of course—was with my aunt and uncle when I went to stay in Manehattan. Don't rightly remember what it was called, but it didn't make a shake of sense and I was bored stiff through the whole darn thing—” She rolled her neck idly. “—Not exactly much incentive for me to go back and try again.”

Rainbow shook her head. “That's crazy! You can't just not see 'Of Mares and Magic'!” She gave it a moment of thought before nodding to herself. “I'm taking you to see it.”

“Are ya, now?” said Applejack amusedly. “You reckon we've got enough time for that today?”

“Nah, we'll have to do it next time we're in Canterlot or something,” said Rainbow.

Applejack smirked. “Assuming I think you deserve another date after this 'trial' thing.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes, though she couldn't help but smirk a little herself. “Tch, whatever.”

Their walk took them under the boughs of trees and past the occasional gathering of little critters out enjoying the sunlight, which had gotten just a little gentler by now. There were a bunch of other ponies about too, taking cover in the shade, but most of them were too busy with their own conversations to notice the two steamy mares strolling through the park with their manes in a mess. Well, most of the fillies, at least.

As they approached the fountain near the centre of the park, Rainbow caught sight of a familiar face. Rarity was coming in the opposite direction, idly searching through her saddlebags as she walked, so she hadn't seen them yet. Sensing an opportunity for a little gloating, Rainbow smirked and steered towards her, nudging Applejack in the side as she went.

“Hey, Rarity!” Rainbow called out as they drew near.

Rarity looked up with a smile and gave a dainty little 'Oh!' as she caught sight of them. This was going to be great...

Without waiting for approval, Rainbow unfurled her wing, draped it over Applejack and pulled her close. Beyond a quiet yelp of surprise, the farmpony made no objection, and Rainbow found herself smirking more widely as Rarity looked between them both. “Check it out—we're on a date!” Rainbow declared proudly.

Rarity blinked for a moment, but then her face lit up into a smile. “You two? On a date? Why, that's wonderful news, darling!” she said happily. “I didn't know you two were together! When did this happen?”

Rainbow's smirk wavered. Applejack glanced at her sidelong.

“W-well, just yesterday,” said Rainbow, creasing her brow a little. “You know, like we talked about? A... uh—”

“A trial run,” Applejack finished for her.

“A trial run?” Rarity repeated, her eyes lighting up. “How intriguing! How did you ever come up with that idea?”

Rainbow's proud look had fallen into a downright confused expression by now. Was she serious? “B-but... we didn't. You did!” said Rainbow desperately.

Rarity put a hoof to her chest, feigning surprise. “I did? You mean it was something I said that sparked this date of yours?”

Applejack shifted uneasily at Rainbow's side and threw her a seriously questioning look. For her part, Rainbow was starting to feel uncomfortably hot...

“D-don't play dumb, Rarity!” she said, a little louder than she'd intended. “This whole thing was your idea! Remember? The bet?”

“Darling, I assure you that I have no idea what you're talking about,” said Rarity with a little shake of her head. Then she smiled. “Oh, but how tactless of me! Here I am, bombarding you with questions, when you clearly have a date to finish. Not to worry, I'll get out of your hair.”

Rainbow stammered as the fashionista started walking past.

“Enjoy the rest of your day, you two!” Rarity bade them, before disappearing from sight.

Rainbow didn't turn her head to follow her. She just stared blankly ahead, moving her tongue and lips in a vain attempt to try and make sense of what had just happened. Not only had Rarity just denied all knowledge of the bet, but she'd done it right in front of Applejack...

Remembering the farmpony at her side, Rainbow cast a glance her way. Applejack was looking back at her with an eyebrow half-raised and a smile tugging at her lips.

“Something you ought to tell me, sugarcube?”

Rainbow shook her head emphatically and jumped backwards, hurriedly snapping her wing from around Applejack. “N-no! She's lying! It's a prank or something!” she cried. “I swear this was her idea, just like I told you!”

The usually-cool pegasus' cheeks were burning hot—partly with anger towards Rarity, but mostly with embarrassment. The sound of Applejack's tinkling chuckles only made it worse.

“C'mon now, RD, drop the act,” she said lightly. “I mean, it was really a weak story to begin with, wasn't it?”

Rainbow's jaw dropped. “What story?! Don't tell me you believe her!”

Applejack chuckled again. “Alright, let me tell ya what I think... Y'all got a little carried away with the spirit of the season and wanted to ask me out on a date—” Rainbow made to object, but Applejack held up a hoof and continued. “—But after all that yapping ya did about how it wouldn't work 'tween us, you were too proud to go back on your word. So you made up this story—”

“No way!” said Rainbow, stomping the ground in exasperation. “That's totally backwards! I wouldn't do that!”

“Settle down, sugarcube, I ain't mad at you for a little white lie—”

“I'm not lying!” Rainbow snapped.

Applejack's smile fell a little as she drew back from the near-yell that had escaped Rainbow's lips. For her part, Rainbow had just become aware of how fast her heart was hammering, and how heavy her breathing was getting. But she couldn't calm down, she had to make Applejack understand!

“It's true, AJ! I don't know what in the hoof is up with Rarity, but we made that bet! This was her idea, not mine!”


Rainbow's wings unfurled of their own accord as the pegasus practically growled at Applejack. “No! I swear, the only reason I asked you out yesterday was because Rarity promised! If I knew she was going to pull something like this and go back on her word, I never would've done it!”

A silence fell between them in the wake of the words, broken only by Rainbow's heavy breaths. Only now, when the hot-headed haze had softened a little, did she see the look Applejack was giving her.

The farmpony wasn't smiling at her mockingly any longer. Nor was she gawping in shock. Instead, she wore what could only be described as a look of hurt—or, at least, as close to being hurt as Rainbow had ever seen her...

Rainbow suddenly felt sick to her stomach.

“I... A... Th-that didn't come out right,” she managed, though the words sounded cold and empty, even to her. She tried to step forwards and give Applejack some kind of reassuring gesture, but her hooves were rooted in place.

“...Is that right?” said Applejack quietly, turning her head and looking down at the ground.

Rainbow stammered. “W-well, I mean... sort of. But not totally—I didn't mean to for it to sound like that...”

“Uh huh,” Applejack grunted. As she closed her eyes, a dark shadow seemed to play across her face, which even Rainbow had to admit was a little scary...

“...AJ?” she tried, biting her lip.

A second later, Applejack shook her head and looked up with the most forced smile that she'd ever given to anypony. “It's fine. No big deal. You just caught me off guard, is all.”

Rainbow mouthed wordlessly, lost as to how she was supposed to take it back. “...I—”

“Sorry to be a sour apple, Rainbow, but I've just remembered a couple of chores I forgot to do this morning,” said Applejack, emotionless. “We'll have to cut this date short... Sorry.”

Just like that, she turned her back on Rainbow Dash and started sauntering off down the trail leading towards Sweet Apple Acres, her still-damp tail dragging along behind her.

Rainbow desperately reached out a hoof and opened her mouth to call her back, but still no words came out. It was like she'd lost her voice... but even if she could speak, she wouldn't know what to say. Her mind was completely blank.

The moment came and went. Applejack disappeared as the trail turned a corner around a copse of trees, and Rainbow was left alone in the park.

“Stupid Rarity!” snarled Rainbow, kicking her hoofball across the room, where it lodged in the cloud-wall opposite with an unsatisfying 'poof'. Tank's eyes followed her from his basket as she stormed about the bedroom in a particularly destructive huff that had started the moment she'd gotten home.

“Who the hay does she think she is? Messing with ponies' feelings! That's not a prank, that's just... just—” She shot a look over at Tank. The tortoise blinked sluggishly in response. “—Exactly!” cried Rainbow. “I mean, of all the stupid things to do, why would somepony—Whoa!”

Tripping over something she hadn't even seen in her rage, Rainbow toppled over forwards and hit her chin on the mercifully soft windowsill. As she groaned and made to push herself upright again, she caught an awakening breath of the evening air and paused when her eyes settled upon the familiar structure in the distance.

Sweet Apple Acres... It was too far away to tell whether anypony was working down there, but she couldn't help but picture Applejack slouching through her orchards with a solemn frown on her face. The very thought pulled Rainbow's attention away from her anger and right back to her gloominess.

“...Ah, what'd I do, Tank?” she groaned, closing her eyes. “Rarity's not the only one being stupid. I mean, what was I thinking—yelling at Applejack like that?”

She idly ground her chin against the windowsill, for all the good it did to soothe her... It was pretty bad for her to have flipped out in the middle of a public park, but what really pained her was that look Applejack gave her. She couldn't hold back a cringe as the image made its way to the forefront of her mind.

Something heavy touched down on her back. She craned open an eye and turned her head as far as she could, just enough to make out the eyes of her pet tortoise looking back at her in what was clearly meant as a comforting gesture. Not that she deserved it.

“Ugh, thanks buddy,” Rainbow groaned, turning to look out of the window again. She stared longingly towards the farm and gave a lop-sided fake smile. “Hey, at least I won the bet, right?”

Her cold laugh died in her throat, giving way to a sigh. She didn't give a damn about some stupid bet—even seeing Rarity knee-deep in pig muck wasn't worth this. It hurt twice as much knowing that she'd actually been enjoying her date with Applejack, just as she did the day before. She probably would've had fun tomorrow too, but there wasn't much chance of that now...

Tank ground one of his hoof-things into Rainbow's back, making the pegasus' eye twitch at the sharp pain. So, that was it, was it? She was just going to leave it at that and let Rarity win? Or... not win... whatever. The whole thing was backwards anyway.

'The truth is,' Rainbow found herself thinking, 'I'd rather let her win than miss out on another shot with Applejack...'

That thought didn't so much as snap her back to her senses as it sparked a fire in her chest. She shot to her hooves so quickly that it sent Tank soaring across the room, where he landed safely atop Rainbow's bed.

“You're right, Tank!” she said determinedly, drawing herself up and turning to face the upside-down tortoise. “I'm not gonna sit here, feeling sorry for myself! Even if it totally, absolutely could never work in a million years, I'm gonna go back to that farm tomorrow and take her out on another date!”

There was a short pause, then she turned towards the window again as an unstoppable smile made its way onto her face. Her eyes settled upon Sweet Apple Acres and, for what felt like the first time, she wanted it to work...

And, even if it was only for one, single day before everything went back to normal, she was going to make it work.