When They Found Common Ground

by Craine

Act One

It wasn’t spying. Not really.

Spying involves breaking and entering. Spying involves sifting through one’s personal information with which the spy had no business. In no way was staring through an uncovered window, watching the two unsuspecting ponies behind that window, considered spying.

Now, if Twilight Sparkle actually believed that, she’d feel a little better about it. Maybe.

The whole thing was ridiculous. More than once, Twilight questioned why she’d allowed the pink pony beside her to talk her into this. More over, and perhaps more shamefully, Twilight questioned why she couldn’t look away, or what exactly she was looking for.

Especially since she knew the answers to all those questions.

“You see that, Twilight?” Pinkie Pie asked, spying, no, observing her two friends from outside Carousel Boutique. “What’d I tell you? Totally in love!”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “I see Rarity ranting and pacing, and Applejack just standing there,” she said.

Pinkie nodded feverishly. “Uh-huh! And just look at the smile on AJ’s face! I bet she can’t stop thinking about how adorable Rarity is when she’s mad!”

Twilight slowly turned a disinterested stare toward her friend. “Pinkie, AJ always smiles at that. We all smile at that,” she said.

Pinkie sharply turned to the alicorn. “Pfft! Duh! Of course we do, silly. But just… Well, just look at them!”

Twilight did just that with a flat stare. Indeed, Applejack was smiling at a steaming-mad Rarity, who was, indeed, pacing wildly around her workroom with red cheeks. If memory served, these were normally bad signs.

“I mean, come on, Twilight! Of all ponies Rarity could’ve asked to help with her new fashion line, she chose Applejack. Applejack! A pony who couldn’t care less about snooty-patooty dresses! That has to tell you something, right?!”

A deep-seeded stubbornness churned within Twilight. The same stubbornness thought to be dealt with after her first ‘Pinkie Sense’ fiasco. The same stubbornness that growled deeply at evidence that disagreed with her preconceptions.

And that very same evidence was there. Controvertible, but there. Applejack visiting Rarity’s Boutique day after day. The stormy shouting fit Rarity would display before throwing Applejack out of her shop. The fact Applejack always came back, and that Rarity always let her?

“Oh, it tells me something, alright.” Twilight dropped her hooves from the window sill. “It tells me Rarity’s in a tight spot and Applejack is being a good friend. It tells me Rarity is frustrated and doesn’t know how to handle it. That even if Rarity’s old clothing designs are ‘out of style’, and her finances are suffering for it, Applejack is there for her. Just like the rest of us.”

Pinkie turned completely to Twilight, standing on her hind legs. “Exactly! ‘Just like the rest of us!’ But Rarity doesn’t ask if ‘the rest of us’ have plans every afternoon! Rarity doesn’t ask ‘the rest of us’ to help with something we know jack diddly squat about!” Pinkie declared.

Twilight considered her friend with a lifted brow and a hoof to her chin. “Well… That does seem a little odd.”

“Odd and totally romantic!” Pinkie leaped off her hind hooves and crashed back-first into the grass, rolling and swooning like a gossipy school-filly. “They’re perfect for each other!”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Oh, Pinkie, you’re jumping to conclusions. Rarity must’ve chosen Applejack because of that whole ‘Cutie-mark mishap’,” she said. “Yeah. She needed somepony close to her that knew a thing or two about fashion—”

In that instant, Twilight’s entire world was swallowed by bright pink and blinding blue eyes.

“Are we on the same planet?!” Pinkie screeched. “Those dresses AJ made were… Even I wouldn’t wear those things, Twilight!”

For a moment, Twilight recalled boxes, gift wrap, flippers and snorkels worn in public. But Twilight decided, for the sake of digression, not to point out Pinkie’s fashion sense.

“Besides, “Twilight continued, undeterred, “AJ gives terrific advice. I bet that’s why Rarity always asks for her help.”

Pinkie settled back on all fours. “But, Twilight, you give terrific advice!” she protested.

Twilight turned away from Carousel Boutique. “Yes, but you don’t see me knitting dresses in my free time,” she said.

Pinkie crumbled to the ground on her belly, squeezing her arms around one of Twilight’s hind legs. “But… But!”

“I’m sorry, Pinkie,” Twilight limped away, dragging the sniveling earth pony with her, “but no matter how this looks, AJ and Rarity are, and always have been, in a platonic relationship.”

Pinkie squeezed tighter. “I don’t know what that is, but it sure as hay doesn’t sound romantic!”

Just as Twilight’s horn glowed, ready to tear Pinkie away from her, a door slammed open, followed by the throaty laughter of Ponyville’s very own apple farmer, Applejack. Rarity’s sharp tone quickly followed. Before Twilight could even register her own actions, she found herself hiding behind the Boutique’s corner, along with Pinkie Pie.

Twilight ignored the pit in her gut, and the voice in her head that compared her to the dirt she walked on. It was right to ignore that voice. Because it wasn’t spying. Not really.

“That’s right! Get out, and stay out!” Rarity shouted. “You’ve got some nerve, you know that?! Coming into my home, insulting my dresses! You… you dusty old thing, you!”

Applejack simply walked ahead, wearing the same confident smile that reddened the unicorn’s face. “Well, it was right swell to see you too, Rarity. Considerin’…”

Rarity leaped to the foot of her door, and a single strand of her mane came undone. “Oh, don’t try to make me the bad pony, Applejack! Trying on those dresses was your idea! Making those dresses was your idea!”

Applejack walked onward and laughed. “It sure was, Sugarcube. It sure was.”

Rarity shook. She shook so much, one disheveled strand of mane became many. Then, as though it had never happened, Rarity’s face fell with exhaustion and defeat, staring at the retreating farmer with a half-lidded glare.

Rarity eyes flapped wide open and she gasped. “You are coming by tomorrow afternoon, aren’t you Applejack?” Whether she realized it or not, Rarity sounded desperate. Almost pathetic, really.

Applejack turned back and tipped her brown hat, her smile infinitely more genuine. “Same time as always,” she said just loud enough to be heard.

Rarity released a breath she may or may not have known she held and smiled. “Oh… Oh, thank you.” Rarity shook her head and scrunched her brows together. “Uh, er, see to it that you’re punctual next time! Canterlot clients wait for nopony!”

Applejack didn’t respond that time. To far away, perhaps. But Rarity stayed her hoof and watched until the farmer disappeared into town.

“And stop smiling, blast it…” the unicorn muttered.

Rarity was no longer upset. That much was obvious, but her face was still red, a deeper shade than before. And to two shameless spies, that red was there for an entirely different reason. Rarity retreated back inside, and the moment the door shut, Pinkie cheered and did cartwheels on the grass. And Twilight?

Twilight just sat there behind that corner, staring ahead with her jaw hanging open. “What just…? I don’t even… Did they just…?”

A pair of pink hooves clamped Twilight’s cheeks, and her head was turned toward a smile much, much too wide.

“Totally! In! Love!” Pinkie said.

Twilight sputtered, but broke away from Pinkie’s grip. “Uh, d-don’t be ridiculous, Pinkie. Rarity just… I mean, Applejack is… Well, uh…”

Twilight’s eyes fell blank, and every reason to disagree with Pinkie crumbled like a building without support beams.

Pinkie stepped closer. “We’ve got to help them, Twilight!” she declared.

“Come again?” Twilight asked flatly.

Pinkie squealed and leaped on Twilight’s back, ignoring the yelp and buckled knees. “Isn’t it obvious?! No big hug? No smooch goodbye? Not even a quick nuzzle?! These ponies are so in love, they can’t even show it!”

“Ngh! Pinkie What are you—”

“Think about it, Twilight! Rarity’s practically galloped all over Equestria looking for her rock! You know, her knight in shining armor? And finally—finally—her prayers have been answered!” Pinkie cheered.

Twilight knees buckled. “But Applejack is—”

“Totally her knight! And her rock! She came to the rescue when Rarity needed somepony the most! And we’re gonna make them see that!”


“Though, I probably shouldn’t talk to Rarity about this sort of thing. She always starts talking about ‘romance novels’ I’ve never read. But Applejack? Now that’s a mare I can convince! We get each other, you know?”

“Guh! Pinkie, if you could just sit down for a moment and think—”

Pinkie sat on Twilight’s back, and those knees buckled again. “Hmm… I’m sure Rarity isn’t too flustered for another visit, Twilight! Hint-hint, wink-wink, nudge-nudge!”

Twilight’s knees buckled more. “Pinkie! I really, really don’t like where you’re going with—”She finally collapsed, entangled in a pony heap. “You’re not going to let this go… Are you?” she said.

“Applejack and Rarity: Couple Extraordinaire! Love is in the air, Twilight!” Pinkie scrambled to her hooves and lifted a glaring Twilight to her own. “Can you smell it?!”

“No, does it smell like a restraining order?” Twilight grumbled.

“Nah. More like sugar and oats. Onward!

And with that, Pinkie zipped off into a direction that made Twilight pray for Applejack’s sake. She lifted herself up and grumbled how ridiculous the pink pony’s assertions were. ‘Totally in love’... Impossible.

But that display from earlier…

“Ah! Confound that pony!” Twilight said with hooves to her temples.

The door to Carousel Boutique flew open, and Twilight instinctively hid behind the corner. Rarity emerged with a brisk trot, heading in a direction that reminded Twilight of her last hooficure.

“Going to need double spa-time after today,” Rarity said to herself.

And as much as Twilight wanted to shove her own head in wet concrete for thinking it, more than one opportunity presented itself. But Twilight took the opportunity that mattered, the one that shined her coat and styled her mane.

And perhaps, maybe, possibly, she’d ask Rarity a few questions.


It wasn’t deception. Not really.

Deception preys on a pony’s gullibility for personal gain. Deception is the wool pulled over the eyes, the dagger sharpened behind the back, the prowler cloaked in the dead of night, eyeing the expensive house and all the goods inside.

Twilight Sparkle liked to think she was above deception.

It was a simple spa date and nothing more. Though she rarely visited, Twilight did appreciate a little treat here and there. For those weeks when her coat needed an extra gloss, or when her hooves needed an extra shine, Twilight joined Rarity for a spa trip.

Yes, wearing the spa robe felt like grime on her flesh. Yes, it was a little harder than usual to relax the muscles kneaded by a frustrated masseuse. Yes, convincing herself that she wasn’t there to get a confession out of Rarity was killing her slowly.

But that was fine. Perfectly fine. Because Twilight was there for herself and, in no way, was there under Pinkie’s volition. Of course, Twilight was much more convincing before she’d asked the million-bit question.

Rarity shot her fellow unicorn a suspicious glare, and for the third time, the hot steam room felt just a little too hot, and a little too steamy for Twilight.

“That’s very odd of you to ask, Twilight,” Rarity said, her glare receding a bit. “I thought it was quite clear why Applejack is helping me.”

Twilight adjusted the towel wrapped around her mane and shifted where she lay, almost believing the steam would solder her coat to the bench. “Oh, o-of course! I know that. I-I mean she is the most dependable pony in Ponyville. Haven’t forgotten. Nope, not me!” Even as it appeared, Twilight wished she could erase her ridiculous smile.

Rarity’s stern look softened with concern. “Twilight? Are you alright, darling? Is it getting too steamy in here?” she asked.

“What? Why?!” Twilight shot a hoof to her lips. “I mean, why do you ask?”

Rarity furrowed her brow. “You’ve been acting peculiar ever since you accompanied me this evening. And believe me; these days I’m more than acquainted with stress but…” Rarity’s face softened again. “Is everything well, dear? Your royal duties aren’t getting to you again, are they?”

Twilight’s crooked smile dropped, and her wings twitched all on their own. She stared down at the feathery limbs as though it were the first time.

“Oh no. Not at all. In fact,” Twilight gave a thoughtful pause, “I’m relieved Princess Celestia gave me the option to stay in Ponyville.”

“I’m sure, darling, “Rarity said with a breezy smile. “As are the rest of us.”

‘The rest of us’. For reasons she wished weren’t so obvious, Twilight mentally cursed a certain pink mare. Loudly. So loudly, she couldn’t help but frown. Rarity saw that frown and pouted.

“Oh. Was it something I said?”

Rarity’s ill tone threw Twilight from her muse. “What? No, no. Just… thinking is all,” she said.

Indeed, Twilight was thinking. And if Twilight didn’t make the most from this spa visit, if she didn’t get exactly what she came for, she’d be thinking about it for a very, very long time. A distraction is what it would be. Reading would be a chore. Friendship reports would be sloppy and unrefined.

That, and she’d never hear the end of it from Pinkie.

Not that Twilight was there because of Pinkie or her crazy plan, and neglected to tell Rarity. Of course not. That would be deceptive. Twilight Sparkle was not deceptive.

“We’re worried about you Rarity,” Twilight said, now oblivious to the steam that slicked her coat. “I suspect Applejack even more so.”

And there it was again: that suspicious glare. For some inexplicable reason, Twilight’s doubts and fears melted with the steam, and she returned Rarity’s glare with a solid poker face.

“You should be proud to have her, you know,” Twilight said.

Yet again, Rarity’s glare receded, this time succumbing to a tiny smile and averted eyes. “She has helped me more than I’ve credited her,” she said.

“Uh-huh?” Twilight’s lip twitched at the eagerness in her own voice.

Rarity didn’t seem to notice, and instead lifted her nose with a huff. “Doesn’t give her an excuse to visit me all dirty and sweaty, though. I swear she does it on purpose these days.”

“Oh?” Twilight’s lips twitched again, this time resisting a smile.

“Filthy pony,” Rarity said, frowning and tapping her hoof on tile. “Tracking mud on my carpet. She knows I can’t afford a new one!”

Twilight smiled, and before she could gauge the consequences of her actions, she said, “Could’ve fooled me. You know, since you could afford a spa trip.”

Rarity gawked at her smirking friend, but again averted her eyes and blushed. “Well she… she did offer to pay for it. And I’ve worked so hard today, I couldn’t possibly decline,” she said.

Honestly, Twilight had suspected as much, yet her eyes beamed as bright as the sun. “Wow. That’s awful generous of her—”

“But that still gave her no right to insult my dresses!” Rarity snapped. “Brutish, inconsiderate… They may not be ‘in’ these days, but… Oh, what does she know anyway?!”

Twilight pressed her hooves down to keep from scraping them together. And suddenly, despite the steam billowing into the room, Twilight’s lips dried out.

“If memory serves, she did inspire a new style in Canterlot,” Twilight said, resisting a lick of her lips. “'Country Charm’, I think it was.”

Rarity frowned. “Yes, but it was my design from the start! Curse that Hoity Toity and his ridiculous love for rustic class. Curse him, I say!”

Twilight’s ear flicked at the new piece of information. “Hoity Toity? The fashion representative in Canterlot?”

Rarity gave her friend a look. “I’ve never told you?” she asked. Twilight shook her head and Rarity sighed. “Of course. I imagine you were off on royal business at the time.”

Twilight brought a hoof to her lips, a worried look on her face. “O-oh. I don’t want to ruin your spa-time. Let’s change the subject.” she said.

“If, um… if it wouldn’t be terribly demanding of me, yes we should. Speaking of that day still ruffles the fur.”

Like a mouse in a trap.

“You don’t say. And here I thought only Applejack could do that,” Twilight said.

Beyond all logic, despite being soaked from steam and sweat, Rarity’s fur ruffled. “Oh, don’t get me started. I’ve grown weary of that dirty mare and her stupid little smirk. I amaze myself with what I put up with, you know,” she replied.

By now Twilight’s lip had loosened, and she was too late to acknowledge it. “I hadn’t noticed. What with her visiting you every day.”

Twilight’s breath caught in her throat, and she received the brunt of another suspicious glare. Twenty times more suspicious, and a hundred times glarier.

“What exactly are you implying, Twilight?” Rarity iced her glare with a squint.

At that moment, Twilight finally remembered she was in a steam room, and remembered how hard it was to breath in that steam room.

 “What? N-nothing, it’s just… Well, you two have spent a great deal of time together. I figured she’d have grown on you,” Twilight said.

Rarity squinted harder. “Grown on me, how, Twilight?” she asked.

If Twilight listened through the hiss of steam, she might’ve heard Rarity grit her teeth. “Hmm, no way in particular. Just the usual—hah, hah, hah. Hah.”

“The ‘usual’, darling?”

By now, Twilight hoped and prayed that the steam caused the warmth in her cheeks. Because, in no way, was Twilight allowed to blush right then. The timing was too unfair.

“Are… are you two...?”

“We most certainly are not!” Rarity shot to her hooves, tensing her legs to keep steady on slippery tile. “Is that why you’re here?! To accuse me of—Heaven forbid—fraternizing?!”

Twilight stood as well. “Wait Rarity! I-I’m sorry! I wasn’t accusing you! Well, I didn’t mean to accuse you, but—no, what I mean is…”

Rarity released a long and heavy breath. “No. It’s… quite alright, Twilight,” she said. “I can see how one would assume such, eh… things. And I’ve heard ponies talk. Small town, and all that. But I assure you, friendship is the most of it.”

Twilight smiled a tiny smile, unsure whether to accept Rarity’s confidence, or shrink away from it. More so when Rarity chuckled.

“Celestia knows it wouldn’t work anyway,” Rarity began with a turn toward the foggy glass door. “We’re much too different. I’ve read about oddball couples in many novels, but this? She and I? The farmer and the fashionista? Preposterous.”

Rarity pushed through the door, exhausting clouds of steam, and Twilight followed.

“I mean, really. As it stands, that mare has only an inkling of fashion ever since walking a mile in my horseshoes. Even if she does bring new perspective to the table, it’s just not her calling. She belongs on her farm, with her family,” Rarity said.

The unicorns were escorted to the hot tub to soak all the sweat from their coats.

“Oh sure, she’s a wonderful consultant for all things ‘country’, and her ideas have put my Boutique back on the radar, but…”

Twilight sank limply into the hot cleansing water, staring at Rarity intently. “But?” she pried.

Rarity slapped her hooves into the water. “But she’s just so messy! And rude! She teases me all the time, she doesn’t take anything seriously, she has a stupid little quip for everything, she doesn’t respect my creativity, and she thinks I like it when she soils my Boutique with her rugged hooves, and her sweaty coat, and her thick muscles, and—is this water hotter than usual?”

Twilight smiled.

She could’ve answered Rarity. She could’ve very well agreed that ‘hot water’ put the red on Rarity’s face. But that wouldn’t be fair. That would be deceptive. And Twilight was anything but.

Pinkie Pie was going to love this.


It wasn’t boorishness. Not really

When are you putting the ring on her hoof?!

“What in tarnation?!”

It was boorishness. Undeniable, shameless, self-absorbed boorishness. Pinkie Pie didn’t seem to care in the least. It was a simple honest question, shouted with such brevity and finesse, Applejack should’ve been proud. Or, at least as proud as somepony on the verge of a stroke.

“Good gravy, girl!” Applejack shouted. “Y’all scared the dog mess outta me!”

That was far from a lie, having narrowly avoided a tumble down the stairs of her apple cellar. Applejack hastily shut the cellar-doors and turned to her unexpected guest.

“What’s the big deal anyw—”

Pinkie took Applejack’s face in her hooves. “Oh, Applejack, you don’t have to hide it from me!” Pinkie chirped. “That’s why Auntie Pinkie Pie is here! To put that frazzled totally-in-love mind at ease!”

“Totally in…” Applejack jerked out of Pinkie’s grip and glared. “Hold on a se—”

Pinkie latched an arm around her friend’s neck. “It must be stressful, being so in love with a pony you can’t even see straight. But it always helps to talk about it!” Pinkie said.

“Now wait just a hay-pickin’ minu—”

Pinkie pressed her nose against Applejack’s. “So tell me the story, Applejack! Tell me how you and Rarity found each other after all this time! Tell me how you two hit it off like the furious hot-blooded mares you are!”

Applejack pushed Pinkie away, holding her at leg’s-reach. “Me and who, now?! Pinkie, what the—”

“Better idea! You can tell me why you haven’t tackled her down, bent her over a table and—”

“Pinkamena. Diane. Pie.”

And just like that, Pinkie’s ears fell flat by her head, her sentence falling dead on her tongue, and her eyes helplessly trapped by the farmer’s glare.

“Sit.” Applejack commanded.

Pinkie’s rump hit the dirt with a dusty *plop*

“Now…” Applejack locked the cellar door and turned toward her fellow earth pony. “What’s all this about me and Rarity?”

For an impossibly long moment, Applejack held the crumbling hope that Pinkie wouldn’t answer her. Instead, Pinkie grew excited again.

“Has a nice ring to it, huh?” Pinkie said, her ears pointing up again. “'Applejack and Rarity'. Great catch, girlfriend!”

“Of all the… Now why in the world would you think we’d—” Applejack’s eyes halved with a contemplative glare. “Ah.”

Pinkie, significantly calmer than she would have, sprung back to her hooves and grinned. “I told you, you don’t have to hide it from me!” she said.

Applejack hung her head and sighed. All too soon, the effects of laborious hours tumbled down on Applejack like a thousand bricks, and she walked toward the farmhouse with a bouncing Pinkie Pie on tow.

“I think it’s romantic how hopelessly in love you two are! Why, I bet Rarity’s pacing in her Boutique right now, racking her brains on how to charm you! Not that she hasn’t already, ‘cause, like, how could you not be charmed, being invited to her place every afternoon! Helping her out with her clothes, giving her advice, fitting for her, staring at her lips—”

“We’re not in love, Pinkie.”

“Ooh! Have you gone on a date yet? ‘Cause I know this sweet little place in Manehatten—you know, when you get passed all the stalkers, and mobs, and—wait… What?”

She could hear it. Even as she walked away from it, trying with all her might not to look back, Applejack could hear something break in Pinkie’s voice. Pinkie stopped bouncing, and against everything that demanded she leave the party animal behind, Applejack stopped walking.

Then, Applejack made her biggest mistake and turned to her friend.

“We’re not in love,” Applejack repeated.

The curls in Pinkie’s mane sagged like flowers in a rain storm, and Applejack winced. “What… what do you mean? I don’t…”

Of course Applejack had to spell it out. “Rarity and I are friends, Pinkie. That’s it,” she said as sternly as she could muster. “Yeah, we’ve spent a lotta time together, but, heck, all of Ponyville knows why.”

Pinkie’s ears shot up again. “Exactly! And out of every pony Rarity could ask—”An orange hoof pressed against Pinkie’s lips.

“Pinkie, you know why she asked for my help, “Applejack said, her sternness held strong. “After that Hoity Toity fella saw the Grand Galloping Gala dress Rarity made for me, every highfalutin pony from Canterlot to Trottingham had ‘Country’ on the brain. For a while. If he hadn’t shown up at her doorstep, I’d be the last pony she’d ask.”

Pinkie sprung to her hooves again, her eyes glimmering with defiance. “That’s not true, Applejack! There are plenty of country ponies with good taste! I’d bet my favorite hairbrush Rarity never even looked in their direction!”

Between the vein beating behind her forehead, and the thought of Pinkie Pie actually using a hairbrush, Applejack realized just how tired she really was. She turned away from the insistent party mare and walked.

And, of course, Pinkie followed.

“Look, Pinkie,” Applejack began with a sharper tone, “I don’t know why you’re so set on this—and I’m downright scared to find out—but ya heard it straight from the horse’s mouth; Rarity and I are friends.”

Applejack’s tone brokered no argument whatsoever. It was a solid well-patented skill the farmer was proud of, a polished gavel that adjourned any discussion, and gave ponies the undeniable hint.

“But you can’t be!” Pinkie screeched with wavy hooves.

Applejack sighed.

“What about all the time you two spend together?!”

“A necessary evil.” Applejack winced the second she said that. That wasn’t true. Not really. Not entirely. “I mean… I do need to be there to help her, ya know.”

“Oh, gimme a break! I’ve seen the way you look at her!” Pinkie continued. “And don’t get me started on that smile of yours!”

Applejack walked faster, all but denying the heat in her cheeks. “You know how fun it is to mess with that mare,” she defended. “I ain’t doin’ nothing different than usual.”

Pinkie scoffed. “Well, that doesn’t stop you from going to her shop all dirty and sweaty. You never used to do that!”

Applejack stopped walking, turned around, opened her mouth, thought better of it, and just turned back.

Pinkie Pie was now in Applejack’s path, her eyes glistening so much, she seemed on the verge of tears. “But-but-but Rarity could’ve picked anypony else for fashion advice! I bet there’s, like, a bajillion ponies who’d kill to be in your position! Hay, even Fluttershy’s got an eye for color-schemes!”

By now, Applejack realized her teeth were clenched. With a deep breath and relaxed jaw, she said, “Most ponies wouldn’t do it for free. And Fluttershy? Have you seen that girl knit a sweater?”

Pinkie snorted. “Well, duh! But come on, she can’t be any worse than y—”

Pinkie shoved her hooves into her mouth and trembled beneath AJ’s dejected glare. Silence loomed over the two ponies like a ceiling of nooses until Applejack broke it.

“Pinkie,” she asserted her end-all-argument tone again, “Rarity and I are friends, ya hear? She asked for help and I answered. Nothin’ more, nothin’ less,” she said.

Finally, by the grace of Celestia, Pinkie stopped following Applejack just as the farmhouse came into view. “But… I was so sure,” Pinkie whispered.

There wasn’t a cell in Applejack’s body that wanted to leave Pinkie there. In fact, she itched to turn back and apologize, even go so far as to say, ‘For you, I’ll think about it’. But that would be a lie. Applejack didn’t love Rarity…

She winced again; that was a lie too. Heaven knows Applejack loved that mare to pieces, but in no way was she in love with her. Never.

Applejack kept walking and tried not to think about the broken blue eyes that surely followed her to the door.

“Would it really be so bad, Applejack?”

And there it was… a moment of weakness. Applejack stopped just short of the farmhouse door, and shook her head clean of Pinkie’s implications.

“I mean, think about it,” Pinkie continued. “If it wasn’t for you, Rarity would’ve lost her Boutique. Because of you, those flighty-tighty ponies in Canterlot are buying her clothes again. You saved her Applejack.”

Applejack turned to look at Pinkie, and promised herself she’d throw her own face into a wall for being that stupid.

“’Course I did, Sugarcube,” Applejack said. “That’s what caring, platonic, totally-not-in-love friends do for each other.” Pinkie’s ears fell again, and Applejack just couldn’t look at her anymore. “Thanks for the company, Pinkie. It’s been, uh… It’s been somethin’.”

With the farmhouse door slammed just a little too hard, Applejack left Pinkie to her muses. She pressed her tight back against the door and slid to the ground. Her eyes lifted, fighting the coming migraine and the whirlwind of jumbled thoughts.

As the sunset shimmered behind lush mountains, and spilled orange in the sky, Applejack wondered if she’d sleep at all that night. Worse, she wondered if she’d ever stop thinking about Pinkie’s words.

For the first time in a very long time, ‘seeing Rarity’ was suddenly topped at Applejack’s list of hated things.


With a start, Rarity woke up with a splitting headache.

A whole list of reasons came to mind; from bumping her head on the front door when she returned home the previous evening, to twisting beneath her ivory sheets, wondering, pondering, seething.

Rarity groaned at the grating buzz of her alarm clock, and wondered, not for the first time, if she could afford a new one. Rarity slapped a hoof onto the clock and threw it against her closet door with a satisfying *crash*.

Just another thing to blame Twilight Sparkle for. It was all her fault, after all.

Rarity sat up with a grimace, the sheets sliding off her ruffled mane. The nerve. The nerve of that Twilight Sparkle to say something so untrue. Rarity had already told Twilight where she and Applejack stood. And what did Twilight respond with?

“You’re totally in love with her. You know that, right?”

A blind accusation! Rarity couldn’t even complete her spa treatment, she was so flustered. That was yesterday. And with her coat still caked with dried sweat, Rarity was more than sure she needed another spa treatment. With a silent curse, Rarity dragged herself out of bed, almost too frightened to look at herself in her vanity’s mirror.

When she did, she swore to the sun and moon she’d make Twilight pay for every hair out of place.

Her morning routine, while usually meticulous and entirely too long, was instead sloppy and rushed. Even after a warm bath, to rid her of all that dried sweat, Rarity was still tired and unfocused. Every second she spent brushing the morning grime from her teeth, Twilight’s words echoed in her head like shouts from Mt. Canterlot. Every brush of her mane woke her up more and more, and she realized just how little she wanted to see Applejack that day.

But it was too late and she knew it; they’d already agreed—as they had many times before—that Applejack would be there that very afternoon when her chores were done. As admirable as it was daunting, Applejack always kept her word.

With grumbles and mutters, Rarity entered her workroom, double-checked her client list, gathered her materials, donned her red-framed glasses, and resumed where she and Applejack left off the previous day. A wavy, southern-belle dress, white as snow, chest-hugging with a bow on the back.

An ugly abomination that should’ve been thrown in a furnace. But this is what the client wanted. This is what would keep her refrigerator full.

More times than she was comfortable to admit, Rarity stopped in front of her glass showcase, and glared at the templates of her new fashion line—the very saviors of her livelihood. She used to scoff at those clothes, used to think so little of them, even after Hoity Toity’s demands.

But no, Rarity wasn’t allowed to think so little of them; Canterlot ponies wanted ‘swanky duds and Stetsons’. Canterlot ponies were going through a ‘country’ phase. Canterlot ponies were a bunch of self-concerned fools that wouldn’t know a fashionable dress if it walked out of their closet, cooked breakfast, and washed their dishes.

In hindsight, Rarity suspected that Fancy Pants played no small part in this. ‘Charmingly rustic’, indeed. Rarity wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry at the irony.

Absurd is what it was. Not the salvation of her fashion career. No. But, rather, who helped her salvage it. The thought of Applejack twisted Rarity’s stomach. In fact, she’d dared to say she hadn’t been so repulsed by that pony since Twilight’s first slumber party.

And that made her even more sick. And distracted. Distractions were no small issue when completing a dress.

It shouldn’t have been this way. Rarity was supposed to be grateful, to smile stupidly at the thought of a true, true friend, to scramble up some way to repay her impossibly large debt to the farmer. Instead, Rarity found every reason to complain, while Twilight’s words resounded in her like a cave of screeching bats.

“How dare she,” Rarity muttered as she snipped a ribbon of fabric.

The more Rarity thought of it, the more suspicious she became. Surely, there was no reason for Twilight’s sudden interest in her personal affairs, even if they were with Applejack. Yet she’d outright accused Rarity of being ‘totally in love’ with that filthy, cocky, no-talent-having, inconsiderate, rugged, powerful, solid, shapely, beast of a mare.

Rarity snipped a thread too short. “Oh, shoot,” she said.

It was all too sudden; Twilight could have intervened weeks ago. But only in recent days, as Applejack started smirking when Rarity got mad, and teasing her when she got a measurement wrong, and insulting her old dresses

Rarity’s horn dimmed, and all her levitated material hit the ground. “There’s no way…” she whispered.

Suddenly, it all made sense. Between them both, Twilight and Applejack’s behaviour was more than a coincidence. It had to be. In fact, Rarity dared to consider…

“Those crooks!” she shouted.

She should have know. She should’ve known Applejack was acting stranger than normal, and why. She should’ve suspected why Pinkie Pie always asked how her afternoons were, and never stopped until she got an answer, or why Twilight insisted on accompanying her yesterday evening.

She should have realized that Applejack had been courting her, and that Twilight and Pinkie helped her.

Fools. Fools, fools, fools, all of them. They thought they could pull the wool over Rarity’s eyes. They thought they could trick Rarity into actually falling for that carefree attitude, unmatched dependability, and those glistening muscles.

“Well, they thought wrong!” Rarity shouted, practically tearing her glasses off. “I won’t do it! I will not be persuaded into something so… so ridiculous!”

Rarity paced like a madpony, connecting dots she couldn’t believe she missed before. Small wonder Applejack leapt at the opportunity to help, that she was the one who suggested those daily visits, that she tried every insulting little thing in the book to get a reaction from Rarity. And they all worked!

And that smirk. That arrogant, no-good, ‘I’ve got you by the ovaries and there’s nothing you can do about it’ smirk. Only now did Rarity understand what it meant. Only now was it clear as the mid-morning sky, that Applejack thought Rarity ‘owed her’. Ludicrous!

Yes, Applejack sacrificed her own time and dignity to keep Rarity out of bankruptcy. And her advice on seasonal colors was nothing to sniff at. And she allowed Rarity to measure every curve of that lean, taut body for fitting purposes--but Rarity owed Applejack nothing! At least, not what that shameless smirk implied.

Surely, Applejack expected Rarity to ‘thank her’ for her services. Surely, it was Applejack’s plan all along to court Rarity at her most vulnerable. Brutish. Underhanded!  

Well, two could play that game, and Rarity was more than adept at it. She’d show Applejack. She show them all! Applejack may’ve thought she had charm, she may’ve thought she could outwit Rarity and barter her love, but Rarity would disprove her in every way when she arrived.

Yes, Rarity would tease her mercilessly, dangling her prized affection before Applejack like a steak before a dog. She’d shove away, but beckon with needing eyes. She’d turn away, disinterested, but temptingly swish her tail aside.

She’d encourage those quips with giggles and hoof-to-hoof contact. And when all was said and done, when Applejack was reduced to a blathering lovestruck idiot, Rarity would respond to her declaration of love… with a one-way trip out the door.

Oh, Applejack would beg, scream, and demand to be let back inside. But Rarity would simply laugh, having forever reminded her, and everypony else, that she was still a forbidden jewel beyond such underhanded tactics. And no smug farmer was going to change that.

Applejack didn’t have a chance.

Suddenly, Rarity realized how little she’d taken care of herself that morning. With her work forgotten, Rarity bolted back to her bathroom and freshened up like no mare had dared to freshen up before. And it took just as long as it should have. Longer, actually.

When Rarity finished, she left her bathroom with a shine so bright, she could light every dark corner in Detrot. Her hair, graced with a little extra curl. Her coat, smoothed with a little extra gloss. Just as she thought she’d reached the pinnacle of perfection, Rarity noticed all the clumps of dust that may or may not have been there before.

Every corner, every window, every groove between the tile: filthy. Filthy as the pony that would enter Carousel Boutique and track even more dust. So Rarity cleaned. She cleaned, and cleaned, and cleaned so much that her steps wobbled from all the disinfectant in the air.

She cleaned so much, she nearly tripped over her own tail when she looked up at her Grandfather Clock. 1:55pm. Applejack would be there in five minutes. In five minutes, the dust Rarity had extinguished would return in kind. In five minutes, Rarity would greet Applejack with a gentle smile instead of a berating glare.

In five minutes, Rarity would play Applejack like a worn violin.

Knocks assaulted her shop’s front door, and Rarity jumped. “Early? That’s…” She cleared her throat and collected herself. “No matter. All the more convenient for me.”

Rarity stepped before the door and fluffed any ruffles from her mane. With a deep breath, a patented smile, and eyelashes prepped for fluttering, Rarity opened to the door to see…

A frowning Applejack? A clean Applejack?

“Hey, Rarity,” Applejack said.

Rarity lifted a brow; even the greeting seemed strange, a huge contrast to the ‘Howdy, Partner!’ Rarity had grown so used to. Then she noticed something equally troubling: Applejack was just standing there, occasionally glancing at the ground with fidgety hooves.

“Y’all don’t mind if I’m early, right?” Applejack asked.

By the time Rarity realized she was staring at her friend, she became certain this was just another tactic. Yes. Of course. Why on earth would an inconsiderate lout like Applejack care whether she was punctual or not?

“I don’t wanna impose or nothing,” Applejack added.

Chivalry? Really? What a pathetic and predictable tactic.

“Oh, Applejack, darling, you know you’re always welcome here.” Rarity kept her voice low, but inviting, with just a pinch of eagerness. “My client’s new dress will never be complete without your touch. Please, do come in.”

Rarity chose to ignore her friend’s worried grimace. In fact, Rarity ignored a lot of things at that moment. AJ’s steps, once always spry and uncaring of the dirt she tracked inside, were careful, clean, and hesitant. Her face, once always lifted with a smile that only hours of labor could grant, was curled with a thoughtful frown.

She’d even removed her beloved hat and set it on the coatrack.

And finally, her eyes, once always peered directly into Rarity’s, daring and taunting, were on everything else in Carousel Boutique except the mare who owned it.

Rarity kicked the door closed and smiled at the challenge.