It had been a week without the farm pony in town, and everypony was excited and anxious as they set up the decorations for the surprise homecoming party. Dash helped hang up various streamers, a smile on her face at the thought of her friend coming home. She couldn’t wait to hear all about the rodeo.
Dash smiled wider as she dreamed of the hours she’d spend in the orchard listening to Applejack’s voice as she carried on and on about all of her ribbons and events. It would be nice for a change have Applejack talk about how awesome she was instead of Dash listening to herself drone on.
“I think Applejack’s coming!” Twilight called peering through the barn door.
Dash swiftly flew up into the hayloft of the barn, her eyes widening with excitement as they turned off the light.
In the darkness, Rainbow imagined her friend walk in, covered in ribbons and carrying a trophy, all the while a smile on her face. She was going to be so happy, and Dash couldn’t wait to make her even more elated with this surprise party.
The barn door opened. Rainbow’s heart skipped a beat.
“SURPRISE!!” The ponies shouted.
“Surprise!” Pinkie shouted late. “Shoot!”
But there was no Applejack there. Just a mailstallion who had a very surprised look on his face.
After taking his letter, the group huddled around Twilight Sparkle as she read aloud.
“Family and friends,
Not coming back to Ponyvile.
Don’t worry, will send money soon.”
Twilight flipped the paper over, then over again.
“That’s all there is.”
The whole barn gasped.
Dash couldn’t believe it. She almost wanted to swoop down and pick up the letter, and read it over and over again.
Applejack wasn’t coming back. That’s what it said.
Rainbow’s mind churned at the thought, something screaming inside her head.
“What do you mean Applejack’s not coming back?” She threw up her hooves, thoroughly perplexed. “She loves Ponyville!”
The rest of the group shouted and protested to the letter. They were all upset, especially AJ’s family.
“Something just dreadful must happened to make her not return!”
Rainbow puzzled over the idea. AJ knew how to care for herself. But then again, she’d never leave her family and friends behind.
As her friends worried at what might have happened to Applejack, Rainbow made up her mind. She wasn’t about to sit there and watch Applejack leave her behind. She was going after her. Friend or… not, Rainbow wasn’t about to lose her forever without an explanation. And even that wouldn’t really cut it. So Dash decided she was getting her back.
“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go find her!”
Bidding their farewell, the girls ran their way to the train station.
Hours later, Rainbow groan as she stretched out on one of the risers at the rodeo arena. She lifted her head up, casting a gloomy look on the place. It was almost empty, save a few stray custodians. Them, and her tired friends. They had been searching forever. It seemed they would never find Applejack at this rate.
Dash laid back down, watching her vision get glossed over as she tried not to tear up. Never find Applejack? As in, no more playing in the orchard? No more racing? No more joking, or fighting, or getting along? No more… green eyes? Dash felt herself choke up at the thought. Her lungs heaved as she did all she could to keep from crying. She swallowed hard, and rubbed her yes.
No. She was not going to lose her friend. Or whatever she was at this point. She wasn’t about to let Applejack go away and never come back. Applejack loved Ponyville, and she loved the orchard, and she loved hanging out with Dash on Fridays. Something was wrong. And Dash had to find her. Or die trying.
“Girls!” Twilight’s cry snapped Rainbow out of her thoughts. “We have a lead on Applejack.”
Well, at least Dash didn’t have to die trying now.
“Ah can’t believe mah absence made such an impact that day.”
“Well of course it did! We had to find you!”
“And that you did.”
“Yeah, but once we did, you weren’t too jazzed about it.”
“But you know why now…”
“Yeah, well I didn’t then. And after you said that you were going to talk after we hunted you down in the cherry orchard, I was still really upset.”
Applejack slowly walked away after she pinkie promised to tell the whole truth at breakfast. The other girls smiled in relief.
“Alright girls,” Twilight smiled. “Let’s get some rest too. We don’t want to be late to that breakfast!”
Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Rarity nodded and started following Twilight. Dash, however, said nothing. Twilight looked back.
“Rainbow?” she asked, “You coming?”
“Yeah,” Rainbow rubbed her neck, “just gimme a sec. I’m gonna check out this orchard.”
The others following Twilight sent her looks of concern, but Twilight just nodded and gestured the others to follow. Soon Rainbow was alone.
The pegasus lifted her head, watching the pink leaves fall from the cherry trees.
“Ah thought cherries would be a nice change from apples, so Ah took the job and came here.”
Dash frowned. The cherry trees were pretty, but they weren’t the same as the large, homey apple trees.
Maybe this is what AJ meant by ‘change of scenery’.
She kicked a tree. Only a few cherries fell.
“That’s dumb.” Dash grumbled as she walked further into the orchard.
She should be grateful. Applejack was okay. No pony was holding her hostage, no pony had kidnapped her or forced her to stay. She was choosing to be here.
Which somehow seemed worse.
Dash pressed herself against one of the many tree trunks and sighed. She wished Applejack would just come home. Couldn’t she see they had gone through so much trouble to find her?
“Well Ah didn’t ask for you to come looking for me!”
The words dug into her, as she thought of how upset Applejack was. She didn’t want to be found. She didn’t want to see her friends. She didn’t want to hang out with Dash on Fridays anymore.
Rainbow’s legs weakened and she fell to the earth, tears welling in her eyes. She leaned down with her breath on the soil, trying to get herself under control.
And to make matters worse, her heart was throbbing. Never before had it felt so… broken. But that couldn’t mean… Dash tried to continue to suppress the feelings, but it wasn’t working anymore. What was the use anyway? Applejack would be gone, so who cared if she did have feelings for her. Maybe this was happening so she could get over it.
The thought pained her more as she thought about fate toying with her, giving what she wanted a little by taking what she wanted a lot. Finally some tears slipped through her defenses, leaving little circles in the dirt. She stood and looked at the sky.
“As Celestia as my witness,” Dash choked through her tears, “I will never deny my feelings again—if I don’t lose my friend.”
With that, she wiped her tears and stood a little straighter. Then thought about what she’d said.
Rainbow went running out of the orchard.
“Dash, you know that's not what I meant at Dodge Junction.”
“Yeah, I know that now, and I’m glad.”
“That makes me feel so awful that you thought I was abandoning you.”
“It’s okay, it didn’t matter later.”
“Huh? Why not? Because you guys caught me?”
“No, because of something much, much different…”
The carriage narrowly crashed through the boondocks in time as the train soared across the tracks.
Dash’s heart skipped a beat, but it seemed that she was fine. They almost had her now.
“Oh no!” cried Fluttershy, “How are we gonna get around that train?”
“Twi, hold on to something!” Dash ordered as she fidgeted her wings out from under the cart handles.
“Ready?” she turned to Fluttershy, who quickly caught on.
“Oh, I guess I am…” she smiled nervously.
The two pegasi leapt into the air, wings unfurled, soaring above the train.
They landed with a thud, Fluttershy panting slightly, but Dash only glaring at Applejack. Trying to escape, Applejack began to run. Rainbow was sick of running. It was time to put this goose chase to an end.
Wriggling out of the hold the cart had on her, she shot herself towards the runaway.
“Not so fast!”
The two ponies collided, send objects flying in every direction.
As the dust cleared, Dash stood above Applejack, blood pumping through her veins. She was ready to fight her, which is what she expected to happen. But it didn’t.
Instead, a sad whimper of defeat escaped the farm pony as she choked up:
“Fahne. Now you know.”
The farm pony covered her face in shame.
Shame. Shame wasn’t fighting. Immediately Dash’s face went to one of concern. She stepped away quickly, giving her space.
“Know what?” Twilight inquired.
Applejack stood. The sadness in her eyes made Dash almost burst.
“Well, just look!”
Around them were many colored ribbons scattered around the place.
Dash recognized the problem almost immediately, even before she said it.
“There’s every color of ribbon down there,” AJ looked so broken as she finished, “every color…but…blue.”
Rainbow understood. She hadn’t lost a race too often in her life time, but she can still remember the pain in her heart as the red ribbon was around her neck, and someone else was on the top of the podium. They were both athletes. They both had felt it.
AJ explained that she didn’t win any prize money, and hung her head.
“Ah didn’t want to come home a failure.” She sighed.
Dash stood still. The moment in time froze.
Applejack thought she was a failure. That she was nothing at all without that money. At the thought, Rainbow’s heart finally began to burst.
This pony, was at a moment so low, she would rather abandon her home and her friends just to avoid this confrontation. And Rainbow’s heart went out to her.
“Applejack, you’re not a failure!” Twilight shook her head and smiled.
Rainbow smiled too.
“And we’re your friends!” she chimed in. “We don’t care if you came fiftieth place!”
Something was changing. Something that had felt so wrong before was now feeling so right.
“You’re still number one in our books!”
“So, you’re not upset or disappointed?” AJ turned to the girls.
The girls shook their heads.
In fact, Dash was feeling far from upset. She felt as if a pound of bricks were lifting off her shoulders. She began to hover above the ground.
“But if you never came back,” Fluttershy continued talking down below, “we’d never be able to fix the hole in our hearts!”
That is when it clicked.
A warmth was released out of Dash’s heart into the rest of her body, until she was filled to the rim with the feeling. She looked down at the orange earth pony, with her cowboy hat, her freckles, her smile. Her green eyes, her honest heart, her stubbornness, her strength. She knew if she lost these things, she’d never be the same. The feeling overpowered her as she realized now fully for the first time…
She was in love.
The joy of this realization, this epiphany was so tremendous, Dash began to cry.
Naturally, she covered it up.
“Darn it!” she shook her head and folded her hooves, “Now you got me actin’ all sappy!!”
As Applejack felt encouraged and agreed to go home, Dash remembered her promise. And there, at Dodge Junction, she silently noted the defeat of a battle she’d been fighting for a long time.
And she was so glad it was over.
“So that was the day,” Dash sighed, “and the day I finally accepted it was real. And it wasn’t going anywhere.”
“But you still couldn’t tell me?” Applejack cocked her head.
“Oh, hay no!” Dash laughed. “I had nearly lost you as a friend to a cherry farm. You really think I was gonna risk it all again by telling you my feelings?”
“Ah guess not…”
A small silence followed.
“But,” Dash thought for a moment longer before speaking, “I did think about it once. And I almost did too.”
“Really?” Applejack sat forward, “when?”
“Soon after the whole rodeo fiasco actually,” Dash laughed again.
“When??” Applejack insisted.
“Hearts and Hooves day.”