• Published 9th Feb 2012
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The Sweetest Cider is Diamond White - Casper B. Wordsmith



Applejack longs for the love of a certain snow-coloured unicorn.

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Chapter Two - Closing Time

Luna's moon shone brightly over Ponyville as the clock struck half past eleven. The lights were dimmed for the evening everywhere from Town Hall to the edge of the Everfree Forest, and the younger members of the community had long since settled down for a night of peaceful slumber. However in one corner of the town the ponies had no intention of going gently into that good night.

Down by the railway station The Engineer's Halt was packed to the gunwales for the first time in years. Word of a welcome home party had spread like wildfire and soon nearly everypony was descending on the tiny tavern. There were a few objections in the beginning, not least from High Spirits. A quiet whisper in his ear and some cold hard logic as to potential profits won him over to the idea. The poor barstallion had near enough run himself into the worn old floor but the constant ringing of the till kept him going, along with the grandiose visions of what the Halt could be floating around his head.

In the middle of the pub Ponyville's premier party pony was truly in her element. Ever since Vinyl Scratch had commandeered the bar's sound system Pinkie Pie had danced herself ragged. Her only respite came when she bounded over to the bar to knock back tequila, sambucka, any liqueur the bar carried that was adequate for shots, and all of it in dangerous quantities. Almost any other pony would fall backwards into a near-comatose state after the number and variety of shots she ingested. For her the firewaters only acted as regular changes of battery, and it wasn't long before she bounced over to the makeshift dancefloor and renewed her flank-shaking with greater vigour.

Beside the bar Rainbow Dash was in heated discussion with a group of earth colts. The pegasus was a keen hoofball fan and seeing the gaggle of local Manechester United fans enter the bar presented her with the opportunity to catch up with the latest news. It turned out that the Manechester fans had returned home from a victory against Real Mare-drid, a fact that pleased Dash to no end. For the last hour she had chatted excitedly of her second heroes (after the Wonderbolts naturally) and sang the familiar victory songs with her new companions, free from her inhibitions and free from the outdated couture she began the night in. It wasn't cheap to make Rarity relinquish her control over her clothing.

Tucked away in a booth the quieter ponies sipped the finest wines that the Halt offered and talked of matters more worldly than that of 22 stallions kicking a ball around. Twilight Sparkle, Doctor Whooves and Lyra were deep in conversation in regards to all things astronomical. The librarian took a keen interest in both of her associates' belief in life beyond the stars – her normally ferocious scepticism silenced by the countless drained glasses in front of her and the one held in her hoof. Beside them Fluttershy and Big Macintosh chatted at breakneck pace of animals and agriculture. To the outside observer this development was puzzling and startling. It was no secret that both parties were ponies of few words and to see them yammering away like two old parliamentarians was a sight to behold. Granted, both Fluttershy and Big Mac were evidently worse for wear. The timid yellow pegasus' face was a shade of deepest scarlet that came very close to matching the coat of the stallion beside her. Whether this was a result of the 'Flim Flam Brothers' Lemon Cider' that Pinkie had been plying her with or of something deeper was up for debate.

Making her way back through the small pub, Applejack acknowledged her friends' with a smile and doff of her trademark stetson. All night she had mingled and chatted with people keen to know of her endeavours and adventures of the previous fortnight. She and Bon Bon talked of Cherry Jubilee and laughed at their similar views on the cherry tycoon, Bon Bon knowing of her through her dealings in the confectionary business. Octavia congratulated her on her rodeo performance and told her how Vinyl had dragged her to the competition only to be astounded at how enjoyable it was (and equally disheartened that AJ had failed in her pursuit of glory). AJ was forced to silence thoughts of whether another high society pony would enjoy it as much along with the usual pangs of despondency.

She'd long since dragged her brother aside for a friendly yet stern lecture in regards to Fluttershy, his goofy grin at the mere mention of her friend's name saying more about what was on his mind than he would ever articulate. She'd even had time to knock back a few shots of a concoction of Spike's invention (three different varieties of hot sauce and tequila) at the dragon's expense having sworn to him not to inform Twilight to his less-than-legal presence in the bar. Not that she or the barstallion minded particularly much.

However all she had wanted was time with the mare of her dreams, a pursuit unfortunately lacking that evening. Sure she had enjoyed a spell with her a few hours ago. That was in the company of all her friends though and the affairs of her heart wouldn't exactly make for comfortable conversation - not that she'd have the courage to bring up the subject in any case. Since the atmosphere had grown ever boisterous AJ was swept off her feet with Ponyvillians buying her drinks or stealing her away for less than brief chats. 'So much fer a quiet one with friends,' she thought ruefully whilst finishing the glass of vodka and apple juice foisted upon her by a tearful (and trashed) Mayor Mare.

Her eyes wandered across the room before fixing themselves on a purple aura guiding a glass of cognac towards a snow-white mouth. Alcohol's magical property of magnifying the beauty of even the homeliest of mares meant nothing. To Applejack, Rarity was artistry ponified. Her mane was the most well-kempt in all Ponyville – 'nah, all Equestria!' she corrected herself – and her tail flowed just as perfectly. Her body had the appearance of a sculpture of the finest marble carved by the goddesses themselves. And those cobalt eyes! Not even Luna's mane could match the purity and depth of that shade of blue. Whenever Applejack saw them fixed upon her it took a great deal of strength not to lose herself in them completely. What she wouldn't give just to have a day - she'd even accept an hour - where she could gaze into the deep blue...

**********

'Time gentleponies, please!' came the cry that shook AJ from her reverie, the clanging bell behind the bar further consigning her daydreams to memory. All around the bar ponies sighed and drank from their glasses a little quicker, knowing their night of merrymaking was soon to end.

“Aw, come on everypony! Don't be glum!” Pinkie yelled over the sound of the quietening music. “Spirits, any chance of a lock-in?”

“Sorry Ms Pie, but I'm beat. A comfortable bed awaits me and I'm not giving it up now.” Spirits replied with a mix of his usual cheeriness and genuine exhaustion.

“Well, how about we get some to go and make a night of it?” said Rainbow Dash, having bid adieu to the gentlecolts she had grown acquainted with with some hearty hoofshakes. "That cool with you HS?"

"When has it ever not been? Though if the Guards are called on your little soirée, I had nothing to do with it." High Spirits responded with a hearty chuckle.

“Such a splendid idea!” Rarity chimed in. “Sweetie Belle is staying with Scootaloo and Applebloom, so the boutique is empty for the evening. And it should be large enough for us all provided you fine ponies wish to accompany us?”

Most of the remaining party responded in the affirmative – only Doctor Whooves made his excuses and took leave. Bon Bon and Octavia took some persuasion from Lyra and Vinyl respectively, but soon acquiesced with knowing smiles all round. Big Macintosh shot a cautious glance at his sister, whose clandestine nod gave her approval and to which he responded with a hearty 'Eeyup!'. Even Cheerilee, whom Rarity had spent much of the night talking to and whose presence at the town's innumerable parties was all-too-rare, decided to tag along. It wasn't a school night after all.

“Applejack? What say you?” said Rarity, approaching Applejack. That voice never failed to stir something deep inside her. It flowed like the voices of angels even with the slight hint of inebriation lurking.

“Ah'd love ta, sugarcube.” came the slightly breathless reply. 'Consarn it, be subtle!' the voice in Applejack's mind yelled, more than miffed at the unnecessary affection. A blush lit up Applejack's cheeks, though thankfully the rest of the group put this (and the near-panted reply to Rarity's query) down the the sweltering heat in the bar.

“Count me in too!” came the confident voice from under the bar. Spike staggered out with a look of contentedness and apprehension.

“SPIKE!” shouted Twilight, who dashed from her seat at a speed a Wonderbolt would be proud of. Spike instinctively cowered in fear at the prospect of what punishment his friend and master would visit upon him, but instead found himself lifted into a crushing hug. “What're you doing here? Aw, it's so good to see you looking out for me, little Spikey-Wikey. You're growing up so fast!”

All the ponies found this display of affection utterly baffling and totally hilarious. Drunken Twilight truly was a sight to behold.

Rarity and Dash made the arrangements to send a selection of drinks to the boutique as the rest of the party vacated the bar. Spike sat atop Twilight (at her behest) with a look of sheer bewilderment on his face. Pinkie bounded out singing followed by the countless couples, Fluttershy and Mac acknowledging Applejack with grins.

“Penny for 'em?” High Spirits asked Applejack having left Rarity and Rainbow in charge of moving the considerable cargo through Ponyville.

“Ain't nothing, Spirits. Jus' a lot on my mind.” Applejack responded.

“I've seen the way you've been looking at Rarity all night. Something you wish to share?” he asked gently, pushing a last shot of Buck Daniels towards the mare who had made tonight such a success for his humble saloon. Applejack turned and faced her friend, her face frozen in shock.

“How in the hay did ya figure that out?”

“I'm a bartender, AJ. Have been for many a year. I can read a patron's body language as well as you can buck any damn apple tree. Not to mention you came damn near to telling me once before,” said Spirits with a furtive wink.

Applejack couldn't argue with the logic as she let the final shot slip down her throat. “I dunno what's wrong with me. Why can't ah stop thinkin' 'bout her like that?” she said,

“That's the weird way the universe works sometimes.” High Spirits said, leaning closer. “I'll tell you this though. Don't let any chance slip by. Grab it and take it.”

“More bartender wisdom?” Applejack asked as she glanced Rarity levitating a case of lemon cider through the door. She never noticed High Spirits' face flush slightly as he saw Cheerilee trotting through the pub.

“You could call it that.” Spirits replied, hoping desperately that his voice didn't crack as his eyes followed the teacher through the door. “Just remember that AJ. Come on.”

Spirits ushered Applejack toward the exits as Rainbow Dash shot skyward laden with saddlebags full of liquor.

“Thanks for everything AJ. Means a lot.” Spirits called through the streets as Applejack walked off in the direction of the party.

“Same ta you too, old pal.” Applejack shouted back through the night, hearing the door close and leaving her in the street with nothing but her thoughts to accompany her on her way to more festivities.