• 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 Three - Thunderstruck

Applejack set off along the darkened streets of Ponyville. The Carousel Boutique was on the other side of town from the now closed bar, and although this journey would usually take no longer than ten minutes she felt compelled to eke the trip out that little bit more. Growing up on Sweet Apple Acres she had learned to appreciate what little solitude she could get. If she wasn't working hard out on the orchard she would be helping Granny Smith in the kitchen or honing her rodeo skills with her brother. Ever since young Applebloom had begun her incessant quest to find her talent even the once-quietest spots of the farm now echoed with the sound of the Cutie Mark Crusaders' half-baked schemes.

It was this occasional need for alone time that led her to the Engineer's Halt in the first place. It was after Applebloom's 'valiant' attempts at selling fruit at the market which saw Applejack take the hit from Granny Smith and Big Mac. Their constant whining about profits and her countless responsibilities – all of which she had heard numerous times before – pushed AJ too far and she stormed out of the kitchen for a walk. She wandered aimlessly for an hour or so before feeling a droplet of freezing rain land squarely on her nose.

“Aw dangit!” she exclaimed loudly in the rapidly emptying street. She had totally forgotten about the scheduled downpour that night. The clouds above could've indicated that a storm was brewing. Rainbow Dash even dropped by earlier to tell her to batten down the hatches for a big one. Yet in her anger she had still somehow overlooked this important detail. Looking anxiously for some shelter her eyes fell upon a rundown looking building with its' lights still ablaze. 'It ain't the purtiest place, but it'll do fer now,' she mused as she dashed with great haste for the door. The heat of the pub was like a blanket as she stepped inside tentatively. Small, cosy, a little like the den at home. Only a few hardy regulars were scattered throughout and behind the bar stood a grey earth pony greeting her with a warm smile.

Every time she'd needed that respite and peace the Halt and the always smiling proprietor provided a home away from home. In the beginning High Spirits would often leave Applejack in silence but as time passed and her presence in the pub became more regular he'd lend a sympathetic ear or crack a joke that never failed to cheer her up.

'That's not exactly what ah'd call solitude,' the voice in her head piped up. It had a point. Even in the early days High Spirits would provide the bog-standard small talk about weather or how business at the farm was going. From time to time the likes of Berry Punch would invite her over for a gossiping session and she'd usually oblige. Once or twice even Twilight or Dash would join her at the bar to moan about the latest trials and tribulations they'd faced.

It occurred to her that in all that time she'd never truly been alone.

Applejack was generally considered by all her comrades to be near fearless – a trait only her fast and furious friend could match. In truth this was hardly the case. She wasn't like Fluttershy by any stretch of the imagination. But in three of her friends she could see exactly the same anxieties that were rooted in her very core. In Dash she saw the urge to never let any challenge get the best of her that led AJ herself to near-debilitating tiredness one bucking season. In Twilight she saw the impulse to never let down those figures in their life they owed so much to – the same impulse that led to the whole Dodge Junction fiasco in the first place. And in Pinkie she saw the crippling need to be adored. All were flawed but together they were strong as an army.

All except one. To her, only one of her dearest companions was perfect. Flawless as the most perfectly formed diamond ever excavated from the dark depths of the deepest mine in Equestria.

Applejack instinctively paused her stroll and stared across at the window of the flower trio's florist shop. Inside lay countless garlands and bouquets, each arranged more exquisitely than the last. One in particular caught the mare's eye. In a simple vase were eleven white roses in a near-perfect circle. Set in the middle above all others was a flower so extraordinary that they were only to be found in one of the deepest darkest corners of the dreaded Everfree (Applejack pondered as to how Daisy, Rose and Lily could have possibly acquired it). A rose of the deepest blue.

She gazed on this most magnificent and glorious arrangement (and flinched visibly at the price-tag beneath it). It took a moment before the significance of the flowers fully took hold, the briefest flash of imagination jolting through her head and transforming the flowers into an all too familiar eye for just a millisecond. Blushing ever so slightly, Applejack started off again towards the party - which would surely be in full flow by then - with the same slow and steady pace she had walked at before.

“Of all the places in all the towns in all the land,” her mind stated, “why'd it hafta be there?”

AJ was no great believer in fate outwith the strange phenomena known as Pinkie Pie. For much of her life even love was generally a concept she treated with scorn. She had no time in her busy life to be pre-occupied with such things. That was until a year earlier.

**********

The Grand Galloping Gala was fast approaching, and Rarity had taken it upon herself to design the outfits that she and her dearest friends would grace the Palace with. This meant that each of the girls would have to be fitted properly on several occasions. Even though the cordial nature of their friendship had been restored during Twilight's sleepover Applejack dreaded the prospect of Rarity lecturing her on how beautiful she could be and formulating plans for her to wear attire bedecked with unnecessary frills and the like.

When the first fitting session came about it turned out that her preconceptions were terribly off. Rarity was infinitely more relaxed whilst in her element than AJ expected, not the uptight diva she had expected when walking through the door that afternoon. Instead of being bored with constant visions of couture she and the unicorn talked and laughed about their friends, about themselves. There was so much more to Rarity than she had ever imagined. Even with their obvious differences there was still some common ground. For example both had briefly stayed in Manehattan as fillies but found the lure of their small town too great. Every session after followed a similar vein and Applejack usually left the boutique in a far better mood than when she had entered, often having come from a hard day on the farm.

One night as the much-anticipated dress was finishing completion, Applejack stood patiently as Rarity worked her magic on the most intricate details. A purple haze surrounded pins and needles all over Applejack's body, and she felt obliged to stay quiet so as not to break her friend's concentration and ruin some of her most difficult work. Rarity moved slowly around the podium on which Applejack was required to stand when she felt the urge to caress the exquisite fabric as she was so often wont to do, making sure it felt just right to her perfectionist's touch. Her hoof delicately touched the dress, absent-mindedly running along Applejack's back stopping just short of her flank.

A jolt of what felt like lightning shot through AJ's body. It was a tickle of sorts, but one that made her heart skip a beat and set something alight in the deeper, less explored recesses of her mind. She must have subconsciously moved because the next sensation that greeted her was the unmistakable one of a pin sticking in her side.

“Ow, gosh darn it!”

“Oh Applejack, I can't express how sorry I am! Is everything okay?”

Applejack felt her cheeks grow a fraction warmer with both embarrassment and affection at the concern evident in Rarity's voice.

“Yeah, peachy. Just a lil' tender is all.”

“Why did you flinch dear?”

'Because that felt good...' came an unfamiliar drawl from those dark corners now bathed the dimmest of half-lights.

“Chill! Yeah, a... breeze caught me unawares there. Dang weather ponies must've made it a cold 'un tonight.”

“But the windows are closed. And you look so warm. Your cheeks are positively glowing.”

“Musta been a reflex from the pin in ma side,” Applejack said with more than a hint of defensiveness in her voice as she touched her face. The summer heat had nothing on the temperature emanating from her cheeks.

The rest of the fitting passed in the same terse silence from earlier as Rarity corrected the small mistakes she felt necessary to rectify before perfection and allowed Applejack her leave, still apologising profusely for her supposed lapse in concentration. Applejack's mind was racing as she quickly said farewell and headed for the one place she could clear her head. What the hay was with that touch?

“Sounds like someone's been hit by a case of the thunderbolt,” said High Spirits, his voice dripping with relish at this new revelation Applejack had entrusted upon him.

“Beggin' yer pardon Spirits, but what in blazes is that?” Applejack queried knocking back another shot of 'Granny Smith's 4X' in a vain attempt to clear the fog now very much descended over her mind. That was her fourth drink in a mere five minutes since her rapid departure from Carousel Boutique.

“Well to put it delicately, it's that first moment where you start to fall for somepony...”

A splutter and cough silenced the barstallion as Applejack looked at him with a potent mix of bewilderment and anger.

“What ya'll suggesting?!” she said curtly in a slightly increased volume.

High Spirits held his hooves up in defense, clearly seeing Applejack's temper rising slowly.

“I'm suggesting nothing AJ.”

“Good! 'Cause one, I ain't no dang filly-fooler,” she stated with undue emphasis on that old but hurtful playground term.

“Never said as much,”

“And two,” she said cutting across High Spirits once again, “I don't believe in that namby-pamby romance nonsense!”

“Whatever you say Applejack,” came the barpony's response, tinged with the tone of the defeated, “Same again?”

**********
Applejack yanked herself out of that particular well of thought - mainly because much of the remainder of the night was a haze of introspection and alcohol-induced sickness. She hated to admit it to herself but Spirits was right. From that very moment on she had looked at Rarity from a completely different perspective. Those once darkened areas of her psyche were now awash with the lamp-light of love for her friend. Not the kind she felt for Dash and Fluttershy and all the others, nor the variety with which she felt for her sister. When it came to Rarity, she felt nothing but the purest, most selfless, strongest love imaginable. And ever since that moment she had gravely feared that the light would be snuffed out prematurely leaving her in the cold black abyss of loneliness.

Her preoccupation with her thoughts meant that Applejack had paid little attention to her path until she saw the dim glow of Carousel Boutique ahead. Through the large ground floor windows she could see Pinkie flailing around in one of her exuberant little 'dances' all while attempting to pull Rainbow Dash into her jig. Up on the balcony were Lyra and Bon Bon gazing at the stars, wrapped in each other's forelegs. 'One day that could be you...'

Applejack inhaled deeply. The crisp night air helped a little in calming the tribal pounding in her chest as she walked towards the grand dress shop. She hoped that the much needed booze would settle her hammering heart even more as she released a little smile at the potential pleasures of the party and the undoubted delight of the hostess that lay in wait.