• Published 24th Oct 2014
  • 10,340 Views, 104 Comments

"Just Quit Yer Fussin' and Snuggle Up, Sugarcube!" - shortskirtsandexplosions



During a mountain hike, the girls only pack three large sleeping bags, and Rainbow Dash has to snuggle overnight with Applejack. This would be totally easy if she didn't crush on her so hard that she'd rather toss herself into the campfire

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Snuggle Up

"Well, if you ask me, I'd say 'mission accomplished, darlings." Rarity holds both hooves before the open flame. Her voice is even and straight despite the slight chattering of pearly white teeth. "Before, I had every reason to believe that today would go disastorously, but—thankfully—I was proven delightfully wrong."

"I couldn't agree more!" Twilight chirps. I can see her lavender smile from across the tongues of flame. She sits on a log with her wings spread, gathering the campfire's heat in every feather, just like I taught her several months ago. "I knew that the wyverns were capable of listening and reasoning! So long as somepony was assertive enough to march up the mountain and speak to them!"

"Were we really the first ponies in forever to knock on their door?" Pinkie Pie pauses to scarf more buttery kernels out of a bag of popcorn. I'm still not sure how she's stowed all that away in her mane, but I'd be an idiot to question Pinkie. "Mmmmm! I sure hope they like all of the apple fritters we brought for them!"

And then there's you. "Well, shucks, of course they liked them eats! Ain't ever been a beast that Granny Smith couldn't tame with that down home country recipe of hers!" When your voice drawls into existence, it heats up the night, bringing a gentle warmth that permeates every tree surrounding us and the campfire. Heck, I don't even need the flame. I just lean forward, tilt my ears, and listen beyond the pounding inside my fuzzy blue chest. "Didja see how their fanged muzzles drooled all puppy-like at first sight sight of the Sweet Apple Acres treats we gave 'em? Shoot, if they ain't friends for life after that, than my name ain't Applejack!" Awwwwwww yeah...

"I have to admit, AJ, the fritters were a real life-saver," Twilight says, breaking me out of my dumb trance. I'm not even looking at her, but I can already match a goofy smile in my head to the words we all hear next. "Still, I do like to think that my diplomatic lecture on friendship had a little something to do with how things turned out." A tiny giggle. Lavender feathers flounce in the heat of the campfire, and are still once again. "I like to think that I kept things short and simple, wouldn't you agree?"

"Twilight? If y'all want me to be honest with you?" Freckles... delicious delicious freckles clinging to a fuzzy orange smile. "They were too busy nibblin' on Granny's fritters to hear a word you said, darlin'."

I hear Pinkie's and Rarity's giggles from across the campfire. The night chirps and hoots with unseen things all across the mountainside. My super awesome pegasus nostrils smell pine, sap, and no small amount of sweat from where a certain farm filly sits. Heh... Shoulda packed some ice...

"Okay... okay. So maybe the apple fritters did most of the work," our favorite adorkable princess mutters, eyes rolling. "Still, I like to think that something I said got through to them."

"Oh Twilight, don't you worry," Fluttershy says from the log next to me. "After all, the wyverns did say that they would come and have an audience with you in Ponyville two weeks from this afternoon." She's hugging herself and shivering. I really wish she'd sit closer to the fire, but we all know that if there's one thing she fears more than her own shadow, it's an open flame. I'd shove her closer, but I know she'd just faint, and I'm not in the mood to be the bad guy tonight. "I don't think they're nearly as ferocious as they look. I th-think they're just like me: shy and... mmmm... used to staying at home in the mountains."

"What you've done here today, Twilight, is nothing short of historic!" Rarity booms in a proud voice that I just know will wake up half the freakin' mountain. "From now on, every time November rolls around, Equestrian historians will speak proudly of Princess Twilight's Campaign of Freedom to unite the ponies and wyverns of Equestria for the first time in three centuries!" Too bad we didn't pack a theatre stage... or a spotlight...

"Awwwww... thanks, Rarity. But let's face it. Applejack's treats did all the work." Twilight stifles a yawn and smiles faintly. "I'll have my work cut out for me when they show up at the palace next month. It's good that we appealed to their stomachs, but reaching out to their hearts will take some planning, some dedication..."

"And lots and lotsssss of apple pastries!" Pinkie says, summoning another giggle from the group.

One laugh is the loudest, an earth-rich guffaw that splits the night in two. My eyes are instantly drawn your way, and once again I feel my heart locked into place, as if I'm sailing down from the stratosphere and gravity has me chained to your face, your eyes, and that delightfully deep voice that undulates with twangy waves of apple-scented wisdom, mirth, and radicalness. "Well, Twilight, if it comes to that, I reckon Granny and I could fry up another bunch! But give yerself some credit, sugarcube. This whole idea was yers to begin with. Them wyverns have been stewin' in their grumpiness for Celestia-knows how long, but now they're gonna bask in the power of friendship. I can't think of a better way for Equestria to earn itself some new partners, and we're all mighty proud of you for takin' us someplace where nopony else has dared in a heapin' long time!"

The way you speak of this boring-as-flank afternoon, it makes it all sound so... noble and so righteous. Funny how Rarity, in all of her theatricality, still can't make something sound nearly as awesome. Maybe it's because she's... y'know... all words. But you? You're all grit. You're like the sawdust I can't get out of my wings after a full night of me totally not sleeping in your barn loft in the middle of the night just to catch a single glimpse of you through the second story window of your house. Duaaaaaaaaaah...

Celestia help me. How many times have I tempted fate around you? I think about the time I first challenged you... what... a year ago? A year and a half? Whatever, I totally bragged that I could smoke your butt at the Iron Pony competition. I never told anypony how friggin' let down I was when I actually won. I just couldn't do anything but smile it off and hoof-bump the air like everypony expected me to. I couldn't let on that, deep down inside, I wanted to be defeated. Yup. It's true. I wanted somepony who was every bit righteous, every bit honest, and every bit awesome to show that she was better than me, to lay the line down in the sand, to show where I stood in comparison to her, so that I could finally see beyond the shadow of a friggin' doubt that there was a reason for why my hot and heavy dreams about you doubled... tripled... quadrupled with every dang night, that you were in fact totally better than me, that I wasn't just going insane from every other thought being infected with the sound of your voice, the smell of your mane, and the sweet salty glisten of sweaty freckles... goddess...

And, no, it wouldn't have been losing. It would not have been friggin' losing... because how could I feel like such a loser if, for once, I had every reason to believe that I had won an excuse to worship you without remorse? It's so stupidly simple, really. Everypony needs a center in their life. For me, for this flier, I always thought it was just the earth... y'know... gravity and all that crap. But that's such a lame way to go about things. Flying around with just the earth waiting beneath you? Can I even pretend to explain just how cold and lonesome that sounds?

All my life, I've only ever wanted to show off, to impress somepony... everypony... heck... all of the friggin' ponies—just shove the whole fuzzy bunch of 'em into an observatory and aim the dayum telescope straight at my kickflank wings. But none of that would matter, not if you weren't one of them... the only one of them. The one with the gumption and determination and plain ol' scrumptious hard-working hard-grunting hard-heaving guile to make everything you say or do seem a gazillion times more significant than all of the pastel colored equine morons pretending to be awesome around you. And... omigoshomigoshomigosh... what I would kill for a pony like that, a pony like you... to think so highly of me, to root for me with even a smidgen of the passion that I feel for you, day in and day out, between sobs and sighs and other silly, prattling things donated lonesomely to the cold gales of the night.

It's gotten worse over time, heavier than even my wings of awesomeness can handle. And I just know—with each passing, pissing day I know—that it will only get worse. But... y'know what? That's okay. I can totally handle it. I can totally deal with the pressure, the panicked sweat, and the horrible hearthrob that threatens to flatter me whenever you so much walk into the room with your smile and your sweat and your red hair ribbons and that deep, drawwwwwlin' voice and... guhhhh... I can deal. I can deal. I knew it ever since the first day that I realized how cruel life was, that of all the ponies in the world I had to crush so friggin' hard on, it had to be you, one of my best friends, the best friend, the one pony in Equestria that would make everything implode with screaming and dying butterflies on fire if I even so much as exposed the awkward truth of who and what makes me whimper like a pouting little filly into my cloud pillow each night.

But so long as it stays like this... so long as everything is nice and cool and... y'know, secret... so long as I can adore you from afar, checkin' out those golden bangs and those lithe muscles and those sweet, sweet freckles that I totally don't want to lick and nuzzle and lick and nuzzle and lick and nuzzle (you get the idea) between now and Ragneighrak, then everything is okay. So long as I can appreciate you from a distance without hurting anypony... especially you and, naturally, myself... then I can totally... totally deal. It's a secret I can live with, because it's a secret that makes me live. I wake up these mornings with a smile, for the faint traces of my dreams are sprinkled with the scent, the sound, and the sweet apple taste of you... or at least what it could possibly, fancifully taste like to one day be surrounded in all those things, surrounded by all your legs, being whispered and serenaded and kissed into the velvet veil of night with all the words that I know only the dream-you could ever bother to cook up, and perhaps some day when the fantasy dies, the awkwardness will too, but the crush—this gentle and persistent throb of an awesome heart—will never go away, not so long as there are fires on this planet that can still be kindled with a little bit of loyalty and hope and—

"Rainbow Dash? Rainbow Dasssssssssssh?"

"Yoohoo! Earth to Dashie!" A pocorn kernel or two baps against my forehead. "Where you off to, girl?!"

"Gaaaaaah!" I flinch, nearly slipping off my log and falling into the fire. "I-I wasn't getting off! Er... I-I mean... I... uhhhhhh—"

"Did you hear a single word that I said?" Twilight asks.

"Uhm..." I bite my lip, sensing the cold kiss of night intensifying from every angle. I feel like the trees are going to spontaneously collapse on me, but somehow even their mighty, thick trunks aren't nearly as heavy as the five sets of eyes plastered on my trembling body. I ignore the two beautiful glistening emerald pupils from across the flame and pretend to give Twilight my full and unattentioned divide—... I mean my divide and full attentioned— ... dang it! "Something... s-something... wyverns and fritters and friendship...?"

"We were done talking about today, Rainbow," she says. Goddess, how I hate it when she's in lecture mode. "I was asking you if you wouldn't mind—first thing in the morning—flying up high and scouting for the path that'll lead us down to the foot of the mountain."

"Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh..." I blink. Just smile and nod, Rainbow. "Sure!" I grin and bob my head with a flounce of my mane. "Totally!"

"I had hoped we could make it back to Ponyville by nightfall, but... alas... the meeting took longer than I anticipated."

"And as well as it should have, darling," Rarity says. She stifles a yawn and smiles liquidly. "Making contact with an isolated culture is quite the delicate business. You wouldn't want to risk damaging an exquisite silk ballgown simply because you were in a hurry to be someplace else, now would you?"

"Besides, this is fun fun fun!" Pinkie Pie chirps, rocking on her log. "Outdoors camp partttttty! Weeeee! Heeheehee!"

"I would love to share stories all night," Fluttershy says, though she's already yawning. "But I'm feeling absolutely exhausted."

"Awwwwwwwwww..." Pinkie pouts, dropping half her popcorn. "But it feels like we just got here!"

"We've had a long day, Pinkie," Twilight said. "I'm with Fluttershy. Best to get a good night's sleep. We can find some time to chat and share stories at morning's breakfast. Sound good?"

"Ooooh!" Pinkie grins. "I bet the cinnamon buns will still be good by then!"

"Brbrbrbrbrrrr..." Rarity hugs herself, shivering. I doubt she can get any paler. "I only wish we had chosen a w-warmer date in the year to have g-gone on such an epic mission of friendship!"

"Dun y'all fret one bit!" you say with a smile, and suddenly I remember the feel of my own heartbeat once again. "Nopony's freezin' to death on my watch!" You point to where the group's backpack sits, a stupidly big bundle that mostly you and you alone have carried all day. Celestia, could anypony be stronger... healthier? "I've got just what we need to get through this night in one piece... well... six pieces!" Proud, proud freckles. "Plush, insulated, double-wide, Macintosh size!"

Fluttershy instantly blushes. "Huh?"

You sigh through a smug grin. "I'm talkin' sleeping bags, sugarcube."

"Oh." Fluttershy blushes harder, staring into the fire. Wait... did she just...? Hahaha... oh that's too rich...

"And thanks to Rainbow Dash's swift log gatherin', we've got ourselves here a fire that will last all the way into mornin'!" you add and... omigosh, did you just congratulate me for something I did? Squeeeee! "So, no frettin', ya hear?"

"Applejack's right," Twilight says, already standing up. She trots across the grass—wincing from the cold kiss of the green blades the further that she distances herself from the fire—and magically unravels the first of several sleeping bags from the pack. "There's no need to worry. Besides, the sooner we get to bed, the more rested we'll be when morning comes. We should all be able to make it home well before sundown!"

"Oh, fabulous!" Rarity beams, standing up and stretching her dainty limbs. "I may actually find time to get some early work done on this one cocktail dress for a needy customer! Good heavens, there aren't enough sequins in the world, I swear!"

"I really do miss my animals," Fluttershy says, also getting up with a stiff-necked yawn. "Hmmmm... and I hope they've been behaving themselves for Spike. The baby dragon's so sweet to look after them everytime we go on a friendship mission..."

"And no doubt Gummy misses me!" Pinkie says between final bites of her popcorn. "Mrmmmfff... last time I was gone this long, he got real lonesome and took to sleeping in the Pumpkin's and Pound Cake's cribs!" She blinks, then whispers, "If any of you girls have ever wondered if Mr. Cake was capable of yelling, lemme tell you... he can."

"Whelp, ain't no sense in delayin' thangs anymore!" I watch as you get up and saunter on towards the pack to help Twilight with rolling out the sleeping bags. "Shuteye beckons, y'all! Rarity, why don'tcha fetch yer sittin' cushion. There's plenty of room in this here pack, now."

"Marvelous. Much appreciated, darling."

"Rainbow, wouldja mind throwin' some more wood on the fire? Not that I'm afraid of freezin' to death overnight but I'm afraid of freezin' to death overnight."

The chuckles of the others are lost to me, for at the tail-end of your command I am immediately zipping up on blurred wings. "Sure thing, AJ!" Ugh... "Sure thing, AJ?" How lame was that?! Luna on a tricycle, I hope like Tartarus you don't read into the tone of my voice one of these days. I swear, whenever I'm around you, I act just like Scootaloo when...

Uh... ew. The less I dwell on that, the better, thank you very much. Ahem. Throw wood on the fire. Throw wood on the fiiiiire...

I'm so busy with following your "order" that I don't bother registering any of the things that the other girls are saying behind my back. My eyes are on the flame and my ears are in another place... a place that still resonates with the melodic ringing sound that hides beneath the tone of your every word.

"So... uh... how are we going to do this?"

"Well, girls... after so many months, I-I'm still trying to get used to my wings, so it may be a little bit awkward to share a bag with me."

"Oooh! I'll do it! I'm best when I'm awkward!"

"Are you certain about that, Pinkie? I'd hate to keep bumping into you in the middle of the night with my wings."

"Heeheehee! It's okay, Twilight! There's nothing that sends ol' Pinkie Pie to dreamland faster than a little bit of overnight tummy tickling! Those princessy feathers of yours won't bother me anymore than Gummy's tongue against my nose!"

"Uhhhhh... eheheh... well, if you're okay with it, then I'm okay with it!"

"Woohoo! Pretty Pink Princess Slumber Party in the foressssst!"

"Here ya go, Rarity. Reckon you and Fluttershy are gonna share?"

"Fluttershy, darling? What do you think?"

"Hmmmm? Oh, that would be j-just fine, Rarity. I half expected it."

"Smashing! Oh, how I do love an agreeable snuggle-buddy."

"Hehehe... only because... uhm... we're the two most sound sleepers, aren't we?"

"Well, it's not like it's anything to brag about, darling."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"Hehehe... perish the thought! Now help me lay this out all nice and even. There we go! Perfectly exquisite. You take the right side and I take the left?"

"That's fine with me, Rarity."

"Alrighty then. Reckon that sets everythang straight. Ahem... Rainbow? You done yet? I think that's enough wood to last us overnight!"

"More like overnight-and-a-half! Heeheehee—Snkkt!"

"Rainbow...?"

"Just a second!" I holler over my shoulder, gazing into the flames. You told me to add more to the fire and—darn it—that's what I'm gonna freakin' do. "Almost got it... and..." I drop one last branch in, and the fire burns hot. I feel the heat in the air lifting me up on my hovering wings. "Heh heh..." I smirk. "Awesome." I turn around. "That should totally keep us from..." My ears droop and I feel the blood retreating from my face. "...dying of cold."

There are three sleeping bags. Three. Two of them are full of ponies. Two ponies per bag. Two. I see Pinkie Pie and Twilight sliding into one. The alicorn fumbles with her wings, folding them at various angles while Pinkie twitches and giggles from sheer ticklishness. Across the campfire, Rarity and Fluttershy have already snuggled. Fluttershy yawns and zips herself in while Rarity slides a sleeping mask over her eyes. So, then, across the camp, that leaves...

"Yer done?" You say. "Good job on the fire, sugarcube."

You're sliding into an enormous green sleeping bag, only it's not enormous enough. There's a super tiny, super tight, super tantalizingly pegasus-shaped space right next to you, and you're waving a hoof over it while speaking in a beckoning tone.

"Now zip on over, sugarcube."

Oh no...

"Before you catch cold."

Oh Goddess no... ...

"Cuz the fire ain't gonna do it all on its own."

No no no no no no—PLEASE—no, this can't be happening! I want to scream. I want to hurl. I want to shove one of these pine trees down my throat and crap out mulch and scare everyone and everything away. Instead, I just hover in place and I mutter:

"What." I blink, eyes darting from one sleeping bag to the next. "Why."

You yawn. You blink. Your face scrunches up, hiding those adorable freckles behind adorable wrinkles. "'Why?' 'What?' What why what?"

"There are three sleeping bags..."

"I know that, Rainbow."

"But... but..." My legs dangle beneath numb, flapping wings. "Why are there only three sleeping bags?" Is the universe this cruel? Does fate want me to beat my own skull in with a varnished saddle? Is some long-lost equine deity from beyond trying to weave me a life of pain and implosive irony? "I don't understand..."

"What's not to understand?" You raise an eyebrow, propping yourself up to look at me better. Celestia's tail, your muscles glisten so much in the firelight. Duaaaah... Huh? Oh, you're still talking. "We only had room to pack so much stuff, and most of that was taken up by the apple fritters Granny cooked up to appease them wyvernfolk!"

"Yeah... but... b-but..." I grimace. "Three sleeping bags?" I blink. "Three tandem sleeping bags?! Who's bright idea was that?!"

"Mine... actually..." Twilight's voice says. I look over to see her resting her lavender cheek to the pillow. Her eyes flutter shut, and I can tell that she's totally falling asleep. Even with Pinkie snuggling her shoulders with a foalish smile, the Princess can't be bothered to come back to the surface. "We... d-discussed it this morning..."

"This morning?"

"Mmmhmmm..." She yawns, and drifts off into that good, gentle night. "...at br-breakfast..."

"Breakfast?" I blink. Wouldn't I remember Twilight mentioning that we were only going to pack three sleeping bags with each of us having to share them in pairs? Just what was I doing at the time that got me so distracted? Oh... Oh yeah. That's right. You had stopped along the way to help Golden Harvest drag a cart full of carrots across Ponyville. You're so dayum kind and selfless. When you waltzed right into Sugarcube Corner where the rest of us girls were waiting, the first thing you did was grab a tall glass of ice cold OJ and rub it against your brow... your sweaty... sweaty brow... and I could positively sniff it from across the table, and those freckles... I could swim from island to vanilla-sweet island and never get tired, and even if I drowned in that delicious orange fuzz I would die with a smile knowing that I was forever submerged in an Applejack Ocean...

"Rainbow, darlin'?"

"Guhhh—!" Skittish, I spin to face you, shivering. "Yes, Oceanjack—I-I mean..."

"Is everythang alright?"

"Me?" I gulp. "Alright?" I gulp again. "Of c-course I'm alright! Why wouldn't I be?" I gaze down at the sleeping bag and the unzipped space that's chomping at the air to devour me down its snuggly, velvety gullet. "I couldn't be more alright if I tried!"

"You sure about that?" Your gaze is a glare, burning... exorcizing... a heavenly crucible that burns so hot... so good. "You've been quiet all day and all afternoon, and if I didn't know better, I'd say you look like you've seen a ghost."

"Me?" I point at myself. "Quiet?" Why would I have a reason to be quiet? It's not as though there's a beating in my chest that threatens to explode out my throat the next moment I open my stupid muzzle. It's not like I've just spent the last twelve hours hiking up and down a mountain with the most gorgeous flank in all of Equestria tail-tossing right before my eyes. It's not like I've had to listen to your smextacular voice call out my name at random moments, asking me to scout out for the next climbing path, making my heart sing with every bit of trust you put in me, this silly little pegasus who can never earn the biggest, bestest, sexiest trophy in the world, because some things are just too untouchably awesome to ever once consider rubbing elbows with, much less cheeks and muzzles and lips, except for the one singular astronomical circumstance when fate requires a love-struck moron to clam her mouth shut and snuggle up with the angelic mare of her throbbing hot dreams and oh my tap-dancing goddess she's staring at me like I'm an idiot—just how long have I been hovering here, dead silent, struggling to say something anything: "Buck me." Dammit!

"Uhhhh..." You raise an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"

The sky is falling. I dodge meteorites and anvils as I try to squeak forth: "Uhm... but me... but I thought that we were g-going to have six sleeping bags! Y'know... one for each of us..." I fidget. "By our selves." I fidget some more. "Our... tender... sweet... pr-pretty selves."

"And in a perfect world where we had more room to pack, then that would be possible. But I done told you, Rainbow, we simply couldn't carry that many bags and the fritters for the wyverns at the same time!" You motion again. "Now git over here!"

"But... b-but..." I gasp, grinning wide. "Fluttershy!" I point at her and Rarity's bag. "She and I go back to grade school! We're like sisters! I should totally bunk with her!"

"Rarity and Fluttershy are already asleep."

"They are?" I look over. Dang it. "Dang it..." I wince. "Erm... well... uh... h-how 'bout I sleep with Twilight and—"

"I don't rightly think that y'all can manage it, what with both of yer wings crampin' up the bag n'all," you say. "Besides, Pinkie's already volunteered."

"Yeah, b-but she's Pinkie! She volunteers for everything! Get a firing squad to show up in Ponyville and she'd hop right in front of there were cupcakes promised!"

"I haven't a clue what yer gettin' at, sugarcube. What's the matter?" You blink. "Do you just not wanna share a bag with me? I know I've worked up a lot of sweat over the day. If yer worried that I might smell somethin' awful, then I guess that—"

Egads, no. "No! No no!" I wave my forelimbs. "Sweat is fine! I mean... you're super fine... I-I mean!" Ugh! Kill me now, moon. Just come to life and flatten me or something. "It's... it's me!" I grin and slap my hooves over my chest. "It's all me!"

"What's all you?"

My pupils shrink. I gulp a lump down my throat and say, "I... uh... I-I snore!" I grin wide, relishing in the awful fact about myself. "As a matter of fact, I snore like a demon! A wood sawing demon who lives in a store that sells nothing but cowbells and cymbals! I'd keep you up all night! Really, I would!"

"Hah!" Your laugh echoes across the fire-lit trees. I'm too thrilled by the dumb smirk on your face to register how much it's startled me. "Are ya kiddin'? I sleep next door to Big Macintosh everyday, and that fella snores up a steam locomotive every night! Whew! If I can sleep in my own house, I can sleep through anythang, includin' whatever tornado yer nostrils have to toss my way!"

"But... b-but I kick in my sleep!" I'm shivering at this point as I hover higher and higher, trying to get away from the warm, fuzzy fate that awaits me. "I-I-I dream of galloping in open fields and my legs do little hoofy-kicks all night! I-I have a lot of gas after eating pizza!" Even though I didn't eat a single slice of anything cheesy tonight, darn it. "Uhhhh... Oh! Until I was about age nine, I... uhm... I-I w-wet every cloud that I slept on. Y-yeah... I'd tell my folks all the time that I just slept on rainclouds but I'm pretty sure they bought it and—"

"Rainbow Dash, I ain't about to let you catch cold on account of bein' a nervous basket case! What's gotten into you all of the sudden?"

"Nothing! I just d-don't want to burden anypony! You c-can have the sleeping bag to yourself! Y-yeah!" I smile awkwardly. "I-I'll just find a warm cloud somewhere and... p-park it close to the moon! I'm sure it'll be slightly warmer than the rest of the sky!"

"Are y'all even hearin' yerself? Enough with this hoo-ha, Rainbow!" You frown. You frown at me. Good gosh, I've never been so ashamed and so turned on all at once. It almost prepares me for the authoritative bark that follows, shaking me down to the very base of my spine. "Just Quit Yer Fussin' and Snuggle Up, Sugarcube!" And, in the next blink, your frowning face melts into a motherly gaze of concern. "I'll be darned if my loyalest and most dependable friend freezes her tail off. Now get over here, please?"

Okay. I think I just flatlined. What's this mushy stuff sloshing around in the vacuum that once contained my heart? Whatever the case, I've lost the strength in my wings, and I'm fluttering down... down... down like a flailing leaf. The sleeping bag waits for me like a fuzzy tarmac, with an even fuzzier shade of orange waving me to land. The moment I make contact, it's like being engulfed in a warm cloud of electrical sparks. I almost imagine that it'd be colder to sleep inside the actual campfire itself. But even while I'm thinking this, I feel you reach over... reach over me.. and oh goddess rich sweat and apples and buttermilk pancakes and zippppppp goes the cold-as-ice metal teeth, locking us in, locking me in this prison... this heaven-prison with you. With you. I am sleeping with you. Omigosh omigosh omigosh pinch me great glowing squirrel god of the cosmos this is actually happeniiiing.

"There, now ain't that so bad?" Everything you say vibrates through me. This tight warm sleeping bag is a megaphone and you have your lips planted against my pulse. "Now get yerself comfy."

I twirl so hard to face away from you that I almost flip the entire damn bag over. I curl up into a fetal position, gazing wide-eyed into the flickering flames until I go blind. Neverthelss, each breath I take sends misty vapors into the air, and I think I see tiny effigies of stupidly grinning pegasi doing backflips and cartwheels before disappearing into the trees above.

"Uh huh..."

"You've got plenty of room?"

I gulp. "Uh huh."

"Wow... yer still shiverin' somethin' awful. Want me to zip us up tighter?"

Tighter? Tighter?!? "N-nuh uh."

"Hmmmm... well, okay, then." I feel you turn over, facing away from me. Whew. "Nighty-night, sugarcube."

"Mmmmmm—goodnightsweetdreamsdon'tletthebedbugsbiteokaybye!" I squeak, cheeks aflame.

I hear your laughter. It warms the bag tenfold, and I can't breathe—for fear that I'll scream joyous arias to the heavens for how deliciously toasty this single throbbing moment is. "Simmer down, sugarcube," you whisper, mindful not to wake our blissfully sleeping marefriends across the way, silly ponies with silly visions of a world that somehow doesn't include this heart-smitten pegasus whose whole life is about to implode with cuddlebumps and joy vomit any second now. "I dunno how you manage to be so dayum antsy this late at night."

"Antsy?" I grin crookedly. I feel the shivers rebounding, so I bite onto the plush material of the sleeping bag ensnaring me. "Mrmmmfff—whmm's hmntsy?"

"Anythang I can do to calm you down?"

What? What? You mean... like... reach over and stroke my mane, nuzzle my cheek, then nibble on my ears so I can either wake up from the silliest wet dream I've ever had or else die of a stroke and never move again? Somehow, I think the latter choice would relax me the most. But I can't ask for that. I can't ask for anything. This is the single-most awesome and terrible night of my entire life, and I'm not about to say a single word, for fear that you might find out... find out everything, the everything I've kept from you for so long because I thought I could just cling to it high above the clouds, high above you, on lonely afternoons when I've watched you kicking the trees into submission and on lonelier nights when I cried myself to sleep in anger and confusion over why I couldn't stop watching, stop dreaming, stop feeling this hot lava in the center of my heart and just... just... I dunno... fly off and join the freakin' wonderbolts already or live the life of a dragon hunter or just about friggin' anything that could kill me, stretch me, and distract me from the thought of you... of hearing you... of smelling you... of someday maybe having the opportunity to rub cheeks with you and squeal with delight and oh my goddess you are inches away from me and I can feel the bag expanding and contracting with your warm, heated breaths... mmmmmm... girl!

"Guh... Rainbow? Do ya mind?"

"Huh? What?" The wings. The wings, idiot! "Oh sh—!" I clamp my hissing muzzle shut. It takes all the strength in the world to snap my wings to my side. At least now I know they're there to stay. Heaven forbid I flex them now; I'm liable to rip the bag apart and knock you into the next continent. Celestia help me. "M-m-my bad..."

"Is that gonna happen all night?"

"... ... ... ... ... ...maybe."

"Perhaps it's better if you turned to face me, then."

"No! No no!" I gulp. "I... uhm... I-I'm good!"

"Well, if you say so."

I do. I do I do I do I do I do I do say so. My eyes clench shut as I try to imagine not-things. Not your bedroom eyes. Not the flicker of your sugar-sweet freckles in the firelight. Not the toss of your golden mane as it fans out around us, shrouding us close like a wedding veil as we lean our muzzles together and your murmur your golden promises up and down my neck until finally devouring my mouth with your honey'd lips and—awwwwwwww crap. They're going to stretch! They're gonna stretch! Quick! Think of totally unsexy, boring things! Uhhh... uhhhhh.... Train rides! No, too bumpy. Uhhhm... Rarity's dress making! No... darn it—all those hours of imagining how you could rock any of those stupid sexy gowns. Uhhhh... I know! Studying for an exam! There's nothing as stale as sitting at a lonesome wooden desk, staring at a chalkboard, pretending to learn. In fact, it puts me to sleep. And when I'm bored to sleep in a public place, my wings start to—Darn it to Tartarus! Kittens! Ice cold showers! Squirrel droppings! Mrs. Cake covered in baby vomit! Awwwwwww yusss! Whew... that was close...

"Y'know..." You speak through a yawn. I feel the sleeping bag rising and falling on your end, along with your smooth, smooth voice. "When Apple Bloom used to be real fussy at night, back when she was just a spry young'n... I'd trot into her room and read her a bedtime story. Heh... I still do, every now and then, though she wouldn't be bothered to admit it."

"Uh huh..."

"Works like a charm every time. Don't matter what story I tell her."

"Uh huh..."

"Ya reckon a bedtime story would work on you, sugarcube?"

"... ... ...uh huh."

"Hmmm... let's see..." I hear the hint of a chuckle. You stir on your end of the sleeping bag, and I'm doing all I can to shrink away from you, to give you as much reverent birth as possible. "What could actually bore the famous Rainbow Dash to sleep?" Just then, a slight quiver. "Ha! I got a good one. Now close yer eyes, darlin'."

"Uhhhh..." I gulp and obey, nevertheless shivering. "Sure thing." I clench my eyes tight, shutting out the world and the firelight and the crickets and everything else. "Fire away."

"There once was a lil' filly who grew up on the farm. One day, she thought to herself, 'Hmmm... maybe I'm not cut out for this funny farm business! Maybe I should try livin' in the city instead!' So, packin' her thangs, she set out for the Big Apple, where her Aunt and Uncle lived. She reckoned that since city livin' didn't have apple orchards to tend to or plows to pull or livestock to feed, that it had to have been a mighty easy place to make a livin', and she was certain her Aunt and Uncle would do their darnedest to make her feel at home."

"Mmmhmmm..."

"And... well..." You pause. I wonder if the story is ending prematurely, until I hear the warbling tone in your voice and realize that you're fighting yawn after yawn... a veritable tsunami of exhausted pony breaths. "...well she soon realized she had bit more than she could chew. Livin' in the city meant dressin' up fancy, fixin' yer mane just right, and sayin' all the right words with unnecessary civility. She had to learn new vocabulary everyday, how to curtsy, how to set her place at the dinner table. It was just too much for a lil' filly from the farm to handle. At first she... bl-blamed herself 'cuz... 'cuz she thought she was failin' somehow. After all, if she couldn't learn to blend in anywhere, th-then what was... what was the point in settin' her hooves... at doin' anythang...?"

"Uh huh..."

"But... b-but then everythang changed..." A yawn. "Because... one day..." Another yawn. "She... she saw somethin' pointing her home... and it was like a sign... a sign that..." Yawning. "...told her that there was only one place to be... and it was okay if it was simple and maybe even boring-like... because... because it meant..." A breathy lapse. "...it m-meant that she could be... at home... with her friends... and her family... and everythang was just... was just..." A lasting coo. "Just riiiiiiight..."

I feel the bag settle. All is still. The night chirps and crackles around us. I'm snuggled between the heat of the fire and the heat of you, and yet still I feel like I'm leaning precariously off the edge of an impossibly high cliff.

"What..." I gulp. I shouldn't be talking. I shouldn't be breathing. This bag is too hallowed of a shrine to allow the likes of me. "What d-did you see, Applejack?"

Silence.

"...Applejack?"

Nothing.

I turn my neck and glance over my shoulder.

You are lying dead-still. Your shoulders shift in slow, rhythmic motions. I know that you're asleep, I just never once thought it would look... would feel so heavenly. Here in this tight, fuzzy sleeping bag I feel you, your heartbeat, your every tiny twitch and slumbering murmur. Maybe... just maybe this is the closest I'll ever get... the closest I'll ever get to the best thing that could happen to me, even if it had to arrive via the worst thing to ever happen to me.

But, in a way, I'm relieved, because the worst of it is over. And by the worst of it, I mean the best of it. Now that you're asleep, I don't have to worry about you feeling my shivers, or seeing the sweat running down my brow, or smelling the pallid fear wafting from my nostrils. For the first time since I rolled into this bag an eternity ago, I can relax around you. Like you're... y'know... a friend. A best friend. And if friends can't chillax with one another, then what's the point in entertaining anything more? But... pffft... who's entertaining? Certainly not this pegasus... this mad mare who could explode with joy and fear at any second at the merest scent of you.

I've got to stop shivering. The last thing I wanna do is wake you. I've had nightmares of making you mad at me before, but I'm sure none of those obsessive fever dreams could even compare to the real deal, in all of its growling and snarling terribadness.

Just...

Just gotta stretch my legs. No need to be in a fetal position all night.

Just stretch the legs, idiot, not the wings.

There...

There we go.

See? That wasn't so bad. And it's not like I'm taking too much space from the goddess sleeping next to me or—

Something silky smooth brushes past my leg. It takes a few seconds of navigating the explosions in my mind to realize that I've made contact with your tail. Your beautiful, beautiful golden mass of cloud-soft tail hairs. Only... they're not soft. I've always imagined, but not until now have I realized that—in reality—they're coarse and hard and stiff, like haystalks. And... you know what? I couldn't have asked for anything more true... more honest... more you. So, all things considered, they're "soft" to me, in that the touch is making me melt into pony pony pony mush inside. Holy horseapples, I wonder what your mane feels like—NO!

No no no no no absolutely NOT! How could I even think of such a thing?! This is not my house! This is not my shower! This may be heavenly and awesome and amazing but it is not a dream! And I'm still your friend and an awesome pony and a loyal one at that! No! Shutting my eyes, now! Curling back into a fetal position, now! Biting my teeth together and preparing for the long thin needle of reality... now! I don't care if I'm uncomfortable like this all night. I don't care if I don't get an ounce of sleep! So long as one pony in this sleeping bag remains clueless, the other remains innocent. So what if you're just a roll and a scoot away? So what if I could... c-could maybe possibly steal a kiss or two before sunrise, I... I-I...

Grnnnngh... No! Stupid, stupid fuzzhead! Why does the world have to revolve around me?! Haven't I learned anything?! Haven't you, of all ponies, made me look twice at everything... and how I matter to everything? For years and years, all I wanted to do was show off. But then I met Twilight, and then I made friends, and then I got to know you more, and with each passing day I learned what it meant to be selfless, to be simple, to work day-in and day-out for the farm and family all the time and yet somehow still be awesome at it. Because that's what you are: awesome. To believe in something so much that you can make something as mundane as apple-bucking look sexy and cool. THAT takes some guts... guts that I never knew I lacked until I tried outshining you in every way and lost.

I've lost to you from day one. Let's face it. There are a lot of things you don't know about me, and the feelings that I have, but we both know that the Iron Pony competition was a scam, that I used my wings to cheat at everything. At the time, it was simply because I couldn't stand to lose to you, even if it cost me my dignity. It's taken a while, a few bumps and scrapes and head butts between me and you-know-you, but I've come to realize differently, that there's more to life than being the best that one can be. Sometimes, it matters to be even better at what you can't be, and to live that dire, uphill grind without complaining, instead sacrificing everything for the things one loves, even if I know you'll never love me back...

And since then, since the day I realized how much I had lost to you, there was only one thing that made sense in my mind. If I couldn't beat you, then some way—somehow—the only way I could break even was to join you, join you in your toil, join you in your mantra, join you in your zen—whatever. Whatever it is that makes you tick. And that enigma turned into a quest and that quest churned into a burning fire, and suddenly—before I knew it—I was waking up each morning with one unshakeable thought. I just simply could not be you. But maybe... just maybe... in another world... in a much happier, warmer, gigglier dimension, I might be lucky enough to win you. And if that could happen... even if only in my dreams—I could actually get that lucky, that awesome, then I would no longer need to worry about earning any trophies or putting my name in the history books, because I would have had the best prize in the world. And if somehow I was that same pony's prize as well...

I... I can't. I just can't. Life could never be like that... could never be that good. If I think any more of it... if I dwell on the subject even further... this bag will flood to the brim with all my insides and they'll have to bury me in a plastic bag. I just need to close my eyes, lay still, and practice for death.

So intent am I on this noble task, that I don't feel the stirring on the far side of the bag until I hear a voice... that voice... your voice...

"Mrmmff... nghuu... the apples... mmmff... don't..."

I blink. "Huh?" The bag is stirring and stirring. I start to wonder if maybe some... I dunno... wild coyote has slipped out from the forest and is currently pawing your side of the sleeping mat. "AJ?" The bag shakes even more. "AJ, what's the matter—?"

I turn to look. That's when the hooves clasp around me. My whole body freezes, and—like some tiny porcelain doll cracking down the center—I'm turned over and pulled into the mother of all warm, apple-scented hugs. I don't want to move. I don't want to breathe. I know what's going on and yet I don't. When my eyes open, all I see is warm fuzz. Your fuzz. Orange and turning oranger by the second in this glimmering firelight.

I tilt my head up, and I stare into heaven. Your muzzle: a tense, sleepy sky full of starry freckles... and it's looming just inches from my nose, a pony sneeze away. I clamp both nostrils shut as I stare at you with beady eyes. Is this real? Does the nightmare never end? Should I scream or should I giggle? Should I weep quietly or pull my eyes out? I don't know. I just don't... don't...

"Mrmmfuu..." Your lips move, and so do your eyes. Only your eyes are shut—tensely too. I see the lids darting and twitching. Your limbs quake. You're having a dream. Somehow, I think it's actually worse than the thing I'm living through right now. Is this normal? Is this something that you legitimately go through every so often? So, why now? Why on this one astronomical occasion when I happen to be sharing the same enclosed bed-space with the mare of my dreams? Why...?

"AJ..." I finally hiss. Maybe this is a bad idea. I don't want you waking up to see how you've unconsciously cuddled me out of friggin' nowhere. But if I wait any longer... who knows how more awkward this could get... what kind of a stupid scene you could inevitably wake up to. "AJ, hello?" I murmur. "You're... uh... having a bad dream, or something."

I do something heroically stupid. I raise two hooves and shake your shoulders.

"AJ, snap out of it—"

"Ghuuu..." I feel your arms wrap tightly around me. Suddenly, I'm being squished by your strong, athletic limbs. I'm being mushed. Chest to fuzzy chest. I'm being... being... Oh dear Celestia, don't faint! Don't be a wuss! Don't siss out on AJ when she needs... sh-she needs... Oh Goddess, that fuzz... that sweet, sweaty, apple-scented fuzz. The days... the months... the years of strong, muscular farm labor just clinging to you like caramel on an apple stick, dribbling... dripping... saturating.

"AJ!" I squeak, trying not to squee. I feel a lot of loose air inside the sleeping bag, and only now do I realize that my wings have shot off like blue bottlerockets rockets behind me. It makes it even more impossible to pry myself out of your delightfully inescapable body hug. "Nnnngh! AJ, for realsies! Could you just... c-could you please just..."

"Mmmm..." And then I see it. A tear. Two tears. Beads of moisture cling to your eyelashes. They reflect a distraught pegasus' face, and still that idiotic worrywort's expression can't match the utter pain clinging to every freckle, every dimple, stretching your sleeping features into a pained grimace while the next few words limp out in a foalish murmur and brush against my shivering nose. "Mama... Papa... mmff... the apples... d-dun go..." Your legs curl up as you hug me tighter. "Pl-please..." A sniffle, a quiver, and you're whimpering again in a sleepy tone. "Don't leave me..."

There are times in my life when things have crumbled, when I lost faith in something I've believed in so dedicatedly. When I met Daring Do, and she turned out to be something of an antisocial jerkwad, that was a bit of a dream-crusher. When the Wonderbolts asked me to join their Equestrian Games team—only to shun Soarin'—that was pretty eye-opening, but in a totally lame way. I have to admit, after having trotting a few dozen times through the Crystal Palace, I've lost all awe for royal places in general. Having done a lot of stuff and accomplished a bunch of feats, I've had many an opportunity to watch the things I believe in deteriorate.

This is not one of those times. I don't know much about your parents. I mean... sure... I know that they're not around anymore... that they left this world a long, long time ago. But the "how" and "why" has always been a mystery to me. I figured it was no big deal since you seemed pretty much "over it." But this? This is a different mare, far from the strong and dependable pony I've incessantly fantasized about. And you know what?

I don't like her any less. You'd think I'd be let down, that I'd be embarrassed by how wimpy and clingy you've become on account of some stupid foal's dream. But, I'm not. How could I be? This is real. For the first time since this calamitous night fell on top of me, I feel like there's something that makes sense here. And I don't think of you any less. I don't feel for you any less. Instead, I believe... I feel...

I-I think this is where I come in...

"Applejack..." I lean forward. I whisper into your ear. "Appeljack" I give your shoulders a tender squeeze. "It's okay, girl. Really."

You stir, your voice high-pitched and breathy. "Mrmff... I miss... I-I miss..."

"Shhhh... just sleep, okay?" I try smiling, as if you can somehow see me beyond the heavenly veil of those lids. "Everything's fine. You're strong. You've handled worse. And besides, I..." I bite my lip, then squeeze your shoulders again. "Your Ma and Pa love you." I swallow. "And they're in a better place now."

"Mrmmffeeyarrrre?"

"Yup..." I smile. "Just relax. You'll join them someday... okay? It'll be awesome. Trust me."

"Hmmmmff..." Then something happens. Something like a smile. It's your turn to curl into a fetal position, and you nuzzle your golden mane into my chest, along with all its wonderfully coarse strands. "Hfrmmmswommme..." And, just like that, the stirring stops. Your eyelids relax. Your lips purse, exhaling gently with steady breaths. All is still once again.

Only after I've finished watching you drift off into slumber do I realize that I've been holding you this entire time.... holding you tight. I keep your shoulders steady as the night carries your consciousness away, leaving this flawless effigy in my grasp. I'm aware that I'm no longer shivering, as if at last I've found something about this whole situation that isn't awkward, that is as righteous... as serene... as friendly as our relationship should ever be.

And yet, there's more... something new... something I have never felt before. I had always assumed that I felt it... or that someday I would feel it. I just had no words to describe it until now... now that it's happened... now that I can see the traces of my life changing, morphing, accommodating for the fact that nothing will ever be the same again, and I'll be a better pony for it... a better pony thanks to you.

Because this feeling... this feeling is true. This feeling that I am more than just your friend. This feeling that I am more than just a loyal pony for you to depend on. I am something that includes all of that, and yet is higher... deeper... warmer. I am a mother. I am a sister. I am a wife. I am everything and anything all at once. But mostly this. I am this. I want this.

I want to belong. I want to belong and I want to belong to you. I want it more than anything I can ever win with my super speed and flight tricks and boasts and awesome-anything.

And before I know it, something I thought might someday happen—but never thought I'd have the strength to go through with—has happened. And it's so soft and so silly and so simple of a thing. It makes no difference if it'll go nowhere or if you'll never know about it or if all of recorded history will overlook it whatsoever.

It doesn't change the fact that, just a few seconds ago, for the first time and not for the last, I've fallen in love with you.

Yeah. I think it's my turn to cry. No biggy. They're not sad tears.

With a slight sniffle, I hold you close, feeling as your slumbering head nuzzles into my chest. I can't recall ever having to protect you in any of my fantasies. But, hey, life may be short, but dreams last even longer. There's plenty of time to flip things around, just like you've done to me, just like...

The fire crackles. The forest yawns. My eyes drip shut.

And I'm lost in you.

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