• Published 13th Sep 2012
  • 16,228 Views, 576 Comments

The Twilight Hours - chief maximus

AJ and Twilight keep meeting in her library in the middle of the night, and RD wants answers!

  • ...

Part 1

Part 1

The scratching of quill against parchment echoed around the downstairs walls of Twilight's library. A lone candle burned by her desktop, the wax having nearly melted away. The shimmering light of the shrinking flame illuminated the frazzled mane and sagging eyelids of a mare on a mission to finish taking notes on the last chapter of Miracles of Modern Magic before she went to bed.

Twilight felt another yawn coming on, bringing her quill to a halt and raising a hoof to stifle it. A soft snoring from across the room let her know Spike had already fallen asleep on the couch.

Twilight glanced behind her where her number one assistant lay sprawled out, his comic book resting over his eyes. A heavy sigh signaled it was nearing her bedtime as well. Although it wasn't that late, she found herself fighting to stay awake. She had just received this book from the Canterlot Archives, and simply couldn't sleep soundly knowing there was unlearned information calling to her from downstairs. She was a few pages away from finishing the book, but she knew continuing would only lead to her waking up with another page stuck to the side of her face and a puddle of drool warping the pages.

On top of that, this happened to be a first edition hardcover, with a foreword by the author herself. There was no way she was about to ruin a book this rare because she was too stubborn to know when she needed sleep. Forcing her eyes to remain open for a few more minutes, she placed a mark in the book and set her notes inside the desk.

She levitated a blanket over her sleeping dragon, and took one last look at the book taunting her from the desk. Tomorrow, Twilight. Tomorrow.

She began to make her way upstairs, taking the dim candle in her magic. As she approached the steps, a gentle knocking stopped her ascent. Glaring at the door, she set the candle on an end table. Who needs a book at this time of night? she thought, kicking herself for not having changed the sign to 'Closed'.

Twilight opened the door to reveal Applejack waiting outside. Noticing her frazzled appearance, Applejack withdrew slightly. "Howdy, Twilight. Uh, this a bad time?"

Twilight smiled weakly. "No, it's okay," she said with a yawn. "I don't suppose you need a book?"

"Naw," Applejack chuckled. "Ah just had a question."

"C'mon in."

Applejack trotted inside, careful not to make too much noise.

"So, what's up?" Twilight asked.

"Well, Mac's been in Appleloosa helpin' Braeburn and his family replant some 'a the trees they lost in a tornado. He ain't gonna be back for a few more weeks, and..." Applejack's eyes shifted from Twilight's to the floor, piquing her curiosity.

"And?" Twilight completed quietly, growing somewhat impatient with her usually straightforward pal.

"And... Apple Bloom's been havin' some trouble with her homework. Ta be honest, some of it's, well, out of my realm of recollection, and Granny's not very reliable for book learnin'," she admitted sheepishly.

At least the lesson about asking for help seems to have stuck. Twilight thought. "I'd be happy to help Apple Bloom with her homework!" Twilight said, clapping her hooves together. "Just bring her by the library tomorrow after school, and we'll get started."

"You sure it ain't too much trouble?" A grin spread across Applejack’s face. "Don't you want to know what subject it is?"

"No trouble at all, I think it'll be fun!" Twilight returned her friend's smile.

"Well, alright then," Applejack laughed, heading towards the door. "Thanks again, Twi."

"No problem, see you tomorrow!" she said before shutting the door behind Applejack.

Twilight exhaled, ready to call it a day and snuggle up in her bed for a solid night's rest. She locked the library door and ascended the stairs with what was left of her candle, careful to avoid the creaky steps.

Setting the candle on her nightstand, she shimmied beneath her bedspread, having little time to ponder the exciting day ahead before the sandpony's embrace whisked her away to dreamland. Spike had never shown much interest in academics, and since he wasn't required to go to school he never had any homework for Twilight to help him with.

Truthfully, Twilight had always wanted a younger sister to teach things to, or help when she had problems. She hoped Applejack wouldn't mind her indulging her latent desire to instruct on her sister. Then again, she wouldn't have asked if she didn't want her help. Twilight bottled her excitement as she fell into a deep sleep.

Applejack and Granny Smith had breakfast ready by the time Apple Bloom came down the stairs. Her schoolbooks were still spread out on the kitchen table, the filly having pulled a very late night last night.

"Applejack, does this look right ta you?" she asked, taking her bowl of oatmeal to the table next to Granny Smith. Applejack turned from the stove, trotting over to her sister's side. Apple Bloom studied her sister's features as she scanned over her homework.

"Uh ... It looks good ta me, sugarcube," Applejack said honestly.

"Are ya sure?" she whined, "Ah don't want ta get a bad grade on it!"

"Don't you fret, silly filly. Twilight said she's gonna start helpin' ya after school, startin' today," she said over her shoulder, trotting back toward the stove to stir the remaining bit of oatmeal in the pot.

After finishing her breakfast, Apple Bloom began putting her books into her saddlebags. She set them on her shoulders and headed out the door. “Have a good day at school!” Applejack called after her.

Granny Smith retired to her rocker, tuning the radio to her stories while Applejack cleaned up the kitchen. “Got a lot of chores today, do ya?”

“Naw, just my regular,” Applejack replied. “Mac was sure ta take care of his chores for the next week before he left for cousin Braeburn’s.”

“Go on then, Ah’ll finish cleanin’ th’ kitchen,” Granny insisted, straining to rise from her rocker before getting her hooves under her.

“Granny, you ain’t got to do that,” Applejack said. Granny raised a silencing hoof.

“G’on and get yer chores done now." Her grandmother smiled, hobbling over to the kitchen sink. "Let th’ old gray mares tend to th’ housework, ya hear?”

“Yes ma’am.” Applejack nodded, straightening her hat and heading out of the front screen door.

“About time, AJ!”

A prismatic tail hung off a small cloud above her house.

“Ain’t you got a job, Rainbow?”

Her friend rolled onto her belly, hanging her head and forehooves over the edge of her fluffy pillow. “Yeah, but today’s supposed to be sunny, so I didn’t really have much to do,” she explained, tilting her head to one side. “So how’s the farm been since Big left?”

“Just fine," she said, flipping her mane out of her eyes. "Ah can handle it on my own for a few weeks,”

“Right, just make sure you get enough sleep,” Rainbow teased. “Wouldn’t want you accidently wrecking half the town again.”

Applejack’s brow furrowed as she walked to the barn to start her chores. Rainbow casually floated along behind her, pushing her cloud with a lazy flap of her wings.

“Ah don’t know how many times ya want me ta apologize for flingin’ ya into Twilight’s house,” she grumbled.

“Well, since my concussion took a few weeks to heal, I’d say I’ve still got at least another week of teasing ahead of me.” She smiled, hopping off her cloud and landing in front of Applejack. “C’mon, once you’re done kicking dirt around, I know a place where we can get some killer cucumber-and-daffodil sandwiches.”

Applejack smiled, tipping her hat back. “Alright, but I’ll get done faster with a little help."

Rainbow already knew where this was headed. She sighed. “Alright, alright, I’ll help you kick trees or whatever...”

With Rainbow's help, her morning chores were finished just as lunch time rolled around. Applejack shoved the last bushel of apples into the barn, wiping the sweat from her brow. “You about ready for lunch?”

“I was ready when I got here!” Rainbow replied, her stomach echoing her complaints.

“Alright, just let me lock up the barn and we’ll get to walkin’.”

“Walking?" Rainbow complained, "No self-respecting pegasus just walks someplace! I’ll die of starvation by the time we walk there!”

“Well Ah don’t know how else you ‘spect me to get there.”

A sly grin crept across Dash’s face as Applejack realized what she was planning.

“Don’t you even think about it! Ah swear if you try ta—”

There was no stopping Rainbow once a motivation like hunger struck. She scooped Applejack up underneath her forelegs and hoisted her skyward, despite a flurry of obscenities from her cargo. Once high enough, Rainbow tossed Applejack into the air, flying underneath her in time to catch her on her back.

“What did Ah tell you about that?!”

“Relax, Applejack, you know I’ve never dropped you ... except that one time, and even then, I caught you before you hit the ground.”

Appplejack gripped Dash’s neck tightly. Only Rainbow Dash knew how much her friend—and occasional rival—hated flying.

Lucky for both of them, Ponyville proper was only a few minutes away. After landing in the center of town, Rainbow sat on her haunches. Applejack slid off her back, careful not to bump her wings.

Applejack glowered at Rainbow while she re-tied her mane and tail with her signature red rubber band.

“Oh come on, don’t give me that look. We’re here aren’t we?” Nothing but silence and a glare. “Alright, fine. I’ll buy you lunch. Happy?”

“Very.” Applejack smiled.

The two entered the courtyard and sat down, their handsome young waiter quickly greeting them to give them menus.

“What are you gonna get?” Rainbow asked, scanning over the lunch specials.

“Ah dunno, what looks good to you?”

“Well, Pinkie says the sandwiches are pretty good here, but I might try the hayseed salad.”

Applejack’s eyes darted from side to side as she tried to decide on an item. Their waiter returned with two glasses of water, ready to take their orders. “Let me get the hayseed salad, with the vinaigrette dressing,” Rainbow said.

“Very good, Madame. Croutons?”

“As many as I can legally have,” Dash replied, giving him her menu.

“And for you, my beautiful hay flower?”

“Stop.” She blushed, looking at her menu. “Uh..." Applejack nervously glanced at the waiter, and then back to Rainbow. “Y’all have cucumber sandwiches, right?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“Ah’ll have one of those with daffodils added, please.”

“Excellent choice. Which side item would you like?”

“What kind d’ya have?”

“Our side items are listed at the bottom of the menu,” he replied, tapping the menu Rainbow had given him.

“Right! How could Ah have missed ‘em,” she laughed, a bead of sweat forming along her brow and sliding down her jaw line.

“You alright, AJ?” Rainbow asked, noticing how nervous her friend appeared.

“Ah’m fine, just let me pick my side...” she replied, looking up from her menu. “What would you recommend?”

“The creamed spinach is quite good today,” the waiter answered.

“Then I’ll have that, thanks,” Applejack sighed in relief.

“You sure you’re okay?” Rainbow asked again.

“Ah said Ah’m fine, just leave it alone,” she snapped, a flash of annoyance clear in her eyes.

“Okay, sheesh,” Dash mumbled.

Applejack took a long sip of her water. “Ah’m sorry, Rainbow. Ah guess workin’ the farm alone is takin’ more of a toll on me than Ah thought.”

Rainbow smiled at her from across the table. “It’s cool, we all get overworked sometimes.”

“Yeah, Ah guess ya never realize how much work somepony does until they stop doin’ it.”

“So, now that you’re done with your chores, what else you got planned?” Rainbow asked, taking a sip of her cool drink.

Applejack removed her hat and placed it on the back of her chair. “Pick Apple Bloom up from school, then take her over ta Twilight’s for some tutorin’.”

“Cool. I think I’m gonna grab Scootaloo and take her for some ice cream or something. I’ve been kinda blowing her off to practice... I know how much she likes to watch me.”

“Aw, that’s mighty sweet of ya, Rainbow,” Applejack teased.

“Yeah, well, she deserves it, and now she can’t say I’ve never done anything for her,” Rainbow replied, folding her forelegs across her chest.

After they had eaten their fill, it was nearly time to pick their respective fillies up from school, meeting Rarity along the way.

“Applejack! Ah got a 'B' plus on my language homework!” Apple Bloom bounded out of the schoolhouse with her paper securely in her mouth, followed closely by Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo.

Applejack hugged her sister. “That’s great, Apple Bloom! Ah’m real proud of ya!”

“And how about you Sweetie Belle?” Rarity asked expectantly, knowing her sister was a natural at both the written and spoken word.

“I got an 'A' plus!" she said happily. "I ruined the curve for everypony!”

“That’s my girl!” Rarity beamed as Rainbow Dash looked to Scootaloo. Her expression seemed to betray her grade.

“How’d you make out, squirt?”

The flightless filly averted her gaze to her hooves, pawing the ground nervously before staring back into her idol’s eyes.

“I...” she began, only to glance away again, “got an A!” she squealed in delight, putting on quite the act before being flung onto Dash’s back.

“Great job, kid! I think that deserves some ice cream, how about you?”

Scootaloo hugged her neck tightly as Dash rose into the air before abruptly pausing.

“You two coming with or what?” she asked, hovering above her friends and their sisters.

“Well, I think Sweetie’s earned a reward for her hard work.” Rarity smiled. Apple Bloom looked hopefully to her older sister, who simply shook her head.

“Sorry girls, Apple Bloom and Ah have an appointment to keep with Twilight.”

“But what if we just went for a little while and—” She was cut off by an insistent hoof from her older sister.

“Twilight is expectin’ us after school, and that’s when we’re gonna show up. C’mon now.” She nudged her gently as Rarity and Rainbow Dash both bid them goodbye and headed into town.

Apple Bloom sighed as she put her homework back into her saddlebag and hoisted it onto her shoulders. “How come all my friends get a reward for doin’ good and Ah don’t?”

“Don’t be a silly filly, we’ll get ya a right good reward when we get home," she explained, walking beside her still distraught little sister. "A pony’s word is their bond, and Ah told Twilight Ah’d bring you by after school so we could raise that ‘B’ to an ‘A’.”

“But it was your word, not mine!" she whined. "Ah think Ah’m doin’ good enough in language ta pass!”

“Hush now, Ah don’t want ta hear no more about it. You don’t realize how lucky you are ta even be able ta go ta school,” she admonished her sibling. “You could have ta wake up at the crack of dawn every mornin’ and break your back until sunset, only ta repeat the process every darn day like your brother and Ah do.”

“It’d be better than goin’ ta school,” she mumbled as the two arrived at Twilight’s treehouse. “Please don’t make me do this,” Apple Bloom begged, her pleas falling on deaf ears. “Twilight can be so... boring.”

Apple Bloom felt the smack of her sister’s hoof against her bow. “Twilight was nice enough ta offer ta tutor you without askin’ anythin’ in return, so you’re gonna get in there, and learn somethin’ or so help me Ah’ll wear your hide out when we get back ta the farm,” Applejack threatened in a very uncharacteristic tone. Apple Bloom tensed up immediately.

A brief knock brought Spike to the door. “Oh, hey! Twilight mentioned you guys were coming by.” He stepped back, going to the kitchen to pick up a tea tray and bring it to where Twilight sat, nose deep in a book on her favorite reading cushion.

“Twilight, your student is here,” Spike called, setting her tea down as she withdrew from her literature. She beamed with excitement at the prospect of teaching another pony.

“Hi, Apple Bloom! Ready to get started?” she asked cheerfully.

“Thanks for doin’ this, Twilight. Ah really appreciate it,” Applejack said, before taking a seat on the couch behind the two.

"It's no problem at all!" Twilight replied as she helped Apple Bloom remove her books from her saddlebags. "Spike can point you to a new shipment of farmers' guides, if you'd like to read them while you wait on us."

“Oh, uhm, that’s alright Twilight, Ah’ll just—”

“It’s cool, AJ, I pulled these books out before you got here,” Spike said, waddling over with an armload of books blocking his vision. He dumped them beside Applejack, slapping his claws together proudly.

“Thanks, Spike,” she said half-heartedly.

“Okay then, Apple Bloom, lets get started,” Twilight said, setting a smaller cushion next to her.

Her textbook in front of her, the filly climbed onto the pillow and began explaining the night’s homework assignment. As they began their work, Applejack glanced over at the books Spike had laid out for her. Picking up the first one, she cracked it open to the center, finding a few pictures of farmers from what looked like the time of her grandmother.

As the hours passed, Applejack grew tired of flipping through the various books on all things agriculture Spike had given her. She yawned, stretching out on the couch, more than willing to snag a quick nap. Unlike her pal Rainbow, she wasn’t much afforded the luxury of daytime sleeping, so she took the chance and ran—er, slept with it.

Her eyes fluttered open. Apple Bloom was already waiting by the door with her bags packed.

“Done already?” she yawned.

“Yep, it’s gonna be dark soon if we don’t get a move on. ‘Sides that, you still owe me a reward for doin’ good in school today,” the little filly was quick to remind her.

“Yeah, Ah suppose Ah do,” she replied, stretching her legs and standing from the couch. “Jus’ let me put these books back. Where do they go, Twi?”

“Oh, just on the third shelf. Alphabetically, by author if you don’t mind.”

Applejack grinned and rolled her eyes, “Sure thing.”

She took the books to the space that had been cleared by their absence and began looking at the spines, her mouth moving slightly as she recited the alphabet to herself. Just as she had placed one confidently against its neighbors, Apple Bloom hurried her.

“C’mon Applejack, Ah’m gettin’ sleepy!” she whined, even her bow beginning to droop from fatigue.

She threw all the books back on the shelf, disregarding the proper order in which Twilight kept her library. “Ah’m comin’, don’t get your tail in a twist,” she shot back, heading out of the library with her little sister in tow. “Thanks again, Twi!”

“It was my pleasure Applejack. Can I expect you two tomorrow?” she called from her door as the two earth ponies walked down the road as the sun set.

“Nope, tomorrow’s Saturday,” Applejack laughed.

Twilight giggled, admonishing herself. If it weren’t for my day planner, I’d probably forget what year it was! she thought. “Right, see you later!”

Later on that night, Twilight sat back on her cushion. She had just put Spike to bed to make some time for a bit of late night reading. She carefully poured herself a cup of her favorite night time tea and lit a lavender-scented candle. Setting both by her pillow with care, she sighed contently. Ritual was just as important as reading material, which was the next item on her agenda.

She had poured over The Art of Peace two nights ago, and kept her philosophical train of thought going with Marestotle’s classic text, Equestrian Ethics, the night before. Now, however, she craved the lighter fare of a more modern work.

Since the Apples had just been by, she thought it a good time to learn a bit about the history of agriculture in Ponyville. Trotting jauntily to the appropriate shelf, scanning the spines for a title that piqued her interest. Or, she would have, if she hadn't noticed a heinous and terrible crime had been committed against the very organizational skill on which she prided herself.

Five books were out of place! This simply couldn’t be right; Spike was always careful to follow her instructions when organizing the shelves. On top of that, he hadn’t been in this section except to pull those books for Applejack.

She gasped when she realized Applejack had put those books away! Didn't I ask her to arrange them by author? she wondered. Oh well, I’m sure she was just in a hurry to get Apple Bloom home for dinner, she thought, shifting the books back into their proper order before removing Farming in Ponyville: A Complete History.

Settling on her cushion, she sipped her tea and began at page one. As she read, a nagging thought kept pushing its way past her general interest in the subject at hoof. How on Earth had Applejack not been able to organize six books in alphabetical order?

She was just in a hurry, Twilight, you’re overthinking things again, she admonished herself. As she neared the bottom of her teacup, the silliest of ideas popped into her head. What if Applejack didn’t know how to read?

She chuckled at such an idea, deciding that it was well past her bedtime. Climbing the steps to her bed, she continued to smile at the absurd idea that one of her adult friends didn’t know how to read.

That is ridiculous, I bet Applejack would get a laugh out of that! she thought, placing the candle on her nightstand and snuggling into her starry bedspread for the evening. With a quick puff, she blew out the candle and fell asleep quickly.

Applejack had already finished her chores by the time the sunlight peaked over the hills of her orchard. Before heading out to Appleloosa, Mac had given her a list of places he needed her to go. She walked into the house and grabbed the list off the counter.

Applejack placed the list on Granny Smith's rocker as she heard the Apple elder coming slowly down the steps. She made her way to her favorite old wooden chair and noticed the list.

"What's this here paper on my chair fer?"

Applejack turned from the kitchen. "What's it say, Granny?"

She found her reading glasses around her neck and set them on the bridge of her nose. "Says 'nails at the hardware store, quill ink at the stationary shop, and a book called Crossbreeding Apple Trees and the Genetic Implications Thereof by Scotch Bingeington."

"Ah, that's my list of errands. Ah thought Ah left it somewhere." Applejack smiled, trotting over to fetch the list. After a quick breakfast, she stowed the list in her saddlebags and headed into town. The shops and stalls were all opening up just as she walked through. She loved getting errands out of the way early. There was never any lines anywhere, and all the items were always in stock at this hour. Applejack made quick work of the nails at the hardware store, and even faster work of the jars of quill ink. She recalled the last stop on her list was Twilight's.

The library was on the way back to the farm so it made sense to make it her last stop. Applejack always enjoyed a visit with friends, and Twilight usually had some tea ready by this time in the morning.

Twilight was already puttering about the library as Spike worked on breakfast. She removed a book she had been flipping through last night from the shelf, keeping a sharp ear out for the whistle of her tea kettle. Twilight took a seat on her well-imprinted reading cushion and removed her bookmark from Miracles of Modern Magic: Vol II. Before she could re-immerse herself, a knock beckoned at her front door.

Though she was a librarian and loved helping other ponies fulfill their literary needs, she wasn't very enthusiastic about it until after her morning tea. Casting a glare at her still silent tea kettle, she trotted over to answer the door.

Twilight opened the door and saw that it was Applejack, which was a modicum of good news in itself. "Hey Applejack, nice to see you."

"You too, Twi. How are ya this mornin'?" She showed herself in.

"I'm good. I'll be better once my tea is ready." She smiled, shutting the door behind her. "So how's Apple Bloom doing?"

"She's fine, but we'll know for sure once she gets more homework."

Twilight nodded. "Well, she's always welcome if she ever needs any help," she reminded her friend. "Anyway, what brings you around this early?"

"Ah just came for a book. Somethin' about the genetics of crossbreedin' apple trees?"

"Oh yes, that's in the 'C's I'll just—"

The hiss of the tea kettle interrupted Twilight as she turned back toward the kitchen. "Tea's ready!" she sang. "Do you mind grabbing it yourself while I get that?"

"Uh, sure thing Twi..." Applejack said softly. She trotted over to the appropriate shelves. Eyeing the tall shelf, she scanned the spines slowly, trying to recall which book it was her brother was after. She scratched her chin in thought as she looked over the shelf. Unbeknownst to her, Twilight was watching her from the kitchen. The absurd notion that Applejack couldn't read leapt to the forefront of her mind, nearly eliciting a chuckle.

She turned back and took a sip of her tea, then set Applejack's cup down on the table. The clink of the porcelain snapping Applejack out of her trance as she grabbed what she believed to be the appropriate book. She slid it into her saddlebag and joined Twilight at her table. Normally Applejack wasn't much for tea, but after hanging out with Twilight for a while, the drink had grown on her.

"So what has Macintosh been up to?" Twilight asked as innocuously as she could. Applejack smirked. She knew her brother was a hot commodity to many of the town's mares. She had learned to put up with ponies asking about him a long time ago.

"He's fine. He's helpin' out in Appleloosa right now," she answered as Twilight dropped three sugar cubes into her tea. "He asked about you the other day, you know."

Twilight's ears shot to attention, her cheeks flushing red as she vainly tried to hide them. "He did?"

"Yep, Ah told him in a telegram how you'd helped Apple Bloom with her homework while he was away," she said, taking a sip of her tea. "Said he'll be lookin' to thank you once he gets back."

Twilight's face felt as though she could start a small fire with it. "Oh, uhm... he doesn't have to—I mean, he can if he wants, I just... uhm..."

It was worth mentioning Mac just to see the reactions on her friends faces. Though she knew the "thanking" Twilight was likely to get were simply flowers or something like that, Applejack couldn't help but enjoy the reactions to the idea of earning her brother's favor.

After some idle chat and a cup of tea, Applejack threw on her saddle bags and headed toward the door. "Thank ya kindly for the tea, Twi."

"No problem Applejack. Let me know if that book is what you were looking for!" she called as Applejack set out down the road to her country home.

Twilight shut the door and went back inside. She glanced over at the section Applejack had been searching through.

This is ridiculous, Twilight! Of course Applejack can read!

Even though the very idea epitomized silliness in her mind, she couldn't let it go. The proof was right over there! If the proper book was gone, then she was imagining things again. If not... she might be onto something.

Twilight trotted over to the bookshelf, head held high, confident she'd find the proper book missing. She reached the shelf and scanned the spines, her confident smile slowly fading until it morphed into a frown. The book was still in its place, another, completely unrelated book was missing.

Spike appeared from the upstairs loft with an armload of scrolls, and noticed Twilight's static state.

"Uh, Twilight? You okay?" he asked, walking next to her.

Twilight swallowed, still in shock that her wild theory seemed to be holding water. "I... I think I need to lie down."

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