• Published 13th Sep 2012
  • 16,229 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 5

Part 5

Twilight groaned, rubbing her eyes.

Rainbow's gone full-on detective... she's not the longest book on the shelf, but how long until she finally figures out our secret?

Spike sat across from Twilight, staring with mild disinterest. After all, as far as breakdowns are concerned, this one was relatively mild. As much as Spike loved silence, he couldn't help but offer his advice. "Why don't you just ask AJ why its such a big deal? I mean, I get that it's embarrassing and all, but why not just tell Rainbow and ask her to keep quiet about it?"

Twilight raised her face from the pillow. "You realize this is Applejack, right? The pony who would rather destroy the town than ask for help?"

Spike raised an eye ridge. "Didn't she learn her lesson?"

"It's not about lessons, Spike," Twilight sighed. "It's about pride."

"So, what?" he asked. "You think Rainbow would just laugh at her or something? That doesn't sound like something she would do."

"No, I don't think she'd make fun of her, but the two of them have an... unusual relationship."

Spike hopped off the couch and walked toward the kitchen. He knew one thing that would calm her frazzled nerves: a hot cup of tea. "Unusual like how?"

"Well... they have a balance. If one gets leverage over the other, the balance is gone."

Spike turned from the kettle. "That sounds... I don't get it."

Twilight sat up on the couch, slouching against it. "Let me explain. Applejack is faster than Rainbow on the ground, but Rainbow is faster in the air. Applejack can buck apples, but Rainbow can clear clouds. See what I'm saying about balance?"

"Oh, I guess that makes sense... but since when does Rainbow like to read?" Spike asked, carrying the tea tray over to her.

"To my knowledge, she doesn't." Twilight poured herself and Spike a cup. "The only thing I've ever seen her read is a magazine." She sipped her tea tentatively.

"Okay... but I still don't see why AJ learning to read would upset Rainbow." Twilight set her tea and saucer down with a soft clink on the table in front of her.

"It wouldn't upset Rainbow. It would upset Applejack. Imagine if the whole town, or even the country found out an Element of Harmony couldn't read. The tabloids and newspapers would have a field day." Twilight rubbed a hoof against her forehead. "She'll be coming over again tonight."

Spike nodded, taking a gulp of his tea. Heat was not an effective deterrent against a dragon tongue. "You want me to keep an eye out for any snooping weather managers while you two are upstairs?"

Twilight chuckled. Spike chasing Rainbow away with a broom was an entertaining thought. "I think we'll be fine if you just keep an eye on downstairs. I've got a few soundproof spells I can use to seal up my room."

"Okay then, but you know Rainbow isn't just going to give up on this."

Twilight sighed, cursing her friend's persistence for once. "I know."

Mac wiped the sweat from his brow as he shoved the last bushel into place next to the others. His sister had just taken the apple cart up to town, and he was more than ready to break for an early lunch. All the work he did on a daily basis kept him in a constant state of hunger. A high metabolism demands a constant stream of food, and there was no part of his day he looked forward to more than his three meals. Unless you counted his occasional trips to the bar.

A prideful smile crossed his lips as he shut the barn doors. He turned toward the farmhouse when a brightly colored mane stopped him in his tracks. "Hey there, Big."

Mac blinked. "Howdy, Ms. Rainbow."

Dash rolled her eyes. "How many times do I have to tell you 'Rainbow' is fine?"

"At least once more." He grinned. "Applejack's still in town sellin', but she'll probably be back in a couple 'a hours."

Rainbow batted her eyes the way she'd seen Rarity do so many times before. "Don't be silly, I came to see you!"

The red stallion became even more so. "M-me?"

"Duh! Who else?"

Mac's eyes bounced between the mare before him and the ground. "W-well..." Mac's stomach growled loudly, rendering his cheeks and even brighter shade of red.

"How about we go get something to eat?" Dash offered, still keeping her cool. "I'll buy."

Mac considered her proposal. He hadn't been out to lunch with a mare that wasn't a member of his family for a good, long while. Ah reckon it'd be good for me ta get back out there after my incident with Cheerilee... he thought. "All right then."

Rainbow smiled deviously, departing down the trail beside her sturdy company.

Rainbow watched in amazement as Mac easily put down as much food as she would have in a normal sitting. The notion of the bill wiped the blank stare from her face. "So, Mac, how was Braeburn?"

Mac finished chewing and wiped his mouth. "He was fine. Just needed some help gettin' his trees planted, is all."

She nodded, taking a few more bites of her salad. "Bet that wasn't too hard, huh?" Mac's strength was known around town. However, all this small talk was merely a formality as Dash built up to her real reason for asking Mac to lunch.

"Nah," he replied.

"So, how's AJ been lately?" she asked. "She seemed a bit worn out without you to do the heavy lifting."

Mac snorted. He knew his sister would never admit to having a bit of trouble managing his chores. "Ah'd imagine so. She ain't likely ta admit it, though."

Ain't that the truth, Rainbow thought. "Yeah, actually she's been acting pretty sneaky lately."

An eyebrow raised from Mac's end of the table. "'S'at right?"

"Yeah, she bailed on our usual trip to Carrot's farm to go hang with... somepony else." Rainbow caught herself before giving away her 'spy games'.

A silent look of comprehension fell over Mac as he chewed. He had his suspicions as to why Rainbow had asked him to lunch at this point, but was still unsure of Applejack's friend and occasional rival's true intentions. "Huh. Well, Ah suppose she'll do as she wants."

Rainbow frowned. Mac was either stonewalling her, or he honestly had no idea what she was talking about. Mac may have been a stallion of few words, but she'd wager he knew more about his sister's secrets than he was letting on. "Yeah, I ran into her late last night, coming back from somewhere, but she wouldn't say where." Mac smiled, recalling his late night confrontation with his sister the night before. "Maybe she's found herself a nice pony." Rainbow continued, careful to search Mac's reaction.

"Nah, Ah don't think that's it." Mac shut his lips immediately, as though he could catch the words if he'd done it fast enough.

"So, what do you think it is?" Rainbow asked like a detective interviewing a suspect. Mac's darting eyes let her know she was on the right track.

"Ah dunno," he said quickly, setting his napkin down over his empty plate and standing from his chair. "You'd have to ask her." He removed a small bag of bits from beneath his yoke and set them on the table. "Ah wouldn't feel right makin' ya pay for everythin' Ah ate." Even though you only invited me out here ta try and get information outta me, he thought. "Have a pleasant afternoon, Ms. Rainbow." He nodded in her direction and hurriedly headed back toward Sweet Apple Acres.

Once Mac was out of earshot, Dash pounded a hoof on the table and growled in frustration. "Ugh! I know he knows something!" She dragged her hooves down her face and moaned. "I don't believe this! Does everypony know about what she's been up to but me?"

The waiter brought her bill and Rainbow nearly choked on what was left of her water. "That's the last time I offer to pay for a stallion's lunch!"

As the moon began rising over the mountains, Twilight prepared for her student's arrival. Though only in her second day of tutoring, she could tell Applejack was enthusiastic about finally learning to read. She'd briefly stopped by her apple stand for a snack, and was treated to a free apple of her choice! Ordinarily, she'd never accept something as payment for spreading the joys of literacy, but she simply couldn't resist.

Spike had already retrieved the books they would need for their session, while agreeing to read his comic books downstairs and keep an ear out for a certain pegasus. Twilight was reviewing the material for the night's lesson when she heard a knock at the door. She rose from her cushion to answer it, though Spike waved a claw and hopped off the couch.

Applejack strode in, her saddlebags filled with some of the homework Twilight had assigned her. Spike looked around outside before closing and locking the door. Twilight levitated the selected book into her bedroom while Applejack opened her saddlebags. "So, how much of the homework were you able to get done?"

"Most of it. I was sellin' later than usual today, so it took me awhile to get the cart into the barn and such." Applejack passed a few pieces of paper over to Twilight, who gave them a cursory glance.

"This looks pretty good!" Twilight chimed. "We'll get a better look at it when we get upstairs." Applejack nodded.

"Ah don't suppose you've talked to Rainbow today?" she asked.

"Only this morning," Twilight groaned, recalling her confrontation with Dash. "She seems hellbent on figuring out why you are coming over here all of the sudden."

A look of worry flashed in Applejack's eyes. "You didn't say nothin', did ya?"

"Nope." Twilight smiled. "Your secret is safe with me."

"Thanks." She sighed in relief. "It's not that Ah don't trust ya, Twi, it's just... RD can be a trickster when she wants ta be." Twilight nodded, before running a hoof through her mane in exasperation. If Rainbow kept up the pressure, it was going to be hard to explain why they kept meeting late a night in private without the truth coming out eventually. "Just today she took Mac out to lunch to try and get somethin' out of him."

Twilight chuckled. "Sounds like her alright." She started towards the stairs and motioned for her student to follow. "I'm going to use a soundproof spell on my room just in case, and Spike will be down here watching the windows in case she decides to try to spy on us."

"Thanks Twi, you really know how to make a mare feel at ease." They two of them trotted upstairs and shut the door while Spike sprawled out on the couch with a bowl of gems and the latest issue of his favorite dragon superhero comic Scales of Justice.

Rarity trotted happily along the road from Sweet Apple Acres toward town, a bow and quiver of arrows strapped to her back as she hummed a soft tune to herself. She'd always enjoyed practicing archery with Big Macintosh, who was surprisingly adept at it, despite the awkwardness of hooves. Every week she'd head over for a friendly competition—one she usually won. Not that she cared about the outcome. The fun part was improving her talents, and perhaps the company, though she would be hesitant to admit.

As she came upon Twilight's library, she glanced toward the upper windows. Candles still burned brightly within. In fact, the entire library was still lit up well past its closing time. Her thoughts drifted back toward her conversation with Rainbow the night before. "Oh Rarity, that is utter nonsense," she chided herself, giggling at the mere thought of Twilight and Applejack being romantically involved. Besides, Macintosh had told her Applejack had gone to Twilight's to have her check over Apple Bloom's extra homework! Being the patriarch of the most notoriously honest family in Ponyville, she had no reason to doubt him.

She continued along the path when a bush beside the road rustled violently. She stifled a scream as she leapt back. Whatever was in that bush was much too big to be a harmless rabbit or wild deer. Thinking quickly, she drew her bow and strung an arrow, using her magic to draw it back. "Who's there? What do you want?" she snapped. "Because all you're going to get are holes!" Rarity paused to consider her phrasing. "Uhm... holes in you, not my holes—"

Before she could finish, Rainbow Dash—clad in her black sneaking suit and camouflage face paint—emerged from the bush. "Relax, it's just me!"

Rarity huffed and rolled her eyes, stowing her weapon. "Rainbow Dash!" she chastised. "What on earth are you doing out here dressed like some kind of... ninja?"

"I'm trying to listen to what Twilight and Applejack are doing in there with this thing I borrowed from Pinkie." She held up a small radar dish and earphones. "Twilight must be blocking it somehow, because I can't hear a thing except Spike crunching on his darn gems!"

Rarity rolled her eyes. This was getting far too ridiculous for her taste. "Rainbow, don't you think you're getting a tad obsessive at this point?"

"Obsessive?" she repeated in outrage. "How can you not care that they've been hiding this from us? They're supposed to be our friends!"

"Rainbow Dash, listen to yourself!" Rarity pled. "You're sounding like a crazy pony."

"Oh yeah?" she countered. "If I'm so crazy, then why am I out here hiding in a bush and going to the bathroom in a hole while I wait for Twilight or Applejack to say something incriminating?"

Rarity raised a perfectly trimmed eyebrow.

Rainbow frowned. "Well if you're all such close buddies, why haven't they told you anything?"

Rarity opened her mouth to reply to such a notion, but could muster no response. Surely Rainbow Dash isn't... right about this? she wondered.

"That's what I thought!"

Rarity dragged a hoof down her face, unable to believe what she was about to do. She released a heavy sigh. "Move over."

"Okay, your homework looked great!" Twilight praised, giving her back the paper with only a few red marks on it. "All you need to do is find the few errors you missed in the sentences I marked and we can start tonight's lesson."

Applejack took a hard look at the two sentences Twilight had circled for her. "Oh! Ah forgot the apostrophe! That makes its into it is, right?"

"That's right!" Twilight beamed. Applejack couldn't help but return her smile as she corrected the last two words. "Great job, Applejack!"

Twilight bit her lip, debating something internally before her pupil noticed her expression. "Somethin' the matter, Twi?"

"No, but I think we're ready to give our first book a try."

"F-First book?" Applejack's eyes widened as she fidgeted with her hat. "But we've only been at this for two nights countin' now!" Twilight's gentle smile didn't do much to reassure her.

"Don't worry, I wouldn't throw you in the ocean after one swimming lesson!" Twilight levitated a large, colorful book from her bed. "Do you remember this?" It was the book Twilight had found Applejack trying to hide from her in the hay loft. Not the exact same, but a copy.

Applejack laughed nervously. "Ah do seem ta recall this one..."

"I thought so." Twilight opened the cover to the first page of the story about a very hungry caterpillar. "Just try your best, and if you get stuck, I'll be right here to help you." Twilight moved her cushion next to Applejack's and set the book in front of them as she cleared her throat and took a deep breath.

"Okay." Applejack skipped the title page and publisher info and stared at the first sentence. "In the lig—light?" she looked to Twilight who nodded, keeping the warm smile that encouraged her to continue. "In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf."

Twilight couldn't help but throw her forelegs around her student after she'd completed her first sentence. "You did it perfectly!" Applejack returned the hug. "Okay, keep going! You're doing so well, Applejack!" A soft giggle escaped her lips as she looked back down toward the pages in front of her.

"On Sun-Sun..." she paused, looking to Twilight with what she could swear was fear of disappointing her friend-turned-teacher in her eyes.

"Sound it out, you're almost there!" she encouraged.

"Sun—day. Sunday?"

"Yes!" Twilight cheered.

"On Sunday mor... morning, the warm sun came up and out of the egg popped a very hungry cat... cater..." Twilight covered the latter half of the word with a hoof and allowed Applejack to tackle the long word in parts. "Cat-er-pill-ar... caterpillar?" Twilight reserved her reaction, though Applejack could not contain her pride. "Did you see how long that word was? That was the longest I've ever read!"

"I know!" Twilight glowed, nearly addicted to watching one of her best friends learn so much in such a short time. "You're so good at this Applejack! Don't stop now, keep going!"

"You're a unicorn, can't you use your magic to bust whatever spell Twilight is using on her room?" Rainbow asked, still trying to tune her spying device to intercept Twilight and Applejack's conversation.

"In case you forgot, our dear friend Twilight is the Element of Magic, meaning her magic is quite powerful," Rarity replied. "But... I suppose I could muster the strength to penetrate her spell for a second or two without her noticing..." By now, Rarity was ashamed to admit that she was just as intrigued as Rainbow about what their two friends were up to and why it had to be such a secret. Rainbow widened the headset to allow both her head and Rarity's to fit between the headphones.

Rarity scrunched her nose and concentrated her magic on getting through the spell over the window to Twilight's bedroom. The static of the spell in the headphones was soon replaced by Twilight's unmistakable voice coming through the speakers. "Okay, keep going! You're doing so well!" Rarity blushed and halted her interference.

"Why'd you stop? That's barely any evidence at all!" Rarity glared at Rainbow before wiping the sweat from her brow and continuing to concentrate.

"You're so good at this Applejack! Don't stop now, keep going!" At that point, Rarity removed her ear from the headphones, her face flushed with a mix of interest and embarrassment.

"I knew it! I knew they were doing something!" Rainbow said triumphantly.

"Who would have thought it was each other?" Rarity asked quietly. "No, no! This proves nothing!" she corrected quickly, coming to her senses.

Rainbow stared at her flatly. "Really? How much more proof do you need?"

Rarity rubbed her temples. "No, this makes no sense! They'd never hide something like this from us! They know we'd accept them no matter who it was they chose to love!"

"Look, I'm not doubting we'd accept them, all I want to know is why they're hiding this from us!" Rainbow explained. "So, will you help me find out?"

Rarity sighed. The friend in her wanted to just let Applejack and Twilight be, knowing they'd let them know what they were up to when they felt ready. But the gossip in her just had to know why they'd keep this a secret.

"... Okay."

Author's Note:

And Rainbow pulls Rarity into her spiral of jealousy...

Editors Fan, Cyne and q97 deserve exalted praise for their expedient edit!

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