• Published 24th Dec 2012
  • 4,933 Views, 138 Comments

Where They Are Joined - Cloudy Skies



At long last, the wedding bells ring for Applejack and Fluttershy. Everypony does their utmost to try to make it the best wedding ever, but as the pair discovers, it quickly becomes a question of getting married despite, rather than because of this.

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Chapter 3

To the left of the train car, the snow-covered mountain crags whisked by. Beyond the glass to Fluttershy’s right, the larger part of central Equestria barely seemed to move, heedless of the clickety-clack of the train’s passing. Frighteningly fast, but also painfully slow, and Fluttershy sat sandwiched in the middle.

There was a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be happy about. The past two months of their engagement had been absolutely wonderful. If somepony had ever written a book on what it was supposed to be like, neither Applejack nor Fluttershy had read it, and that was fine. The romance novels that graced Fluttershy’s shelves never quite seemed to deal with what came after first love. As such, they’d simply decided to carry on as usual, except now Fluttershy’s every day had begun with an extra spring in her step and a flutter in her heart.

Well, that, and they’d both been forced to visit Rarity’s boutique almost daily for dress tryouts, not to mention all the extra training sessions Dash had scheduled while she tried to come up with something new to celebrate. In her own words, the sonic rainboom was ‘old news’.

And then there was the ongoing process of trying to convince Pinkie Pie that no, neither Applejack nor Fluttershy needed any help practicing their "smooching" techniques, and yes, they did, in fact, sometimes kiss. The tips of Fluttershy's ears heated up as she remembered one of Applejack's attempts to prove to Pinkie they had that particular item covered.

Perhaps not exactly the same as usual, then, but it wasn't all bad.

It was just that ever since this morning, ever since they had begun packing and started their journey to Canterlot, it had been scary, too. Fluttershy’s heart beat faster and made her want to hold on to something—preferably Applejack—but it wasn’t just exhilarating in a good way. No, it was genuinely scary scary too.

She couldn’t even tell exactly what it was that frightened her about the whole ordeal. Fluttershy sat on a comfortable padded bench in a train car surrounded by her best friends, all of whom were laughing and chatting. It had the same amount of frightening traits as a warm hug from Pinkie P—she paused to correct herself. A warm hug from her mom, then.

“Hey, Equestria to Fluttershy!”

Fluttershy blinked and rubbed her eyes. Twilight was talking to Rarity, who was masking a giggle with her hoof. Applejack and Pinkie Pie sat by one of the windows watching the Canterlot mountains pass by—and Rainbow Dash stood in front of her, staring.

“Sorry, I think I missed that.”

“I said ‘Equestria to Fluttershy’. What’re you being all quiet for? I mean, more quiet than usual, anyway.” Dash cocked a brow before flapping her wings once, expertly landing at her side on the bench. “Cold hooves?”

“No,” Fluttershy said. “It’s scary, but it’s very nice, too.”

“Heh, guess I can’t blame you this time.” Dash poked her with a wing.

“I still can’t believe I actually managed to say it. To ask her,” Fluttershy said, lowering her voice a tad. Applejack had been so very proud, she didn’t want to disappoint her by letting on exactly how hard it had been to muster the courage.

“I can. I totally can.” Rainbow Dash shrugged, and Fluttershy dropped her gaze to the floor on instinct. There was no follow-up this time, though. Not even a nudge on the shoulder.

Fluttershy lay her ears flat against her head. “Sometimes, I think you expect more of me than I do."

“I dunno about that, I just know you’ve done some pretty amazing things, and this is really cool. Forget the whole hurricane deal. This takes guts. You can do whatever you want.” Dash leaned over to tap their heads together, the bold pegasus’ face split in a wide grin.

“Maybe,” Fluttershy said, though she didn’t really feel it. At least, not until she finally lifted her eyes and they fell upon Applejack and her gathered friends.

She couldn’t do anything alone, but as long as she had Applejack, she wouldn’t lack for courage. As long as she had all her friends, she could do anything. Perhaps it wasn’t all that weird that she’d managed to find the strength to reach for the thing she wanted the most. Suddenly, it wasn’t half as scary. As if she could hear her thoughts, Applejack looked over her shoulder to smile at her. Fluttershy flexed her wings, smiling back.

“Oh, we’re coming up on the station!” Twilight called from the windows by the other side. Fluttershy had hardly noticed that the mountains had been replaced with the elegant and tall buildings of central Canterlot, but she certainly felt it when the train began slowing down. Pinkie zipped over to stand by Twilight and Rarity.

“Ooh, look! Wagons! Do you think they’re here for us? I wanna ride in the blue one!”

“I do hope so. We did request some aid for all our baggage, after all,” Rarity said.

Applejack chortled. “You mean you needed somepony to carry your bags. Some of us packed light, you know.”

“It’s for your benefit!” Rarity said, tossing her mane. “I’ve brought—”

“Come on.” Dash cut through the din, hovering towards the end of the train car. “Let’s just go. You can complain later.”

Pinkie bounced after her. “Ooh. Can we say go say hi to Mr. and Mrs. Twilight’s Mom too while we’re there? I’ve only met them once or twice or thrice but they’re really nice!”

“I’m sure we’ll see them at the wedding,” Rarity said. Fluttershy turned at a noise just in time to see Applejack staring out the window with a near-inaudible huff. She followed her eyes, but there was precious little to see out on the platform beyond a smattering of ponies, none of which she recognized.

“Um, a bit for your thoughts?” Fluttershy said as the two brought up the rear. Applejack paused by the car’s door, shaking her head.

“Not thinking about much.” Applejack leaned over to nuzzle into Fluttershy’s mane. The pegasus nodded in return, closing her eyes at the contact.

“Hey! Lets go, lovebirds!” Dash called. Applejack groaned and trotted outside, Fluttershy following with a blush on her cheeks. Dash was apparently entirely impervious to the irony of her complaint given that Pinkie Pie was wrapped around her neck giggling. Beyond the platform, a small crowd had gathered to watch; the two carriages were almost fully loaded, guardponies and porters wrestling with the prodigious amount of bags they’d brought. Fluttershy craned her neck to see if she could spot her own pair of saddlebags in the mess, suddenly regretting not simply wearing them all the time.

“The wedding ain’t for a few days yet, so hold your horses, we ain’t in a rush,” Applejack said, giving Rainbow Dash a half-hearted glare that the pegasus shrugged off. Dash disappeared inside one of the carriages along with Rarity and Pinkie Pie, leaving Applejack and Fluttershy to join Twilight in the rear carriage. Not a minute later they were off, Fluttershy sinking into the plush cushions. The calm and quiet lasted only for a few seconds, broken not by words, but by Twilight’s expression. The unicorn was grinning widely.

“Sugarcube?” Applejack said, apparently having noticed the exact same thing. “You okay there? You’re kinda creeping me out a bit.”

“I haven’t told you the best bit. We’re not actually going to the Quiet Gardens Chapel.”

Fluttershy tilted her head. “I thought we were staying at the palace?”

“Oh, we were. I mean, we are. But! The wedding won’t be at that little chapel. See, Pinkie Pie came by the library last week, and she was worried that there wouldn’t be enough room.”

Applejack knit her brow. “Twi? What exactly’re you saying here?”

“Oh, it should be big enough, shouldn’t it? It’s just us and our families and a few more friends,” Fluttershy said.

“Sure, but Pinkie had so many ideas for the decorations, and she couldn’t bear the idea that it wouldn’t be the biggest and best wedding ever, and then Rarity came by saying she agreed, as did I; we only want the best for you, not second best. Long story short, we wrote a letter!”

Applejack said nothing, leaving Fluttershy to say that single little word to uncover the next piece of the tale.

“Oh?”

“Uh-huh! We wrote a very nice letter to the princess about how these things only really happen once, and she agreed! I, um, may have been a little vague in my first letter because I didn’t want to impose, but long story short, she moved another function scheduled for Saturday back a bit, and now we have the Canterlot palace chapel all to ourselves!”

Twilight was beaming so brightly, she could barely sit still. The unicorn wiggled in her seat, but the silence stretched on past what was strictly polite; Twilight blinked and fidgeted, and again Applejack said nothing. The earth mare’s lips were pursed and her legs stiff. If anything, she was looking at Fluttershy out of the corners of her eyes.

Fluttershy cleared her throat and rubbed one foreleg with the other. Somepony had to say something. It wouldn’t be all that bad, surely? Cadance and Shining Armor’s wedding had been wonderful, and while it was perhaps a little too big for her tastes—and the spotlight had never done anything but terrify her—she was sure it’d be fine so long as she had Applejack by her side.

And she did, didn’t she? Applejack studiously inspected the fabric of the carriage’s benches.

“Um, oh. That’s wonderful,” Fluttershy said, sitting up.

“Is it too much?” Twilight's grin drooped alongside her ears. “I’m sorry, we probably should have asked you two, but we wanted it to be a surprise. Oh gosh, I should have waited with telling you until we were all gathered, too. Rarity will be so disappointed.” She sighed, peering over her shoulder as if though she could see the other unicorn through the carriage wall.

“It’s fine, it’s very nice of you,” Fluttershy hurried to say, and when she turned to Applejack, she could see her smiling, too. Finally it seemed the earth pony was over the shock of the news.

“Mighty impressive of you. Guess first things’re still first, so we should see about getting quartered in the palace, huh?”

“Right! And it looks like we’re here,” Twilight said, peering out the carriage’s window. They were slowing down, and outside, the single largest cluster of spires and buttresses in all of Canterlot waited.


“Alright—no, those two go in the dressing room, those four go in the forechambers, and the rest are for my personal chambers.” Rarity's hoof was a blur, the unicorn rapidly pointing to parts of the huge pile of bags deposited near the palace’s service entrance. Fluttershy couldn’t hold back a giggle. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie had taken off the second they were through the gate, and Twilight had gone to announce their arrival to the Princesses, leaving Fluttershy and Applejack with Rarity and the majority of their luggage.

“Um, I can probably carry my own saddlebags,” Fluttershy said, dipping her head in thanks to one of the two porters who were giving the mountain of luggage a very distressed look. When nopony protested, she trotted over to sneak the familiar butterfly-emblazoned saddlebags out of the pile and safely onto her back. She cast a quick look inside, just to make sure everything was okay.

“—no, not those, the wedding dresses are in those, careful!” Rarity sighed, wiping her brow. “I think I might just faint, this really is too much.”

“If it helps, the wedding dresses you made are wonderful, and we are ever so grateful.” Fluttershy had no desire to get involved with the particulars of logistics, but Rarity had simply outdone herself this time, and thanking her second, a third or a twelfth time couldn’t hurt.

“I might not be one for all that fancy stuff, but I gotta admit you did fine work there,” Applejack said, tipping her hat at Rarity. “Far as I’m concerned, I owe you a big one.”

“Oh, think nothing of that. It was my pleasure,” Rarity said, trotting over to join the pair. Under her watchful eye and careful directions, the luggage gradually disappeared, and before long, the three ponies were left alone in the large and bare hall. It had little of the pomp and grandeur of the Palace’s main entrance or throne room, but the marble-and-gold hallways were lined with plush carpets even here.

Applejack shook her head. “Sorry Rarity, but you ain’t dodging this one. When this is all over and done with, I’m finding a way to make it up to you. And to the rest of you all, for that matter. Twi’s been organizing the seats and the reception and everything, and I hear R.D.’s been busting her chops in the air. Pinkie won’t hardly let me help out in the kitchen. I’m not rightly sure that I’m too happy about that, mind you.” She frowned at that last bit.

Fluttershy giggled and nosed Applejack’s withers. “And now they made sure we have the biggest and nicest place in all of Canterlot for it all, too. Thank you so much.”

Applejack tensed up a little at that, taking a deep breath before slowly letting it out again, and Fluttershy couldn’t quite tell why. Rarity, for her part, smiled brightly and fluffed her mane.

“Well, I do believe I speak for all of us when I say we’re happy to assist."

“Yup,” Applejack said.

Fluttershy quirked a brow at Applejack. Her marefriend—no, her fiancée—had never been much of a chatterbox, but she got the distinct feeling there was something she wasn’t telling. Her jaw was a little taut, and her tail held lower than usual. Little things that all added up.

“There you are!” came a voice from further down the hall, Twilight approaching at a brisk trot. “I looked everywhere; I even found Pinkie and Rainbow before you guys, but you haven’t even moved!”

“Always the last place you look, huh.” Applejack grinned.

“Technically, everything is.” Twilight said.

“Regardless, whatever is the matter, dear?” said Rarity, tilting her head slightly.

“Oh! Right! The princesses want to have dinner with us!”

Fluttershy hid her face behind her mane. “Oh, oh goodness.”

Applejack laughed and nudged Fluttershy in the side. “Sugar, we’ve saved Equestria how many times now? Ain’t no sense in you being all scared around them any more. Come on, if they’re going to be the ones to wed us, we best go say hi.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” Fluttershy said, nodding her assent.

“I must admit I feel ambushed,” Rarity said as they followed Twilight down the hall. “Dinner with the princesses before we’ve even unpacked? I haven’t even had the chance to find a dress for the occasion.”

“I think that’s exactly why they asked us right now. They don’t want to make a big thing out of it,” Twilight said with her most winning smile. “You know you always look great.”

A smirk tugged at the corners of Rarity's lips. “Well, I suppose you have a point, flattery or no.”

“No big thing, right.” Applejack echoed Twilight’s words with a lopsided smile and a small sigh.

“Right down this hall, and, uh.” Twilight cast her eyes about. Despite it being in the middle of the day, the halls were almost deserted; one of the less used wings, then, Fluttershy supposed. “Right. This way!”

“What’s the point of having a big castle if they don’t use all of it? They could make this part a hoofball court or something,” Applejack said. “An indoor garden?”

“I’m sure it’s just due to the holidays coming up,” Rarity said as they passed by a pair of guards. No sooner had she spoken than did the halls open up a little, palace staff bustling to and fro, and a moment later, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash fell into step with them.

“It’s just the staff area. It’s busier in the evening,” Twilight said. “Anyway, the reception area and the embassy dining room is this way!”

“Ooh. Embassy!” Pinkie said, beaming. “That’s amazing!”

Applejack quirked a brow. “Let me guess. You ain’t got a clue what that means, do you?”

“Nopey-dopey, but it sounds super fancy!”

“Applejack?”

The mare so named halted, as did they all, Fluttershy casting her head about looking for the source of the voice. Not far off, a stallion they had just passed by halted, grinning widely.

“It is you!” the bright red stallion said whilst trotting over. Applejack smiled back, leaning over to give the other earth pony a brief hug around the neck. On his flank, a pile of apples and a ladle suggested what Applejack confirmed.

“Cousin Apple Soup!” Applejack said. “Well, I’ll be. Guess you got that position at the palace kitchens, huh?”

“Sure did! What brings you out here? These your friends?”

“Yup. This here’s Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash.” The stallion nodded to them each in turn while Applejack rattled off their names. Finally, Applejack turned to Fluttershy at her side, resting her head against hers. “And this here’s Fluttershy. My fiancée.”

Apple Soup sketched a little bow before Fluttershy. “Well, and there you are. That just about makes you my favorite pony for the day. A right pleasure to meet you.”

“Um, thank you. I don’t think we’ve met, but it’s nice to meet you. Hello.”

Applejack cleared her throat. “Listen, you girls go on ahead. I need to have a word with my cousin here. Embassy dining room, right? I’ll find you all lickety split, just you see.”

“Sure. I’m hungry anyway.” Dash shrugged, and the others nodded their agreement or waving their goodbyes to the Apple family chef, who waved in return. Fluttershy lingered.

“You go on, sugar. I’ll be right along, promise,” Applejack said, nosing Fluttershy on the rump. Fluttershy nodded mutely and trotted off to catch up to the others.


Applejack came galloping down the hall just as they rounded the last corner leading to where Twilight said the dining hall waited. The powerfully built pony had barely broken a sweat from the run, but Fluttershy could tell she was still tired.

“Right, sorry about that,” Applejack said as she slowed down to a trot and eventually came to a halt.

“What did he want, anyway?” Rainbow Dash said.

“Obviously, they were just catching up,” Rarity said. “Working at the palace must lend itself to quite a lot of interesting tidbits. Rumors. Gossip.” Her eyes positively sparkled at those final words.

Applejack blinked and looked from Rarity to Rainbow Dash. “Uh. Yeah, sure. Seems that he heard we were comin’ on account of one of my relatives working here as a guard, so now the whole family’s coming down on us for the wedding.”

“Weren’t they coming already? Oh no, was my guest list incomplete?” Pinkie gasped.

Extended family.” Applejack sighed. Twilight and the others shared smiles and quiet chuckles, while Fluttershy walked a little closer to Applejack, lowering her voice to a whisper.

“I thought most of them weren’t coming because it was too far, or because it was inconvenient for them,” Fluttershy said, though she instantly regretted it. Applejack looked over at her then, pain in her eyes quickly giving way to a faint smile.

“They were coming to visit next week when we were having the huge family get together before Hearth’s Warming, remember?”

Fluttershy nodded. “Of course. Sorry, I, um, I think I just, well, never mind.”

At the glow of Twilight’s horn, the tall doors swung open with an almost ominous lack of sound, admitting the six friends. Fluttershy had never before seen this room, a chamber that looked like a merely-huge dining hall with a single, long table, unpretentious by palace standards. A large hearth dominated the wall opposite, and the windows were of crystal glass. Princess Celestia sat near the middle of the table with Princess Luna at her side as the only two ponies seated.

Fluttershy jumped as a sharp sound rang across the chamber, an earth pony standing behind the door slamming his hoof down on the stone floor.

“Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, sovereigns of Equestria, greet the Elements of—”

“Yes,” Celestia said, interrupting without raising her voice. “I think we’ll do without that today, thank you, Clarion Call.”

“Your highnesses.” The stallion bowed deeply and stepped forward, slipping out the door once the six mares were well inside the room.

“And here I thought I was the one who was slightly dated,” Luna muttered. “Greetings.”

“Indeed, hello everyone. Good to see you all again,” Celestia said, her smile warming the room more surely than any blazing hearth ever could. Fluttershy re-settled her wings on her back; the Princesses could be a little intimidating sat upon a throne, but they were hardly strangers any more, and without anypony else around, she breathed a little easier. Except, there was still that one little thing—

“Um, don’t you usually sit...” Twilight trailed off, voicing Fluttershy’s exact question as they all came to a halt before the grand table. The unicorn indicated the edges of the table where plates and cups had all been arranged, clearly intending for somepony to sit.

Celestia followed Twilight's hoof-gesture. “Ah, yes. Usually, though we don’t use this dining hall much outside of small receptions. It might be expected of us to sit at the heads of the table, but Luna had a very good point."

Princess Luna cleared her throat. “It’s hardly a day for sister and I, that is all. These days belong to you two, so we thought perhaps you would like the honors.”

Applejack raised a brow. “Sit opposite so we’d have to shout at one another? That sounds a little silly.”

“Applejack!” Rarity gasped, while Twilight made a strangled little noise, but outside of that, Luna merely shrugged before Celestia added to it with a chuckle.

“When you say it like that, it does sound like an odd custom for ponies who so very obviously want to be together, does it not? And let me say congratulations, you two,” she said. Fluttershy resisted the urge to hide behind her mane as her cheeks heated up, dipping her head in a little bow as she said her thanks. Dash and Twilight gave her a nudge and a grin while Applejack said her thanks as well, the six friends making for the table.

“Regardless, one of you should take the position of honor. It is only right,” Luna said. “Dinner should be here presently.”

Applejack paused mid-stride, opening her mouth and closing it again before wheeling around. She leaned close to Fluttershy, putting her forehead against hers.

“Sugarcube, I ain’t much feelin’ up for this here silliness,” she said in as low a whisper as the farmpony could manage. “You sit at the end, okay?”

Fluttershy nodded quickly. Again—or perhaps still—there was that certain weariness to Applejack’s voice and expression both. “Of course. Um, are you okay?”

Applejack’s reply was a simple smile that bordered on a pained grimace, shortly followed by a nuzzle. A moment later, the earth mare trotted up to take her place by the side of the table, leaving Fluttershy to sit at the head. Luckily, nopony made a big fuss of the whole thing, and there wasn’t exactly much ‘honoring’ being done. Already Princess Celestia was talking in hushed tones with Twilight on her left, while Pinkie Pie regaled a faintly frowning Princess Luna with some story or other that Fluttershy couldn’t hear—mostly because Pinkie interrupted herself with giggles every three seconds.

“If it’s celery purée and that other yellow gunk, I’m gonna fly out one of those windows and look for a hayfries stand,” Rainbow Dash said. Fluttershy giggled.

“It’s considered a delicacy, you know."

Dash looked thoroughly unconvinced. “Maybe you like it after all that time you spent modelling and everything, eating at fancy places, but I say hayfries are a delicacy.” She crossed her forelegs. “Doesn’t ‘delicacy’ just mean ‘tasty’ anyway? I’ll go with the hayfries.”

“It was only a week or two, and I still don’t really like it,” Fluttershy said. Dash shrugged, though both ponies perked up at a noise.

From a door set in one of the room’s shorter walls, two unicorns entered, each levitating a host of platters ahead of themselves. The conversations around the table slowly petered out while the dishes were laid out before them; salted asparagus, sauteed and spiced potatoes and a host of other vegetables soon lined the long table. Pinkie Pie opened her mouth and leaned forwards looking like she was about to devour a plate of grilled carrots before it even hit the table, but right before she closed her jaw around it, the plate was enveloped in a sheen of reddish magic and whisked away. Twilight shot her a glare.

“I would call for a speech, but you must all be very hungry from all the stress of the day,” Celestia said, letting her gaze wander across the assembled ponies. “Congratulations again, and please, help yourselves.” She’d no sooner motioned to the table than Rainbow Dash shot out to grab the plate with the asparagus, Pinkie Pie’s hooves hitting the table a split-second later.

“Too slow!” Dash cackled. Pinkie Pie’s reply was a pout, the pink pony making big eyes at her until the grin died on the pegasus’ face. Seeing her moment to strike, Pinkie nabbed the vegetable-laden plate back.

“Not cool,” Dash said.

“Now there’s table manners,” Applejack said with a sedate smile as she helped herself to the potatoes.

Rarity sighed. “Girls, please."

“It’s quite alright.” Celestia, who seemed content to watch, smiled. As an afterthought, she reached out with a foreleg to nudge Luna’s jaw shut. The moon princess shook her head and cleared her throat, frowning faintly.

“Ah. Yes. Indeed. It is quite the thing. Pass the carrots, would you?”

Fluttershy waited patiently for the asparagus to pass her by, helping herself to a pair and adding a few spoonfuls of grilled potatoes when Applejack offered them to her. More so because of Applejack than the potatoes themselves, really. She hardly touched the food, though; Fluttershy found herself stealing little glances at Applejack whenever she could, and the rest of her time was spent trying to make sure she wasn’t obvious about it.

It was silly. She spent a great deal of time looking at Applejack for all manner of reasons: because she wanted to look at something that made her happy; because she wanted Applejack to know she loved her. It wasn’t hard to find an excuse, and now that they were getting wed, she was rapidly running out of reasons to feel like she should ever do anything else.

Yet now, she found herself looking for something very specific. She wasn’t letting her eyes roam the earth mare’s powerful body. She wasn’t admiring the blond mane, or thinking about how she looked even more beautiful when she let her mane and tail flow freely. She wasn’t letting herself drown in those brilliant green eyes or in the way Applejack would smile and lock eyes with her when she caught her looking; no, she was looking for a crack in that smile. She was hunting for something elusive that she was certain was there, somewhere.

Applejack would never, ever lie to her when she asked her outright, but Fluttershy had to wonder if this was one of those questions she didn’t want to ask. Fluttershy nudged the untouched plate, staring at her own hooves.

“Not hungry?”

Celestia’s voice cut through the din without interrupting it, one of the solar ruler’s brows quirked. Fluttershy made no reply other than a minute shake of her head.

“That’s okay, but at the very least, you could take off your saddlebags? You don’t look very comfortable.”

Fluttershy blinked and twisted her neck around to confirm what Celestia suggested; she’d forgotten that she was still wearing her saddlebags. Reaching down, she undid the straps and slipped out of the bags, placing them at her side.

“Sorry, I guess I just forgot,” Fluttershy said, idly stroking the saddlebags.

“She ain’t hardly let them out of her sight, and I don’t blame her. I’m not keen on losing those either,” Applejack said, her eyes slipping down to follow Fluttershy’s foreleg to where it met the saddlebags..

“Then I’m guessing that’s where you keep the earrings.” Celestia tilted her head, and Fluttershy nodded.

Pinkie Pie giggled whilst spooning sugar onto her potatoes. “Oh wow, Princess and detective?”

“Pft, I knew that too," Rainbow Dash said, leaning back.

Rarity dabbed the corners of her mouth with a napkin. “That’s because they told you, dear. Hardly a feat of deduction.”

“It’s interesting, really, how some customs surrounding marriage have changed, while others remain the same,” Luna said, pushing her plate towards the center of the table and rolling her neck. “Earrings are still being used?”

“For the last fourteen hundred years or so, that’s been the most common tradition among earth ponies, and many of the pegasi,” Twilight said, smiling as brightly as she only could when the topic shifted to something about which she’d no doubt read a host of books.

“Fifteen hundred and twelve. I presided the first wedding where they were used.” Luna speared a single pea with her fork. Twilight deflated an inch.

“That’s well and good,” Applejack said, slowly rising to stand. “And I hope I ain’t too rude if I leave you to that discussion and everything, but I’m plum tuckered.”

“Of course,” Celestia said, nodding her head in a brief little bow.

“Maybe we should try to find our room?” Fluttershy said. “I’d love to stay and talk, but...”

“You mean your rooms,” Luna said, stressing the plurality. “While we’re on the topic of customs and such, I understand tradition for modern weddings is that the bride and groom, or, well, bride and bride as it were, are not to see each other before the wedding.” She turned to give Celestia a meaningful look.

“I didn’t want to presume, but I did arrange for two chambers if you should require them, yes,” Celestia said.

“Actually.” Twilight straightened up and looked the tiniest bit smug as she cast a quick glance Luna’s way. “The tradition is not so much modern as it’s a revitalized expression of a six hundred year old unicorn custom based on the Feast of Veils, a harvest feast in a unicorn-earth pony settlement across the western sea.”

“I see. Well, that may be,” Luna said, brow furrowed.

“It’s very much in vogue now, regardless of the ponies getting married, you’ll find,” Rarity said.

Fluttershy’s neck almost hurt from trying to keep up with the speakers, but three ponies seemed very much disinterested in the topic. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash added little to the conversation, instead fully engaged with a game of tic-tac-toe; when and where from Pinkie had procured the miniature game board, Fluttershy had no idea. Where they were mostly quiet save for the occasional giggle or Dash’s complaints when she lost, Applejack was deathly silent. At least until she wasn’t any more.

“So y’all set us up with separate rooms ‘cause some old unicorns couldn’t stand to look at each other?” There was a slight edge to her voice, just enough that the conversation ground to a halt.

Twilight glanced askance over at the mute princesses before replying. “Um, well, it’s just a custom. Princess Cadance and Shining Armor’s wedding hardly went as planned, but it’s a very popular tradition! It’s supposed to heighten the anticipation and—”

“Yeah, I heard you. Assuming and thinkin’ and whatever else.” Applejack sighed, rising to all fours. “Fluttershy and I, we’ve slept in the same bed for the past year ‘lest there’s a family of badgers needing to hide at her place or whatever, and that’s plenty good for me.”

Fluttershy opened her mouth to say something, to say anything, but Celestia beat her to it. The sun princess wore a patient smile, shaking her head ever so slightly.

“Applejack, I’m sorry if—”

“It’s some silly unicorn thing.” Twilight’s eyes widened when Applejack cut the princess off, but the earth mare went on. “We ain’t exactly got horns to put rings on either, now do we? We earth ponies, we’ve one tradition, and that’s one heck of a party after we’re wed and done.”

The tension at the table was almost palpable. Or at least, that is what one would think to look at Rarity and Twilight. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash looked up from their game, and Luna wore the selfsame frown, yet Celestia seemed unfazed. Still, Fluttershy rushed to plug the silence.

“I think they just mean that it’s popular now. We pegasi, we, um, we have some traditions too,” she said, but her voice came out barely a whisper.

Applejack closed her eyes and hung her head. “Actually, never mind that all. I’m gonna go take a nap. In my own room, or whatever it is. Tired after all this travellin’, I’m sure you understand.” She turned around and made for the door without looking back.

“Okay,” Fluttershy said, though she doubted anypony heard it but herself. Perhaps she just thought the word. It was infinitely more quiet than the sound of the door closing in Applejack's wake.

“Oh don’t take it to heart, darling. I’ve seen it before,” Rarity said, putting her glass down to reach out and rub her shoulder. “Everypony gets a touch of cold hooves. It’s such an important thing, how could you not?”

A murmur of assent went around the table, the ponies going back to their meal. Fluttershy nodded mutely, trying to let those words into her heart. Applejack was easy-going most of the time, but everypony had their prickly moments. It should explain well all the little things that made Fluttershy wonder, but pressure in her heart grew, bit by bit. Without even thinking, Fluttershy reached out to hug the saddlebags with the little black box to her side.