5:00 PM was one of Applejack's favorite times of the day. 5 PM was the time that she could finally head inside after a long day's work and get some much-needed relaxation. She loved working and was proud of the fruits, both literal and figurative, of her labor. The bits of downtime after a job well done, however, was something that she cherished greatly. Said downtime would usually amount to all of a half hour or so before she had to start making dinner, but Granny Smith had been insistent on wanting to cook tonight, leaving AJ with a nice chunk of time to just sit and relax. The farmer plopped herself on the couch upon entering the farmhouse, quite happy to relieve the pressure from her aching hooves. Trotting around her family's property so much was taxing enough on them; the fact that her hind hooves doubled as harvesting devices certainly didn't help matters. There weren't a lot of ponies in Ponyville who quite understood the aches that came from constantly having to buck trees. It was all worth it in the end, but it was still nice to give them a rest at the end of the day. And a rest was what they, and she, would be getting now. There was nothing that would take her away from her relaxation.
As if the universe had heard her silent appreciation of this downtime, it was at that exact moment that the farmhouse door flew open. The farmer jumped at the interruption and turned to the door just in time to see Fluttershy gallop in, sobbing her big blue eyes out. Applejack sighed, knowing that she wouldn't be relaxing as much as she'd have liked. She didn't intend to seem callous, but this was not a completely uncommon thing to be happening, and she knew what had happened before Fluttershy even said a word. Still, she got up from her comfy couch and onto her still-aching hooves. She held hooves out, assuming the "comfort Fluttershy" position. Fluttershy ran straight into them, latching onto her with a tight hug.
"A-Applejack!" Fluttershy wailed between sobs.
"What is it, Fluttershy?" AJ asked, even though she had a very strong feeling that she already knew.
"R-Rainbow Dash and I got into a fight..." the poor pegasus choked out. "A-and she yelled at me and it's all my fault..."
Applejack sighed as she hugged Fluttershy. She knew that this would be exactly what the issue was. Fluttershy and Rainbow had been dating for quite some time now, and most of the time, things between them were great. The two knew each other so well, having been friends for the longest out of all the ponies in their little circle, and it showed. They were each able to bring out the best in each other. Rainbow helped Fluttershy with her confidence, and Fluttershy returned the favor by helping to rein Rainbow's overly-braggadocios and brash personality in just a smidge. Rainbow was still Rainbow, though, and she always had a tendency to be more than a bit hot-headed. Any conflict with her would usually result in yelling, and even though she knew Shy the best of the group, that wouldn't stop her from yelling at the poor, timid pegasus here and there. Every time she did, they would end up in this exact position, with Fluttershy arriving at Sweet Apple Acres in tears, and every time, AJ would console her while trying not to badmouth Rainbow too much, as Fluttershy did not like that. It had all become very predictable.
"Calm down, sugarcube,. AJ said in her best comforting tone. "What happened now?" Fluttershy sniffled pitifully, relinquishing her surprisingly-tight hug.
"I-I was redoing Dashie's weight room..." she sobbed. "A-and I thought her weights looked too dark and dull...s-so I repainted them...I figured she'd like a nice vibrant color...b-but when she came home, she d-didn't like it and she started yelling and...and..." The pegasus burst into tears once more. AJ just shook her head, allowing her friend to let it all out. As Fluttershy wept, AJ calmly trotted over to the window near the front door. She opened it, then returned to Shy's side.
"I don't know what to do..." Fluttershy whimpered. "She was so upset, and I didn't mean to upset her...I was just trying to be helpful, and..." She paused, taking notice of the fact that Applejack had begun quietly counting down from ten. "...What are you doing?"
"Three...two...one..." Applejack counted. She then pointed at the window, just in time for Rainbow to come flying through it, a bouquet of daisies clasped between her teeth.
"Fluttershy!" Rainbow called out around the flowers, landing perfectly on her hooves and galloping up to the sad pegasus. She quickly thrust the flowers at Fluttershy. "I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to yell at you, okay? I just got a little upset, but I shouldn't have yelled. I know you were just trying to help, and you're totally awesome and cool and I'm a big dumb jerk for making you cry." AJ watched the scene, nodding to herself at the "big dumb jerk" part. At least one thing from this entire scene was different than usual. Rainbow usually brought roses.
"Y-you mean it?" Fluttershy asked, turning her big, sad eyes to Rainbow and accepting the bouquet.
"I totally do," Rainbow replied. "And it won't happen ever again!"
"That's what you said last time," Applejack pointed out.
"W-well I really mean it this time!" Rainbow responded, blushing a bit.
"Said that the last time too," AJ muttered under her breath as she took a seat on the couch. She looked to Fluttershy, hoping beyond hope that she'd say something about it. She watched in mild disappointment as Fluttershy hugged the rainbow-maned pegasus, nuzzling her cheek.
"I-it's okay..." Shy said quietly. "We all make mistakes..." Rainbow hugged and nuzzled right back, smiling.
"Yeah...seems like I do more than others," Rainbow responded. AJ rolled her eyes, watching Rainbow use the same "self-pity to make you feel bad that I did something wrong" tactic that she herself had fallen prey to when they were dating.
"Nonono, Dashie...it's okay," Fluttershy said quietly. "We both made a mistake." AJ sighed to herself as she watched the two share a hug. She knew that Rainbow really was a good pony who meant well, but these were the exact same thing that she did when they were going out, and seeing Fluttershy fall for it just as easily as she did left a bad taste in her mouth. Fluttershy was too sweet a pony to be treated that way.
"I gotta jet," Rainbow said after she broke the hug. "Gotta stick to my workout schedule!" She began to leave, but then stopped, looking first at Shy, then at AJ. AJ knew exactly what was being insinuated, and turned her head so as not to be a witness to Rainbow acting sappy. Rainbow, satisfied, leaned in and shared a kiss with her marefriend.
"I love you, Dashie," Fluttershy said. AJ felt Rainbow's eyes on her, and she covered her ears.
"Love you too, Shy," Rainbow responded once she knew it was safe. She then took off through the window. Applejack waited a few moments, then let go of her ears and turned to Fluttershy, who was now smiling as if she hadn't been bawling her eyes out moments ago.
"It was sweet of her to come apologize..." Shy said. AJ sighed. She couldn't let this keep going on.
"Shy, do you really believe her?" the farmer asked matter-of-factly. Fluttershy raised a brow, thrown off by the question.
"Um...yes..." she responded. "...Do you not think she's sorry?"
"Nonono...that ain't what I meant," AJ said quickly. "Of course she's sorry. I mean the part about not yelling at you anymore. She says that every time and she keeps going right back to doing it." The farmer did her best to speak in a non-accusatory fashion; if she was too rough about it, she risked having Shy shut down and not take what she was saying to heart. However, she was an honest pony, and couldn't deny what was happening. Her slightly-gentle approach seemed to be at least somewhat effective, as she watched Shy look to be considering it.
"Um..." Fluttershy began. "...M-maybe she really does this time?" AJ sighed a heavy sigh, trying to mask her exasperation but failing miserably.
"Look, sugarcube," Applejack said, getting up. "You gotta learn to stand up to Rainbow Dash when she gets like that, or else she's just gonna keep doing the same thing over and over again. Rainbow's a good pony, but sometimes she's gotta be taught that she can't just cause a ruckus and then fix it all with an apology. You deserve better than that." She looked at Shy hopefully, praying that she would get through to her. One look at her body language, however, hinted that this probably wasn't the case. She had turned her gaze straight down to the floor, hiding most of her face with her mane.
"I...um...don't know if Dashie would like that..." the pegasus responded, her voice barely audible over the creak of the floorboards as she nervously shifted in place.
"Fluttershy," Applejack said, getting a little more stern with her tone. "You're not a doormat. You're a pony who deserves just as much respect as you're giving Rainbow. She's one of the best ponies I know, but truth is she ain't giving you that." The farmer gave her friend a few moments to think things over, but her patience could only allow her to wait for so long. She felt her patience run out, and with a sigh, turned around.
"A-Applejack...?" Fluttershy spoke up.
"I'm gonna make dinner for you and the family," AJ replied curtly. "And after dinner, I'm teaching you how to stand up for yourself when Rainbow starts hollering." Fluttershy attempted to speak up, but she wasn't able to get a word out before AJ's tail vanished into the kitchen. Unable to think of a way out of this without just rudely leaving the house, the yellow pegasus had herself a seat on the couch.
Applejack stood in the kitchen, putting together a nice, tasty dinner of apple-carrot-raisin salad with a side of hay fries. It was a dinner whose normal serving size allowed for four ponies, but she made sure to increase the amount of each ingredient to accommodate for Fluttershy. The farmer had sounded very confident about her plan to help Shy stand up to Rainbow, but in actuality, she wasn't even entirely positive how she would go about doing such a thing. Her declaration that she would help her had been off the cuff, and even she realized that such a task might be easier said than done. Rainbow Dash was a good pony. Rainbow Dash was a great pony, even. But Rainbow Dash was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a pliable pony. Much like AJ, she had a tendency to be very stubborn and set in her ways. The difference between she and AJ, though, was that even if Rainbow had concrete evidence placed in front of her that showed her how her ways were wrong, it still typically wouldn't be enough to get her to change. It should have been enough for her when AJ ended their relationship under circumstances similar to what was going on with Fluttershy now, but apparently, Rainbow just didn't learn. Hopefully she would this time.
Dinner was fairly uneventful. AJ spent most of the time eating silently, speaking only when spoken to. She needed to think long and hard on how to help Fluttershy with this issue, and that gave her little time for conversation. Thankfully, Granny Smith and Apple Bloom were talkative enough to cover for the entire table. As she chomped down on a slice of apple, AJ considered her options. Her methods had to be firm enough that they would make Rainbow realize what she was doing wrong when they were employed, but gentle enough that Fluttershy wouldn't be immediately turned off from them due to not wanting to be too mean. It was a difficult balance to maintain, especially when the farmer had no clue how to go about this at all. At least if she had a gameplan in mind, she could adjust it accordingly when she felt she was being either too strict or too gentle.
"And then Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon made fun of us!" Bloom exclaimed. Applejack had barely been paying attention to her story, too engrossed in her own thoughts. Fluttershy and Big Macintosh, as introverted as could be, didn't have much in the way of responses, leaving Granny Smith to save the day.
"You talking about Filthy Rich's kid?" the Apple family matriarch asked. "Can't believe she's causing trouble! She always seemed like such a nice filly."
"Nice?!" Bloom shouted, causing Shy and Mac's ears to fold back. "She and Silver Spoon ain't nice at all! They're always making fun of me and the other Crusaders for not having our cutie marks, and we can't get 'em to stop!" The filly let out a frustrated groan.
"Well then," Granny said, tapping a wrinkled hoof to her chin. "...Why don'tcha go on and make fun of them right back?" The rest of the ponies at the table, even Fluttershy, turned to give Granny a surprised look.
"...Are you saying I should treat them the same way they treat me?" Bloom asked, her tone incredulous. "But Miss Cheerilee always teaches us in school that two wrongs don't make a right!"
"Oh, fiddle faddle!" Granny responded, laughing heartily. "Back when I was a lil' sprout like yourself, we didn't worry none about that kinda thing! If a pony made fun if us, well, we did it right back! Most of the time, turned out the bullies didn't like being made fun of no better than we did! Shut 'em up right on the spot, it did!" Bloom's face lit up like a Hearth's Warming tree.
"You really think that'll work?" the filly asked excitedly.
"Hold on now," Big Macintosh suddenly spoke up. "You know that ain't right, Granny."
"Pish-posh!" Granny retorted. "Ain't nothing wrong with thickening your skin a bit!" She then turned her attention to Applejack. "You're usually Miss Morality in here, child. What do you say?"
Applejack didn't respond at first. The look in her eyes could only be described as one of utter enlightenment. The other ponies waited silently for her response, and after a few moments, they finally got it.
"...That's perfect..." AJ said. Big Mac rolled his eyes as Granny and Bloom gave each other a high-hoof and Fluttershy let out a quiet "oh my," not a one of them aware that they'd just given her the answer she was looking for.
Applejack strode back and forth in front of her charge for the evening, feeling an awful lot like a drill sergeant as she paced. Fluttershy, meanwhile, was standing as still as could be, completely unsure of what the farmer had in store for her. She smiled awkwardly, despite how unsure she was of the entire idea. Her smile persisted until AJ stopped short in front of her, stomping a hoof on the ground.
"So!" AJ began, a confident grin crossing her face. "You wanna learn how to stand up to Rainbow Dash when she's getting loud and difficult, do you?"
"Um...n-not particularly..." Fluttershy responded quietly. "But...it's still nice of you to..." She trailed off, feeling somewhat uncomfortable under Applejack's steely gaze.
"Trust me, private," Applejack said, starting to get more into character. "This is what you need, whether you know it or not, and I'm just the pony to help you with it!"
"Um...yaaaay?" Fluttershy offered.
"Great attitude, private!" AJ said, smirking as she reached over and helped Fluttershy properly stand at attention. Such a thing was not at all necessary, but she figured she might as well keep up the act.
"So...um...what are we doing, exactly?" Fluttershy asked, her knees shaking slightly as she struggled to keep up the stance she'd been helped into.
"We," Applejack boomed, "are gonna whip you into shape! We are gonna give you a nice, sturdy backbone! We are gonna make sure that Rainbow Dash knows not to yell at you again, lest she get what's coming to her!"
"Um...that doesn't sound very nice..." Fluttershy told Applejack. The farmer seemed unphased by this.
"It ain't nice how she's treating you!" AJ retorted. "Now then, let's get to work! Now, when Rainbow Dash yells at you, how do you feel?"
"Um...panicked and scared?" Shy responded.
"Right!" AJ shot back. "And when that happens, what do you want to do?"
"...Cry and run to your house?" she answered, causing the farmer to roll her eyes.
"Right," Applejack confirmed again. "But that ain't what you SHOULD do! What Rainbow's doing to you is straight-up bullying! And what's the best way to deal with a bully?"
"Ooh...I know this one!" Fluttershy responded, fluttering her wing tips excitedly. "We should tell a teacher or other authority figure, and if they don't do anything about it, then keep finding authority figures to tell until somepony does do something about it!" Fluttershy smiled proudly. All the anti-bullying campaigns she'd heard the colts and fillies in town talking about really had helped!
"Not in this case!" Applejack snapped back, surprising her charge. "Rainbow Dash ain't no normal bully! She cares a lot about you, but she likes to use her power to her advantage when it suits her! And the best way to stop her from doing that is...?" She looked at Shy, waiting for an answer. When it was clear that she wasn't getting one, she answered for her. "...Giving her a taste of her own medicine!"
"Oh my..." the timid pegasus said. "I'm not sure if I could yell at Dashie...or anypony, really."
"Nonsense!" AJ countered. "You're a much stronger pony than you give yourself credit for, private!" Applejack turned in place and trotted over to the closet. "Now, we're gonna do a little experiment and see how you handle it!" The earth pony dug through the closet, her tail flicking about, until she finally found what she was looking for. Fluttershy watched, intrigued, as Applejack emerged from the closet, two limp objects dangling from her mouth. She displayed them to Fluttershy as she reached her, revealing them to be sock puppets of Shy and Rainbow.
"Um...what are these for?" the pegasus asked. "...And why do you have them?"
"Apple Bloom and her friend made 'me to play with," AJ answered. "And now we're gonna..."
"These are very well-made..." Fluttershy said, admiring the one of herself.
"Yeah, sure," Applejack responded, a noncommittal tone to her voice. "So we're gonna..."
"Who usually plays as me?" Shy asked, very interested in the puppets.
"...They kinda rotate," AJ told her, beginning to get a bit agitated. "So we're..."
"...I-is this actually from Rainbow's mane?" Shy asked as she ran a hoof over puppet Dash's mane.
"That ain't important right now!" Applejack shouted, causing Fluttershy's ears to fold back. The farmer sighed. "Look, here's what's gonna happen. This is a little practice session. First you'll be Rainbow and I'll be you. Then once I show you how it's done, we'll switch it up and you'll use what I taught you. Okay?"
"Um..." Fluttershy said quietly, looking back and forth between the Rainbow puppet in her hooves and the puppet of herself in AJ's. "...Okay." Applejack beamed and slipped her hoof into the Shy puppet, as Shy did the same with the Dash puppet.
"Now just pretend to be Rainbow Dash and get upset with...uh...you," the farmer finished weakly. Fluttershy looked again at her puppet, then cleared her throat.
"Umm...h-hey, Fluttershy..." the pegasus spoke, waving the puppet around. "I'm...um...very angry that you painted my weights..."
"I was just trying to be nice!" Applejack retorted, waving her own puppet frantically while trying to do a louder imitation of Shy's voice. "Now you better not yell at me again! It ain't nice and you shouldn't do it! So cut it out!" The farmer smiled proudly as Fluttershy stared at her in a mixture of confusion and amusement.
"Um...good job?" Fluttershy said. Before she knew it, AJ had swapped puppets with her, and she was now wearing the puppet version of herself.
"Now just do what I did!" Applejack said cheerfully as she slipped the Rainbow puppet onto her hoof. She cleared her throat, then went into a strangely accurate imitation of Rainbow Dash.
"Hey, Fluttershy!" Applejack shouted, waving the puppet angrily, getting louder as she went on. "You ruined my weights! Now I'm gonna yell at you even though I should know by now that doing that's just gonna make things worse! I'm a big, loud jerk who never learns from her mistakes and keeps yelling at the pony she's dating even though they're only trying to do nice things for me! What do you gotta say about that?!" Applejack panted, the hoof that held the puppet shaking violently. Fluttershy had shrunk back long ago, and was cowering behind her mane, staring up at Applejack fearfully.
"M-maybe we should try something else..." the timid mare suggested. Applejack wiped the sweat off of her brow and agreed.
It had been about two hours since the two had started this whole thing, and Applejack was forced to admit that there had not been a whole lot of progress made. They had tried everything she could think of. Any other roleplaying attempts had ended very similar to the sock puppet incident. Written requests for Rainbow to stop were fruitless, as Fluttershy couldn't even manage to be stern on paper. Plans to get their other friends involved were thrown to the wayside, as Shy didn't want to air her dirty laundry to everypony.
"Look, Fluttershy," AJ said, exhausted both physically and mentally at this point. "I've tried everything I could think of at this point, and it just don't seem to be getting through. Please, just do me a favor and try not to let her bully you too much, okay?"
"...Okay, Applejack," Fluttershy replied. AJ didn't believe her for a moment, but at this point, she had to just take her word for it. She'd go to see Rainbow tomorrow after work and give her a piece of her mind, but for now, her role in this situation was done. She gave her friend a tight hug before sending her on her way, then flumped onto the couch, ready for a much-needed rest.
Fluttershy, meanwhile, was on her way home. It had been a very trying few hours for her, and at this point she was ready to sit down and treat herself to a nice cup of tea. As she approached her cottage, she made out a blue form waiting by her door. She smiled, pleased that Rainbow seemed to be surprising her with something.
"Hi Dashie!" the yellow pegasus sang as she settled down.
"Oh, don't 'hi Dashie' me right now," Rainbow replied, a hint of venom in her tone. Fluttershy blinked, thrown off by this unexpected demeanor.
"Um...is something wrong?" she asked, racking her brain to try and figure out why Rainbow might be upset.
"Of course you totally forgot about it!" Rainbow answered, her volume starting to rise. "We were supposed to have dinner tonight!"
Fluttershy paled. Rainbow was absolutely right. The two of them had made plans earlier in the week to have a nice dinner at the cottage. In all the excitement from the earlier argument and the whole thing with Applejack, it had completely escaped her mind.
"I'm sorry Dashie..." Shy said quietly, ears drooped. "I could just..."
"I've been waiting here for an hour!" Rainbow shouted, her emotions getting the best of her. "You've been off doing whatever and you completely forgot our dinner date!"
"I-I'm really sorry, Dashie..." Fluttershy practically whispered, but it was too late. Rainbow had a full hour to work herself up into this mood, and a simple sorry didn't seem to be the key to calming her down.
"All I wanted was a nice dinner with you!" Rainbow boomed, her wings splayed out in an intimidating fashion. "But you're just off doing who knows what and I'm standing out here like a chump..."
Fluttershy shrunk back as Rainbow yelled, trying her hardest to become invisible. She felt tears begin to form, but then they stopped. She looked up at Rainbow carrying on, and in that moment she seemed to transform in front of Shy's eyes, shifting into the form of the Rainbow sock puppet. Fluttershy could barely hear what Rainbow was shouting anymore; all she heard were the words that Applejack had been using earlier. Rainbow's voice turned into AJ's imitation of her, bellowing and carrying on. Fluttershy then envisioned the puppet of herself, again with Applejack's voice, telling her that she didn't need to take this kind of treatment. Fluttershy then rose to her hooves, as if a switch had been flipped in her mind. She spread her own wings in the same fashion as Rainbow had and took a deep breath.
"Stop yelling at me!" Fluttershy burst out, louder than Rainbow had ever heard her. "You always start yelling at me when something doesn't go your way, and I'm tired of it!" She rose one hoof and poked Rainbow in the chest with just enough force to startle Rainbow more than she already had. "I'm tired of you bullying me! We are marefriends, and you should respect me and treat me well even when I make mistakes, just like I do for you! I don't want to hear you yelling at me again! You got it?!"
The yellow pegasus breathed heavily as she stared her marefriend down. Rainbow, for her part, was absolutely stunned. She stared, slack-jawed, at Fluttershy, still unsure if she believed what had just happened. The two stared at each other for a good ten seconds, completely silent but for the sounds of Fluttershy's panting. The panting continued until Shy realized what she'd just done. Her stare softened instantly.
"Dashie, I'm..." Fluttershy began, but her sentence was interrupted by Rainbow.
"...Oh my gosh..." Rainbow said softly. "...That was so hot." Now it was Fluttershy's turn to be stunned.
"...Wh-what?" the perplexed pegasus asked. Rainbow's eyes lidded, a smirk crossing her face.
"Yell at me again, Flutters," Rainbow said in a breathy voice. "I've been a bad filly. Tell me my place." Fluttershy blinked, then giggled a bit, feeling good about this new power she had over her marefriend. Her eyelids lowered to match Rainbow's.
"Go up to my room and wait for me, you bad filly," Fluttershy said, doing her best to put on a sultry voice and not giggle.
"What about dinner?" Rainbow asked.
"Did I SAY you could have dinner?" Shy demanded.
"N-no, ma'am!" Rainbow answered quickly, and zoomed upstairs just like she was told. Fluttershy giggled lightly and closed the door.
5:00 PM rolled around rather quickly the next day,and Applejack was more than anxious to get right over to Rainbow's place and give her a piece of her mind. She called up to Rainbow's house a few times, but there was no answer. She decided to check Fluttershy's cottage next, and knocked on the door upon arriving. After a few moments, Fluttershy answered the door.
"Oh, hello Applejack!" Fluttershy said, giving her a little smile. "What a pleasant surprise! What can I do for you?"
"Oh, hey Shy," AJ responded. "I was actually wondering if Rainbow Dash was here. I kinda wanted to talk to her about yesterday's little unpleasantness." Her attention was then drawn past Fluttershy and to the stairs, where Rainbow had poked her head out.
"Hey Applejack!" Rainbow called out. Fluttershy turned around and gave her a glare.
"Who told you that you could come down?" Fluttershy asked, in a tone far more stern than Applejack could ever remember hearing from her.
"Sorry ma'am!" Rainbow answered quickly. Within a second, she had gone right back upstairs. Fluttershy then turned back to Applejack and gave her a sweet smile.
"Oh yes, Dashie is here," the pegasus said. "And don't worry about yesterday. We've got it all under control. Was there anything else I could help you with?"
"Uh...no, ma'am..." the bewildered earth pony said.
"Then I'll see you later," Fluttershy said with a grin. "And thank you for your help!" With that, the yellow pegasus closed the door, leaving a very confused Applejack wondering if she had done the right thing.