Aerial stunt-enthusiast Rainbow Dash dozed on her favorite napping cloud. After all, it was a much better alternative to tea and cucumber sandwiches. Her ears fluttered as she dreamed of soaring through the skies as speeds only somepony as awesome as her could attain.
Life was good.
Rainbow saw herself be inducted into the Wonderbolts with glee. She watched herself quickly ascend the ranks, finding no shortage of rivals. She observed thoughtfully as she finally traded in her gold badge for Spitfire’s uniform, grinning widely as the old mare shook her hoof with brisk precision. Dash saw as she flew around the world and effectively conquered it for ponykind.
Then there was the paperwork. Startled, the pegasus flapped her wings; however this only agitated the looming piles of documents. Headstrong as ever, Rainbow Dash did the only thing she could think to do - indeed, when in doubt it was the only thing she ever did: fly harder.
She buffeted through stacks upon stacks of these dreaded reports, realizing with horror that not only were these terrible things not going away, but she was creating a veritable hurricane of paperwork! Ears pressed back in terror, the mare only had time to shield her face as the papercut vortex swallowed her whole.
A strange, if not somewhat familiar, voice murmured into her brain, “You mustn’t keep these feelings inside.”
Spit back into the realm of the waking, Rainbow Dash stood with a gasp. It was only a dream. Shaking her head, she mumbled hoarsely. “Paperwork is for eggheads.”
“If y’all ‘re rightly awake, maybe you’ll be wantin’ to help me out.” The distinct speech caught Rainbow’s attention now, though that did little to help her understand.
“Applejack? What are you doing in the clouds?” Perhaps she was still dreaming.
Rainbow could hear her friend’s disgruntledness in a sigh. Applejack deadpanned, “RD, we ain’t in the clouds no more. You’d best take a look around.”
Only now did Rainbow truly become aware that while her eyes had been open all along, she really didn’t see much of anything. Uncertainty gripped her once more as she took in surroundings: a cavern littered with dimly-glowing stones. “Ha ha AJ, this is real funny… But we can stop playing now, right?”
“‘Fraid this ain’t much of my idea of a joke, Sugarcube. I was catchin’ a wink in the orchard ‘til I found myself buried in this hole.” The proud earth pony scuffed a hoof all along the dirt below, as if testing it for cracks, “And ‘fore you ask, no - I haven’t got a clue how we got here.”
“Hmm,” Rainbow evaluated their situation. Applejack’s increasingly frantic search as she frittered all around the dark, enclosed space was surprisingly helpful. Judging from the time it took her to complete a circuit, it was about the size of her own bedroom; the atmospheric response to Applejack’s incessant to and fro told her there had to be some source of air.
Rainbow sat to one side of their small oval prison, deciding it wasn’t too bad. But after several minutes of the farmpony’s tireless perusal, Rainbow huffed loudly before yawning, “Aren’t you done yet? Seriously I’m getting tired just watching you.”
Applejack stops short as hooves dug into the ground, “Beg pardon?” Raising each of her legs in turn, a quick stationary trot, she continues, “Least I’m tryin’ to find a way out! What in tarnation do you think you’re doin’?”
“Well I was just gonna watch you prance around like Rarity looking for her fainting couch,” she shrugged, stretching her wings a bit. “What d’you expect me to do?”
“Oh I don’t know, maybe y’all could help me?”
“You looked like you had it covered. Besides, what are you worrying about anyway?”
Incredulously, “What am I worryin’ about? I jus’ want to get outta here!”
Brows furrowed in concentration, Rainbow bites out, “I don’t get it! Don’t you earth ponies have a special connection with dirt or whatever? You’re like surrounded by heritage. I still don’t see what the fuss is about!”
“I want to run the open fields again.” Applejack bites her lip, her eyes watering with exertion, “I want to go home and be with my family! Applebloom’s got a school dance tomorrow, who’s gonna make sure she’s got her mane all prettied up and brushed right, huh? Macintosh?!
“There’s somepony out there that don’t know how much I love ‘em! And… what d’ya s’pose we’ll eat! I… I don’t want to be stuck here.” Applejack’s tirade was quickly losing steam, coming out in whimpers now. “I’m scared RD, I reckoned you out of anypony would understand being trapped.”
To say Rainbow was shocked would be a mild understatement. Looking to the wilting frame of her longtime rival, she could see the truth in the earth pony’s flattened ears, the sincerity in her lowly-tucked tail. “Why me?”
The orange mare chuckles darkly, “T’ain’t a secret you’re claustrophobic as all get out. Sometimes you even say it and y’all don’t own up to anything.”
“I am not!” Rainbow bullheadedly exclaims. “But uh, what’s closetphobic mean?”
“Claustrophobic ya silly, means y’all ‘re afraid of being stuck in tight places,” AJ starts, “y’know, like this ‘un here.”
Unfortunately, this explanation only served to further confuse the pegasus. For a second. “What the hay Applejack! Why would you think I’m afraid of tight places? This is- this is slander! A lie!”
“Y’all say it all the time! Goin’ on ‘bout gettin’ trapped and whatsuch nonsense ya got goin’ on in that brain of yours.” Exasperation outweighed panic at this point: Rainbow Dash was being such a little filly about everything. “Always takin’ up as much space as ya can with that flyin’ and struttin’.”
For her part, Rainbow Dash gave up the argument. She held her wings up and calmly - slowly - walked around the cavern. Rolling her eyes dramatically when Applejack starts to follow, chiding at her to stay still; Applejack helplessly watched her friend take agonizingly long steps.
It was too much for her unstill heart.
“Now what the buck am I s’pose to be doing? You’re movin’ so dang slow you’re a-twitchin’!” Stamping a hoof impatiently, Applejack watches Rainbow Dash stop completely. “You sure ‘re doin’ a bang-up job at nothing!”
Tucking her wings tightly against her body - a tactic to physically calm even the most irritated of pegasi - Rainbow quietly mourns the loss of her nap.
“You’re letting me take care of this. There’s gotta be fresh air - we’re obviously still breathing and it’s not getting any hotter even after you’ve sweated up a storm running all over.” Applejack shoots Rainbow a warning glance, who in turn unfurls her wings proudly. “These babies’ll be able to pick up wherever the source is, and maybe we can dig our way out.
“In any case, I’m gonna need you to calm down.”
“Oh.” Applejack blushes at her brashness - that was much more Rainbow’s forté. She couldn’t understand how the weatherpony was taking the situation in such stride. It was fairly common knowledge that the wild pegasus needed to be free, but yet here she is, unruffled and standing proud as ever… Planning even! While she herself was reduced to - admittedly - a sweaty, sobbing mess. “Sorry.”
Rainbow nods and continues her search, still quietly sifting through all the implications of what had been said. This is what it ‘trapped’ means to somepony, huh? Her attention shifts to a light vibration in her down. Upon further inspection of the buzz against the inside of her right wing, she pokes her hoof out at hip level into the wall.
Scratching a toe against it, she calls to her friend, “Hey AJ! Gimme a kick over here!”
Skeptical at the quickness of this method, Applejack clips over to Rainbow, eyeing the spot critically. Judging it to be haunch height she turns and launches a foot at her earthy prison. The dull thud of solid-packed dirt never comes.
The orange-colored pony’s ear perk sharply at the hollow sound, “Rainbow Dash, we found it!” Balancing up onto her forehooves, she bucks the partition like it owed her apples.
As the dirt crumbled beneath the veteran apple farmer’s sheer strength, her elation was quickly replaced with dismay. There was no sunlight, no cool breeze or fresh air. Only the scent of barely-ripe apples.
“Oh horesfeathers! Sweet nelly, what is goin’ on here?” The strong equine squats down then balling herself tightly. “For Peat’s sake, what have I done to deserve this?!”
Hesitant to comfort her near-catatonic companion - now fallen onto her side - Rainbow Dash takes it upon herself to look at the new room. Noting a distinct lack of light, she retreats with light hooves to gingerly dislodge some rocks for light. Uncovering the first one entirely, she blinks a few times at the sharp brightness. Surprised but satisfied, she dug out a few more: these would do nicely.
Setting them about the new expansion, the swift pegasus carefully explores the space. You could fit half a barn in here! That should cheer her up, right? Oh! And-
“Over here!” she calls across the expanse. At the lack of response she groans, “C’mon! You’ll like this!” Nothing. “Stop being a pain in the rump and,” she doubles back to scream at Applejack’s prone form, “just look at this!”
For her part, Applejack only lets out a half-hearted sigh and feigns lifting her head to the vaguely illuminated cave.
Patience thinned, Rainbow rolls her eyes before lowering her forelock against the thick earth mare’s rib from behind: wedging her nose beneath the cowpony and fully intending to roll her to the previously-indicated spot. Alas, Dash’s lithe form could only budge the more heavily-muscled body twice. Once to unceremoniously flip her over, and once to piss her off.
“Alright! Sheesh…” Agitated, Applejack gathers her stetson and shakes off the dirt in her coat, making sure to thwack Rainbow Dash across the face with the ribbon in her tail. “Now what the hay are you prattlin’ on about?”
Rainbow, nonplussed by the action, leads the other pony to her latest discovery. “Cider!”
Applejack allows only a moment to marvel at the barrel of - Yup that’s the stuff alright - premium Apple Family Apple Cider. Dipping her muzzle to drink deeply of the nectar, the sweet flavors mixed with familiar spices to dance on her tongue.
“Ease up there, Drinky,” finally Rainbow presses a fetlock to the insatiable pony’s throat, lightly nudging her back. “We don’t know how long this will have to last us.”
Applejack, gasping for breath, blushes yet again at being lectured about moderation by Rainbow Dash. She removes her hat and shakes her mane out, inhaling slowly all the while. “Well ‘Orange’ be my middle name, there’s a bushel of apples here!”
“Carrots too,” Rainbow points out wryly, “but you would notice the apples.”
“But how did this ge-” Applejack stops, “How in the world did any of this get here?”
“Who knows. Who cares?”
That was it. Applejack’s eye twitched. She growled deep in her throat, her voice unpredictably quiet, “Beg pardon?”
Rainbow was not one to be cowed. Her brows snap together, haughtily, “I said who cares, obviously somepony put it here and obviously it’s fresh, so it’s not like we’re in any real danger or anything! Somepony’ll find us.”
“Did y’all even stop to think whoever put that stuff in here is the same somepony who brought us here in the first place?!” Applejack was screaming now, but she could hardly care, “Ain’t you scared we won’t get outta here? What the hay is wrong with you!”
“Whoa!” Rainbow jumps into the air to put some distance between her and the agitated country mare, taking advantage of the higher ceiling, “What is your problem?!”
“I’m fixin’ to tan your hide six ways ‘til harvest, that’s my problem!”
“Look! You and I are here for a reason.” Rainbow waves her forearms in wild gesticulations. “I have no idea what it is but you can’t lose your mind over everything! We have air. We have food. We have water. What more do you want!”
“I want to close my eyes, and open them, and be in my bed.” This was going nowhere, Applejack dropped to her rump. “I want to raise a barn and watch the paint dry.” She cut her eyes to the winged pony, more tired now than when she’d tried to care for the entire orchard by herself. Taking a steadying breath, “I s’pose I’m acting uglier than a mud fence."
“I kind of get the feeling you’re closetphobic.”
“Whatever!” Swooping down next to Applejack, Rainbow rests a wing around her shoulder, “I’m sorry I haven’t exactly been making it easy for you.”
"It’s alright, you’re only tryin’ to keep us together.” Tears poked at her eyes, “I reckon there ain’t much good frettin’ but… well, you ain’t even a mite spooked, I jus’ don’t get it.”
The sky-colored pony merely shrugged. “I’m not claustrophobic.”
“That’s what I don’t get! You go on ‘bout bein’ ‘fraid to get trapped, how you’re ‘fraid of being stuck.” Rainbow could feel Applejack’s imploring eyes boring into her. “How is that any different than this?”
“I’m not scared of being stuck in a place,” Rainbow laughs mirthlessly. Her head tilts back to peer into the darkness. Applejack watched the skin around her nose crinkle. “When I say I’m scared of being trapped, I mean. That’s not what I mean. You know?”
“No,” Applejack blinks. “I really don’t.”
“Heh, I guess not.” Equal parts sheepish and frustrated, Rainbow scratches her crest through her multicolored hair. “I’ve never been the best with words. Or being honest about my feelings… I guess that’s more your thing, huh?
“Umm, yesh I’m stalling. That’s so uncool…” Rainbow kicks up some dust polishing a hoof on the floor, then sighs. “I can go anywhere. Fly as high as I want, as far as I want. I’ve been all sorts of places just by being in Cloudsdale. And I’m fast, there isn’t anypony out there I couldn’t keep up with.
“But where can I go?” Rainbow’s proud, straight neck went limp. “I can go anywhere, but I have to stay here. It’s my destiny.”
Suddenly a rock that AJ didn’t realize had been picked up is hurled across the room. As it dully collides with something obscured by shadow, she turns in shock to her scowling friend.
“I’m that rock.” Rainbow didn’t know what she was saying anymore, but she’d talked out of her hindquarters on more than one occasion… “There’s nowhere for it to go. It could’ve been anyplace else with anypony else, but it belongs here and it’s just in this place forever.” The words felt sour, and looking at AJ’s freshly-sweating face, this was probably the wrong tact. “I don’t know.” The flight-bound pony exhales sharply, partly in derision. “... No matter what I want, no matter what I do… wherever I go, I’ll end up back here. Not here here in this cave, but here in Ponyville, on that crystal throne next to Twilight.
“I didn’t leave Cloudsdale to settle down; I wanted to explore - go places. Then we all became Element Bearers overnight! It didn’t bother me then - I didn’t know what I was missing. Not until I sprained my wing and learned about reading anyway, and even then I didn’t know.
“It was when we met Daring Do. That’s when it hit me hard: I want to do what A. K. Yearling pretends she doesn’t do. It wasn’t a big deal when it was just some stupid-awesome words on a page, but to know it’s all real? I want more adventure - the kind that I find and decide to do - not the ones some freaky magic map sends me on like a flunky!” She fixes an eye on her wingless counterpart, without condescension, “You couldn’t understand.”
Applejack gaped. She was at a loss for words; instinctively she wanted to argue but honestly couldn’t relate. She herself had gone off on her own just once before: the only thing she learned was that she belonged at Sweet Apple Acres with her blessed family. Heck, Rainbow Dash was the one who unknowingly showed the way.
Rainbow felt unsettled, taking Applejack’s stunned silence as a reprimand for her treasonous thoughts. “Obviously you girls are my life, and I would never leave you hanging!” She tears her gaze away. Staring into nothing and laughing bitterly, “Isn’t that just the problem though?” Rainbow, flipping her mane to the other side of her neck, throws her head up to scream at the infuriatingly-vaulted ceiling.
The harsh tone that hushedly followed was a bit of a surprise: “I’m a Reserve now, right? All my life I wanted to be a Wonderbolt, rise in the ranks… to Captain and whatever’s beyond that… But I saw Spitfire’s office, I couldn’t see the posters, or the awards, or even the autographs she was signing. All I saw was a great flier crammed into a stuffy, starchy uniform sitting on her flank in front of this giant stack of papers waiting for a hoofiture. I had time to think about it after and it was really depressing.”
Applejack focused her mind on the weighty confession to avoid their current situation, gathering her wits and leaning against Rainbow in solidarity. “Oh Sugarcube, you know you’ll always have a home with us.” That sure didn’t come out right. They sat in only-partially uncomfortable silence. Rainbow Dash, feeling the abyss stare back at her, thought about their situation over her escapist’s desires.
“Well…” Rainbow desperately wanted to change the subject. She’d discussed her bitter insecurities secret long enough. Suddenly, Applejack’s earlier words echo in her ears. “Who’s the special somepony you were talking about?”
Panic started anew, the pony in question blanches, gulps, and shakily asks, “Er, what was that?” An unimpressed eyebrow raise; this was not the time for coyness. “Nopony, Dash you know I’m not seein’ anypony!”
“Applejack,” Rainbow starts patiently, “you’re a terrible liar. Stop insulting me.” No answer from a shifty-eyed mare. She rubs her forehead to ease the building tension, “You said there was somepony who didn’t know how much you loved him. Who is it?” Rainbow wasn’t going to bother asking if she knew the pony: of course she did.
“What?” She rubbed her ear now. What kind of colt was named ‘Her’?
“Her.” Applejack bites out sharply, “I love her. I swear on Celestia’s sun if we get outta here, I’m gonna kiss her full-on the muzzle and tell her I’ve had my eye on her since I dragged her up that mountain.”
“Yeah that’s great and all, but who the hay are we talking about?”
“Erm, you know her.” Applejack was on the receiving end of a glare cold enough to ruin a whole harvest. “Really well,” she squeaks out in consolation. She mumbles out so quietly, she almost chuckles how much like the namesake she’s acting.
“C’mon AJ! Who’s this mare I know so much about?” A pause, “And why in the world were you dragging her up a mountain? Where was I when this happened?!”
“Watching Rarity lose at Noughts and Crosses?” Applejack’s laugh is nervous, “Being a jerk? Fighting a dragon?”
“Fi-” A look of frustrated confusion becomes one of utter bemusement. “Are you talking about Fluttershy?”
“Guilty as a filly pickin’ zap apples ‘fore they’re ready…” Applejack pointed her ears at Rainbow entreatingly, “Y’all ain’t mad are you?”
Rainbow blinked. She wasn’t mad… and she didn’t feel like there was any reason for her to be. More information would be nice though. “How?”
“I don’t rightly know, but like I was sayin’ - if I had to say, it was the dragon kerfuffle that made me take notice. I’m jus’ so used to bein’ the strong one, it was sort of… nice to be protected for once,” she smiles dreamily at the memory, looking off as she continued, “When we turned her into Flutterbat by accident, I knew she was the apple of my eye.”
Rainbow Dash considers it for a moment. Fluttershy had been her best friend since Rainbow was foaled. Despite being older, Fluttershy’s ability as a flier kept her with the younger filly. At a camp separated into groups by flight strength, Rainbow Dash faithfully stayed abreast the weak-winged pony long after they ordinarily would have parted ways. In some ways, helping her friend fly had honed her own power and control.
Then there’s Applejack. She worked closely with the agricultural worker from the very beginning of her career as a weatherpony. Applejack and her stalwart responsibility had really guided Rainbow’s own sense of duty to her home, and more recently, to herself.
AJ was honest with herself and trustworthy and tactful; Fluttershy was aware of the big picture and other ponies’ feelings. They would be able to speak firmly with each other without perceived slights or criticism.
“Hmm.” They’re probably really good for each other.
Applejack grimaced at the fiercely protective pegasus’ sudden stoicism. “You… y’all’re mad, aren’t you?” She knew this could be a problem. And of course she would have to face up to it when they were holed in together. “I mean, it don’t matter anyhow, it ain’t like me ‘n’ her’ll ever work. I don’t even know if Fluttershy could ever fancy another mare.”
“Why the heck would I be mad? You’re both full-grown ponies, you can make your own choices.” Rainbow shrugs, “What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t want my best friends to be happy?”
Grinning with surprise, Applejack presses her neck to Rainbow’s, raising her opposite hoof to hug the girl tight. This was a huge weight off her shoulders; after RD’s approval, telling the others will be easier than picking apples.
Then an idea. “I don’t understand your need to get away… I might have back when I was a filly.” The pegasus’ tail whipped in irritation, obviously having hoped the previous topic would be forgotten. “Don’t get your feathers a-ruffled, I ain’t callin’ you immature or nothin’. I jus’ think maybe you’d feel differently if you had somepony to care for.”
Applejack, somewhere beneath her enthusiasm, knew this was a delicate matter. Often she would downplay how amazing her family is, especially in the presence of Rainbow, whom she knew to be more of the alone side.
Rainbow clears her throat unsubtly, but that only sharpened the wannabe matchmaker’s focus on her sweating face. “My word, ain’t this grand? Y’all’ve got your eye caught after all! Who’s the lucky pony?”
“Don’t you be mad, okay?” The blonde pony nods eagerly, not even caring what she was agreeing to so long as she could find out. “It’s umm… it’s Macintosh.”
Rainbow Dash grew concerned at the unwavering smile on Applejack’s face.
It’d been minutes since she last spoke.
Dash hung her head with a sigh, opting to help herself to some food and drink whilst her companion had yet another breakdown. Warily unwilling to look away from the potentially unstable friend, she bites into a plump carrot and stares.
The sound seemed to break the stupor. As if there weren’t nearly 10 minutes of dead silence, Applejack’s smile falls apologetically. “I’m sorry, Rainbow, I missed that. Could you say it again?”
“Applejack, I like your brother,” she replies flatly. “I’ve liked him a couple of times no matter how many times I tell myself not to.”
“Why in the name of gravy would you like that hoofball-lovin’ dingus?!”
“I like hoofball!” Rainbow Dash facehoofs and groans; that was not the point she should be defending. “He’s strong and fast and we do extreme things together when he’s not being responsible. Mac makes good company… whenever we talk, he has really great things to say.”
Applejack falters… she herself found no appeal in Big Macintosh, but she loved him all the same: how could she fault somepony else for liking him? She stretches her neck. It’s not like she had a say in who pursued her brother.
Especially if she has a thing for that same pony’s kin.
“Well that sounds mighty nice.” Playfully knocking her forehoof against Rainbow’s shoulder, Rainbow’s startled look makes Applejack chortle out what could have been a cough. “It ain’t my place to care who you nor Big Mac dates, but if y’all decide it’s what y’all want, then I’m happy for you.
“Hay, if you and my brother get married, you and I’ll be sisters!” AJ beams at the promise of her ever-growing family.
Rainbow scrambles to deny the wedding, though the brilliant color of her cheeks - which rather complemented her eyes - suggested she didn’t fully reject the idea. Maybe settling down in Ponyville wouldn’t be the end of the world.
“Let’s see about spending a Hearts and Hooves Day together before you start trying to name our children.” The pegasus puffs out a chestful of air, “Right now I’m just waiting for somepony to come find us.”
“What do you mean ‘somepony to come find us’?” Applejack eyes Rainbow Dash suspiciously. “What makes you think anypony’s lookin’? ‘nd how in tarnation ‘re they s’posed to do that anyway?”
“Aside from your family noticing you’re gone and me having a job to do? We’re friends with a princess whose special talent is magic… I think they’ll figure something out.”
Applejack never got to finish her sentence, interrupted by a blinding flash of light.
“They’re here!” A sweet, stern voice rings from the center, “Now I believe you owe someponies an apology!”
“Erm, perhaps you’re more interested in what they have to say first?” male voice answers.
“Discord!” Fluttershy admonishes quickly.
The light fades and stabilizes until the forms of the two newcomers - a pastel-yellow pegasus with a swirl of pink hair, and a chimerical amalgamation of animal parts - is readily visible. The former was furious; the latter chagrined.
“Hey!” Rainbow’s happy cry broke the tension, “I told you somepony’d save us!”
Applejack decided to endure Dash’s ordinarily unbearable swagger, too thankful at being rescued to care.
Until Rainbow opened her big mouth again.
With a sharp jab in the ribs, Rainbow motions for Applejack to move forward, “This is beyond perfect. Do it you silly farmfilly!”
The nervous farmmare stumbles forward. Turning to scowl at the incorrigible prankster, she’s met with an unamused look and Rainbow mouthing ‘Go, you swore’. Crossing and uncrossing her front hooves anxiously, Applejack leans into Fluttershy.
And plants the chastest of kisses on her lips.
The bashful pony blushes to the roots of her hair, losing her ability to appear angry.
“Fluttershy, I’ve had m-” Applejack coughs into a hoof, “I uhh, I’ve care for you for an awful long time, and I - well I jus’ wanted to tell you that.”
Screwing her eyes shut AJ does a quick about-face with the intention of retreat. RD is equally quick to catch her, spinning the lovesick pony back to brave on through her confession.
“Eep!” Unable to look Applejack panics, “Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow night?”
Applejack’s eyes, now wide and helpless, look to Fluttershy for mercy. For her part, Fluttershy’s breath had caught in her throat.
“I’d like that.”
Fluttershy steps forward and nuzzles her admirer gently.
Rainbow shoots into the air in exuberance.
Discord jumps up wearing a cheerleader’s uniform.
They exchange a glance and wry smiles then land without a peep, thinking better than to ruin the moment for their friends. Instead Rainbow Dash lifts a wing at Discord expectantly. The silly outfit blinks out of existence in his uncertainty, but he eventually reaches his own feathered appendage to high-wing his tentative friend.
“Ahem,” Applejack hid her blush poorly. “Not that I’m not giddy to see y’all here, but how’d you know to look for us ‘n’ here?”
Fluttershy cleared her throat pointedly.
“Let’s not muddle this joyous occasion with frivolous details!” Discord holds out a lion’s paw, “Let’s boogie!”
The four of them found themselves encircling a sphere of small, square mirrors, dressed in heavily-sequinned clothes.
“Discord.” Nopony needed to look to feel the waves of disapproval.
“Not your style?” Discord replies flippantly. “How about -” a wave of a talon “- a luau?”
Fluttershy huffed and turned her nose away from the draconequus.
“Well if you’re not going to tell them, then I will,” declares the once-meek pony. Taking a step back to address her fellow equines, she smiles - a little distantly, Applejack notes. “I was at the market getting my groceries when I ran into Apple Bloom; I was about to apologize for not watching where I was going when she asked if I had seen Applejack lately.
“Of course I hadn’t but when I told her that she’d looked so concerned! Then she said she had spent all afternoon looking but nopony had seen Applejack anywhere.
“I just knew I had to help,” Fluttershy continues, “except I didn’t know what I could have done that Apple Bloom hadn’t already! But then I thought I would ask Rainbow Dash for help; Dashie’s always been really good at finding somepony, and flies really fast to get a good look from above.”
Dash puffs out her chest at the compliment, wiggling only slightly when she notices the floral garland around her neck.
“I told Apple Bloom to stay put while I went up to Rainbow’s house, and I knocked and I knocked and I knocked, but nopony was there. Finally I went back to tell the little filly to go home to wait for Applejack there and I would deal with finding everypony.”
A hearty sigh - coupled with a ukelele - emanates from Discord. “This is where I come into the story, I suppose as good of a time as any.” He receives a none-too-gentle poke in the side for his comment, from his best friend no less.
Grumbling, “Fluttershy called for me: and having seen each other mere hours earlier, I was highly intrigued as to what this could’ve been about.” He strums his instrument a few times, “I was delighted to see my dear friend again so soon” - he adjusts the strings - “because really, once a week is too seldom for the best of friends, wouldn’t you agree?”
Discord’s rapidly-flitting eyelashes extend with each blink until they dislodge themselves from their home, creasing in the middle and flapping away like small, dark, winged mammals.
Fluttershy was not moved.
The draconequus’ ears droop. “So I came as quickly as I could to -” his body becomes the color of butter, his short mane cotton candy “- Discord, my friends are missing! You’re the most powerful friend I have and so very generous with your time, could you pretty please help me? I’m just ever so weak and defenseless in such an awful situation!”
“That is not what I said,” Fluttershy gruffs out, brows knit together in a flat line; she takes a deep breath to speak softly, “though it is mostly what happened.”
Discord closes his paw and holds up a dewclaw in victory, the extremity itself takes the image of Discord’s own face briefly before becoming his body entirely. The ponies are unperturbed by this, immune to nonsensical antics.
In lieu of giving a reaction, Rainbow Dash playfully shoves Fluttershy who stumbles into a flustered Applejack.
A shrill squeal. “Umm, Discord?” A goat ear cocks in curiosity. “Can we go home now… if it’s not too much to ask? It’s umm, it’s just that it’s getting dark and I haven’t given Angel his dinner yet…”
The magical being in question made a face. He didn’t want to leave so soon.
Applejack fixes a hard glare at him, “For land’s sake, why’d y’all do this anyhow? And in all of Equestria, why did you send us here?”
“Is there something the matter with this space in particular, Honest Applejack?” Discord prods, “Hmm? Is there a reason you don’t like it here?”
Heat fills Applejack’s face, but stays silent.
Discord clicks his tongue in disappointment, instantly transporting the group into the heart of Ponyville. The fading sun cast shadows far taller than their corporeal counterparts, two of whom luxuriated in the scant light.
“In any case, I think you two should really be thanking me.”
“What the heck for!” Rainbow splutters.
“I’d like to think we each got a little something out of this ordeal.” Arms extending suddenly, he grasps Fluttershy and Applejack tightly, “We’re all a little… lighter - less burdened with loneliness. Wouldn’t you lovebirds agree?”
The two blush brightly, refusing to look the other head-on, unable to deny the claim.
Rainbow Dash was not convinced.
“How does that pea-brain of yours figure?”
“Oh Rainbow Dash,” Discord’s mouth detaches from his face without so much as a stutter. “I wouldn’t dream of saying aloud” - the disembodied mouth stops on Rainbow’s shoulder to whisper - “the secret fears you keep inside.”
“I’m sure you’ll deny it.” In a flash, the unapologetic prankster is whole again. “However, isn’t it nice to say it out loud for once instead of mulling over your feelings alone?”
The brash pegasus was mortified. How could Discord know about her disloyal thoughts? Who does he think he is to dangle that in front of her?
Pushing the questions aside, she quips, “Well what do you get out of it?”
“Me?” he chortles, “I got to help my first and best friend find companionship!” He lifts a shawl that’s now draped over his face and turns around. Then over his shoulder, he tosses a bundle directly at the pony he spoke of.
Instinctively Fluttershy brings a hoof up to her face, squealing as her wings squeeze tightly at her sides.
Applejack leaps forward simultaneously, wary of what kind of trouble may be in store. Catching the potentially hazardous wad, she examines the bunch in her hooves.
Almost dropping it in surprise, Applejack blushes at her overreaction. A bouquet of spring flowers.
The sheepish pony turns around and offers the flowers to Fluttershy. Her mane falls across her face as she turns away with reddened cheeks.
RD rolls her eyes. “Alright, if you mushy mares are done being sappy… I’m gonna go back to my place and crash: this has been a tiring day.”
She waits for AJ to say something like “All you did today was nap and stand around” but a glance at her friends - still blushing at each other - tells her no quip is coming. Discord shrugs in her direction. Braving a smile, Rainbow says goodbye which he returns hollowly.
Sighing, the blue pony takes flight. Mulling over what Discord had said. How was admitting it to somepony else supposed to help anything? All it does is give something shameful about herself to somepony who already has everything.
Ascending into her house in the clouds, Rainbow finds herself too tired to care about doors and simply bursts through from beneath. Absently making a mental note to fix it later.
Feeling less-than-awesome, Rainbow flops onto her bed. She wasn’t lonely! Rainbow Dash is Rainbow Dash’s best company. She had her trophies and her book collection to keep her company. She didn’t need nopony.
She curls up fitfully, unable to find a comfortable place to sit in her mind. Then she feels a slow-growing pressure pushing into her wing.
Cradling this new invasion, Rainbow decides maybe all she really needs is sometortoise.
And really, who the hay cares? She’s been to places connected to the ponies she cares most about, ventured into strange lands and found lost treasures, she’s met and flown with her heroes - Daring Do included; that should be enough.
Tank snuggles into her in affirmation.
Rainbow Dash doesn’t need anypony.
But maybe tomorrow she’ll pay Big Macintosh a visit, after all, why waste permission so freely given?
“My dear Fluttershy!” Discord exclaims. “Am I to understand you have something of a - dare I say it? - crush on our friend Applejack?”
“Oh my!” The soft-spoken pony jumps up, only to the slight surprise of her guest. The cottage spins around her as she lifts a hoof to traitorous lips. “Did I just say that?”
Unable to think of an excuse nor a graceful way to change the subject, Fluttershy simply pleads with her most capricious friend. “Discord, please don’t mention this to anypony; I don’t know what I would do if somepony were to find out!”
An open zipper replaces his mouth shortly before interlocking as vertically-laid bricks. Gray grime is smeared with a toothbrush, an overlarge tube labelled ‘Instant Cure' floating off toward the second floor.
“Ahem, well then… yes,” he wears a disappointed look, “of course, since you asked so nicely.” Joining his host in standing up, he coughs out, “I’m afraid I must get going. I have other business to attend to.” Donning a moose-antler hat, Discord opens the door.
“Goodbye! See you soon! Wait!” Startling at the declaration’s abruptness, the gracious host hurries to accommodate. “You simply must take another sandwich before you go!”
Her departing guest hummed in contentment, “Well, if you insist… Oh, and Fluttershy?”
“Please: promise me you’ll do something?” The draconequus grinned slyly, “You mustn’t keep these feelings inside.”