Only in Manehattan

by Distaff Pope

First published

On a trip to Manehattan, Rainbow Dash discovers a side to her wife that she never knew existed. Dash doesn't take it well.

Something's going on. First, Applejack comes in Thursday and says we should go to Manehattan this weekend, then the second she steps hoof off the train, she starts dressing up, drops the accent, and says we should take in a show. I'm not sure what's going on, I think it's got something to do with her snooty aunt and uncle, but whatever it is, I'm going to get to the bottom of it, or my name isn't Rainbow Dash.

Disclaimer: To readers not familiar with the Orchestra-verse, Sweetie and Scootaloo are the leads in their own story, and they've come a long way from their show counterparts. This story is perfectly accessible without reading those works, just know they'll be behaving differently than they would in the show (and are substantially older, though that's a bit more obvious in the story).

Contest Categories:
Deepest Darkest Secrets
A Place Outside Ponyville

As always, special thanks go out to Seether00 and EquesTRON for wading into the weeds of my drafts and hacking away at all the typos, grammar editors, and just plain bad decisions. My stories would be all the poorer without them.

1. The Stranger

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“So, what do you think?” I asked, flexing my wings for the luckiest mare in the world. “Pretty awesome, right?”

Applejack looked up from my story, frowning, adjusting her hat with her hoof. Uh-oh. “Sure is… somethin’, there, sugarcube.”

“But you don’t like it,” I said, taking a step closer to her as the floor of the train clacked below. “I guess it takes a few readings to really get all the cool stuff in it.”

She snorted. “Ah think Ah got the ‘coolness’ of it, Dash. The problem is it’s a right mess.” Applejack rubbed her forehead. “Ya want the honest truth?”

“Duh, if I didn’t want the truth, I wouldn’t have married the Element of Honesty. Or Bearer of Honesty,” I said, looking at the stack of papers. “But seriously, what don’t you like about it? It’s like every awesome thing ever, smashed into a ball of awesome and then wrapped in even more awesome.”

“Well…” Applejack shook her head. “Alright, there’s a whole mess o’ things wrong with it. First, the hero is you. She’s a sky-blue pegasus with a rainbow mane, and she’s named Rainboom Daring. She’s the captain of the Wonderbolts, saves Equestria every week, is loved by pretty much everypony, and is best friends with Daring Do. Yer never challenged, ya never have to work for anything, ya just fly in, punch the bad guy, and win.” Yeah, because Rainboom Daring was the best. Duh. “And Ah’m not even gettin’ into how you painted me.”

“What are you talking about?” I said, laughing. “You’re not in the story.”

“Yer– ‘Scuse me, Rainboom Daring’s love interest is ‘a simple farmpony with a heart of gold who loves her family, loves her farm, and loves her pegasus.’” She flipped to another page in my story. “Plus, durin’ the sex scene, ya stopped callin’ her Golden Grain and called her Applejack. Also, why the hay is there a sex scene in the middle of your story?”

“Uhmm… because I needed to show that Rainboom Daring’s not only the best fighter in Equestria, but also the best lover, duh,” I said, rolling my eyes.

Applejack laughed and shook her head. “Well, Ah won’t argue with the last bit, and Ah ain’t sayin they’re bad, jus’ don’t fit with the rest of the story. It’s like ya were tryin’ to write a normal adventure story, and then just decided to throw in a couple of hardcore sex scenes for th’ heck of it.”

“Really?” I asked, wings popping out. She liked the sex scenes. “You thought the sex scenes were awesome?”

She snorted. “Ah think they’re better than the rest of the story. Maybe Ah’m just a mite biased ‘cause Ah’ve done all the things in those scenes. They’d be better if ya didn’t stop the story every now and then to remind the readers how awesome you are. When Ah’m readin’ about the two of us doin’ the deed, Ah don’t want to have to sit through sentences talkin ‘bout how great ya are. We get it. The whole dang story is about how awesome ya are. Ya don’t need to stop everything just to remind us of it every single page.”

“So… you’re saying my story stinks,” I said, sitting down and crossing my forelegs. “But I worked hard on this story! I put every cool thing I could think of in it; how can it be bad?”

Applejack sighed and moved to nuzzle my neck. “Ah’m sayin’ it’s a first draft, ya stubborn featherhead. It ain’t gonna be perfect right out of the gate. Maybe show it to Rares and Twi so they can look it over and give you some help on all that fancy literary stuff. At the very least, you need a better plot, and to give Rainboom Daring a flaw to overcome. Like an ego the size of the sun.”

So it wasn’t bad. I just had to fix a few things to make it more awesome. I let out a breath. “I don’t know,” I said, picking up the stack of papers and putting them in my saddlebag. “I want her to be her own character, not just a copy of me.” I grinned and weaved in to kiss her cheek.

“Uh-huh,” she said, struggling to keep her face straight. “‘Cause obviously that’s what’d make her too similar to you. Not everything else about her.”

“Hey,” I said. “We’re kind of different. She lives in a massive cloud mansion –, err, massiverand she’s the captain of the Wonderbolts. That’s two whole differences.”

“Uh-huh,” Applejack said. “Well, if ya want to make the story more than just ‘Rainbow Dash’s Wish Fulfillment Story,’ maybe give her a bit of depth and some actual problems to deal with. Also, if yer gonna put me in yer story, can ya make me more than just a farmpony?”

“But you are a farmpony,” I said, frowning. “Plus, in the story, you’re super nice, a great friend, and you’re almost as awesome as me. Awesomer in some ways, since you’re the one who taught the Amazing Rainboom Daring how to love. And then we banged and I showed you how to have awesome sex.”

“Funny, Ah don’t seem to recall it happenin’ quite that way. As Ah recall, Ah was th’ one showing a certain featherhead the ropes,” she said, scooting closer to me.

I laughed and snorted. “You might’ve shown them to me, but I used them. After you taught me to tie a good knot, at least.”

She took her hat off and rested her head against me and I wrapped her up with one wing. “And you’re mighty good with them ropes now. Ya might even be good enough to enter the next rodeo that comes to town.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t want to take all the blue ribbons.”

She swatted a hoof at me. “Ah’d like to see ya try, ya cocky featherhead.”

“Well, you are talking to last year’s Iron Pony,” I said, nestling her tight against me.

“And yer talkin’ to this year’s Iron Pony,” she said. Technically, I’d won more Iron Pony competitions than her, but the first one didn’t count. Well, with her it didn’t. “And speakin’ of tyin’ up, are ya gonna be good ‘round Auntie and Uncle Orange, or am I gonna have to gag you the whole time we’re in Manehattan?”

“Hmm, be gagged by the hottest mare in Equestria, or have to talk to a bunch of prissy rich ponies? Gee, what a tough decision,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Be nice, Dash,” Applejack said, a growl grumbling in her throat. “And they ain’t prissy, just high-falutin’. There’s a difference. And they’re kin.” She said the last word like it was a stone dropped down on the conversation to crush it.

Fine,” I said, snorting and easing against the cushioned back seat of our bench. “I’ll be nice. But seriously, what’s their deal?”

“Why don’t ya tell me, sugarcube?” AJ said, shaking her head. “Ya didmeet ‘em at our wedding.”

“I don’t know if you know this, AJ, but I met a lot of ponies at our wedding. Seriously, I think we had more ponies at our wedding than there were at the royal wedding. Is every earth pony in Equestria related to you?”

“Nah,” she said, “just most. Hey, they’re related to you too, now.”

“Alright, fine, so I married into the largest family in Equestria. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t remember where every last Apple fits in.” I added a country twang to my voice. “Now, Dashie, these are mah cousins Apple Fritter, Apple Cobbler, Apple Strudel, Apple Apple, Apples, Apples, Apples, Apples, Apples.”

“So ya’d think you’d remember the only Oranges in mah entire family,” Applejack said. Her body’d gone all tight during my impersonation. What? I wasn’t being mean, there were just a lot of Apples in her family.

“That’s my question!” I said, raising my voice. “You’ve got all these Apples in your family, and then there’s Auntie and Uncle Orange. What, did their parents just get sick and tired of apples or something?”

“Think real hard, Dashie. Yer an Apple now, ain’t ya?” she said. I looked and saw her face locked up all stern.

“Yeah, of course I’m an Apple. I married you, and your family absorbs everypony it touches.” I got my voice all stiff and mechanical. “‘We are the Apples. Prepare to be assimilated. Your likeness and individuality will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.’”

“Alright,” she said, ignoring my awesome reference completely. “So ‘cause ya married in, ya don’t have an Apple name, even though yer still an Apple. Right?”

I nodded, thinking for a second. “Okay, so they married into the family, I guess that… Wait, they’re married to each other, how could they marry into the Apple family?”

“Remember, your ma and pa are Apples now, too,” Applejack said, still forcing me to figure it out for myself instead of just telling me the answer. What was I supposed to be figuring out? That there was another Orange somewhere in her family? Probably that.

“Alright,” I said, grinning. “I get it, so somepony else in your family is an Orange. I guess that… Wait! How come I haven’t seen them at any of the reunions? Seriously, Aunt and Uncle Orange – and seriously, do they have real names I can use or what? – come to every reunion for at least a bit, so how come the other Orange hasn’t shown up? I thought not attending reunions got you kicked out of the family.”

“Dashie, think for another minute. What exactly do they do at the reunions?” Applejack said. Seriously, how many more questions was she going to throw at me? What was this, some stupid puzzle? Did I get a prize if I solved it?

“Well, let’s see, they always show up late, talk with you, Big Macintosh, Apple Bloom, and Granny Smith for a while, and then they go out to… the… grave…”

I screamed and launched myself off the couch, landing a few hooves in front of Applejack and trotting in place. “We’re meeting your actual aunt and uncle. Not some aunt and uncle a hundred times removed, these are like… your…” Which one wasn’t Granny Smith’s daughter? And why didn’t Applejack talk more about her parents? “Your dad’s brother or sister. Why didn’t you tell me this before we left?”

“Ah told you they were mah Aunt and Uncle,” she said, a stupid tiny smirk trying to hide on her face. “Ain’t mah fault ya couldn’t figure out what that meant.”

“You have a hundred aunts and uncles. I didn’t know these were your actual aunt and uncle. That’s…” I screamed again. “It would be nice if you told me how close family members were to you. Because otherwise, I just assume they’re kind of related to you, but not really.”

“How’s it matter?” Applejack asked, eyes narrowing. “Kin’s kin. Don’t matter how close they are, they deserve the same respect.”

“Uhmm… No they don’t,” I said, stopping my trotting and rolling my eyes. “Sure, your fifteenth cousin might be technically related to you, but it doesn’t actually matter, you know? It’s more like a cool piece of trivia or whatever, like what the longest river in Equestria is.”

“That’s crazy, sugarcube,” Applejack said. “Family’s family, and Ah shouldn’t have to tell ya which ones are ‘close’ and which ones ain’t. They’re all close. They’re all family.”

I rubbed my forehead. Why did she have to be so stubborn? It was like I was talking to a brick wall. Heh. How many times had she thought the same thing? “Okay, fine, but could you give me a heads up whenever we’re meeting one of your parents’ direct family members?”

“Sure thing, sugarcube,” she said, smiling. “Hey, Dashie, we’re meetin mah pa’s sister and her husband. Be on your best, alright?”

I groaned and moved to sink back onto the couch. “I love you, Applejack, but some days, I really hate you, too.”

She leaned down and kissed my cheek. “Aww, Ah love you too, sugarcube.”


Applejack used the restroom, and was replaced by a changeling. A very dumb changeling. She’d gone in wearing her hat and ponytail, and came out with her hair brushed to the side and a fancy gold hair clip in her mane. I looked closer. It even had a tiny ruby apple in it. “Hey, I’m looking for a mare who looks kind of like you named Applejack. Any chance you’ve seen her?”

“Har har, Dash,” she said, trotting out of the train station bathroom, hat peeking out of her saddlebags. “Get all them remarks out of yer system.”

“Okay,” I said, following her as she went out into the Manehattan streets. “Let’s see, ‘who are you and what have you done with Applejack?’ is kind of dull. Hmm… Give me a minute.”

“Ya got ‘til we reach Auntie and Uncle Orange’s condo…” She cleared her throat and shook her head. “I mean, you have until we reach my aunt and uncle’s condo.” Whoa. And the accent was completely gone. Maybe she was a changeling.

“Quick, when did we get married?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at the possible imposter Applejack.

She sighed. “Last autumn at the end of harvest season. You drank almost a barrel and a half of cider before the reception was over, ya fool featherhead.” Okay, still Applejack, just… fancier. What was up? Between her coming in a few days ago and saying we were visiting her aunt and uncle this weekend, and now this… Something was seriously up.

“Uh-huh,” I said, nodding my head. “But seriously, what gives? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you take off that hat unless you’re sleeping, and even then, there are some nights you’re so tired from working on the farm you just collapse on the bed, hat still on and everything.”

“Ah– I took it off for the wedding. Put it back on for the reception, but it ain’t– it’s not like it’s glued to my head,” she shook her head. “Been too long since I visited my aunt and uncle. Forgot how to talk ‘proper and ladylike.’”

“Then don’t,” I said, shrugging as we weaved down the streets. Scootaloo’s apartment was around here somewhere; I’d have to check in on her during our weekend. “What’s the big deal? You act normal when you talk with them at the reunion.”

“Yeah, ‘cause– because they’re visiting me at my home. When they visit me, they try to act a little Apple-ier and when I visit them, I try to act a little Orang-ier. Now, are you going to be making a big deal about this the whole trip?” She sounded so weird without her accent, or at least without most of her accent. She couldn’t get rid of it completely, and beneath the fake socialite, there was still a twang of country.

“I don’t know, I just don’t think you should go around acting like somepony else for them, but if you want to, I guess that’s fine. I’m definitely going to make fun of you, though.”

She sighed and the fake accent dropped. “Yep, that’s ‘bout what Ah was expectin’.”

My hoof snatched into her saddlebag and plucked out the hat. “Hey, since you won’t be usin’ your Stetson, mind if I wear it? I could be like the Mare with No Name. ‘Howdy, partner.’”

“Back in my bag, Dashie. That hat isn’t touching anypony’s head but mine,” she said, glaring at me and freezing my hoof in place.

“Fine,” I said, tucking the hat back into her bag. “But we’re married now. Technically, I think that means I get half custody of the hat.”

“The hat isn’t our filly, Rainbow Dash. It’s mine, it’ll always be mine, and there isn’t anything in Equestria that’s gonna change that.”

“Geeze,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck. “If you love that hat so much, why don’t you marry it?”

“Not a bad idea, actually. Certainly wouldn’t talk back as much as a certain pegasus I could name, and I wouldn’t have to worry about it embarrassing me in front of my family.”

“Come on, AJ, your family loves me. Okay, I haven’t talked with your aunt and uncle that much, but they’re going to love me.” I winked at her. “Most Apples do.”

“But they ain’t Apples, Dash, they’re Oranges, and Oranges think a mite different th– they think a little differently from Apples. Think closer to Rarity than me,” she said. I hid my eye roll by looking up at the buildings towering over us.

“Great, a family full of Raritys. Even Rarity’s family isn’t full of Raritys,” I said. How much further? I couldn’t fly ‘cause AJ was with me, and I couldn’t run because we were surrounded by a bunch of other ponies. My wings twitched and brushed against my saddlebags.

“I’m not saying they’re exactly like Rarity, I’m just saying they’re closer to her than me,” she said as we turned a corner. “And even if they were exactly like Rarity, that still isn’t an excuse to make fun of them. They’re my family, and that means they’re your family.”

“But I tease Rarity all the time, and she’s one of my best friends. I’m sure your aunt and uncle have a sense of humor,” I said.

“They do,” Applejack said, nodding her head. “But they’re less into pranks and teasing and more into bon mots and repartée and situational humor. They like their jokes classy and understated.”

I rubbed my eyes. “Oh, Celestia, this weekend is going to suuuuuuuuuck. It’s going to suck so hard, it’s going to drain the awesomeness right from me.” I tried to do my best Rarity voice. “Oh, darling, we simply must go to the opera while we’re in town, The Maretropolitan is doing a simply delightful rendition of… some opera or another. A very fancy and pretentious one, certainly. In fact, I daresay that of all the operas, this one is the most fancy and pretentious of them all.’” I dropped the accent.

“Actually, the Maretropolitan’s doing Mocart’s The Magic Flute right now. I understand that as operas go, this one’s pretty accessible.”

“Please don’t tell me you’re going to drag me there in your quest to out-Rarity Rarity this weekend. If you start saying ‘darling’, I’m done,” I said.

“I considered it. I thought you might like that over a gallery, since you’re so movie-obsessed,” she said. “I want you to enjoy your weekend too.”

“Ugh, just don’t leave me alone with a room full of rich snobs,” I said. “For everything else, I can just close my eyes and go back to working on my story.”

“Great,” she said, snorting and ducking into a building. “Just great. You know, this fancy stuff isn’t all bad. I’m not saying I’d like to deal with this high-falutin’ stuff all the time, that’s why I left Manehattan in the first place. Anyways, be good this weekend, alright? It means a lot to me.”

“Fine,” I said as she called up an elevator. “I’ll be on my best behavior. I’ll be so great, you won’t even know why you were worried in the first place. You know, that might as well be my middle name. Rainbow Well-Behaved Dash.”

She shook her head as we entered the elevator. “You know, something about that just doesn’t fill me with confidence.”

I laughed as the door slid shut. “Don’t worry, AJ, I promise everything’ll be fine.” She sighed louder.


Applejack knocked and a minute later, the door opened to show an almost-white mare with an orange mane done up in… some sort of fancy style, wearing a little orange and green necklace. “Oh, come in, I’m so glad to see you, darling. Mosley, come quickly, they’re here!” She smiled and held the door open. “And it’s good to see you again, Rainbow Dash. I trust you’ve been keeping our niece happy.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, grinning and strutting into the room. They wanted witty and funny, I could do that, no problem. “You should hear her most nights.”

Applejack shot me a glare while her aunt sucked in her cheeks. “You’ll have to forgive her, Auntie Orange. She doesn’t mean anything improper, she’s just trying to be funny.”

Her aunt nodded. “Well, I suppose such jokes have their place, but I’d prefer it if it wasn’t in our happy little home.”

“Sorry,” I said, rubbing the back of my head as my cheeks got hot. What gives? AJ said they liked witty clever jokes, and that was pretty clever. It sounded pretty Bon Bon-ey to me.

An orange stallion with a leaf-green mane poked his head into the little… whatever you call that little room big homes have before you get to the rest of the house. Fancyjack probably knew. “Well, if it isn’t our little Jackelyn, I’m so glad you’re spending the weekend with Sorbet and me.”

“Wait, Jackelyn?” I said, laughing. “They call you Jackelyn? They even have a special fancy name when you visit them. I take back every bad thing I said, this weekend’s gonna be hilarious.”

“Rainbow Dash,” ‘Jackelyn’ said, narrowing her eyes at me. “What did we talk about on the way here?”

“I know, I know,” I said, still laughing. “But Jackelyn? Seriously? You didn’t tell me you had some silly fancy name on the trip over here. You have to prepare me for this stuff, you can’t just throw it on me.”

Sorbet looked between the two of us. “You mean you haven’t told her, Jackelyn? You married her, but she doesn’t know your full name? Please, come in, take your bags off, and have a seat.” She gestured towards the living room and I followed in after Applejack, putting my saddlebags near the door.

“Wait, so Applejack isn’t your real name?” I asked, taking a seat next to ‘Applejack.’ “That’s… come on, that’s crazy.”

“Applejack’s my real name, Dash, it’s just… not all of my name,” she said, looking at her hooves. “And I was going to tell you, it just never came up.”

“Julius and Cinnamon Apple fought for a month over her name,” Mosley said, sitting down across from us next to his wife. “He liked Jackelyn, and she wanted Applejack. They compromised on Applejackelyn.”

I shook with laughter. “Oh my gosh, that’s got to be the dumbest name I’ve ever heard. Never mind, I totally get why you wouldn’t tell me how goofy your real name is. Applejackelyn, what were they thinking? That’s, like…” I wiped a tear from my eye. “The worst name ever.”

“They never wanted to call me by my full name, Dash. Everpony else stuck to Applejack, but he always wanted me to be his little Jackelyn,” AJ said, bringing a hoof up to touch the clip in her mane. “Anyways, there ya–” She froze and looked at her aunt and uncle. “There you have it. Now, can I trust there won’t be any more teasing?”

“Sure,” I said, shrugging. “Although I don’t see what the big deal is. Beyond having a silly name. You know, you can talk to me about all that stuff if you want. You don’t have to keep everything with them a big secret.”

“Anyways,” Applejack said, shaking her head and sitting up straight. “What do you want to do while I’m here? That Van Goat exhibit going on looks interesting.”

“Wait, what?” I yelled, hopping off the couch and turning back to look at Applejack. “Are you kidding me? Okay, I get you trying to act a little fancier for your aunt and uncle, but, seriously? A freaking art exhibit looks good to you? Who are you?”

“Dash,” Applejack said, clenching her jaw. “Sit back down, will ya? I mean, will you please sit back down?”

“No,” I said. “We’re here, we’re in Manehattan, we’re surrounded by sports teams and tons of other awesome stuff, and you want to waste your time on an art exhibit? You know you’ll hate it.”

“I will not,” Applejack said, expression turning into a full glare. “And if you used your head for more than just bashin’ walls down, you might enjoy it too. Or at least figure out why I would.”

“But this isn’t you,” I said, rolling my eyes. “If you were Rarity or Twilight, I’d get it, that boring stuff is right up their alley, but you’re not. You’re Applejack, no matter what your name actually is.”

“We’ll just be in the other room,” Sorbet said from behind me. “Applejack, if you want to go to the exhibit, we’ll be happy to take you.”

“Dash, will ya calm down? Yer bein’ a dammed fool right now, and embarrassin’ me in front of mah Aunt and Uncle,” Applejack said, getting off the couch and taking a step towards me.

“You mean I’m showing them who you really are. You’re not some fancy city pony, you’re a farm-mare all the way through. You taking off your hat and putting on a hair clip doesn’t change that.”

“Dammit, Dash!” Applejack yelled. “Ah’m goin’ to the exhibit, yer stayin’ here or doin’ whatever it is ya want to do, and hopefully, when I get back, Ah’ll feel like forgiving you. Keep pushin’ your luck though, and Ah won’t.”

“Oh, you’ll forgive me? Really? I’m just being myself, you’re the pony acting all weird.” She was the one acting like another mare. A mare I didn’t marry.

“Auntie Orange, Uncle Orange!” Applejack said, throwing the door open. “Let’s go. If Dash wants to be a darn fool today, we don’t have to be here to listen to it.”

“Yeah, well… I don’t have to be here, either,” I said, heading to the exit. “Hopefully, when I get back, you’ll feel like being you again instead of somepony you’re not.”

Before she could shout anything back, I was out the door and halfway down the hallway.

2. The Feeling of Rejection

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“Hey, Scootaloo,” I said as the door opened. Scootaloo lived on the opposite end of Manehattan from Applejack’s aunt and uncle, but it’d taken me barely a minute to get there. My wings were happy for the exercise. That was the problem with living with an earth pony. “What’s–” I stopped as I actually saw her. She was wearing some blue dress like tennis players wore, the end of her dress resting on the rise of her tail. “Why are you wearing a dress?”

“Would you believe that it’s really comfy?” she asked, smiling at me.

I just raised an eyebrow at her.

“Fine, Sweetie likes me wearing a dress around the house.” She rubbed the back of her head. “And I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know why.”

And there was her. The mare Scootaloo’d spent the last four years holding the torch for while she went off doing every crazy depraved thing she could think of. If half the stories about her in the paper were true, she’d slept with enough ponies to fill Ponyville and taken enough drugs to fill a room floor to ceiling, and now she was dating Scootaloo. Okay, sure, she was probably great in bed, but Scootaloo deserved an Applejack, not a wreck.

“Gonna guess it has something to do with Rarity,” I said, trotting into her apartment. It was like the opposite of the Oranges’ fancy apartment, and way more my speed.

Scootaloo gagged and stuck her tongue out. “I really hope not.”

“Oh, hey, Rainbow Dash,” Sweetie said, trotting in from the kitchen, smiling. “I didn’t know you were in Manehattan.” She paused, smile stopping. “It’s… been awhile, hasn’t it?”

“Three years,” I said as Scootaloo shut the door. “Back before you ran off to make a name for yourself.”

She looked down at the ground. “Yeah… We probably have a lot to catch up on.”

“I guess,” I said, standing opposite her while Scootaloo moved somewhere between us. “But I feel like the papers did a good job of catching me up to speed already.”

“Right,” she said, plopping down on the ground. Okay, I was thinking she’d get mad or something. The last time I’d seen her, she was blowing up at everypony near her. Now, she was just kind of crumpling in on herself.

“Hey, relax,” I said, smiling at her. “I’m just teasing. It’s good to see you too, Sweetie.”

“Oh, okay,” she said, lifting her head up, but the smile still gone. “Sorry, I guess I’m a little sensitive about all the…”

“It’s fine,” Scootaloo said, walking over to give her marefriend a hug, while Sweetie nuzzled at her cheek. “Rainbow Dash’s just teasing, you know how she is. She doesn’t mean anything, right?” She looked back at me for that.

“Oh, yeah,” I said, looking at the orange pegasus and white unicorn. “No, it’s great to see you again, Sweetie, and I’m glad you’re doing better.”

Their hug ended and Sweetie was back on her hooves. “It’s fine,” she said, smile returning. “I… probably deserved that.” She shook her head. “But it’s good to see you again. Scootaloo didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“Yeah, I would’ve written letting you know, but I just found out a few days ago. This whole trip was kind of rushed. Anyways, what’ve you two been up to?” I asked.

“Not much,” Scootaloo said, gesturing to the couch. “We got back from our camping trip a few days ago, and have just been getting back into the swing of things. Oh, and enjoying the stipend Rarity’s been sending our way like crazy. How’ve you been?”

“Pretty great,” I said, taking a seat on the couch while Sweetie darted back out of the living room to… I think it was the kitchen. “Just visiting Applejack’s family, who are… they feel more like Rarity’s family than Applejack’s.”

“You mean they’re completely emotionally absent jerks?” Sweetie shouted from wherever she was. “Also, do you all want anything to drink?” The kitchen, then.

“Toss some beers our way,” I shouted back. “And no, I mean they’re all stuffy and stuff. They like going to art museums instead of taking in a hoofball game, and apparently, Applejack’s down with that stuff too.”

“That sounds nice,” Sweetie said from the kitchen. “Ooh, Scootaloo, you know what we’re going to do tomorrow?”

“Guessing it involves us going to an art museum,” Scootaloo said, looking at the kitchen. “And you don’t have to get us beers if you don’t want to.”

“It’s fine,” she said as I heard the hiss-snap of a bottle opening from the kitchen. “I’ll just have some cranberry juice. You want some?”

“Nope, don’t know how you can stand it,” Scootaloo said. She paused and tilted her head. “And you’re sure you’re okay with us drinking?”

Sweetie Belle laughed. “You know, you have a funny place at drawing the line. You’re okay with us having beer in the apartment, but the second anypony wants one you get all self-conscious.” She popped out from behind a wall, holding two bottles and a glass in her magic. “Like, if you’re going to make a big deal about it, and make me feel self-conscious about it every time somepony asks for a drink, just don’t have beer in the house.”

“Well, technically, it’s not our beer.” Scootaloo looked at me. “It’s our roommate’s. He’s pretty cool about it, though, as long as we buy more and don’t take the last bottle.”

I rubbed my forehead. Okay, Sweetie wasn’t drinking anymore. Probably a good thing. “Wait, you’re okay with going to an art museum?” I asked, sitting up and grabbing my bottle from Sweetie.

“Not really,” Scootaloo said. Sweetie growled. “It sounds boring, Sweetie.”

“Just for that, I’m gonna make you wear a big fancy dress to it,” Sweetie said. “Ooh! And curtsy whenever you meet someone.” She cackled. “This is going to be so much fun!”

“Sweetie,” Scootaloo said, gesturing to me. “Not in front of…” She stopped at my name. “Not in front of RD.”

She paused and looked from me to Scootaloo. “You didn’t say Rainbow Dash.”

There was a tiny tug at the edge of Scootaloo’s lip as she took a sip of her beer. “Yeah, I didn’t.” What was going on? Was this ‘Everypony Act Like a Crazy Pony’ Day?

“Awesome,” Sweetie said, taking a big gulp of her juice, leaving tiny flecks of ruby juice on her lips. “In fact, I’m gonna make you change into a dress right now. Big and puffy and flowy, but still short in the back, because…” She trailed off. “You know.” I took a drink of my beer. Yep, definitely Everypony’s Crazy Day.

Sweetie took a step closer to Scootaloo. “And I’m gonna have… No, we can’t do that in front of company. I know! I’m gonna have you tell her everything we’ve done! And tell her how much you liked it. Remember our first time? How the silk almost made you lose your mind?” She laughed. “Tell her.”

Before Scootaloo could say anything, I was between the two of them. What the hay had she done to my friend? “Get away from her!” I snarled.

“Carousel Boutique! Carousel Boutique!” Sweetie yelled, flinching away from her. “Scootaloo, Carousel Boutique!”

“I heard you,” Scootaloo said from behind me. “Rainbow Dash, it’s fine, okay. We probably shouldn’t have done that in front of you, that’s my fault.”

“What the hay’s going on?” I asked, stepping to the side and inching back to my seat on the couch. “I come here, and suddenly Applejack’s wanting to go to art museums, and Sweetie’s acting like the Domineightrix, and you’re apparently okay with that?”

“Tell her, Scootaloo,” Sweetie said from the corner she’d slunk over to, not a hint of command in her voice.

Scootaloo sighed. “It’s… kind of our thing, okay, Rainbow Dash? I… kind of–”

“Kind of?” Sweetie chirped, taking a tiny step closer to me.

Really like it when she gets all bossy, and... um...”

“Subjugates you, driving you relentlessly down into the passions of your repressed mareishness until you submit to me and your own femininity.”

“Yeah, what she said,” Scootaloo said, pointing at Sweetie. “And she’s really good at it.”

Sweetie blushed and trotted up to Scootaloo, kissing her cheek. “Awww, you’re so sweet. I think I’ll cook up an extra fun surprise for you tonight. You deserve it for telling Rainbow Dash about us.”

Scootaloo rubbed the back of her head. “Kind of had to, otherwise, I think she would’ve beaten you up.”

I shook my head. Sweetie Belle went from sweet filly to ultra-hedonist, Scootaloo went from tomboy to girly-girl, and Applejack started acting like Rarity. Manehattan was evil and had to be destroyed before it Discordified everypony. I chugged down my beer.

“Sorry,” I said, sitting back down. “Everypony’s acting crazy today, first Applejack, and now you two.” I smiled. “Guess that explains why you’re wearing the dress, though.”

Sweetie burst into a round of giggles. “Nope, that’s just for me. Seriously, am I the only one who thinks a mare in a dress just looks cuter? Like, regular mare? Super sexy. Regular mare in a short little dress? Oh, Celestia, help me before I rip it off.” She looked at the two of us. “Really? Neither of you? Seriously, I can’t be the only one who thinks mares should be forced to wear dresses.”

“You don’t wear a dress,” Scootaloo said.

“Because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to look away from the mirror,” Sweetie said, trotting over to sit next to Scootaloo and picking her cranberry juice off the coffee table. “I think I might have a problem.” She paused. “Another problem.” She looked at me. “Anyways, you said something about Applejack... do you want to talk about it? We won’t judge. Actually, considering what you just watched, I don’t think we can.”

“Ehh… I don’t know,” I said, glancing at the ceiling. “It’s kind of private, and I don’t want to–”

“We won’t tell her,” Sweetie said. “And if it’s bugging you this much, it’s probably good to talk about it with somepony. Right, Scootaloo?”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Scootaloo said.

“Besides, I’m pretty sure I can take whatever secret you have to dish out. It’s pretty hard to shock me, these days,” Sweetie said, looking at me.

“Alright,” I said, nodding my head. “But if you tell anypony this, I’m kicking your flank, got it?”

They both nodded. “Cool, so… anyways, we got to Manehattan, and the second we get off the train, she starts acting weird. Says she has to go to the bathroom then comes out wearing this hair clip thing and starts trying to talk without an accent. It’s weird, like we got to the city and then there’s suddenly bizarro Applejack.” I snorted. “Or Jackelyn, I guess.”

“Jackelyn? Really?” Scootaloo asked, lifting her head up. I had a hard time looking away from her and her dress. So did Sweetie, but probably for different reasons.

“Yeah,” I said, shaking my head. “Apparently, her full name is Applejackelyn, which…” Scootaloo laughed, while Sweetie just stared at something unseen. “I can get why she wouldn’t want that name out there.”

“Why did they do that?” Sweetie asked, tilting her head to look out the window.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Her dad wanted some fancier city name, and her mom wanted an Apple name. I guess they thought that was some sort of compromise. Anyways, the name’s okay, I guess, I just don’t get why she’s acting like a completely different pony all of a sudden.”

“So… she started acting different and then you got into a fight, right?” Sweetie asked.

“Well, yeah, she was acting like a completely different pony for her aunt and uncle. She wasn’t acting like the mare I married, and she was trying to convince me it wasn’t a big deal. It is a big deal. She should be herself.”

Sweetie mumbled to herself, looking at an empty spot on her left before sighing. “Fine… Scootaloo, can you go to that Neighpponese place down the straight and pick up dinner for us? I’ll have my usual.”

Scootaloo got up to her hooves and looked at Sweetie. “You alright? You’re talking to yourself again.”

“Just thinking. I’m fine, though,” she smiled up at Scootaloo and laughed. “Or as fine as I can be. Anyways, it’ll be fine. Oh! Rainbow Dash, what do you want to eat?”

“Pick out something you think I’ll like, and I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I said, nodding at Scootaloo.

“Got it, so whatever I get, get a lot of wasabi,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” Sweetie said, rolling her eyes. “Or maybe get something that won’t cause her head to explode, unless… wait, does she actually like spicy stuff?”

I nodded. “Oh, yeah. I basically won last year’s pepper eating contest. Only lost because some mare had a special talent for eating spicy food.”

“Alright, do whatever you want, then, Scootaloo,” Sweetie said, shaking her head and waving Scootaloo towards the door. “Don’t be gone too long.”

“You two could go with me,” Scootaloo said, looking between us. “That way I could have a unicorn carry all our meals back instead of trying to balance it on my back.” Her eyes darted to me. “Not that it’ll be a problem, I just don’t want your dresses to get stained.”

“Then it’s a good thing I know how to clean,” Sweetie said, staring Scootaloo down before breaking eye contact and taking a step forward. “Look, normally, you know I’d go with you, but… I have some personal questions I want to ask Rainbow Dash, alright?” She kissed Scootaloo’s cheek.

Scootaloo nodded. “Yeah, fine.” She looked from Sweetie to me. “Anyways, I’ll be back as quick as I can, try not to get too crazy while I’m gone.”

“Not a problem,” I said. What the heck was Sweetie thinking? She wanted to talk with me about stuff? Sure, maybe, but why would she want Scootaloo gone?

“So,” Sweetie said the second the door closed. “Applejack, she’s been acting weird? Like somepony you don’t know?”

“Yeah, I was just saying that? Is this really what you wanted to ask me?”

She paused, looked up at me, and took a breath. “Can I give you maybe a little bit of advice?”

I laughed. “Sorry, Sweetie, but I don’t think an orgy will fix our problem.”

It looked like I’d just punched her in the muzzle. Hard. She collapsed, shrinking to just a tiny speck sitting on the couch, maybe I’d crossed a line with that, but then… there was something else in her eye. It was like the look AJ got when she set her mind to something, but with a lot of other emotions going on in the background. I don’t know. It was different than her collapsing in on herself, at least. “One minute,” she said, pushing herself off the couch.

She came back a minute later with another bottle of beer in her magic. “If Scootaloo asks, you decided to have a second bottle.” She raised the bottle up a bit higher. “This was your first bottle. Got it?”

“Uhmm… Sweetie,” I said, rubbing the back of my head. She was drinking again. It wasn’t my fault she couldn’t take a joke, but I should still probably help talk her down. “Yeah, if I upset you or–”

“Nope, you’re right,” she said, cutting me off as she cracked the lid off. “That’s what I’m good at. Empty stupid self-destruction. Believe me, you’re not telling me anything I haven’t told myself.”

“Whoa, that’s not what I was saying at all, I was just making a joke about…” I trailed off as she poured the beer into a glass and downed it in ten seconds flat.

“Gross,” she said, putting the glass down. “I don’t get why ponies like beer at all. The hoppiness is just… I’ll stick with cider or cocktails or anything else.” She laughed to herself, staring at emptiness. “But it gets the job done. Anyways…” Her eyes snapped back to me.

“I want to–” She looked off to her side again. “Will you let me talk? I’m trying to help somepony, and yes, I can help her, and–” She saw me. I saw the madness at the edges of her eyes. She took a breath. “Sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “I… I think I’m better for now.”

“Look, maybe my comment was a little mean, but I really didn’t think it’d cause you to go all crazy,” I said.

She just nodded her head. “But it was true. And if it was a relationship problem, I’d be completely useless, but it isn’t a relationship problem. It’s an identity problem, or… maybe not an identity problem, but…” She took a breath. “Before things got really bad with me, back when I was at the Academy, there was this moment… I felt like I had to be happy all the time. I felt if I wasn’t, all my friends would leave me, and I’d go back to being the weird filly who played with dolls too much. The filly whose parents were always leaving her behind.”

There was a pause and she smiled at something. “Lucky me, I was wrong about that last part, but I didn’t know it at the time. I just… I felt like I had to be happy all the time, or else my friends would leave me. And I was happy. A lot of the time, I was really happy, but then there were some times where I… wasn’t, but I was happy then too, because that’s who I was. I was Sweetie, and I was happy, and if I wasn’t happy, then… maybe I wasn’t Sweetie.” Okay, that was probably the craziest thing I’d ever heard, and I was friends with Twilight, the same mare who thought she’d be busted back to magic kindergarten if she didn’t write friendship reports on time.

“Yeah, okay, I get it, you felt all weird and crazy, but how’s this supposed to relate to me and Applejack?” I asked.

“Because, Rainbow Dash,” Sweetie said, licking a bit of beer off her lip. “I thought I’d found some ponies who might understand. Who could love me even if I wasn’t what they wanted me to be all the time, and do you know what they did when I showed them that other part of me?”

I shook my head and she took a step forward.

“They laughed.”

She said ‘laughed’ like the word was a poison and she had to spit it out before it killed her.

“They laughed, and I broke.” She shook her head. “That’s not fair, I was always broken.” She looked to my side. “I know I was, you don’t have to remind me, and it’s not like you tried to fix me. You just finished it with a sledgehammer.”

“Hey, so… do you talk to yourself a lot?” I asked. “Because if you do, maybe you should see a doctor.”

She laughed, the madness creeping back into the corners of her eyes. “Noted, but I think between the psychiatrist, the neurologist, Princess Luna, and a basket full of pills I think I’m covered.” Another breath to calm herself. “Anyways, my point is, I thought I had found ponies I could share this hidden part of myself with. Ponies who could see it and not run away or laugh and just accept me for me. To show it and then have them laugh immediately, it hurt… a lot. Maybe I would’ve still gone crazy if they hadn’t, but that was the moment things really started feeling bad. Like, I started tearing my head up to force myself to be happy non-stop, and then when my friends started acting worried, I got upset with them for trying to make me not happy.”

She stopped and frowned. “I’m not saying Applejack’s going to go completely crazy, she’s probably a lot stronger and braver and better than I am, and can handle that kind of rejection, but it still hurts.”

“But she’s not being herself,” I said. “She just started acting all weird because she’s visiting her aunt and uncle.”

Sweetie sighed and shook her head. “Maybe you’re right. I don’t know what the two of you are like, so maybe she’s just pretending to be somepony else for her aunt and uncle – but if I’m right, if she’s taking that gamble and showing you some hidden secret part of herself, don’t you think you kind of… owe it to her? Just to hear her out and not push her away? Trust me, that feeling of rejection isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy, and I’d wish a lot on her.”

Ugh. She was right. Maybe… Okay, maybe Applejack was acting different just for her aunt and uncle, but maybe she wasn’t, and if she wasn’t, maybe I shouldn’t have flipped out on her. Actually, I probably shouldn’t have flipped out on her anyways.

“Thanks, Sweetie,” I said looking up at the mare who was staring down at her hooves. “Sorry for kind of being a jerk earlier.”

“It’s fine,” she said, flopping down onto the couch. “I deserved it. And besides, if I can use all my stupid decisions to keep somepony else from doing them, maybe… well, it’s good somepony gets something nice out of them. Anyways, I think I’m going to put the record player on in my room and lie down. It was nice catching up with you.”

“You know, you don’t have to leave,” I said as Sweetie got back off the couch. Why did she flop down on it if she was just going to leave a second later. “It’s cool catching up with you, and like I said, I’m sorry for kind of being a jerk to you, I was just upset.”

“Like I said, it’s fine,” she said, creeping over to the hallway. “I just want to rest my eyes for a bit and sort some thoughts out. You and Scootaloo should have fun catching up without me, I probably wouldn’t get what you’re talking about anyways.”

“Wait,” I said, moving to get behind her before she could disappear in the room. “You feel like you can show Scootaloo all those other parts of you, right?” I looked away. “It’s probably rude of me to ask, I don’t know, I’ve never been good with that, but…”

She looked at me and blinked. Once. Twice. “Oh, yeah, of course, I can. Of course, I can. It would be silly if I couldn’t. Like, she’s done so much for me, and been there to support me all the time, and hardly asks for anything in return, it would be bad if I couldn’t be completely honest with her when she was making me do things I didn’t want. I love her. That’s what you do when you love, somepony, right?”

“Uhh… yeah, I think so,” I said before pausing. “Wait, I’m not clear, are you saying when you love somepony, you’re honest with them, or that you do things you don’t want?”

“You tell me,” she said, head tilted. “You’re the one who’s married happily. I’m the mare who, up until a few months ago, thought ‘orgy’ was a synonym for ‘love’. So what should I do? Should I be honest or should I be who she deserves me to be? Should I say ‘Hey, Scootaloo, we’ve been dating for a while now, do you think we could try a bit of reciprocating tonight instead of me doing all the work?’” She laughed and something flashed in her eyes. “But I can’t do that, because she told me she doesn’t like mares, but she loves me, so what am I supposed to do with that? I love her too, and I want it to work, I’m doing everything I can to make it work, because if I can’t have a healthy relationship with her, who the hay can I have it with? Plus, how can I let her down after all she’s done for me? She loves me. I love her. She did everything she could to help me, now I have to do everything I can to make us work, plus, I do like getting to boss her around and stuff, that’s fine, I just wish…” Her breath ran out. She blinked again and apparently realized she’d been talking out loud.

“I do love her. A lot. I just get frustrated sometimes.” She stepped forward and smiled. “Trust me, though, I’m doing everything I can not to hurt her.”

“Yeah,” I said, slowly nodding my head. “I definitely got that, but… don’t you think you should take your own advice? I know Scootaloo’s crazy about you. Just talk about it with her, and I’m sure you’ll figure something out. If not, let me know, and I’ll beat some sense into her.”

“Oh, no,” Sweetie said, voice flat. “That’s my job.”

“Are you serious?” I asked, staring at her for any clue she was joking. The corner of her lip twitched up.

“Maybe,” she said, twitch turning into a full grin. “She prefers being humiliated to actual hurting, although light bondage is never out of the question and–”

I held up a hoof. “You can stop. It’s okay, you really don’t have to, I don’t need to know.”

“I know,” she said, whatever had caused her to go on her epic ramble being buried by a crazy grin. “But could you tell her I told you she was into being humiliated? She’d hate it if she knew you knew her inner little fantasies.” There was absolutely no way I was doing that.

“Yeah, no,” I said. “Not exactly a fan of being used in whatever crazy games you two play. She’s like a sister to me.”

“That’s why it’s so good,” Sweetie said, her eyes glinting. “She idolizes you, but she’s so ashamed of her own urges, for her to know you know… She’ll melt with embarrassment tonight.”

I stared at her. And there was the crazy mare I almost forgot existed. “Yeah, again, I’m not playing your weird sex games, sorry. Also, you really should talk with Scootaloo about all that stuff you told me. I know she’d do anything for you.”

Sweetie mumbled something I couldn’t hear. “Fine, alright, I will.” She took a breath. “And… thanks for listening to me, Rainbow Dash.” She turned to open the door to her bedroom. “Feel free to stop by any time you’re in town.”

3. Honor Thy Father

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A few hours later, Sweetie and Scootaloo's coffee table was cluttered with empty Neighpponese boxes and beer bottles, and the time was filled with talks about sports teams, the Wonderbolts, Apples, and how great things were with Sweetie (according to her, their relationship was completely perfect). “Yeah, you should talk to her,” I said, yawning and getting to my hooves. “She seems…” Look, maybe Sweetie wasn’t my favorite pony in the world, but she’d trusted me enough to tell her all that… stuff, and I wasn’t about to betray that. “You should just talk to her, she’s got a lot on her mind.”

“Alright,” Scootaloo said as I trotted to the door. “Oh, and thanks for stopping by, just wish you’d given us more warning.”

I shook my head. “Totally would’ve, but between flight training and farm stuff, the last few weeks have been so busy that I might’ve forgotten to write you. Anyways, yeah, it’s always fun catching up, and keep being awesome.”

She laughed. “Sure thing, Dash. You and AJ should stop by again before you leave.” Yeah. That’d be great, if I could convince Applejack to forgive me. Obviously, I could eventually, but we might be back in Ponyville by the time that happened.

“We’ll see,” I said. “You going anywhere in the next few days?”

“Nah,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m off work, and Sweetie’s only doing a few club shows.” Her eyes went wide and she glanced at the clock. “Shit. Sweetie!”

“I know!” Sweetie yelled back from their room. “I’m almost dressed.”

“You’re always almost dressed. How long does it take to put on a dress?”

“You know it’s more than a dress,” she said as I grabbed the door handle with a hoof. “There’s shoes, and makeup, and jewelry.”

“Oh, Celestia, it’s just a freaking lounge show. You’re not performing in front of Carneighgie Hall or something,” Scootaloo said.

“Well, I’ve really got to go, you two have fun, alright?”I said, looking back at Scootaloo. She nodded at me, and a second later, I was gone, two seconds later, I was back on the street, and three seconds later, I was in the air, flying back to Applejack, and trying to figure out just how I’d say that I might have overreacted a bit.

The flight was the worst kind of flight: short and uneventful. I couldn’t even get going that fast because I was in a city with a bunch of other pegasi flying around. At least I got to make some tight turns around the buildings, and the skyscrapers allowed for some really interesting directed gusts of wind. It wasn’t like racing down the Canterhorn, flying inches from the surface as the wind whips your eyes, going faster and faster as the ground rushes up at you, and then at the last second doing an awesome turn to keep from breaking almost every bone in your body, but it was better than nothing.

A few minutes later, I was standing at the door to the Oranges’ apartment, my hoof hovering an inch off the oak. A second’s hesitation, then I knocked and heard shuffling on the other side of the door. It opened, and a pair of blue eyes were staring into mine. Aunt Orange. “Care to tell me why I should let you back into our apartment after you threw our hospitality in our faces and hurt our Jackelyn?”

“Uhmm… I think I might need to apologize to my wife,” I said, giving her a smile that flickered and died.

She didn’t blink or budge. “Might?”

“Yeah, okay.” I rubbed the back of my head. “Look, could you just let her know I’m here and that I want to talk?”

Aunt Orange hmmed and closed the door. It opened a minute later, the blue eyes replaced with a familiar green. “Finally got it into your fool head to apologize, did ya?”

“Yeah…” Something clunked behind me and I looked back to see another pony walk out of her apartment. “But do you think we could do this somewhere a bit more private?"

She sighed and turned around, trotting deeper into the apartment. “Come on then, and shut the door behind you.”

“Cool,” I said, following behind her as we reached another door in the apartment. We walked in, and it was… well, it might’ve put Twilight’s old library to shame. Bookcases covered almost every bit of wall, and each shelf in them sagged under the weight of their load. Applejack reflexively walked over to one particular case and scanned the rows.

I took a breath. No big deal. I’d apologized to Applejack tons of times before. I took a deep breath. “Look, I’m sorry I freaked out at you before. I just…” I thought back to what Sweetie said. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like I was rejecting you, I just… I didn’t get why you were acting all weird, and.... I kinda still don’t, I guess. Could you help me understand?”

She sighed and turned around, holding one of the books in her grip and carrying it to the bed. “Yeah, Ah’ve been doin’ some thinkin’ too, and Ah reckon Ah owe you an explanation. Maybe if Ah told ya more about mah folks, ya wouldn’t have gone off like ya did.” She paused. “Ya just gotta understand, talkin’ about them ain’t easy for me. Also ain’t somethin’ Ah ever found any sense in discussin’. Gone’s gone, ain’t nothin’ changin’ that.”

“Okay, but they’re still your parents. I’m sure you think about them every day. I think of mine every day, and…” I somehow managed to stop myself before I finished that thought. From the look in her eye, she still figured out where I was going.

“Yeah, okay, so Ah think about ‘em a lot, sure, but Ah don’t like dredgin’ up them memories. If Ah start thinkin’ about the good times, too much, then Ah start thinkin’ about all the times they missed, and then Ah start thinkin’ about how Apple Bloom won’t really ever know ‘em. Shoot, Ah didn’t even know ‘em that well.”

And that was way more than I’d ever heard her say about her parents before. Now I had to keep her talking. “Look, Applejack, I figured out that you brought me here to see this part of yourself you don’t really feel comfortable showing.” With Sweetie’s help. “And if you trust me enough to do that, you can talk to me about your parents. Plus, it’ll help me figure out just why you go all weird in Manehattan.”

“Alright,” she said, setting her book down on the nightstand and making herself comfortable on the bed. “So, ya know mah Pa was an Orange, and ya probably figured out he was a bit more high-falutin than mah Ma.”

“Kind of figured that much,” I said. “So what was his deal? How did he meet your mom? And just give me the short version, I don’t want to spend ten years hearing about it.”

“Alright, well, he was the one that used ta oversee their orange grove Mareami, so he went on a lot of farming expos and stuff. Ya know what Ah’m talking about.” I sure did. We spent most of our ‘vacations’ going to some convention center and listening to ponies trying to sell us some new thing that would revolutionize farming.

I nodded.

“Anyways, my Ma ran into him at few of those shows, and I reckon he made an impression on her. He wasn’t like them other farmers. Whenever she saw him, he was readin’ or writin’ somethin’, and Ah guess one night, she decided to sit down next to him and ask what he was writin’ all the time. Turns out, he always wanted to be a big poet, so when he wasn’t overseein’ the farm or touring the showroom at one of them expos, he either had his muzzle in a book or was writin’ somethin’ down. He had some pretty good ones, too, Ah think. Anyways, he must’ve enjoyed talkin’ to her, and she must’ve enjoyed listenin’, because the next few expos, they made it a point to spend all the time they could talkin’ to each other. Then, they started takin’ trips to visit each other, and before ya knew it, she was askin’ him to marry her. It took a while for Granny Smith to warm up ta him, though; said she first thought he was just some fancy city-slicker who wouldn’t know a hard day’s work if it bit him in the flank. Dropped that complaint after a few weeks, though.”

“So, I’m guessing you were close to your dad?” I asked. That kind of made sense.

“Course, Ah was, Ah’m an Apple. But… Ah hear what yer sayin’, and maybe Ah was a mite closer to him than my Ma,” she said, nodding her head and picking up the book. “This was one o’ his. Not one o’ the ones he wrote, just one o’ the ones he liked reading to me. Ah like readin’ it through whenever Ah’m up here.”

“Then why don’t you just bring it with you to Sweet Apple Acres. I’m sure your Aunt and Uncle won’t mind,” I said, narrowing my eyes. I thought I kind of had it figured out, but now things stopped making sense again.

“Ah can’t do that, Dash. Ah’m an Apple – not just that, Ah’m the head Apple. When Ah was younger, Ah tried livin’ like he’d want me to, tried bein’ an Orange. Thought, ‘Shoot, Ah got the colorin’ for it, and Ah always loved listenin’ to Pa read me his poems and…’ Well, ya heard how that story goes. Point is, Ah ain’t an Orange, Ah’m an Apple. Ah can’t stand a lot o’ that high society fluff for more than a few days, and Ah turn into a downright wreck if Ah spend more’n a week away from the farm. Most of the time, that’s fine, but every now an’ then, Ah start thinkin’, ya know? Thinkin’ that Ah’m livin’ how my Ma would’ve wanted, but almost completely forgettin’ him. Like, just a few days ago, Ah got this big itch that it’d been years since Ah’d read one o’ his poems or done any of them big arty things we liked doin’ together.”

“So that’s why you had this big trip, to… Remember your dad?” I asked. And it all made sense again. Stupid, stupid sense.

She nodded, and I could see the tiniest bit of wetness in her eyes as a hoof moved up to touch her hair clip. “Ya know, he got this for me. On our last birthday together, and…” She blinked. “Look at me, just spend a few minutes talkin’, and Ah’m already gettin’ all silly and sentimental. Ain’t no good bellyachin’ about what can’t be–”

Before she could finish that thought my forehooves were wrapped tight around her. “Applejack, I love you, but you can be a complete idiot sometimes. I don’t care if you cry around me or start feeling sad.” I checked to make sure the door was completely closed. “You’ve seen me cry before, and said there was nothing wrong with that. That goes both ways.”

“Yeah, but there ain’t no point in bein’ sad about this. Not like Ah can change anything. They’re gone, and that’s that. No amount o’ bein’ sad and bellyachin’ on my part will change that. Ah got too many things to do.”

I hugged her tighter. “See, now I’m wishing I hadn’t called you an idiot before, so I could call you one now. Being sad only makes sense when you can’t fix something. If you can do something, do it. Go out there, and kick some flank. But when you lose something, when something you had broke… then it’s fine to be sad.”

“Well, Ah was sad, but then Ah got on with mah life. Can’t spend mah whole life mournin’ ‘em.”

Ugh. I pulled back and flapped up. “That’s fine! I’m not saying that. If you spent all your time crying, we’d have a completely different problem, but you can at least remember them. You can talk about them. And if you get sad when you do, that’s fine. I love you. I’m not going to judge you for that. So come on. Tell me about your parents.”

She smiled as I settled back down on the ground. “Alright, well, it’s like Ah was sayin’, Ah… sometimes, Ah get to missin’ mah father, feel like Ah’m forgettin’ him, so Ah come up here to visit mah Aunt and Uncle. Remind mahself Ah’m still his daughter. Ya know, ya should hear Granny Smith tell how happy he was when Ah was born. He loved my Ma, he loved the Apples, but Ah reckon he sometimes got to feelin’ like the poet in him stuck out a little bit, so when he had a daughter that had his coat color…” She smiled. “Well, we were always closer. Ah still loved my ma, and he still loved Mac, he weren’t so big then, but we had a bond. Every night, he’d tuck me in, he’d read a poem to me, and when he got some time to do writin’ of his own, Ah was in the room with him.” She blinked. “Ya know, our bedroom, it used to be his study. Shoulda seen it back in the day, wall-to-wall with books, and–”

“What happened to them?” I asked, before following her gaze to the books that filled the room.


And then everything made sense, as missing details fleshed out the cutie mark story I already knew. A filly who’d lost her parents, going to live with her aunt and uncle to try and be like her father. Coming to hate all the kind of boring high-society stuff, because of course she did, and leaving, returning to her Apple roots, and earning three red apples on her flank for it, ending the debate on whether she was Applejack or Jackelyn. I looked at her, understanding. Then, my eyes were drawn from the apples on her flank to the ruby-red apple hair clip in her mane, and I understood something else.

“You wanted to be like him, that’s why you left home to live with your aunt and uncle, right?” I asked. I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear it from her.

She nodded, eyes threatening to spill over with wetness. “Ah did, but… Ah couldn’t. Ah couldn’t deal with all the formality and fanciness. Sure, Ah liked goin’ to shows, and seein’ the art exhibits, and all that, but the other stuff…” She gagged. “Can’t do that for more than a few days without losin’ mah mind.”

“But… he didn’t want you to be an Orange. Look at that hairclip he got you.”

Her hoof moved up and undid the hairclip, bringing it down so she could see it. “Yeah, what about it? It looks like mah cutie mark.”

“Yeah, it does,” I said, nodding my head. “The cutie mark he never saw.” She froze at that. “Look, maybe I’m way off base here, I’m not super smart like Twilight or good at navigating all this emotional stuff like Fluttershy or Rarity, but I think I know you pretty well. You want to be like him? You want to carry on his memory? That’s fine, it’s great, you totally should, but... correct me if I’m wrong, but he didn’t live in Manehattan, did he? He lived on the farm with your mom. From what you said, he worked pretty hard on it, too. Probably super kind and compassionate, too.” Her neck made the tiniest nod. “You’ve been honoring him every day, Applejack, because he might’ve been born an Orange, but he chose to be an Apple.”

There was a pause as I tried to get the next words out exactly right. “Look at your cutie mark again. Sure, it shows you’re an Apple, but maybe it’s also a reminder, that no matter what happens, you’ll always be his daughter. You’ll always be his Jackelyn.” She smiled, tears running down her cheeks, and I kissed her. Softly. Tenderly. A kiss only the two of us would ever know about. “I think you’re both. I think that’s what the cutie mark is really about. That you’re both Applejack and Jackelyn at the same time. That you don’t have to choose which one to be.”

She laughed and smiled, nuzzling my cheek. “Ya know, Ah knew bringin’ ya here wasn’t the worst idea in the history of Equestria. Yer still gonna have to apologize to mah aunt and uncle for bein’ a total ass to ‘em, though.”

I waved a hoof. “Yeah, yeah, tomorrow, Jackie. I’ll apologize and then we’ll find some…” I glanced at all the bookcases in the room. “Or maybe a lot of movers to bring all these books back home.”

“Jackie, huh? Ah think Ah like it, and yer sure bringin’ all them books back with us is a great idea?” she asked. “They were mah Pa’s, and they should be with–”

“With his family? With his daughter? I completely agree,” I said, rolling my eyes and picking up her poetry book. “They’re your inheritance, AJ. They belong at Sweet Apple Acres.”

“Ya know,” she said, wiping a hoof across her cheeks. “Ah think Ah can clear some space off and get you a shelf for your own books. Gotta find some place to keep those Rainbow Dash originals.”

“Sounds great,” I said, flopping down on the bed and rolling on my back, keeping the book close. “But I think I’ve got to do some editing. Golden Grain’s character… maybe there’s more to her than I thought. I think she’s way cooler and more nuanced-ey than I originally thought.”

“Ah think ya just say nuanced, sugarcube, and ya know, ya could try writin’ original characters for once.”

“Ehh, maybe,” I said, passing the book to her. “Now, I’ve never actually read a poem before, so pick one I’ll like.”

“Ya mean you’re actually gonna read a poem?” she asked. I couldn’t see her face, but I could hear her eyebrow raise.

“Heck no,” I said, laughing. “Let’s not get crazy, but… if you wanted to read one out loud, I wouldn’t mind listening.”

“Well, Ah suppose Ah can think of a few ya might like hearin’,” she said, settling into bed next to me.

“Can’t wait to hear ‘em,” I said, letting my eyes close and a smile form on my lips. “Read on, Jackelyn.”