One can fall in love just as easily as they can fall back out again. But when Applejack and Rarity are trapped in the middle of nowhere, only fate itself can intervene and cause two separate stories to come mingling into one.
At the cusp of a mistake, and at the edge of temper, Applejack and Rarity find themselves stranded in a place between home and Dodge. But perhaps fate had kept them apart for a reason; for when the truth finally emerges, it's soon clear which pony loves who... and which pony doesn't.
But when they finally understand the intricate webs upon which they stand, it will take something a little bit more than love in order to save them from the fallout.
There was a white streak of paint drawn upon a brown canvas. Like a painter careless with his brush, a scattering of dark Laurel greens and light Celadon yellows provided the variety of colour needed in this otherwise bleak landscape.
Along the plains the train rumbled on, chugging huge billowing clouds into the air as it drew down the track, painting the brown earth with a white line that cut through the scene.
There was no point in looking out the window – every cactus and every shrub was the same, and the mountains in the distance offered no variety in shape, size or feature. The rocks zoomed by far too fast to be captured by the naked eye, which was unfortunate as only the rocks managed to distinguish themselves in their differences.
The futility of it all didn't stop Applejack from watching anyway.
A small wooden ledge by the window provided the platform upon which Applejack rested her legs, one of which propped up her chin as she sat deep in thought, watching the scenery blur and mix with the things running through her head.
The steady, rhythmic grinding of the train’s wheels upon the tracks drowned out the stereotypically mellow music that was being piped in through a speaker in the ceiling.
Her eye flicked to the side.
Sitting across from her, silently, in the private train compartment that they shared was Rarity, who lay reclined, demurely, on her bed, four legs folded neatly underneath her as she looked back at Applejack with a faint smile.
She sat there with a regal exuberance, glowing with spirit and vigour. Her naturally glossy coat shined more than usual, and even in the darkness of the car did she glow like a beacon in the middle of the ocean at night.
Applejack looked down for a moment, her mind suddenly racing, before returning to the window.
It wasn't dark in the car due to any lack of light outside. It was late afternoon and the evening sun was pounding in from the distance. Boxes, trunks and carrying cases of all shapes and sizes littered the compartment, stacked up against the windows opposite of Applejack and blocking the passage of light.
Applejack subconsciously nudged her own tiny set of saddlebags – the only thing in the entire car that she had brought – with a stray leg just to make sure it was still there and not lost among the forest.
Her gaze found itself falling upon Rarity once again.
She was still looking back with that strangely blissful smile.
Ever since the train had departed from Ponyville a good three quarters of an hour ago, she had not made a single noise; had not said a single word. She hadn't coughed or grumbled or commented on the state of the place. She had not fidgeted or struggled or flailed. The very most she did was ask a passing train attendant for a refreshment.
And Applejack found herself burdened by Rarity's compliant behaviour.
She cleared her throat.
"Y- yes?" Rarity responded almost instantly. She was definitely waiting for the opportunity to finally be able to speak, which was some rather odd behaviour from the one who was usually first in line to hand out an opinion.
Applejack suppressed a sigh and licked her lips before engaging in a slow response.
"Rarity," she said, trying to put it as lightly as she could, "ya didn't have t' come, y'know."
"Oh, nonsense, darling," Rarity responded with a dismissive wave of her hoof. "It is my pleasure, surely."
"Except that… except that it really ain't yer pleasure, is it? Are ya sure ya even know where we're goin'?"
"Dodge Junction. Yes, you'd mentioned that about thirty times before we left."
"And until now I still don't think ya really know what Dodge Junction is."
"Oh, Applejack," Rarity said in that way that sounded like she had a small sliver of pity for the one whom she was addressing, "why ever would you think that?"
"Because… ya wanted t’ come along?"
"Oh, but I am familiar with Dodge Junction. Of course I am. It was that place you… went to that one time. We all came to get you, remember? And I was… stuck in the area with Pinkie? Thanks to…" Rarity suddenly found it necessary to cough. "It is not a place I am soon to forget."
"Ya could've just went with the others in a few days," Applejack pointed out, "after all my stuff's wrapped up."
"What, and let you go all alone? By yourself?"
"I'm goin' for business, Rarity. It's borin' stuff. That's why I told all of ya to join me in Dodge a couple days after in th' first place."
Rarity drummed her hoof on the bed, each pat sinking into the soft cushiony down with a 'thump'.
"I just wanted to come," she sang.
"Suit yerself," Applejack said, coming to the end of that discussion. She knew there was no point in continuing when Rarity was going to give that kind of answer. It just meant that she had nothing left to say.
And to tell the truth, it struck a small nerve somewhere deep inside of her mind.
This sort of thing was exactly the kind of flagrance that Rarity had been showing more and more of lately – a lot of bad attitude; a lot of dismissals. It had always been difficult to get a straight answer out of her, but lately, you’d be lucky if you could get any sort of an answer at all.
It was part of the reason why Applejack hadn't wanted Rarity to tag along. It had been why she was trying her best to convince Rarity to come with the others at a later date, once she had completed what she had to do and was free to just have fun again.
The very last thing she needed was Rarity running around, making a fuss and getting in the way of some difficult trade proposal, and acting like that.
Even Pinkie Pie, consciously aware of her tendencies, made the decision to stay behind.
But Rarity was… here. No matter what Applejack had said, no matter how she had tried to convince her to stay, Rarity had insisted on coming.
And of course, her behaviour was only part of the reason. The other half was born out of a dread of the unwanted occurring, and Rarity’s presence only served as a reminder and an irritant.
There were too many feelings to be accounted for. Feelings of every nature and every type. Feelings that Applejack had worked hard to overcome and that were now threatening to rise again, thanks to these suspiciously convenient circumstances.
And so Rarity sat there, staring and smiling. Smiling at Applejack like Rainbow smiles at a new Daring Do book. Smiling at her and just…
And as Applejack stared back at Rarity, who shyly looked away, her mind started to drift to the ways she could end it before it began.
It was probably best to get it all out in the open now, before it started to work its way into the cracks later.
"Listen, Rarity…" Applejack muttered, "I gotta tell ya somethin'-"
But the world screeched in objection, and the grinding sound of metal tearing into metal pierced the air like a siren. The train shuddered, sending a few select boxes tumbling into the air with a quick jerk. Rarity caught them expertly with a blast of magic, and Applejack reached forward with her farm-trained reflexes to prop herself up against the movement of the train as it careened to a stop.
Outside, the white trail of paint mixed with black, and thick exhaust filled the air above in a diluted grey.
Applejack smacked the surface of her bunk bed hard, her frown turning into a grimace.
"Oh, y'all gotta be kiddin' me!" Applejack shouted, springing off the bed. "Naw, this can't be!"
"What… what is it?" Rarity asked worriedly, as she returned her boxes to their rightful places and clambered down to stand beside Applejack.
"Train must'a broken down! Oh, ain't this just what we need…"
"That's not good, is it?" Rarity asked, speaking for the sake of speaking.
"No, Rarity. It ain't." Applejack rolled her eyes, pushing her way past Rarity's things to the front of the cabin. "Listen. I'm gonna go talk to th' conductor and see what's goin' on, alright? You stay here and keep an eye on our stuff. Can I trust ya t' do that?"
"Yes, of course, Applejack." Rarity nodded happily. "Not a problem."
"Right," Applejack said, throwing the door aside. "Be back shortly."
Rarity nodded again, surveying the scene in front of her. Despite the slight topple, everything seemed to be present and undamaged. She lifted Applejack's saddlebags up to the top of one of her larger pieces of luggage, just to make sure she had, in fact, kept an eye on everything.
A small hoof-mirror floated out of a satchel – her beauty-bag, in which she kept all the essential pieces of gear. Her smile fluttered as she brought it up. There was something wonderful about to happen, something that required her to be on her absolute best and look her absolute best.
Her breathing stopped short.
It probably shouldn't have caused her the amount of panic that it did, but under the circumstances that she placed herself in, the simple crack in her mane was like a fissure that tore through the earth under her hooves, ready to swallow her up completely.
In the reflection of the tiny mirror, she saw that her mane had split in the crashing halt, and it parted ways out of place and made her look slightly south of perfect.
She caught herself looking anxiously at the door through which Applejack disappeared, as her breathing raced over a worried mind, and suddenly everything was thrown out of proportion.
The only thing she could focus on was getting this problem fixed, and everything else became a secondary consideration to how absolutely essential it was.
"Oh, oh," Rarity repeated softly, as she stroked her mane with a shaking hoof to try to repair the damage. But the mirror she carried was far too tiny, and even with her magic, she would need a wider view to undo this mess.
She threw herself to a window, but the sun was too bright behind it for it to be used as a mirror.
The ghostly image of her own face, pale and all too transparent, diluted as her focus switched from the glass to what lay beyond it.
On the horizon was a small series of buildings, situated near a shiny gleaming circle. It was barely in focus, but with a bit of squinting, she made it out to be some sort of small pond.
It called to her, sparkling over the distance. Like a diamond in the rough, the pond would be absolutely perfect for her needs.
Perhaps she should…
But she glanced over the luggage. She'd promised to keep an eye on them for Applejack, and she couldn't break her promise, could she? That would be unbecoming for a lady, and certainly, she didn't want to upset Applejack on this most crucial of days.
And suddenly, the obvious became illogical, and the known became unknown.
Rarity had no clear idea why she suddenly hefted all her luggage up and floated them through the cars towards the exit.
She had no clue why she trotted down the steps of the carriage, with the clear intent of heading for that pond just to fix her mane.
And she hadn't the faintest notion of why, as her final leg left the final step of the train, she suddenly felt a wave of intense guilt pass by her heart, only to be washed away immediately after by a burning sense of single-minded determination.
It wasn't something she could control anymore.
It was just something she did.
At first, Applejack thought she had the wrong compartment. But after tracing her movements back and forth a few times, she had confirmed that this was definitely the one that she had left, and the huge empty space she now stood in once played home to a vast amount of luggage.
Not a single trace of them was left to be found. Not a bag, not a case, not a trunk nor purse. And Rarity, herself, had also mysteriously vanished.
She'd only been gone for ten minutes.
And this had to happen.
"Ugh!" Applejack let out a grunt of vexation, looking around for all the good that it would have done to locate her friend.
Where could she have gone? Why would she have left? There was no reason to, none whatsoever!
And to take everything along as well? Did she think that they'd reached their final stop?
The conductor had told Applejack that the steam engine was out of water; the pressure had dropped, and the engine had overheated. It was a very simple problem with a very simple solution. All that was required was a few minutes to let the engine cool, and to top it up with water, and they'd be on their merry way to Dodge. They might not even break schedule.
And this had to happen.
"Alright, Applejack," she said to herself, a hoof flying up to her temple, "why'd she leave? Why… why…"
Even her repetitious chants of 'why' got her nowhere, and ultimately, she could not think of a single reason that would adequately explain Rarity’s behaviour. But the why didn't matter; she still had to find Rarity regardless of what she knew.
Yeah, of course she had to.
Alright, she's not in the train, or else the luggage would still be there, right? That was the logical connection. Find the luggage, find Rarity.
Maybe she hadn't gone too far. After all, it had only been ten minutes, and she was lugging a great number of items with her. Applejack didn't really know how Unicorn magic worked, but she guessed that she might have been slowed down by the weight.
Well, in the end, it was just a guess. But just in case, Applejack threw herself to a window to see if she couldn't spot anything that would help.
Nothing. Just rocks and plains and dust and that strange black thing looming over the horizon.
Fine, the other window then.
And there it was.
About six brown boxes stood in no particular pattern near a shining circle of silver. They made up the settlement that overlooked the pond.
And one of those brown boxes happened to be a stack of luggage.
"Oh no…" Applejack grumbled, pushing herself off the ledge and rushing to the end of the car.
Already, the engine started churning up. The vibrations of the train echoed throughout all the cabins, foretelling its spring back to life in just a few minutes.
"Oh no, oh no," Applejack yelled at the cabin, "Oh no, Rarity, why'd you do that?"
She flung the door to the connecting platforms aside, revealing the small length of metal that bridged the area between train cars. Without even a second to think, she leapt the chains that prevented ponies from doing that in the first place, and landing roughly on her ankle, she shot off toward the settlement with a frenzy in her eyes.
She landed a bit too rough.
Wincing through the pain of the slightly twisted leg, she cantered jerkily on, stirring up the dust of the plains and throwing herself forward as far as she could in the little amount of time that she had.
It was times like this that she was thankful for her trusty hat. Although worn, it kept the dust from her eyes and the sun at bay.
"Rarity!" she yelled, as she pulled up closer and closer to the settlement.
She kept yelling her name in the futile chance that it would make a difference.
But that too was drowned out by a much more dire sound. The train's whistle had signalled, which meant that time had cut short far too soon. It didn't even allow for a last-minute reprieve or a sudden turnabout.
There really wasn't any chance that she could have made it back in time.
Running no longer carried any point.
"Damnit, Rarity!" Applejack shouted, with finality, turning around and watching the train chug off into the distance. It was leaving.
And it wouldn't be back for a very long time.
A small boiling spark lit in Applejack's chest. It was the kind of feeling that comes when you focus on one single thought – be it an insult to you or the rudeness of a fellow pony, but it was a single action that enraged you to the point of shaking in an effort to calm yourself.
It was the kind of feeling that causes you to suddenly think of terrible things, things that you would never do in real life, but they existed in that realm between madness and just being mad. And just for particles of seconds did they flash through Applejack's mind, which she ignored instantly after.
She sighed to herself, watching the train as it disappeared off into the horizon, leaving only its trail of smoke as any evidence that it was ever there.
The canvas, flecked with dots of green, was now joined by a speck of orange and a speck of white.
They were now part of the landscape.
They were now part of the terrain.
They were stuck.
What now, Applejack? What now?
At least her surroundings served to distract her, as she trudged wearily into the center of the cluster of houses. Trying to understand where she was gave some reprieve to her emotional state.
It certainly was some sort of settlement from a long time ago. From ages past, it had once played home to some trailblazers who forged through these very fields in order to find a place to eke out a living.
In fact, it would not have been surprising to learn that these very buildings might have once housed the ancestors of Dodge. But it had been long since left to the elements, and dilapidated wooden squares were all that remained now.
It wasn't even clear what each building was meant to be, but they all shared similarities in shape and size. Each was a single room, built to house two ponies at max. There seemed to be only enough space for a scattering of things in the corner, space for a couple of roll-up haversacks along the walls…
It wouldn't take longer than five seconds to walk completely around each building. That was the extent of their luxury.
There were five of them placed in a rather wide circle, or at least the best approximation of one. All of the doors faced toward a central point, which bore evidence of once being the home of an oversized sand pit. It was probably the location of a great bonfire, and a place to park the caravans.
Nothing else remained.
The reason for setting up camp here was obvious. Coming in, Applejack noticed a few fruit bushes and other wild plants, and there was a source of water nearby – the pond.
It wasn't fresh, but it served to water the caravans and to wash dirty laundry or other things.
And at that very pond was Rarity, standing at its edge, shoulders slumped low and face carrying the shock of the realisation of what had just happened.
It was that pond that Applejack now limped to, wearing a face of her own that was as dark as thunder.
As she hobbled toward her companion, Applejack felt her anger rising. While she wasn’t one to normally jump to fury, there was little other emotion left in her heart. It was the whole situation combined with the expectations of what was about to happen that created a volatile cocktail which rested neatly in Applejack’s chest.
Each step toward Rarity returned the thoughts to Applejack's mind. Each moment that she locked her eyes upon Rarity's face did she feel those enraged spirits rise up, and at the point where she stood just in front of her could she hold it in no longer.
At first she did not speak, and only sufficed herself to glare at Rarity, who suddenly cast her eyes down. She played with the dirt under her hooves, her lower lip curled in with discomfort and unease, which she chewed nervously.
But hey, at least her mane looked great!
"Rarity!" Applejack fumed. "What in th' blue blazes were ya even thinkin'?"
And then came The Rarity Answer.
The same sort of answer that Applejack hated so much. They were the kind of responses that sought to remove their speaker from all blame. They were the kind of statements meant to distract and throw the subject away, and Applejack knew that this entire conversation was going to be full of them.
But in her anger, in her frustration, and the pain that shot through her leg, she found herself unable to abandon the conversation regardless.
"It- it appears we've missed the train," Rarity stated.
"Oh no, whatever gave ya that idea?" Applejack shot back.
"Are- are we… stuck here?" Rarity asked, looking around, and trying not to meet Applejack's steely gaze.
"What do you think?" Applejack hissed.
"I'm sure… the train will return, would it not? Perhaps we can-"
"Rarity!" Applejack yelled, cutting her off. "Have you ever tried to flag down a moving train? Yeah, doesn't really work that way! And ya see them tracks there in the distance? Wanna tell me how many sets ya see?"
"That's right. One. Full marks for ya! The tracks that go back to Ponyville are on the other side of that mountain behind us. Ya see the one that's blockin' our view? Ya see that giant thing sittin' there all purdy in the middle of the plains? Yeah, that one, Rarity!"
The little white Unicorn started to draw pictures in the ground, her hoof moving against her own volition.
"But… wouldn't the train attendants notice that we are no longer on board and perhaps, they could tell somepony…"
"You know what? Maybe. They might notice we're gone except somepony decided to erase all trace of us! All the luggage, Rarity! Why'd you drag it down?"
"I was taking care of it! You told me to keep an eye on it for us, Applejack, and I- I-"
"Oh no. You ain't turnin' this one around on me." Applejack defended her position. "Y'all up to your neck in this one. You were the one decided to leave the train, and you were the one landed us in this mess. What do ya have t' say for yerself?"
"I- I-" Rarity stuttered, placing a hoof upon her chest. It was a defensive posture. It was a 'please-don't-yell-at-me' posture. And in that moment, Rarity squeezed her eyes together tightly, as if she were torn between two answers.
It looked like Rarity was scared.
But in the end, she gave the kind of answer that she always gave.
"I'm sure we'll be rescued soon," Rarity assured. "We- we needn't worry…"
Applejack shook her head, sadly. It was entirely what she had expected to happen. Nothing changed. Nothing ever would. And that made Applejack entirely defeated, crushed, and a small throbbing pain started appearing in her chest again.
She couldn't even look at Rarity right now. No matter how sad she seemed, no matter how ashamed she might have been, she still carried herself as if taking the blame was the furthest thing from anypony's mind.
Was it too much to just expect a bit of humility? To expect an apology?
There was a time long ago when Rarity might have given it up with a bit of struggle, but in the months that passed it had disappeared without a trace, and Applejack honestly wanted to know why.
And to top it off, she wanted to know why it still affected her so darned much. After all, it was just Rarity being Rarity, wasn't it? Even if she was being more Rarity than usual, it was still… Rarity.
She'd come to that realisation long ago. On the day when everything turned black.
But this really wasn't the kind of thing she should be thinking about at the moment. It seemed, though, that every time she had to approach the subject of Rarity, her mind would irrevocably lead back to these lines of thoughts.
She shook her head free of the conundrum.
"Yeah, you know what?" Applejack told Rarity frankly, her voice lowering to a growl. "Yer right. We ain't gonna worry. We're stuck here. Once th' others take the train to Dodge they'll realise we ain't there and I'm sure they'll find us. At least we can count on them."
Rarity's eyes quavered and her breath shuddered at the words.
"You can come along whenever you feel like," Applejack declared, as she turned and started down the track back to the five buildings. "I'm gonna go find some place to set up camp before that there hits us."
It was the dark spot that she had seen out of the other window of the train. From where they were standing, it was clear that it was further away than she had originally justified, but it was also much, much larger.
The storm cloud, flying free, was crawling across the sky on a small sheet of wind, and it was casting down the faint roars of thunder in the distance. Flashes of light, so bright that they could be seen clearly in the relative brightness of evening, bounced around its insides. And although it didn't seem much of a threat in the context of the atmosphere, Applejack knew there was going to be trouble ahead.
She could feel it in the wind.
And so with far strides and frustrated hoofbeats, she left Rarity to her own devices as the Unicorn sank to her flanks at the edge of the pond.
"I'm sorry," Rarity whispered, as soon as she was sure Applejack couldn't hear her.
Each drop fell onto the wooden roof, creating a rhythm like a hundred drums beating the same song.
On their own, they were each a tiny voice starved for attention, but together, they surged, a raging mass of applause, roaring out in unison for the same single purpose.
The thunder came next, drowning out even the cacophonic rain for just a second, each explosion accompanied by a flash of light that lit up the interior of the room.
Small droplets that leaked from the rickety, old ceiling fell, escaping the crowd of their brothers, and dripped upon the straw and dust that lay beneath; each tiny ball of water kicked up a billowing flurry of particles that scattered around the air like a dandelion blown free.
Echoes of drips and drops surrendered themselves to the walls, as the constant cry of a waterfall blanketed down from above.
The rays of the waning sun crawling through holes in the walls was the only constant light afforded to the room.
Applejack opened her eyes, and all she could hear was the rain.
She had time now to cool off, but the traces of her indignation were like a shackle that held her back. It had been hard to walk around, both physically and mentally, thanks to an injured ankle and a disquieted heart.
Rarity was left alone, by herself, at the edge of the pond. Applejack hadn't the faintest idea what she had been doing for all this time, but she knew that Rarity hadn't moved for the entire period that she had been exploring the houses and trying to find the one that bore the fewest holes in the roof.
It was this one – the second from the left coming in, that remained in decent condition despite the ages. It had four steady walls and only a couple of fractures in the slats above. It didn't matter that the rain was coming in, anyway; there were plenty of holes in the floorboards for the water to drain out through. All in all, the house remained rather self-contained.
The little farming pony had taken to one of the corners, where she lay on her back with her front legs placed firmly behind her head. Her old, worn Stetson was lowered across her face to block out the low flicker of the candle, and there was not much else for her to do.
And so she lay, in the corner, back in the dust, listening to the rainfall.
The cloud had been drawing closer over the past hour, and it had finally reached their little section of the world. Although it had only been a few minutes since it arrived, Applejack felt that too many minutes had passed. She was about to appear any second now.
The broken door to the ramshackle shack slid aside, revealing a mountain of salvage. Dripping wet from the rain, the luggage hovered in above Rarity's head on a bed of white glitter, protecting her from the elements. With a wave of her horn and a flash of light, she deposited the detritus into the nearest corner.
Right on cue.
The luggage formed a heap that took up nearly a quarter of the entire room, which Rarity started shifting to different areas of the room in a strange method of sorting, all the while with a vapid smile on her face.
The wind brought chills, and dots of ice-cold water started pelting Applejack in the back, almost as if it were a cry for attention.
Don't forget about us, the weather said. We're always here!
"…th' door," Applejack mumbled, under her breath.
"Hmmm?" Rarity sang merrily, deep in her game of sort-the-box. "What was that, dear?"
"Close th' door!" Applejack yelled, her voice bouncing off the walls.
"Oh, of course, dear!" Rarity trilled suddenly, sliding it shut with the bare minimum of effort.
It didn't take her much work to perform the task, not at all. The only thing that prevented her from doing it in the first place was the fact that her mind was off wandering somewhere else.
She returned her focus to the luggage almost instantly, once again making stacks out of them in a pattern that only she knew about.
As the smaller boxes peeled away, they revealed a much larger trunk which she set down and started to open. A shackle and bolt kept it tightly locked – it was one of those trick ones where you had to be a Unicorn to open. The locks were enchanted to respond to certain frequencies of magic, and only by zapping it with the same bolt would it slide away and allow entry.
Rarity pried open the lid a crack, like an explorer coming across some ancient buried treasure.
Peeking out through a hole in her hat, Applejack couldn't help but watch.
She casually noticed that this particular trunk was also completely dry, just like Rarity. It seemed to be the only one that was sheltered from the rain. She wondered if that meant anything.
But it was only a scant observation.
Just before Applejack could raise herself up enough to peek into the box, she found herself quickly laying flat once more, shifting her hat back to its original position. Rarity had started to turn around, and Applejack didn't want to be caught snooping.
Not right now, anyway.
There was pride on the line.
"Applejack, dear," Rarity trilled, pulling out an old, leathery set of bags with the Apple Family emblem stamped on the sides. "I kept your saddlebags nice and dry in my chest!"
Applejack's hat slid off her face, landing and flopping onto her chest.
"Y'wut now?" she asked, propping herself up to take a closer look.
Instantly, the chest slammed shut.
"Ah… your- your bags." Rarity grinned, eyelids sloped sideways, as she floated them toward the pony in the corner.
"That why you were late?" Applejack asked with a tiny modicum of suspicion, watching them land gently at her lower hooves.
"Ah… yes. If you must know, I was at the pond, just thinking over… some things, and that beastly cloud flew straight at me! Why, it caught me by surprise, and… and I just had to make sure some… your things were dry, so I had to do a little bit of emergency repacking."
"Thinkin' over some things, huh?" Applejack repeated. Hard to believe that a mere thought could distract Rarity from something as big as that cloud. You know, the one that Applejack had warned Rarity about?
Applejack unbuckled one of the two bags, pulling out a small candle and a flint lighter. She always came prepared. The light from the candle was a welcome addition to the room; the darkness drew larger as time went by.
"Why would those dreadful weather Pegasi push thunderclouds all the way out here, anyway?" Rarity complained, continuing to throw random boxes into the walls. Their space was slowly dwindling.
"It's just a stray," Applejack explained distractedly, grabbing her bag and pulling it toward her head. In a pinch, it made do for a pillow, even though it was filled with some rather hard objects. It was more about support than comfort. "I mean, seems t' me that this one ain't bein' controlled by the Pegasi."
"Oh, is that why it's so large?"
"Well, yeah." Applejack rolled her eyes as she lowered herself onto the pillow stand-in. "D'ya even have t' ask?"
"I was… only trying to make conversation, dear." Rarity sniffed, moving some crates to the very middle of the room.
In the wake of the events of earlier that day, Applejack found her patience wearing thin, and any sort of interaction of this nature didn't help in the slightest.
It was one of those kinds of questions – one which Rarity already knew the answer to. Everypony knew that stray clouds didn't get this large unless left to their own devices. It was why the forests of Everfree were constantly blanketed in greys and blacks, and it was why that cloud looming above was both a good half-mile wide and thundering like an earthquake in the sky.
It threatened to rip apart everything below it with constant bolts of lightning and wash away the Earth with a deluge that came thick and fast.
Rarity was just doing what she always did, and started a line of conversation whose singular purpose was to have a conversation.
There was nothing wrong with small talk, of course, but not when it came at the expense of the mood. It was the surface of it. It was the airs put on. That was what Rarity was after.
It was the want to make small talk not so that it could lead into anything else, or to be courteous, or for any reason that it was for. It was just to fill a space that, at this moment, didn't need filling.
She'd never been interested in anything deeper than that.
And that's why it hurt ever so much.
"Stop it, you silly pony," the harsh whisper told herself.
"I'm sorry, what was that?" Rarity asked, looking over her shoulder at Applejack's reclined form.
Applejack placed her hat back on her face to obscure the grimace she had. "Nothin', Rarity. Just talkin' to myself. Keep doin' whatcha doin'."
Rarity scratched her head, but returned to her bags, prying them open to check if the rain had ruined any of their contents.
It was a noisy, messy ordeal, but at least it filled the space with the echoes of industry. Eventually, the even tempo of Rarity's work milled in with the pounding of the rain, and the emptiness in Applejack's head was crowded with raw sound.
She felt like she was floating on a giant leaf in a gentle river, the warm water lapping and licking at her back and hooves. It was comfortable, cooling, and the motions of the ebbs and flows pushed and pulled her in nature's very own cradle.
Mist and smoke filled her head, blocking out the troubles in her life.
All the worries about how she was going to get to Dodge, or who would come rescue them, or that ever-present dread of what might happen…
They were shrouded. They were blanketed and kept away.
And for that night, her mind had allowed her to rest, to sleep easily without the torment of another thought, letting her slip quietly into a light slumber while being carried away by a moonlit stream.
Rarity smiled as she watched Applejack start to breathe heavily from under her hat. The poor dear was so worn out and so tired. She was keeping so strong. And they were in a nasty old predicament indeed, but perhaps… perhaps it would be best to continue on with the plan. After all, by the time they were rescued, there would be no more time to be alone with her.
No time at all.
Rarity nodded. She'd make up for it all. She'd find a way to make it better tomorrow morning.
She'd make it happen.
A beam of light struck Applejack in the eye as it shot neatly through a gap in the wall and into the hole in Applejack's hat. It was a perfect, straight arrow, a narrow golden dart that jolted her into awakening.
The little pony shook her head, blinking the sleep from her eyes and shuffling out of the way of the beam. She didn't know what time she fell asleep last night, but by the position of the sun, it seemed to be around eight in the morning.
She usually awoke to the crowing of the cockerels back on the farm at the break of dawn, and so she felt uneasily heavy-headed from having far more sleep than she was used to. She cranked her neck left and right, giving it a quick pop as she worked out the kinks and stretched her muscles.
The conditions were far from adequate for what she would consider a comfortable rest.
But yet, she had managed to sleep right through the torrents.
The rain had gone away – the cloud had floated on sometime during the night. And at some point during that same night, the candle must have been put out, for it was set aside on one of the many crates where it sat alone and un-melted.
But rogue weather was very tricky – there was no way to tell if it wouldn't just decide to come back again.
It would be best to make use of the current span of clear weather to do the things that needed doing.
Giving herself one final stretch, she clambered to her hooves and stared at the room.
She found that she was alone.
There was a small patch on the opposite side of the room where Rarity had clearly been sleeping, if that could be the right word to describe it. All the dirt in the area where she had lain was spread aside with her continuous contortion, and there was clear evidence that she, as well, had a night just as uncomfortable as Applejack's.
It was a curious thing, for it had meant that Rarity certainly was feeling as out of place as she normally would in this situation, but at the same time, not a single peep did she make during their sleeping hours. There wasn't a cry, a call, a whine or a complaint. She had even kept her movements so still that Applejack couldn't hear them over the pattering rain.
And like a fort, the luggage remained placed in rather odd locations. There was the cubical construction in the middle of the room, and the two lengths on either side. It appeared that Rarity had intended to leave them where they now sat.
The thought of helping Rarity pack up crossed Applejack's mind, but…
Oh Rarity, Applejack thought.
Don't do this to me.
Her eyes trailed down, down to her hoof, where there was a small lace kerchief tied to her ankle. It was the one she had sprained yesterday, and she barely felt the cloth through the numbness of the area. It was light and wispy, made out of the most delicate silk and embroidered along the edges with what Applejack easily recognized as Rarity's hoof-work.
It was as white and clear as she was.
But yet, there were those extravagant stitches along the border, ruining function with flagrance.
With the finesse of a pony used to working with tools, she untied the cloth – which wasn't tied on too tightly in the first place – and held it in her upturned hoof, the piece of cloth resting there like a fish on a platter.
Applejack felt a tingling in her head, and a little jolt of electricity passed behind her eyes as she stared at the item, as she swallowed the dryness out of her throat.
Her hoof jerked a fraction of an inch toward her face.
And she stopped, hesitating.
But then, as if she were merely an impartial outside observer, she could do nothing but stare in fear and apprehension as the hoof jerked, ever closer in small movements, until the cloth rested upon her nose.
It wasn't a deep breath. It wasn't even anything stronger than how she normally breathed, but she drew in some of the sweet, flowery air through her nose, her eyes riveting open at the crassness of the idea of what she was doing. But yet… she was doing it, if only to grasp at a single, fleeting, ephemeral moment.
"Auh!" Applejack cried out suddenly, throwing the kerchief off her face and onto the boxes in front of her.
She stood there, embarrassed at nothing, blushing at herself. Ultimately, she closed her eyes, and bowed her head low in shame.
She was slipping.
Slipping back to that time long ago.
She promised. She had made a promise to herself.
And she intended to keep it.
But the smell… it was undiluted. It was fresh and clean. It was exactly what she wanted. It wasn't bombarded by perfumes and scents and colognes of all kinds – it was just a piece of cloth that had been with Rarity, and upon it was nothing else.
Her chest tightened.
She needed some air. She needed to leave. She had to get out. This was a horrible place to be.
It was stuffy and full of her things.
Let's just go.
Applejack turned, pushing past the building blocks and stopping short of the door.
Standing right in front of her, as silent as she had been the entire night, was the source of her frustrations, her curls bobbing as she flicked her head demurely. Not a hair on her mane was out of place, and not a single fleck of mascara strayed out of line.
She'd probably woken up early just to do this. She'd woken up, tied that thing to her hoof, and went to do something flippant and fanciful.
Behind her she pulled along a floating miasma of various objects, all bobbing along through the air, wrapped in a shroud of magical energy.
Applejack looked from Rarity's happy face to the mess.
"Oooh, look what I found," Rarity chittered joyously. "Lovely things, wonderful things!"
Not a single trace of last night's events was to be found on Rarity's face, or in her actions, or reflected upon her mood.
Applejack couldn't help but feel a bit of chagrin for that, the most shallow of reasons.
But it was the way she just waved everything off. To her, things, problems, issues… they all slid off her like water off a duck's back. She never carried any guilt, any apologies, and never took it to heart.
"What is all… all this?" Applejack asked, starkly, looking at the junk.
"Oh, just some things that I thought could… freshen up the place," Rarity stated, floating the items down to the floor, while she looked around and considered where each item might go.
There were bits of wood and old hollow baby tree stumps. There were brush flowers and stray metal wires. There were slices of log and pieces of rock. Out of all the junk there were only two things that might have been of practical use.
"Rarity, those…" Applejack pointed out with a weary voice, approaching the bright red berries that Rarity had gathered.
Rarity brought them forward at Applejack's attention, settling them on the ground as they nestled in a bed of leaves.
"Oh, yes! I see you noticed. I found some berries, and I have some fresh water too. I'm sure they'll make for an absolutely scrumptious breakfa–"
"Rarity, these berries are poisonous," Applejack said, cutting her off just in case. She hadn't meant to be rude, but there was a dire need to be curt at this point.
With a quick move of her hoof, she stepped on them, releasing a cloud of red spray into the air. Almost instantly, a foul odour filled the hut, and the spray turned black before it even had time to settle. The plump red flesh of the tiny little fruits shrivelled and darkened, and their skin wrinkled and dried before dropping off like rotten skin.
"Shadeberries," Applejack continued, wiping her hoof on the floor. "Look good, up until ya put one in yer mouth, and then... well, that happens."
"How did you…" Rarity muttered in astonishment, "I- I thought they were currants…"
"They sure look like it. It's the leaves, Rarity. Shadeberries have leaves that darken a little at th' tip."
Rarity's mouth hung slightly open, but she said nothing more; instead, she flew a small bundle of leaves and twigs over to Applejack. It had been weaved together nearly expertly into a water-tight bowl, and such it was, for it carried a small portion of water within. She nodded with a guilty expression, as if seeking approval.
"Where'd you get th' water, Rarity?" Applejack intoned, once again dreading the answer.
"From the pond. The water was so clear, like a mirror and–"
"Did'ja drink any of it?" Applejack asked with alarm, raising her head to look Rarity in the eyes.
"Why I… there were fish in the water an-"
"Rarity!" Applejack snapped. "It's a simple question. Did'ja drink any of it?"
"N- no," Rarity replied. "But why…"
Applejack breathed a heavy sigh of relief, her heart calming down.
Another hoof shot out, kicking over the bowl and destroying the frame. The water mixed with the remnants of the berries, creating a black sludge that slowly crept towards a crack in the floor.
"Water's no good. It's stagnant. Means t'say that no matter how clear it looks, if you'd drank that, you'd be throwin' up all over y'self within th' hour. Probably full'a insect eggs and th' like."
"In- insect eggs?" Rarity squeaked.
"Don't matter that there were fish in it. They can live in things we can't. We're just humble ponies, after all."
"Oh, I just- I just… I mean…" Rarity sighed, looking at the remnants of her efforts drip into the crevasse.
"Listen…" Applejack swept back to her sleeping corner, where she'd left her saddlebags. "I have some supplies in my packs here. Some tack; a canteen of fresh water. You go ahead and take it. Y'all don't know the second thing about livin' off the land. Besides, I'm sure you won't be happy with anything but the best. I'll go out and scour for somethin' t' eat. You can have what I brought."
"Just do it, Rarity. Please. Just for once, listen t' me and do it, alright?" Applejack plucked the bags up in her teeth, throwing it to the center of the room, where it landed on the luggage with a thunk.
"But what about you, Applejack?"
"I know what t'look for. I know what fruit you can eat around here. I spotted some bushes yesterday when I was… when I was lookin' for ya." She grimaced, reminding herself of the terse event.
"And what of water? If there isn't any other source…"
"I'm sorry, what?" Rarity raised two eyebrows.
"Cacti, Rarity. They got water in 'em. Sorta like a sponge. In a pinch you could just milk out th' juice and drink it."
"That doesn't sound rather appetizing…"
"Listen," Applejack started turning over the bags, emptying its contents all over the platform, "we probably got a few days before help comes. I know how t' take care of myself. You don't. Take my supplies."
"Take 'em, Rarity!" Applejack glared.
Rarity nodded, keeping up the smile. This time, though, the smile reflected nothingness. She didn't look happy anymore. She just looked like she was smiling.
"Alright, Applejack. I will."
"I'm gonna go out and try to gather some stuff for myself, alright?" Applejack swung the bags over her back. "I have a bad feelin' about this here cloud. I got it in my gut that it's gonna come swingin' in for a second pass tonight."
"Oh, but Applejack," Rarity interjected, stopping her from leaving. "Your hoof, why… you couldn't possibly.... oh."
Her gaze trailed from Applejack's naked hoof to the cloth on the table.
"Oh, I see… you- you're fine, then. I'm glad for you," she quavered.
"Listen. I'll be fine, okay? That bandage…" Applejack trailed off. There were a lot of things she could have said at that point, but nothing would have really been the truth. And with the way she was feeling right now, it would have been very clear she would just be trying to say something to make Rarity feel like what she had done wasn't entirely pointless.
"I'll be alright," Applejack said, turning away. At least she meant what she said.
"Alright, Applejack, but please be careful. It's terribly dusty out there."
Applejack opened her mouth to ask her what being careful had to do with dust, but decided against it. Instead, she shook her head free of cobwebs and brushed out the door into the bright morning sun.
The room was plunged into silence.
And it was for a while that Rarity stood there, playing with thoughts in her head.
Finally, she was alone.
Finally, she could be by herself.
She gasped, a sudden breath, as a sweeping cold flowed over her coat and all the way into the depths of her body. A hoof flew up to her mouth, which she bit into to prevent herself from vocalizing the sudden wash of chill that flooded her lungs.
Her heart beat strong as she looked toward the black swill that was seeping into the cracks; she had been close to making herself seriously ill.
But yet, this was not the cause of her racing pulse.
It was falling apart.
Yesterday had been… unfortunate.
And today might have been even more so.
It was only intervention of a truly divine spirit that allowed her to escape it. But the whole plan, the whole idea, like sand falling off a hoof, was coming down.
She would not let that happen. She had to finish this tonight.
She had promised herself that it would come to pass, and she would do whatever it took to make sure it did. She had to.
She had to.
Without it, there was nothing left.
But just as it was easier to change the subject when she was being accused by other ponies of wrongdoing, so did she find it easy to change the subject at her own hostile introspection.
Harsh emotions and pained reactions were swept under a smile, and she distracted herself fully in the tasks ahead. For there was no time to consider anything else, there was no time to muse on the ramifications of her actions, and there was no time to break herself over the possibility that she might fail.
What if she failed?
Rarity screamed out loud, shrill, squeaking in a sudden burst that flowed directly into laughter. She let out a few hearty titters that sounded as genuine as glass was to a diamond, attempting to force herself into happiness.
Quickly, she built up a pace and dove into her project. Why, this house was absolutely dreadful! It certainly could do with a bit of sprucing up! Thank goodness she had brought all that stuff in with her. It would take her no time at all to make this place actually feel habitable.
And she even had a few things in some of her cases to finally complete what she had intended with the placement of the luggage – she would have utilized them the previous night, but it would have been rude, and she had decided to sleep on the floor just so that Applejack and herself could be in the same scenario.
Oh, and of course, plugging all the holes in the roof and walls, and getting rid of that disgusting black gunk on the floor… there was nothing like a bit of housework and a bit of tidying up to get the blood flowing!
But first, Applejack's things!
Rarity trailed over to the small cluster of equipment that Applejack had left for her, which she started dividing into organized groups that went into different areas of the room for further sorting.
She neatly packed all the things away – a couple of travel-sized tools, bits and bobs, an apple seed sample packet, and other things that were probably used in the farming trade that Rarity had never laid eyes upon before.
But she kept three things upon the table.
The water bottle – a green, bulbous canteen full of fresh Ponyville well water; a small stack of hard tack – biscuits designed to satiate maximum hunger but were quite low on taste; and a small red and white chequered piece of cloth that Applejack brought along with her in case she ever needed to tie something to her forehead to keep the sweat out of her eyes.
The food she kept aside; but between her hooves she clutched the real treasure.
Bringing the fabric up to her face, she took in a big, deep breath, inhaling all the wonderful smells that raced through her head and ticked her fancy.
For the most of it, populated areas had weather that was monitored and controlled by the Pegasus committee, and as a result, problems were kept to a minimum.
But the Pegasi didn't fly this far out to the middle of nowhere, where the ground grew dry, thirsty, and cracked from the lack of moisture.
It was only due to rogue clouds like these – which were more common than one would think – that the plains got any rain at all. They flew around roughshod and unguided, being pushed around only by the wind. It was only when they flew close enough to a settlement to cause alarm, would the weather Pegasi take care of it.
The cloud had only just made a pass, but already, the ground was once again dry and crumbly under Applejack's hooves.
The soil sucked it up, and drank heavily of it, happy to be refreshed after weeks of naked sun.
Applejack hoped that their disappearance had been noticed by the ponies on the train, although it was rather unlikely. Once their tickets were punched, for the most, there was no further monitoring required. They certainly didn't take care to note who had got off the train. At the very least, she had hoped Rarity's insane amount of luggage would have caused some heads to turn at the Ponyville station, and hopefully somepony'd remember and wonder why all that luggage wasn't there at Dodge.
But it was a stretch, and a humble bunch of wishful thinking.
If she remembered correctly, the next train from Ponyville to Dodge was in two days, which meant at the very least, it would take two days for her friends to realise something was wrong and come looking.
Twilight would probably ask the questions, investigate what might have happened, and come to the conclusion that they had dropped off the train during the breakdown.
Pinkie would spur the others into action, eventually zeroing into the most logical choice of what to do accompanied by shouts and screams.
And Rainbow and Fluttershy would scour the area and spot them from a mile away…
That was the most likely scenario. Perhaps she was wrong and some help was on the way right now, but she had to prepare for the worst.
The cloud that was circling the perimeter of the town didn't make it any better. It was never safe to be out during a thunderstorm, and this one was as ferocious as they came. It crawled along the outer rim, displaying its teeth, ready to jump back in at any time and endanger anyone foolish enough to stand beneath.
It was for that reason that Applejack gathered as many plants and fruit as she could, stuffing her bags full of nourishing flora, and carried them back to the hut. By that time the sun had already made its way across the sky and it was long past mid-day.
To be fair, she had taken as much time as she could afford; she was still feeling the after-effects of yesterday's altercation. Applejack was one who wasn't that easy to anger, but was also one who found it hard to return from her voyages into extreme temper. It was a mix of her in-built stubbornness and an unwillingness to forgive herself for her own behaviour – it simply troubled her in a vicious circle in which her own annoyance at herself caused everything around her to set her off more easily than it normally would.
But the ever-present looming of the cloud had meant she needed to cut her breather short and return to the hut.
And it was time to face down her dread and head back to Rarity.
Somehow Applejack knew that there was going to be something waiting for her when she returned. Somehow she knew that she was going to have to face a truth that she didn't want to. Or was that 'couldn't'? Was there a difference anymore?
It'd been so long that it was hard to tell.
But each step became harder than the last, and that look upon her face showed all the more signs of struggle as the tiny little house loomed into view.
As she approached, she almost considered staying outside.
And as she entered, her heart sank.
Her heart sank at the gorgeous sight that unfolded before her.
Her heart sank at the candle that sat, lit, in the middle of the boxes in the center – except that they were now a table, weren't they? What with the white linen sheet stretched across the top.
Her heart sank at the two trunks that she had placed against either wall, except now they were beds, covered with layers of random clothing and topped with a small throw pillow each. Sure, they would be a squeeze, but they were definitely far more comfortable than the floor.
Her heart sank at the watertight building. In a pinch, Rarity was just as good at repairs as Applejack was. After all, mending clothing was far more technical than mending a hole in the wall, and the only reason why Rarity didn't do it more often was just because she didn't want to get her hooves dirty.
The candle flickered as the cloud billowed above, like a rushing wave travelling across the sky, plunging the day into night.
And immediately it brought the rain, which stayed outside.
And behind it all was the pony for whom her heart sank the most. She stood there, perfect as ever, in a frilled dress, studded with black stones and bordered with fancy lace. It was a glossy gossamer thing, and showed off Rarity's assets perfectly in compliment.
Applejack finally remembered to breathe.
"Well, Applejack," Rarity trilled triumphantly, "what do you think?"
"Oh, Rarity," Applejack whispered sadly, "why'd ya have ta do this…"
The sound of rain, at first sounding like paper being torn, but then later billowing up into a low-toned static, tore through the hut, as the candle flicked in the gently-moving air.
Teeth grinded against teeth while Applejack's brow furrowed into channels of stress and frustration.
"Applejack." Rarity pressed forward. She could see Applejack's reaction clearly, but she had come too far, and sacrificed too much. "I need to tell you something."
Applejack shook her head, frowning at her companion.
"I- I have made a gift for you, and…" Rarity said, her voice losing confidence by the second. Her sultry wavering tones degraded into pale shambles of their former self, and she ended up sounding like a choking bird.
A small package, wrapped up in spotted paper and tied with a huge bow was lowered to the space between them.
Applejack pushed it away.
"Rarity... please," Applejack said, her throat closing up. "I'm beggin' ya. Don't. I know what yer gonna say and I'm… I'm beggin' ya."
"I have to!" Rarity yelled, throwing the package down onto the table.
"No ya don't!" Applejack shouted back. "I know what this is about and… please! I'm askin' ya for both of our sakes, please don't say it!"
"Applejack," Rarity stated, drawing in her last breath and holding firm, her tone dropping to a harsh vocal imprint that echoed in the rain.
"Rarity…" Applejack sighed. She was beaten.
"Applejack, I love you."
The words rang in her ears, and she shut her eyes up tight, but even then, the flickering candle kept throwing shadows at her from out of the corners. She placed a hoof across her face in a vain attempt to stop her head from splitting open.
"Please, say something," Rarity asked, ragged breathing passing over dry lips. "Please."
But all that came to reply her was the water flowing off the roof.
"Please," she repeated. "Please!"
"What do you want me to say?" screamed Applejack, lifting her head and staring so deeply at Rarity that she jerked her head back in shock. "You think you can just say things like that and… and what? What were you even tryin' to do?"
"I…" Rarity muttered, in shock.
"Did you really think this was the best time?" Applejack kept yelling. "After all the manure you put us through? After all you did?"
"Applejack, please," Rarity begged, desperation creeping around the edges of her tone.
"No!" Applejack shouted. "Don't give me that! There ain't anythin' you can say, anythin', that's gonna explain yourself!"
"But I know you have feelings for me too, Applejack!" Rarity pleaded. "I just wanted it to be special for when I–"
"I had feelings, Rarity! I don't anymore!"
Above, a shot of thunder careened through the hut, charging the air with a flash of light and shaking the foundations of the building.
Rarity blinked, not fully recognizing the depth of what Applejack had said until she said it again.
"I… I don't love you anymore, Rarity," Applejack said, lowering her voice in a pale defeat. They were the words that both of them didn't want to have been put out. Even Applejack, for declaring it suddenly made them more real than all the times she had said it to herself in her head.
At least while they existed in her mind, they could still be denied by some part of her deep down. But now, they were out, heard, and real.
"I don't love you anymore," Applejack whispered, her eyes feeling heavy.
Rarity's head began travelling. The ever-present smile that she usually put on had long gone, and all that was left was her roaming eyes and shaking hoof, as it came up to her mane almost instinctively to push it out of her face. But even then, all it did was to upset it, as the strands of her hair came loose to fly free and out of control.
"Why?" Rarity asked the floor, meekly.
"Because you ain't the pony who I fell in love with no more," Applejack explained, shaking her head.
Rarity didn't say another word, sufficing herself to keep staring at that one spot on the floorboards.
"I don't know who you are anymore, and you don't know who I am," Applejack continued. "And that's the length and breadth of it."
"Of course I know you!" Rarity cried. "And surely you know me! We've known each other for years, Applejack, how could it be any different?"
"Yeah… that just proves that you don't at all. I've been payin' attention. I know you knew I fancied you back then, but over these last few months, you didn't notice that I stopped, did ya?
"Used to be you were just a prissy fashion queen with a bit of a haughty streak. We all knew you were just actin' like that. Now? You changed, Rarity. Changed into… something I don't recognize at all."
Once again, Rarity kept looking down. She knew exactly what Applejack was talking about. But yet, as the thought travelled through her mind and to her lips, she found herself saying something completely different.
"I haven't changed…" Rarity declared, softly.
"Stop it, Rarity. Just… stop it." Applejack sighed, face scrunched up. "That's just the thing. All this… stuff you say. All these things you do. If you knew me at all you'd know I don't care for none of these things. I hate all your runnin' around and evasion and all your pointless talk.
"I hate how you ain't never sorry for a thing you did in your life. I hate all your fakeness, Rarity. That ain't what I like about a pony. And it occurred to me you ain't gonna like a pony who ain't your kind neither. You ain't even apologized for strandin' us out here. In fact, you ain't even offered up a simple explanation as to why you were so plumb stupid as to leave the train in th' first place!"
"I did it for you!" Rarity suddenly burst out, her turn to let loose frustrations. Applejack didn't even flinch. She was too tired to. "I did it for you¸ okay?"
"How was any of this for me?" Applejack cried out in frustration.
"I wanted this to be perfect! I just wanted it to go perfectly for you! My mane was upset in the train and I needed a mirror! There weren't any on the train so I left! How was I to know that the train would be fixed so fast?"
"How were you to know? That ain't even the point! The point is you don't go runnin' off! Do you even have a single considerate bone left in your body?"
Rarity stamped the ground in frustration. But to whom the frustration was for was unclear.
"I don't care about your mane, Rarity. I don't care about all of… of this!" Applejack gestured to the room. "I don't care about make-up or dresses or how nice the room is. I don't care that you have a fancy present in nice wrappin'! It don't suddenly make things better! You just can't act the way you want all the time and expect other ponies to be okay with it later!"
"I…" Rarity muttered.
Say you're sorry.
Admit you're wrong.
"… I don't act like that," Rarity defied, a small tear running down her face.
"That's it." Applejack shook her head. "I can't take this anymore. Rarity, I'm sorry. But there ain't ever gonna be anything between us. You ain't the same pony no more."
Suddenly, panic returned, as another thundering crash rocked the skies above.
It was the same panic that threw Rarity every time she felt in danger. It was the same panic that controlled her. But this time it swung her in the opposite direction.
"No! Applejack! Please! O- okay! I'm sorry! I'm sorry, alright? Please, just give me… give me another chance, Applejack. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for leaving the train. I'm sorry for how I acted," Rarity begged, franticly, stuttering over uncontrollable breaths. She pushed past the table unsteadily, bumping into it as she approached Applejack.
Applejack moved away.
"Please! I'm sorry!"
"And you think I can believe that?" Applejack huffed, walking back around to the other side of the table and facing away.
"No, no, I am… I can be who you want me to be. Just tell me what it is, Applejack. I can…"
"No, you can't," Applejack spat out. "You can't just be who I want you to be! You either are or you ain't, and you ain't! You can be whoever you wanna be right now. It doesn't matter anymore. Just be the one who shows up their friends at the most important competition of their lives. Just be the one who steals gems away from baby dragons. Be the one who chases away her own sister. Your own sister, Rarity!
"You know who I fell in love with? It was that pony long ago who stayed up all night makin' dresses for the six of us just because she was kind enough t' do it. And now, you can't even make Twilight a birthday present because you're so wrapped up in your own business, and you didn't even have the guts to tell the truth about it!
"It's pretty obvious t' the rest of us who you wanna be, and… you know what? The one I fell in love with is gone. So you know what, I just don't care no more."
When Rarity looked back up, her heart couldn't help but clench at the sight of Applejack wiping streaks of tears away from her eyes. It was the truth that hurt the most. And through those tears did Rarity realise that nothing Applejack said had been easy.
And therefore it had been nothing but the truth.
You're useless. Once again, failing at everything. Causing problems because of your greed and your selfishness. It's no wonder that you aren't loved. She probably never loved you in the first place.
Rarity shook her head, clenching her eyes tight to drive away the phantoms. But she couldn't hide behind a laugh any longer. The smiles just wouldn't come out.
Yeah, that's right. Little Rarity, all alone, as usual. Useless filly. Never once could you stand by yourself. Why not just pretend like nothing's wrong, like you always do? Why not just indulge in yourself like you always do? That always makes you feel better, doesn't it?
Hiding. That's all it had ever been about. Each disgraceful action leading to the next, all in an attempt to hide.
Look, see how you broke her heart? Look at what you've done.
Applejack stood there, trying to keep a brave face, but with every blink she gave, more and more tears ran down, and those tears told the whole story.
How are you ever going to get out of this one? Rarity, you selfish, selfish…
Rarity took a step back, not understanding what she was doing.
And then she swung around, wrenching the door open without a second's thought. Her mind had emptied itself from everything except the words that kept shouting at her, and Rarity tore through the wind and the rain, pushing out into the fall and disappearing into the darkness, all in but a flash.
"Rarity!" Applejack gasped, turning around at the sound and scrabbling towards the door. She winced as she came down hard upon her injured ankle again, but flew out the opening in an effort to keep up.
And for the second time in those two days, she was on the chase for her friend, who had taken off without a single word of warning.
Each drop hit so hard that it hurt, especially the ones that pelted her in the face and the eyes. The scattered dust got into her nose and throat, and the damp only made it harder to rid it from her face.
She pulled her ragged Stetson down a bit more, but the brim was already wavering in the wind, and the rain poured through the hole, and while it could keep a bit of the wet out of her eyes, it wouldn't help her if she was struck by lightning.
The bolts came every few seconds. Not all of them hit the ground; most of them were content jumping around inside of their host. But one might, at any time, and they were likely to hit the tallest thing standing up on the flat, flat plains.
"Rarity!" Applejack shouted again, over the storm, as the howling pushed both her words and her body aside effortlessly.
But she had to walk. She had to press on. The cold of the night helped to relieve some pressure off her swollen leg, but it still prevented her from running at full speed. All of her strength was put into fighting back the storm.
And she trudged onward, not bothering to yell any longer.
There weren't many places to run off to in this settlement, and most of them were incredibly dangerous indeed. But with a limited number of choices, Applejack made a guess and pushed toward the pond.
Like a world shrouded in veils, the darkness only lifted in a small area around Applejack. Everything else was impossible to see past a certain distance, but as she approached her destination, a familiar ghostly figure was revealed by the side of the pond, soaking wet and immobile.
Applejack stopped for a moment; a foolish gesture driven by instinct.
And suddenly did Rarity move, swiftly, and viciously. Applejack saw her silhouette grab at the lapels of her dress and tear at it, pulling as much as she could, and even using her magic to finally rip it off her back. It was no easy feat, especially now that it had been drenched right through.
She threw it to the ground and stamped on it, yelling inaudible threats against the horrid thing, before finally flinging it into the pond where it was swallowed by the bubbling darkness.
Her hair fell over, plastered to her head in strands that stuck together, and in the frequent explosions that came from above, Applejack saw her rub at her face, hard, fast, as if she were trying to claw it off. She held her hooves to her head, and finally lay it down at the water's edge, curled up in a weak, pathetic ball.
The thunder that crashed shocked Applejack back to life.
She blinked, as the image finally cleared in her mind, and she tore forward again, pressing past the curtain of rainfall and landing on top of Rarity's back.
She had to. Keeping low was important, and it was the only way her voice could penetrate the insulation of weather.
"Get off me!" Rarity screamed, struggling and slipping along the bank into the pond.
"Rarity! You have t' come back! Ya gotta get outta this storm!" Applejack pleaded, curling a leg around her neck and yanking her out of the water.
The ground ran with mud.
"Just leave me!" Rarity wailed, too far lost in her emotions to make any sense. "I have nothing left! Let me be!"
"Yer gonna die out here, Rarity!"
"S- so be it!"
"Rarity! Come back and let's talk about it, alright? Please!"
A bolt of lightning flashed in the sky, followed by a rumbling that was directly overhead. It shook the ground and caused Applejack to duck out of terror.
"N-no! You hate me!" she sobbed, lowering her head back into her legs.
There was no time. There was no argument. Applejack, fighting against her injured leg, fighting against the struggling form of Rarity, hefted her up onto her back, where she lay there like a stuffed doll, finally giving up her resistance and letting Applejack have her way.
And step by agonizing step, she carried Rarity back to the hut.
Applejack deposited her onto the ground, roughly, panting from lack of breath and lack of air. She could have drowned on the way back with how heavy the rain was, and it was only through an absolute stroke of luck that they weren't injured by lightning on the way home.
All Rarity could do was cover her head, sopping and wet, with her front legs and curl up into a ball.
Applejack too, dropped to her knees to take that chance to rest, where she landed heavily behind Rarity.
For a moment, all she could see was the un-rhythmic rise and fall of Rarity's shoulders as she breathed.
The open door had put out the candle while they were gone, and they both lay there in the darkness, neither speaking nor moving.
But she had to be the one, didn't she?
She had to take the first step. It was the right thing to do. The honourable thing to do.
At least Applejack knew how to follow through when she felt guilty.
"Listen, Rarity," Applejack finally said, after a few moments of gathering up her confidence, "I'm sorry about what I said just now. I guess I was just angry."
The puddles of water that flowed off their bodies drained down the floorboards.
"I mean… I was really mad, Rarity. Not on purpose, but… I'm really confused too. I really did use to have feelings, and it just hurt when I had to hear those words comin' from ya. I… I just reacted badly. I just wish…"
Applejack cut herself off. There wasn't anything she could really say at this point. Nothing she said would change anything.
I mean, what could she wish for? That Rarity had said it earlier? And then what? They'd have gotten together and it would have hurt even more that she'd change in front of her.
What else? She could wish that Rarity hadn't changed this much, but in the end, she just had, and that was the end of that.
Wishes were just that. Wishes.
They never came true, and you can't change the nature of a pony.
The voice that came after that short pause of silence came as a surprise in how different it sounded.
There wasn't a sing-song quality to it. There were no melodic chirps or accentuations. There was just Rarity, weak, sad, and thoroughly lost to herself.
"I know," the voice said, from the shadowy figure that lay just in front of Applejack.
It was Applejack's turn to deny a response.
"I know I've been changing," said the voice, with a level of purity; stripped of all farce. "That's why I needed you so badly."
"Me?" Applejack asked.
"Yes. I... I suppose it's silly now, to think about it."
"But you were always the one I wanted to be."
"You wanted to be me?"
"In a way, I suppose."
"I don't… understand, I'm sorry."
Rarity shifted slightly, pushing her face a bit deeper into her legs. It made her a bit more muffled, but no less honest.
"It's why I like you so much, Applejack," she said, the tears in her voice apparent. "I- I just… you were always everything I wasn't. I couldn't… I just knew…"
Applejack looked toward her hooves, guiltily. She wasn't sure why.
"Oh, A- Applejack, I'm so so- sorry," Rarity sobbed. "I've been an ab… absolute beast."
"Naw, you… you haven't," Applejack replied, answering from her heart instead of her mind.
"Yes, I have. I know I have. I've always known. I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
"It's… it's okay."
"I thought… I felt comfortable."
Applejack pondered on this for a while, the moments passing before she finally decided to ask.
"What do you mean?"
"With you, Applejack. I felt comfortable with you. Only when I was around you I felt… brave. I felt confident. Because you were. Because of how truthful you are. I need you, Applejack. You're kind… and loving… and everything I wish I could be again.
"I know I made such a mess of things. I know this is all my fault. But… I needed tonight to go perfectly. Because if it didn't…"
"What, Rarity? What would happen?"
"I mean… what do I do now? Without you… I don't think I can ever improve."
"Rarity… that… that ain't a good reason to love somepony. Don't you get that? You can't just love me because I'm somepony you want to be. It's more than that. It's about understandin' the one you wanna be with. It's about knowin' the one you love. Pretendin' just ain't good enough. And that's why it ain't gonna work out."
"I don't know who I am anymore, Applejack. I don't know the pony I'm turning into. And without you… what do I do now?"
"You just… get better. You don't need me for that. Like I said, that ain't the reason why two ponies should get together. We'll help you. All of us will. But… maybe a relationship just ain't gonna work out."
The hiss of rain continued to shower over the roof, and there in the near-pitch darkness, they both fought back the cold.
"But I still want it," Rarity said, sadly. "I still want it."
"I… I don't know."
The door creaked, fighting back the wind.
"Rarity?" Applejack asked, after a pause.
"Can I see your face?"
"I just want to. Please. Let me just look at you for a while."
Rarity didn't stir. She didn't move to reveal herself, but didn't oppose Applejack when she gently lay a hoof on her shoulder and rolled her around.
Her pale, white face, now free from makeup, looked away from Applejack, eyes averted in some kind of shame. Her mane pressed flat against the sides of her face due to the wetness, and she looked not one iota less plain than any other pony to be found anywhere in Ponyville.
Applejack bit her lip.
Rarity blinked, a long blink, her eyes remaining shut for a few seconds before they fluttered open again to reveal her perfect eyes, unframed by false lashes or her traditional blue mascara.
A stone was cast down Applejack's throat, and it landed neatly upon her heart. It weighed it down with a thousand tons, and once again she found herself wishing for things that wouldn't happen.
The pale, white beautiful face turned, saddened, burying itself once again behind a cage of legs.
Why, Applejack would have asked.
Because I can't bear for you to see me this way, Rarity would have replied.
No words were said. None were needed. The actions and the sentiment were clear.
Applejack knew that Rarity still didn't get it.
It was that mascara-free face, those pure eyes and that innocent expression that Applejack wanted most of all, and it was those things that Rarity thought she hated.
It was that one instinctual need to hide that part of herself away. In that, Applejack knew that the Rarity she loved would always be hidden.
"Is there really nothing between us?" Rarity tried, one last time, muffled words through tear-stained flesh.
One last time did she attempt.
One last time did she ask.
And one last time did Applejack shake her head.
"I'm sorry," she repeated. "I just don't think you know who I am."
Rarity nodded, no longer troubled by it. She'd hit that point where she just wanted to confirm it again, and she didn't feel burdened by the answer.
"Then… we should get some rest," Rarity said, pushing herself up to her hooves. "I… I prepared a bed for you. You may use it as you wish."
The Unicorn walked to her own trunk, full of dresses and shirts and padding that stood in for a mattress. It was rather spacious, and Rarity found no trouble in huddling up against the far side, burying her head in the swathes of cloth.
Applejack just stood there watching. Looking at Rarity as she climbed in, thinking of things as she huddled up with herself.
Theirs were two lives set apart. It was a strange sort of circumstance that caused them to miss each other coming down opposite directions on the same road. Perhaps if she had been part of Rarity's life a little earlier… or perhaps if Rarity hadn't changed…
Maybe they might have collided.
Applejack wasn't against the idea.
She would have loved to be in love once more.
But if Rarity only wanted her because of arbitrary reasons… that wasn't real. There wasn't anything about this that was real. Not the mistake that caused the mess to this 'room' they were in. Not the presentation given earlier to the kerchief that Rarity had tied around her ankle.
Everything was dressed in fraudulence and fakery.
And just as Applejack had said earlier, there was one truth that she believed in. You can't change the nature of a pony.
Rarity had gone too far, and lost too much. The burden of herself had warped her into who she was now, and there was no going back.
This truth was what hurt Applejack the most.
And she wished. She wished.
She wished for some trace. She wished for some sign.
It was Applejack's turn to reach for the answers she already knew.
Not a single trace of the old Rarity was left. Not a single piece remained.
Oh, but how I wish there were.
At her hooves lay the present that Rarity had given, in its obscenely bright wrapping paper and its gaudy bow.
Applejack kicked at it.
At the very least… maybe.
She picked it up and put it on the table, the soft paper rustling as she placed it there and stared at it.
Well… it was the thought that counted, Applejack supposed.
She dug into the package, tearing off the paper, and taking full view of what Rarity had given her.
And for a minute, the rain took over her world.
"Applejack?" Rarity asked, in the darkness, the showers from above cascading down.
"W-wh-ut?" Applejack replied.
"Are you crying?"
"N- no, y'-y'-y'idiot! I-I ain't cry… uh…"
She couldn't finish her sentence.
She'd already taken the necessary few steps toward Rarity, and without even thinking, pushed her roughly aside, forcing herself onto the narrow bed.
And she threw her legs around her friend, as silent tears fell upon Rarity’s cheek.
"What's wrong?" Rarity whispered, laying there in the darkness, too stunned to move.
"I… I made a wish," Applejack burst out tearfully, burying her face into Rarity's shoulder, her words intermingling with heartfelt sobs that came from the deepest part of her heart.
On the floor lay the hat that Rarity had made. It was a plain, simple hat, in brown leather, exactly like what Applejack wore, and exactly how she liked it. It was a full replacement of the worn-down, old, tattered hat that she currently had, and not a single thing was changed in the design.
You couldn't change the nature of a pony.
Not at all.
And perhaps Rarity hadn't.
And in that, Applejack held Rarity tighter, sniffing, and soon Rarity joined in too, not even needing a reason why.
Together they lay, shaking and shuddering, and crying over laughs, not speaking a word, but each completely understanding what they were trying to say.
And in each other's embrace they stayed, until the tears finally ended.
Two Days Later
The speck turned into a tiny bit of blue, and that tiny bit of blue turned into a Rainbow Dash. Her multicoloured trail was easily recognizable, and before she even reached the town, Applejack and Rarity had already seen her.
Rainbow must have seen them too, as she slowed and banked down, flying past houses with finesse and depositing herself straight onto the dirt right in front of the pair.
"There you are!" Rainbow exclaimed. "We've been looking for you for ages! Lady Jubilee told us you never arrived, and the train ponies didn't remember ever seeing you two leave the train! So Twilight checked out the train roster, and guess what? She noticed your train broke down and figured something must have happened!"
Applejack quirked an eyebrow, smiling to herself.
"A- and!" Dash went on, landing next to Rarity and Applejack. That's weird. Rarity was wearing Applejack's hat. She never did that.
"And then Pinkie started yelling about finding you because you might be starving or dead or…"
"Sounds 'bout right," Applejack chuckled, giving Rarity a kind of glance, who responded with a titter of her own.
"And so Fluttershy and I took off and headed to find you! I hit the skies and well… I saw you from the ridges down south!"
"Where's Fluttershy?" Applejack smiled.
Rainbow returned that with a frown. "Um… I don't know! I lost her three miles ago!"
Those were her friends, alright, and she loved every single one of them. She knew them so well, and she could always tell exactly how things were going to turn out.
And the one that she knew least of all?
Well, that was a whole new adventure, just waiting to happen.
"So… are you guys okay?" Rainbow asked. They seemed to be far happier than she would have thought, having been stuck together in the desert for three and a half days.
"We're just fine, Rainbow. We got a lot of luggage to ship outta here, but we're fine."
"Oooh, yes, and that nasty old cloud over there has been tormenting us to no end!" Rarity chipped in.
Same old Rarity. With her perfect hair and her made up face.
But she nodded that made up face to Applejack, who looked back with a new kind of outlook.
Rarity was who she was. In the end, they'd talked about it a bit more, and it was unfair for Applejack to completely strip Rarity of everything that made up who she was. But all that Applejack required was for Rarity to realise who she was… where it counted.
Besides, if Applejack had to tell the truth, under less stressful situations, that playfully poised side of Rarity wasn't all too bad. It was a little bit… alluring, sometimes, and maybe Applejack could get used to it in small portions.
But in the end, it was still Rarity on the inside whom she loved, and she was going to stand by her to make sure that she never lost track again.
Applejack leaned into Rarity for a moment, taking in a breath as her smell filled her mind.