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Out in Ponyville

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This is written in 1st person and every chapter changes point of view, so keep an eye out.

Chapter One
++ Rarity ++

I pride myself in being an excellent observer of the pony condition. After all, how is one supposed to be a fashion expert without fully understanding the soul within? Clothing should reflect the pony and who do I know better than my friends? Sweet, spring-like Fluttershy and bouncy, silly Pinkie Pie; brash Rainbow Dash; studious, powerful Twilight Sparkle… and Applejack.

Honestly, I have the strangest relationship with that mare. We’ve been peers our entire lives, a somewhat contentious on and off again friendship as much a part of our lives as the families we were born into. Thank goodness for that nearly disastrous slumber party forced upon us by Twilight Sparkle! That seems to have finally brought us around to seeing eye to eye. And, in the end, all three of us did have a wonderful time.

Come to think of it, I’ve barely seen Applejack since that fateful night. That’s odd, since I know the harvest is over. I know this because I actually helped! Really, that stubborn mule of a pony needn’t have nearly killed herself rather than ask for help bringing in the apple crop. Even if it made a terrible mess of my mane and tail! Not to mention the state of my ponicure! Oh well, it was worth it. Besides, I had the pleasure of flirting with that handsome, if rough, brother of hers.

So where has Applejack been these last couple of weeks? Surely Big Mackintosh’s ribs have healed up enough that he doesn’t need his sister’s babying. And I would swear that I spotted their parents just the other day. One can’t miss as elegant a pony as Pink Lady!

A sudden flurry of snow sends the few walkers scrambling indoors. Odd, I don't remember hearing from the pegasi that there was a storm scheduled. Shivering, I move to retreat into the warmth of my shop, but wait… someone is still out there in the sudden wild wind. Is that Applejack? What in Equestria is that mad pony doing? She’s not dressed for the cold or the rising wind and she’s… skulking? What is this, some sort of bizarre new game with Rainbow Dash? Perhaps some sort of cabin fever?

Well then, no time like the present to save a mad pony from herself! In an economical flurry of movement, I have activated my unicorn magic to float over my fabulous winter gear and quickly gallop out the door. Now where has Applejack gone? She was headed west, towards Sugarcube Corner, so that is where I will begin my search. The sweet shop is packed with chattering ponies, all escaping the sudden cold. Well Mr. and Mrs. Cake will certainly do amazing business today! Spotting a very busy Pinkie Pie at the counter, I wiggle through the crowd to smile at my earth pony pal. “Hello, Pinkie.”

“Hey, Rarity,” she replies with unusual gravity for a personality that is normally as bubbly and happy as her candy-pink coloring and curly mane. Obviously, the shop is even busier than I thought.

“Have you see Applejack come in here?”

For a moment, Pinkie Pie pauses in her work to look thoughtful. “No. Actually, I don’t think I’ve seen Applejack in a long time. Tell her howdy McHowdy when you find her.”

That’s that then; time to take the hunt elsewhere. Now, if I were Applejack, where would I be headed? Oh right, as if I have a clue how that mad mare thinks. Oh well, Twilight lives west of here, she can be my next stop.

There is something delightfully bracing about this weather, the first true harbinger of winter. Could Applejack simply be out for a walk? No, that would not explain the skulking. I maintain that something odd is going on. In moments, I have arrived at the well and spot my quarry… and things get even odder. Applejack is plopped down on her haunches with forelegs crossed on the lip of the well, chin resting on them while she stares moodily at… the library?

Is she still feeling badly about Twilight's slumber party that we almost ruined with our bad behavior? I still feel sheepish about that. Or the insanity of a lone earth pony trying to bring in the entire apple harvest herself? Honestly, I still cannot fathom what on earth Applejack was thinking, working herself half dead before asking for help. Ah well, I can understand that she is more accustomed to being the one helping, not being helped. If my guesses about her mental state are correct, why would she have not spoken to one of us about her feelings? Why sit in the snow and mope? Beneath a nearby awning is a table and chairs where I can sit like a civilized pony and ponder my friend’s bizarre behavior. What could have even this uncouth agriculturist sulking with her rump in the gathering snow? While staring at the library? Instead of speaking with our newest pal that actually lives in said library? After all, I know for certain that Twilight is not at all irritated with Applejack. None of us are. Why is she isolating herself? Really, this group of friends makes me feel like a herdmother some days. Though, if anyone would internalize, it would be Applejack. And, well, perhaps Rainbow Dash.

Applejack hasn’t moped like this since we graduated from secondary herd school, and we were all prone to melodramatics back then. Thankfully, we’ve all outgrown that… mostly. Though a pony certainly wouldn’t know it looking at Applejack right now. The flaxen tail has twitched through the powdery snowflakes in an attempt to warm a flank and obscures the trio of bright red apples that is her cutie mark. The expression on her face is positively… lovesick.

Scattered memories make my eyes narrow thoughtfully, but now is the time for action, not over thinking. Trotting soundlessly through the snow, I smile when Applejack startles violently enough to nearly knock herself over. “Oh, uh, hi, Rarity, hi,” she stammers, barely able to meet my eye. Her expression goes puzzled when I grasp my lush, heavy indigo scarf to expertly drape it over the orange-furred withers.

“You’ll catch your death.”

“Mmm.”

The wordless response does not surprise me; after all, Applejack is hardly the most loquacious of ponies. Wincing with distaste, I tuck my tail up to protect my pristine white hide and gingerly lower my rump to sit beside her. Applejack stares at me like I’ve lost my mind and I can hardly blame her. Doing something messy like sitting in wet snow is not at all in character for me; nor is holding my tongue. I feel that waiting her out is the best course of action for now. After a moment, I give her a shoulder nudge and smile out of the corner of my eye, delighting when she smiles back. It only flashes across her features for a moment before that far-off melancholy returns, but it tells me my silent offer of support has been accepted.

A seemingly long time passes in the cold, though we are thankfully mostly protected from the bitter wind by the surrounding buildings. The only pony movement is the flutter of manes and scarves and one golden-orange hoof drawing distracted patterns in the snow. Applejack breaks her silence mere moments before I am ready to throw in the proverbial towel.

“So, I uh…” she mumbles and I have to strain to hear her over the elements. “Ah’m… havin’ some… troubles.”

Wisely, I maintain my silence and placidly meet her almost accusing glare. Considering our checkered history, I suppose I can hardly blame her for expecting some sort of tart response. Once Applejack is assured of my neutrality and acceptance of the situation, she again returns her longing gaze to the library, grown obscured by the snow. Time passes again and I stifle impatience and remind myself of our recent closer friendship and that it is valuable enough to suffer for. At least for a little bit.

“Fillies ain’t supposed to like fillies.”

What a strange thing to say out of the blue like that. Okay, Rarity, time to buck up and live up to being the Element of Generosity. What could she possibly mean by that statement? Fillies aren’t supposed to like fillies. I turn that over and over in my mind as I note that she’s grown very tense beside me. Clearly, much rides on this interaction and I am afraid that I may be misreading the script. I must be careful or send this recalcitrant mule back into her shell.

She’s still staring at the library.

Oh.

Oh!

I just can't resist teasing her just the teeniest bit and slyly eye my nervous friend out of the corner of my eye. “You have a crush on the new girl.”

Green eyes wide, Applejack’s head shoots up and she stares at me in abject horror. “I do not! I... I...”

Swallowing my smile, I raise a placating hoof. “Oh, stop fussing, you great, silly thing. Twilight is interesting and completely unlike anypony who has ever come to live in Ponyville. If there was ever a pretty little filly who could finally drag your recalcitrant heart from its dark barn, it would be an exotic treat like our new pal.”

I have never before seen Applejack so utterly slack-jawed with shock before and it is truly hilarious. Since this would be an unforgivable, insensitive time to laugh, I fight down my amusement and merely smirk. Again, Applejack’s expression turns accusing and I dearly hope that I am not wrong about this.

“You ain’t surprised by this.”

Secretly, I’m relieved that my educated guess is apparently correct, or at least close to the mark. “Oh please, Applejack. I’ve known you since we were itty bitty foals, opposite as could be, and we’ve still managed to stay mostly friendly over the years. No, I never consciously noted that you liked fillies more than colts, but frankly, it was never something I gave any thought to.”

That softens her up a bit, the tense muscles relaxing now that I have proven to be trustworthy. “Yeah, okay, that’s fair. Never gave you any real cause to wonder. Never gave myself real cause to wonder, not seriously anyhow.” She pauses and the sweetest smile spreads over the pretty muzzle, crinkling up the little freckle spots on her cheeks. Awww, lovesick Applejack is one of the cutest things I’ve ever witnessed. “I’ve had crushes before, but not in years, not really. The farm keeps me so busy that I ignore bein’ alone with no one to love.”

Cringing from the heartfelt confession, Applejack collapses to the wet ground and throws both forelegs over her eyes. Oh, how part of me wants to tease as she’s so adorably pathetic, but I absolutely will not. Instead, I give her a friendly nudge and say sincerely, “She would be lucky to have you.”

“Who would?”

Heart racing in surprise from the unexpected voice and nearly getting my head knocked off as Applejack rears up, I jerk around to see the very pony we have been speaking of eyeing us quizzically.

Oh, this should be interesting…

“Oh! Hi, Twilight. Uh, hi…” Applejack stammers, blushing furiously and my fellow unicorn smiles sweetly.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, but I couldn’t help but wonder why the two of you are sitting out here in the snow. I could offer you some hot apple cider, or at least a towel and a chance to warm up.”

A long, awkward pause makes Twilight’s smile falter and me roll my eyes. A sharp prod in the rear end gets Applejack to step forward and glare over her shoulder at the offending horn. My dangerously sweet smile makes her blush more. “Oh, I’m quite sure that Applejack has no desire to walk home in this storm, but I have yet to feed Opal and she will destroy my shop if I neglect her unduly.” Giving Applejack a quick, serious look, I add, “We’ll talk more later if you need to. In the meantime, you ponies have fun now!”

I leave them behind as I trot off, chortling to myself. Oh yes, that was well worth a good soaking in the cold!

 

Chapter two
++ Twilight ++

Honestly, when Spike told me he’d seen our two pals out in the snow, I’d scoffed at him. After all, he can be prone to flights of fancy, particularly when Rarity is involved. That crush shows no signs of fading, the silly boy. My number one assistant had been adamant enough that I finally squinted through the blowing snow. Color me surprised to see the familiar patterns of Rarity and Applejack out by the well. What else could I do but go see if everything was okay?

It was a little startling to have Rarity scamper off so quickly, but I don't mind. She lives just on the other side of town and has her sister to be concerned about. Sweet Apple Acres would be a far greater hike for Applejack. As much as a repeat of our sleepover would have been fun, I'll be thrilled with just Applejack's company. I feel that we have much in common, yet we are different enough that she fascinates me. There never seems to be time to get closer to this intriguing earth pony and her existence so close to the natural rhythms of the land. I have always been so dependent on magic and things at the farm are the opposite of that. Being so endlessly curious and book learned, I want to know more about how she lives. I want to know more about her...

“I, uh, I should really get home. Granny’ll worry so,” Applejack stammers and the wave of sharp disappointment makes my throat hurt. Some of that must show on my face, because she stops backing away, shuffling her rump through the snow. Had I been pursuing her?

“Oh, okay,” I force myself to say quietly, trying to keep my dratted ears from falling flat with disappointment. “Will you be okay in this cold? With bare hooves?”

Conflicted, Applejack chews at her lower lip and I can’t help but watch the unconscious movement. Does she really dislike my company this much? It’s disheartening really, especially since I really do want to get to know her better. Even with practicing on my group of friends here in Ponyville, I have trouble with the rules of relationships. The static words in books are far more comprehensible to me. They always have been.

Doing my best to force cheerfulness, though I fear I’m failing miserably, I back away with a nod. “Okay then. You better get moving before this gets any worse. Be safe.”

A sharp, implacable yank on my tail stops me short, whipping my head around to find out what is going on. Imagine my surprise to see Applejack with a mouthful of blue and pink hair. Her head is low, her ears lower, and her expression so hang-dog that Spike would be impressed. “Ah’m sorry, Twilight,” comes out muffled as much from the heavier snowfall as my tail. “I don’t mean to be so dang rude. Just ain't myself today.”

There’s something in her expression, in her supplicating body language that sharpens my focus, makes me strangely hyper aware of her closeness, the tension on my sensitive tail. Releasing the blue strands, Applejack steps closer, breath hot against the star-burst shaped cutie mark that is a summation of who I am.

“It’s cold out and I ‘magine Spike must be worried ‘bout you.”

The moment feels strange and surreal. The snow muffles everything, making me feel as though we are the only two living things in the whole world. I’m having trouble concentrating and I really don’t understand why. Without thinking, driven by some sort of instinct as foreign to me as winged flight, I turn and press my nose to hers.

The magnetic eyes are as green as spring leaves and I feel like I could get lost in her forest. “Your nose is cold. Come inside.”

Silently, she nods and we walk together, shoulder to shoulder.

The blast of heat in the library is quite a shock after the plunging temperatures outdoors. Spike flounces over to fuss over us both. “I was getting worried! Did Rarity come with you?”

Applejack’s chuckle warms me as she leans down to give the little dragon a warm look. “Sorry, Spike. She had to head home to make sure that mean ole’ cat of hers didn’t wreck the shop.”

Poor Spike is the very picture of dejection a moment before perking up. “Okay. Hey, you two come in and get warm. I’ll run a hot bath. That’ll help!”

“Sorry ‘bout your clean floors, Twilight,” Applejack demurs as Spike runs off. She’s dripping everywhere, the soaked scarf trailing on the ground. It’s a strangely adorable sight. Now where did that thought come from?

“Don’t worry about it. You’re warm and safe now, that’s all that matters. Shall we try slumber party part two?”

Sheepishly, she chuckles and nods. “Ah’m not sure I’m up to party games t’night.”

That's pretty obvious as she looks worn out and sort of jumpy. Maybe I can get her to talk about what’s bothering her. After all, isn’t that what friends do?

With minute effort I magic our sodden clothing to drape neatly on the fireplace grate to dry, not even noticing that my horn glows as it always does when actively using my unicorn magic. Then I lead the way to the bath where we can both warm up. Applejack remains quiet and introspective, her mind clearly a million miles away.

“Are you okay?”

It’s amazing how tentative I sound… how tentative I feel. For a long moment, Applejack doesn’t react save her eyes twitching a little nervously. I feel like I’m doing something wrong, or have done something wrong, or I’m failing somehow as a friend…

“Stop yer brain wrackin’, Twi,” Applejack suddenly chuckles and she’s looking directly at me now. “It ain’t like that.”

Now I’m completely confused and complain, “But I didn’t say anything.”

“Nope. But you got one lousy poker face, pretty girl.”

It’s all too true and I rest my chin on the tub edge to pout. “Yeah, I know. Princess Celestia always thought it was amusing.” Yes, my royal mentor had tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to teach me that calm, unruffled face to show the world. She would also tell me, with her characteristic patience and kindness, that I would learn in time.

“It’s cute.”

“You’re sweet, Applejack.”

There it is again, the melancholy thoughts behind her green eyes. I don’t know what they mean, but I can see them, almost feel them. My instincts are trying to tell me something, give me some information about these strange emotional waters.

“It is me,” my voice accuses with no input from my common sense. Applejack cringes like I’ve bucked her in the teeth and I’m aghast. Crushed by the rejection, hurt by how she’s acting, I do my best to escape, the mess of water be damned. Once again, she is too fast for me, yanking me flat to the slippery floor with a bite to the tail.

“Dang it, Twilight! Please, please gimme a chance to try and explain. This is really hard for me.”

She’s dripping all over me where I’m sprawled on the floor, her stronger body towering over me almost aggressively. Without thinking, I rest my front hooves on her legs and consciously remind my equine instincts not to kick her in the belly. I see the comprehension dawn over the freckled face and she steps away with a murmured apology.

“Well, you’re obviously upset about something.” I hadn’t meant to sound so accusing… or whiny.

“Ah know, ah know. Just let me get my brain on track and I’ll come clean. In the meantime, we should dry off.”

Right on cue, Spike skids in, nearly dropping a pile of towels nearly as tall as he is. “Whoa!”

With a coiled neck and a strong shoulder, Applejack saves him from a tumble, the towels falling over her face. “Careful there, Spike.”

“Nice catch.”

“Yer welcome.”

She looks nonplussed when Spike jumps on her back to begin vigorously rubbing down the glossy orangey-buff hide. Magic suffices me just fine, animating the thick cloth to wick away the heaviest moisture.

“Hey, you’re really strong,” Spike admires as he crawls all over Applejack’s back and withers. He’s right, of course. I noticed the finely tuned musculature the first time I met her.

“Sweet Apple Acres is hard work,” I comment and she smiles gratefully. I’ve helped enough this first summer and fall to get a glimpse of her lifestyle. It still amazes me how much I enjoyed it. The farm is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I come from a city existence, from a long line of scholars and sorcerers. The earthy existence of a farm is something my books never really made… real.

Once again, the admired muscles are muted as the short, dense fur dries. With a thought, I add a magicked towel to the fray, working on upper neck and forelock. Another engulfs her tail and Applejack actually laughs. “I feel like some sorta froufrou experiment at Rarity’s place. Y’all ain’t gonna weave ribbons in my mane, are ya?”

Enjoying the cessation of the mysterious tension, I magic over my hairbrush to tame the wild blonde forelock and a blue ribbon that earns me a tolerant glower. Giggling, I groom her and tie off her forelock above the big green eyes.

Spike laughs and jumps down to towel off her sides.

“Thanks, you two. Ah’m used to just standing ‘round till I dry naturally.”

“Being friends with a unicorn--”

“And a dragon!”

“And a dragon, has its perks. Now I don’t know about you two, but curling up in front of the fire with a snack sounds like an excellent ending to our brief adventure with the first snowfall of winter.”

Thoughtfully, Spike has laid out even more towels in front of the fireplace where we ponies can rest and finish drying off. With a long, almost grunting sigh, Applejack sprawls out on her belly, hind legs stretched out and front hooves aimed at the fire. I’m content with my favorite childhood pose, the one that made mother always call me ‘kitten’.

“Is Rarity okay?”

Poor Spike sounds so worried! Immediately, Applejack raises her head and smiles at the little guy. “Rarity’s fine, Spike. She was actually helpin’ me with a problem, not the other way ‘round.”

“Oh, that's good. Not that I’m happy that you have a problem.” His verbal stumbling is comical and I stifle a giggle. Setting down two bowls that look too big for his small stature to manage, Spike flops down beside me and picks out an apple to chomp. I’m content with the salad and Applejack tears into a couple of sandwiches.

They both fall asleep with crumbs on their faces.

It’s easy enough to magic Spike up to his little bed, I have plenty of practice, but I don’t want to disturb Applejack. After I’ve tucked in my assistant and picked up after our snack, my pony companion has rolled onto her side, breathing evenly. Hopefully she won’t mind as I lay close and rest my head on her ribs. Beneath my ear sounds the whoosh of breath and the rhythm of her strong heart. What’s troubling this powerful mare? She always seems so strong and self-assured, even to a fault.

And my admittedly rough instincts still tell me that I have something to do with her problem.

I must have dozed off, because I’m startled awake by my pillow shifting and Applejack’s voice murmuring brokenly. Before I can even gather my wits to react to what sounds like distress, she stills and softly my name moans up from her throat.

That gets my attention!

Head snapping up, I stare at my friend, who is now on her back, hooves curled adorably, the left still hooked loosely over my shoulder. Had she been hugging me? With a snort, Applejack blinks awake, looking slightly startled that I’m so close. The imprint of my head in her chest fur embarrasses me, but also gives me a strange thrill.

“Hey,” she murmurs drowsily, startling when I stand to pin her in place with all four limbs. It feels strange and empowering to feel as though I have physically bested this powerful mare. “What’s wrong?”

“You tell me. A moment ago, you were moaning my name.” The accusing edge to my voice isn’t intentional and Applejack’s eyes get nervous and shifty again. So I lean down, pressing my forehead to hers, enjoying the closeness and feeling the press of her skull against my horn. “C’mon, AJ,” I coax. “You can tell me.”

She squirms, brushing against my legs, again chewing at her lip, clearly wanting to talk but still so reluctant. Sighing, I step aside and sit to bemusedly watch her leap to her feet and pace the dim room like a caged wild thing. “Look, I know ah’ve been actin’ like I got hoof in mouth, nervous as a cat and jumpier than a snake, but I just don’ know how to say what I has to say!”

She’s babbling and I find it strangely charming.

“Words are hard here, findin’ ‘em and puttin’ ‘em in order so that I don’t sound like an idiot when I tell you how I feel about ya and what’s goin’ on and Rarity’d be mockin’ me somethin’ fierce right now for not just spittin’ it out. Some Element of Honesty ah am.”

The pacing stops and I stop processing this whole scene and focus on her. Clearly, I’m missing something quite obvious here and I must figure out the puzzle.

“Ah like you, Twilight Sparkle.”

“I like you too, Applejack.” And, strangely, this is clearly not what she wants to hear. Practically prancing with distress, she sways in place, wracked with whatever is eating her up. Honestly, I’m getting concerned and carefully step closer. “Applejack, how is liking me bad?”

Hanging her head, she murmurs barely loud enough to be heard. “Because I want ta be more than just your friend.”

Time seems to slow as my brain goes into a full gallop, processing what I’ve heard. Wants to be more than my friend? How could she be more? That statement doesn’t even make any sense… unless…

“Do you have a crush on me?”

My voice is high-pitched with astonishment, proof that I really am not good at this sort of thing, these dangerous swamps of emotion that I have never learned to navigate well. Applejack makes some sort of a pathetic noise, like a kid goat afraid for its life, and actually starts to shake.

“Yes,” she croaks and looks at me in abject, pitiful distress. Again, for long moments, my mind races, calculating all that I have suddenly learned from this trusted friend. Then, with surprising clarity, the sudden possibilities that she has offered me dawn like spring after winter.

The delighted smile escapes me, unbidden as I stretch out to nuzzle the flaxen forelock. “Okay. I like that. I like you. Give me a chance and I bet I could learn to more than like you too.”

 

Chapter 3
++ Applejack ++

Limp and practically hyperventilating with stress, I can only gawk at a sweetly smiling Twilight. Did she just say what I think she just said? The stress of the day catches up to me and I can’t stop collapsing like a newborn foal. A throaty chuckle makes every hair on my body feels like they're standing straight up in lusty reaction and I can’t help but peek up at my crush. Unbelievably, improbably, impossibly, Twilight Sparkle, my secret crush whom I’ve been mooning over for months now, is smiling at me like I could mean to her what she means to me.

Neatly tucking up her hooves, Twilight lies down in a delicate, catlike curl so close to me that our body heat mingles. Then she rubs her chin over my forelock and giggles sweetly. “You silly pony, getting yourself so impossibly worked up. You should know me better by now. I just need time to think things out and I can deal with anything. Now tuck your hooves up and come a little closer.”

Hardly daring to believe this is really happening, I do as I’ve been told and scoot closer to her warmth. Gingerly resting my chin on her withers, I breathe deeply, making my head swim and my whole body tingle. It feels good to be this close, even better than I’ve imagined over my years.

“So, um, Miss Sparkle,” I hedge quietly, enjoying the tickle of her mane as she coils her neck around to smile. “Might I call on you one day?” Faint puzzlement knits between her eyes and I shyly elaborate. “I mean to take ya out. Y’know, to get to know ya better than just a friend.”

“Like a date?” Twilight is completely tickled with the idea; I can see it in her expression. Seems I’m in for another of her social experiments, like the near disastrous slumber party. Oh well, I knew what I was getting into with this filly… Didn’t I?

Warm and silky, Twilight's warm body is drugging me back to sleep. Beneath my chin and throat, her regular breathing and the faint thrum of her heartbeat are soothing my recent nervous breakdown. She smells good too, which I’ve noted before and really notice now. Clean fur and herbal shampoo and the library smells that always seem to cling to her.

“Of course my answer is yes.”

And with that affirmative to cheer me further, I can sleep.

My dreams run a twisted trail of good and bad. While I’m thrilled at this new chapter in my life, I can’t help but wonder what my family is going to think. And the rest of the gang. Will all of Ponyville get all weird? Will Princess Celestia? And Twilight must have folks somewhere and who knows what they’ll think…

The racing thoughts jerk me awake to the deep dark before dawn. For a long moment I’m completely disoriented, looking around until the dim shapes of the library remind me where I am. Not to mention the presence of the pretty little unicorn who has changed my life so. Before her, I was fairly ordinary, content to carry on the traditions of my huge clan. Then came this peculiar, standoffish city pony and the saga of Nightmare Moon. Never would have seen myself getting involved in something so big, so important to all of ponykind. Who knew that she would put me and my friends in a position to become extraordinary?

Fondly, I cock my head to one side to watch Twilight sleep peacefully. She hasn’t moved much, still curled up like a cat. Dang but she’s cute.

Despite the early hour, I’m wide awake now. This isn’t a surprise as apple buckin’ season isn’t that far away and I’m pretty well permanently tuned to wake early anyway. And… I suppose I really should get home; even if a part of me is truly reluctant to.

“Twi,” I whisper and nuzzle her ear, snuffling until she stirs and giggles sleepily.

“Stop it, AJ,” she slurs and blinks those big violet eyes before yawning hugely in my face. Laughing, I rub cheeks with her and reluctantly stretch to stand.

“Ah hate to leave, Sugar, but ah should get home. Looks like the snow stopped and the moon is out.”

“Wish you didn’t have to,” she murmurs around a lazy cat stretch, showing off delicate filly muscles she didn’t have once. Small town life suits her.

“Me too. But I’ll come back tonight and we’ll tell the others, together.”

“I can’t keep you to myself for a just a little bit?”

It’s the sweetest darn sentiment and she sounds so wistful that my heart just about melts. So I nose her again and smile. “We’ll play it by ear then. Together.”

“Together.” It sounds good and makes us both happy. Briskly, I nudge my new girl towards the stairs near the front door. “Now, I gotta get home. May I come a callin’ on you tonight, Miss Twilight?”

Giggling coquettishly, Twilight actives her magic with a glowing horn and Rarity’s scarf floats out of nowhere to drape around my neck. With a brief touch of her nose to mine, a most pony of friendly kisses, she turns away and takes a few steps up the stairs. When she pauses to glance slyly over her shoulder, I know I was right in telling her the truth about my attraction. No matter what happens, I can’t regret that decision. Besides, Rarity would have rightly kicked my rump.

“I’d like that. Have a good day, Applejack.”

“You too, Twilight,” I murmur back, watching her climb the stairs to her bed before shaking my head and stepping out into the bracing cold. “Brrr! Gonna be a long walk!”

After a chill, crunchy trot home through the orchards that have always been home, I’m back at my family house and have yet to actually go inside. Truth is, I’m nervous. Right now, I’m too raw for questions. And with my folks still visiting, questions are inevitable.

Sure enough, Mama’s voice calls out the moment I open the door. “Applejack honey? Is that you?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Thank goodness. The stallionfolk were all fired up to race off to find you in that storm last night.” She’s as beautiful as ever, my mama, as she steps around the corner to smile. “Ah told them they were bein’ silly. You’re a grown mare now and can take care of yourself.”

“Thank you, Mama. I stayed in town with a friend. Figured it was safer.”

Until I was a grown mare, I didn’t much resemble my mother, though I’ve always shared those big, pretty green eyes. As a foal it was hard to believe we were even related, much less mother and daughter! With my pale, earthy colors, I contrast with her luxurious coat of sunset pink and darker mane and tail. In fact, I have the most ordinary coloring of my whole family. Apple Bloom will look more like Mama; I can see it even at this young age. I favor Pa’s side more, even if his hide is as green as an unripe apple!

Mama steps over to me to give me a gentle kiss between my eyes, just as she has always done. This marvelous lady has always been a mellowing influence on we rougher Apple folk. And she is indeed a lady, just as much as Rarity or any of those snooty ponies that sneer at me and mine. She’s delicate and slender of conformation even after four foals, and I realize that Twilight is built just like her. Boy, I hope thinking about my new girl isn’t making me blush!

“There ya are!” Pa’s voice carries across the kitchen and the foal in me cringes at the censure in his tone. “Ah see yer mother was right, of course.”

He’s gruff, but I love him. “Good morning, Papa. Ah didn’t mean to make anyone worry. Storm caught me by surprise and Rarity persuaded me to stay put.”

He nods and gives me a small nudge as he clops past. “Smart of ya. Just worried.”

“Thank you, Pa.”

Breakfast is hearty oatmeal, liberally sprinkled with honey and dried apple chunks, a family favorite. As though drawn by the wonderful smells, Big Macintosh stumbles in, herding a drowsy Apple Bloom. My big brother glares at me, but is characteristically quiet, but my little sis bounces over for a nose rub. “Applejack! See, I knew you were too smart to have somethin’ bad happen to ya.”

“Well, thank you kindly for yer concern, little lady.”

Giggling, she stands up on her hind legs, putting her forefeet on my chest. “Where’d ya get the pretty ribbon? You never wear those.”

Oh drat! Flushing self-consciously, I resist pawing the silly thing off and smile at my sister, ignoring that Mac has stopped glowering and is smirking now. Oh, he’s gonna needle me about my girlie accessory later; I have little doubt of that. “Twilight was having some fun with me. I plumb forgot it was there.”

“Well, ah like it.”

Incident promptly forgotten, Apple Bloom goes to her chair and gets to work on her breakfast while Mama noses her ears affectionately. It was a tough call for my folks to leave her behind when they had to go to Bridleham down south after last harvest. My grandsire is mighty ill and needs Mama to care for him, 'cause the sour old cuss has driven everyone else away. There was some heated debate about Pa going with her, but Big Mac and I persuaded him not to send Mama off alone. My folks don’t do well apart. They reluctantly decided to leave Apple Bloom with us so that she could continue with school and her usual routines. We’ve been doing okay all this time, even if we kids miss them fiercely.

Heck, Jazz Apple left for that fancy music school of his when he was real young, though certainly not as young as Apple Bloom. I miss my teenage brother sometimes, the artsy airhead! It's been nearly two years since he's been around except a few visits here and there. Wonder if he'll make it home for Winter Solstice. Probably just gonna hang out with Mama and Pa down in Bridleham again. Sigh...

We aren’t the kind of family to dwell on what’s done, so we carry on with the start of our day as though I hadn’t worried them by being out all night. Luckily, Apple Bloom is in a particularly chatty mood and I can give her half an ear while I brood over Twilight.

Part of me feels disoriented that life moves on as though I haven’t had an earth shattering revelation. With little more than me asking, “Barn?” and Mac grunting, “Ah-yup”, it’s business as usual. Well, mostly business as usual. When he leans down and mouths the ribbon, I kick him in the shin. The big jerk.

We politely greet the cows and halfheartedly listen as they ramble at us while we clean and scrub and organize. The farm always gets beat up and messy during the busy, warm times of the year. Winter is for cleaning up and keeps us busy for most of the season. Lunch is status quo, but at dinner I notice Mama eyeing me as though she suspects that there’s something deeper to my quiet today. Thankfully, I slip away before she can corner me and gallop through the half-melted snow to town. It’s a nice run with my hooves in galoshes and my hide warm under a thick winter saddle with a scarf of my own as well as Rarity’s loan. Cold bites at my nose and ears, but I relish it, feeling giddy and coltish, so to speak, kicking my heels and zigzagging among my beloved apple trees. It feels like some sort of lazy summer daydream, Twilight actually taking a chance on me like this.

First stop is Rarity’s Carousel Boutique where I’m actually relieved that she has a couple customers. That should mean that I won’t get a barrage of questions. I’m a terrible liar, always have been, and I’m not quite ready to share just yet. Flashing a grin at my dressmaker pal, I uncoil the borrowed scarf and leave it on her worktable before heading back to the door.

“How did it go?”

Darnit! She caught me! My grin grows, the happiness in me like too much water behind a dam. “I’ll let you know soon, ah promise.”

And with an amused glare of outrage, Rarity lets me go. She’s smart enough to read my giddy smile and is generous enough to let me go for now, but I better ‘fess up the whole story soon or she’ll lecture me until my ears smoke!

Trotting happily across the town square, I acknowledge a few hellos but don’t deviate from my destination. I feel giddy as a foal with too many sweets in her belly, hyped up and happy. Past stores and homes, the massive tree that houses the library stands tall, windows glowing cheerfully in the falling darkness.

“Buck up, Applejack,” I murmur to myself, trying to calm my nerves. Blowing out a huge breath, I clomp my foot against the door and wait.

“Come in!”

“Here we go,” I whisper and push the door latch with my chin to enter the space.

“Hi, Applejack,” Twilight greets me cheerfully, same as she always does, from where she peers over the balcony railing of her bedroom space. “Be with you in a moment.”

“’Kay.”

The very normalcy of the quick interaction is strangely jarring. For a moment, my inner scaredy-filly freaks out that maybe yesterday never happened and I’m having some sort of weird dream… or nightmare. Then two stacks of floating books and the clatter of hooves heralds Twilight’s entrance. Even as she turns her attention and smile to me, the books separate and float off to various locations in the room. It’s easy to forget sometimes just how powerful a sorcerer this young mare really is.

“Hi,” she demurs shyly and it reassures me that my freak out is apparently unfounded.

“Hi,” I parrot back, feeling just as shy. We both stand there like idiots for a long moment until I realize that I’m starting to sweat in my winter clothes. “Can ah interest you in a walk?”

Her smile is answer enough.

Lickety-split, Twilight is bundled up and we’re out in the cold to aimlessly wander. I’m happy to let her lead me towards the river to the west, ducking behind the library and away from curious eyes. The fields are soggy from the half-melted snow, but our boots ignore the muck. Unlike Rarity, Twilight isn’t one to freak out over getting dirty; though she certainly is never thrilled with a mess. She looks beautiful tonight, even in the fading light. Her saddle and hat are dark green, contrasting nicely with her coloring of violet and midnight blue with that distinctive streak of pink in mane and tail.

“Do you miss your parents?”

The question comes out of the blue and I turn my attention to it immediately. “Sure ah do, but it’s worse for Apple Bloom. She was really upset when Mama and Pa had to head south to take care of my grandsire,” I put on my snootiest voice, complete with raised nose, “the esteemed General, Reverent Gala.” To Twilight’s giggle, I revert back to my own voice. “The fact that we share the apple name theme has always amused me. In a gallows humor sorta way.”

“Why is that?”

“Grandsire always though Mama married beneath her.” It still grates, his haughty disapproval of my hard-working pa. Not to mention how Big Macintosh and I turned out so much like him. Shrugging off that old pain, I change the subject. “Gettin’ cutie marks late runs in my family, goin’ back to my Mama. So Apple Bloom’s obsession isn’t entirely dramatics. Mama was full grown and still no cutie mark, so she went wanderin’ all over Equestria ta find her callin'. Amazin’ really, since she’s such a proper lady an all; but she’s tough too, like Rarity.”

“She sounds amazing.”

As we amble, Twilight scoots closer, our ribs and shoulders bumping as we walk, her tail brushing my fetlock like a caress. It throws the wheels off my mental wagon for a moment, before I shake my head and do my best to do justice to Mama’s favorite story.

“She wandered and made friends and did odd jobs to find a place to sleep and stayed with obscure family members n’all. She's too proper a lady to brag 'bout her beautiful voice, but it kept her in work most times. Anyway, she tells that she was on the way to Canterlot when she stumbled inta Ponyville and liked it right off. Then Pa spotted her and it was love at first sight. My Pa is a farmpony through and through, much a part of the land as any tree. But he tells she was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen and was smitten from that first moment. They was married after the harvest and Mac was born that very next winter.”

“Did you ever want to be first?” It seems to me an odd question to ask and my expression must show that because she shrugs sheepishly. “I’m an only child and I always suspected that my parents really never expected me. They always seemed a little… at a loss of what to do with me.”

“To do with you?”

“Oh, it must seem strange to you, with a brother and a sister both, not to mention close parents and your huge extended family and all of that.”

“Two brothers, actually.”

“Really? I didn't know that. Where is the other brother?”

“Jazz is off at a fancy-pants music school in Manehattan. He got Mama's special gifts with music. He ain't around much.”

“Oh,” Twilight hedges, clearly not knowing what to say, so I offer a reassuring grin.

“He loves what he's doin', even if we miss him somethin' fierce. What about your folks?

“Mom and Dad are professional ponies and left me to my books a lot. Which was fine on my part. And I went to study with Princess Celestia when I was only ten years old.”

“Made makin’ friends here a new skill, huh?” So much about her makes more sense now. An only foal? Off to live with a stranger at the tender age of ten? I can’t even imagine it. A shift of my hind feet bumps my hip against Twilight’s, making her walk miss a beat. I chuckle and nose the side of her chin. “Well, yer doin’ a fine job of it so far, Twi.”

“Thank you.” She smiles shyly and startles me with a quick kiss, ever so close to the corner of my mouth. “It means so much to me, the friendship of you and the others. Sometimes you still confound me, but I’ve enjoyed the journey so far.”

“Me too. ‘Specially this part.”

Blushing, Twilight suddenly leaps away to whirl and canter past me, breaking into a full gallop. Oh, so she wants to race, huh? I take the challenge for what it is, an invitation to play, rearing up and spinning to chase that pretty tail. It’s marvelous, uncomplicated fun, weaving through the trees and the chilly, damp grass. Oh, there’s little doubt that I could catch her if I wanted to, but what’s the fun in that?

Giggling and goading each other on, we race about the gathered darkness until Twilight trips up. She clearly doesn’t realize how close we are to the water and I put on a near-magical burst of speed to grab her tail and yank her back. Of course, this leaves me to trip over her and we go down in a tangle of legs. For a terrifying moment, I’m fearful we’re going to end up in the river despite my efforts, but a familiar pinkish-purple glow halts our momentum, gently nudging us into the cattails. There are sure some interesting benefits to this unicorn’s unique magic.

“Oh, Applejack! I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”

She sounds so worried that I can only laugh in relief. We’re tangled up like a cat in Granny’s knitting and soaked from the half melted snow. I wouldn't change a thing.

“Sugar, if you wanted to cuddle, there’s easier ways to ask then nearly dumpin’ me in the river!”

Expressive eyes blink in bewilderment for a moment and then we’re both laughing and laughing until we're breathless. Then, stillness settles and time seems to slow. All my life, ever since I started noticing the other fillies as more than just playmates or rivals, I’ve dreamed about this, dreamed about kissing a girl. The violet eyes are night-dark in Twilight’s serious face where she sprawls half atop my larger body, heart beating against mine, both of them so fast.

“Is this where I kiss you?”

It’s such a Twilight question that I burst out laughing once more. “Yer so funny! C’mere.” Hooking a foreleg around her neck, I pull her close until we are pressed together from nose to forelock, her horn a hard reminder against my skull. It’s certainly one of the more obvious things that make us different. “There ain’t no rush, pretty girl. And no real rules that ah know about.”

“Sure there are! I read up today,” she exclaims earnestly and I swallow more laughter. Of course she read up. “There are many unspoken dating rules, like not kissing until the second date. But there wasn’t a whole lot of information, I have to admit, for someponies in our situation...”

“I’m a not surprised. There ain’t a lot of my, well our, kind around. Otherwise I’d’ve lost you to some other mare the day you waltzed inta town.”

“Flatterer. Is tail pulling your way of flirting?”

“Wha…?” The question catches me off guard and Twilight leans up a bit to watch my expression with a smile. In this scattered moonlight, the sparkle part of her name dances in her mischievous eyes.

“You have to admit that it’s an excellent way to get a girl’s attention.”

“Twilight Sparkle, if pulling a filly’s tail was mah way of flirtin’, I’d be out here with Rainbow Dash. And, while I like Dash just fine even when she’s bein’ a brat, I think I’d have to kill her if she were any more involved in my life. That girl is a handful and needs someone way more attentive than me! Not to mention patient.”

Now she’s laughing girlishly, completely amused by my false outrage, and I can’t help but join in on the hilarity. The giddiness makes me light-headed and my ribs ache from laughing. “You make me happy,” I confess through the giggles, and Twilight quiets and eyes me seriously once more.

“Apparently, it’s mutual, though I’m certainly no expert. Now get up before you get any wetter and colder.”

Immediately, I miss the heat of her body as she stands and briskly shakes off as best she can. It messes up her neat mane and makes her even more adorable. Ya got it bad, Applejack!

 

Chapter 4
++ Twilight ++

With great muscular effort, Applejack jumps up and shakes off the clinging wet, small droplets flying off like shooting stars in the moonlight. She gleams in the silvery light an enticing shade of gilded gold. Had I noticed how beautiful she was? Even before she confessed her attraction and tempted me into take this chance with her? I can’t imagine that I did, or I would have seen the attraction coming. Really, how could I miss it?

Shaking off my distraction, I look around until I spot her hat in the weeds nearby and snatch it up with my teeth. Her mouth curls when I stretch up to place it behind her ears and tug it into place as best I can.

“Thanks, Sugar. Mah head feels naked without mah hat,” Applejack grins and tosses her head a bit to settle the thing exactly where she wants it. I wonder if she’ll ever let me borrow it? Just to be able to say that I got to wear it, of course. Honestly, I’d probably look silly in it, for perhaps no other reason than the horn. “Should we head back to yer place?” she asks me and we turn to head into the forest grove northwest of the town. “We’ll have ta do this again before the weather really sets in.”

“Anytime. I like your company.”

“Me too, Twi.”

I want to be closer to her, but I feel so awkward. In fact, I had run off earlier because I was jumpy with nervous energy. Having the filly games be so much fun had been an unexpected bonus. Little things like this are proof what I missed as such a solitary, studious foal.

All of my near fruitless research has made me realize that this sort of relationship is outside of the norm and the unknown of it all makes me second guess myself. Honestly, it’s not entirely unlike when I first arrived here so lacking in social skills that I didn’t even recognize friends as I made them. Sure, stopping a thousand years of magical darkness had distracted me, but still!

What do I do now? There are so many things I’m so curious about that only she can help me with. I’ve never paid attention to attraction before, I’m not even certain that I really have been attracted to anypony before.

“You still with me, Twi?”

Her voice snaps me out of my thoughts only an inch away from walking right into her and I blush furiously. “Lost in thought. Sorry.”

“Good ones?”

Applejack sounds just a little bit anxious and I regret that I caused that. Her honesty and integrity makes me want to be the same way and I nod vigorously. “Just trying to figure all this feelings stuff out. It takes practice.”

That soft grin makes my stomach feel like it’s full of butterflies. A wonderful, tickly sensation that makes me want to be close to this extraordinary pony. “That it does.”

On the way back to the library, we talk about nonsensical things, letting the emotional waters settle. It’s a good mental breathing space and calms my nerves. After all, first and foremost, I’m completely comfortable with this mare as my friend. Wading into a deeper connection is what's making me nervous. Despite that, I’m drawn to her heat, sidling close enough to feel her brush against me as we walk. It's becoming obvious that keeping this a secret will be nearly impossible and utterly undesirable.

“Hi guys!” Both of us squeak in shock as Pinkie Pie appears from nowhere, hanging upside-down from a tree branch. “You haven’t been around and there’s snow now and we need a party to celebrate ‘cause we haven’t had one in forever and what fun is winter without parties? Here’s your invitations and you know where to find me, ‘kay, goodnight!”

Our pink-coated pal bounces off into the darkness, leaving behind my and Applejack’s bafflement. “Well then,” my date murmurs matter-of-factly, “ah guess we’re goin’ to a party.”

The invitations flutter down to land unerringly on our noses, exploding lightly into glowing sparkles and confetti. It tickles and the absurdity of the typical Pinkie encounter makes me dissolve into laughter. “I guess we are.” Cross-eyed and squinting, I try to make out the time on the little card that sticks tenaciously to my snout. “I think this says seven o’clock.” With a shake of my head and magic lift, the card tucks itself into my mane. Applejack amuses me by pawing off the card stuck to her and shaking her hoof, now adored with the persistent thing. Finally she gives up and reluctantly places her hoof down so that the wet ground can claim the invitation.

“Feel bad ruinin’ the thing,” she comments. “But she had ta go and make it all sticky.”

Snorting and breathless with laughter, I can’t walk for a long moment, I can barely stand. Listening to tough, strong Applejack complain about the card being sticky is just too funny. Applejack just looks at me with bemused tolerance, which makes me laugh until I’m winded and wobbly-kneed. Applejack’s chuckling winds down with my own laughter and we rest there, beneath the huge tree that shielded Pinkie Pie.

“Hey, cowgirl,” I manage to say somewhat breathlessly, half leaning up against her. “Can I make you dinner tomorrow night? Before we go out and be social? I’ll bet that I can get Spike to go over and help set up so that we can be alone.”

"Ah’d like that, Twilight.”

There are no more ambushes on the short walk to home, where we hesitate, unsure how to end the wonderful evening. Shyly, after a long moment’s hesitation, Applejack steps close, twining her neck around mine, rubbing her nose against the back of my sensitive ears. It makes me shiver pleasantly with so many new sensations. Following her lead, I nose under the hat, tickled by her pale mane, and return the caress. “Thank you for tonight,” I whisper and can feel her smile.

“Mah pleasure. And thank you, pretty girl.”

Reluctantly, we each take a half pace back and I realize the date is indeed ending. I want to kiss her, I really do, despite the small research I managed to find saying that good ponies don’t. Now, I’m not one to break the rules, really I’m not, but my friends have taught me that sometimes, you have to change the rules.

Applejack gasps when I lean in to try the experiment of kissing her.

It’s brief, and pretty chaste, but I get the experience and the thrill that goes with it. Soft and lightly calloused, her expressive mouth is warm and, to my amusement, tastes faintly of apples. Honestly, I will never be able to eat those again without remembering this moment. Terrified I’m going to giggle inappropriately, I back up, watching her blink in surprise.

“Goodnight, Applejack.”

“’Night,” I hear her say softly as I retreat to my safe haven and magically slam the door closed to rest my forehead on the wood. My heart is pounding and I’m weak-kneed with all my erratic emotions, but I’m also pleased with myself. I did it! No ‘fraidy pony am I… at least not this time.

“Hi there!”

Again, my heart races as I whirl like a ‘fraidy pony and Spike looks oddly at me. “S… sorry, Spike. I didn’t realize you were home. How’s Rarity doing?”

Does my voice really sound that nervous and high-pitched? Really, I need to get a grip before he thinks I’ve lost my mind.

“She’s good. Looking forward to tomorrow.”

Tomorrow? What’s tomorrow? My mind is a blank and that’s not like me, causing something that feels like panic in my gut.

“Pinkie’s winter party?” Spike’s sarcasm would be grating if I were in my right mind. With my rump pressed to the door, I can cover my eyes with both front hooves and blush with embarrassment and rattled nerves.

“Yes, of course, Pinkie’s party. It should be fun.”

“Are you feeling okay, Twilight?”

It’s a fair question and I’m at a quandary. Spike is my oldest friend, hatched into my life by the unusually powerful magics that I wield. I can’t really think of myself without him as a natural extension. He really must be the first one that I tell about this, but I find myself without the words. It makes me feel ashamed and I hang my head.

Now, Spike can be a pain in the tail, but he can also be incredibly sweet. When short, scaly little arms wrap around my head in a hug, I know this is one of those later times. “I’m sorry, Twilight. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Oh Spike, it’s not that.” Gently holding his small body between my hooves, I look at him seriously. “Can you give me time to think things over? I promise to tell you what’s got me acting so weird in the morning. It’s important, but not a bad thing. I have to talk to the girls too, but you’re first on my list.”

That pleases him, I can tell. With another hug, he nods and lets me be. For such a young dragon, he can be quite grown up sometimes. “Okay. It’s late anyway and we probably won’t get much sleep tomorrow night. Goodnight, Twilight.”

“Goodnight, Spike.”

For a few long minutes I remain there at the door, lost in thought. As much as I’d like to keep this between myself and Applejack for a bit longer… obviously that’s not to be. Fighting for a sense of normalcy, I do my usual routine before climbing into bed. In my window, the moon is dim behind gathered clouds. Do the pegasi have rain scheduled for early morning? My memories play over the almost disastrous slumber party after Rarity and Applejack were stranded with me during a storm. They fought like cats and dogs until they overcame their differences. Does my attraction go back that far? It’s hard to say, as I was so caught up in trying to make the sleepover go book-perfect.

Despite my fluttering nerves about tomorrow, I fall asleep with a smile at the memories of today.

That night, my dreams are chaos, a mix of my heightened emotions with Applejack’s company, climaxing in my impulsive kiss, and the ‘what-ifs’ of tomorrow.

The scent of baked apples wakes me to sunlight streaming in my window. By the angle, it’s late for me. When I stumble sleepily down the stairs to the kitchen, Spike greets me cheerfully. “Good morning, sleepypony. Hungry?”

The table is laid out for what looks like four times our small numbers and reminds me of our arrival day in Ponyville when the Apple clan tried to stuff me until I couldn’t walk. They pretty much succeeded. It’s a scrumptious layout of apple based treats; oatmeal, pies, pastries, and a bowl of applesauce that my dragon pal has already nibbled. “Wow! You’ve been hard at work. This is a breakfast worthy of an Apple family reunion.”

“Not me. Applejack stopped by and dropped all this off. She said something about you both needing your strength today.”

How right that is. “Well, eat up then. This all looks and smells so good!”

Even with our growling stomachs, we can only dent the feast. Oh, it’s a good-sized dent certainly, but there’s a mess of food left. Groaning in happy distress of my fullness, I magically help Spike put away the leftovers and suddenly, my time to confess is upon me. He’s trying to not look expectant, but we know each other too well.

“Spike? Did you ever wonder what might happen if I found someone special?”

The question startles him and makes him think. “You mean like a boyfriend? Well, I guess I would have to learn to share. I did it with our new friends.”

“That you did.” Really, I knew this was going to be hard, but this is hard. What would Applejack do? She earned the Element of Honesty with her straightforward personality. I can only strive for that, taking a deep breath. “What if that someone special wasn’t a boyfriend?”

Not the right path to take, as Spike looks completely confused now. “What are you talking about, Twilight?”

“A couple of days ago, Applejack asked me out. On a date. I accepted and had a wonderful time. We’re dating now.”

I could wish my voice wasn’t so quiet, almost meek. But the ring of truth behind the words is what I need, what Spike needs to hear. For a long moment his expression doesn’t change and fear tickles up my spine. Then his brows draw closer in confusion and I realize that this is really it. My moment of truth has truly arrived.

“Wait… you’re dating Applejack? I don’t understand. You’re both girls!”

“I know, Spike. The idea took a little getting used to for me too. But when I really stopped and thought about it, looked at my feelings, it just feels… right. She makes me smile and feel special and I get butterflies in my stomach when I’m around her.”

Still baffled, Spike just stares and I begin to despair. If I can’t convince him, who can I convince? Crossing his arms on the table, Spike rests his chin on them and I can almost see the wheels spinning in his head. “So, that’s why you’ve been all weird and we got breakfast today. Well, we’ll eat better, that’s for sure.”

I want to laugh, I really do, but I still feel that I’m on shaky emotional ground. “So, you don’t hate me for this?”

“Hate you?” Spike is authentically startled, his head shooting up to stare at me. “Why would I hate you?” The strength of his reaction reassures me.

“Because the relationship isn’t really… normal. No, that’s a bad word choice. Oh! I don’t know what I’m trying to say. There are a lot of ponies that will think I’m a freak now.”

“Twilight,” he says wryly. “There are already plenty of ponies who think that.” Before I can get past shocked to offended, I see the glint of mischief in the emerald green eyes. Then he looks thoughtful and a little uncomfortable again. “I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry. Listen, it is a shock, but I still love you. This will be a little strange for a while, but if it makes you happy, then I’m good.”

Tearfully, I reach across the table so that he can touch taloned little hands to my hooves. “Thank you, Spike. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been accepting.”

“Well, it’s going to take some getting used to for sure, but I like Applejack. And, I guess she’d be the best choice. I mean, Fluttershy is so, well, shy and Pinkie is so, well, Pinkie and Dash is so…”

“Dash?” I can’t help but chime in and we chuckle. “And I’m quite certain I’m not Rarity’s type. Though, she’s the one that convinced Applejack to finally approach me, so I owe her a special thanks.”

Abruptly, Spike claps his hands over his mouth and his eyes get round. “You’re going to tell the others tonight. That’s why you told me now.”

“Yes. If Applejack and I sneak around, feelings could get hurt, simply because it would be keeping a secret. And I don’t want to keep it a secret, even if I’m scared. I feel so good, I want everypony to know!”

I hadn’t meant to get so loud and exuberant and blush furiously, making Spike laugh. “Well, if you and Applejack can make this work, then maybe there really is a chance that Rarity might accept me someday.”

“Stranger things have happened.”

The thought pleases his romantic little heart, that much is obvious. “You’re going to have to come to some sort of compromise on magic. Applejack and her family, well, the whole town really, is so very… earth pony.”

“True,” I muse and realize that I hadn’t even thought of something so mundane. My magic is oversized and I can do things that even other unicorns can’t, but Ponyville was settled by earth ponies and there are many traditions that reflect that. My recent studying up on their Winter Wrap Up customs prove that. Changing the seasons with no magic? It’s unheard of in Canterlot! The Spring Equinox will be fascinating for certain. Will Applejack be accepting of my magic as we get to know each other better? So many questions.

“I’m sure she’ll be cool,” Spike says and I startle.

“Was I speaking out loud?”

“No, but I know your expressions. You helped bring in the apple crop with a little magic and she was okay with it. “

“Well, I guess as long as we talk things out, it’ll be okay, right?”

“Right!”

Oh, how I hope it will be so easy…

 

Chapter 5
++ Applejack ++

I don’t sleep well; haunted by the pleasure of Twilight’s company and the showdown I know I have to face today with my family. A childish part of me wishes that my folks had already headed back south to Bridleham, so that I could break the news to my siblings first. No such luck.

Then I feel bad, because I adore my folks. Because of that, I’m terrified that this revelation is going to cause problems.

And putting it off is not going to help.

After breakfast, I manage to avoid Mama once more and I’m back at my familiar task of cleanup, the cows chatting among themselves as we work. Sometimes, my life bleeds together, a ceaseless cycle with little variation. Well, until Twilight walked into my life. I can’t help the soft smile that plays around my mouth, stifling it in fear my brother will see it.

As though summoned by my mixed feelings, Pa walks in. He’s still a handsome stallion, even older now and with that pronounced limp. His shock of dry grass mane, tail and bushy sideburns are still as thick as any adolescent’s and his apple green coat looks good for its healthy rest in Bridleham’s more humid climate.

“Kids,” he greets us.

“Pa,” we acknowledge but continue our work.

“Applejack, yer mama was askin’ after you.”

To anyone else, that would sound like a passing comment. But not my Pa. He doesn’t give orders in the traditional sense of the word; but an Apple foal learns to listen to every word he says or he’ll swat a rump to get you moving. Nodding obediently, I quickly finish the sweeping of the stall I’m working on and head for the door.

“Thanks, Pa.”

Pale blue eyes watch me go, heavy on my hide. Yep, he really can make me feel like a baby filly all over again. Sigh. My silver lining for the upcoming confrontation is; at least I get to tell Mama first.

Humming sweetly to herself, my mother is hard at work with the apple peeling machine. A pile of multicolored peels waits in the ancient old wooden bucket to be taken to the cows and pigs. She giggles when I sneak over, chest and chin on the floor boards, to steal a peel from the pile and slurp it up, just as I have done since I started eating solid food. Right on cue, her tail swats me across the rump.

“You animal, behave,” she admonishes fondly and I grin around my chewing. I’ve been filching this treat my whole life and the familiarity of the interaction soothes me.

The quiet of the cool day settles over us, a comfortable quiet broken only by the winter birds and the squeak of the peeler.

“You’ve got somethin’ on your mind, Sugar,” Mama finally prompts, her voice characteristically soft. Her accent is different than Pa’s, and we kids are a mix of both.

This is it then. Take a deep breath, Applejack, and get it over with. Even with the internal pep talk, it takes long moments to loosen my tongue. “Mama, you always wanted me to find someone nice.”

“I do.” Her tone is studiously neutral, but her eyes, the summer green shade I share, are watching me closely now.

“Well… I have. But I dunno that you’re gonna be happy about it.”

There’s a long pause, like seeing lightning on the horizon and waiting for the grumble of thunder. “Well, alrighty then. Why won’t I be happy for you?”

“It’s new, and ah have no idea where it will go, but I know ah’ve been fascinated since the moment ah laid eyes on… her.”

Pink brows draw together in confusion and I sit quietly and wait for questions or condemnation. Now that I’m here, I feel strangely peaceful, like what will happen now is out of my hooves.

“Her,” Mama repeats back slowly and her gaze on me sharpens. This is her ‘look right through you’ look. “What exactly do you mean by that?”

“Ah’m in love with a friend of mine. And, no, ah haven’t even told her yet that ah love her. Yer the first ta hear it.”

My familial accent is thick, more so than usual, but I ignore the stress indicator. Mama’s expression would be almost funny in a different context. “I don’t understand.”

“Ah know. It ain’t like ah’ve ever given ya reason to wonder ‘bout me.”

The sharpening of her gaze again makes me question whether that statement is true, but I ignore it. “Someone ah know?”

“No, ma’am.”

Once more, her expression crumbles into bafflement, before clearing again. “That new friend of yours; the unicorn from Canterlot. Ah can’t remember her name.”

“Twilight Sparkle. Yes, ma’am.”

Without consciously realizing that I’m even doing it, I’ve ensured all the apples are in the water bucket smelling of lemons to keep them from browning. With that done, I lean down to slide the yoke over my neck.

“Let me run these into the kitchen and we can take a walk.”

There is nothing my Mama can’t solve with a good, long walk amid the apple trees. She always says she fell in love with Pa and the trees both. Setting the apple bucket out of the way, I grab my warm scarf and Mama’s shawl, trotting out to drape it over her back and withers.

The air is damp as the sun warms the recently snowy ground, but there is a smell in the breeze that warns of true winter coming. Silence walks with us for a very long time, nearly to the edge of the massive orchards. There’s a large stump that has cradled many a tired rump that Mama curls up on. Not caring about the lingering wet, I sit in the grass.

“Mama, ah know this is strange, but it ain’t new. Ah’ve always felt like this. Just, why should ah upset everybody before? There was no one for me and my feelin’s were locked away. Then Twilight walked into my life and turned it upside-down. And Rarity, of all ponies, prodded me into bein’ honest and Twilight actually said yes. It was amazing.”

“How long?”

“Just a couple dates now.” The look of relief on her face worries me. “Mama this ain’t some filly fad. “

Relief fades again and I feel bad for how confused and conflicted I’m making her feel. Really, no matter how many times I looked at this confession, there really is no easier way.

“You are absolutely certain, Applejack?”

“Yes, Mama, as sure as the apples on my flank and my ties to this land and the Element of Honesty that ah earned.”

Even as a filly, I was pretty much a good pony. Oh, I got dirty constantly and bothered Macintosh to distraction and filched apple treats when I could, but it was little stuff like that. Honesty has been a part of me my entire life, long before the battle with Nightmare Moon. No one knows that better than my mother, and she searches my eyes for reassurance of my sincerity once more.

“This… this is goin’ to take some gettin’ used to, Sugar.”

What a relief to hear her call me that adored pet name. “Ah know. And Pa’s gonna have kittens when ah tell him.”

It’s disheartening that Mama only nods, not contradicting me. As resigned as I may be to this situation, I can’t help but wish it were easier.

“Is she nice, your Twilight?”

The question is a mix of tentative and curious. “Yes. She’s also brilliant and clever and can be really funny. And the Princess says she’s the most powerful unicorn magic she’s ever seen. Ah mean, she stopped Nightmare Moon!”

“Is that it then? The reasons why you like her?”

“No. Some of it ah ain’t got words for. This relationship is new and old crushes were just that, crushes. Ah’d never told no filly before her. Coulda knocked me over with a feather when she took me up on my offer. You’ll like her if you give her a chance. She’s real different than me, but that’s one of the things I think will give us a chance.”

Thoughtful quiet settles again and I force patience. Ironically, Rainbow Dash streaks through the sky overhead, looking as though she’s hunting clouds. Several other pegasi give chase and the speed may be a game as much as work.

“Ah almost would have suspected that one, given this news,” Mama muses and I fight down annoyance. Really, her too?

“No, ah’m a little too competitive with that one. And ah’d rather an equal than a brat. Not that I don’t like Dash, ‘cause I do.”

“Opposites can attract.”

“Yeah, true, but mah opposites with Twilight work better.”

For whatever reason, that seems to galvanize Mama, who stands and shakes herself out. She strides to me, looking down where I remain in the grass, her eyes soft. “You’re gonna have some problems, my sweet Applejack. Ah would never want that for you. But ah love you from now ‘til eternity, no matter what. Never fear that.”

The knot of tightness in my chest, the worry that somehow this would change her feelings for me, dissolves into relieved tears. Feeling very much like a vulnerable foal, I raise my nose to accept her maternal nuzzle before leaning my head on her warm chest.

“That was hard on you, Sugar.”

All I can do is nod, eyes closed against slow tears. My throat hurts too much to speak. As she always has, Mama knows me well and just gives me some time to ride out the emotional storm. In fact, she soothes me further by nosing at my mane, almost as though grooming me. All of this soothes me immensely.

In time, calm descends and I can regain my feet, once more my mother’s equal. For another long moment we stand, forehead to forehead. “Yer the best, Mama, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now,” her voice is brisk now, as she straightens up and nudges me to follow her. “Let’s see if we can’t concoct an errand to get you and Apple Bloom off the farm for the day. Ah’ll talk with your father and your brother.”

"But ah..."

"Just give me a chance at him, Sugar. That stubborn old goat can rant at me, then speak more calmly with you later."

“Well, ah s'ppose. Just feels a mite cowardly ta me.”

Mama smiles almost smugly, warming me. "Applejack, sugar, there ain't one sane pony in Equestria foolish enough to think you a coward."

Further warmed by the praise, nonetheless part of me wants to argue, to fight my own battles, but I do see her point. If Pa feels the need to rant like a crazy pony before he thinks things out, Mama wants to spare me that. Though it chafes me, I will take her lead on this and take care of my little sister. Who I also have to explain all of this to.

I knew this was going to be hard, but it is getting extreme.

By the time we return to the house, Mama has drummed up an entire day’s worth of work for me, much of which Apple Bloom can help with once she’s done at school. I know Pinkie Pie won’t have a problem mixing in a Cutie Mark Crusaders sleepover with her party and the youngins can sleep in a bit before returning to school tomorrow. If I have to, I can ask to borrow the quiet of the library to let them sleep.

Saddlebags full of errands, I trot towards town, looking lingeringly at the barn where my father and brother still work. I really hope they won’t get too weird about this. We’re a close knit clan and I rely on that.

Luckily for me, Mama found all matter of little things that had to get done, things she herself could have managed with ease, but keep me nicely busy until the school bell peels out through town. Quickly wrapping up my business, I gallop over to intercept my sister.

“Well howdy there, Cutie Mark Crusaders!”

“Hi Applejack!”

As usual, Scootaloo is neutral, but Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle are happy to see me. All three fillies give me their attention and I smile. “Pinkie Pie is throwin’ a ‘welcome winter’ bash t’night. Scootaloo, go ask yer folks if you can come along and you tell them that we know it’s a school night and we’ll be sure you get enough sleep. Sweetie Belle, yer sister’s gonna be there, so yer probably okay, but check anyhow. And Apple Bloom, yer good, ‘cause this was Mama’s idea in the first place.”

With a happy chorus, the girls race off and I find myself, unsurprisingly, drawn to the nearby library. Memories of Twilight’s sweet kiss leave me frozen for a long moment, lost in thought. A weight suddenly landing on my back makes me prance around in shock, craning my neck to see Spike perched there.

“Spike! Y’all startled me.”

Normally, a pony’s back is an intimate zone reserved for loved ones, but I don’t mind him there. The little face is serious and I pay attention.

“You better take good care of her.”

Oh, so he’s been told then. It’s easy to smile authentically, some of my feelings for his best pal showing through.

“Ah will absolutely do my best, you have mah word. Would you like ta join me in trackin’ down the Cutie Mark Crusaders? I think they’ll end up at Rarity’s place.”

He goes from pleased to skeptical to happy with childlike abandon. Crouching, I grin sassily.

“Better hang on then, pardner. I’m a mite faster than Twilight!”

With a squeak of surprise, Spike grabs my mane as I take off at full speed. No, I’m no flier or wielder of magic, but few ponies are as fleet a foot as this earth pony! Laughing and cheering me on, Spike hangs on like a stubborn burr as I whip around corners and ponydestrians, enjoying the wind in my face.

We cover much of Ponyville in a wandering route before I slow to a high-stepping prance to cool my muscles. Spike giggles weakly and drapes himself over my haunches, draconian spines digging lightly into my hide.

“That was great! I knew you were fast, but that was awesome. Wee…”

Pleased with the run and delighting my young pal, I snort and toss my head, feeling frisky.

“Sorry I jumped on you like that. I should have asked first,” Spike apologizes and slides to the ground. Grinning, I give him a friendly nudge.

“S’okay, Spike. Yer her family, and family makes us all act a mite crazy. You feel free ta jump on me whenever you feel the urge.”

He likes that, nodding almost shyly. Such a cute little guy. Slyly, I press close, cheek to cheek.

“Now, give a pony a hand?”

“Sure.”

“’Pears ah’ve gotten all muddy again and Rarity’ll have mah skin if I go in there like this.”

Spike wields the hose accurately, cleaning off the mud from my legs and belly, jumping away when I violently shake the water from my coat. “Hey!”

“Sorry, ‘bout that!”

We just miss the near-blur that is the hyperactive Crusaders, and enter the Carousel Boutique right behind them. Rarity looks baffled at the wall of words the three girls send at her in an incoherent barrage. My sharp whistle silences the tumult.

“One at a time, fillies.”

Sweetie Belle rattles off her request, telling her sister that mother said it’s okay if Rarity keeps an eye on her. Sighing wearily, Rarity agrees and winces as the Crusaders cheer deafeningly. My body blocks their retreat and I stare them down to some semblance of calm.

“Now, ah’ve got yer overnight stuff in my bags, Apple Bloom. The rest of y’all get yours and head over to Sugar Cube Corner to see if Pinkie Pie needs any help. Alright?”

“Okay, Applejack!” They chorus and I allow them to race past.

“The little monsters,” Rarity sighs tolerantly and I smile at her.

“Y’know, ah haven’t told ya thank you for givin’ me the prod to ‘fess up to Twilight.”

At my words, Rarity looks pleased. “Marvelous! So it worked then?”

Yes, I’m blushing, and fiercely by the feel of it.

“Yes,” Spike chimes in with mock boyish disgust and we laugh warmly together.

 

Chapter 6
++ Rarity ++

I have deliberately avoided entering Sugar Cube Corner and can only hope that the uncanny Pinkie Pie does not yet pick up on my presence. So Spike and I loiter at the edge of the patio where tables and chairs would be in nicer weather. He stayed with me after Applejack left to join Twilight for dinner, helping out in his usual manner. We’re waiting for the new couple as we want a show of solidarity with them. Just in case one of our circle of friends reacts badly to the revelations to come.

Applejack told me all about it earlier, chattering on and on, astonishing me with the river of words. Who knew she had such eloquence in her? She’d even allowed me to do a mild makeover while she unburdened and I thoroughly cleaned up that lovely flaxen mane and got a serious groom on the orange hide. Spike assisted uncomplainingly, which I always appreciate in a helper.

When our friends approach from the direction of the library, I admit they are a lovely couple. Love suits them, putting a bounce in their step and a happy arch in their necks. Luckily for them, few ponies are about on a chilly night like this, or they might walk right into one as they have eyes only for each other. Despite his boyish complaints, Spike sighs dreamily and I grin down at him. It’s good that he approves, as much a part of Twilight’s life as he is.

“Hey pardners,” Applejack greets us.

“Hi Rarity, Spike,” Twilight chimes in. “Would you like to join us?”

With a little cheer, Spike jumps up, not on to Twilight’s back, but Applejack’s. The bigger mare snorts playfully and does a little mock bucking bronco dance that makes him laugh and laugh. “Next rodeo, pardner, ah’m makin’ you part of the act!”

“Really? Cool!”

Like that, we wade into the colorful fray that is a Pinkie Pie party. We are, of course, accosted immediately by our host, ecstatic to see us. “Hi, guys, welcome!”

There is more than our small circle of friends tonight and I can see Applejack and Twilight blanch a little. So I nudge my fellow unicorn and give her a long look that reassures her while Spike hugs his new best pal in the universe. We succeed in getting them to relax and act like themselves again.

As the festivities progress, I can only wonder how no one else sees it. Really, they are so obvious. The closeness, the tender touches, the two of them lost in their own little world. Dash makes a couple of attempts to get a rise out of her usual favorite sparring partner, but gives up with a puzzled look when Applejack simply fails to rise to the bait. Even when they mingle with others, I can sense the pull between them.

As always, it is a marvelous party. “Really, Pinkie Pie, I don’t know how you do it,” I compliment while wiping a napkin over Sweetie Belle’s sleeping face. Really, did Scootaloo need to rub that cupcake icing from nose to horn? The mischievous pegasus filly has fallen asleep in the rafters above, though Dash has assured everypony that she’s quite safe there.

Apple Bloom and her sister left some time ago. Oh not for good, Applejack assured us of that; they just needed to talk. Twilight keeps looking longingly at the door, clearly wanting to be a part of the discussion happening somewhere in the night. We’re curled up on the piles of pillows strewn about for the slumber party, waiting for the Apple girls.

When they do come back, Apple Bloom makes a beeline for me, curling up her solid little body between me, Belle and the pillows. Her expression is disoriented, thoughtful and a little sad, just like her sister’s

“Kin ah stay here, Rarity?” she asks timidly and I have to lower my head to hear her. “Ah just need to think.”

“Sweet child,” I murmur softly and give her drooping ears a nuzzle, “you stay here as long as you like.”

I manage not to startle too badly at a weight suddenly thumping onto my back, smiling as the barely conscious Scootaloo oozes across my shoulders to melt into the Crusader pony puddle.

“Awww,” Twilight coos as Applejack walks over and curls up near the puddle. Twilight stretches her neck out to rub foreheads with her, murmuring something I cannot hear. Only I notice Apple Bloom watching, her sleepy eyes at half mast.

“Sleep, child,” I tell her and give her a little maternal kiss on her forelock. “Tomorrow everything will make more sense.”

“Ya promise?”

“I promise. And if it doesn’t, I will always be here to talk to.”

“Applejack said that. Thanks… Rare…”

Then the last of the little fillies sleeps and I can relax. Little will wake them now and they can be moved once my forelegs start to fall asleep under their weight.

“What’s up with Apple Bloom?” Dash asks from her sudden hover over my head. “Everypony is acting so weird tonight.”

“Not weird,” Twilight chimes up, her face determined and uncertain. “It's just, we have something to tell all of you and Apple Bloom needed to hear it before everypony else.”

That gets the attention of Fluttershy and the ever hyper Pinkie. Soon, we are a group of six again, the cleanup forgotten for now.

“A couple days ago, ah asked Twilight out,” Applejack blurts it out with no fanfare. “And we’re goin’ steady now. Ah know it’s a little strange, findin’ out this kinda thing about yer friends, but we’re tryin’ out bein’ more than friends.”

There’s a moment of surprised silence, before Pinkie’s eyes round and she exclaims, “You can do that?”

“Yes, Pinkie,” Twilight says with a note of humor and nervousness in her voice. “I was a little surprised by the offer when Applejack first asked.” Her sweet, shy smile makes Applejack blush. “But once I thought it over, how could I resist?”

Dash’s expression is most telling, something like horrified disappointment quickly smothered beneath her usual brash façade. Very telling indeed.

“So you guys are like mare-lovers now?”

The somewhat insulting slang term makes everyone wince, even Fluttershy who has yet to add her opinion to this revelation. Applejack’s ears flick flat in anger for a long moment until she makes a conscious effort to calm herself. “Dash, ya don’ hafta like it, but ah’d appreciate if you were at least polite. ‘Specially with youngins in earshot.”

“Sure, AJ, sorry about that. You too Twilight,” the pegasus apologizes meekly and lands to stare quizzically at the friends who have so suddenly changed in her eyes.

“Are you sure about this?” Fluttershy asks softly, prompting the young couple to sit up and face the questions.

“Yes, completely sure,” Twilight’s voice is strong and assured, now that the initial hurdle has been jumped. “We knew we had to tell all of you because secrets can ruin friendships and this is too important not to share.” We all nod in sync, encouraging Twilight to continue. “We can only hope that this relationship won’t change our larger friendship.”

“That said,” Applejack chimes in, “we also understand that our bein’ together will take some gettin’ used to.”

“You knew already,” Dash accuses and I realize that she’s speaking to me.

“Yes. I’m the one that told Applejack to quit dragging her hooves and just ask Twilight out already.”

“And thank Celestia she did, too,” Applejack says adamantly.

“I agree,” Twilight giggles and tucks her head into the soft spot behind Applejack’s jaw. It’s sweetly intimate and Pinkie is immediately thrilled, practically jumping all over them. The two pegasi are still conflicted, that much is obvious, but I can only hope that they will come around sooner rather than later. Trapped as I am by the weight of the girls, I can only observe as Twilight goes and speaks with Fluttershy while Applejack goes to Dash. The sulky Dash is reluctant, but doesn’t shun the chummy leg thrown over her shoulders. Fluttershy just seems confused, but listens avidly to Twilight while Pinkie bounces around in chaotic happiness.

It has been a strange few days, relationship dynamics shifting wildly in unexpected directions. For the sake of these friends I adore, I hope that the Apple family learns to accept this newcomer in their midst. Twilight is well worth the effort. When Applejack gets dragged off to Canterlot to meet the ponies important to Twilight, I hope they can see past the sometimes rough edges of the farm pony to the warm, wonderful heart beneath.

Once I’m sure that my sister and the other girls are deeply asleep, I wiggle free and shake feeling back into my hooves and knees. After some bracing punch I go to Applejack, who looks melancholy. “Give Rainbow Dash some time, Applejack. She’s had a crush on you for so long that I do believe you took the wind out of her wings.”

Startled, Applejack stares at me and stammers, “Wait, what?”

“Oh, don’t be dense. I don’t believe it’s serious, but she’s still feeling stung. Just give her some time and in the meantime, take care of your girl.”

We both look over as Fluttershy throws both forelegs around Twilight in a choking hug and they giggle together. Pinkie squeezes them both and waggles her eyebrows suggestively at our shy pal until they all crack up.

“Fer somepony that was new to bein’ social, she’s gotten good at it,” Applejack notes and I nod.

“We’ve all been good influences on her and one another.”

“Yep. Thanks again, Rarity.”

While Applejack goes to the others, I find Dash staring out a window to the chilly night beyond, her chin resting on crossed forelegs. “Interesting night,” I comment softly as I sit beside her. Some time passes in a stillness not common to the energetic Dash.

“Did I lose an opportunity?”

“No one can answer that question, Dash. Will you be alright?”

“Yeah, I guess so. They do seem happy, don’t they?”

We turn together to watch Twilight and Applejack seated, flank to flank, their tails intertwined as they watch Pinkie in her usual antics. Fluttershy sits close by, with hooves tucked up like an indolent cat while Spike dances about with Pinkie. With a determined glint in her eye, Dash squares her jaw and flashes off to buzz Pinkie like a giant bee, amping up the silliness all the more. That leaves me to happily join my friends, sitting beside Twilight to cheer on the antics.

The first hurdles for the happy couple have been jumped. With the strength of their strong hearts they stand a good chance of happiness and with good friends, we will help them as we can.

 

Epilog

In a familiar flash of green dragonfire, a scroll appears in the crisp air of Canterlot to be caught in a glow of magic. Smiling, the alicorn of the sun unrolls the object to eagerly discover what her prized student has learned most recently.

Dear Princess Celestia,
Since my arrival in Ponyville, my life has changed in significant ways. None more so than how my new friendships have taught me to love not just them, but myself as well. They taught me enough to give me the courage to take a wild chance when faced with a once in a lifetime opportunity. It seems I have learned not only friendship, but deeper, intimate love as well. I remember hearing once that you have to like someone before you can love them. Honestly, I didn’t understand it then, needing some of the lessons I have learned here in Ponyville. When love did come to me, it has been every bit as stunning and magical as I have heard. That the packaging is not at all what I expected has only added to the magic of the experience.
Telling others of this love has been an adventure in itself, but so far we are weathering it. Expect to see me soon in Canterlot with details of my wonderful news.
As always, your faithful student,
Twilight Sparkle

The End, for now...