Every breath she took wheezed and rattled. Her lungs burned and throbbed, but the ache in her heart was far more torturous... a scar that couldn't be healed, for it was torn too greatly by the choices she'd had to make:
Live without him, but live with them
Live without them, but live with him
Neither felt right. Still, she'd come too far now. There was no turning back. But, at least, she'd be able to say goodbye...
"Umm... I... I made it here as fast I could," Fluttershy stammered, pawing nervously at the grass beneath her. "We made it here. I... I know what I want to say is private... b-but I just couldn't bear to do it without her blessing! S-so, if it's okay with you, I, um..." She trailed off into a nervous squeal. He was so... silent. He simply watched, and waited, for her to gather up the nerve to continue.
He was so patient with her. She didn't deserve him.
"I couldn't... stop..." Her face grew incredibly warm, and she flushed a brilliant red. "Couldn'tstopthinkingaboutyou!" she blurted in a sudden rush. "There! That's better... I... um, I think."
Her other silent companion nodded in approval.
"I want to... I've never had these feelings before," Fluttershy explained quietly. Her wings twitched, and she cringed, feeling the blood rush to them. Oh, how embarrassing! "I mean... I've felt love... how could I not? I have such wonderful friends. I do love them all, but..."
She looked him straight in the eye, mustering up her courage even as her wings slowly rose and stiffened:
"How I... love you... it's different, you know? I... love love you."
He seemed to be letting the news sink in, and let her continue.
"Not the way I wanted those animals at the Gala to love me. I... want to be with you. Umm, if that's okay with you, of course." She grit her teeth at the feeling of her wings throbbing madly. "Oh, no, this is so embarrassing!" She squeaked and hid her face behind her mane. "I don't... I mean, umm... I don't want that! I mean, not yet, you really are very attractive, but... umm... oh!"
"He understands, Sugarcube." Applejack came up behind her, finally speaking. She placed a hoof on Fluttershy's shoulder. "And Ah reckon he feels the same."
"Y-you really think so?"
Applejack nodded. "Jes lookit him! He's mad about you!"
Fluttershy chanced a peek, and felt her heart swell with joy. The tenderness, the love... Applejack was right. There was a chance that he... thatthey...
"Yer really gonna go through with it," Applejack sighed, having accepted the outcome long ago. "Gonna be hard to tell the others, ya know."
"I'll... I'll still be with them... kind of." She shook her head. "But... I need to be with him, now..."
"Ah know. Ah'm glad you trusted me enough to ask me to do this... an' Ah'm glad this ain't somethin' a unicorn could do, honestly. Gonna be tough enough tellin' Twilight and Rarity what's happened." She sniffed, but maintained her strong composure. "Ah love you, girl."
Fluttershy and Applejack embraced, and Fluttershy looked back over her shoulder. Bloomberg watched in silent anticipation, and she nodded back at him.
"I'm ready, Applejack."
Applejack's vision grew misty as she stared at the pink-and-yellow willow tree that swayed gently in the wind next to Bloomberg. "Durn it, Sugarcube... we never thought y'all was serious about this. Ah'm gonna miss you so much." She sighed and trotted off into the sunset, the happy couple waving and swaying behind her.
Though the rest of the group was hit hard by Fluttershy's decision, she still found her way back into their lives, gradually:
Twilight Sparkle got a new notebook for her birthday
Rarity perused the latest issue of Hoofer's Bazaar with a curious and critical eye
Clouds of confetti erupted from Pinkie Pie's party cannon, littering Sugarcube Corner
Philomeena nestled comfortably in her cage, fresh wood shavings blanketing the bottom
Applejack peeled the paper cup from a fresh-baked apple muffin
Zecora ground up roots and crushed dried leaves to use in a fire retardant potion
Rainbow Dash framed Spitfire's autograph and hung it on her wall
The Cutie Mark Crusaders played happily on a see-saw
And, somewhere in Canterlot, Princess Luna poked her head out of the little fillies' room and nervously bellowed:
"Sister? We have expended our supply of toilet paper..."