She was terrified of a door.
Even for Fluttershy, this was a new low.
In all fairness, it was a very sturdy door. Well built. Everything in Sweet Apple Acres was well built. The Apple family had cut every board and hammered every nail, and they accepted no less from themselves than the best. This door would stand up to any weather the pegasi could throw at it, along with the rest of the building it was attached to.
Sitting there and extolling the virtues of a door, Fluttershy was uncomfortably aware that she was stalling for time.
She’d made it this far before she froze up, at least. So that was something. But it was all pointless if she didn’t force her hovering hoof to knock. She could do this. She could. She would...
Her hoof lowered. Okay, maybe she would go over her lines one more time first.
Hello, Applejack. I know this may seem kind of sudden, but I’ve liked you for a very long time. I just wanted to ask, maybe, if you aren’t seeing anypony already, although you probably are, and if you could ever be interested in a mare like me, although you probably couldn’t—
Fluttershy shook her head. No, no, no, that wouldn’t do at all. She had to be confident! Or, failing that, pretend to be for just long enough to get the words out.
Hello, Applejack. Would you like to go out on a date some time? With me, that is? I have a little picnic lunch back at my cottage if you’re ready now—not that I’m trying to rush you or anything! I just thought that maybe—
She sighed. That had been a little better, right up until the end. Maybe she should try to keep it simple. One more try, and then—
Fluttershy went stiff, heart leaping into her throat. She’d been so deep in thought that she hadn’t even heard Apple Bloom walk up to her side. She swallowed and turned toward the little filly with a faint smile. “Hello there, Apple Bloom. Is school out already?”
Apple Bloom nodded eagerly. “Sure is! Me an’ the girls are gonna go meet at the clubhouse!” She frowned and leaned in closer. “So is somethin’ wrong with the door? You been starin’ at it an awful long time!”
Maybe if she ignored the blush rising in her cheeks, no one else would notice it. Fluttershy shook her head. “Oh, no, the door is fine. I was... just about to knock and see if your big sister is home.”
“Oh, okay!” Without warning, Apple Bloom kicked the door open and burst into the barn. “HEY, SIS! FLUTTERSHY’S HERE!”
“N—” Fluttershy was too late to stop her, of course. She panicked internally as she listened to the hoofsteps inside coming closer. She had to figure out what to say before Applejack arrived...
But in the next moment, there she was, smile as wide as a mile. “Well, hey there, Fluttershy! What brings you by?”
Fluttershy squeaked, all her rehearsed words rushing away from her like water flowing downstream. “Um, hello, Applejack... I was just... I was...” Say something. Anything! “Would—Would you like to picnic?”
“Picnic?” Applejack tilted her head, eyebrows lifted curiously.
“Oh, um, yes,” Fluttershy whispered. “I made enough food for two, and I-I thought that... that maybe you might like to join me. If you’re not busy. Oh, but you probably are busy... You work so hard, this is probably a bad time, I’m sorry, I just—”
“Whoa, whoa, slow down there, sugarcube,” Applejack chuckled, lifting a hoof to gently cut the pegasus off. “We’re actually a mite ahead a’ schedule today, so I think I can sneak out for a tick. I’d be more ‘n happy to join ya!”
Fluttershy gasped happily, rising up from the crouch she’d begun to droop into. “Really? Oh, thank you!” She’d said yes, she’d really said yes... To a simple picnic, not a date, Fluttershy belatedly realized. Still, it was better than going back and eating alone.
“Sure thing! Lemme just, uh...” AJ turned to her side and shouted, making Fluttershy jump. “HEY, BIG MACINTOSH!”
A second later, a response floated back from the other side of the building. “...YEAH, AJ?”
“I’M GOIN’ OUT WITH FLUTTERSHY! CAN YA HOLD DOWN TH’ FORT?”
His next response took a few seconds longer. “...EEYUP! Y’ALL HAVE FUN!”
Applejack turned back to Fluttershy and beamed. “All clear!”
Fluttershy smiled weakly. Even if Applejack hadn’t meant it in the way it sounded, that had still been nice to hear. “Oh, good. Um, it’s right this way...”
“I’m right behind ya, sugar,” Applejack assured her, trotting along as Fluttershy led the way.
The two ponies made their way toward Fluttershy’s cottage in companionable silence. As they drew closer to the blanket that was laid out in the grass, Applejack broke the silence with a sniff and a wide smile. “Land sakes, somethin’ smells deeee-licious!”
“Oh, thank you,” Fluttershy replied, blushing demurely. “I-It’s nothing much, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.”
“Can’t imagine I won’t. Real sweet of ya to invite me!”
“Of—Of course.” You’re important to me, Applejack. Fluttershy opened her mouth to speak, but her chest tightened up, and the words were lost.
Applejack settled in on the blanket, and Fluttershy nosed the basket open to begin serving her. She pulled out a plate of cucumber sandwiches, a large bowl of salad, a bouquet of daisies, a plate of hay fries, a pack of juiceboxes...
A whistle distracted her, and she glanced over at her companion. “I thought you said you made enough for two, not twenty!” Applejack chuckled. “Y’sure you don’t wanna invite anypony else too? We could get the whole gang together!”
Fluttershy cringed. “Well, uh, we could, but...” I just want to be with you right now. Why couldn’t she just say it? But what if she did, and Applejack took it the wrong way? Or took it the right way and didn’t feel the same?
When she managed to peek back at Applejack, though, the mare was smiling sympathetically. “Not in the mood for a crowd today, huh? I reckon I know the feelin’. Just the two of us, then.”
Fluttershy nodded meekly. “Thank you. Please, have... whatever you like.”
“I will, thank ya kindly!” Applejack pulled the plate of hay fries over to herself, breathing in the scent. “Ahhh, these’re what I smelled, sure as can be. I’ll start in here.”
Fluttershy smiled and picked up a sandwich for herself. Applejack and Pinkie Pie were the real cooks of the group, but she knew she could at least handle a picnic lunch.
The silence returned as the mares began to eat. It was a comfortable silence between two close friends, but Fluttershy couldn’t help the apprehension that began to slip back in. Applejack still didn’t know the real reason she’d come to the farm. Maybe it was a bad idea. Maybe she should just be satisfied with their friendship... But she’d come this far. Could she ever forgive herself if she gave up now?
“Pretty quiet, huh?” Again, Applejack was the one to break the silence. She glanced around curiously. “Usually you got all manner of critters runnin’ around out here. Nothing’s wrong with ‘em, right?”
“Oh, no!” Setting aside her internal debate, Fluttershy hastened to reassure her friend. “It’s nothing like that. They’re just all inside at the moment.” At her request, so that there would be no interruptions. Angel had grudgingly agreed, and the rest of her little friends had been happy to oblige. In fact, she blushed to recall, a few of them were even cheering her on.
Applejack smiled. “Glad to hear it! I know how much you care about those little guys.”
“Of course you do!” Fluttershy giggled. “You... care about your trees just as much, don’t you?”
“Haha, guilty as charged, sugarcube,” Applejack laughed. “Oh, did I tell ya? We got a coupla new saplings planted just the other day!”
Fluttershy shook her head and leaned closer, listening intently as Applejack spun a story about her family and her beloved trees. It was clear how much the Sweet Apple Acres meant to her, how much she cared for every last tree on their land, however young or old. It almost made Fluttershy wish she could be one of those trees, to be cared for so tenderly...
And to be kicked, occasionally. Alright, so nothing was perfect.
It wasn’t too long before the story wound down. It hadn’t been anything life-changing, just a silly tale about the misadventures three siblings could get into on a farm, but Applejack could have made any story seem enthralling. She was filled with a life and energy that Fluttershy loved and envied.
I could listen to you tell stories all day. That was a safe little compliment, wasn’t it? Baby steps, right? Fluttershy breathed unsteadily, trying to work up the nerve to say it. “I...” she whispered, barely even able to hear herself. “I...”
“Shucks, I been talkin’ your ear off, haven’t I?” Applejack suddenly said. “How’re things here? Between that bunny of yours and all the other animals you take in, I reckon you gotta have a whopper of a story to tell.”
“Oh... No, it’s alright,” Fluttershy mumbled, silently cursing herself. “There really... isn’t much to say.” Coward.
“Ah, now, come on. There must be somethin’ you haven’t told me already, right?” Applejack’s tone was gently chiding, but far from unfriendly. She genuinely cared, genuinely wanted to hear about Fluttershy’s life.
Yes, there is something I haven’t told you. I like you. I love you. You’ve always supported me, always made me feel wanted, even when I was at my worst. Even if you don’t feel the same way, at least I should tell you how much you mean to me...
She couldn’t do it. She just kept picturing Applejack’s beautiful face scrunching up in disgust, or frowning in sad sympathy, and her voice just wouldn’t work. She’d come this far, and she just couldn’t go on. She was a coward, a failure.
Her eyes felt hot, and by the time she realized they were tearing up, it was too late to turn away. Applejack had seen. “Fluttershy...” she gasped, reaching out with one hoof. “What’s the matter? Is it somethin’ I said?”
Fluttershy gasped. She couldn’t bear to let Applejack think any of this was her fault. “No! It’s not—I just—I’m sorry, it’s stupid, it’s nothing—”
“Fluttershy.” Applejack frowned at her, shaking her head. “It ain’t nothing. Even I can see that.”
She was messing everything up now, wasn’t she? First she’d failed to make it a date, now she’d ruined even the picnic. She shook her head, just wishing to end the conversation quickly. “No, really—I-I can’t... Y-You shouldn’t—shouldn’t worry about it.”
Applejack didn’t budge. “Now you know that ain’t happenin’. Whatever it is, if you’re this worked up over it, it’s gotta be important. An’ if it’s important to you, that makes it important to me.” Her gaze was searching, full of concern. “So talk to me. Please?”
“I can’t!” Fluttershy wailed. “I want to tell you... I-I want to, so much, but the words, they... they just won’t come.” She ducked her head, feeling the tears flow. Stupid, stupid...
She felt a hoof under her chin, gently tilting her head back up until Applejack’s eyes could meet hers again. “It’s alright, sugarcube,” she said soothingly. “I ain’t gonna rush you, so just take your time. Whatever you got to say, I promise I’ll listen. An’ you know whatever you got to say, I’d never judge you for it.”
Fluttershy was transfixed, staring into those gorgeous green eyes. This was what had drawn her to Applejack, this was why she’d fallen for her in the first place.
You’re so strong... and even more than that, you make me feel like...
“...like I...” she breathed, leaning forward, “...can be strong too.”
And just like that, their lips met. Fluttershy held the kiss for a few glorious seconds before backing away again. She could feel the heat in her cheeks like an inferno, but she stood firm. Even if Applejack rejected her, at least she would have that perfect moment.
Applejack stared at her as if seeing her for the first time. Her freckled cheeks were reddening, and a hoof was frozen halfway to her mouth. “...Oh. I... Fluttershy, I—” She mouthed silently for a few seconds, then shoved her hat down to hide her eyes. “Aw, geez, look at me. Y’got me trippin’ over my tongue like I’m a jackrabbit with two left feet!”
Even through the haze of fear and the butterflies filling her stomach, Fluttershy managed a short giggle at that mental image. But Applejack’s response... She couldn’t tell if it was positive, or if...
After a silent moment that seemed to stretch out to the horizon, Applejack tilted her hat back and looked up at Fluttershy again. She was still blushing deeply, and her expression was unreadable. “So... that... was what you were wantin’ to tell me, huh?”
Fluttershy swallowed, but she refused to look away. She’d come this far. She wouldn’t falter now. “Yes,” she whispered. “I... For a long time, I’ve...” Her gaze stayed locked with Applejack’s, but she just couldn’t force that next word out.
“Don’t fret, Fluttershy,” Applejack said, beginning to smile. “I think I understand now. I reckon sometimes... words ain’t what you need after all, huh?”
She was smiling... Hope blossomed in Fluttershy’s chest. “Maybe so,” she whispered.
Applejack took a step forward, her smile growing mysterious, her voice growing husky. “An’ on that note... It seems like I owe you an answer, don’t I?”
That slow smile made Fluttershy feel all shivery, but in an exciting way. “Oh! I-If you want...”
Applejack nodded, eyes lidded and almost sparkling. “Oh, I very much do.”
She leaned in close, and Fluttershy met her halfway.
A few hours later, the sun was beginning to set. The couple had moved to the shade of a nearby tree, nestled close together, side by side. As the air had cooled, Fluttershy had even managed to work up enough courage to drape one wing over Applejack, who had blushed a little and smiled a lot at the gesture.
I love you. I’ve loved you for so long, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. You make me feel like I can do almost anything, as long as we’re together. I want to share my life with you, the ups and the downs, the good and the bad...
With time, Fluttershy promised herself, she’d find the strength to say all the words bustling around in her head. But for now...
Applejack pressed a soft kiss to Fluttershy’s cheek, and she felt a giggle bubble up inside her. She brought her nose around to nuzzle Applejack’s cheek in turn; her hat was pushed slightly off-center by the motion, and Fluttershy was rewarded with a warm little laugh.
But for now... words really weren’t needed, after all.