“Did I tell you I ran into Twilight yesterday?”
“Hm?” Rarity looked up from her salad. Although it was the worst-kept secret in Equestria that Rarity and Applejack had trouble getting along, both ponies did enjoy the other’s company. Preferably in small doses, taken once a week over lunch as they caught up on and gossiped about recent events. “I don’t believe you did, darling.”
Applejack shook her head. “She wanted me to, oh, what was it again? ‘Categorize some local flour?’ She got all disappointed-like when I told her I was busy with applebuckin’.”
“Local flora, dear. And did she really?” Rarity cocked her head, chewing a mouthful thoughtfully.
“Yeah,” Applejack said, taking a bite of tart. “Come to think, she seemed a bit down a couple days ago when I said I had a rematch against Rainbow in this year’s Runnin’ of the Leaves. She wanted to run with me, y’see.”
Rarity leaned forward, salad all but forgotten. “That’s odd. She couldn’t possibly keep up with your pace.”
“I know. She’s been actin’ kinda funny though. Tryin’ to spend a lotta time with me and gettin’ kinda upset when I’m busy and stuff like that.”
“Oh dear,” Rarity said softly. “I wonder if—no, that couldn’t be it.”
Applejack stared at her friend. “What couldn’t be what?”
Rarity took a sip of tea. “Well…”
Across town, Pinkie Pie smiled as Twilight walked into Sugarcube Corner. “Hiya!”
“Hi, Pinkie. Can I talk to you?” Twilight shifted her hooves and kept her gaze down.
“Of course you can!” The smile on Pinkie’s face faded and she raised a hoof to her mouth. “Unless your mouth is glued shut. It’s not, is it?”
Twilight looked up and, despite her nervousness, couldn’t help laughing a little. Pinkie Pie wasn’t just the best secret-keeper in Ponyville—maybe even Equestria—she was also the best cheerer-upper. “Not that I’ve noticed. Um…could we maybe go somewhere a bit more private?” She glanced back towards the door and out at the street. The shop was empty, and nopony seemed interested in sweets at the moment. All the same, she needed an excuse to hold off for a little longer. You don’t have to tell her, you know. It can stay your little secret, and nopony will ever find out. Besides, you don’t even know how she’ll respond. That thought was ridiculous. Twilight knew Pinkie would always be there for her. Wouldn’t she? She bit her lip as she waited for a response.
Pinkie nodded and they made their way into the kitchen, the pink pony bouncing all the way. “So what’s up? Is there a party? No, wait, that’d be pretty silly since I’m the party pony, right? But what if it’s a party for me? Oh no, I’ve ruined the surprise, haven’t I? Don’t worry, I can pretend!”
Twilight’s neck began to ache from the effort of keeping the bouncing Pinkie in sight. She reached out as her friend came into hoof’s range and stopped her from hopping around. “Sorry, Pinkie, it’s not a party. It’s a secret.”
Pinkie gasped and leaned in. “You know you can’t tell me! You’ll lose your friendship…” She paused and leaned farther in, forcing Twilight to lean back. “FOREVER!”
Barely avoiding falling over, Twilight scrambled away. “It’s…it’s my secret, Pinkie.” She swallowed. “I…um…”
Pinkie jumped in almost immediately. “You learned a new spell? You got a new animal friend? You found out that Princess Celestia is visiting today and only you and I can set everything up in time?”
There were times that Twilight wished Pinkie was a bit less excitable. “No, Pinkie, I…I kind of…” She took a breath and tried again. “I’ve got a…a bit of a crush on somepony.”
Applejack laughed as she took another bite of tart. “Well, of course she likes me! Y’all generally like your friends, doncha?”
Rarity shook her head. “I should have known better than to expect you to understand.”
The earth pony stopped laughing and narrowed her eyes. “Now just what is that supposed—”
“She likes you, Applejack. The way a filly likes a handsome colt.”
Applejack’s jaw dropped.
“Precisely. Now please close your mouth and finish chewing.” Rarity poked at her salad without eating much.
Her appetite musta left her, too, Applejack thought. “Wh-what do I do?”
“That, my dear,” Rarity said as she stood, “you will need to decide for yourself. And I wish you the best of luck. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m afraid I simply must return to my work. Same time next week?”
Applejack nodded as Rarity walked off.
The loud squeak had stopped Pinkie Pie from responding and made Twilight jump. Twilight looked back and forth, scanning the ground, while Pinkie seemed to think there was somepony on the ceiling. It was a mouse. It had to be. We’re alone, right? Please let us be alone. Twilight sped up her search as it neared the door. It wasn’t until she checked the doorway that she found the culprit. There stood Fluttershy, a basket of daisies on her back.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” The yellow pony’s voice was softer than normal, barely above a whisper. “I just thought I’d bring by the flowers you wanted, Pinkie. I didn’t mean to intrude, sorry.”
Twilight stared at Fluttershy. Oh Celestia, no. Fluttershy was almost less likely to spill the secret than Pinkie, but Twilight still wished that only Pinkie knew. Secrets have a way of getting out, after all.
Fluttershy had carefully placed the basket on the floor and begun backing out. She was stopped by Pinkie, who leapt behind her. “You can’t leave now! You gotta promise not to tell anyone ever.” The yellow pony shook her head frantically.
“I won’t, I promise.”
“Pinkie Pie promise!”
“C-cross my heart and hope to fly—”
Twilight shook her head. This had gone on long enough. “It’s ok, Fluttershy. I believe you.” Well, I had planned on talking to Fluttershy if Pinkie was busy. Apparently fate had other plans in mind.
“Um…if it’s not too much trouble, do you think I could ask a question, Twilight?”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “You’ve never needed my permission before, Fluttershy.”
“Well, it’s just that—I mean, I kind of thought that, um, don’t you, you know, like stallions?”
The question had rattled around Twilight’s head as well. “I do, but…” How could she explain? Stallions were nice to look at, and she’d had some fantasies of dating and marriage as a filly, but there was something about Applejack. Something that called to her, that made her want to stop and just curl up with her rustic friend. Something comfortable and warm and nice and happy and frightening all at once. She couldn’t say that out loud, though. It would sound sillier than anything Pinkie had ever said. She shook her head. “I don’t know how to put it, Fluttershy. I just like her.”
The yellow pegasus nodded. Pinkie Pie cocked her head.
“So why’d you tell me?”
“I don’t really know. I guess I had to tell somepony, and I knew you wouldn’t tell anypony else.” Twilight took a deep breath. “And now I don’t know what to do.”
Pinkie Pie cocked her head further. “Party?”
Twilight shook her head. I should have guessed that would be her first suggestion.
“Um, well,” Fluttershy said, “why don’t you try spending some time with her? I mean, if you want to, that is.”
“I have tried.” Twilight’s smile was small and weak. “She’s been busy.”
“Maybe you could—”
Pinkie’s face lit up. “I know! A party!”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s a good—” For the second time in as many minutes, Fluttershy was interrupted by Pinkie.
“I’ll get everything ready!” Despite Twilight’s calls for her to wait, the pink pony dashed out. Fluttershy glanced at the door, then Twilight, and the door again before chasing after Pinkie. Twilight barely heard her friend talking to herself as she left.
“Oh, this won’t end well at all.”
Applejack hadn’t stayed long after Rarity left. There was work to be done at Sweet Apple Acres, and she had nearly as much thinking as work. Applebucking was close to being instinct after so many years, but it was slow going today. She can’t like me, can she? It was a ridiculous thought. It had to be. But it somehow made sense. Celestia, what do I do if it’s true? She’s just a friend to me. A voice in the back of her mind tried to speak up but was so quiet Fluttershy could have drowned it out.
It was dark before Applejack finished the day’s bucking, and Granny Smith and her siblings had eaten by that time. She ate alone, still thinking about Twilight. Being liked by somepony was unfamiliar ground for her, at least as far as she knew, and it was even stranger for the pony to be a mare. She had thought about what kind of pony she might someday fall in love with, just like everypony did sometimes, but it had always been a stallion in her mind, someone strong and hardworking who could help with the farm. And if Twilight’s even one of those, I’ll eat my hat.
Big Macintosh passed by the kitchen on his way to bed. Applejack knew he felt responsible for all the mares in the house, even if he left most of the farm’s business to her, and liked to check in on them before turning in. “Hey, Big Mac?” she said as his tail disappeared out of the doorway. A moment later his head popped back in.
“Y’ever have somepony like you but you wasn’t sure you liked them back?” Hiding the truth was almost as hard as lying for Applejack, but she wasn’t ready to tell anyone of her suspicions. Not until I’m sure, and maybe not even then. Still, I do need some advice or I’m like to go crazy here.
“Eeyup.” As always, Big Macintosh was a pony of few words.
Applejack waited for him to continue, but he only stared back at her. “Well, would you care to explain?”
Is that a—“Are you foolin’ with me?” She was shouting now, which she thought a perfectly reasonable response. He was smirking at her. He had to be. It was a small thing, but she could see his mouth curving up. She sighed. “Will you at least tell me how you dealt with it?”
“Ignored it. G’night.”
Applejack stared after her big brother. Well, that was helpful. Dinner finished, she made her way to her own bed. Sleep was a long time in coming partly due to Applejack’s racing thoughts and partly to her fear of dreams. The cowpony had often had nightmares following some of the more frightening adventures with her friends. She did not relish the idea of anything similar tonight. However, when the Sandpony finally came for her, he took her into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Mornings on the farm were early affairs. Applejack usually got up with the sun, and sometimes even before. This morning, though, she woke to find the sun had already been up for several hours. Breakfast was rushed, with little thought given to what she was eating and less to anything else. It seemed the prospect of a full day’s work with less than a day’s time had driven Twilight completely out of her mind until she stepped outside. Coming up the dirt path was her purple friend.
Twilight smiled broadly. “Oh, hi, Applejack!” Applejack wondered if she always sounded so excited when greeting a friend. “Pinkie Pie asked me to pass these out, and you’re my last stop.” A small envelope seemed to rise on its own from Twilight’s bag. Applejack took it to find it was an invitation. For a party. Tonight.
“Gee, Twilight, I’d love to.” The unicorn’s face lit up. “But I’m afraid I overslept this mornin’, and now I’ve got too much work.” Twilight’s smile faded for just a moment.
“Well, what if I help you out?”
Applejack laughed. “You? Applebuckin’? I’ll believe it when I see it.” As Twilight’s dour expression returned, Applejack hurried on. “What I mean is, you just don’t have the strength for it. Sorry, sugarcube.”
Twilight looked up again. “Surely there’s something I could do? I’m taking the day off from studying anyways.” She sounded hopeful to Applejack.
Maybe a mite too hopeful? “I suppose you could pick up whatever apples don’t fall in the barrel, and maybe magic some down for me. I dunno if that’ll speed things up enough, though.” Applejack added that last as Twilight’s smile brightened. Celestia, Rarity might be right!
Twilight nodded and made her way to the nearest apple trees. The work was just as difficult as it had been the day before, and now Applejack was more distracted. The work went slower the more Applejack thought, but she hardly noticed the hours slipping by. She kept glancing at Twilight. Don’t be foolish. She’s your friend. She doesn’t like you, and she’s a mare even if she does. You got no reason to like her back. The voice in the back of Applejack’s head spoke up, louder than before. She’s pretty, ain’t that reason enough?
The cowpony missed her next buck, nearly falling flat. Twilight was there immediately, helping her up and fussing over her. “I’m all right,” Applejack told her friend. “Just didn’t get much sleep last night. Maybe it’s time to call it a day.” She looked around, seeing the fruits of their labor for the first time. There were nowhere near as many barrels of apples as she’d hoped to pick today but there were more than she could have managed alone. More incredible, more barrels had been filled by Twilight’s magic than Applejack’s bucking. Despite the fact that there was enough light for several more hours of work, Applejack repeated, “Yep. I’d say time it’s quittin’ time. I should clean up if I’m comin’ to that party tonight, and I got an errand or two to run in town.” The last wasn’t exactly a lie; she now had a desperate need to talk to Rarity.
“Sounds good to me,” Twilight said. Something in her voice made Applejack look up. Her purple fur and mane sparkled with sweat, and Applejack realized how hard the other pony must have been working.
I suppose I need to see what goes well with hats, she thought, smiling.
Twilight continued, “See you at the party, then. I think I’ll go home and read for a while.”
Applejack watched her friend leave, and it took a moment for what she’d said to register. “I thought you said you were takin’ a break from studyin’.”
“I am,” Twilight called back over her shoulder. “This is some light reading. You know, for fun.”
Applejack shook her head and smiled to herself. Crazy pony. Takes a break from studyin’ to read somethin’ else.
A bath and the trip into town didn’t take Applejack very long. As she walked up to the Carousel Boutique, Rarity came out with a bag on her back. “Oh! Applejack! You gave me a fright, dear.”
“Sorry ‘bout that. I was hopin’ you’d have a few moments to chat.”
“But we just talked yesterday.” A slow smile grew on Rarity’s face. “Or does this involve that?”
If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were enjoyin’ this. Applejack nodded.
“Ah, there’s always time for that. Well, actually there isn’t right now. You’ve caught me on my way to meet with Fluttershy at the spa and I’m very nearly late. But I’m sure we’ll see each other at Pinkie’s party tonight.” Applejack’s face fell. “Unless you might care to join us?”
Applejack could count on her hooves the number of times she’d been to the spa. But the only other option is to wait until the party, and Celestia only knows if we’ll have any chance to talk there. She nodded and began following her friend. As they walked, Rarity kept up a constant stream of chatter, receiving only shrugs, grunts, and various small noises in return. It didn’t seem to matter to the unicorn, who was more than happy to talk on any subject.
They found Fluttershy already at the spa when they arrived. “I’m so terribly sorry to keep you waiting,” Rarity said before calling out to the spa ponies, “The usual!”
“Oh, I don’t mind, Rarity. But why is Applejack here? I thought you didn’t really care for the spa.”
Before Applejack could respond, Rarity jumped in. “I’m quite sure she doesn’t, but she wanted to talk to me about something. Isn’t that right, darling?”
The cowpony looked back and forth between her friends. This really was a private matter, but she needed help and fast. Besides, there’s only one pony more closed-mouthed about secrets, and she’s likely busy with party plannin’. “Alright, but you gotta promise not to tell anyone.” Fluttershy nodded.
As the three ponies made their way through the spa, Applejack declining all treatment but a soak in the tub and a steam in the sauna, she explained everything. “And now I’m afraid Rarity’s right and I don’t know what I should do,” she finished, looking at the ground. She might have noticed Fluttershy’s eyes growing wider throughout the story if she’d looked up, as well as the yellow pony’s glances at Rarity.
The unicorn was more attentive, however. “It does sound like I was correct.” She looked at Fluttershy. “What do you think?” The Pegasus let out a squeak and drew back. Rarity shook her head and continued. “Well, dear, what do you want to do? The best course to take in affairs of the heart is often the course your heart sets.” She grinned.
More’n likely she expects us to be quotin’ her or somesuch. “I dunno that either. I mean, Twilight doesn’t fit my idea of a dream pony, but I don’t wanna hurt her either. And besides, I don’t even know for sure whether or not she likes me. How do I find that out?” Applejack blushed slightly. There’s more to it than that, and you know it, the small voice said.
“W-well, have you thought of, you know, asking her?” Applejack jumped and her head swung to Fluttershy. She opened her mouth to reply when Rarity cut in.
“That would be a wonderful idea, but only if we’re right. Can you imagine what Twilight’s response would be if not?” Applejack could, and it was not a pretty sight. She would lose her friendship with the unicorn, and something told her that would hardly be the worst outcome. Fluttershy and Applejack were so mired in thought that neither pony noticed a smile grow on Rarity’s face. “I’ve got it!” The other ponies jumped. “We’ll do something Twilight is sure to respond to.” Applejack and Fluttershy stared at their friend. “As you would say, we’ll ‘gussy y’all up somethin’ fierce’.” Rarity’s imitation of Applejack’s accent caused everypony else in the room to wince.
Applejack paled. The idea of a makeover never would have come to her. I can’t stand all that frou-frou stuff, but… “Alright, Rarity, but on one condition. Y’all never talk like that again, y’hear?”
Rarity nodded and gestured to the spa ponies. One came over to receive whispered instructions. Before she knew what was happening, Applejack found herself being flanked and escorted to another room.
“Whoa there! Just hang on a minute! Rarity, what did you tell them? Rarity!” Applejack’s voice was muffled as the door to the next room closed. Fluttershy turned to Rarity, who was smiling back at her.
When Applejack returned she found Rarity glaring at Fluttershy, and the yellow pegasus trying to curl up away from her. Her makeover hadn’t taken long, though it was long enough that her friends had finished their treatments. At first only her mane and tail seemed any different. Her mane had been pulled back into a complicated knot, while her tail had been curled. Closer inspection revealed that her slight blush, her darkened eyelids, and her bright lips were the work of an excellent makeup artist. The effect was subtle but effective. Rarity smiled.
“You look magnificent. Now come here; I threw something together recently that just screams your name.” She withdrew a hat from her bag as Applejack stepped forward. It was a cowboy hat, like the earth pony’s regular hat, but had a gem-studded band with a ruby apple in the center. The underside of the brim had been sequined. When Applejack tried on her new hat, it caught the light and appeared to halo her face. “Perfect,” Rarity breathed. The small voice, now a bit larger, in Applejack’s head spoke up again. With a bit of luck a certain purple pony will agree. Applejack’s eyes widened and she shook her head.
“It’s lovely, Rarity, but I can’t accept this. I’ll just ruin it.”
Rarity flinched as reflected light shot into her eyes. “Oh darling, I insist. For tonight, at the very least.”
Applejack smiled. I suppose it ain’t any worse than gettin’ my face and mane fancied up. And it might be worth it. “Alright, then, I suppose if y’all insist I can wear it for one party.”
“Um, I’m sorry to interrupt, but speaking of the party…” Fluttershy glanced out the window. Night had begun to fall while they were in the spa. Everypony there knew that Pinkie’s party was due to start soon, or had already, and none of them wanted to be late. Pinkie could get a bit odd when her parties didn’t go according to plan.
Sugarcube Corner was not far from the spa, and the three friends heard the party as soon as they stepped outside. By the time they reached the sweets shop the noise was almost deafening. Pinkie Pie wasn’t known for throwing quiet parties, and Applejack doubted she was even capable of it, but this noise level was unusual. As they came closer they could see that the party crowd seemed a bit…off. Ponies stumbled out the door and laughed louder than normal. Everything was being done more wildly and loudly than any of them could ever remember. It wasn’t until they made it inside that Applejack understood why.
“Pinkamena Diane Pie!” Fluttershy and Rarity jumped and stared at their friend. They then glanced at each other and began moving away as quickly as possible. Applejack yelled again, a shout that barely carried a few feet, but Pinkie was nearby greeting guests. She bounded over.
“Applestar Jackalope! Hi!” There was, as usual, a wide smile on Pinkie’s face.
“What in Eque—wait, what?” Applejack blinked. She shook her head. I couldn’t’ve heard her right. “Applestar Jackalope?”
Pinkie shrugged. “I made up a full name for you. I thought it sounded nice.” Applejack shook her head again. There were times that Pinkie was beyond random.
“Now, would y’all mind tellin’ me what you think you’re doin’ with those?” She pointed a hoof at a small pile of barrels and bottles in nearby corner. A table next to the pile held a tapped barrel, several open bottles, and what appeared to be some sort of red punch. A familiar emblem could be seen on a few of the barrels, and Applejack had recognized it as the Sweet Apple Acres logo.
“Well, I think I’m throwing a party.” Pinkie Pie’s smile faded slightly and she clasped both hooves in front of her in an angelic gesture. She would have been the very picture of innocence if not for the fact that she was still Pinkie. Applejack snorted.
“I can see that. I meant ‘what d’you think you’re doin’ throwin’ a party with alcohol?’” She should have known something was up. She’d seen the small cartload of brandy and cider leave the farm yesterday but hadn’t thought anything of it. It was that time of year, after all, and she’d had other things on her mind. Even if she had been paying attention she still wouldn’t have suspected anything. Pinkie had never needed or used alcohol for a party before. Not one I’ve ever been to, at least.
“Oh, that.” Pinkie looked down, and her smile had turned into a grin. She drew small circles with one hoof. “It seemed like a good idea at the time?”
Applejack just stared. What the hay am I supposed to say to that? She sniffed suddenly. “Pinkie? Have you had a few?”
“I had to try the punch and make sure it was good. And then I had to try it again and make sure it was still good. It was good a couple minutes ago, too! Do you think I need to try it again? It might not be as good anymore.” She dashed off towards the table without waiting for an answer.
Applejack shook her head and quickly walked deeper into the room. As she passed the drink table she ignored her pink friend, whose head was submerged in the punch. She picked up a glass. I reckon one drink won’t hurt nothin’. She was quite used to drinking; nopony could grow up on a farm that made cider and brandy and not get used to it well before she was an adult. I can’t say the same for Rarity and Fluttershy, though. Twilight would just have to wait. Making sure her friends didn’t drink themselves into a stupor was more important than which pony liked which. She sighed and began her search.
The speed with which her plans fell apart was incredible. Almost as if the universe loves to prove me wrong. Somehow she’d managed to walk right into Twilight. Her eyes widened and she drained her glass. Doing so gave her the sudden burning realization that she’d grabbed brandy rather than cider, and she gave a light cough.
Twilight’s smile rivaled Pinkie’s. “Wow, you look amazing. I love your hat.” Applejack felt her cheeks warm.
It’s the brandy, not the compliment. Now stop bein’ foolish. “Thanks. You look mighty nice yourself, Twilight.” That was an understatement. She couldn’t understand how she hadn’t noticed her friend sooner. The purple unicorn was wearing a black dress that adhered to her form and was, improbably on a pony, somehow slinky. “I don’t remember seein’ that dress before.” I never should’ve let Rarity talk me into this. Now I’m talkin’ frou-frou nonsense. Applejack felt her cheeks warm again as she realized she was still staring at Twilight’s dress. She tore her eyes away and focused on her friend’s face. Twilight was apparently quite accomplished in the art of makeup. Applejack wouldn’t have noticed she was wearing any if a dark purple blush hadn’t been applied.
“Thanks. Rarity stopped by yesterday. She thought I might be able to use it sometime soon. I guess she was right.” Twilight’s blush darkened. Applejack looked a bit closer.
That ain’t all blush or blushin’… Although her bookish friend’s speech was fine, she wobbled. Applejack realized how much later she’d arrived than everypony else. Oh, Celestia, I’m gonna have to keep an eye on her too, ain’t I? Something Twilight had said caught Applejack’s attention. “Rarity, huh? That sure was…gen’rous of her.” That pony’s gonna get a piece my mind and she’ll be lucky if she don’t choke on it. If Twilight noticed anything odd in Applejack’s tone, she didn’t respond.
“Oh, I know. She said it was something she’d just thrown together, but…”
But it just screamed your name, I reckon. “I’m terrible sorry, Twi’, but I got a couple ponies to find. I’ll catch up with you in a bit.” Twilight nodded and took a sip of her drink. Applejack walked off, glancing back only once or twice.
In addition to being louder and rowdier the party was also more crowded than any Pinkie had ever thrown. It took Applejack nearly half an hour to move from one side of the room to the other. Rarity was easy to find, sitting in a corner surrounded by stallions, many of whom swayed worse than Twilight had. As Applejack moved forwards, Rarity glared so fiercely that she turned around and started walking away. Well, I suppose I’d best let her be, then. Tomorrow’s good enough. Besides, her pride was less important than Fluttershy’s well-being.
Despite the fact that Applejack saw her pegasus friend several times—once as close as ten feet away—over an hour passed before she was able to reach her friend. By that time, two things were very obvious. One was that Fluttershy hadn’t realized—or didn’t care—the punch was spiked, and the other was that Applejack’s hunch about her tolerance had been correct. Fluttershy wobbled dangerously, but stood talking with anypony that would listen. As Applejack watched, Fluttershy giggled and lightly pushed a stallion’s shoulder. A moment later, she hugged a mare—one Applejack was sure her friend didn’t know—tightly. Oh, gettin’ her home’s gonna be a barrel of laughs, ain’t it? With a sigh, Applejack finally broke through the crowd. “Come on, sugarcube, I think you’ve had more’n enough.” Fluttershy giggled and, waving to the ponies around her, leaned against Applejack, and they began to pick their way towards the exit. Nearby ponies glared at Applejack as she escorted her friend out.
Somehow, against all expectation, Fluttershy was still upright as they approached the door. With freedom in sight, Applejack began moving faster. I suppose I could probably come back after I drop her off. After all, I did promise myself I’d keep an eye on Twilight, and I ain’t done that too well, have I? She had caught glimpses of her purple friend, each time looking the worse for the drink she’d had. If not for Fluttershy Applejack knew she’d have been helping Twilight home instead. All the way up to her bedroom, right, sugarcube? The thought made Applejack stop just short of the door and her face heated yet again. She barely noticed Fluttershy’s surprised yelp. Where’d that come from?
She had no time to consider, though. Pinkie Pie was all but dragging a semiconscious Twilight over. The pink pony must have had some sort of immunity to alcohol. There were few times Applejack had seen her without a drink in hoof or mouth, but she was as steady as anypony. “I’m so sorry, but could you please please please take her home?”
Applejack opened her mouth to say no. She already had one drunk pony to deal with, which was more than enough. Pinkie’s face changed her mind, though. Her smile looked forced, and Applejack realized she would likely be up all night sending ponies home. She nodded, and helped Pinkie shove Twilight up against her. The purple unicorn nuzzled Applejack’s neck, and her cheeks warmed for what seemed like the hundredth time that night. Focus! If I can get them both to the library, Twilight’s got an extra bed I’m sure Fluttershy can stay in. Applejack wasn’t bothered by the fact that Spike was likely already asleep, or that he would surely not appreciate being woken. I’m sure he’ll understand.
The trip to Twilight’s library was more difficult than Applejack had imagined, but still easier than it would have been to take just Fluttershy all the way to the outskirts of Ponyville. For a pony that seemed ready to fall over, Fluttershy had a strange fascination with trying to run off giggling and singing. Some of her songs shocked Applejack, who was surprised to learn her yellow friend even knew them. Twilight, on the other hand, was much steadier, sometimes barely needing to lean on Applejack. When they reached the library, they found that Twilight had left it unlocked, and Applejack thanked her lucky stars for that fact. Unfortunately, the beds were both on the second floor, and she knew she couldn’t manage two ponies and the stairs at once. Trusting Twilight to hold Fluttershy up, she ran up the stairs. Spike’s bed was empty, with a note rolled up on it.
Princess musta called him away, Applejack thought as she returned to the main room. Ain’t that just my luck tonight? She took Fluttershy up the stairs first. Applejack figured that, as the more sober pony, if not by much, Twilight would be fine alone for a little longer. Tucking Fluttershy into bed safely was much more difficult than Applejack would have guessed. The pegasus tried to fly out the window as soon as Applejack’s back was turned, and only some quick work with her ever-present rope stopped her. She tied one of Fluttershy’s back legs to the bed loosely to prevent another escape attempt.
Unlike Fluttershy, Twilight had been a model of good behavior. She hadn’t even said a word the entire way home, though Applejack assumed that was due to the fact she seemed nearly asleep. That had apparently changed as soon as she was home, though. Applejack couldn’t have been gone more than a few minutes, but the floor was strewn with open books. She saw no pattern to Twilight’s spontaneous studying, either. The Art of Romance lay next to Birds and Bees: Miracles of Life and Making Magic with Your Horn. She shook her head and began guiding her friend up the stairs.
“I’m sorry, Applejack,” Twilight whispered, her eyes on the floor.
“For what? I ain’t the one who’s gonna have to clean up this mess. Youll haveta apologize to Spike for that one.”
“For getting so drunk.”
Applejack shook her head again. “T’weren’t nothin’,” she said, though even she had to admit she didn’t sound convincing. Laying aside the difficulty of escorting her friends home, she had wanted to spend some time actually talking to Twilight. She knew she was too oblivious to figure out the other pony’s feelings, but she also knew that Rarity would have had great fun doing so. You’re with her now, ain’t you? Applejack ignored the small voice.
“But it is,” Twilight refused to look up.
Maybe she’s drunker’n I thought.
Before Applejack could say anything, Twilight continued. “I used to have wine at major functions at school, so I thought I could handle it, but…” She cut off and shook her head. Applejack didn’t need to hear the rest to understand.
“Well, sugarcube, we make our drinks a bit stronger down on the farm.” They were next to Twilight’s bed now, and Applejack began prodding her friend into it gently. “Y’all just sleep it off, alright?”
Twilight nodded as Applejack pulled the blankets up. She leaned forwards suddenly, faster than she’d done anything since they left the party. Applejack was too surprised to pull back, and too preoccupied to hear the quiet giggle that came from the other bed. Twilight kissed Applejack and whispered, “Good night.”
Applejack stared for a moment. She raised a hoof to her lips. It was several minutes before she could make herself back away towards the stairs. As she passed Fluttershy’s bed, the yellow pony sat up and whispered loudly.
“Hey, Applejack, wanna know a secret?” She giggled. “Twilight’s got a crush on you!” There were more giggles as Fluttershy rolled over, giggles that quickly turned to a delicate snore.
Applejack ran across the town square as quickly as her hooves would carry her. As she galloped through Ponyville the buildings on either side blurred together. But why are you runnin’? The small voice continued to grow. She shook her head. Some things are best ignored, at least for now. She looked over her shoulder. The library was still visible, its top branches soaring over the houses and businesses of her hometown. It seemed to be calling her back. She stopped to listen, but heard nothing. Don’t be foolish; it’s just a library. She began running again, somehow faster this time. Behind her, the library still loomed over the rest of the town.
Applejack’s eyes opened. She looked around as her eyes adjusted to the dark. She wasn’t on the dirt road; she was in her bed at Sweet Apple Acres, the library was nowhere to be seen, and the sun was barely creeping over the horizon. She stifled a yawn and shuffled down the stairs for breakfast. Sleep had not come easy last night, and she’d been tormented by the strangest dream she could remember having. Big Macintosh and Granny Smith were already at the table when she arrived, both with a large stack of flapjacks in front of them. There was a third stack for her and plenty of batter for when Applebloom finally woke. All three ate quietly. Farm breakfasts were hearty breakfasts, with little time wasted on talk. Nopony knew if they’d have time for lunch, so each did their best to cram a day’s worth of food into as short a time as possible. Time wasn’t money for the Apple family, but it was near enough as made no difference in applebucking season. It wasn’t long before the three ponies were finished and looking out over their seemingly endless orchard. They’d already been bucking for a week and, like every year, it felt like they would never be done. With a yawn, Applejack split up the day’s work, and the Apple family set to their tasks.
Twilight Sparkle opened her eyes and shut them again immediately. Somepony had apparently lit every candle, lamp, and fireplace the library had. She growled to herself, something about roasting Spike over his own fires if he was behind this stupidity. She lay still for a moment before rolling out of bed. She could hear a loud pounding and fully intended to lay into whoever had woken her. Navigating the stairs was more difficult than normal this morning, partly due to the fact that she still hadn’t opened her eyes again and partly due to the fact that they seemed to move as she walked down them. If somepony’s playing tricks on me… She made it to the door without incident, and opened it to find the light outside was several times more blinding than what was in her bedroom. Oh, please tell me Celestia didn’t come for a surprise visit.
When her eyes had painfully adjusted, Twilight discovered that not only was Celestia not there, nopony was. There were a few ponies out on errands, several with a hoof held to their heads, but none on the library’s doorstep. The pounding continued as if somepony had neglected to inform it that Twilight had opened the door. She muttered to herself, and slammed the door. The pounding doubled. She turned, wincing, and the room spun. She reached out a hoof. There was a chair, and she collapsed into it.
“Celestia above, what happened last night?” She put her face in her hooves, covering her eyes, and the pounding lessened a little. Let’s see…I remember leaving Applejack’s and coming back here. I read some of Art of Romance. Then the party, and Applejack was there… She blushed. She’d already had more to drink than she should have. And I tried to talk fashion with her. Fashion. With Applejack! She shook her head, and she felt the room spin again. It wasn’t my fault. The orange mare had been radiant last night, and her hat had been literally so. Still, there’d been something different about her beyond the hat. Applejack’s hair had been done up, Twilight remembered, and she could almost have stepped out of the court at Canterlot. That wasn’t fair. She’s beautiful without trying, and then she goes and dresses up? The only time her friend had looked better had been at the Gala. She remembered running to the drink table as soon as Applejack moved on. Nearly everything after that was a blur of laughter and colors. There were glimpses of faces, of drinks, of everything but Applejack. She even thought she remembered Fluttershy singing bawdy songs.
Twilight shifted. The chair she’d chosen was supposed to be comfortable. Years of wear combined with a killer hangover had rendered it not so. Opening her eyes, she stood and walked to the stairs. As she did, she noticed the mess around her for the first time. Somepony had pulled a large chunk of the library from the shelves and rearranged it all over the floor. A clock sat on the mantel, proclaiming that it was well past the time Spike should have been up and cleaning. Twilight snarled and stomped up the stairs. Every step rang in her head.
In the bedroom, Spike’s bed was empty, but there was a blanket-covered lump in the guest bed. I got him his own bed and he still uses that one. How many times have I told him? “Spike!” Twilight caught sight of herself in the mirror. Her normally well-brushed mane and tail both frizzed horribly, the makeup she’d put on last night was smeared, and her eyes were bloodshot. She looked away immediately. The lump in the guest bed stirred and settled again. Twilight thought she could hear mumbling from under the blankets. “SPIKE!” The blankets flew off the bed as a yellow streak shot up. Twilight jerked back. She barely had time to realize that it had been Fluttershy in the bed before the yellow pegasus flew in a tight arc and crashed into the floor. Somepony had tied one of her hooves to the bedpost, it seemed. Somepony or some dragon? Twilight vowed to double Spike’s workload.
The unicorn rushed forward and knelt at her friend’s side. “Are you all right?”
Fluttershy opened one eye and shut it again. She said something indistinct.
“I’m sorry? What was that?” Twilight leaned in.
Fluttershy repeated herself, but softer this time. Twilight frowned.
“You’re going to have to speak up.”
“I said, ‘Please don’t be so loud!’” Twilight had only rarely heard Fluttershy raise her voice, and never so close to the yellow pony’s mouth. Her head rang. She covered both ears with her hooves and screwed her eyes shut. The pain subsided after a moment.
“Sorry,” she muttered, moving to untie Fluttershy’s hoof. “How did this happen?”
Fluttershy looked down. “Um…I think Applejack may have done it.”
Twilight froze and stared at her friend. “Why would Applejack tie you to a bed?” She felt her face warm. Oh, Celestia, no. The same thought had apparently occurred to Fluttershy, because she turned bright red.
“Um, because, well, I maybe kind of got a little teensy bit drunk?” Twilight’s eyes widened. “Oh, no no nonononono!” Fluttershy’s face reddened further, something Twilight hadn’t thought possible. “Nothing like that! I…um…I think I tried flying away. Several times. Loudly.”
Twilight stared. Fluttershy? Loud? Wait… She gasped. “You remember last night?”
Fluttershy looked up. “Well, some, yes.”
Twilight finished untying the pegasus’ hoof and darted back up to her face. “Please please please tell me what happened!” Fluttershy whimpered, raising a hoof to her head, and Twilight drew back. “Sorry.”
“Um…I don’t remember much,” Fluttershy started. “Just that I may have had a little too much.” She blushed again. “Oh, and that Applejack had to get us here and put us to bed. And—” The yellow pony’s face paled and she let out a small squeak. Her eyes began darting around the room, never resting on one spot for more than a second, and never meeting Twilight’s.
“Are you all right?” Twilight asked for the second time that morning.
“I…um…I think, um, I think I need to maybe gohomenow.” Fluttershy’s voice had grown softer with every word. “My animals, you know.” As she began backing towards the stairs, Twilight cocked her head.
“Did something happen last night? I thought you were about to say something else.” I don’t think I’ve seen her so scared since the dragon.
“Yes—I mean no!” She continued backing away, a bit faster. Her eyes were focused on Twilight, though they never met the unicorn’s. She reached the stairs and nearly fell down them when she missed the first step.
Twilight frowned. She began following Fluttershy, who was still backing down the stairs. “Is something wrong?” The yellow pony began to shake.
Fluttershy squeaked again and shook her head wildly. “N—nothing, really. Um…just that…I mean…oh dear.”
They reached the bottom of the stairs and continued their awkward dance towards the door. Twilight sped up and Fluttershy followed suit. “Fluttershy, what happened last night?” The pegasus stumbled and fell as she stepped on a book. Twilight was there immediately.
Twilight jerked back. Sorry?
“I didn’t m-mean to, I promise.” Fluttershy’s eyes glistened. “P-pinkie Pie promise.”
Twilight’s frown deepened. “Didn’t mean to what, Fluttershy?” Did she make this mess? That’s hardly something to be so upset over.
Fluttershy whimpered something.
Twilight leaned in again. This is eerily familiar. “Sorry, what?”
Fluttershy’s voice was barely louder. “I, um, told Applejack.” She kept her eyes on the floor. “About you.”
It was nearing noon when Applejack decided to take a breather. Although she’d worried that the day’s work would go as slowly as it had the past two days, she’d mostly managed to lose herself in the rhythms of bucking. As she leaned against a tree, she caught sight of a purple mane on the other side of a rise. At first she thought she was seeing things again. The previous night’s events had managed to worm their way into her thoughts, though less successfully than she’d feared. The image of a purple face, smiling slightly as it closed its eyes and lay back, would occasionally float into her vision. At other times she thought she could feel a phantom pressure on her lips. Applejack had jumped slightly the first time she realized there was a part of her that enjoyed the memory. It’s just nice to be liked by somepony, even if she is a mare. And a friend. It quickly became clear that she wasn’t seeing things this time, and she tensed. She glanced around for someplace to hide, and quickly realized it was pointless. There was no underbrush in the orchard, and she hadn’t so much as tried climbing a tree in years. Besides, you ain’t got nothin’ to fear from Twilight. She braced herself as the purple mane came around the rise. When she saw Rarity, Applejack relaxed and flushed a little. Shoulda known better. Pretty as Twilight’s mane is, Rarity puts more effort into hers. It was a mark of how relieved she was that the thought didn’t even faze her. It wasn’t enough to make her forget she had business with her friend, though.
“Well, hey there, Rarity. What brings you up to these parts?” There was a slight tightness to Applejack’s voice, and Rarity stopped suddenly.
“Well, I was just taking a walk and thought I ought to stop by.” Applejack raised an eyebrow. “Oh, all right. I simply must know what happened last night, darling. Do please tell me everything. Was Twilight absolutely enamored by you?” Rarity was very nearly hopping.
Applejack’s expression settled into neutrality. “I took her home. And I don’t want to talk about it anymore right now.”
Rarity blinked. A slow smile spread across her face. “Oh, you little devil! If I’d known you were that kind of pony…well, never mind. But I must insist you fill me in on absolutely everything—well, maybe not quite everything, but most of it—just as soon as you’re ready.” She winked at Applejack, who stared back. “Well, you know where to find me, dear. Stop by any time.” She winked again before turning and walking away.
Applejack frowned and started walking towards the next tree. Now what was that all about? All I said was that I took Twilight home and— She froze. Oh. Her face flushed. “Because she was drunk and needed help,” she called. Rarity didn’t respond, and Applejack doubted her friend had heard her. Wouldn’t help any if she had. The cowpony shook her head as she returned to work.
Twilight could have sworn she felt her heart stop. Her coat rose all over and she trembled. “You told her.” She’d read stories where a character’s voice was described as ice, but had never understood exactly what was meant. Until now.
Fluttershy shrank back. “I-I’m really sorry, Twilight.”
“You promised not to tell anyone.” The unicorn’s voice began to rise. “Not a soul, ever, and what did you do?”
The yellow pony tried backing away, an impressive feat given that she was still on the floor. “I s-swear, I d-didn’t—”
Twilight continued on as if she hadn’t heard. “You told the one pony, the one above all others, that I didn’t want to be told.”
Fluttershy whimpered. Tears began to create wet trails down her face.
“What. Were. You. Thinking.” Twilight stepped forward with every word. Fluttershy was still trying to scramble back, but Twilight was faster. Her face was only inches from the pegasus pony’s when she finished speaking.
Fluttershy’s mouth moved, but only squeaks and whispers escaped. Twilight had stopped paying attention in any case. She turned and started up the stairs. Fluttershy sat still for a moment. As her friend continued walking away, she flew out of the library, a trail of tears following her.
Alright, before we get into the story proper, just a couple things. First, I want to thank my friend Alli for being kind enough to edit this and all future chapters. Second, this chapter pushes I Kissed a Mare over 10k words. I know that’s not a lot by most comparisons, even (or maybe especially) by fanfic standards, but that makes it the longest thing I’ve ever written. Including my undergraduate thesis. Third, I’ve been trying to post one chapter approximately every seven days or so. Unfortunately, this was the last chapter of my buffer, so things will slow down a bit. Fourth and finally, thanks to everyone for reading, commenting, and what have you. Now, as a certain brown pony might say, allons-y!
The door slammed as Fluttershy left. Twilight paused at the top of the stairs and sighed. Shaking her head and immediately regretting it, she tried to push ordered thoughts through the fuzz in her mind. There was a mess that had to be taken care of, but she couldn’t go back down yet. Fluttershy might still be around. She wasn’t ready to face her friend. She would have to apologize eventually, and there was a large part of her that wanted to do just that. I wasn’t allowed to tell her Rarity’s secret, or vice versa, she reminded herself. Why should I hold her to a different standard? Twilight’s head dropped as she climbed back into bed.
Twilight’s nap had been short but refreshing, and the pounding had quieted to a dull throb while she slept. Her first thought on waking was to clean the mess somepony had made the night before. Cleaning tended to be an easy task for Twilight, at least when it came to library books. It usually involved nothing more than pointing Spike towards the mess. Even when he wasn’t around, she hardly had much to do. As she saw it, the main difficulty was finding an open spot for whatever book she was currently holding. Spike had often asked her to try putting books in their proper place, but she was usually too busy for that. Besides, that’s what a dragon assistant is for, isn’t it? She’d never quite figured out why Princess Celestia had allowed her to keep Spike, but assumed it was because he took care of all her mundane tasks. The thought that he did so because that was how she’d trained him never entered her mind. In any case, she never needed to search for a book as long as her dragon friend was near.
Cleaning the library took Twilight less than an hour. It also helped her not think about Applejack, though it would have been impossible to keep her friend out of her mind completely. Especially when she found The Art of Romance on the floor. She blushed as she put it aside for later reference, along with a few similar books. There were few disadvantages of being raised by a god-princess, but the most immediate was that her education had been less than thorough in certain matters. Making Magic with Your Horn was a surprise. Twilight couldn’t understand what anypony would want with it. It was outdated and oversimplified. Most unicorns had learned how to do everything the book described and more while they were still fillies. She shook her head and noted that the room no longer spun when she did so. The dull throb remained, however, and she felt both hungry and queasy. Maybe I should go see Pinkie, she thought. The pink pony was sure to have a hangover remedy.
There were more ponies on the street, and fewer obviously hung over, when Twilight stepped outside. It was still early enough in the year that the weather was nice, no matter how much Twilight wished it would be overcast and rainy. Not long after she left the library, Twilight saw Rarity on the other side of the street. She waved and received a grin and wink in return. What in Equestria? Rarity had continued on before Twilight had a chance to react. She briefly considered visiting her friend, but decided against it. While the other unicorn might have some recollection of last night’s events, it was just as likely she was still drunk. Twilight was willing to bet Rarity was the type of pony who could handle a few drinks more than herself or Fluttershy. Of course, that just meant sobering up would take her longer. Even if her friend wasn’t still drunk, Twilight doubted she was in any mood for talk. Then again, she thought with a smile, when isn’t Rarity up for a little chat?
Twilight had a habit of walking on autopilot while her mind was miles away. It was a bad habit, she knew, and one that occasionally ended with her walking into somepony or something. Although she paid just enough attention to avoid any collisions, today was no different. She wasn’t sure it could be, given the previous night’s events.
It’s an odd feeling, Twilight thought for what had to be the thousandth time, having a crush. She could pin down when exactly she’d realized she liked Applejack, but not when her feelings had changed. She’d tried, of course. It was highly pertinent to her studies of friendship, and she was sure there was some sort of magic involved. What else could make a pony feel this way? She’d spent many an afternoon with paper and quill, trying to take notes on her own feelings, trying to build a proper timeline. It was, however, a futile effort. All she knew was that at some point friendship had changed into a crush. She couldn’t even write to the princess about it. Well, I could, but what would I say? “Dear Princess Celestia, guess what? I like mares! Specifically, I like my friend Applejack and she knows it because somepony I won’t mention thought it was a good idea to get drunk and tell her. So now I’ve got no idea what to do. Could you possibly take a moment out of your extraordinarily busy life ruling all of Equestria to spare some of your millennia of wisdom? Your devoted student, Twilight ‘Too Stupid To Figure This Out On Her Own’ Sparkle.” Yeah, that’ll work. Take a note, Spike. Twilight shook her head and very nearly ran into the mailbox outside Sugarcube Corner. Maybe I wasn’t paying as much attention as I thought.
There was the customary tinkling bell as she walked through the door, as well as the customary greeting from her pink friend behind the counter. The yellow form slumped against Pinkie was not customary, however. Twilight stiffened and spun away.
“I’m sorry, Pinkie, it looks like you’re a bit busy,” she said as she opened the door again. “I’ll just come back later.” A loud squeak came from behind her, but she ignored it until a pink blur flew past.
“Wait wait wait!” Pinkie wasn’t even breathing hard, despite having set new records for both the cross-store sprint and the counter hurdle. Twilight flinched at the volume of the earth pony’s voice. Her hangover wasn’t quite gone, it seemed. “C’mon, Twilight, you gotta forgive Fluttershy. Just look at her!” Despite being the same height as Twilight, the pink pony somehow managed to smile up at her purple friend.
“She promised, Pinkie. And you know better than anypony what happens if you break a friend’s trust.” She heard a muffled sob behind her, but Twilight still refused to turn. It’s Fluttershy, and she’s crying. What are you, some kind of monster?
Pinkie wasn’t smiling anymore. “But it wasn’t her fault. Blame me for getting her drunk if you have to, but please forgive her?” Twilight bit her lip. More sobs came from behind her.
She’s still your friend. Twilight shook her head. Whose side are you on?
“Please please please please pleeeeease?”
Twilight sighed. “Fine.” She turned and walked to the yellow pony. She took a breath. “Look, I…I shouldn’t have snapped at you. You weren’t exactly in your right mind last night, and I guess I wasn’t in mine this morning. So, you know, I’m sorry and I forgive you.” The last sentence came out in a rush.
Fluttershy looked up. She was smiling, and her eyes were dry. “Oh, thank you so much, Twilight. And I forgive you, too, of course.”
Twilight stared. “But…but you, crying…what?”
Pinkie bounded over, her grin splitting her face. “I told you it would work! I told you she probly felt bad and I was right!”
Twilight’s eyes widened and her nostrils flared. “You mean Fluttershy wasn’t crying at all? You tricked me?”
Fluttershy’s head lowered slightly. “I’m sorry, Twilight, but Pinkie said it was the best way.”
The purple unicorn glared at her pink friend. “She did, did she?”
Pinkie nodded wildly. It was a constant marvel for Twilight that the earth pony hadn’t given herself a concussion yet. “Well, I thought you might still be mad so we had to calm you down first or else Fluttershy couldn’t tell you what else she remembered about last night ‘cause it’s really important and if she didn’t you’d never get to hear about how you kissed Applejack and we thought maybe you should know that.”
“What.” They’re joking again. They have to be. Is it April already, wait, no, Applejack wouldn’t be bucking if it was, but this has to be a joke or something oh Celestia what have I done?
Applejack found it hard to get back into the rhythms of applebucking after Rarity left. Every time she thought she’d managed to get her mind back to the task at hoof, an image of herself lying in bed with Twilight popped into her head. She didn’t think her cheeks had cooled down for at least an hour. Some of those scenes had been much more imaginative than she would have expected. Well, maybe from Rarity, but I ain’t that kind of pony.
It was once again dark before the cowpony had harvested the apples off her last tree for the day. She yawned as she walked into the farmhouse, expecting to find the kitchen empty aside from some leftovers. Instead she found Big Macintosh sitting at the table, a mug of soup in front of him. She smiled at him and dished her own soup. It wasn’t uncommon for her older brother to need a bedtime snack. Keeping him fed would have been difficult enough even if he hadn’t done most of the heavy lifting around the farm.
“Finished late tonight.” Applejack barely stopped herself from jumping. Talking while eating was beyond rare for the Apple family, and Big Mac had always been the last pony to start conversation.
“Yeah, guess I was a bit distracted.” Big Macintosh raised an eyebrow. “All right, a mite distracted.” She grinned at her brother.
“Seems you been ‘a mite distracted’ since you got back from lunch t’other day.” Applejack’s grin faded.
“And what of it? Y’all’ve had your off days, too.” Big Macintosh blinked, and Applejack shifted. “Sorry, Big Mac. I didn’t sleep none too well last night.”
The large pony nodded. “Everythin’ all right, Li’l Jack?” Applejack froze. He hadn’t called her by her childhood nickname in years.
I must not’ve been hidin’ things as well as I thought. She stared into her soup. “Course it is. Why wouldn’t it be? Not like anything’s happened last couple of days, right?” Her inexperience at lying was evident in every word. She spoke too fast, her voice was too high, and she didn’t dare look up.
Big Macintosh gave a snort, and Applejack was sure he was laughing at her. “Well, if’n you say nothin’s wrong, then I reckon nothin’s wrong.” He stood, left his mug by the sink, and started for the door.
“Wait.” Applejack’s throat was tight, and her appetite had left her. Whether I want to tell him or not, t’ain’t right to lie to your own brother. “I ain’t been entirely honest.” She looked up to see him give a small nod. She swallowed and tried to order her thoughts. “You might want to sit down again; I dunno how long this’ll take.”
It actually didn’t take as long as Applejack had feared. Once she started speaking, the words just rolled out, often in a disjointed stream. She had to back up and restart a part of the story several times, but each time Big Mac’s confused looks turned to nods quickly.
“So now Rarity thinks I’ve gone and…” Applejack bit her lip, thinking. “…Well, you know, with Twilight and who knows who she might’ve told. And I got no idea what to do now.” That’s been somethin’ of a theme recently, hasn’t it? She looked at her brother. Most ponies thought he was just a simple workhorse. However, while it was true his tastes tended towards the uncomplicated, he wasn’t at all stupid. In fact, he was one of the wisest ponies Applejack had ever met.
“Well,” he began, “I don’t reckon you gotta worry ‘bout Rarity. That mare’s got more sense than she lets on.” Applejack waited for him to continue. Instead, he stood and walked towards the door again. Applejack stared after him.
“But what do I do about Twilight?” Her brother turned and smiled at her.
“Granny Smith didn’t raise no fools, you least of all. I’m sure you’ll figure somethin’ out.” And with that, he left the kitchen. Applejack heard the sounds of his hooves on the stairs and knew he would be dispensing no more advice tonight.
“Gee, thanks.” She finished her soup, more from necessity than any real desire to eat, and made her own way to bed.
Twilight looked back and forth between her friends. Fluttershy seemed to be examining the floor near her hooves. Despite bouncing slightly, Pinkie wasn’t smiling. They really aren’t joking, are they? It had been a faint hope at best, but even that was better than the other option. Twilight’s knees buckled and she collapsed. “Oh Celestia,” she moaned. Her head hurt again.
Fluttershy stepped forward and put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”
The purple unicorn stared at her friend. “Somepony told Applejack I like her. I somehow managed to get up the courage to kiss her, but now I can’t even remember it. And on top of all that, I’m hungover. What part of that sounds ‘okay’ to you?” As Fluttershy stepped back, Pinkie stopped bouncing long enough to trot into the kitchen. And now I’m snapping at Fluttershy again. This day keeps getting better and better.
“Um…” Fluttershy looked out from behind a curtain of pink mane with an uncertain smile. “If it helps any, I think you maybe kissed her before I said anything.” Twilight groaned and let her head fall into her hooves. She lay like that until somepony started poking her.
She looked up to see Pinkie Pie with a mug balanced on her head. She offered the mug to Twilight, who took it. There was some sort of dark foul-smelling liquid inside, and Twilight stared at it. “You drink it, silly!” The unicorn looked up in time to see a pink hoof headed towards her face. Before she could react, the mug had been shoved up to her lips and half its contents were in her mouth. The liquid tasted worse than it smelled, and was thick and slimy. It was an effort to swallow. Twilight found her headache lessened almost immediately and choked down the rest of the disgusting concoction.
“Do I even want to know what was in that?” Twilight eyed the empty mug. There was some sort of brownish residue in the bottom, and she wasn’t certain she hadn’t seen something moving in it.
“Nope!” The pink pony grinned and began bouncing again. “So, what now? You gonna go confess your love? Ooh, you should do it with a pegasus banner across the sky!”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Pinkie.”
“Or maybe you could take her out for a nice dinner and put a note in her cake.”
“Or put a pony in her cake! I bet I could bake you a pony-cake! Do you think the pony would go in bef—”
“PINKIE!” The pink pony stopped bouncing in mid bounce. Twilight wondered briefly how her friend had managed to turn an arcing jump into a fall straight down. She shook her head. Trying to understand Pinkie would just bring on another headache. “I don’t know what comes next, but it will not involve ponies being put in cakes. Or banners.” Her stomach grumbled, and she realized the nausea she’d had earlier was gone. “It may involve lunch, though.”[a]
Thanks[a] again to Alli for helping me edit. Comments are enabled on all chapters, so feel free to leave me a note. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting.
Sugarcube Corner was held by the citizens of Ponyville to be the best confectionary in town. There were those who called it the best in Equestria, though that was a difficult claim to substantiate, and was usually only said by those who had an excess of pride in their hometown. It was, however, without a doubt the best place in Ponyville to get various baked sweets, as well as a serious contender for best candy shop. A casual visitor would notice, therefore, the numerous cakes, cupcakes, donuts, fritters, pies, chocolates, hard candies, soft candies, in-between candies, and even candied fruits; but not a single piece of substantial food. For Twilight, this posed a problem.
Usually, she preferred a light lunch. A salad or sandwich was perfectly good noontime fare, as far as she was concerned, and sometimes she even skipped it. There was almost always studying to be done, after all, and there were many snacks that she could munch on without risking any damage to her books. Today was different, though. Today she found herself ravenous. As she munched on a donut that was, despite being delicious, rather unfilling, she decided this was somehow due to her mostly-cured hangover.
Fluttershy was nibbling at a scone, and Pinkie had already finished off a plate of cupcakes. As the pink pony began sneaking up on a second plate, Fluttershy looked at Twilight. “So, um, any ideas yet?”
The unicorn shook her head. “It hasn’t even been an hour, Fluttershy.” Both ponies turned away as frosting and crumbs flew from Pinkie’s cupcake carnage. Where do I even start? “I mean, I didn’t know what to do before I kissed Applejack. Celestia only knows what I should do now.”
“That’s easy!” A pink face, covered in frosting, popped in between Twilight and Fluttershy. Pinkie shook her head and covered her friends in bits of cupcake. “You ask her out, silly filly!”
Twilight blinked as she stepped back. I thought your idea of a good next move was to bake a pony into a cake. It occurred to her that Pinkie’s earlier suggestions would work better during or after a date, though. “That just might work,” she said.
Twilight walked through Ponyville, for once paying complete attention to where she was going. Although at first glance she appeared to simply be wandering, a careful observer would notice there was a definite pattern to her route. She covered most of the town’s streets at least once, and crossed the main square repeatedly. This same observer would also notice that Twilight had walked her route several times over the last few hours, and could therefore deduce she was looking for something or somepony. This had indeed been the case for a few days.
“Hey, AJ, want to go out sometime?” Twilight shook her head. Too casual. It should be more…special. She’d been planning and practicing for days but was no closer to actually asking Applejack. It wasn’t entirely her fault. The earth pony hadn’t come into town since Pinkie’s party. Twilight wasn’t really surprised; she knew just how busy applebucking season could be for her friend. At the same time, she couldn’t help wondering what else she might have done with the hours she’d been wandering Ponyville, hoping to happen to run into Applejack. That won’t do me any good if I don’t know how to ask her though, she thought. Pinkie, that fountain of inane and semi-useful ideas, hadn’t the slightest clue how a pony should ask out a friend. Fluttershy, not surprisingly, had been just as helpful. In fact, she’d been less, as the very subject of dating turned her into a bright pink ball of squeaks and shivers. Applejack wasn’t an option for obvious reasons, which left Rarity or Rainbow Dash. Well, that’s not really a hard choice, is it? Twilight turned and began walking back up the street.
A bell tinkled as the door to Carousel Boutique opened. Rarity was nowhere in sight, but her voice floated from the upper story. “Be right with you!” Twilight walked in and looked around at the familiar sight. Dresses of every color imaginable, and some unimaginable, were displayed with pride. She smiled as she recognized some of the designs. Her friends’ gala dresses had been given a place of honor, directly across from the door. Although Rarity had given them the gowns, they had each chosen to let her display them. It was just safer for one thing, and a perfect show of the white unicorn’s talents for another. The sound of hoofsteps came from the stairs, and Twilight turned to watch her friend’s mildly dramatic entrance. “Welcome to Carousel Boutique, where every dress—” Rarity cut off and her smile became genuine. “Oh, it’s you, Twilight. What can I do for you today?”
Twilight’s smile faded a bit. “Um…you’ve had a lot of dating experience, right?”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. “What a strange thing to ask, darling. Hardly a question a lady should answer, but since you are a friend…I suppose I’ve had my fair share, yes.”
“Well, um, I need help figuring out how to ask somepony out.” Twilight shifted her hooves.
“Oh?” Rarity’s smile broadened. “And who might the lucky pony be?”
Twilight looked down and shifted again. She sounded more like Fluttershy than herself as she mumbled something.
Rarity leaned forwards. “I’m sorry, dear, I don’t believe I caught that.”
“Applejack.” Twilight’s voice was still soft, thought much more audible than it had been.
Rarity’s smile turned into a wide grin. She reined it in as Twilight looked back up, then cocked her head. “But why would you be worried about asking her out? Didn’t she take you home after Pinkie’s party?” She raised an eyebrow as she added, “Unless something went…wrong?”
Twilight flinched. Of course other ponies would have seen them leave together. She’d be lucky if she and Applejack weren’t the talk of the town. There was a certain lack of logic to this train of thought that never occurred to the purple unicorn. “I—I suppose you could say that…I kind of—”
Rarity interrupted her friend. “Darling, please! A lady mustn’t kiss and tell.” She grinned as Twilight blushed. “Not until you’ve worked everything out with Applejack, that is. IN any case, I would think she’d be delighted. Perhaps you could join me at lunch tomorrow? I’m supposed to be meeting a certain earth pony, though I’m sure I could find some reason to leave early.” Her wink was lost on Twilight, who was staring at the ceiling with a smile.
Applejack looked around. She knew she was at Sweet Apple Acres, but it was all wrong. The trees around her were taller than she remembered and they didn’t stand in the neat rows she was used to. Deep shadows crisscrossed in ways that shouldn’t have been possible. She should have been able to tell where the barn and house were based off the trees, but her only guide was the night sky. She quickly gathered her bearings and began to trot. She could have sworn the shadows, or maybe something in them, were moving and picked up the pace a little. The orchard—no, forest—spread in front of her, seemingly endless.
Applejack shuddered. Some part of the barn should have been visible from almost any spot in the farm, even in the darkest hours of night, but she hadn’t seen it yet. She glanced over her shoulder and stopped. Behind her, in a clearing she’d never seen before, was the library. Light poured out its windows, and it wasn’t until she’d taken a step towards it that she even realized she’d turned around. She shook her head. There was nothing she wanted in the library. You sure about that? The small voice in her head had grown into a full-sized voice, and was as likely to chime in as Applejack’s own thoughts.
I suppose gettin’ in out of the dark might not be so bad, she answered. Answering the voice didn’t get rid of it, but neither did ignoring it. She’d wondered once or twice if the voice meant she was going mad and had eventually decided that if she was, it was nice to have the company. She turned and began walking away from the library.
That ain’t what I meant, and you know it. At that, she stopped midstep. She’d talked the voice plenty of times, but it almost never answered her back. She shook her head and started walking again. She sensed the library following her, though she wasn’t sure how. There was no rustling of leaves or groaning of wood as the apple trees moved aside for it. She started trotting, and knew the library was keeping up. Her pace was steady until the door to the library opened with a creak that sounded like it was calling her name. Then she ran.
Applejack made it out of bed and to the window in one jump. She looked out over the orchard and sighed when she saw the trees in their neat rows. The sky was still dark, with just a sliver of grey to warn her there wasn’t long before it was time to resume bucking. She walked back to her bed and flopped down. She could go back to sleep, but dawn was less than an hour away. Although she very rarely overslept, she knew she would if she didn’t stay awake. She threw her pillow across the room, and it hit the opposite wall with a quiet flump. A decent night’s sleep had managed to evade her every night for the past few days. If she didn’t wake up every hour or so for no apparent reason, she had uneasy dreams. She hesitated to call them nightmares. Strictly speaking, most of her dreams weren’t really bad. Some of them had even been somewhat pleasurable, if a bit disturbing, she remembered with a blush.
Applejack sighed as she rolled back out of bed. If I can’t sleep, I suppose I should see about some breakfast. As she walked down the stairs, she caught the scent of oatmeal. Granny Smith musta got up early, too. There were few chores the old mare could still do, but she demanded to be part of applebuck season all the same. Applejack could hear her grandmother’s words just thinking about it. “I ain’t missed a buckin’ since long before you was born, and I ain’t gonna miss this one neither. ‘Sides, I ain’t no burden to nopony.” As a result, she did much of the cooking and baking throughout the year, and almost all of it during applebuck season. Even if she hadn’t been so stubborn, none of the Apple family would have tried to take these chores from her. Despite her age, Granny Smith made the best pie this side of Canterlot. Not even the Cakes could beat her secret recipe, though they’d tried often enough.
It was a surprise, therefore, when Applejack found Big Macintosh standing at the stove. Her brother looked up from the pot he was stirring. “Mornin’, AJ.” She grunted as she passed him. There was a pot of coffee next to the oatmeal, and she filled a mug. The dark brown liquid was just cool enough to drink. If Applejack’s weariness didn’t exactly drain away, at least it shuffled off to a back corner of her mind.
“What’re you doin’ up already, Big Mac?” Her brother, like the rest of the family, was not a pony to sleep in. Even so, he usually didn’t wake before dawn. Being up a full hour before sunrise was practically unheard of for the red stallion.
“Well,” he said, not turning from the stove, “it ain’t easy to sleep when you keep hearin’ somepony moanin’ and rollin’ around all night.” Applejack’s face flushed.
“I figure whoever it was has a few things on her mind. Though I’d probably tell her,” he said, finally turning towards his sister, “that everypony’d probably sleep a bit better if she’d work out her issues.” He returned his attention to the stove. “Oatmeal?”
Applejack stared at the table and didn’t answer. She’d never thought she might be disrupting anypony else’s sleep, and wasn’t sure how to apologize for something that wasn’t entirely her fault. She was shaken out of her reverie by the appearance of a bowl in front of her. Apparently, Big Macintosh’s question had been rhetorical. She looked up, deciding it was best to just move on. “If you finish up the Galas, I’ll get to work on the Cortlands. We should be able to clear most of that area by tonight.” If her brother was surprised that she was divvying up chores before breakfast, he didn’t show it.
“Nothin’ doin’,” Macintosh said as he took a place at the table. “I’ll take the Cortlands.” Applejack stared at her brother. She’d assigned herself the heavier workload, but it would offer her more time alone for thinking. Besides, he knew that she was just as capable of getting the job done as he was.
“You ain’t any less tired than me,” the orange pony said, “so there ain’t no reason why I can’t do the Cortlands.”
Big Macintosh didn’t look up from his oatmeal. “Sure is. Y’all got a lunch date with Rarity.”
Applejack winced. Can’t believe I plum forgot. “Guess I’m doin’ the Galas, then,” she muttered before taking a bite of oatmeal.
Applejack smiled as she walked into Ponyville. The morning’s bucking had gone rather well. Another hour or two would clear the last of the Galas, and she’d be able to help Big Macintosh with the Cortlands. Both breeds of apples were very important to the family income. Cortlands were baked into many different desserts, which meant Granny Smith would be rather busy over the next week. Galas, on the other hoof, were a perennial favorite for customers. Putting them out at market provided much of the farm’s income in fall. In addition, finishing up both breeds would clear out a large chunk of the orchard. Every Apple knew there was less than a week of bucking left when the last Gala or Cortland landed in the barrel. Maybe then I can take care of some other business.
Thoughts of the afternoon’s work occupied Applejack’s mind until she reached Carousel Boutique. While she would normally have met Rarity at the café, she’d left early today. She wasn’t sure why, but it seemed like they never talked about anything of consequence over lunch. The previous week’s meal was the exception, of course, but usually Rarity would brush off all topics that weren’t light gossip with an airy “That’s hardly proper table talk, dear.” Applejack knew that she needed to talk about something other than gossip today, though. Among other things was the subject of Pinkie’s party, which Rarity would expect great detail about.
And that just ain’t somethin’ I want too many ponies hearin’. It wasn’t that she expected eavesdroppers to crowd the table, but it was always better to discuss private matters in private. She supposed she could always hold off on the discussion for another time, perhaps after she was done applebucking. But if’n I run into Twilight before that…
All thoughts of Twilight were interrupted by white unicorn who exited the boutique. “Applejack! You’re early. And in front of my shop. Whatever are you doing here?” It was a fair question. Carousel Boutique was not far from the café, but it was out of Applejack’s way.
“I need some advice. About Twilight.”
Rarity smiled. “Of course, dear.” She gave a small, ladylike gasp. “Oh, we must at least brush your mane before lunch! Don’t tell me you came straight from working.”
Applejack stared at her friend. “What’s this all about? You never used to care if I wasn’t cleaned up before. And I happen to like my mane the way it is, thank y’all very much.”
“Well, I don’t care at all, darling. But don’t you think you ought to look nice for Twilight?”
Applejack blinked. “Say what now?”
Rarity had stepped back inside and was rummaging around in a saddlebag that sat near the door. “Didn’t I tell you, dear? I invited Twilight to join us.”
Applejack’s mouth worked, but no sound came out. After a moment her back legs gave way and she sat on the ground with a quiet thump. Oh, ain’t that just perfect.
The small voice had apparently been quiet long enough. It is, isn’t it?
Y’all ever hear of sarcasm? Twilight’s the last pony I wanna be seein’ right now.
You sure about that? There was a definite teasing quality to the voice. Applejack shook her head.
“Is everything all right, dear?” She looked up to see Rarity in front of her with a brush.
The earth pony’s eyes narrowed. “I ain’t quite sure. Just what d’you think you’re playin’ at?” Applejack stood and stepped forward. Her friend stepped back.
“Playing? Moi? Darling, I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about.” Applejack said nothing, but kept walking forwards.
“Really? So y’all don’t know how Twilight and I both got all prettied up for Pinkie’s party?”
Rarity tried to smile. At least, Applejack thought it was supposed to be a smile. “Would you believe in coincidence?” The unicorn kept backing down the street.
“Invitin’ Twilight to lunch with us ain’t ‘coincidence.’”
“Well, I thought you might like to see her again.” Rarity had been backed against a wall. Applejack could see tables and chairs out of the corner of her eye and ignored them. “Since she said things didn’t go well after the party. I thought you might need to…work some things out.”
Applejack stopped. “What’d she tell you?”
Rarity straightened slightly. “Oh, nothing, really. Just that something went wrong. I assumed…well, that’s not important. Though I do know a few things—not that I’ve ever—um...” She trailed off with a blush.
Shaking her head slowly, Applejack sat on the ground. “All that happened was I took her home[b], and she kissed me. And I ain’t too keen on talkin’ to her until I’ve worked out what I’m gonna say.” And it won’t be that I’m in love with her or any fool thing, so don’t you go getting’ any ideas.
Who, me? If a voice in the back of somepony’s head could laugh, this one would have.
“Oh.” Rarity said. “I’m so sorry, Applejack. I just wanted to help.”
The earth pony sighed. “I know. Just—I dunno, tell Twilight I’ve got too much buckin’ today and had to cancel. I’ll talk to her myself eventually. See you next week?” She waited for her friend’s nod before trotting off. Around the corner was the front of the café where they usually had lunch. The street that passed by that side was almost a straight shot to Sweet Apple Acres. Applejack hadn’t taken more than a few steps along it, though, before she stopped.
She’d forgotten this street also passed the library. And, as if fate loved to play cruel jokes on her, she saw Twilight just a few feet away.