Celestia's sun shined bright over Sweet Apple Acres. The morning rays glistened off of the still fresh dew spritzed about the trees as many ponies diligently worked the fields, bucking the ripe crop from their branches.
"I just don't get why you needed me out here so early in the day," Rainbow Dash complained, bucking at a tree for the third time to make it release its fruit. "You know I like my sleep, AJ. And besides, this is really an earth pony job!"
Applejack looked back to her friend in frustration. "Ah needed ya out here because yer the strongest of our friends after me, and we need all the help we can get!"
She walked over to the tree Dash had been striking. "And ya ain't doin' it right!" Spinning on her heels, AJ landed a sharp buck to the tree, immediately being rewarded with a raining hail of fruit falling into the baskets below. "It ain't in the legs, Sug'. Ya gotta put yer whole body in it."
That morning had been a slow start for the pegasus. Being awakened before sunrise was not to her liking, for friends or otherwise. The Apple's had at least provided breakfast for all the hired workers, though she wasn't "hired" as much as "recruited."
Dash looked groggily at her friend. "See? I'm terrible at this! Why can't you guys just handle it on your own?" She let out a yawn as she moved to another tree weighed down with the bountiful fruit.
Applejack had bucked two more trees free of apples before her friend had even made it to the next one. She let out a sigh at the pegasus' lack of enthusiasm. "Dash, this here's hard work. It'll do ya good! Besides, yer far more fun to chat with than most'a the ponies we hire on."
"I'm not even getting paid!" the pegasus rose in protest. "C'mon, AJ, this is boring! I could be out there practicing right now!" She kicked at the tree, shaking one rather large apple free. The hefty fruit fell, striking her head and bouncing off with a solid thud. "Agh! Stupid apple!"
Applejack again walked to the tree her friend had tried to harvest. "Ah already told ya, ya ain't doin' it right! Ya know, ya could at least try to actually work." She landed a buck of her own to the tree, leading to another cascade of red apples.
Truth be told, Applejack didn't need the tired pegasus there. For the past hour they had been working, she had done nothing but pick up Dash's slack, which had only delayed the work she could have done on her own. What she did need was a friend. It had been a full season, and for the past week, AJ had worked the field every day. After last year's Applebuck Season, when she had tried to clear all of the acres by herself, the family had taken to hiring on help. Despite the extra ponies, however, there were still far too many trees to farm. Adding in how little the other ponies actually "helped," most not even knowing how to buck, it was taking much longer than expected. AJ was in desperate need of a friendly face and some nice conversation. Sadly, at the moment, Dash lacked both traits.
"If you don't like how I buck, then don't ask me to help buck!" Dash said. The two ponies poured the full baskets they carried into the cart for Big Macintosh to carry back to the barn.
An idea sparked in Applejack's mind. If there was one way to get Dash in the mood to do something, she knew it.
"All right," she called to the stubborn pegasus. "How about me and you have us a little competition?"
This got Dash's attention. "Oh, a contest, you say? What'd you have in mind?" A smug look of determination crossed her face, erasing the exhausted look from before.
"Simple!" AJ began, feeling better about the day already. "We see who can buck the most apples. Ah got the strength; you got the speed. We'll see who's the real Iron Pony, missy!"
Despite her lazy tendencies, if there was one thing Dash liked, it was a challenge. "Oh, you're on! ONE!TWO!THREE!GO!"
Both ponies bolted into action. The orange earth pony had muscle on her side. Running up to each tree, it only took a quick twist of her hips and solid buck to alleviate the branches of their crop. Dash, on the other hoof, had the benefits of flight and speed. Where bucking often left the tree unmoved, she found she could easily release the fruit by taking a flying dive, turning at the last moment to land a quick, forced kick. The two found themselves neck-and-neck, clearing out their corner of the field quickly.
A plan came to Dash as she flew. It was crazy, but it just might work. The pegasus took off, straight into the sky. She knew this would give the lead to her friend, but she was also confident it would net her the victory overall. High above the grove, she changed direction, plummeting towards the ground below.
AJ paused her bucking, looking up to her blue friend in the sky. What was that pony up to? It wasn't like her to give up on a contest, so this must be some sort of tactic. She watched on as Dash unfurled her wings, beating in fast pulses downward. Soon, a wave of energy began to appear, pressing the way in front of the pegasus, before coning closer still around the blue blur. Wait, she wasn't, was she? There's no way she would...
Dash's face rippled in the air as she drew near the ground. This competition was hers! "Sonic..." she uttered through clenched teeth as she careened lower. "Rain..." The air tightened around her, and colored flashes could be seen. This was it!
Dash darted back into the sky as a large explosion encircled her, sending waves of color laterally across the field. She had timed it just right; the blast was at the level of the tree tops!
The sight, normally something of beauty, had quite the opposite affect on the farmer pony. As the spectrum wave rushed through the leafy trees, the apples were indeed unfettered. They had also been tossed far across the acres, flying in huge arcs clear away from the farmland. All the season's hard work, planting, fertilizing, watering, protecting; blasted away by a rainbow.
Dash descended with a triumphant glare. "Ha! Looks like I win! How you like THEM apples!" She looked to her friend, expecting to see a face of frustration.
Nope, no frustration there. That was a face of straight anger.
"WHAT APPLES?!" AJ shouted indignantly. "YA LAUNCHED THE WHOLE LOT OF 'EM DANG NEAR TO CANTERLOT!"
Dash suddenly noticed what the furious pony was on about. The trees in this area of the farm were now bare, but none of the apples she had knocked free fell into the baskets below
"Oh..." the pegasus muttered quietly, an embarrassed look growing on her face. "Uh, whoops?"
"'Whoops?!' Ah'll 'whoops' you, you foal!" AJ shouted, trembling with anger. "Look what you done! Ya know what, Dash? Maybe you should just go home, before Ah do something Ah'll regret later!" Many of the helpers had begun to crowd around the spectacle; drawn by the Rainboom, but tethered by the tension in the air.
Dash didn't need to be told twice. "I... uh... yeah, I think I'll just go." The pegasus turned from the scene, flying back towards Ponyville. Sheepishly, she looked back to her friend. "Sorry, AJ..."
As the blue pony disappeared over the horizon, AJ turned to the workers around her. "Well?! What're the lot of ya waiting for, an autograph?! Get back to bucking!" The crowd was quick to clear at her command.
Applejack kicked at the empty basket beside her, the branches above them just as deplete. She knew she would forgive her friend, but for right now, she was going to let that anger run its course. Good thing there was still bucking to do around the rest of the acres.
By the next morning, Applejack had calmed down a great deal. Though she was still upset, she didn't feel like giving Rainbow a swift buck to the backside anymore; perhaps just a stern talking to. She stepped down from her room into the kitchen for breakfast as dawn broke over the skyline outside.
Big Macintosh was at the dinner table, enjoying a small bowl of apple-mixed oatmeal. "Mornin', AJ."
Applejack grabbed an apple from the bowl on the table. "Eh, some mornin' it is. Ah'm still all flustered over yesterday. What was that silly filly thinkin'? A Rainboom in the middle'a an apple orchard? UGH!"
Big Macintosh listened in a reserved silence, his face showing no opinion lending to the conversation. When he was sure she was done ranting, he spoke up. "AJ, ya might wanna go outside. There's somethin' ya need to see."
Applejack looked him over, trying to get some hint to what he was implying. She never could read him very well, even after all the years of living with him. She finally decided to take the bait, and headed to the front door.
Outside, a light blue color had tinted the land, and the morning fog was drifting back into the trees of the acres. A brisk coolness still stuck to the air. Some of the workers the family had hired had shown up earlier than expected. The group was crowded around a wagon in the yard.
"What the hay is goin' on?" AJ asked as she approached. The gathering cleared for her.
Caramel, the most faithful, if not the least successful of the Apple's workers, moved to her side. "We found it out here this morning," he said.
AJ looked the wagon over. It was one of the large carts used for transporting apples. During working weeks, it wasn't uncommon to leave them out for the next day, but they were always emptied first. This one, however, was full of apples, the fruits stacked high above the rim of the sides.
"We found this note on it, too," Caramel continued. "It's addressed to you."
AJ took the note from the pony, sitting back to read it. The penmanship was atrocious, but was legible. A clear indicator that it was Dash's writing. That pony never could hold a pen in her teeth well.
Sorry for fudging up everything yesterday. I got so caught up in winning, and didn't think it out. I collected as many of the apples as I could find last night. I'm sure I missed a few, and there was a bit of a fuss in Ponyville about "raining apples." I hear Mr. Saucer thought it was some kind of
PS, I had to borrow one of Twilight's books to get that word right! Ugh! How does a pony that believes in little green ponies from the sky know words like that?!
As AJ finished the letter, she almost felt ashamed for being so upset with her friend. By a quick survey of the cart, the pegasus must have found most of the stray apples. She had to thank her for putting in the effort when she saw her next.
The day was fast rising, though. For now, it was time to get to work.
The work day drew to a close as the sky faded to a burning orange. The acres were almost completely cleared now, thanks to the helpers running the fields. Tomorrow was the first day off from working the trees that AJ had had in a week, much to her relief. She loaded up the final basket onto the cart behind her brother.
"Well, that's the last one, Big Macintosh. Let's get back up to the farm and get some dinner." AJ said, sweeping the sweat from her forelock.
The large red stallion looked back to his sister. "Ah'll go ahead and get these to the barn. Looks like you'll be hangin' back for a bit, though." He pointed behind them both.
AJ turned to find a certain blue pegasus with rainbow-striped hair had landed on the hill to their backs. She carried a small bucket in her mouth.
"Yeah, Ah think I owe her some words for yesterday." AJ knew she had overreacted for the incident. It was as much her fault for making a game out of work. "Ah'll meet ya up at the barn house. And don't ya go sneakin' none'a them apples for yaself," she jested.
As the stallion walked off with cart in tow, AJ approached her friend from the day before.
"Hey there, Rainbow," she started. "Ah'm mighty sorry for losin' mah cool with ya yesterday."
The winged pony held up a hoof in protest. "Nah, I deserved it. Sorta made a mess of things. I tried to get most of the apples back, though. And in case I missed any, I got you this."
Dash slid the bucket forward towards AJ. It was full of bright yellow apples. "Yellow Appleloosas. Appleloosa's own."
AJ was speechless. The pony had actually flown all the way to Appleloosa to get those apples? Just to pay a debt that wasn't owed? That Rainbow Dash sure was the element of Loyalty, she thought.
"Dash, ya didn't hafta go and do a thing like that." Applejack began, looking up to her friend. "But, thank ya kindly for it. I got tomorrow off if ya wanna hang out."
Dash smiled gingerly at her friend. It was a smile the farmer hadn't seen come from that pony before. "Sounds great!"
There was an unusual silence between the pair. Words that should have been seemed to hang unseen overhead as both ponies stared at each other. Was there more to be said? Was there some piece of the conversation AJ had overlooked?
Applejack finally broke the silence. "Well, Ah'll stop by and see ya tomorrow. Might need a rematch, anyway! In another sorta sport, though."
She took the bucket's handle in her teeth, walking back towards the farmhouse. Dash stood behind up the hill for a second before adding the words that were missing from before.
"You wanna go on a date?"
AJ froze. Her mind repeated the sentence a couple dozen times. Had she just heard what she thought she did?
AJ placed the pail down, turning back to her friend. "Excuse me, Sugarcube, but Ah don't think Ah heard ya right."
Dash tensed. "Uh, nothing. Don't worry about it."
Applejack knew by the pegasus' reaction that she had indeed heard her correctly. "Did you just ask me out? On a date? Like, a romantic date?" She tried not to look as confused as she was, but obviously failed.
Dash stretched out her wings, readying for flight. "Oh, well, yeah. I was joking around. Haha. Get it?" The words were hollow, and her face showed of panic and hurt.
"Dash, wait," AJ called. "That weren't no joke, Ah could tell. What'd ya mean by it?"
"It was nothing!" Dash yelled, taking to flight above the acres. "Forget I said anything!"
"Dash, don't ya go flyin' off!" Applejack yelled to the retreating pony. "If this's important to ya, we need to talk about it!" It was too late; the pegasus had already taken off.
AJ sat back on her haunches. Her friend had just asked her out. Her MARE friend had just asked her out. Emotions mixed in a clashing torrent inside her, before one emotion emerged over the maelstrom. Anger.
Where did that pony have the nerve to drop something like that, then fly off like it was nothing! Just because AJ didn't jump up and down at the offer, that didn't give her the right to just run away! Questions still burned in the back of AJ's mind, the biggest of which being "what do I do now?"
She took the pail by its handle again. If she was gonna rack her brain over that crazy pony, she was at least going to think on her hooves. She didn't want to stand out in the empty fields any more.
AJ reached the farmhouse just as the sun had set. She always enjoyed how early morning and early night always looked so similar, but that enjoyment was marked with a hairline fracture tonight by the thoughts circling her. She had made no progress in sorting the questions, nor did she have any clue as to what to do now. Was she still supposed to meet Dash tomorrow? Or, was that shot too? She could just scream at how frustrating that pony could be sometimes!
All she knew right now was that she needed to put the gifted apples away.
Big Macintosh was the only pony in the barn. He had just finished offloading the cart, and had taken to a quick repair of one wheel. He looked to AJ as she entered. "Find one we missed?"
AJ placed the bucket on a shelf near the large doors. "No. These're a gift from Dash. Yellow Appleloosas." She didn't want to think of Dash right now, but it was impossible not to.
"Uh oh," the large stallion sighed. He walked over to his sister. "What happened?"
AJ shot a glance to the stallion. "Nothin' happened! What gave ya that idea?"
"Ah'm yer brother, AJ. Ah can tell these things. Need to talk about somethin'?" He sat back on a pile of hay, looking with a soft openness to his sister.
He was right, AJ thought. There was something on her mind. "It... it ain't nothing Ah can talk with ya about, Big Macintosh."
"If ya can't trust your own family to listen, who can ya trust?" the stallion spoke. "What's on yer mind?"
To be such a quiet one, that colt sure had a way with words. Of course, while she spent her time with her friends, he was often more interested in reading those large books of his. She had tried to read one of them by some William Flankspeare once before, but found it to be almost in another language!
She sighed. "Ah guess you're right. But ya hafta promise me that no other pony will hear'a this! Kay?"
Big Macintosh put a hoof to his chest. "Ah swear on the Apple name and all the trees Ah ever planted. Not a word leaves this barn."
AJ was stunned. She was just holding out for a Pinkie Pie Promise, but the stallion took it much further than that.
"Okay," she confided, looking around to make sure they were truly alone. "Dash... Dash just asked me out on a date."
The red stallion looked up in silent contemplation for a moment, before looking back to his sister. "What're you gonna do?"
AJ sighed. "Ah don't know, Big Macintosh. What can Ah do?"
"Well, are ya gonna do it?"
AJ quickly bolted to attention. "Whoa, there! Ah ain't no fillyfooler!"
The stallion continued to look to his sister with calm eyes. "Ah never said ya were. But she is yer friend."
Applejack couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Does that matter? Okay, let's say a friend'a yers asked ya out. A colt friend. Say, Caramel for instance. What would ya do? Would ya go out with him?"
Big Macintosh looked up, hoof to his chin in thought. He silently thought for several seconds. "Well, if he really meant it, Ah'd do it."
It was the second time that day that AJ had felt as though a ghost had walked through her. "What'd'ya mean?"
"Well," the stallion started, looking back to his sister. "If Caramel asked me out, and he really meant it, Ah'd give it a shot. Ya never know where it'd lead."
The orange pony was silent, looking to the floorboards below. "You really mean that?"
"Eeyup," Big Macintosh replied. "Ah'd tell him Ah wasn't sure how Ah felt about it, but Ah would give'm a chance."
From the horse's mouth. Had she really been so selfish to think only of how she felt about this? Did she even think about the nerve Dash had to muster to utter that question? And she practically insulted her for it.
"Yer right, Big Macintosh. Ah guess Ah owe'r that much." AJ said, a solemn look on her face. "But not a word'a this to the others! Not Granny Smith, and certainly not Applebloom! That filly can't hold her tongue fer nothin'."
The stallion smiled. "Mah lips'r sealed. Now, let's get to dinner before they start lookin' fer us."