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An' They Call the Thing a Rodeo! (ENDED)

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The train ride to Appaloosa was proving to be hot, dusty and dry... just the way AJ liked it! Nothing got her in the mood for a rodeo the way the traditional train ride did. As it was the farm mare was tryin' her darndest to keep her mind on the upcoming Equestria Grand Classic Appoloosa Rodeo and not on matters that kept rearing their head. 

 

She leaned back in her seat and took in a deep breath. The latest turn of events in her saga with Rarity had not gone exactly according to plan. That certainly irked AJ as she was used to things going the way she planned. Her plans may have been a bit round about at time but they never seemed to fail! Until this most recent debacle that happened to be a matter of the heart... or hearts as the case may be. That was yet to be known. Yet to be known s despite herself the intrepid orange mare had not been able to lay her feelings on the line in front of her one and only love.

 

Still not sure if she'd ever be able to get there, AJ had invited her long time friend out to Appaloosa for the event. Some parts of the rustic town she knew did not quite fit Rarity's refined tastes but there was a certain nostalgia about the town, a certain vintage charm, that the unicorn did hold a kinship for. She had been to see Applejack perform in rodeos here before all the way back to the first Grand Classic AJ had ever competed in. It always bolstered the farm mare's heart to have her closest friend there to support her. Today though, it did little calm calm her rapid pulse. Adding her new found feelings to the situation did nothing to soothe her. That didn't mean that she wasn't super excited to have her there!

 

All the way to Appaloosa, AJ had been trying her best to act her regular honest self with her unicorn friend. It succeeded for the most part because Apple Bloom had come along with them. Having her sister around grounded AJ back in reality. Kept her out of her head on the romantics she felt for the unicorn.

 

"Looks like we're almost there!" Abby bounded up on the seat next to AJ, startling her big sister of of her reveries. "Hi can't wait tah see Little Strongheart! She promised me she'd come see me next time I was in town!" The filly peered out the window intently. "Can't see any buffalo yet... but I bet they're out there!"

 

"Huh huh! Cool yerself there little sis! Hi'm sure she'll be happy to see you too but that don't mean you should shake the train off it's tracks with all yer bouncin' around!" She patted her sister fondly on the head.

 

"I wonder where Rarity got to?"  She glanced around. "She went to the little filly's room a while ago an' we're almost at the station," 

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Rarity was an expert by trade and passion in many areas of her life, but one area she had mastered through harsh and embarrassing experience was the art of applying makeup on a train. Being Equestria's primary mode of long-transport, and Rarity being a mare of far-flung business desires and a friend to many important and active ponies across the nation, meant that she had been on a train a great many times. It was considered untoward to arrive to an event without having her necessary duty to prepare herself, yet for years the trials and tribulations of makeup application on trains were stories told breathlessly in the dens and high living rooms of the Equestrian elite, no doubt on her account. Luckily she had grown experienced and had several little strategies to help her in this very important task. She only applied the makeup on the straightaway portions of the ride, which generally meant near the start or end of the ride. She applied the makeup magically so as to reduce the impact of a bump. Finally, Rarity ensured that should would be extra vigilant and take her time to make certain that if she were to hear a bump she would have the time to withdraw before making a mess.

She took it seriously, but only because she knew her friend was taking her own work today seriously. Of course she wasn't so certain that a rodeo would classify as work in the traditional sense, even if many of the so-called games were based on skills needed to run their farms. That wasn't entirely important however. Ponies competed in it, it became sport, and some ponies took their sporting rather seriously. Applejack was one of them. She was a well-known rodeo champion of Ponyville, having won nearly every event and contest that was offered locally. Her pace slowed when she failed to bring home the blue from the Equestria Rodeo Competition, so it was good to see her getting back on schedule. Ever since Rarity was a filly she knew she could count on three things in Ponyville life: Her parents traveling, her fashions improving, and Applejack winning the rodeo. While it was not an activity she was herself enamored with she knew full well how much it meant to Applejack, and was pleased to be invited to the Appleloosan Rodeo, part of the Equestrian Grand Classic series.
 

Not that she intended to completely forego good sense and styling. She wasn't a mare who would normally dare to dress too 'western' or 'rural'. She preferred the terms of well-weathered and rustic herself! Be that as it may, she wasn't coming here to look anything but her best for her good friend. She wore a white feather in her mane and a dark red saloon dress with upper chest v-cuts, shoulder fluff, a choker, and a nice set of lacies on her four fetlocks atop silk-laden shoes. Very much western saloon mare, though without all the extra pomp and circumstance that came with the floof skirt. Indeed, as she went to and fro in Equestria's frontier regions, she saw that the saloon mares had the most exciting fashions about them. She finished the nice ensemble with eyeliner, mascara, and dirt-resisting creams. She looked and felt amazing, and she could only hope that Applejack could take the proper encouragement from the effort she was putting into her outfit.
 

Put in that same effort Applejack and you are bound to win!
 

Checking herself in the private mare's room once more, she breathed a contented sigh and put her makeup and accessories away. She did a small twirl and then tittered. "Divine!" She thought to herself before facing the door. She counted to three and then pushed it open, sauntering into their cabin with a pep in her step. "Rarity. Is. Ready!" She said, striking a pose and winking at Applejack, holding it for a second before letting go of the pose and smiling. "I can't wait to see you perform, Applejack. I made sure to put in as much effort in how I appeared as I expect you to put into your performance! Ha ha- quite good, if I say so myself!" She said as she twirled once, the train coming to a slow roll.

 

"Appleloosa Station, all stop at Appleloosa Station!" 

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"Lan sakes!" Applejack auto responded when Rarity made her entrance and struck a pose. She was...well she was stunning! But she couldn't say that, could she? Well, she sure coulda back in the days a'fore her feelings for the unicorn always seemed to overwhelm her good common sense.  Instead she made a quintasential farm mare response of surprise then sat there with her jaw slightly dropped for a moment.

 

"Wowee Rarity!" Applebloom bounded up to the lovely unicorn and trotted around her in a circle to fully admire the gitup. Abby was no fashion lover but she knew style and class when she saw it. Well, spending time with Rarity had rubbed some fashion sense into her perhaps. "You sure do look the part of a full blown Appaloosa celebrity!" She smiled up at Rarity and then over to Applejack.

 

"Uhhhh...Applejack?" Her little sister questioned since AJ was still frozen with her mouth slightly agape. "Don't you uh, think Rarity looks good?"

 

Applejack shook her head, clearing the momentary fog of feels, and jumped up from her seat. 

 

"Yessiree Abby," AJ looked out the window briefly to compose herself as the train entered the station. "Rarity looks like a uh," She gulped, calming her nerves. Preparing for a Grand Equestrian rodeo and having Rarity with her was a lot to handle emotionally. "She looks like a million bits!" She felt her cheeks blush but thankfully it subsided quickly as the train platform came into view and along with it, a certain Appaloosian cousin.

 

"Cousin Braeburn!" Applebloom shouted with excitement as the train rolled to a stop and the doors were opened. She looked at her sister.

 

"Heh heh," Applejack chortled at her sister's enthusiasm. "I'll git the bags Abby. Go say hi to our cousin!" She smiled at Rarity. "I'll make a second trip for your bags too Rarity. Go on ahead with Braeburn, I'll catch up!"

 

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"Well well well!" Braeburn whinnied happily and reared up on his hind legs as Applebloom ran up to him. "Look what the tumbleweed tumbled into town!" He got down on Abby's level and smiled broadly at her. "Hi there cousin Applebloom!" Then he looked up and noticed Rarity. She looked absolutely stunning as she made her way off the train. Brae didn't exactly have a thing for mares but he could still admire her obvious good looks. He trotted up to her and removed his hat, making a western leg to her. "Good day to you lady Rarity! Welcome to Appaloosa!"

 

Applejack used the couple of moment to herself as composure time. She knew there wouldn't be much of it now that they were in town. She picked up her and Abby's bags and tossed them onto her back.

 

"Alright now girl," She spoke quietly to herself. "Yah gotta keep yer head in the game all the way. No more o' this messin' with how yah feel about a certain unicorn," She placed the bags on the platform and went back for Rarity's multiple carry on and full size luggage bags. 

 

"Hi know yer heart's in a tizzy and what not but yah gotta get yer head in control," She hefted a couple bags onto her back and took the last two carry on size ones in her muzzle. After dropping them gently onto the platform she nodded at a job well done. "Remember, no more silly notions..." She glanced up at the unicorn as she spoke to Braeburn. This might prove to be something he couldn't reason her way out of, but she'd try her best! "Rarity's here to support yah as a friend an' nothin' more." She nodded once to herself, firm on her game plan. Well, as firm as she could be. 

 

"Howdy Braeburn!" She called out as she trotted up to her cousin. "We sure are glad to see yah!" She noted that a courier pony had put their bags on a cart and would bring them to their hotel, The Grand Desert Rose. "You remember Rarity a'course?" Another small blush as she reintroduced her friend. 

 

"Yep, I rightly do!" He glanced at his cousin quizzically for a moment before moving on. "Uhhh, Y'all hungry or should we head straight for the Grand Rodeo Grounds? Show don't start until tomorrow mornin' but I'm sure yer itchin' to get a look around the stompin' grounds eh cousin?"

 

AJ Glanced at Rarity, unsure of what she'd like to do first.

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Rarity held her tongue for a while, though she was intimately familiar with the sort of shock and awe she could have on certain types of ponies. Indeed, it was hard for her to walk the streets of Manehattan at times when she had made sure to dress her best and attract attention to her shop. She loved it. Fashion was all about making a statement and she always made sure the statements she made were heard loud and clear and with nothing to stop her. How ponies reacted also became statements of their own. Applejack's statement was...a little more than confusing, if she had to be perfectly honest. She'd seen Rarity dress like this before, hadn't she? Had to be a good sign then. She must really have outdone herself on this design!

“Why thank you, Apple Bloom. I certainly do feel, how does the phrase go, like a million bits at the saloon,” she said with a laugh, throwing back her mane. “Which is how well I expect Applejack to feel after she wins today's Rodeo. Any other fine competitors today, or are you the belle of this roughhousing brawl?” She said with some satisfaction. Pinkie Pie may have been the pony with the perfect puns but rarity found time in her articulation and sophistication to slip in a few of her own from time to time. The train had by now come to a complete halt, and Applejack had offered to get their bags. How considerate! “Oh, that would be delightful Applejack. Thank you so very much. Don't pull any muscles now, don't want to see you sidelines when this should be your moment of glory!” She intoned as a pair of designer sunglasses found their position on her head, and she trotted out into the Appleloosan countryside.

Like many western towns on the old Equestrian frontier, it had a rustic charm about it that was vanishing from the rest of the developing nation. The hard work, dedication, and risk it took to survive and thrive out here were leaps and bounds ahead of anywhere else. While such ponies were not as rare as they used to be, what with Equestria growing larger and her borders expanding by the day, the fact they were so different only made it feel all the more appealing. The dichotomy was as wondrous as the fact that the town mimicked Equestria; every time she visited, she saw new faces, new building, new businesses, and new signs of growth. Had a designer settled here? If not, well, Fashion For You certainly shared the same expansionist ethos...

That was later. For now, she had a very enthusiastic stallion to greet. “Braeburn!” she said warmly, giving Applejack's cousin a hug and a friendly kiss on both cheeks in greeting. “How have you been? It certainly looks like Appleloosa is growing quickly. No doubt thanks to your excellent Apple family apple orchards!” she said as she looked around. Of course it was a bit of flattery, some theater, but It was true. Appleloosa wasn't famous for much else aside from its tart apples and being the only town in traditionally Buffalo territory. Only one of them was something the town could honestly benefit from. It wasn't the friendly Buffalo tribes who still had their own land, that was for certain. Hmm, why didn't they have any Buffalo students at the School of Friendship? It would seem only natural, no? She'd have to ask Twilight about that.

The topic soon shifted as to what they wanted to do. For Rarity, the answer was rather simple, so thank heavens the burden of decision making had fallen on her supple frame. “Oh, I haven't had a bite to eat in a while, but I do believe we need to get Applejack all squared away as it were. I'd hate for the time to fly and for us to miss some important doo-dad or another on account of our ravenous appetites. Isn't that right, Applejack?” She poked her friend with a smile, both of them fully aware that Applejack's intense eating habits before competition were warranted, indulgent, and time-consuming activities all the same.

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Braeburn looked to Applejack as Rarity offered the farm mare a chance to look around the rodeo grounds before going for grub. "Well then cousin, it appears the lovely lady wishes you the chance to git yer rodeo grounds fix a'fore we strap on the feed bags!" He reared up with enthusiasm. "Great to have y'all here in Aaaaapoloosa!"

 

Abby trotted forward, leading the way. Her eyes were fixed ahead, glancing back and forth. "Where's Little Strongheart? She said she'd be around the day before the rodeo started..." She fixed on something out in the distance. It looked like a cloud of dust coming over the rise of the hills just outside of town. She turned back towards the others. "I think the buffalo are here!" She smiled broadly and trotted a bit more ahead.

 

Applejack was happy to have so many distractions around! Getting into town, meeting her cousin, greeting the soon coming buffalo... yep, enough to get a mare's mind off her heart! Well, at least for a little while. She's just have to do her best to act normal and not get all funny around a certain beautifully dressed unicorn. 

 

"Hey Braeburn?" She questioned the stallion. "Have the buffalo been coming to town much lately?" 

 

We cocked his head for just a moment as they continued on down one  of Appaloosa's two main roads. "Well, they come around often enough cuz." She seemed to be acting a little odd. He'd have to ask her later what was up.

 

Soon they were at the rodeo grounds. Ponies bustled everywhere! Cleaning the grandstands and hanging decorations, raking the main arena, stacking bales, generally taking care of everything it took to host a Grand Equestrian Rodeo! The buffalo rolled onto the scene, snorting and blowing. Some of the adults took to speaking to ponies while one certain young buffalo made her way to Applebloom.

 

"Little Strongheart!" The filly trotted up to her friend.

 

"Applebloom!" The brave young buffalo embraced the filly warmly. "We were stampeding the trails not far from here and I knew it would be the perfect time to meet you! Wow!" She glanced at Rarity whose clothing stood out enough to draw Strongheart's eye. "Who is that?"

 

"Rarity!" Applebloom called to the unicorn and waved cheerily. "Little Strongheart wants a look at her fancy gitup!"

 

Applejack trotted around, getting herself adjusted to the place. Tomorrow she'd be proving herself here. She'd take home the blue in all the events she'd entered! Barrel weave, bale toss, rope pull, lasso skills, yep! This was her rodeo! If she could keep her mind on the prize! She made her way up to Abby and Little Strongheart, happy to see the young buffalo.

 

"Well glad to see you could make it Little Strongheart! Your family looks like they're doing well!" She glanced about noting the buffalo were getting ready to be on their way. "You gonna be able to stick around?"

 

"Yes! My father is letting me stay here for the next few days. He wants me to experience a real rodeo!" She smiled and then gasped at Rarity's outfit. "Beautiful!" Little Strongheart was always excited to learn what she could of pony culture.

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Rarity could see the look of concern on Braeburn's face and when Applejack wasn't looking gave one of her own, shared between cousin and friend alike. Applejack had been a little unusual lately. She was normally as stiff and straight as a well-made ironing board but truth be told she had been anything but lately. She seemed to lack confidence and to perceive things in a more sensitive, not entirely helpful manner recently. Where once she was an immovable rock of certainty she had become that only in the facade she generated, as underneath it all a soft and vulnerable core had been exposed without cause.
It hadn't had an improper effect just yet so she had not entirely broached the subject, as it would be uncouth to probe too far into her friend's unknowable depths. She would wait and be there for when Applejack felt the need to open up. Until then, Rarity would operate as Rarity would operate, which was as the very height of sophistication and class.

Little Strongheart arrived with sound and fury becoming of her powerful people. Luckily she came to a stop far enough away that a tidal wave of dirt hadn't found purchase on her fineries, not that she expected such luck to continue. This town was considered to be on the dusty trails for a reason, after all! Apple Bloom called her over and she bounded up to the pair of them, who seemed to be awfully excited to see one another. Rarity hadn't been aware of anypony keeping in especially close contact with Little Strongheart or, indeed, anypony...who...loo?...else in the tribe, but if anypony would, it would be Apple Bloom. She had a suitably agreeable and kind personality and was very outgoing. A good friend for Sweetie Belle, that was for certain.

“Oh, this?” She smiled and did a twirl, then gave a confident laugh. “Just something I made to help fit in out here in frontier, roughing it as they say! How have you been, Little Strongheart? My word you seem to have grown since we last met. How is your father, dear?”

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The young buffalo beamed as Rarity spoke of her growth. "Yes, I have grown. In fact I was given my very own teepee about three moons back!" She pranced proudly in place, happy the unicorn wish to know of her family. "My father is quite well and we have been doing much stampeding lately. He says it keeps our people strong and helps us to know our lands and be one with them." She nodded sagely, taking the words as pure solid fact. "We have been enjoying a season of abundance alongside the ponies of Appaloosa. Being friends has been good for buffalo and pony alike!"

 

Applebloom grinned, enjoying the fact that she'd have a good couple of days to spend with the young buffalo. She knew Little Strongheart but not as well as she'd like and it seemed like such an adventure to get to know a buffalo. Their culture and way of thinking enraptured the young farm filly. "Hey Strongheart? You want to go check out the main arena?" She questioned her friend. Strongheart nodded and after smiling warmly at Rarity the two took off together to explore!

 

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Applejack glanced around the rodeo as the scene as being set up. Tomorrow this whole area would be full of ponies and buffalo, all here to see herself and the other rodeo ponies preform! It made her heart pound harder for certain and she tried to keep it that way at least for the moment. The mare was as full of doubt in herself as she'd ever been. The rodeo was old hack for her, but mixed with whatever was going on with Rarity it felt like a ticking time bomb.

 

She trotted away from the others, intent on making sure she knew the arena she'd be working in tomorrow. It was very important to know the footing, the grade, the depth of soil, before going into an event. All those factors and more played into a great round. As she came around the far side of the venue she spied a vendor setting up her shop for sales during the event. The craftsponyship on the vendor's wares was very nice. Applejack may not have an eye for jewelry but if it was functional AJ knew what was high quality. This particular vendor had an array of western finery. Bolos set with tiger's eyes and gems, hat bands of fine plant leather and semi precious stones, and numerous fancy bits that AJ knew less about. Her eyes settled on a polished silver belt buckle, studded with turquoise and quartz. 

 

"H'i know yer not open fer business yet but..."  A few minutes later she'd hoofed over bunch of bits and was clutching a small simply wrapped package lightly in her muzzle. 

 

What in Equestria was she doing? She shook her head, giving over to her whims. "H'i guess this is what we're doin' now huh? Actin' like a right silly filly," Her muzzle lifted in a half smile around the package. "Nope, it's just a friendly gift. A thank you for comin' to watch me gift." She stowed it in her saddle bag and trotted back over to where Rarity stood. Little did she knew that Braeburn had seen her purchase the gift. He'd been watching his cousin since she stepped off the train and had a pretty decent idea of what was going on.

 

"So uh, what do you think?" AJ asked Rarity as she trotted up. "Pretty big show happenin' here tomorrow!" 

 

Braeburn made his way over at that point. "So, we ready to get some grub?" He sniffed. "Smells like some of the food vendors might be open for business tonight." The smell of grilling corn on the cob, baked beans simmering, and corn bread baking wafted by them. The stallion glanced at Rarity, wondering if he'd get a chance to question her briefly without AJ around.

 

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She didn't know much about Buffalo culture but she could only assume the acquisition of one's very own teepee was a sign that Strongheart was maturing, perhaps even a young adult? Such good news, and equally good to hear was the fact that the local ponies and the Buffalo were getting along so well, Mutually beneficial societies were the norm rather than the exception when it came to Equestrians and just about any other society they interacted with. The magic of Friendship may have been something Equestrians promoted to the exclusion of so many other ideals but it was a universally beneficial concept, one she was happy to see being proven right time and time again. “How wonderful! I'll have to make something nice for your teepee. Apple Bloom, do make sure to give me all the details!” She said as the two ran off, waving them goodbye as the adults moved on to the grounds.

It certainly looked like a rodeo. She understood that Applejack would need to understand the terrain and the feel of the area, the layout and the small hitches in the ground, to fully prepare herself for the competition. That was as much as she understood however. The intricacies were lost on her. What was clear is that Applejack was more than comfortable with it, more so than with anything else she seemed to have swirling in her head. Why had she been acting so unusual lately? She took off for a bit, which allowed Rarity to talk with Braeburn a moment or four.

“So, how have you been exactly, Braeburn? Found yourself a paramour of your own? I must say that there are many fine stallions here in town,” she shot an accusatory and energetic eyebrow at him, a  playfully shocked gasp escaping. “That wouldn't be why you're so excited for the rodeo, now is it?” She laughed. “But in all honesty my dear, how has it been? I don't mean the town, either,” she said. After Braeburn had responded, Applejack showed right back up. Again with that awkwardness...”Yes, well, I'd hope so. More ponies to see you shine! Indeed, I think that by this time two days from now you'll have your picture on the front page of the sports section of every newspaper in Equestria. Well, probably. Anyhoof, some food would be nice. Let's go!”

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Braeburn removed his hat and smoothed back his mane as Rarity asked him how he was and if he'd been seeing anypony. He was pleased as a bee on a cactus flower to get a chance to speak with the friendly unicorn. She seemed so much in the know, she had tons of class, yessiree she was the whole wagon hitch and cart! The cowpony had always been happy to have made acquaintances with Applejack's good friend and he hoped that maybe she and him could be good friends as well. 

 

"Well now Rarity, I won't lie to yah. This last season was a little on the rough side for me as far as the harvest was concerned. Not so many apple as I would have liked. Probably on account o' that dry season we had..." He smiled. "But I'm sure the next season'll be better, plus with the rodeo in town business is gonna be on the up!" He may have been a western pony to the core but that didn't mean he had no head for business. He rather enjoyed running the apple ranch his parents had left to him and the stallion found himself working in the fields almost as often as he worked on balancing the books. 

 

He couldn't help the hint of the blush that came onto his cheeks at the mention of him finding a fine stallion of his own. "Can't lie to ya there either." A happy smile came over his muzzle. "I have been seeing somepony for a bit now. He's away on business right now but I'm sure he'd like to meet you at some point down the road." Before he could go further on the topic AJ came trotting up. Brae tried to squeeze in a word before his cousin was in ear shot. "I'd like to talk to ya about ol' AJ if we get the chance..."

 

The chance came soon enough. AJ made some odd conversation and then Rarity took his offer of checking out the available food vendors. 

 

"Well now where'd those two little un's get off to?" AJ asked, just not quite settled enough to be able to enjoy eating at the moment. "I'm sure they'd jump at the chance for some grub. It's past dinner time by now." The farm mare smiled awkwardly at her cousin and Rarity. "You two go ahead, I'll go wrangle them up!" With that AJ trotted off again, a puff of dust rising in her wake.

 

"Whew!" Brae let out a breath as his cousin went off in search of Abby and Strongheart. He moved towards the food vendors, the smell of grilling corn on the cob filling his nostrils. "Walk with me if you would Rarity?" He sauntered at an even pace, checking out the food selections as he talked. "So uh, my cousin seems a bit edgy huh? What do yah think is goin' on with her? Seems to be more than the regular rodeo jitters."

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That was slightly disappointing to hear that the crop was less than successful this year, but such was the nature of business. No true businesspony could claim to have an unending string of successes without having to claim for themselves the throne of king of all liars. Indeed, it was as often a learning experience as it was cause for sorrow. Braeburn had taken it in the correct manner- less than joy to be sure, but not allowing it to eat the core of optimism and drive that such business required. "I see. Well, that would be a problem for a farmer, a drought season. Haven't you contacted the weather authorities? You'd think they'd be able to clamp down a schedule to give you the weather you deserve and require to see this town thrive. How has the rail service been? I heard they were running additional trains this way. That must also be a sign of progress, correct?" She asked in a leading fashion. She was indeed quite interested in the emergence of this small town. Not only as a friend and supporter but as a businessmare- western fashion was going to be all the rage soon, she believed.

Speaing of 'all the rage', it seemed Braeburn did have a paramour of a sort. Well, she had to know more! “Well, don't be a stranger when it comes to the details, dear! Tell me about him! If I had to guess, somepony burly and exciting? Oh, or demure, kindhearted and timid? So many choices!” She giggled, though it soon vanished as their ears were taken by approaching hooves and a somewhat worried question was asked. She nodded silently, and then beheld her friend acting as unusual as earlier. “You find them, dear,” she offered faintly before Applejack ran off.

How strange. Braeburn noticed it as well.
“Yes...Applejack. She has been...unusual lately. Distracted, lacking a little bit of that confidence we all love so much. I've wondered what it could be but she hasn't really talked about it, and nopony has broached the subject,” her eyes shot wide with alarm as the truth came to her in a blinding flash of terror! “You don't think it could be some sort of awful illness? It would be like her to be stoic in the face of calamity, only with the measure of the illness chipping away at her defenses. Oh, poor dear Applejack...” Rarity whispered as her mind ran with the possibility that Applejack was slowly succumbing to some illness.

As the events transpired in her head one after another it was only a matter of time until the dam broke- and with such style! She flopped to her side, her trusty fainting couch there to catch her. “What tragedy! One of my oldest and dearest friends, felled by an invisible foe, struck down in her physical prime! Does the cruelty of fate know no limits? Que le destin du forte est terrible!" She said, followed by weeping and wallowing for an inconsiderate amount of time. After enough of a scene had been made, she shot back up.

"We must be there for her, Braeburn! We MUST! She will not suffer in silence a scant moment more!" She said as she pulled Braeburn in close and then, stallion in tow, ran off to find Applejack.

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Brae listened and nodded along as Rarity speculated on the current trade projections of Appaloosa. She was a business mare and as such had a razor keen sense of the goings on in a newly emerging town. She was right on in her thinking of trains meaning more industry. "Oh yes! They've got two new lines comin' into town now an' yep, it's been good for Appaloosa in a bushel of ways!" He raised an eyebrow and frowned slightly, speculating on the coming seasons. "H'im sure once the next rainy season comes we'll be able to offload pretty much every apple we grow. Well, aside from the apples we sell in town and gift to the buffalo a'course!"

 

Soon enough the conversation steered back to his special somepony. He didn't have any trouble elaborating on his beau but right now his mind was focused on his cousin. It was obvious they weren't going to get that much time to talk alone without look suspicious and so he let Applejack's return and subsequent leave wash over him needing to go into any details. He would later though. He was certainly proud of his catch!

 

Rarity dove into his question on AJ's current state head first! "Unusual, yep. I'd certainly agree with that..."  However, she took a turn for the dramatic rather quickly! Brae could only stand there and smile as she went on about possible illnesses and worse. As her episode came to a crescendo Rarity caught him in tow and tried to rush off to find the farm mare!

 

"Whoa there now!" Brae dug his hind hooves into the dirt and ground them to a halt in a small cloud of dust. Once it cleared he fixed Rarity with a questioning gaze. The kind of gaze that plainly said 'I know more than you do, but I'm trying not to be overly smug about it.' "Seems to me mah cousin is sick..." A half smile spread over his muzzle. "Heart sick."

 

He gave the statement a moment to sink in. "I've seen AJ get all worked up about rodeos, an' apple trees, an' family issues," He adjusted the stetson as it rested between his ears. "But this is different. I've been watchin' her, an' I think I know exactly what's goin' on," He left it at that, trying to lead the unicorn toward his conclusion.  

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Rarity's mind ran untethered down horrifying avenues of possibility, where the streetlamps of optimism flickered and died in the oppressiveness of her mind's dramatic interpretation of Applejack's condition. Her mother had been a physician at one point and was quite open about the litany of ailments that could strike a strong pony down in their prime. Applejack was an Earth Pony and thus had a natural resistance, but it wasn't an immunity, and it was all adding up in her mind. The unusual mannerisms, lack of her normal spirit and confidence, her leaping to and fro around specifics. Her dear friend was facing down the barrel of some sort of abyss and, in her normal way, was doing so with as little outside aid as she could handle. It was rare for Rarity to give credence to the trailing thoughts of mortality ad frailty that was their final subscription but her mind was firmly gripped by the terror of watching a friend cut down at her height of grandeur.

She continued to gallop, Braeburn in tow, as she tried to find Applejack. Then there was resistance, more resistance, and finally enough to forestall the advance of the panicked mare. She let him go as ruefully as a griffon would unclutch a day's meal, but her wide and feverish eyes gave him all the attention she could muster even as she trotted desperately in place. If anypony was primed and ready to understand Applejack...well frankly it would have been Rarity, since she spent much more time around the mare. But Braeburn's easygoing nature and calm words did have their desired effect as she rolled over what exactly he was saying in her head once, twice, and thrice more. She was heartsick? That didn't seem much like Applejack...both being heartsick and being so unable to be forward with her feelings. It seemed so...unusual. Then again, everything that was happening with Applejack seemed unusual. She couldn't discount it.

“...What could be making her heartsick?” Rarity said, tapping her chin.

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Braeburn gave the unicorn a few moments to contemplate the situation. At first he'd been certain she'd be able to figure it out but then his thinking took a turn. Rarity had been around AJ for who knew how long. Sometimes it was pretty durn difficult to see what was goin' on when one was right in the middle of it. 

 

"You uh," He pulled her attention back to himself as best he could. "You ever think about the apple trees?" He hurried along with his analogy. "When we plant em' they're just tiny little things an' then one day we turn around and they're growin' tall n' strong an' producin' apples. We hardly even notice their growth day by day. It's not until we see them full grown that we can compare where they started to where they are now." 

 

He cleared his throat and continued on. "It's just when a pony's around somethin' or someone all the time they might not even be able to see when there's a change." Brae started to walk slowly towards the food vendors, intent on taking a seat somewhere. "H'i think that might be what's goin' on with AJ..." He removed his hat and fixed Rarity with a knowing look. 

 

The stallion left it at that for a moment. He knew what he'd seen and he was as certain as could be that he was right about this. "Her nervous jitters, the way she stumbles with what she's sayin', the glances she gives when she thinks nopony is lookin'..."

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Rarity was usually a fan of metaphors. Indeed, artistry was full of them and fashion design was inspired by the creative outflow of artistry. Of course, the metaphors she worked around were more emotional and metaphysical than the stark example being discussed by Braeburn. As a result, just as it took her a while to grasp Applejack's old metaphor regarding pie and crust, it took her a little while to wrap her mane around the exact meaning of Braeburn's words. She had to roll around it in her head once, twice, thrice and more even as he spoke them.

Was he implying she didn't know her friend as well as she thought she did? How absurd! Not directly, of course. His point of being perhaps too close to see it was well taken and quite possible. Yet she was a mare who had prided herself on trying to look at the big picture in business and in her personal life, friends included. How could she not, what with her being the friend of a Princess? If something like this was happening with Applejack she would be among the first to know, wouldn't she? Alas, it seemed as though, like in many things, her vision was obscured by any one of her many nameless deficiencies.

Something was going on with Applejack, and it appeared her cousin had the answer. She was heartsick. So she had a paramour, unrequited love? Or was it more a case of her bemoaning the impossibility of her affections? Indeed, she had been...unusual as of late. She had chalked it up to any variety of causes but faced with the current situation she had to concur. There was a worm in the apple of her heart and poor Applejack could find no way to excise it. Yet while it was troubling for her...it was so very exciting for Rarity!
“Oh-ho-ho, I see,” Rarity said with a glint in her eyes and a cracked smile as she advanced upon the stallion. “This is truly fascinating! I always imagined Applejack as having eyes for some stallions but I never have seen her make a true advance. Perhaps she is more open with her affections with family. Well, Braeburn? Who tugs on her heartstrings so, and is making her act so...undisciplined?”

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Well now! Braeburn had to take moment to decide how he was going about this. First he mentally went over everything he'd heard from AJ over the past few months and everything he'd seen since they arrived. There was no way he was going to drop this bit of news without being completely sure of himself. The stallion went over it all from the moment they got off the train til the last moment that his cousin had scampered awkwardly away in search of Abby and Strongheart. 

 

Next, he took a deep breath. Figuring this might come as a shock to the pretty unicorn he began to slowly walk once more. At least for himself it was always easier to listen and take big deal sorts of news while moving around. He was nothing but an honest pony and though he wasn't always the most sure of himself he certainly was sure of this! There was no other explanation. That along with the fact that cousin Applejack had confided in him her interest in other mares and not stallions even before he had been so bold as to let the truths of his life slip.

 

He also had to take into consideration what this news would do to AJ and Rarity right before the rodeo. If he'd had a bit more sense he would have kept this to himself until after the event but this was just too important to hold off on any longer. It might through off Applejack's game but it might also bring her some closure. It would probably be best to ask Rarity to keep this between them two until AJ was done competing. He didn't have any idea how she was going to react though. Tarnation, she might not even believe him! But how could she not! They'd both seen what she was doing, there was no other way about it.

 

"Well Rarity," He began, slowly making his way on a small walk near the food stands. He glanced about, making sure AJ wasn't in sight. "Yah know I'm nothin' but an honest stallion. I wouldn't tell yah what I think on this particular matter unless I was certain." He took a breath. "Applejack's been nothin' but 'intrestin' ,as yah put it, since she got here." He glanced at her and then away. "What's got my cousin so worked up is that well," He glanced Rarity's way and gave her a half smile. "She's love sick..." He looked away again. "Over you."

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Her? Applejack had such feelings for...her? This came upon her like a wave, one revelation after another.

The first was that Applejack was attracted to mares. This wasn't anything unusual in Equestria. Indeed, on more than a few occasions the nation had to create tax incentives and other boons for heterosexual pairings. Mares could indeed in Equestria produce a child with another mare, but the rate of success was far less after all. That didn't mean that it was something Rarity had pinned Applejack with. Yes she was a tough-minded and less frilly mare but she was still a mare's mare for all intents and purposes. She had eyes for stallions in the past. Did she hold no discrimination in her attraction? Did it develop over time, or did the Element of Honesty lie- to herself, if nopony else? It was hard for Rarity to imagine that Applejack would lie to anypony about this. And she knew that Applejack's troubles were recent. If what Braeburn was proposing was correct, it had to be recent. They'd known each other most of their lives, after all. So it had to have been developing. Poor mare, having to develop this way all alone!


The second revelation, and the one directly concerning Rarity, was that this attraction centered itself on her. That was expected to some extent, of course. If you were going to fall for a mare in Ponyville, Rarity had little doubt that she would be at the top of the list of any pony who respected themselves! But this caught Rarity off guard. They had been friends for decades! They had shared their sorrows, their successes, their secrets and their silence. It hadn't been easy at times. They were both very different ponies in ways too innumerable to name. But if this were true, what would they be to one another? Rarity stopped on face, her eyes cast downward as she tried to think of the right answer. She didn't have it. She didn't have the answer her friend deserved, not in the aftermath of the revelation. Still, she needed to resolve this before the rodeo. She didn't want to be the cause of Applejack's failure. Applejack deserved better than that and Rarity certainly deserved better than that!


"I..I see. Well, truth be told I suppose it makes some sense..." she said, then took a deep breath, unsure how to feel. "I...guess- no, I know. I know I must speak with her. In private. I...I have to go, now!" She said with her eyes wide and her voice tinged with either panic or excitement. With that she ran off to go find her Applejack, before she was lost forever!

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The evening before had been a rough one for the county mare. After she'd rounded up Applebloom and Strongheart for some eats she just couldn't stomach the idea herself. Nope, food wasn't gonna sit well and she knew it. Her whole stomach had been done up in knots. The traditional pre-rodeo knots that usually made her feel excited and helped her do her best had been double, naw tripled by the knots she felt over her friend. It had been just too much to take and Applejack had ended her evening alone in her hotel room pacing. She had to do something. She had to tell Rarity at some point. She realized that telling the unicorn would be the only way to rid herself of these horrible gut wrenching pangs she had been feeling. It wasn't guilt but it was akin as she felt she was doing herself a disservice by not speaking her truthful mind. It wasn't like her to behave this way and if she kept it up any longer Brae and Abby were liable to ship her off to the doctors and she'd miss the whole rodeo!

 

She'd slipped out in the early morning before anypony was up and made her way to the rodeo grounds. She couldn't sleep so why not pace the arenas where she'd be working tomorrow instead of the confines of her room. The pre dawn air of Appaloosa gave her at least a small amount of relief. It was pleasantly cool and smelt of the dry open desert lands. The ground felt good under her hooves too. Freshly turned and raked for competition.  She just needed to focus...

----

Hours later AJ stood in almost the same spot she had earlier that morning. She could hear the crowds cheering off in the distance. The rodeo was in full swing and she'd just made a final bale toss. She'd always been good at balancing the last bale, making her stack the tallest over all. It was generally an easy blue ribbon for the farm mare. She cringed as the stack she had made tettered to one side. It wobbled back and forth and she gasped as the whole thing came crashing down!

 

"Durn it!" She cursed under her breath as the rodeo officials waved their hooves and the score board changed to 'no score' by her name. It was a sorrowful defeat really. This was usually one of her best events. She just couldn't keep her head in the game. She'd looked over to the stands a couple of times already. There was Abby and Strongheart and Brae cheering her on. And, there was Rarity. Just sitting there looking lovely and having a nice time cheering AJ on. AJ'd tried to smile over once but ended up turning away. 

 

"All contestants for the barrel weave!" The announcer boomed over the crowds. "All those competin' in the barrel weave make yer way to the side gates!"

 

AJ turned from the bale stacking event and exhaled loudly. "Sheesh!" She tugged her stetson over her eyes. "Can't git any worse can yah?"

 

She trotted over to the start of the barrel weave and began to wait her turn...

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Rarity had found Applejack's hotel room without much difficulty. It wasn't as there were many options and additionally she had made sure to get them the very best accommodations. She once made a joke that Applejack would be comfortable with a haystack and a blanket and truth be told she didn't think it was far off. Applejack was rough around the edges but not in abad way. Her emotions were worn on her face until it came time to share sadness. She always put on a brave face. Always tried to put her best hoof forward. Rarity had been proud that among her friends it was Applejack who promoted the fewest moments of outright drama or worry. As solid as a stone, as reliable as the sun. A great and good friend for any pony to have, and one she treasured among the rest. A true diamond in the rough.

 

She was in front of the door quickly and went to go and knock on it, but she didn't know what to say. She knew she had to say something, no matter how flailing a response it was in comparison to what was going on between them. Alas, she knew not what to say because she didn't know quite how she felt. How to put it into words even if she did know or allowed the growing sensation of forebodence to overwhelm her. Her hoof raised, and then went down. her mouth opened and then closed. She didn't know what to do. Applejack was her friend, one of her oldest and dearest. She had known her since they were fillies, even before they had their cutie marks. They had a falling out when they had grown older but the absence was clear in both their lives. Now they were in a better place- or were they? If Applejack was in pain, was her presence warranted?

 

She didn't know. Rarity knew nothing. How Applejack felt, how she felt, how to process it all, how to respond. It had happened too fast. She wasn't strong enough for this, not right now. She slowly backed away from the door and, when far enough away, galloped towards her room.

---------------------------
 

Rest had helped Rarity, though it didn't seem to be helping Applejack at all.

Rarity had gotten washed and put on the face she always did, one of sublime beauty and confident as she urged her friend on to greater and greater feats. Applejack was pulling through on her end, though. Rarity had seen Applejack participate in the rodeo before and certainly was there to hear about the farmer's success, mostly from Applejack or Apple Bloom. This was going very poorly for Applejack. She looked distracted, lacked focus, and was making mistakes that weren't characteristic of her. Applejack was a minor celebrity and that only magnified the failings. While nopony had the gumption to jeer her- and if they had, Rarity had a death glare waiting for them- it was hard to escape the whispers that had started to circle around. Rarity for her part alongside Applejack's family had been cheering her on this whole time, but alas, it was going so very wrong.

 

"Applejack! Applejack darling, come over here!" Rarity yelled out, her voice even. She was being a great actress. Her tail, twitching and twirling as it was, told another story. A more honest one.

 

When Applejack was nearby, Rarity grasped her friend by the back of her head and pulled her into whispering range. "Dear, something is on your mind. You have at least a few seconds, so out with it before I have to pull it out of you!" Rarity whispered viciously, wanting more than anything for Applejack to be Applejack again.

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AJ was in turmoil as she stood in line for the barrel weave. It occurred to her that she hadn't even stretched out before beginning the contests today. 

 

"Welp that confirms it," She clicked her tongue in resignation "You've gone n' lost yer mind Applejack." She sighed and tried to tug her stetson down over her eyes. She wished the ground would just open up and swallow her. It would be better than enduring any more of what she'd been putting herself through. Now to top it all off she'd turned her day at the rodeo into an utter train wreck. She sniffed hard and stomped the ground.

 

"Oh no you don't!" She chastised herself, dashing the brimming tears that formed in her pretty green eyes. "You keep it together!"

 

 

"Applejack! Applejack darling, come over here!" 

 

AJ's heart instantly took flight at the sound of her name being called by Rarity. This time her stomach didn't sink at the thought of being around the mare that had stolen her heart. She actually felt like Rarity was reaching out to rescue the farm mare. Applejack didn't even think about it, she just trotted right over. 

 

As Rarity questioned her, the desperate tones in her voice rose. It made AJ feel terrible inside to think she was causing her best friend distress. The guilt coursed through her veins, burning to the point that her honesty began to rise. She sucked in a breath, holding back un-shed tears and fervently hoping she wouldn't be left unrequited after this. The sounds of the crowd faded away, blurring into the background. The smells of the rodeo turned to the sweet smell of the unicorn that held her close. The feeling of leaning over a rodeo fence softened and she felt like she was standing on air.

 

"Out with it..." She muttered softly into Rarity's ear. This was it, no more holding back! Time for honesty to shine!

 

AJ reached up, removed her stetson and placed it gently between Rarity's ears before turning slightly so they would meet muzzle to muzzle.

 

"I..." She whispered a split inch from the unicorn's muzzle. AJ couldn't finish her confession, instead leaning in to lock the mare of her dreams in a kiss. 

 

At first her heart rate soared to new heights, faster and harder then it had ever beat before. She leaned in more, settling into the moment she'd kept from herself and everypony else for so long! She kissed Rarity with pent up passion, firmly and deeply. Then, realizing what was happening, she pulled back to arms length. A deep crimson blush settled over her cheeks as she took a couple breaths, letting her mind settle enough to speak.

 

"I-i uhhh," She stammered, wondering of course what Rarity's reaction would be. 

 

AJ's stomach dropped, knowing her friend may not have wanted what she'd just given. The tears formed again and this time they fell. Just a few and they sparkled as they fell to the rodeo arena ground. She felt so vulnerable in that moment, to Rarity and nopony else.

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It took Applejack an interminable amount of time to commit herself to the action that Rarity knew she would. 


*******************

 

She had thought about it for a while the previous night. Pacing to herself. Talking to herself. Running through the myriad possibilities and eliminating them one by one. She felt like a Shadow Spade knock-off by the end and still sought some answers, but she supposed in this stormy land of surprises that all the answers being available were pipe dreams of the hopeless romantic inside of her.

 

Did her friend have such feelings? This one was easy enough for her to parse. The evidence, as little of it had existed before she was given the eyes with which to see, collected itself neatly and nicely in front of her now. The sweet little words shared over the years, the fighting, and the growing attention of her friend. The actions more recently- the inability to do much only added to the sense that Applejack was in a tizzy, and it was over Rarity. Indeed, once she had gotten past the concept of it being patently absurd she found it easy to accept with all of the gathered evidence.

 

Did she share these feelings? Therein lay the real spot of trouble, and the source of her anguish the previous night. She had never seen herself with another mare. She had always told herself she enjoyed the company of stallions. Indeed, while she was easy with the compliments when it came to particularly attractive mares, she had never really looked at them as *romantic* partners. Had she? She supposed, and she had supposed very hard for several hours the night previous, that it depended on how one defined romance. Her mind warred with itself as it ruefully reminded her of past incidents. The Manehattan mare after a show. Her roommate at the Heartland School of Design. Indiscretions at the Watering Hole. She hadn't repressed these memories but she had certainly viewed them in a light less flattering than the sanguine title of romance would have shone on them.

 

She had been young and...experimental in her younger days. Nothing wrong with that. She was certain many ponies used their youth in such a meaningless yet uniquely exciting way. She had her fair of stallions too at that time. Yet...she had always gone back to her roommate, and always found her coltfriends wanting. Indeed, maybe it was than that she started looking for her 'Prince' Charming.


She had been a big fan of that mare and her designs, and the stress of the event- well, relief! It had simply been relief and they hadn't even spoken since. Was it a crime to indulge in such recreation when the time came for it? To throw it back at her- how rude! Of course, she could have found a stallion. The designer of the athletic ware was a fine, hulking stallion, and she was sure he had eyes...no, it didn't matter.


And the Watering Hole...those were low points, not reasons to question herself. Lost souls swimming in the troughs of cider overflowing from such a rank establishment needed to find something while sunken to such depths. She flirted with far more stallions and- well, she wasn't afraid to admit to walking home early in the morning once or twice. Yet she was always frustrated when she walked back while she could acknowledge the rank satisfaction she received from the mares.

 

She could talk her way around it and she did, even taking a break from her rambling alone to take a shower at three in the morning. Frontier showers were th worst, the water was too cold, but it helped keep her aware. She argued with herself, cried with herself, and fought herself. She had always been looking for Prince Charming, but she had to open her eyes. There was no such thing. The trappings of Equestrian royalty were distinctly and overwhelmingly feminine, after all. Nopony cared about the petty Prince or Duke that used whatever small station they had in some third rate city. They cared for and revered the Princesses. And so did she.

 

So why would this matter? Why, she pondered as she dried off and wept in frustration, did she feel the need to create such a lie? To find the perfect stallion, the one that never existed, to deny and to lie to herself all these long years? Why, she thought as she stepped out into the balcony, a teary eyed mess of a mare, was it so hard to admit the truth?

 

Because she had failed many years ago to be honest with herself, and thus had to live a life of lies.

She had tried to pursue Applejack back in their school days. Applejack had been...oblivious and Rarity displeased with her failure. She had shut herself off from her former friend. She had moved away, attended a prestigious school, returned to her hometown embittered deeply in a way she never knew or appreciated. She had been polite but cold, even hostile, to Applejack for some time before Twilight had arrived and forced them all together. She had deluded herself about where her heart lay, where her passions pointed, because she had already failed with the one pony it mattered with. 

 

So of course to her it meant that love could not truly blossom with another mare, not for her. If that were the case, then had she not already lost her entire heart, her whole future? Her future had to lay with a stallion. The perfect stallion. The unbelievable and unrealistic expectation of a Prince Charming who never existed, who could make her feel things no other stallion could, who could sweep her off of her hooves and take her away to some fantasy land of delight and privilege. 

 

Oh, how absurdly arrogant she was to think that! 
To think that her feelings could be swayed against themselves by mere fantasy

 

And how truly awful a life she had designed for herself, a sad pursuit of ash and debris destined to fail when the fruits of her heart's most earnest desire lay in the daily smiles and affections of a friend she had once scorned. The labors and gymnastics required to assert any other truth started to become olympian in their requirements. Like sad, sorry Sissyphus, Rarity was doomed. DOOMED. And yet, in the midst of this eternal Tartarus of her own loneliness that could only ever have chipped away at her, she had been saved by her friend's own torment.

 

Yet what price this savior pays! The burden of knowledge weighed heavily on Applejack, and a thick stone tablet of Rarity's making hung with malice from her neck. 
How awful a love when it was leading to suffering. To know pain was to know love because only a passionate heart could know such aggressively successful pain. But this was needless!
It could be solved if only Rarity had the strength to admit it. 

 

It was almost four-thirty when she stumbled back into her room, a shattered and weary mess. She didn't make it to the bed. She collapsed on the floor.
And in the dark of the night, sprawled out on the floor of her room, Rarity wept without control. She wept for the time they had lost, the years of their lives burned away in dedication to their delusions. She wept for a friend who was no longer themselves as they struggled under a singular pain. She wept for herself, for having used herself so improperly.

 

And in the end, Rarity wept joyfully because she knew she loved Applejack and searched no longer.

 

She woke up a few hours later, emotionally exhausted. Every inch of her burned with fatigue but she paid them no heed. She trotted into the shower and used her finest products. She did her makeup. She made sure to look her best and do her best, even if her insides screamed for her to rest. She acted on instinct. Not animalistic. Not basic. No, she acted on the instinct of a lover who knew what they needed to do. She was late by some time leaving the room and made sure to act no different. Applejack would need her consistency right before she would need her love- and once given, there would be little to stop it.

 

********

 

Applejack's kiss was good, but Rarity knew she could kiss better. heedless of her friend's stammering, she used one hoof and grasped the back of Applejack's head before pulling her back in. The return kiss was deep, passionate, and was likely less suitable for the younger ponies watching. Which they were, considering Rarity made a point of using her magic to remove the hat. No hiding anything from anypony anymore.


"We have a lot to talk about dear, but you have to know something," she said before she pulled Applejack in even closer, Rarity's mouth speaking directly into Applejack's ears, "I have very high standards and expectations, and you simply must start living up to them. The Applejack I know- the Applejack I love- is better than what she is doing today!" Rarity whispered with equal parts sweetness, scolding, and intensity. She wasn't settling for less for herself. How could she settle for less from the Apple of her eye?

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Brae nudged Applebloom when he saw what was happening down in the arena. When he glanced over to her he had to grin. The filly's mouth was dropped open just about as wide as a filly's mouth could. Strongheart sitting next to her had a deep blush on her cheeks as she watched the two mares. He chuckled at their reactions.

 

"Well now," He touched the brim of his stetson. "Looks like AJ finally got up the nerve to tell 'er how she feels!"

 

Applebloom turned to him, her eyes wide with shock. "Cousin! You knew about this?"

 

"A'course I did Applebloom!" He chucked he gently on the chin. "It was pretty much laid out fer all to see!" He cocked his head to watch her. "So? What you think? Happy fer yer sis?"

 

"Happy?" Abby's smile grew as she spoke. "More than happy! I always knew AJ cared fer Rarity but I didn't know how she felt! This is great!"

 

---

 

Down in the arena AJ fell into the kiss Rarity returned to her head over hooves! As their passion grew she had a keen sense that others, including her own family were watching, and she didn't give a darn! This was between her and the mare she loved. Nopony else mattered to her right now. She finally had what she'd longed for. Things felt right, things felt good. So good! She could feel herself clicking back into place piece by piece as Rarity finished up the kiss and spoke loving but stern words in her ear. 

 

"The Applejack you love?" She repeated the words like the sweetest of music to her ears. "The Rarity I love deserves the very best!" She reached for the stetson that was still levitating on unicorn magic. Placing it firmly between her ears she pushed it forward and adopted her game face. She felt like her old self but, better! Stronger, more confident than ever! She felt like she'd already run and won a marathon in that moment. There was nothing she couldn't accomplish!

 

"This one's for you," She winked at the unicorn as she stood at the rails. "my Rarity." Her name encompassed so many things in that moment.

 

After this Applejack reared up and her hind legs, striking the air in front of her like a wild bronco ready to bust from the box. She turned and galloped to the start line, in her element and ready to show these other ponies what the word 'rodeo' meant!

 

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(AJ's time was at least 5 seconds faster than any other pony entered in the barrel weave. She scrambled the competition in the chicken round up, and tore through the obstacle course like a bat pony out of Tartarus! By the end of the day she'd won five blue ribbons and the high point for the day earning her a rather large trophy that would have turned Rainbow Dash green with envy! But none of this meant anything compared to winning the heart of the beautiful Rarity! )

 

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