Taken for Grammar
A My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Story
Author's Note: To the fellow fanfic-writing brony who inspired this story (you know who you are): I just want you to know that I'm not poking fun at you with this story. I'm poking fun at me.
It was Sunday morning at the Ponyville Library—a generally lazy day; time to take things easy. The library only had afternoon hours on Sunday, to give Twilight Sparkle and Spike some much-needed time off—and a chance to sleep in. As was her wont, Twilight Sparkle awoke a little after ten, having stayed up well into the night gazing into her telescope and charting the planets and constellations.
After telekinetically running a comb through her mane and tail, Twilight trotted downstairs. "Morning, Spike!" she called out. As a baby dragon, Spike tended to fall asleep hours earlier than she, and was consequently up hours earlier, fixing breakfast and tidying up around the place. But this time the library seemed mysteriously empty. "Spike?"
Then Twilight noticed the note Spike had left on the table, next to a daisy-and-watercress sandwich. "Promised to help Applejack today. Back this evening. Here's your breakfast. —Spike."
Twilight raised an eyebrow, and munched her sandwich thoughtfully. "That's funny. What would Applejack want Spike for?" she mused. "He's too short to pick apples. Well, maybe if you tied some of Pinkie Pie's balloons to him…" She chuckled at the thought.
After breakfast, since she didn't have anything else to do that morning, Twilight Sparkle decided to wander over to Sweet Apple Acres and satisfy her curiosity. As she approached the farm, she was intrigued to hear Applejack's distinctive drawl drifting out of a small copse of apple trees not far from the barn.
"An' with the Dry Gulch Gang safely b'hind bars, Marshall Law an' Miss Filly were content t' trot off into th' sunset. The end."
"…the…end," Spike's voice echoed Applejack's final words. As she got closer, Twilight could hear the sound of a quill scratching on parchment. "Got it!"
"Great! Let me see what y'wrote!" Applejack said enthusiastically. Twilight could see them now, seated together beneath the trees. Spike was holding up the top sheet of a stack of parchment for Applejack to peruse.
Neither of them had seen Twilight Sparkle yet, so she stopped a respectful distance away and called out, "Hello, Applejack, Spike! What's going on?"
Applejack looked up with a guilty start, blushing slightly. "Oh, hi, Twilight! Spike was just helpin' me with some, uh, accounting fer th' farm!" Spike nodded agreement, momentarily bearing an uncanny resemblance to a bobble-head figurine.
Twilight smiled. "It sounds more like you were dictating an 'account' for him to write down for you. Can I see it?"
"Uh…" Applejack blushed deeper. "Well. It's, uh, not all that great. Ah'm not 'zackly any Gluey Lahorse 'r Zane Grey Mare 'r anything. Just a story fer the Canternet."
"I'd really like to read it," Twilight said. "I mean, if you don't mind. You know how I am about reading."
Applejack snorted in embarrassment. "Well…all right. But honestly, Ah know it's kinda horse-appley."
"That's all right, Applejack," Twilight said, levitating the sheet of parchment out of Spike's hand and bringing it over to her. "It takes a lot of practice to get good at writing. The important thing is to keep plugging away at it." She chuckled. "And after last applebuck season, I think if there's one thing you know how to do, it's that."
Applejack laughed self-consciously. "Thanks…Ah think."
Twilight read aloud: "'Marshall Law and the Dry Gulch Gang. By N. Cider.'" She looked up. "N. Cider?"
"That's mah Canternet moniker," Applejack explained. "'cuz Ah'm in th'cider biz'ness."
"Clever." Twilight Sparkle lapsed into silence as she read:
Marshall Law was woken by the shaft of light hitting his eyes as the midday sun peeped over the rim of Bleached Bone Canyon. He'd been thrown down there by the Dry Gulch Gang after he'd caught them in the midst of holding up the Last Chance Salt Saloon in Percheron Falls and trailed them to their hideout. Through the splitting pain in his skull, Law heard the distant buzz of the buzzards who'd spotted him down there and reckoned they'd be having pony for supper. Well, not if he had anything to say about it!
Twilight turned the page and kept reading, eyes flicking back and forth. Applejack fidgeted anxiously, twitching with each turn of the parchment.
"Wow, Applejack!" Twilight said as she finished the last sheet. "This is really good!"
Applejack blinked. "Y'really think so, Twilight?"
"Yes! It was really exciting and suspenseful, and you kept me guessing what was going to happen next right up until the very last moment!" Twilight said enthusiastically.
Applejack grinned. "Tarnation! Thank you, Twilight!" she said. "That means a lot t'me."
"There's just a couple of little things that I think ought to be fixed to make it even better," Twilight said. "For starters, you use 'woken' where you should have used 'awakened'. And you've got a few run-on sentences here, and you use passive voice entirely too much…"
"Uh, Twilight?" Spike said, watching the grin slowly fade from Applejack's face.
Oblivious, Twilight Sparkle telekinetically reached out and snagged one of Spike's spare quills, and dipped it into the bottle of red ink he kept on hand for corrections. "I'll just make a few suggestions here…"
"That's, um, all right, Twilight, y'really don' hafta…"Applejack began.
"Oh, it's no problem at all, really! And…done!" Twilight Sparkle floated the stack of parchment back over to Applejack and Spike. As Spike flipped through the pages, it was clear there was now substantially more red ink on each sheet than black.
"Thanks," Applejack said flatly.
"That's all right, Applejack!" Twilight Sparkle said cheerfully. "I'm always glad to help a friend!" She nodded to Spike. "See you back at the library!" She trotted off, her work here finished. Behind her, Applejack glowered at Spike, who shrugged helplessly.
The next day, Twilight Sparkle noticed something odd. As she approached Applejack's apple cart to buy some lunch, she could have sworn that the Stetson-wearing mare's expression darkened when she looked Twilight's way. But maybe it was just a trick of the light.
"Hey, Applejack!" Twilight approached the cart, levitating a couple of bits out of her money pouch. "Got any Red Delicious?"
"Jus' a sec, Twilight," Applejack said, sliding the bits off the counter into her till. She lifted an apple out of a drawer and plunked it down on the counter. "There's yer apple."
Twilight frowned. Was it her imagination, or did Applejack sound annoyed with her? Well, maybe business was bad today. "Thank you, Applejack." She levitated the apple into her saddlebag and went on her way.
Later that day, Twilight Sparkle was directing Spike in re-shelving the few books that Ponyville's citizens had returned lately—as well as the considerably more that she had taken down for research herself. "You're doing great, Spike! I knew that teaching you the Dewormer Decimal system was worth the effort."
"Yeah, it's just too bad learning it just led to more effort on my part," Spike grumbled under his breath. "Why is it that I have to climb rickety ladders to re-shelve everything while the one who can float stuff through the air with her horn gets to supervise?"
"What was that, Spike?" Twilight Sparkle asked.
"Nothing, Twilight!" Spike called over his shoulder.
"I'm going to take a break now and have some lunch," Twilight said, levitating the apple out of her pouch.
"Yeah, you do that," Spike muttered. "Hard as you've been working and all—" His muttered monologue was interrupted by a crunch behind him, followed by a strangled squeal of surprise. He blinked and turned around. "Twilight? Are you okay?"
"Mmph! Mmph!" Twilight tried to speak, but her mouth was puckered shut. She rolled her eyes, gesturing to the half-eaten apple.
Spike blinked, hopped down the ladder, and came over to examine it. He took a cautious nibble, then stuck out his tongue. "Bleah! Hey, this isn't a Red Delicious. This is a Jonathan—a cooking apple." He assayed another nibble. "An especially sour one, too. Wow." He giggled at Twilight's still-puckered expression. "You know, your mouth looks like it's shrunk about three sizes. That's a change."
Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes again. "Mmph!" She trotted off to the kitchen to try to rinse her mouth out. It took her a good half hour just to be able to open it enough to let the water inside. Spike supposed she would be getting him back sooner or later for his last remark, but oh well…it had been worth it.
"That's funny," Twilight Sparkle said to Spike when she could finally talk again. "I wouldn't have thought Applejack could make that kind of mistake. I guess everyone must have an off day now and then."
"Uh-huh," Spike said. He opened his mouth to say something more, thought better of it, and went back to re-shelving books.
The next day, Tuesday, library business was slow—as it usually was on Tuesdays. Twilight Sparkle wasn't sure exactly why, but she'd actually researched it once (as she did most things) and learned that Tuesday was traditionally the slowest day for any kind of business. Not that she minded—it gave her and Spike an excuse to take an extended lunch break at their favorite cafe. (Well, Twilight's favorite cafe, anyway. Spike always complained that it didn't serve gemstones—but the fact that it was across the street from the Carousel Boutique meant he didn't complain as loudly as he might.)
They lingered long over their fried hay and daisy-and-daffodil sandwiches—Twilight reading through her latest book, and Spike gazing dreamily across the street to try to catch glimpses of Rarity through the boutique windows. At last, they paid their check and wandered back to the library tree.
Twilight Sparkle's first hint that something might be wrong was that the "Back At [time]" sign on the front door had been turned around to show "Open" again. By itself, this was not necessarily a bad sign—except that it was on the inside of the door, and could not be reached from outside. "That's funny. I'm positive I locked up before we left," she mused.
"You did," Spike confirmed. "I saw you."
Twilight Sparkle's horn glowed as she reached out to give the door a gentle push. It swung open. "It's not locked now." As the door opened, girlish giggling and cheers drifted out—as well as the occasional muffled thump of books hitting the floor. Twilight Sparkle facehoofed and groaned, "Oh, no. Please tell me it's not what it sounds like."
From inside, three filly voices chorused, "Cutie Mark Crusaders Librarians!"
Spike looked at her. "I could tell you that, Twilight, but I think I'd be lying."
Twilight sighed. "All right. Let's go see how bad the damage is."
They entered the main room to find that three industrious young fillies had managed to remove all the books from four shelves, and were working on a fifth. Scootaloo was at the top of one of the ladders, tossing books down to Apple Bloom. The yellow and red filly caught most of them, but occasionally missed one, which accounted for the thumps. Meanwhile, Sweetie Belle was picking and choosing among the books on the floor and putting them back on the first shelf in no sort of order that Twilight Sparkle could readily ascertain.
Twilight faltered, and had to lean against a wall in shock and horror. "What in Equestria are you girls doing?"
"Eep!" Scootaloo fumbled the latest book she'd just grabbed, and it landed on Apple Bloom's head with a thump.
"We're seeing if we can get our librarian cutie marks!" Sweetie Belle said proudly. "Your shelves were just so messy, so we're sorting the books by size and color so it looks better!"
Marefully resisting the urge to tear out large chunks of her mane, Twilight Sparkle asked, "How did you even get in? I locked the doors!"
"We heard Applejack say you kept the spare key under a loose paving stone!" Apple Bloom said brightly. "And that gave us the idea!"
Twilight Sparkle took a deep breath and counted silently to thirty before opening her mouth again. "If there is one thing I can say with certainty, it is that you are not destined for librarian cutie marks." She glared at them. "Out! Out!" She managed to say this remarkably calmly, for all that her left eyelid was twitching uncontrollably.
"Okay, okay, we're going, geez!" Scootaloo said, rolling her eyes and jumping off the top of the ladder to the ground. "C'mon, let's try the next one on the list!"
"What's that?" Apple Bloom asked.
"Let me see…" Scootaloo dug a scrap of paper out of a pocket somewhere. "That would be…cheesemaking!"
"Cutie Mark Crusader Cheesemakers!" the threesome chorused, scampering down the hall and out the front door.
Twilight Sparkle and Spike watched them go, then slowly turned to face each other, then to look at the carnage. Fortunately, none of the books seemed to be very badly damaged, but the whole section of the library looked like it had been hit by a localized earthquake or tornado. And Twilight Sparkle ruefully regarded the half-full color-coordinated shelf, which juxtaposed titles like Japonyese Stir-Fry Cooking with How to Care for Your Cat simply because they had similar covers and bindings.
"You know, that does look kinda pretty, the way all the colors match," Spike pointed out. "It's…going to be a shame to mess it up?" Twilight Sparkle just looked at him. "Yeah, I didn't think that was gonna work either," Spike admitted.
"How could Applejack be so careless?" Twilight wondered. "She knows that key is supposed to be a secret. I guess I'll have to find a new hiding place for it now."
"Um, yeah," Spike said. "About Applejack—"
"Not now, Spike." Twilight Sparkle sighed. "We've got a lot of work to do. Why don't you get started and I'll go hang out the 'closed' sign." Suiting action to words, she trotted off down the hall.
Spike sighed. "Sure thing, boss." Glumly, he pulled the ladder over and started taking down books, muttering imprecations against Twilight Sparkle and Applejack in equal measure.
That night, Twilight Sparkle dragged herself out onto her star-viewing platform in the top of the tree. After a day spent cleaning up after the Cutie Mark Crusaders, she felt like nothing more than dragging herself into bed instead. Still, she knew she had to make at least a token effort at astronomy or she would be cross all day tomorrow at the wasted opportunity. Yawning, she adjusted the telescope to see what she could see.
On the streets below, Applejack paused on her way home to look up at the top of the tree, and at the unicorn who was pottering around up there. Her eyes narrowed into a glower, and she rummaged in one of her pannier bags for an apple. She turned around, took careful aim over her shoulder, then tossed the apple up into the air with a quick flick of her neck. As it came down again, she lashed out with one hind hoof, launching the apple along a carefully-calculated trajectory.
The apple clipped the edge of the huge beehive hanging a few feet below the astronomy platform, setting it swinging without seriously damaging or dislodging it. As a cloud of angry bees emerged, Applejack ducked around a corner, then peered back carefully to watch.
Twilight Sparkle gazed through her telescope, adjusted the focus knobs a little with her magic, and looked again. Something looked back at her—something with huge, round eyes. "Ack!" Twilight jumped back in fright, before swinging the telescope around to take a look at the end. "Oh. It's just a bee! You gave me a…" She trailed off as she became aware that a big dark cloud overhead was beginning to blot out the stars. "…fright?"
It only took a second for Twilight Sparkle to realize what the dark cloud was—largely because it only took a second for the immense swarm of disturbed bees to swoop to the attack. "Ack! Eek! No! Not again!" Twilight frantically dived back into the tree, slamming the door behind her.
In the streets below, Applejack smirked, then turned away to trot on home—only to find her way blocked by a big red stallion wearing a harness collar. In a tone that brooked no argument, Big Macintosh said, "Little sister, all this foolishness has got to stop."
The next morning, Applejack stood alone on the library steps, knocking on the door despite the "CLOSED" sign hanging prominently in the window. She waited a few minutes, then knocked again. Finally, the door swung open a crack and Spike poked his head out. "Sorry, but we're—oh, Applejack." He frowned. "What're you up to this time?"
"Ah jus' need to talk to Twilight Sparkle," Applejack said.
"She's…not taking visitors right now." Spike glared up at Applejack. "Something about recovering from full-body bee stings. Don't suppose you'd know anything about that?"
Applejack hung her head. "Ah…Ah need t' apologize."
Spike put his hand to his chin in thought. "All right. Come on in. I'll see if she's up to coming down."
A few minutes later, Twilight Sparkle hobbled down to the living room. Her face was swollen out of shape, and her face and body were dotted with bee-sting cream. Applejack winced and looked away. "Spike said you had something…important to tell me?" Twilight asked.
"Ah do, Twilight." Applejack looked back at her, then down at the floor. "Ah've been kinda…out t'git ya over th' last couple days. Ever since you…c'rrected mah story. Ah gave y'th' wrong apple on purpose, an' Ah let drop how Apple Bloom'n her friends c'd get inta yer library, an' Ah…" She glanced up at Twilight again and looked down. "…Ah kinda riled up the bees a li'l last night."
Twilight Sparkle stared at her friend. "But…why?" she asked.
Applejack shuffled her hooves. "Well, when y'marked up mah story, Ah kinda took it hard. Ah already got Rarity on mah case 'bout mah so-called ack-sent, an' this was jus' too much."
"I don't understand," Twilight said. "I was just trying to help. If you don't have a chance to learn from your mistakes, you don't get to improve."
Applejack tossed her head, as if there was a fly under her Stetson that she couldn't dislodge. "Ah know, an' that's what makes it so all-fired hard. Ya meant well, an' y'were jus' givin' me yer honest advice. Ah know a thing'r three 'bout honesty." She snorted. "But th' thing is, Ah'm not doin' this as an exercise t' get better. Ah'm doin' it fer fun. Ah'm pourin' my heart an' soul inta what Ah write, an' havin' it scribbled all over like that felt like tellin' me Ah'm not good 'nuff."
Twilight Sparkle cocked her head. "So why didn't you just tell me? You're supposed to be the Element of Honesty, you know."
Applejack hung her head again. "Ah…Ah didn't wanna hurt yer feelin's."
"So instead you tortured my taste buds, laid waste to my library, and bombarded me with berzerk bees? Applejack, my feelings aren't that fragile." Twilight Sparkle chuckled, taking the sting out of the words.
"Ah couldn't help it! Ah was jus' so mad…an' keepin' it all inside was makin' me crazy. It finally took Big Macintosh to knock some sense inta me t'get me t'come down this mornin'." Then she finally registered Twilight's tone, and looked up. "But…you're not mad?"
"Well…I'm a little annoyed," Twilight admitted. "And Sweet Apple Acres is probably going to get some bills for book repairs and bee-sting cream. But I have to admit, I can see where you're coming from." She sighed. "It's kind of a blind spot, I guess. I've been obsessing for so long over learning how to do everything better, correcting every mistake I ever make, that sometimes I get to thinking everyone feels the same way."
"It's not that Ah don' wanna get better," Applejack said. "An' when Ah looked at what y'said needed fixin', it did kinda help things some t'do some'v it. It's jus'…when y'come in an' c'rect me on somethin' so pers'nal, it feels like yer puttin' me down."
Twilight Sparkle nodded. "I'm sorry, Applejack. I never meant to hurt your feelings. From now on, I'll be more careful about forcing my advice onto other people."
"I'm sorry, too, Twilight," Applejack said. "Ah should've just come out an' said what was botherin' me 'stead a' tryin' t'bottle it up. Bottlin' up works a lot better fer cider than fer feelings."
"I guess you'd be the one to know about that, since you're 'N. Cider,'" Twilight said, and they shared a laugh that dispersed the last lingering bits of tension.
After Applejack had left, Twilight had Spike take a letter.
"Dear Princess Celestia:
"Today I learned that sometimes even the most well-meaning advice can hurt your friends deeply, if it's about something that's really important to them—and sometimes those friends won't let on what's bothering them because they don't want to hurt your feelings. I learned it's not a good idea to keep feelings bottled up like that, because sooner or later they can escape whether you want them to or not.
"I also learned that bee stings still hurt. Ow.
"Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle."
Not far away, a cyan-blue pegasus with a rainbow-colored mane and tail hunched over a writing desk made from clouds, pencil gripped in her teeth. She muttered as she wrote: "'Why Rainbow Dash Kicks More Flank Than You. Chapter One: Rainbow Dash vs. the Invincible Army of Evil.'" She looked up and grinned. "This is gonna be sooooo awesome!"