Why the hay did ah ever agree ta this?
The young, light orange mare of fifteen nervously adjusted her cowpony hat, bright green eyes darting back and forth before the monstrous devices before her. It ain't natural! Earth ponies jus' ain't meant ta fly! Why in Celestia's good name does lil' Bloom want ta do this!
She was visibly shaking as her eyes focused downward to the ground, away from the vile contraptions. There. Ground. Ground is safe. Ground don't lie ta ya and make ya believe y'all are about ta fall the entire time you're on it!
A large, comforting hoof embroidered by deep red fur wrapped itself around her neck as her brother's face leaned in to her own, the stalk of straw hanging from his mouth lightly brushing her cheek.
"Aw, cheer up, Applejack! Y'all said ya wanted ta do this, after all."
She swallowed. Though her brother spoke the truth, he was just as aware as his sister of the fact that Applejack, brave pony though she was, was absolutely scared to death of heights. Y'all are straight evil, Big Mac. Ya know for darn sure the only reason ah agreed ta this at all is for lil' Bloom's birthday! Ah'd rather eat ma hat than get up in one a' those… those things.
Applejack had made the fatal mistake of asking little Applebloom if she wanted to go on a family trip for her seventh birthday. As fate would have it, the exuberant filly had had her heart set upon an event coming to Fillydelphia just days away from her birthday, waiting for the opportunity to voice her desire. The light yellow girl knew for sure that her elder siblings would never deny her something she wanted so badly, and took the opportunity to strike, fully aware of the hesitance that Applejack would feel toward her chosen journey. And so it was that Applejack, Macintosh, and little Applebloom stood upon a grassy hill, overlooking the grounds of the eighth annual Fillydelphia Hot Air Balloon Festival.
Oh mah stars… oh Celestia… y'all can't make me get in one a' those big ol' things, ya just can't! Ah'll have a heart attack! She gulped hard, a light spattering of anxious sweat upon her brow. Please let her be scared of 'em, please let her change her lil' mind, ah can't deal with th-
Applebloom looked up at her big sister as Macintosh brought his hoof back to the ground. "Ain't they jus' the coolest, AJ! Ah knew as soon as ah saw them flyers on the Ponyville Bulletin Board, we all jus' had ta come! Ah can't wait!" She gave her sister a wide smile, one that Applejack was sure the filly knew wasn't helping.
Evil. The lot of 'em. Doin' this to their own poor sister!
"Uh… uh… yeah, ah guess. They sure are… big…" Her breathing quickened as she looked at the nearest of the monstrosities, a very large blue and purple balloon, secured to the ground with a length of thick rope.
The ruby-coated stallion laughed at his sister's reply, earning himself a cold look from the shivering mare. "Alrigh' you two, let's get movin'! We don' want ta be late, an' we got ta get the best balloon here! Ain't tha' right, Applebloom?"
"Ah reckon so, Big Mac! C'mon, sis! We'll even let you pick the balloon!"
Applebloom and Macintosh began to walk forward, moving toward the nearest balloon owners to begin browsing what was available.
C'mon, girl! Git a holda yourself! You're goin' ta be ridin' with those two the whole time, and ain't no harm gonna come ta any of ya! Yer shakin' harder than Rarity's cat in a thunderstorm, and tha's the truth! Time ta pony up!
She lowered her head, giving a snort while she slammed her eyes shut. She would do this, for Applebloom and Applebloom only. She opened her eyes again, beginning to trot slowly after her siblings. After all, what's the worst that could happen?
"What do y'all mean ya can't put more'n two ponies in a balloon at once!" Applejack gave the owner of the vehicle she had selected an incredulous look. "Ya mean we all are gonna have to split up?"
The grey unicorn shook his head slowly at the fuming mare. "I'm afraid so, Miss. Sorry, the law is the law. I would love to keep your family together, but one of you is going to have to fly solo, or not at all."
Not at all, please let 'em say not at all! Ah sure as sugar can't fly alone with Applebloom! If'n somethin' goes South, ah won't know what ta do! We'll be in bigger trouble'n a plow pony without a harness! She cursed her lack of foresight, staring up at the balloon from inside of its basket. The light green material seemed to be laughing at her misfortune as it shook in the wind. She glared as hard as she could at the fabric. An' I was jus' startin' ta like you, too!
Applejack was so caught up in lamenting her situation that she failed to notice the uncharacteristic grin upon her brother's face. Though normally a hard working and serious individual, sibling rivalry was not above Macintosh. Pranking had become a family tradition while the two were not working the fields, and he was quick to spring his trap. "Well shoot, don't y'all worry none. Applejack here just loves flyin', ah'm sure she'll be jus' fine on her own!"
The owner flashed Macintosh a smile as he handed the unicorn the bits for the ride, watching as the small filly beside the red giant bounced in place, her eyes closed and her ribbon moving as she jumped. "Well, that's just wonderful!" He reached a hoof into the basket past Applejack's face, quickly pointing out how to work the flame. "That chain's to go higher, this one, lower. The balloon is enchanted to return here in two hours' time, so feel free to explore while you can! I'm sure you'll be fine! Bon voyage!"
As he reached to untie the tether holding the balloon to the earth, Applejack's eyes widened as she realized she was still in the basket. "WHAT THE HAY ARE Y'ALL DOIN'? BIG MACINTOSH AH SWEAR AH'LL TAN YOUR HIDE HARDER'N PA EVER COULD IF YOU D-" Her tangent was cut short by a shriek, as she fell off of her hooves and onto the wicker floor of her rising prison. She reached a hoof up to her hat, holding it down before she rose to continue yelling at her mischievous brother.
Applebloom was rolling in the grass, laughing hysterically as her sister rose into the sky. She and Big Mac had not played a prank on their sister in a a few days, and both ponies had agreed that she was about due. "Bye, Sis! See ya at dinner!" She gave an enthusiastic wave, unable to hear what Applejack was yelling as the mare rose higher and higher.
Why didn't ah jump just when it was risin'? Land sakes, ah truly am one foal of a farm pony! She had been floating for quite some time now, slouched down to the floor of the basket for the entire journey. Applejack had absolutely no idea where she was or how high up she was, and she really didn't want to find out. Ah'll get 'em back for this one, ah swear ah will. Usually those two are funny, but this was just mean.
In truth, Applejack felt like crying. She was totally alone, she had been lied to, and she was facing her one and only fear: heights. Ever since she had climbed up to the barn roof as a foal and seen the ground from on high, she had never wanted to climb so much as a ladder again. She sat wailing upon the roof for fifteen minutes, scared out of her mind until her father had climbed up and brought her back down, scolding her for her reckless behavior. The memory of the spanking she had received, as well as the primal fear in the pit of her stomach when she realized how easily she could have fallen, had stuck with her through the years.
Ah'm so alone up here… what am ah s'posed to do? S'not like ah can make this go any faster. She finally dared to open her eyes, staring at the creaking walls around her. She breathed a deep sigh, and stood, considering her options.
Well… ah s'pose ah could jump if ah knew how high up ah was. But ah doubt ah'm gonna like what ah see. She gulped. Aw, c'mon, girl! You're the strongest pony in Ponyville, ya ain't scared of nothin'! Go take a gander!
She nodded to herself, gingerly walking to the far wall of her small platform, and put her hooves on the side as she stood up. She immediately wished she had not. Ah… ah gotta be thousands o' feet up! Maybe millions! Ah… ah can see the tops of mountains!
A gasp of horror escaped her as she brought one hoof up to her mouth, unintentionally pressing the other down upon the wall before her. The motion caused the entire carriage to rock, and she very nearly tumbled out of the basket. Her stomach lurched as she fell backward onto the floor, and she was completely ready to be sick. She shook her head back and forth, willing the entire situation to be a bad dream. She reached a hoof up, running it through her very short, straw colored mane. Her entire body was consumed by a sense of dread immediately as she realized she was touching her mane.
MAH HAT! PA'S HAT! WHERE'D IT GO!
She struggled to her hooves, shaking the basket even more as she once again propped herself against the wicker wall. Her heart and face sank as she saw her headgear drifting slowly downward while riding the wind, far beyond her reach. Applejack felt the tears coming, and if she had not been ready to have a breakdown alone in the sky before, she certainly was now.
No! No, this ain't happenin'!
Before she had time to begin sobbing, she saw something that both confused and amazed her. A rainbow appeared, quick as lightning, and shot straight down to the cowpony hat that was spiraling slowly to the earth below. The hat then disappeared, the rainbow streak leaving with it, glittering in the air for seconds on end before fading.
What the hay! Where'd mah hat go? What's th-
"Hey there! Ya lookin' for this?"
The sudden voice caused Applejack to lurch forward, making the basket tip and her body to begin slipping over the edge. Just as she was about to fall over the side, she felt a force on her tail, and looked over her shoulder. A sky blue pegasus with a rainbow mane had Applejack's tail in her teeth, and was slowly pulling her back into the vehicle while beating her wings furiously. Applejack did all that she could to help, and eventually fell backward into the basket in a heap, breathing hard.
"Just what the hay are you doing? You could've died if I wasn't here!"
The orange mare gave a sheepish smile as she blushed, refusing to look at her savior. "Ah… ah couldn't let mah hat just fall… that hat means a lot ta me… but ah reckon it's gone now…"
"You mean this dirty old thing?"
Applejack looked up at the pegasus hovering just outside the edge of the balloon, twirling a cowpony hat upon her hoof. With a quick flick, she tossed the hat up onto her head, catching it and giggling as it slid down over her eyes.
"How can you wear this ratty old thing? I can't even see!"
Applejack glowered at the playful pegasus, reaching a hoof out to take back her hat from atop the younger mare's head. She snatched it with a quick motion, forcefully securing the hat back upon her mane. "That's 'cause y'all are wearin' it wrong! Ain't ya ever seen a cowpony before?"
The rainbow flier had a hoof up to her mouth, giggling while flapping to remain hovering in place. "Nope! I've never been on the ground! Are you earth ponies all like this, with the hats and everything?"
As the mare opened her eyes, Applejack's breath caught in her throat. For the first time, the farm pony got a good look at the one who had saved her hat, and her life. Those eyes! They're mah favorite color!
Applejack had always been teased by her brother for liking a specific shade of magenta, a rather 'girly' color that stood in contrast to her otherwise tomboyish demeanor. An' that soft blue coat! An' her mane, too!
She stared in awe at the wild, spiky display of color before her. Ah ain't ever seen so many colors all in one mane b'fore! She felt her cheeks begin to turn scarlet as she realized she had been staring, something that she had been taught was incredibly rude. Applejack always was one to value her manners, and she looked down at the woven floor in shame.
"Huh? Hey! I don't mean it like that! It looks cute on you! Don't go getting all shy over it!"
Applejack's eyes widened as she looked up, finding the other mare's colorful orbs inches from her own. She… she thinks ah'm cute? Land sakes, ah sure as sugar know she's cute! She backed up the few inches she could afford to in the enclosed area, raising a hoof and bending it in front of her to maintain some semblance of personal space. Her blush was still in full force, and the awkward grin upon her muzzle wasn't helping matters. Lord, girl! Say somethin'! She prolly thinks y'all are some kinda slow!
"Ah… ah… thank ya kindly for savin' mah hat! What's ah… what's your name?" Smooth, AJ, real smooth.
The mare before her gave a laugh, before answering in her scratchy voice. Her tone was like music to Applejack's ears, causing the poor farmer to blush even more furiously.
"The name's Rainbow Dash, and I'm the best flier in all of Equestria! And one day, I'm gonna be a member of the Wonderbolts!" She flew up and out of the basket, flying in a wide loop before returning to hover alongside the balloon.
"Well uh… that's nice. What all are the Wonderbolts?"
If Rainbow could have slammed her head into something, she would have. "What are the Wonderbolts? What, do you live in a cave or something? They're only the coolest flight team in the country! They're the Princess' personal air show team! They're t-"
As the pegasus rambled on and on, Applejack finally began to feel stable upon her hooves. She was doing her best to pay attention to the other mare, but was finding it somewhat hard to keep up as the girl sped back and forth, gesturing wildly and yelling about something or another. Lord in heaven, this one's jus' full of energy, ain't she?
"… so do you get it now? Jeez, it's like you've never seen an air show in your life!"
In truth, she hadn't. "Uh… yeah, ah s'pose so. Heheh."
Rainbow moved to land in the basket once again, leaning back against one of the walls. "So, what's your name?"
Applejack pointed a hoof at her chest. "Me? Y'all wanna know about lil' ol' me? Ah'm ju's a borin' earth pony! Ah can't do none'a your fancy-schmancy tricks or nothin'!"
She had always hated talking about herself, preferring to save such conversation for family. Hoping that the pegasus would lose interest and fly away, Applejack removed her hat, beginning to play with it in her hooves.
"Oh come on! Don't be like that! I'm interested! I've never met an earth pony before!"
She hasn't? Well… alright then… "Ah'm Applejack. Ah run Sweet Apple Acres outside Ponyville with the rest of mah family." There. That wasn't so bad. Keep talking, she seems nice, and it'll keep your mind off the ground.
"Oh, that's cool. So you're a farmer, huh?" Her eyes wandered up to Applejack's face, taking in her features. "… what's with the mane? I've never seen a mare wear it so short before!"
Oh that does it. "HEY! Don't make fun o' mah mane! Ah work hard, an' it keeps mah head cool when ah'm out buckin' apples all day long. Not that you would understand!"
The pegasus immediately backed off, raising her hooves in defense. "Whoa, whoa, I didn't mean anything by it! I've just never seen one like that before! It's… cool and all. I just wasn't expecting it!"
Applejack did her best to calm down, mastering her proud and competitive streak. Simmer down, girl. She jus' didn't know. Her voice returned to its usual drawl. "Ain't nothin' ta worry 'bout. No harm done." She sat upon her rump, looking down and to the side as she sighed.
"Hey, what's up? We were just talking a minute ago, now you're all sad? …it's the mane thing, isn't it? Sorry if I ove-"
"It ain't that, sugarcube. Look… ah'm terrified o' heights, and mah big brother done played a mean trick on me. Ah… ah don't wanna be up here at all! D'ya think… y'all could help me down somehow?"
Rainbow raised a brow, not understanding at all. "You're scared of heights? What's there to be afraid of?"
Applejack stared, dumbfounded. "Uh… how 'bout fallin' to mah death?"
"Oh. Yeah, I guess that would kinda suck. Well, if you fall, I'll catch you! Promise!"
Applejack felt her blush return. "Well… tha's mighty neighborly of ya. But still… ah just don't like bein' all high up an' stuff. It's scary up here." The wicker creaked in the wind beneath her hooves.
"Scary? Are you kidding me? It's beautiful! Have you even looked around the entire time you've been up here?"
"An' see how high up ah am? You kiddin' me?"
"Oh come on, Applejack! What are you, some kinda scaredy-filly?"
Applejack's indignant side began to show itself again, and she rose up on her hooves. "Ah ain't no such thing! Mah Daddy always said not ta back down, and ta defend your honor! So if y'all are sayin' ah'm scared, ah'll show y'all ah ain't!"
Rainbow put out a hoof, stopping the mare from walking forward to the edge. "Hey, whoa! Calm down! I'm just kidding! If you don't like it, that's fine! I'm just saying, maybe try facing your fears in a different way! There's a lot more to being high up than being afraid of falling. If you don't wanna look down, then try looking up!"
Rainbow turned, pointing a hoof outward at something in the distance. "Look over there!"
Applejack moved forward beside the other mare, hesitantly looking out where the other was pointing. Her jaw dropped.
A city in the clouds with fountains of purest rainbow pouring out and downward from it stretched across the sky in the distance. The clouds upon which buildings made of more cloud sat seemed to shine in the sunlight, giving the entire complex a sort of angelic look. Golden arches, rainbow accents, and fountains of lightning were visible in the distance, arcing up from the surface of the clouds. The entire place looked like a bastion of magic combined with the essence of the skies, and Applejack couldn't tear her eyes away from the scene.
"Holy hay! What in the world is that!"
"That up there is Cloudsdale, where I live! See? There's lots of cool things in the sky!"
Applejack finally managed to tear her gaze from the floating city, thinking it over. Ah ain't never seen somethin' so pretty before. Maybe she's right. Maybe ah'm bein' silly. After all, if ah fall, she'll catch me. Jus' this once, ah'll give it a try…
With some hesitation, she lowered her eyes to look at the world below her. She fought back the immediate sense of panic, instead trying to take in the details of the world below. Upon realizing the beauty of the land below her, she found that she couldn't stop looking at what she had feared before. The rolling hills, high mountains, and winding rivers looked gorgeous from above. Her vantage point gave her a perspective on the earth that she had never seen before, and she was just now starting to appreciate the sights.
The two rode in silence for a long while, Applejack going so far as to lean over the basket on her hind legs as she took in the scenery. Her long tail, held back by a red ribbon, rippled in the wind, and she found herself loving the sensation. So… this is what it must be like ta fly…
"So… you liking it now?"
Applejack turned around, finding her new friend lounging lazily upon the floor. "Ah sure do! Ah had no idea things… looked like this from way up here. Ah'm plum grateful y'all showed me!"
"Yeah, yeah. It's not that cool." The pegasus rose, downplaying her love for the skies to hide her own embarrassment. "I just wanted to help you out."
"Well, either way, sugarcube, ah'm glad y'all did. Maybe bein' up here ain't so bad."
The balloon lurched, causing both mares to stumble a bit, the orange pony clinging to the blue one for stability before hastily letting go. Gah! Hope she didn' mind that! Though she is rather soft…
"What the hay! Why is it turning around? Are you heading back?"
"Ah ain't got no control over it. Whole balloon's all magic'd up or somethin'. Ah dunno, the owner tried ta explain it to me as ah was takin' off, but ah was too busy screamin' ta hear."
Rainbow laughed at that, receiving a slap across the face with Applejack's hat in return. The two laughed even more together, before both say down, content to merely talk as they floated back to Fillydelphia.
"Look, Big Mac! Here she comes!" Applebloom pointed a hoof to the sky, where a pale green balloon was coming in for a landing.
Big Macintosh looked upward, grinning at the sight. He knew that he was about to get a tongue-lashing, but it was so worth it. That's what she gets for puttin' hot sauce in mah oats th'other day!
The balloon touched down, and the owner moved to secure it quickly as Applejack and Rainbow Dash stepped out onto the grass. Both were smiling, still talking animatedly as they walked over to the farm pony's siblings.
"What's goin' on here, Sis? Y'all caught yourself a pegasus?"
"Ah s'pose so, Big Mac! Rainbow here kept me company while ah was trapped up there, no thanks to you."
Macintosh was shameless, his smile never faltering. "Well, ah'm glad y'all made a friend. How was the view?" he asked, snickering.
"T'was just fine, big brother. Ah kinda liked it, lookin' back. Did y'all go up, or were y'all too busy laughin' at me?"
Applebloom's eyes lit up with wonder as she told her sister about the day's events. "A'course we went up! It was awesome! We saw a whole heap o' birds and stuff!"
"Well, ain't that nice. Oh! Where are mah manners! Big Macintosh, Applebloom, this here is Rainbow Dash!"
The multicolor pegasus gave a small bow, raising a hoof to shake with Big Macintosh. "Pleasure's all mine. I'm guessing you're all siblings?"
"Eeyup." Big Macintosh gave the pegasus a full smile, standing to his full height to try his hoof at impressing her. Rainbow gave a small laugh, moving to ruffle Applebloom's hair.
"Hey, Squirt. Is you big sister always such a scaredy-pony?"
Applejack rolled her eyes, sighing. Ah thought we got past that.
Applebloom's smile was a mile wide as she giggled. "Nope! Only when she's up high!"
"Haha, maybe not anymore, then. Well… I hate to ditch you all, but I've gotta get back home. I'm sure my parents are wondering where the hay I am by now. Where did you say you guys lived, AJ? Sweet Apple Acres?"
"Eeyup!" Big Macintosh jumped in before Applejack could answer, trying to be as helpful as possible. Rainbow gave him a smirk.
"Well, I'll drop by sometime. I mean, if you want me to. Could be fun getting to know you guys better."
"That'd be mighty kind of ya, Rainbow. Stop on by sometime this week, an' ah'll cook ya some o' our famous apple pie as thanks for helpin' me out up there!" Applejack tipped her hat, blushing yet again. Ah hope she does come, ah'd love ta see more'a her. A lot more. But that ain't the kinda thing a lady just rushes into, so ah'll stop those thoughts a'fore they start.
"Will do." She gave Applejack a wink. "Well… see ya!" Rainbow Dash shot off into the sky, flying at speeds that stole Applejack's breath from her lungs as she watched her friend and innocent crush fly off into the sky.
"She seems awful nice, sis. Ah hope she does come visit!" Applebloom looked up at her sister with wide eyes, smiling.
"Yeah… yeah she does. And so do ah. Y'all ready to head back home?" Applejack adjusted her hat nervously, hoping her brother wouldn't take note of her blush.
"Eeyup. C'mon, Applebloom. Let's go!"
The family walked together, talking over their two flights, Applebloom doing most of the explaining. Applejack couldn't help but smile, happy that her sister's birthday had gone as planned. Well, for the most part. Despite her unexpected solo adventure, Applejack found that she couldn't complain about how things had worked out.
A short silence passed over the walking family, before Macintosh broke the silence. "So… y'all ain't too mad, are ya sis?"
It was Applejack's turn to give him an evil smile and a sidelong glance. "Oh, ah ain't mad. But if y'all thought that hot sauce was somethin', y'all ain't seen nothin' yet."
Big Macintosh gulped.
Author's Note: Here, have another one-shot. No really, I insist. Not entirely sure what I was thinking when I came up with this idea, but I know that I wanted to take the story of AJ meeting Dash and turn it on its head. I've seen a lot of stories where Dash is sleeping on Sweet Apple Acres and gets bucked out of one of the apple trees, and though I love that idea and think it's probably canon or close to it, I wanted to try my hand at turning the entire situation on its head. Specifically, I wanted AJ to be in an uncomfortable situation instead of Dash, since I think a vulnerable AJ can be kinda fun.
This story is actually meant to be a companion piece to The Endless Sky and its upcoming, still unnamed sequel. Applejack will be playing a big role there, and I wanted to establish how she met Dash and the start of her little crush on everyone's favorite rainbow flier. If you haven't read TES or would prefer to think of this as a one-off, that works too. Hopefully I didn't take Aj's speech too far, but I'd be interested to know what you all thought of her. See you all around!