Applejack tried not to think about Rarity.
In fact, she tried not to think about much at anything but the task at hoof. By her figure, she'd already wasted too much time with Rarity's fru-fru girlified romantical business, and thus it was high time to do something productive. Applebucking was productive.
It also gave her the opportunity to hit things. Hard.
Applejack's horseshoes left imprints on the bark of the apple tree, and a rain of fruit tumbled downwards. A few apples missed the waiting baskets, or bounced out- it was hard to get the placement just right in the dark. Still, the time she saved by working in the dark could make up for a little bit of lost crop, Applejack figured. She shrugged, and then started pushing the baskets into place beneath the next tree.
"Hey!" Applebloom poked her head out from behind a tree trunk. "Whatcha doin', Applejack?"
"Workin'." Applejack looked up, and squinted at her sister. "How come you're up n' about, anyway? Ain't you s'posed ta be in bed?"
"Uh." Applebloom flinched, caught red-hooved, "I, uh...maybe? But I ain't gonna get much sleep when you're out here makin' a racket!"
"So you are s'posed ta be in bed," said Applejack. "So go on, git!"
"Aaaaw, c'mon!" Applebloom trotted closer to her sister. "How come I can't stay up late? I'll even, y'know, do stuff! Oh! I know! What iffin' I could get a cutie mark for applebuckin', only -NIGHTTIME- applebuckin'? It'd be like an apple and a moon and then I could be best friends with whasserface- Princess Loony! The scary one!"
"Yeah, her!" Applebloom glanced skyward, perhaps wary of bat-winged chariots descending from the sky unexpectedly. Thankfully, none did. "Hey, waitaminute!" The filly continued, sitting down on her haunches as an epiphany struck her young mind. "What iffin' all the stuff me n' Sweetie Belle n' Scootaloo have been doin' has been just at the wrong time? We're gonna have ta do everythin' again when it's dark so we can get our cutie marks for doin' whatever it is we get cutie marks for at night."
"I don't think it works that way, Applebloom." Applejack rubbed at her eyes. "Just go ta bed."
"Aaaaaw. But I can help! What iffin' you're workin' all late n' then ya get hurt n' nopony's around ta help?" Applebloom trotted closer, and squinted her eyes against the evening's darkness. "Shoot! Looks like ya already got hurt! Y'all's all teary eyed like you been cryin'!"
"I ain't cryin'." Applejack nearly growled. "Now go back ta bed."
"Alright, alright!" Applebloom turned and headed back for the farmhouse. "But iffin' you're all sore n' cranky tomorrow mornin' 'cuz nopony's out here ta help ya, don't come cryin' ta me!"
"I told you, I ain't cryin'!" Applejack snapped, and rubbed at the corner of her eye, just in case. She waited a few minutes until Applebloom was back inside the farmhouse, and a few minutes after that to make sure the little filly got bored and wandered back to bed.
Applejack went back to work, and shoved another apple basket into place. She wiped briefly at the corner of her eye, only because she'd gotten some dust in it moments before.
Fluttershy tried not to think about Rainbow Dash.
Or, more accurately, she tried not to think about what Rainbow Dash was doing. Or, at least, what she was trying to do, even if Fluttershy had no idea just what that was.
"Please stop!" Fluttershy squeaked, flying as fast as she could after her friend. She'd been beating her wings so hard that she couldn't feel anything from her shoulderblades to her pinions. Though to her credit, she managed to keep Rainbow Dash in sight, which was more than many other pegasi could attest to.
"What?" Rainbow Dash spiraled around in midair, finally coming to a perch atop a handy cloud. "Why? Something wrong, Fluttershy?"
"Yes!" Fluttershy said, desperately. She swooped onto that same cloud and panted, trembling from the effort it took to even begin to match Rainbow Dash's pace. "I . . . uh . . . " she struggled to find the breath to form proper words, much less coherent sentences.
"C'mon Fluttershy! We don't have all night!"
"Promised . . . Rarity . . . "
"Oh crap." Rainbow Dash's voice cracked. Again. "Oh, jeez, you don't have to go any further, Fluttershy."
"I . . . don't?"
"You don't! I mean, aw jeez, I should've known! First you're always going to the spa with Rarity, and now you're getting your feathers all ruffled- you've got a crush on her, don't you?"
"What?" Fluttershy gasped. "I never said that. At least, uh, I don't think I did."
"You didn't have to!" Rainbow Dash said, "like, it's totally one of those things that I can totally pick up on without anypony actually telling me! It's like something out of one of those cheesy romance novels that I totally do not read even if the library was all out of Daring Do books which is something that's never happened ever."
"Okay, I admit it!" Rainbow Dash clapped her hooves over her eyes in shame. "I totally got bored and read Pride and Pegasus that one time but that was only because I heard it had zombies in it but then it turned out that Twilight gave me the wrong edition!"
Fluttershy stared harder.
Rainbow Dash barreled forward anyway. "Besides, we're not talking about me, we're talking about you! Here I've been helping Applejack all night, not knowing it was breaking your heart the whole time!"
"Oh no, I'm not heartbroken. I'm really quite fine." Fluttershy said, finally getting enough air in her lungs to speak properly (if quietly).
"Gosh, Fluttershy, you're tougher than I thought!"
"Actually, um, I think there may be a miscommunication here." Fluttershy said.
"Oh. OOOOOOOOOH." Rainbow Dash said. "I get it now. You don't have a thing for Rarity."
"Whew." Fluttershy smiled in relief, "I'm glad we got that-"
"You're in love with Applejack, aren't you?"
Fluttershy cringed. She at least knew she was keeping Rainbow Dash distracted, which would buy Rarity and Applejack some time. And she wouldn't even have to wear a moustache this time around.
Rarity tried not to think about Applejack.
This was a bit hard, considering she was in the process of walking to Sweet Apple Acres. Thus, various stray thoughts of one particular inhabitant of Sweet Apple Acres could be entirely excused, given the circumstances. It wasn't too late, she realized. Not too late to just turn around, head back home, and pretend none of the affair had ever happened. Honestly, Rarity mused, there was absolutely no reason for a lady such as herself to be out and about, alone, in the dark.
Not that she feared for her safety; Ponyville was a fairly safe little town, provided one looked past the occasional parasprite infestation or giant monster. And, in case of such a disaster, she liked to think she knew how to handle herself.
Not that the evening wasn't pleasant, either. In fact, the pegasi of ponyville had outdone themselves, artfully arranging just the right amount of cloud cover to highlight the glinting stars and shining moon above. Rarity glanced upwards and made a note to herself to ask Rainbow Dash who was responsible for putting the evening's cloud cover together. The artful array was almost enough to take her mind off of the matter at hand. Almost.
As Rarity rounded the final bend to Applejack's farmhouse, she stopped. She shifted her weight from one hoof to another, faltering. It wasn't too late to go back, she realized. Applejack probably wouldn't even want to see her right now. Not to mention, of course, that a proper lady (such as herself) did not go out and about by herself at such a late hour. If anyone found out, the resulting wave of rumor would make things even more complicated, as no doubt there'd be some improper pony who'd think the only reason for her visit to Sweet Apple Acres was for some sort of assignation. And, of course, they'd leap to the logical conclusion that she was trying to charm Big MacIntosh. Not that she didn't appreciate the stallion's big shoulders and general ruggedness, but the stoicism was a bit of a turnoff. That, and she wouldn't even think of involving herself with a pony already in a relationship. And if she jilted MacIntosh's alleged special somepony, she'd never get a delivery on time again, and that would be terribly, terribly inconvenient to the proper running of her business.
And when one looked at it that way, Rarity realized, everything was perfectly logical. Ready to head home, she turned around on one hoof-
-and found herself nose to nose with Applejack.
"Whatcha want now?" Applejack said, narrowing her eyes in a scathing glare.
"YOU!?" Rarity took a step back, gasping softly.
"Aw hell, I thought the whole reason we got in this mess was 'cuz ya didn't want anythin' ta do with me, n' now you're changin' your mind? Figures."
"But that's . . ." Rarity sputtered, "I mean, you- which is to say . . ."
"Y'know what? You can just stop talkin' now, sugarcube. I figure I got the gist of it already. You're too sophistimicated ta be seen associatin' with the likes of me. It'd be, what's that word ya like ta use? Scandalous."
"Well, yes, but-"
"But nothin'! Fact is, you don't want anythin' ta do with me. I got that much, but ya don't need ta lead me on just 'cuz ya think it's fun."
"You think I'm enjoying this?" Rarity said. She glared at Applejack, and leaned forward to prod her in the shoulder with one hoof. "Oh, yes, that's exactly it. I could be using my time to do something productive but instead I thought I'd string along one of my best friends for no reason whatsoever. Do you really think I'm that much of a sociopath that I'd take pleasure in seeing your feelings hurt?"
"Uuuuuuuh." Applejack said, and scratched at the back of her neck. "When ya put it that way, I guess it don't make much sense."
"Of course it don't!" Rarity's eyes whipped back and forth, making sure nopony had heard her grammatical flub. With no tongue-clucking grammarian (read: Twilight) around to correct her, Rarity breathed a sigh of relief. "I mean, of course it doesn't."
"Then what n' tarnation are ya doin' out here?"
"Because, Applejack, I wanted- no, I needed to apologize." Rarity looked down at the dusty road. "It's just that everything's gone so...strangely today, and that was even before Rainbow Dash started meddling." Her words came faster and faster, like boulders building up speed in an avalanche. "Honestly, I just should have been more straightforward earlier, but I was too afraid of hurting your feelings. But now I've made it even worse, haven't I?" Rarity sniffed daintily.
"A li'l bit, yeah. But at least it ain't the end of the world." Applejack forced a rueful smile. "Here, let's just pretend none a' this ever happened. I mean, I understand why ya ain't interested- prolly just wouldn't work anyway. Fancy pancy up n' comer like you's got better stuff ta do than fool 'round with some borin' farmgirl anyway, right?"
Blue eyes snapped open in shock. "Gasp!" Rarity said the full word. "Applejack, don't say such things! Why, you couldn't be further from the truth. For, as the matter stands, I am not nearly good enough for you."
"Aw heck, you're just sayin' that ta make me feel better."
"No, I'm saying that because it's the truth! I mean, look at it. Or, uh, look at me. True, I am beautiful and charming and so on...but I'm not without my flaws, you know. I'm vain, a workaholic, occasionally materialistic, and prone to bouts of obsession. I'm a pain to put up with sometimes, if you haven't noticed."
"Yeah." Applejack rubbed at her chin. "Sounds 'bout right."
"You weren't supposed to agree so easily." Rarity huffed. "But...as it is, you're right. It's bad enough that I've got an...artistic temperament. But on top of that, you're a particularly lovely filly, one far better than I deserve. I mean, there's the rustic charm, for one- but I can tell that there's more to you than that. You're loyal and dedicated and you never do anything by halves, so I know that anypony you wind up . . . ah, involved with is going to be particularly lucky indeed. And-" Rarity stopped suddenly, and felt her cheeks tinge in a blush.
"And what?" Applejack leaned forward.
"Nothing!" Rarity said, entirely too quickly. "It's, ah. Nothing. Really."
Applejack narrowed her eyes.
"Oh, fine." Rarity said, and her blush grew deeper. "If you must insist, you're also quite a good kisser, to boot. Ahem." Rarity said the full word.
Rarity didn't reply, but the blush on her cheeks told the entire story.
"Well, uh." Applejack looked at anything that wasn't a unicorn. "Thanks? I think?"
"Anyway," Rarity said, pointedly, "the fact of the matter stands, I'm just not good enough for you, Applejack."
"The heck you ain't!" Applejack frowned. "Shoot, Rarity, you're all purdy n' charmin' n' ya smell kinda nice n' . . . dagnabbit, I ain't very good with this fancified sweet-talkin', but ya know what I mean! Now stop puttin' yerself down already!"
"I'm not putting myself down, I'm just stating the facts of the matter that you're the better pony than I. Now stop yelling at me!"
"I ain't yellin'! Yet!"
"It's close enough!" Rarity huffed. "Don't you see, Applejack? Your personality and mine- we're just not compatible! We'd be at each other's throats in no time at all. It'd be a disaster!"
"Oh, I get it." Applejack said. "You're scared, that's it. Go figure."
"Scared? Me? No!" Rarity sputtered, "that's not what I said!"
"That's what it sounded like." Applejack pulled the brim of her hat downwards.
"Well, maybe that's just because you're not listening! All I'm saying is that it'll be far easier and better for both of us in the long run if we just put these fleeting fancies behind us and save ourselves the trouble."
"Oh, I get it now." Applejack said. "Ya ain't scared, you're lazy."
"Stop putting words in my mouth!" Rarity stomped with all four hooves, her frustration overcoming her vanity as she scratched her delicate hooficure on the gravel road. "You, of all ponies should know that I am not lazy, and I am certainly scared."
"Prove it!" Applejack said, mostly by reflex.
"Fine!" Rarity shot back, and immediately grabbed Applejack around the neck. She leaned in and mashed her lips against her friend's. This time, with the mostly clear night sky and a faint breeze rolling through, the kiss looked exactly like something off the cover of a tawdry romance novel.
Applejack made an uncharacteristic whimpery noise and melted into Rarity's embrace.
Rarity slowly drew back, though she kept her front legs wrapped around Applejack. She became suddenly aware of the warm flush in her cheeks and the steady pounding of her heart. She closed her eyes, buying time to compose herself. When she opened them, she found herself staring into a pair of glimmering green eyes.
"Uh." Applejack said, biting at her lower lip, "what just happened?"
"I don't know!" Rarity blurted. She shook Applejack and squeezed her eyes shut again, as if it might help (it didn't). "Damn it all, Applejack, how come you've got to make everything so difficult?"
"Well, mebbe I like difficult. Means it's worth doin'. Means you're worth doin'." Applejack paused, a look of embarassed horror crossing her face. "Er, wait, that came out wrong."
"Either way, I'm flattered." Rarity smiled wanly.
"So. Uh." Applejack said. "Now what?"
"Ah. Yes. That." Rarity said. "Well, uh. I . . . hadn't planned that far ahead." she awkwardly shuffled away from Applejack, attempting to compose herself. "I trust you're convinced that I'm hardly, ah, scared."
"If I say no, you gonna kiss me again?"
"Behave!" Rarity huffed, and pushed gently at Applejack's chest. She giggled anyway, feeling some of the nervous tension in her stomach fade away. "Don't you know it's terribly gauche to be one of those couples, always snuggling and baby-talking to each other in public and so forth?"
"Wait." Applejack squinted, warily. "You sayin' we're a couple now?"
"Not saying so much as admitting, I think. Which is not how I expected things would go today." Rarity sighed, and pulled herself closer to Applejack. "It's just . . . well, I think I didn't want to admit the possibility before. Nothing against you, of course, but I was afraid of complicating things."
"Think it's a li'l late for that, sugarcube."
"You know, if you an I are going to be an us, Applejack, you've got to stop being right all the time." Rarity teased. "In any case, ah. I don't suppose you'd like to do . . ." she trailed off. "Something? I hadn't exactly planned on the evening turning out this way, so I fear I'm slightly at a loss."
"'reckon I got an idear." Applejack grinned.
"And that is?"
"Welp, ma'am," Applejack tipped the brim of her hat in a country-polite gesture. "We ain't all that far from my barn, n' I got some records stashed away over there, so, ya wanna dance?"
"Darling, I'd love to."