"Wow, look at that downpour! Really outdid myself there, didn't I?" Rainbow Dash said, looking out the barn door into the rain she'd made.
"Ya sure did, sugarcube," Applejack replied, giving the sky-blue pegasus next to her a quick, sidelong glance. True to form, the other mare did not notice it, or the slight quaver of nervousness in the earth pony's voice.
Applejack wasn't much given to planning, she was the first to admit it. She preferred to tackle things straight on when they came up. But that didn't mean she couldn't be more cunning and subtle on the rare occasions when she thought those qualities were required. This was one of those, and so far everything had gone right according to her plan. Now, if she could just gather the courage for the next step!
"Okay, was that all you wanted from me?" Dash continued, stirring her wings with a faint rustle. "Because I think it's just about the time for my special 'Job Well Done' afternoon nap!"
"No!" Applejack yelped, the word coming out so quick and loud that it made Dash turn her head to look at the earth pony curiously. "Ah mean... Ah do have something else for you. Besides, don't ya think it's kinda cosy here in the barn, with just the two of us an' the rain outside an' all?"
Rainbow Dash considered their surroundings for a second: an older, out-lying barn near the back of Sweet Apple Acres, holding at this time of the year just a few bales of last year's hay and a stack of broken apple baskets in the corner. And Applejack, of course, looking at her with kind of a peculiar expression. "Naaah, not really. Kinda gloomy, actually. So, what is it, AJ?"
Applejack's tail swished nervously, lightly brushing against the pegasus pony's rear leg. "Well... It's kinda hard to say. Ah mean Ah know what it is, but Ah'm not quite sure how to go 'bout sayin' it..."
"Is this the part where you confess your undying love to me?" Dash asked with a broad grin, giving Applejack a wing-nudge to the ribs.
"Actually, sugarcube... yeah," Applejack said, dropping caution and going with the opening the pegasus had given to her. "We've known one another for what, four years now? Ever since ya moved in from Cloudsdale, an' took up the weather patrol gig. An', well, Ah been fond of ya right from the start. But now, after Twilight showed up last year, an' we've been through a lot together... Ah can't help it, but Ah'm fallen in love with ya, Rainbow Dash."
Having finally admitted her feelings out loud to the pegasus, Applejack felt relieved. No matter what was going to happen now, she'd gone and done it, like you did in Apple family! No beating around the bushes and shying around the mare of your dreams like a colt at his first barn dance.
Dash met her gaze, an expectant look on her face. Seconds seemed to stretch into hours, the only sounds the drumming of the rain against the barn roof and Applejack's own heartbeat. It was echoing in her ears, louder and louder, as her relief started to change into dread. Had she blown it all?
Then the pegasus spoke. "Whoah. I was waiting for the punchline, but you're not joking, are you?"
The very suggestion made Applejack's ears flatten with anger. "This ain't no stupid joke or filly prank, Rainbow Dash," she said, again using her friend's full name. "Ah meant every word Ah said!"
"Oh yeah, that whole Element of Honesty thing," Dash said, her tone light but her magenta eyes unusually serious. "Gotta say you caught me by surprise, AJ. I never pegged you for a fillyfooler!" Applejack winced a little at the slang term, but there hadn't been any malice in Dash's voice when she'd used it. "If you'd asked me to point hooves among us girls, I would've picked Twilight. I mean, she's a purple unicorn, and my Dad always said..."
Noticing Applejack's expression, she stopped. "Sorry. I'm just going all Pinkie on you, am I? Running my mouth off like this. Uh... You really caught me by surprise, that's all. It's just that I think... I mean, I don't think... Oh horsefeathers, I've got no idea what I'm thinking!"
Applejack gulped. "But... but what do ya feel?" she ventured.
"I feel confused. Ow! I'm not joking either, Applejack!" Dash rubbed her side where Applejack had lashed out with her leg. The earth pony was grinding her teeth together, but there were now tears welling up in her eyes. "I'm sorry, I'm just no good with this emotional stuff! You're the first person who's ever told me they're in love with me!"
That made Applejack blink. "R-really? Not... not even Gilda?"
Now it was Rainbow Dash's turn to look baffled. "What, her? Hell, no! Her parents sent her to the Junior Speedsters' because she was getting in trouble with all the griffon boys... Wow. Did you guys think that me and Gilda were a couple or something? ... You did, didn't you. Wow."
"Ah thought... And, Ah mean, yer such a tomcolt, just like me, so..." Applejack started. "Oh Celestia, Ah feel like such a ruttin' idiot right now!" she said, embarrassment and despair welling up inside her. "Ah shoulda known better than go judgin' an apple by its color..." She slumped to the floor, bitter little tears trickling down her cheeks as she closed her eyes. Even though she'd been so sure, she had prepared herself to be rebuffed... or so she had thought. But she wasn't ready for this. Not by half.
She heard Dash shuffle her hooves, obviously unsure how to react. Then she felt something warm and feathery across her back, and opened her eyes in surprise. Dash had crouched down next to her, and spread her wing over her, comforting her.
"Hey, hey, it's okay. No harm done, right?" Dash said then sighed. "Listen, AJ, I guess I should be flattered. You're one damn cool pony, not afraid of anything and a great friend. And just between you and me, I'm not sure I'd say 'no' if the right pegasus filly flew to me and wanted to make out. But..."
"But ya... don't feel the same way as Ah do," Applejack finished the sentence, feeling miserable.
"Nope. Sorry." They lay in silence for a moment, side by side, Dash feeling Applejack's body shudder beneath her wing with the earth pony's quiet sobs. After a while, she spoke again.
"Listen... I know how rutting bad it hurts when somepony tells you they'd rather just be your friend, so I'm not going to do that. I'd rather be somepony who'd love you back, Applejack. But all I can be is me, and I'll be your friend forever, come hail or hurricane. That's not enough, I guess, but I hope it's better than nothing."
"T-thanks, Dash," Applejack said, her voice still unsteady after her crying jag. There were still tears in her eyes, but there was the faintest hint of a smile on her lips already. "Yah sure are livin' up to that whole Element of Loyalty thing, ain't ya?"
"I sure hope so. It'd suck if we had to save the world again, and we blew it because of me," Dash said.
They fell silent again, watching as the rain slowly thinned as the pile of clouds above the farm depleted its stores. "Dash... Ah... Ah got to ask, please don't tell the gals, won't ya?" Applejack said hesitantly, not wanting to insult the pegasus. "Ah'm not sure Ah'm ready to tell 'em about, well, how Ah feel 'bout these things..."
"Of course not," Dash replied in a matter-of-fact voice that turned playful as she continued. "Honesty's your gig, I'm sticking with Loyalty. Much easier this way! Still... me and Gilda? Didn't you guys see that beak? How the hay griffons can kiss or cuddle, I've got no idea..."
Applejack tuned out her friend's words as Dash started a rambling story about her delinquent days at the Junior Speedsters Camp with Gilda, and focused on the sound of her voice, and the warmth of the wing still sheltering her. Outside, an opening in the clouds let through a narrow beam of sunlight that turned the still-falling rain first into a shimmer of silver, and then into a rainbow.
It was beautiful, Applejack thought wistfully, if not as beautiful as the Rainbow next to her... but equally out of her reach.