by Jondor

Chapter 1: Partly Cloudy

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If there was one word ponies used to describe the weather they witnessed each time they glanced up at the sky in Ponyville that week, it would be ‘okay’. On the surface, this particular Thursday looked almost exactly like any other typical, warm summer day. To the few ponies from out of town, it was just as bright, and just as cheerful as the skies at home. They noticed nothing wrong except for a strange aura of anxiety from the Ponyville residents, and few of them even noticed that much. In any other place in Equestria, from small town to big city, weather of this quality would be downright pleasant.

It was hard enough for most of the Ponyvillians themselves to say exactly what was so odd about the weather. Only a few of the farmers or the most experienced pegasi were knowledgeable enough to have said anything for sure. After all, there were roughly the right number of clouds in the sky, giving almost the right balance of sun and shade. The rain shower on Tuesday lasted just about the right amount of time and covered pretty close to the right areas of land. Everything was perfect, mostly.

In fact, if that week’s weather schedule had been a final exam, and the pegasus managing the weather was a prospective meteorology student, she would have earned a score of at least 92%, well above the standard passing score of only 80%. Unfortunately, the ponies of Ponyville weren’t used to 80% or even 92%; they were used to 120%. So they continued to glance up at the sky, hoping for a sign most of them weren’t even aware they were looking for; a sign that Rainbow Dash was back in town, so that their weather could go back to being awesome, instead of just being ‘okay’.

On the outskirts of Ponyville, just south of Sweet Apple Acres, lay Golden Harvest Fields. Carrot Top stood up straight from where she had been digging out some mature taproots, shook a little dirt off of her right forehoof and wiped her sweating brow. Returning to all fours, she craned her neck and glanced up at the sky. Shooting a dark look at two extra clouds hanging overhead, she moaned around the trowel clutched in her teeth. For anypony who was counting, this was the tenth time in the short span of two hours.

“Moaning at the sky like that isn’t going to make Rainbow Dash come back to Ponyville any faster, you know,” Berry Punch deadpanned. She had been counting.

“I just can’t stand it!” Carrot Top whined, dropping her trowel and pointing an angry hoof at the sky. “Those two clouds shouldn’t be there. They’ve been shading my cabbages for the past half hour. And that rain shower Tuesday lasted ten minutes longer than it should have. Do you know how bad that is for my potatoes?”

“Your potatoes will survive.” Berry rolled her eyes. “So, the weather’s not absolutely spot on perfect. Be glad this isn’t Manehattan. They’re lucky to get the right weather on the right day, let alone the right minute.”

Berry sighed and walked a few paces away, sliding a full basket of carrots off her back and into Carrot Top’s wagon. She leaned against the sun bleached wood for a moment to take a swig from the bottle of berry juice she’d let sit safe in the shade beneath.

She was beginning to regret her decision to spend the day helping Carrot harvest her crops. Two solid hours of her friend and neighbor whining about the not-quite-perfect weather had taken its toll. Unfortunately, her own summer harvesting was finished and all the berries were either already sold or preserved, or juiced and bottled, leaving practically nothing for her to do at home.

The argument that had taken place to convince Carrot that she’d brought along bottles of fresh squeezed juice should have been a clue to her friend’s sour mood. Unfortunately, Carrot was, in fact, half right in her suspicion and trying to keep the fermented nature of Berry’s personal bottle secret from her had proved rather distracting.

Despite annoyances, spending the day outside with a grousing neighbor and a single bottle of wine was still a far better idea than staying cooped up at home away from said annoyance, but with a large and rather well stocked wine cellar. That would just have been begging for her to slip back into her old, bad habits.

Squinting a little in the bright sunlight that one of the errant clouds had just uncovered, Berry’s wine bottle was checked on the way back to her lips by the distant sound of hooves thundering along the hard dirt road just outside the fence. As they galloped closer, three familiar voices cried out Carrot’s name.

Daisy, Rose, and Lily galloped through the gate and skidded to a halt by the wagon, billowing up a cloud of dust that took a few moments to dissipate, leaving Carrot’s crops in need of a thorough washing. Berry corked her bottle of wine to keep it safe and waved a hoof in front of her muzzle, searching for some clean air to breathe.

“Carrot! Berry! We have some really bad news!” All three of the flower dealers shrieked in unison.

“What, did you get spooked by another bunny stampede?” Berry snarked between coughs.

“No no, this is much, much worse than that,” Lily moaned.

Speaking in turns so that they could catch their breath, Daisy, Rose, and Lily began to tell the distressing developments they had just overheard in town.

Earlier, under that same disappointing, yet above average sky, five ponies sat together around a large mushroom table at Horte Cuisine’s outdoor cafe.

Applejack turned her face to the sky, staring for a moment at a lazily drifting, slightly oversized cloud casting its shadow over the street. For a few moments, she imagined a rainbow trail cutting across the sky, breaking up that cloud to let the sun shine on her coat again. She could practically feel the warmth spreading in her chest at the thought of her absent friend and, up until now, her secret crush. She’d resolved to let their other friends know before she acted on it; for such a tight knit group to be caught unawares about something as big as this was unfair and dishonest in her mind.

“Girls,” she addressed them, bringing the chatter of conversation to a halt, “I got somethin’ important I want ta discuss with y’all.” She paused for a moment and licked her suddenly dry lips as four pairs of eyes focused on her. She mentally kicked herself; this was no time to get cold hooves. “I gotta let y’all know up front, seein’ as it might just affect alla us. I... I’ve had a crush on Rainbow Dash fer a while now, an’ I... I’ve finally got the nerve ta quit ditherin’ an’ actually ask her out, as soon as she gets back from Cloudsdale.”

She chided herself for the slight stutter in her voice while she waited for the reaction. Her desire to court another of their friends made her a bit nervous, wondering how the group would take it. On top of that, while she wasn’t ashamed at all about it, Applejack doubted if any of them even suspected until now that she preferred mares over stallions.

She was quite pleased to see her friends expressions range only as far as the mild, but pleasant, curiosity of Twilight and Fluttershy, to the cheerful grins of Rarity and Pinkie.

“I daresay, it’s about time, darling.” Rarity strained to make herself heard over Pinkie, who had given herself over to mad giggles of delight at the thought of two of her best friends potentially hooking up.

“You knew?” Applejack cocked an eyebrow in surprise.

“Not exactly, darling. Had I known for sure, I would have spoken up sooner and offered to help. However, it is always pleasant to have one’s suspicions confirmed.” Rarity chuckled and grinned.

“Your mannerisms where Rainbow Dash is concerned have been a veritable treasure trove of clues as of late. May I ask what qualities in our dashing friend captured your heart?” Rarity’s eyes positively glowed with anticipation.

“Say what now?”

Rarity nearly fell off her seat.

“What do you see in her?” Rarity’s indignation was met with raised eyebrows. “I’m not criticizing, darling. She can be quite brash and act a bit like a ruffian towards me, but Rainbow Dash still has many admirable qualities: beauty, grace, daring, among others. I’m merely curious what exactly attracted you to her.”

“Oh,” Applejack said simply, momentarily stunned. “Well, yeah. What you said. Rainbow’s about the prettiest pegasus I’ve ever seen, but uh... don’t tell her I said it like that.” Applejack looked sheepish while stifled giggles around the table were hastily covered up by mimed Pinkie Promises.

“It’s real breathtakin’ ta see her flyin’ up in the sky, showin’ the clouds who’s boss, an’ pullin’ off alla her tricks. At least when she ain’t crashin’ into things. An’ ya gotta admire how she can take a hit an’ go on ticking too.” Applejack’s cheeks gained a bit of color as she spoke. “I’m sure it ain’t exactly romantic enough fer your taste, Rare, but I reckon we’d make a pretty good couple, given the chance.”

“Indeed, darling. She’s the sort of mare I’ve always pictured you with.” Rarity blinked at her own statement and quickly changed tack. “Ah, I hope you’ll forgive me. I have suspected that you preferred mares in general for quite a long time now.” She gave Applejack a sheepish grin. “Naturally I’ve kept it to myself, it being only a guess of mine and not having been taken into your confidence on the matter.”

“Well, shoot, Rarity. I’d have just told ya if you’d asked. I’m a bit nervous about askin’ out Dash since we’re all friends, but it weren’t no secret that I like mares, leastways I weren’t keepin’ it secret on purpose.” Applejack gave a small smile at Rarity’s renewed indignant expression, and then looked around at the other three.

“Anypony else figure it out? Speak up, don’t be shy.”

Pinkie and Fluttershy simply shook their heads, the latter with a blush that made it less than convincing. Twilight shook her head as well, but with a look of intense curiosity on her face.

“Um, I guess that means that Rarity must have noticed you checking out the, uh, scenery from time to time?” Twilight stammered out the question and only continued after a confirming nod from Applejack. “Does that include, I mean did you ever, um...” She trailed off with a blush, her eyes darting from side to side toward Rarity, Pinkie and Fluttershy, while she tapped her forehooves together nervously.

“Darling, that is not the sort of question a lady asks.” Rarity chided Twilight and fixed her with a glare. Then, on a hunch, she turned the same fierce expression toward Applejack. “Nor is it something a lady answers.”

Undaunted, Applejack shot a smug grin right back.

“I dunno about Twi, but I’m more of a rough an’ tumble farm gal than a lady.” She turned from Rarity to Twilight and gave the latter an apologetic grin. “I know what yer gettin’ at Twi, an’ the honest to Celestia truth is: yes, sometimes. Y’all could probably say as much or worse fer half the stallions in Ponyville. You gals are the cream of the crop, an’ I mean that in the best possible way.”

Twilight, Pinkie and even Fluttershy beamed at each other after a few nervous giggles. Rarity initially scoffed at the unladylike behavior, but allowed a small smile to show through in the end. It was hard to resist enjoying the attention.

“I just hope y’all won’t fret none over it. I wouldn’t even be goin’ after Dash if she hadn’t made it clear she likes mares.” Applejack felt some relief at the genuine nods, smiles and noises of assent she received.

“Well, darling, with all of that cleared up, I think there is only one question. Do you have a plan?” All four ponies leaned in, quite eager to hear how Applejack was planning to court Rainbow Dash.

“Junebug’s still there, keeping watch for us, but what are we going to do? This is terrible news!” Daisy, Rose, and Lily all moaned together.

“So, what exactly is the big deal?” Berry Punch looked over the trio’s horrified faces with skepticism. “Everypony knows Rainbow Dash likes mares; she isn’t exactly quiet about it. Applejack is news, but what’s wrong with them hooking up? You three don’t have any problems with Lyra and Bon Bon, so what’s so different about Applejack and Rainbow Dash?”

Berry glanced over at Carrot Top for support, but was highly annoyed to see a look on her face that plainly said she agreed with the flower trio’s assessment. “Et tu, Carrot?”

“Berry, don’t you get it?!” Carrot moaned, her eyes wide with fright. “The weather has been awful this week because Rainbow Dash has been gone.” The flower ponies all nodded their agreement in unison. “If Applejack starts dating her, Sweet Apple Acres will get all the good weather from now on and the rest of us will be stuck with this!” Carrot Top gesticulated wildly toward the sky.

“Or worse!” Daisy, Rose, and Lily all swooned. “What if they get together and then break up?! What kind of weather will we get then? Hurricanes, tornados, lightning storms? The horror, the horror!” All three flower farmers and Carrot Top collapsed to the ground in shock.

“Oh Celestia, my head...” Berry just rolled her eyes, pressing a hoof to her forehead. “I need a drink.” She uncorked her wine bottle again and took a long pull, nearly emptying it. The only silver lining to the whole situation was that Carrot was too busy swooning and wallowing in misery to scold her for indulging in her latent alcoholism.

Berry only hoped, for the sake of her liver, that it didn’t take her too many bottles to get through whatever crazy schemes the girls were sure to cook up to combat this completely overblown, and most likely non-existent threat to their comfortable little lives.

“I ain’t got much of a plan,” Applejack confessed with a shrug. “I was just gonna invite her to a movie or somethin’.” She raised an eyebrow at the slightly pained expressions around her. “Y’all think I need ta do somethin’ fancier?”

“Well, even though this is Rainbow Dash we’re talking about, a little more creativity could hardly go amiss, darling.”

“Yeah! Dashie is all about being awesome and cool, but she already thinks you’re pretty awesome, so maybe you just need to ramp up the coolness, unless she’s actually looking for radicalness in a fillyfriend, then you have to hope she’s not just looking for cool and radical because then your awesomeness would work against you and that might—” Pinkie’s rant was cut short by a white hoof plugging her mouth.

“Although she’s being needlessly verbose, Pinkie does have a fair point. You should at least try to come up with something to impress Rainbow Dash for your first date. If you want a better chance to succeed, that is.” Rarity retrieved her hoof and delicately wiped it off with a napkin.

“I don’t know what ‘verbose’ means, but you should totally do what Rarity said.” Pinkie’s curly hair bounced furiously as she nodded enthusiastically.

“Alright, y’all got a good point.” Applejack thought hard, putting a hoof to her chin and furrowing her brow. Rarity joined in the silent contemplation. Pinkie appeared to as well, while instead thinking hopeful thoughts of future anniversary and bachelorette parties. Twilight was the one to finally break the silence.

“Fluttershy, what about you? You’ve known Rainbow since you were fillies. Do you have any ideas for Applejack?”

“Oh, um...” Fluttershy squeaked a little, suddenly finding herself the center of attention. “Dashie already thinks you’re good looking, so you probably don’t need much help, but...” Fluttershy’s voice dropped to a barely audible whisper. “Dashie never really learned how to cook, so I think she’d really like it if you made dinner for her.” The timid mare covered her muzzle with her hooves, as if Rainbow would drop out of the sky at any moment and scold her for giving that away.

“Well now, that’s a good idea. Kinda long walk back to the farm, but that’ll let Dash build up a healthy appetite.” Applejack mused, a plan forming inside her blonde maned head. “I wonder what kinda food I should make?”

“Daisies? She seems to like my sandwiches during our picnics.”

“Roses always make a good impression on a first date, darling. I recommend chocolate coated.”

“Cupcakes! Oh wait, she’s always stealing your apples, so apple pie!”

While the others were busy chattering on with their suggestions, thinking about things they’d seen Dash eating, Fluttershy attracted Applejack’s attention and tried to whisper suggestions to her.

“Girls, hush up a minute, I can’t hear Fluttershy.” Applejack chided them. “Now, what were ya sayin’, sugarcube?”

“Oh, Dashie tries her best to eat healthy even though she’s bad at cooking. She really likes flower salads, daisies are her favorite, and she likes roses because they come in all sorts of colors. She prefers carrots and potatoes over hay, either roasted or braised, and she usually gets berry wine when she goes on a date, unless it’s cider season. And of course, she thinks your apples are the best.” All four ponies sat in stunned silence for a moment after Fluttershy’s rundown.

“Dang, Fluttershy. I could kiss ya fer alla that.” Applejack beamed and tipped her hat in thanks. “How’d ya find out so much about Dash anyway?”

Fluttershy looked away from the table, both cheeks bright red.

“Um, Dashie and I dated for a bit when we first moved to Ponyville, before we decided we were better off just as friends. It would be nice to see her find somepony to make her happy again. Dashie hasn’t had much luck dating lately.” Fluttershy’s confession seemed to make her withdraw farther from the conversation as soon as she realized what she had said. Rarity’s eyes widened for a moment, but she quickly recovered to jump in.

“It’s alright, darling,” Rarity soothed, “I’m sure Rainbow Dash will appreciate you helping out, after all is said and done.” Rarity slid a foreleg around Fluttershy’s shoulders. “Applejack, save your kisses for Rainbow. She returns tomorrow, so I’m sure you have quite a lot to prepare. I shall see to rewarding Fluttershy.”

Applejack caught a glint of determination in Rarity’s eye and a slight smile curling her lips. She briefly pondered exactly what kind of reward Fluttershy was in for before realizing that Rarity was right about preparation. She would have to go check the pantry and root cellar at home and be ready to hit the marketplace early tomorrow for anything she needed.

“Yup, I’d better get my flank movin’. Thanks for the help, girls! I’ll letcha know how everything turns out.” Applejack stood, dropping a stack of bits on the table for her portion of the tab. She winked at Fluttershy, still being comforted by Rarity, and leaned in to whisper in one yellow ear. “Thanks again. I hope Rare treats ya right.” Fluttershy blushed a deeper shade of red as Applejack trotted away, the others waving goodbyes.

Unnoticed among the crowd of ponies passing by on the street, a flower vendor, temporarily turned spy, cantered along in Applejack’s wake. At the first intersection, she trotted away. Once she was safely out of sight behind a row of houses, she broke into a full gallop, heading for Golden Harvest Fields and the ponies waiting there to devise a plan.

Next Chapter: With a Chance of Doom Estimated time remaining: 16 Minutes
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