A Delicate Balance

by JapaneseTeeth

Chapter 1: The Sun Rising

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“Dear Princess Celestia,

"I need your help! Something weird is going on with me and my friends and I really need some advice.”

No. That's too desperate. Calm down, Twilight. Don't freak out. There hasn't been any disaster yet. I don't want to sound crazy. Be rational.

“Dear Princess Celestia,

"In the course of my interaction with my circle of friends, I have noticed a rather alarming trend in our communications. I seem to have—”

Arggghh! No! that's too detached. I can't treat my friends like an experiment! The whole reason I'm writing this is because I want to do it right. Okay, middle of the road this time. Not too emotional, not too objective.

“Dear Princess Celestia,

"I really hate to bother you like this but I think I might be messing up my friendship with my friends—"

No. That's redundant. “Friendship with my friends”, ugh. Let's try this again. I think I have the right idea here. I just need to relax.

“Dear Princess Celestia,

"I really hate to bother you like this, but I'm having some real trouble with my friends. Well, my friends are all doing fine, and I'm fine too, but I think I might have messed up our friendship somehow. It's not like we had a fight or anything, though. We're all getting along just fine. Almost too well, in some cases. Or in one case, as the case may be...”

Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

The Sun Rising,

John Donne

The library was silent save for the scratching of a quill on paper and the occasional frustrated grunt. Twilight stood in front of her desk, which was strewn with crumpled scrolls. The failed drafts were illuminated by the few stray beams of sunlight that squeezed through the gaps in the curtains. Her schedule allotted sufficient time for four drafts, five if she hurried. At the moment draft number seventeen was in progress. She glanced at the clock, so quickly that she barely registered the time it showed, then back at the most recent draft. The movement of the quill ceased as she weighed the prospect of throwing her schedule off even further against her desire to perfect her message. With a sigh, she crumpled the paper into yet another ball, tossed it to the side, and slid a new one to the center of the desk. It had to be perfect.


“Huh!?” Twilight spun around, her tail knocking almost everything off the desk. She winced at the ugly sound of everything falling, but something else immediately dominated her attention. Rarity stood in the library doorway.

“Are you alright?” She eyed Twilight's mane with concern. The edges were beginning to curl a bit, and several stray sprigs of hair poked out at odd angles. Aside from being decidedly dowdy (although in their teenage years it might have passed for the fashion of the day), it was a telltale sign of mental instability. Rarity remembered what had happened the last time Twilight's hair curled on its own and shuddered. Fortunately, this breakdown still seemed to be in the early stages.

“I'm fine!” Twilight said a little too enthusiastically. “Perfectly fine! Just a bit tired.”

“I see.” Rarity smiled and nodded. Out of all the ponies she knew, Twilight was... not quite the worst liar. That would be Applejack, but Twilight was gaining ground. “Are you quite sure you're alright? This doesn't really seem like you.” Rarity indicated the scrunched-up scrolls that now littered the floor.

“Oh, that. I — uh... just a moment.” Twilight turned towards the desk, pulling a drawer open. She waved her head at the papers, scooping them all up with her magic and crushing them as she kicked the drawer halfway shut. She glared at it and began to push it the rest of the way with her magic. The papers crunched in protest as the drawer slid into place. “There we go! Now, what—” The drawer popped back open, and the papers flew everywhere. Twilight groaned and snatched them out of the air and into the wastebasket. She took a deep breath and turned back to her visitor. “Now, what brings you here so early in the morning?”

“Twilight, it's almost lunchtime.”

“Huh?” She glanced at the clock. “Oh, no! How in Equestria did I miss that!? Now I really need to rearrange my schedule!” A quick levitation later half a dozen calendars and day planners covered the desk. The purple unicorn darted back and forth, flipping the pages and jabbing at them with her quill. “I don't suppose you could come back later?”

“I suppose...,” Rarity said. Half of her wanted to back slowly out of the room and hightail it back to her shop. She had several outstanding orders to fulfill, and chances were that whatever Twilight was worrying about wasn't nearly as big of a problem as she thought. On the other hoof, if Twilight thought something was going to be a problem, it would probably turn into a problem in short order, no matter how insignificant it seemed at the start. And then there was the matter of the fact that disastrous consequences aside, something was clearly bothering Twilight, who was now pacing back in forth in front of the desk muttering to herself. Even if it was nothing, that nothing seemed to be eating away at her. Even if it meant that Carousel Boutique wouldn't be making a profit today, Rarity felt that she had to at least try to snap her friend out of it. Oh bother, this was going to be a long day.

“...Not.” Rarity took a step forward and put a hoof on Twilight's shoulder, stopping the nervous pacing. “Twilight, something is very clearly bothering you. You're acting all jittery, you have bags under your eyes, you're obsessing over your schedule again, and what's more your mane is a mess. The last time I saw you like this, you accidentally brainwashed the entire town. Now please, tell me what it is that's on your mind!”

Twilight's cheerful facade deflated completely. Her entire body slumped and she began to rub her forehead. Rarity bit her lip, afraid that she had been a little too forceful.

“It's—it's rather difficult to explain,” Twilight mumbled. “I mean, I spent all night trying to figure out how to write it down.”

“Well, I suppose if you really don't want to tell me, you don't have to,” Rarity offered. Maybe Twilight would be able to solve this on her own. Rarity had a deadline bearing down on her, and she wasn’t quite as far along with her work as she had planned.

“No, it's okay.” Twilight answered. “I've been thinking about this for a while, and I really wanted to tell somepony. I was going to write a letter to Celestia asking about it, but I had to wait until Spike was out of town. I kinda wanted to keep it private because, well, it involves us. Our friends, I mean.”

“I see.”

“But since it's something that could affect you, I guess it would be better if I talked to you about it.”

“It could affect me?” Rarity raised an eyebrow. She didn't like the sound of this.

“Well, not you in particular, but all of you.”

“All of who?”

“All of my friends. My close friends, at least.”

Rarity swallowed.

“T—Twilight, can you please stop dancing around the issue and just tell me what it is that's worrying you?”

“I want to! That's why I couldn't get the letter written. I don't know how to put it into words.” She sighed. “Maybe I should just show you. That's how I noticed it, after all.”

She focused her telekinesis on a large binder sitting on a nearby shelf. It scraped ominously as it slid across the wood and into the air.

“What is that?” Rarity asked.

“These are my schedules for the past few months.” Twilight opened the binder and held it in front of Rarity, slowly turning the pages. “Do you notice anything odd?”

Rarity stared at the pages as they passed through her vision. Twilight was moving them slowly, but they were so densely packed that Rarity could barely skim the information they contained. If anything surprised her, it was that the schedule actually contained entries other than “enter activities in schedule”.

“Uh, I think you might be spending a bit too much time on scheduling, but I can't really see anything else.”

“Okay, how about the color coded schedules?” Twilight replaced the binder and pulled out another nearly identical one from the same shelf.

“You took the time to make a separated color-coded schedule?” Rarity couldn't help but sound incredulous.

“You're the one who had a couch specially made for fainting.”

Rarity just half-smiled as Twilight held out the second schedule book.

“Okay, the purple is my studying time, the green spaces are miscellaneous chores like getting food and whatnot, the shaded spaces are sleeping—”

Rarity cleared her throat in a “get to the point” manner.

“—and these other colors are the time I spend with my friends. The white spaces are the time I spent with you, like yesterday when we went to the spa. The blue spaces are helping Rainbow Dash train, the pink spaces are when I was with Pinkie at Sugarcube Corner, et cetera.” She began to flip through the pages again. “Now do you see it?”

“Um, I don't really...” Rarity watched the pages turn. Every one of them was scattered with various colors. She couldn't see anything particularly out of the ordinary other than the fact that Twilight had gone to such trouble to put it together. “Wait, is that—?” Something was changing, but she couldn't quite put her hoof on it. Something to do with the way the colors were grouped. No, wait. It was the ratio of color to color. It was changing. On the first few pages the blocks were splattered evenly across the pages, but now... “That's an awful lot of orange. It seems that lately you've been spending an inordinate amount of time with... I'm going to guess Applejack.”

Twilight nodded.

“And this is a problem because?”

“Because it's unfair to everypony else!” Twilight cried out in frustration.

“Yes, but now that you've realized that there's a problem, surely it won't be difficult to remedy the situation. If you think you spend too much time with Applejack and not enough time with your other friends, isn't the obvious solution to just schedule things differently? You know, spend more time with your other friends? Not that you neglect Applejack, of course.”

“That won't help! I, well...” She stared at the floor. “I actually noticed that I was spending more time with Applejack a few weeks ago. That's the whole problem. I noticed that the time I spent with my friends was getting skewed, so I decided that I'd try to balance things out, and...” Her voice trailed off.


“It didn't work. At all.” Twilight took a deep breath, trying to keep her composure. “I tried. I really did. But I just kept... I don't know. I kept forgetting, and it just kept ending up that way. If I look back through all my records it's so obvious, but when I'm out and about, and ponies ask me if I have anything going on that afternoon, or if I have plans, or if I'm busy, somehow I just keep messing it up. Remember when you invited me to go to on that shopping trip with you last week and I said that I couldn't because I had to reorganize the library?”

“Yes, I recall asking you to come along.”

“Well, I declined because I honestly thought that it would take me all day to do it. I wasn't trying to lie my way out of it or anything.” Twilight looked up at Rarity, tears shimmering at the corners of her eyes. “I wanted to go with you, I really did, but I just didn't think I had the time.”

“And that's perfectly fine.”

“That's not it! Soon after you left, like maybe half an hour later, I met Applejack and she asked me if I wanted to help her harvest the south field. Even though everything was the same I still said 'yes' for some reason! It's not like I like her more than I like you, because I like you a lot and you're one of my best friends, but every time I do something like this it feels like I'm playing favorites, and—”

“Wait, stop this ranting for just a moment, please!” Rarity's voice was sharp, a bit sharper than she intended. Still, it had the desired effect. Twilight's rant-momentum stopped dead. Keeping her neurosis from snowballing was the primary measure in preventing a total breakdown. “I understand why something like that might worry you, but really, it isn't a big deal.”

“What do you mean?”

“First of all, a shipping incident meant that the stores I visited that day were out of stock in all the most fashionable items, and what they did have was far too expensive, so you didn't miss much. It was more or less a waste of time. More importantly, my invitation and Applejack's request were hardly the same thing. I asked you to accompany me on a purely recreational outing, so it is only natural that you would place a higher priority on reorganization. Applejack, on the other hoof, had a practical request for assistance. You, being a good friend—” Rarity put extra emphasis on the words. “—would naturally want to help her out, even if it meant that your own plans had to be pushed back.”

“I know that. But—but that's not how I made the decision!” Twilight wailed. “I didn't really think about it at all. For some reason when Applejack asked me about it, suddenly neatening up the library just didn't seem like a problem. It didn't have anything to do with whether she needed my help or not. Just look at this!” She flipped a few pages in the schedule book. “Look! Just yesterday Pinkie Pie asked me if I could help her decorate the cupcakes for Truffle Shuffle's birthday party this afternoon. I said I couldn't because I had some reports to write up and I needed the extra time because Spike's in Canterlot. And then Applejack asked me if I wanted to come over to the farm to sample the first batch of cider and I said 'Yes'!”

“I just don't get it! It's not that I dislike Pinkie Pie or anything. I mean, yeah, dealing with her can be a bit frustrating after a while, but that's true of anypony! I didn't have any real reason not to help her. She needed my help more than Applejack did, but I still blew her off. How could I do something like that?” Twilight put her forelegs to her head and curled herself into a ball. “Friends aren't supposed to do things like that! I'm not supposed to have favorites! I'm a terrible friend!”

Rarity bit her lip. She was beginning to worry. Not that Twilight was a bad friend, of course; the fact that her apparent favoritism bothered her so much was proof that she was actually quite a good friend. Yet, Twilight's worries weren't quite as baseless as she had first assumed. It was certainly uncharacteristic of Twilight to worm her way out of a request for help in favor of a social outing. Of course, that didn't change the fact that Twilight was overreacting.

“Twilight, you are most definitely not a terrible friend.” She patted the purple unicorn on the head. “Everypony slips up, no matter how hard they try. Believe me, I know. Need I remind you of my unfortunate lapse in judgment during the Best Young Fliers competition? Compared to that foolishness, this barely means anything. If you were a bad friend, you wouldn't even care about who you spent your time with. So, please, forget any notions of that. At worst, you're a good friend who just needs to pay more attention to her priorities.”

“Thank you for saying that, but it still bothers me,” Twilight said with a groan. “I still shouldn't have favorites like this!”

“Twilight, it's only natural that you'd spend more time with some friends rather than others. It doesn't mean that you like some more than others. I probably spend more time with you or with Fluttershy than I do with, I don't know, let's say Rainbow Dash. I hardly dislike her at all; she's a very dear friend to me. But we simply don't have as much in common. She's always off flying and crashing and exercising and doing all sorts of things that I don't have any interest in. And I spend my time working on developing new fashions or investigating the ones that are out there, and I hardly think that Rainbow Dash would be the least bit interested in those activities. It hardly means that we dislike each other. We just don't share as many interests. I still make it a point to see the occasional airshow with her.”

“But I don't really share any interests with Applejack,” Twilight answered. “We have almost nothing in common! She likes exercising, and working around the farm and stuff like that. And me, I spend all my time inside, reading and studying. I study magic; she doesn't even do any magic. Well, I guess she does Earth Pony magic, but that's so different from what I study that it doesn't really matter.”

“That is a bit odd,” Rarity said. “Do you think you can explain why you enjoy spending so much time with Applejack? I'd like to know how you feel when you're talking to her.”

“It's just... different somehow.” Twilight trotted over to her table and slumped down beside it. “I don't know how to explain it. Whenever I'm with her I just feel like I'm enjoying myself more, even if we're doing something that I'd usually hate. Like when I helped her plant their new field. It was so boring and haphazard and disorganized and it was hot out and I should have been miserable! But she was there the whole time and well, it just wasn't as bad as it should have been.”

“I see.” Rarity narrowed her eyes. A thought passed through her mind, and she dismissed it. Surely it couldn't be that. Then again... “Tell me more,” she said.

“It wasn't like she was helping me work or anything; she had her own work to do. We just talked. It wasn't even about things that I really care about. She was talking about farming and how you have to fertilize the ground properly and all sorts of stuff that I wouldn't really have any use for. But I listened to all of it. She cared so much that I couldn't help but pay attention. It made the time fly by so quickly. Just having her there made it bearable. I didn't even notice the sun, or how thirsty I was, or— What are you looking at me like that for?”

Rarity's glance had softened, and her eyes relaxed. Her lips curled into a small, knowing smirk. Her suspicions weren't quite confirmed, but they were certainly strengthened. Twilight being Twilight, the telltale signs were a bit atypical, but they were certainly present.

“Twilight, what do you think about Applejack?” she asked. “Not about yesterday in particular, but in general. I'd like to know what you think of her.”

“Well, she's honest, obviously. You know, because it's her element. But she's still so nice that she's never mean about it. She always has really good advice about things because she's so down to earth. And she's such such a good worker. She's way more reliable than I am. Sometimes I wish I was more like her and I didn't have all these stupid little hangups about my checklists and stuff. And she's so strong! When she's dragging around those hay bales I can hardly believe that she's able to do that, but she does it so easily. It's so impressive, sometimes I think that I could just watch her working all day."

“Interesting. What do you think about her voice?”

“Well, she has that unique accent, and it makes her fun to listen to sometimes. And sometimes she uses those quaint idioms and it's kind of cute, actually. Maybe that's why I like talking with her so much. I really like the sound of her voice. It's so smooth, but it also has a bit of strength to it—”

“What about her coat?”

“Her coat? Well, I'm usually not a big fan of orange, but her coat is really more of a goldish color. It goes really well with her mane. They're both golden, but there's still a nice contrast there. It really matches well with her cutie mark and— wait, why are you asking me about Applejack's coat? What does that have to do with anything?”

Rarity's smirk had grown into a broad smile. She sat at the table, across from Twilight, and put a hoof on her friend's shoulder.

“Twilight, I think I may know what's going on here.”

“You do?”

“Well, I'm not entirely sure—”

“Can you tell me!?” Twilight grabbed Rarity and shook her excitedly. “This has been bugging me for weeks!”

“Yes, of course.” Rarity twisted herself out of Twilight's grasp. “You'll just have to bear with me here, because this may seem a bit strange.”

“I don't care! Tell me!”

“If you insist.” Rarity took a deep breath, preparing herself for the inevitable reaction. “Twilight, I believe that you might have a crush on Applejack.”

“Huh?” Twilight's jaw dropped. Her eyes stared forward at nothing as she made a failed attempt to force coherent words out of her mouth.

“Now, I understand that it may sound a bit—”

“What!?” Twilight finally managed to get a word out as she leaped to her hooves. It was choked and strained, but it was there. The purple unicorn's entire body began to tremble. The edges of her mane began to curl. “How can— why would you say that!?”

“Twilight, please calm down!” Rarity shoved Twilight back into a sitting position and began to smooth out the curls in Twilight's mane. “I know it shocked you a bit, but I must ask that you just hear me out.”

“Okay, fine!” Twilight said. She was still fidgeting, rubbing her hooves together and twitching, but at least she didn't seem in imminent danger of a breakdown.

“Now then.” Rarity sat down. This situation had to be handled carefully. “I fully understand if you choose not to believe me and, well, I don't want to sound egotistical, but I've been on the receiving end of a fair amount of romantic attention. I've grown quite adept at recognizing the signs of that sort of thing and to be honest, you seem to be displaying several of them.”

“Signs, like—like what?” Twilight's voice cracked. Even her vocal cords were shivering.

“Well, you've subconsciously re-arranged your entire schedule for the sake of spending more time with her, you find enjoyment in her mere presence regardless of how much you'd dislike the situation otherwise, you find her conversation utterly engaging even when you couldn't care less about the subject matter, when I asked you to describe her you didn't give me a single negative attribute-”

“But- but that can't be!” Twilight croaked. “I know that you probably know more about that kind of thing than I do, but this is ridiculous! I've been friends with Applejack for so long now. Just friends. Good friends, but just friends! Friends aren't supposed to get crushes on each other! Everything was going along just fine, and now you're telling me that I'm in love with-”

“Now just hold on a moment!” Rarity interrupted. “I never mentioned anything about being in love!”

“But you just said—”

“I said that you probably had a crush. That's entirely different. Being 'in love' is a much more... dedicated state. What you're experiencing may just be infatuation.”


“A passing fancy,” Rarity explained. “While I have no doubt that you do care deeply for Applejack, as you do for all your friends, this sudden spat of affection may be entirely temporary. Crushes are quite fickle, and sometimes happen almost at random. Just think of Spike. He developed a crush on me within mere moments of my introduction, based entirely on my appearance.” Rarity paused to flip her mane with her hoof. “ Of course, it's not quite the same situation, but I think it shows how arbitrary infatuation can be. Perhaps the same thing happened with Applejack."

“So there's really that much of a difference between love and just having a crush?”

“You could say that. Love is a very tricky subject. It can mean a lot of different things. For instance, you've repeatedly told me that you love studying, but that hardly means that you have a romantic desire for your books. Or I'm sure that you most definitely love your brother, but that is not a romantic interest either.” She lowered her voice. “Although I must admit that the way you acted before his wedding was a bit suspicious.”

“So the difference between loving somepony and having a crush on them is how you feel about them?” Twilight cocked her head to the side. “I'm not sure I'm following you.”

“It's not quite like that,” Rarity said. She didn't fully understand the subject herself. “Love isn't really a feeling, exactly. It's more of...,” She searched for the right word, couldn't find it, and settled for the closest thing she could think of. “...an attitude, I suppose. I most assuredly love my little sister very much, but that hardly means that her presence always makes me happy. She can be quite the hooffull sometimes, you know.”

“I sure do,” Twilight said, smiling slightly for the first time that day.

“More than anything, it's that I resolved to do my best to care about her even when I don't really feel like it. But we're rather getting off the topic at hoof here. While I'm absolutely sure that you do love Applejack after a fashion, you aren't necessarily in love with her. And even then I certainly cannot be sure. I can only tell you what I think it looks like.”

“So what should I do then?”

“That is up to you.” Rarity pointed at Twilight. “I may be able to know a crush when I see one, but I don't really know much about how to deal with having one.”

“You mean you've never had a crush on another pony before?”

“Well, I did have a bit of a crush on Prince Blueblood. Of course, then I found out that he was a boorish snob, and that ended things quite quickly. It's actually quite a superb example of how capricious that sort of affection can be. It sprang up without even meeting him, and it vanished just as suddenly.”

“So you think that it might just go away on its own?” Twilight asked.

“It may.” Rarity shrugged. “I truly have no idea.”

“You don't know what I should do, then?” Twilight said with a sigh.

“I can't tell you what to do,” Rarity said. “Whether it's just love or infatuation, it's different for everypony. However, I can tell you what I think you should do.”

“Yes?” Twilight whipped a notepad and quill out from under the table.

“Keeping in mind that this is only my opinion on the matter, I think that you should spend more time with Applejack. Not that you should neglect your other friends, of course, but you ought to see if you can figure out whether this is a simple infatuation or something more. Go to her cider sampling this afternoon. Talk to her. Consider exactly why you enjoy your time spent with her. Maybe you simply have more in common with her than you think. If it's just a simple crush it'll eventually go away. Maybe she'll do something particularly uncouth, and it will vanish completely. If not, we'll just cross that bridge when we come to it.”


“Of course. Not that I'm going to be chaperoning or anything. I just want you to know that if you ever want to discuss the matter further, you come talk to me about about it. It doesn't matter where or when. You're my friend and if you need my help, I want to be there to give it. Even if I might be a bit grumpy.”

“Thanks.” Twilight trotted around the table and gave Rarity a hug. “I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't dropped by.”

“You're welcome, dear,” Rarity said, returning the gesture. She was no expert in physiology, but she could tell that Twilight was finally relaxing. “Don't you worry. I'm sure that you'll get this figured out. Just remember that this is ultimately between you and Applejack. I don't have all the answers.”

“You have more of them than I do.”

“Don't think too highly of me, Twilight,” Rarity said with a chuckle. “I'm just a friend giving you a bit of advice. Only you know how you feel, after all.”

“I guess you're right.” Twilight rubbed her forehead. “I'll just have to figure it out. I'm sorry that you had to see me like this. It's just a new thing to me.” She shook her head, trying to clear it. “What brings you here, anyway? I'd hate to waste any more of your time.”

“If it helps you out, it isn't a waste, Twilight. But since you asked, I was just dropping by to pick up that book of dress patterns that I mentioned a few days ago.”

“Oh yes, of course. I have it right here.” Twilight pulled an enormous book from under the desk. The glitter on its cover shimmered brightly. “It sure is a big one.”

“Indeed,” Rarity said. She lifted the book off the table. Even with her telekinesis it was so massive that she nearly dropped it. “Unless you have any other questions, I should probably be on my way. I have quite a number of projects that I ought to be working on.”

“Of course, of course.” Twilight nodded. “Thank you so much for your help, Rarity. I'm sorry that I was so—” She made funny face and wiggled her hooves a bit.

“Think nothing of it. If you feel the need to talk, you know where to find me.” Rarity trotted towards the door. As she was halfway out, she stopped and looked back over her shoulder. “And Twilight, just remember that you are a good friend, and a much smarter pony than I am. I'm completely sure that you'll be able to get through this.”

“Oh, and Rarity...”


“Please don't tell Applejack about this. I don't want to make this any more awkward than it already is.”

“Very well.” Rarity nodded. “Your secret is safe with me.” The door closed behind her with a click.

Twilight sighed. What have I gotten myself into? she thought. She forced herself to stand up and trotted to her desk. All of the calendars and planners still lay open. Applejack's cider sampling was at two, which left Twilight two hours and seventeen minutes. If she reserved forty-five minutes for lunch, half an hour to get rid of her failed drafts and finish cleaning the library, and an hour to get started on those reports that she was supposed to be writing, it left her two minutes to walk to Sweet Apple Acres.

A lump began to form in her throat as she looked at the two-hour orange block she had allotted. Even if Rarity was right and she should take the time to work out exactly how she felt about Applejack, two hours still felt like too much. She lofted a small brush to herself and blotted out the last hour with an aggressively pink ink. Cider tasting would obviously be more fun than helping to chaperone a colt's birthday party, but there was no helping it. Even if against all odds she loved Applejack, her time still needed to be allotted properly. Everything needed to be in order.

Next Chapter: Love's Alchemy Estimated time remaining: 18 Hours, 58 Minutes
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