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(Pony Permutation Project: Episode 9)

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Early one afternoon, two unicorns walked together along one of Ponyville's side roads.

"Thanks again for accompanying me, Twilight."

"No problem at all, Rarity. So, can you tell me now why we're headed to Applejack's? I thought she was supposed to be busy today."

"Field testing." Rarity gave a confident nod towards a familiar barn as they approached it.

"...still not following."

"A couple of weeks ago, Applejack was planning her annual family reunion, and said that she needed somepony to help cater. Since a certain one of us we know quite well owed all of us an apology at the time, we figured she'd be the best one to tap. Thus, I went about crafting a most... fitting outfit." The two stopped in front of the fence to Sweet Apple Acres. "Ahh, here we are. Once again, my brilliant sense of style in action!"

Twilight looked towards the front of a house adorned with apple designs a short distance away. "Oh, it's Rainbow Dash. That makes sen-..." Her eyes widened seconds later when she realized the entirely of what she was seeing. "...Rarity, what is that?"

"Oh, come now, Twilight, you can see exactly what she's wearing."

Twilight gave Rarity a dry look. "Well, I still want you to tell me."

"Well, um, it's... how would one put this delicately... it's perfectly suitable attire for... catering. For serving. For-"

"-cleaning house, maybe?" Twilight gestured one hoof towards the pegasus, who was wearing a mid-length black dress with white lace trim, and an apron to match. "It's a maid outfit, Rarity! I've seen them before; Princess Celestia has tons working for her!"

Rarity huffed in indignance. "Well, if you already knew, then why did you ask me to tell you?"

Twilight sputtered as she tried to articulate her thoughts. "'C-Cause I didn't quite believe my own eyes, okay? Can you blame me here?"

"Look, if you don't like the outfit, just tell me. I'm quite capable of handling criticism, you know."

"No, it's a great design, technically, I just..." Again, Twilight fought for the right words. "...I just never thought I'd see those clothes on that pony!"

"The power of guilt, my dear Twilight," said Rarity, with a smile and glint in her eyes that forced her friend to back away. "The power of guilt..."

"Uh... right."

The two looked on at Rainbow Dash, who was busy greeting visitors while wearing the reddest face ever...

---

"Hey, folks, welcome to the Apple Family Gathering! Come in and take a seat! We've got a... um..." Rainbow Dash took a card out of one of her dress's pockets and read it verbatim. "...rip-roarin' good time all ready for y'all. Yee-haw!"

The immediate surroundings fell silent as all nearby guests stopped and stared blankly in reply.

Rainbow Dash sighed. "Look, it's my first day, okay? Just go on inside."

"Well, she seems to be doing all right," said Rarity.

Twilight shook her head. "And no better."

"You two!"

Rarity's head whipped to the side to see a sternly-glaring Applejack. "Uh-oh."

Applejack huffed. "Now why are y'all even here? I gave y'all strict, very strict instructions not to come by while I had Dash doin' her thing in that outfit. Last thing she needs are ponies she knows stoppin' t' linger n' stare-"

"Hi, Apple Bloom!"

"Say what?" Applejack blinked as the two turned around to see three fillies gathered around the farm's fence. "...oh no."

"Hey, girls!" said Apple Bloom, oblivious and all smiles. "Sorry I can't come out and play today. Gotta help with the family and all."

Sweetie Belle nodded. "It's all right, family absolutely comes first! I actually came out here looking for Rarity too. She said she'd be here."

Scootaloo's attention, however, was predictably already in one place. "Hey, it's Rainbow Dash! What... what's she wearing? It looks kinda... weird. Frilly."

Sweetie Belle gasped in delight. "Oh! I saw Rarity sewing something which looked like that a few nights ago! That must be it." The three looked closer. "You're right. That... does... look very un-Rainbow Dash..."

"There's gotta be a reason," said Scootaloo, "and I'm gonna find out!" She leaned over the railing, and called out, "HEY, RAINBOW DASH! WHAT'S WITH THE GIRLY FRILLY STU-mmmph?"

That last was courtesy of Rarity magically placing a nearby apple in Scootaloo's mouth... but it was too late.

"Wha-" Quick as the lightning bolt on her cutie mark, Rainbow Dash turned around--and upon the sight of the crowd watching her, actually took things rather well.

"-NO! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...!"

That is to say, she was skyward in a tenth of a second flat.

Applejack sighed and buried her head in her front hooves. "And this is why I told y'all not to bring a crowd over."

Rarity shook her head fervently. "And miss my hard work in action? Surely you jest! Besides, I only brought Twilight." She gestured to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. "They all came on their own."

It was all Twilight could do to hold in her giggling as she watched her orange-coated friend repeatedly thud her head against the fence. "S-Sorry, Applejack. I'll fix everything. See you later, okay?"

Her horn glowed, and a second later, she, Rarity, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were gone...

"-aaaaaaaaa-oof! Owwww..."

...and Rainbow Dash did a header into the ground.

"Rainbow Dash!" Applejack rushed over to her. "You okay, sugarcube?"

Rainbow Dash's eyes twirled. "Ohhhh... I had the worst dream just now. Half the ponies we knew found out about this stupid outfit and were starin' at me..."

Applejack helped Rainbow Dash up. "Nah, you were just seein' things. Look, I... you sure you don't wanna just take the sucker off? I'm startin' to feel a mite guilty myself for wranglin' you into it..."

Rainbow Dash took a few seconds to think about it, then shook her head. "Nuh-uh, nothin' doin'. I promised to wear this in the first place since I owed you, and this Element of Loyalty does not break her promises. Besides, if I can't handle wearing an outfit as goofy as this, then no way do I deserve to wear the coolest one ever as part of the Wonderbolts. I'll beat this yet!" She looked around. "So this is what an Apple Family Gathering looks like, huh?"

Applejack nodded with a big smile. "Yep! We have one o'these every year. Everypony who's anypony in the Apple Family shows up here, and we all catch up on months past while havin' ourselves a grand old feast!"

"That a fact?" Rainbow Dash paused, then asked, "So do orange Apples exist now, too?"

"Huh?"

Rainbow Dash gestured in one direction with a hoof, to note two orange-colored earth ponies walking up the path towards them... bearing cutie marks of a whole and sliced orange, respectively.

"What in the..." Applejack did a double-take, then smiled and rushed in for a hug. "A-Aunt and Uncle Orange! Y'all actually made it! When my first set of invitations didn't reach you, I panicked something fierce, and-"

"-so much so that you postponed the party for us," said Uncle Orange. "Really, now, you didn't have to go so out of your way..."

"But I wanted y'all here. I wanted to catch up on old times. Plus I wanna show you what I've been learnin' even though I didn't stay with y'all for very long..."

"Applejack, are you still on that?" Aunt Orange asked.

Applejack blushed. "Only a little, still, I suppose..."

"Well, don't be." Aunt Orange sighed. "We'll talk over dinner, okay?"

Rainbow Dash pointed. "This way, folks! Enjoy the party." She led the Oranges inside, and finally, Applejack... who had a a nervous look on her face that Rainbow Dash didn't usually see. "Hey, AJ." She placed a hoof on her friend's shoulder. "You all right?"

"H-huh?" Applejack's nervous look was gone as quickly as it had arrived. "Oh, uh, sure thing! C'mon, RD, that's all the guests. Let's get this party started!"

---

You can do this, Dash.

Rainbow Dash hovered in the corner of the Apple Family dining hall, steeling her nerves with deep breaths as she observed the mass of ponies sitting at a fittingly massive rectangular table.

You can do this. You can totally serve all these ponies you don't know while wearing this stupid outfit. Actually, that might even work out. They don't know you either, which means word about this might not spread! Right?... Right?... Okay, I should stop thinking about this.

She got her opportunity to do just that when Applejack tapped a glass at the front of the table.

"Attention, everypony, attention! First of all, I wanna thank y'all for coming to this annual Apple Family Gathering, where we celebrate all things Apple! That covers all of you, all of our kin... and that also means the family business. Roll the slides, Big Mac!"

One hearty "Ayyyyy-yup" later, the lights dimmed and a slide projector did its work, showing a pie chart--drawn to resemble an actual apple pie--on the far wall. Behind Big Mac, Apple Bloom smiled with pride at her work.

"Now as y'all can see here, this's been a banner year for us, with record numbers done on Zap Apple Jam, and our trademark homemade cider! Once again, all supply's sold out, and we're doin' so well that we done reached our limit on just how much product we can move by ourselves while still keepin' food supplies around for the winter months! Which is where Appleloosa comes in. Braeburn?"

A caramel-colored earth pony walked up to the front. "Yessirree! With help from Applejack's keen farmland senses, we've managed to survey enough land to feed our town and have ample supply left over to lend to the business as a whole. Once winter's over and wrapped up, we'll be expanding onto that land in full--and when everything's all said and done, Ponyville's Sweet Apple Acres and Appleloosa's Apple Orchards will share what they've got, as the start of a grand Equestria-wide project known we're callin' Sweet Apple Farms!"

The whole room applauded, and Rainbow Dash could see Applejack basking in the chorus with a smile wider than she'd seen her wear in quite some time.

"Hear hear! With that all said, that's all for our presentation. So dig in! We got an extra-huge spread tonight, and some supersonic catering help to go with it! Y'all want something from the other end of the table, Apple Bloom an' our Rainbow Maid here will go grab it for ya, lickety split!"

Rainbow Dash waved. "You got it! I'll make sure you get your feed at lightning speed, guaranteed!"

---

A half hour later, Rainbow Dash was living up to her word, and feeling quite good about it--as were the gathered Apple Family feasters.

"...okay, that's one bowl of zap apple cinnamon oatmeal, five fruit-kebabs, and one Apple Princess Salad! Enjoy!"
"Thank you so much! Such superb speed!"
"Indeed! Usually Big Macintosh helps Apple Bloom with the serving, but you're certainly taking a load off of his hooves... and at such a faster pace!"
"Heheheh. Well, that's what you get when you call on supersonic help!"
"So I see! I'll have to tell absolutely everypony back home about your work... and in such a cute outfit as well! What's your name, dear?"
"Oh, it's, uh... it's... I... uh... Igottago."

She flew away as fast as she could, eventually finding herself at the other end of the table, where:

"Hey, Rainbow Dash! Glad y'all're here!"

She looked over to see Applejack with the two orange-colored ponies from earlier. "Oh, hi, AJ. Finally sitting down to your own dinner?"

"Heh, yeah. Had to help put the equipment away, so now I'm ready for a break--time to catch up with some family! Could you go grab some of our specialty apple gumbo? I wanna show my aunt and uncle here what they've been missin'!"

"Coming right up!" Rainbow Dash was gone and back in a flash, using her mouth and a ladle to spoon out gumbo into huge bowls. As she did so, she was unable to help but eavesdrop on the conversation taking place...

---

"I have to say, Applejack, I am surprised we got timely invitations for once." Uncle Orange took a spoonful of gumbo, "hmm"ing in approval. "But they certainly seem to have been worth the wait."

Applejack nodded. "We weren't ignorin' y'all or anything. Least I don't think that was the case. Granny Smith kept thinkin' that was the case, though. So I looked into it extra hard." Her face scrunched in confusion. "Just how much do y'all travel in a year?"

Aunt Orange laughed. "Quite a bit, actually. And while we're gone, the mail piles up, and poof, by the time we get around to it, usually the whole event's already behind us."

"Well, that's all in the past. Now you're here, and you've seen how we do things. Big Mac gave you a tour of the farm, you've seen our presentation, and, well, you've met our excellent service. So..." Applejack laid her hooves on the table. "...guess it's time for the million gold-bit question: what'd y'all think?"

The Oranges looked at each other, and then at Applejack, who looked at the both of them with reservation. Finally, Aunt Orange sighed. "Applejack..."

Applejack shook her head. "It's okay, Auntie. I know we're family, and I know you think you gotta be nice. But if you are, I won't learn nothin'! So I don't want you to give me the 'niece' answer. If this were one o' them fancy Manehattan boardrooms, or even one o' your shiny-gourmet social events... would I stack up any better than I used to?"

"Applejack..." Aunt Orange started again.

Applejack reached forward, taking one of each relatives' hooves into hers. "Tell me. Please."

"Well... if we must." Uncle Orange dug into a a saddlebag lying next to and brought up a newspaper, already turned to a page with a huge red circle on it.

Applejack looked inside the circle to see two pinstripe-wearing unicorns smiling in front of a complicated contraption. "Hey, this's an ad for the... 'Super Speedy Cider Squeezy... 6500?' Why those no-good Flim-Flams... wait." She looked closer. "'Previous model tested and proven superior to the Apple Family's cider production process, three-to-one?'" She slammed her hooves on the table. "T-they can't print that! That's false advertising!"

Uncle Orange nodded. "That's what we said. However, one of the letters we sent in response was to your mayor... who replied by saying that, technically, they were right. Taken on both your own merits, it did outperform your farm, regardless of product quality--and that was after you brought in last-minute outside help. Do you plan to place those helpers full-time on your payroll?"

For a few moments, Applejack attempted to calculate the chances of her friends agreeing to do just that; unfortunately, once her mind cycled to Rarity, it instantly declared the whole thing a lost cause. "I... uh..."

"As for zap apple products... lovely as they are, they're always so rare and their processing methods so particular that they're hard to correctly price as even a specialty commodity!" Aunt Orange shook her head. "Selling the jam here for so low doesn't help matters."

"Especially given the method of delivery for all of your products." Uncle Orange put down the newspaper. "Single stands just do not cut it outside of small towns like this--though, honestly, seeing them here was so quaint a sight it almost made me want to build a summer home here."

"Well, whadda y'all have in Manehattan?" Applejack asked.

"In Manehattan, we have store chains. Duplicates of the same shop, which sell the same products under the same name, and streamlined to maximum efficiency."

Applejack scrunched her brow. "That doesn't sound very personal-like or customer-friendly..."

Aunt Orange shrugged. "Customers get used to it. We were surprised too. The worst chains, however, are the ones which spread themselves too thin. Balance is always important."

"And finally, let's not forget about the Grand Galloping Gala." Uncle Orange pushed his bowl to the side to make room for a magazine. "News of Canterlot events always reaches Manehattan in record time--and from there, we heard tales of an Apple Family stand that made... well, an all right amount of money, but not very much in the grand scheme of things...?"

"I... I made enough to do some farm renovations..." Applejack visibly slumped--and the second she did so, Aunt Orange got out of her chair and moved to hug her niece.

"Applejack, we love you--and we only told you all this because you asked. You've always dreamed big... but you also inherited your grandmother's stubborn streak. When it comes to business and profit, you constantly stop yourself before you aim too high. However... if we're to believe your presentation, it looks like you want to break away from that. Am I on the right track?"

Applejack sighed. "Yeah, you are. I made a decision a while back that my responsibilities to this farm... they're bigger than any o' my own feelings." She looked up at her aunt. "So, what would you suggest I do to help turn things around?"

"Why don't you start by not listening to these guys?"

The three earth ponies looked over to see an annoyed Rainbow Maid flying over to them, stopping in front of Applejack, who could see a striking determination and empathy in the pegasus's eyes. Still...

"...look, Dash, this isn't a good time-"

"Sorry, Applejack. I know I'm butting in, but I can't believe what I'm hearing! You really wanna reduce everything you've done on this farm to nothing but money? I've seen you bust your flank every morning to make sure your crops are in the best shape, and it's paid off more times than I can count! If you were really doing so badly, could you even afford to have this huge feast? Would ponies camp out for your cider and jam?"

"Hold on, there, Rainbow Dash, this isn't about-"

But Rainbow Dash refused to be stopped now. "Why don't you tell them about the ponies who've come from neighboring towns just to get the stuff you make? Why don't you tell them how leaving Manehattan was how you got your cutie mark? Why don't you tell them about how this whole town got founded because of your farm?" She glowered at the Oranges. "Or does that not matter to them either?"

"RAINBOW DASH!" Applejack got up and stomped a hoof. "That's enough! You're way outta line, girl!"

"Me? In case you didn't notice, I'm defending you here while you're getting all the hard work you've put into your farm dumped on by these two! How could I possibly be the one out of line?"

"Because this's a matter that don't concern you!"

The entire room fell silent and stared upon Applejack's outburst--but Applejack was the only one who didn't notice, as she gasped to catch her breath and calm down. "You ain't got an apple on your flank, so it ain't your business, and you wouldn't understand. 'Kay?"

Both ponies were finding it increasingly harder to see through misting eyes. Neither of them felt it necessary to admit it.

"...actually, I think I understand just fine." Rainbow Dash took off her uniform. "Apple Family Gathering, right? No non-fruits allowed. I knew agreeing to this was a dumb idea to begin with--but I did it for you." She tossed the uniform onto the table and looked straight into Applejack's eyes. "Didn't know that was a dumb idea too."

"Wha... no, Rainbow Dash, wait! I didn't mean it like that!" She ran out the door, chasing after the already airborne pegasus. "I didn't..."

She trailed off--there was no point to talking to a barely-visible speck in the sky, after all.

---

In the space of an hour, the dinner had finished, and everypony was mingling outside on the farm grounds, leaving Applejack alone in the dining hall.

She could barely believe it--after what had happened, she hadn't been sure if she could actually make it to this point without any more hitches. But... well, outside of that one thing that had happened, everything had turned out okay! Party successful!

Right?

With a dejected sigh, Applejack went from the dining hall to the back kitchen... where she saw somepony she absolutely didn't expect sitting at the center table, both sets of legs crossed. "R-Rainbow Dash?"

The pegasus closed her eyes and shook her head. "You know, I thought about staying angry. I really did. But then I thought about things a little more. You're all about the honesty, right? And what I was saying out there was the honest truth. You are that special."

Applejack backed away. "Dash, about before, I-"

Rainbow Dash held up a hoof. "So here's how this is gonna work. Turns out I'm awful fast." Within three seconds, the door behind Applejack was locked, the windows were blinded, and a piping hot apple pie was fetched from the oven. "Meaning I control where this begins and ends. You promised a talk over one of these before the party." She pulled up a chair beside herself, and grabbed a knife. "I'm cashing in."

Applejack sat down. "Dash... I'm sorry about earlier. Really I am."

Rainbow Dash nodded, and cut slices of pie for both of them. "I know. And I forgave you already 'cause I'm awesome like that. So why don't you tell me what you're sorry about?" She ate a spoonful of pie, perked up, and quickly offered a new spoonful to Applejack. "But first, have a bite of this, cause wow, my compliments to the chef!"

That got a giggle out of Applejack. "Finally," said Rainbow Dash. "Progress."

"Nah, it's just cause I made that one. I know how great it is." Applejack still accepted the spoonful, however. "Look, you were right about all o' that stuff. The cutie mark, the town founding, what I've done for the farm... all of it. But those are things I don't always like to remind myself of, much less anypony else."

"But why?"

"'Cause it puts me in a lot o' weird, awkward places. Not sure if you noticed, but family's an awful big thing far as us Apples are concerned--we're everywhere, and we're made up of so many different ponies it's hard to think straight. We all know this, too, but still... imagine you had to tell some o' your relatives you only got your cutie mark once you got away from 'em. How do you think they'd feel?"

Rainbow Dash thought it over--at least for as long as she could. "...okay, that doesn't sound like fun."

"Nope. And all that stuff with Flim n' Flam and the cider... that all actually happened. If y'all hadn't helped me out, we woulda probably lost the business! Y'all really saved my bacon there, but it was really an eye-opener. Wasn't all too proud when Aunt and Uncle Orange went straight for that first." Applejack sighed. "And the Grand Gallopin' Gala... same thing."

"The Gala was weird for all of us, though."

"True, but I was the only one of us with money ridin' on the line to go with reputation. You don't make the 'Bolts, you can try again later. No Gala money meant no replacin' our shoddy old barn, which really would've been a problem for our farm down the line."

Rainbow Dash raised her hoof, beaming. "I helped with that! I totally helped with that! Heh heh."

Applejack giggled. "Yes, sugarcube, yes you did. But the biggest thing you brought up is something that's weighed on my shoulders ever since I was a little filly."

Rainbow Dash blinked in confusion. "What's that?"

"Ponyville." Applejack's stare shifted into space. "It was founded by earth ponies. Specifically, my clan. The origin of Sweet Apple Acres, this whole town, the reason everypony's even here in the first place, is sittin' in a rocking chair outside right now. I look at her and... well, imagine one more thing for me, will you? What if the Wonderbolts came to live with you?"

Rainbow Dash thought about that for a few seconds, which was all it took for Applejack's analogy to hit her--hard. "...yyyyyyeah. Awesome in the short term, but then I'd be watching my every move..."

Applejack threw up her hooves. "I've got the world's biggest horsehoes to fill! Thanks to my cutie mark, I know my place is here, but at the same time it also means I've got to make sure I don't ever let the farm or my family down--which I do way too often already!" Her voice cracked. "Every time business is slow, every time I screw up pickin' apples, every time I choose my beliefs or make myself happy over makin' sure everything's in just so tip-top shape... shoot, I missed out on a whole lotta city-fied business smarts! I bet the Gala coulda gone a whole lot differently if I'd just stuck it out." She took hold of Rainbow Dash's hooves, closing her eyes in a futile attempt to to hide her feelings. "Auntie and Uncle Orange were right. I'm just kiddin' myself. I'm a mess--and I always have been."

"Applejack..."

Rainbow Dash rose from her chair, and soon, Applejack could feel two legs circling her from behind in a tender hug... just before she found herself rising off the ground.

"...come on," Rainbow Dash said.

"Huh?" Applejack looked around in a mild panic. "Whoa, whoa, wait, hold on now," she managed to utter as Rainbow Dash opened one of the windows and sailed her outside. "I-I-I don't really do the sky stuff! Put me down!"

By this time, however, the were already a couple of hundred feet up. "Not sure you want that at this height," said the pegasus. "Relax, you'll be safe. But can you look down just once? For me?"

After much hesitation, Applejack did so, and her mouth widened in marvel. "...whoa. We sure do take up a big chunk o' this town, don't we?"

"You don't know the half of it," Rainbow Dash said, a wistful air about her voice. "You probably don't notice it since you're always on the ground--but I fly over Sweet Apple Acres all the time, and every year all I do is see this place grow bigger and bigger. Whatever mistakes you've made, you're clearly doing something right."

"But... well, okay, that's a point, but still-"

"Look. If you'd stayed in Manehattan as a filly--and stayed miserable--would the farm be this huge now? And would you still be so jazzed to work on it? Would you be able to feed as many ponies as you do right now? You've got almost your whole worldwide family over there, and they barely make a dent in the place!" She laughed. "Plus, I don't think anypony's complaining about a lack of eats!"

Applejack smiled. "Truth be told, there used to be times I wasn't sure if I could pull that kinda thing off. Now it's second nature."

"Exactly what I mean." Rainbow Dash began a slow descent. "Every flight camp in Cloudsdale has a saying: the only way to really lose a race is not to enter it. Speed, technique... you learn that as you go, but only through really gettin' in there first. Sometimes you come in last. Sometimes you crash. It just means you get faster, maybe find some shortcuts, and learn to dodge. All that takes is time and determination... which I know we've both got buckets of!"

"Now that's a fact," Applejack said jovially as Rainbow Dash flew into Applejack's bedroom, where the party could still be seen taking place a short distance away.

"And now we're back at Apple-level," said Rainbow Dash, flopping onto Applejack's bed. "Whoo, that took more out of me than I thought it would. I guess muscle really does weigh more than fat," she said with a laugh.

"You're walkin' a fine line there, sister." Applejack joined her friend on the bed, giving her a playful punch as the two looked out the window. "Yeah, I think I see what you're sayin'. Look at 'em--everypony's just so happy to be here." She looked out over Sweet Apple Acres. "And apples far as the eye can see, too..."

Rainbow Dash nodded. "It'll take a lot to bring this place down. It's literally everywhere around us."

Applejack nodded back. "Thanks, Rainbow Dash. I think I really needed you to show me all that. I love Sweet Apple Acres like family... which means I also worry about it a lot. To say Granny Smith's gettin' on in years is an understatement, and Apple Bloom's still too young to be thinking about this sort of thing, so the well-being of this place is gonna fall on me for a good while to come." She paused. "And Big Mac, I guess, but I'm still the spryest of the two of us."

"I've heard Cheerilee might think differently," said Rainbow Dash under her breath.

"Beg pardon?"

"Nothing, nothing. So... you okay now?"

"Gettin' there. Maybe I'm... not such a mess after all?"

"Finally, she gets it." Rainbow Dash wrapped her friend in another hug. "And she'll only improve over time. Just a hunch I've got."

Applejack leaned into the gesture. "I sure hope so. 'Cause I've still got plans for this place. Big ones. Rainbow, I..."

She sighed, broke the hug, then held the pegasus at foreleg's length while meeting her eyes.

"...I know I blew up back there, but now that my head's clear, I want you to know I really appreciate how you stuck up for me. Family or not, everything you said was stuff I've wanted to say for a long time, and you just laid it all out on the table without a second thought. Glad somepony had the guts, 'cause I probably never would've."

Rainbow Dash smiled in reply. "No problem! Even if I'd known what would've happened, I still would've done it. Going straight ahead at top speed--it's what we do! You make friends with a pegasus, expect her to always tell it like it is!"

Applejack giggled. "And here I thought honesty was my element."

"And I thought loyalty was mine. But after seeing how you stick so close to your family..."

A mischievous grin crossed Applejack's face. "...wanna switch?"

The room fell silent for a few moments, until Rainbow Dash answered with a knowing wink and laugh. "Nah. It'd just confuse ponies."

Applejack winked back. "Exactly my line o' thinkin'. So... feel like stayin' with me 'till my mind's right enough to get back out there?"

"As long as you need... just so long as I don't need that goofy maid outfit to do it."

"Furthest thing from my mind."

And as earth pony and pegasus shared a quiet embrace while looking out at the sunset, Granny Smith turned and walked away from the bedroom door where she'd been watching... with a smile of her own.
NOTE: Wondering what a Rainbow Maid looks like? Check here!

Original Synopsis:
A Friendship is Magic sidestory! The Apple Family reunion has arrived, bringing the Oranges with it! When all of Applejack's insecurities about being a business-farmer collide at once, can a waitressing Rainbow Dash make any difference?

What Is This?:
Episode 9 (of a planned 15) of the Pony Permutation Project, where I place any two of the core Friendship is Magic ponies in one place and just write down what I think might happen. There's also a loose interconnecting story, but I'm trying not to have it get in the way of things.

Dear Princess Celestia:
Longtime Bookish Delight readers might be able to tell what sneaky plans I'm trying to enact here. Newcomers, meanwhile, can just go ahead and assume this takes place after "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well" or any one of the myriad times Rainbow Dash has screwed up. Flexibility is fun, is it not? ;)

Dear Princess Luna:
Rainbow Dash called. She told me to tell you and all of my readers that "everypony gets one." Not sure what she means. ^_^

Text by Bookish Delight, 2011-2012. My Little Pony belongs to Hasbro, not to me. This is done completely bereft of profit.
Add a Comment:
 
:iconregreme:
Regreme Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2013
Awwww....... :D
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:iconeqfazrael:
EqFAzrael Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2012  Student General Artist
The perfect song for the picture! Bottoms Up!! [link]
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:iconkittamaru:
Kittamaru Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012
That was awesome!
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:iconthecowpony:
TheCowpony Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012
I adore that picture that was used
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:iconbookishdelight:
BookishDelight Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2012   Writer
Hee! I'm fond of it too. ^_^
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:iconitsthewhinyguys:
ItsTheWhinyGuys Featured By Owner May 17, 2012
Well, another great read in the P3 series. I'm glad to see another one, I've been missing them. This certainly gave insight into Applejack's character, which I think the actual show should try to do more of...
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:iconbookishdelight:
BookishDelight Featured By Owner May 19, 2012   Writer
I... actually think the second season did quite well in this regard. However I would agree that it did not cover a very diverse spread of Applejack character facets, and certainly not in all that much depth.

Which, as I've expressed before, isn't necessarily the show's job. It's ours--at least until the show deems fit to step up to the task. ;)
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:iconitsthewhinyguys:
ItsTheWhinyGuys Featured By Owner May 29, 2012
Indeed. Makes me want to write more AJ now...
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:iconwaypointbravo:
WaypointBravo Featured By Owner Apr 24, 2012
One of my favorite parts of this series is how you write Dash. She's blunt, headstrong, subtle as a hoof to the muzzle, and has very specific and focused interests, but she really isn't a moron. The way you write her comes off not as being an idiot, but as knowing that there really is such a thing as thinking too hard. That perspective is a much-needed one given her unusually neurotic selection of friends.
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:iconbookishdelight:
BookishDelight Featured By Owner Apr 24, 2012   Writer
Thanks so much! This, good sir, is exactly my aim every time I write these characters--I like seeing them be smart and insightful while at the same time exercising their innate quirks. Twilight gives me enough of that in canon already, so it's a little more fun to handle the others in that regard--espcially Rainbow. :D
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:icondeviatealittle:
Deviatealittle Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2012
I am so glad this started back up again! I loved the other 8, and its nice to see the trend of good quality continue.

The realist perspective you give the context of the show is really something uncanny. Each of these chapters, I get a really endearing insight into these characters I really hadn't thought about before, and it makes them that much more lovable. Thanks for the headcannon fodder! It's a great read!

...and yeah, I totally think Dash should have been honesty, AJ should have been Loyalty. Too late now though. Oh well...

Can't wait for the next one! ETA on that? (hopefully not another several months?)
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:iconbookishdelight:
BookishDelight Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2012   Writer
Thanks very much! I thoroughly enjoy doing down-to-earth character pieces for FiM. I find they help to ground me in the midst of reading and writing more fantastical takes on the universe. Always glad to see others enjoy them as well!

(Oh, and it's "-canon", btw. One "n". :D)

See my current Journal entry for my view on the whole "switched elements" issue! Finally, I actually work on P3 in rotation with other stories, so... I wish I had a more positive answer. ^^; It will be continued, but I can't promise speed on one single series for that reason. I can promise, however, that I'll always bring something new to the table in a timely manner! Thanks again!
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:icongreatkingrat88:
Greatkingrat88 Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2012
Very nicely written. A touch of realism- economics, business, et cetera- but still retaining the sentimental message of FiM. Very sweet story.
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:iconbookishdelight:
BookishDelight Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2012   Writer
Thanks a lot! :)
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:icongreatkingrat88:
Greatkingrat88 Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2012
:)
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:icongojira007:
Gojira007 Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2012
Well, I missed my guess on what pairing this would be, but I can't say I'm too sour about it given that it's still an excellent story, and one that shines a remarkably fresh light on what may be one of THE most popular pairings in the Fandom.

For starters, I sincerley admire that, despite having played the Lead Role in more of your stories thus far than pretty much anypony else, your Rainbow Dash still feels fresh, sincere, and well-written. The choice to take her previous experiences in "Blunder and Lightning" into account by way of showing how she worked off the Promise she made toward the end of that mini-series is particularly useful here, as it serves not only to provide a clever and enjoyable context by which to involve Rainbow in the Apple Family Reunion, but also one which grounds Rainbow's words of wisdom in lessons she herself has had to learn. The maturity and patience with which she approaches her discussion with Applejack, in other words, might otherwise feel a bit out of reach of the traditionally-brash Rainbow, but it becomes a lot more believable coming from a Rainbow who was just recently reminded how valuable her friends really are. Of course, this IS still Rainbow Dash we're talking about here, and you strengthen her characterization here all the more by grounding what she has to say, and quite importantly HOW she shares it, in terms very much in keeping with her usual personality ("I'm awesome like that" got a big, warm smile out of me in just the best way <3); I especially love how much flight plays a role in how she communicates*, a running theme of your Rainbow stories that fits the character to a Tee.

I also have to say, as someone who's been reading Fan-fics regularly for over a decade now, I remember back in the 90's how particularly ambitious authors would craft their own little universes in creating an episodic, progressive series of their own ("Gargoyles" had quite a few of these in particular). That doesn't seem to happen as often these days, so I'm that much happier to see all the little hints and tidbits in your stories which suggest a single, unified "Bookish Universe" for your"Friendship is Magic" work, which to me can only improve your stories as they continue by giving them a larger well of ideas to draw from, stemming not only from the show itself but from your own past stories.

And then, naturally, there is Applejack. You've done stellar work with her in the past, but I think this may be my personal favorite story of hers you've done, indeed probably one of my favorite AJ 'fics period, because it successfully touches on a vein of conflict in her that I'm shocked to see so few other authors, or indeed episodes of the show, explore, but which to me is a quintessentially important element of her character: the deep-seated anxiety, the overpowering insecurity, that comes alongside her sense of Pride, her desire to do right by her family and friends, and her responsibility as the presumptive head of Sweet Apple Acres**. It's been on my mind more and more ever since "The Last Round-Up", and I think you present it here just about perfectly by elegantly tying it into various elements of Applejack's own history and experiences; the fact that it is Aunt and Uncle Orange who most remind her of this inner anxiety is especially effective. The way you build up to Applejack's confession only serves to strengthen its resonance, too; the note of hope she goes in on when presenting all the business slides of the past year, the clear deflation as she realizes that it still isn't good enough (indeed, the sublte implication that nothing ever will be "good enough" because of how Applejack's been mentally framing the issue), and finally her outburst at Rainbow making us realize this is something that cuts our favorite cowpony very, very deeply...it is, in a way, an equally brilliant variation of the kind of balancing act to the one the show itself used in "Applebuck Season": even though we realize at the end of the story the harm she does to herself by viewing the problem the way she has thus far, we nonetheless also very much understand and sympathize with why she's come to that conclusion, and the ways in which her chosen solution ultimately reflects a sincere brand of selflessness. I really can't compliment you on this element of the story enough, because it absolutely 100% clicks with me as a reader in general and an Applejack fan in particular.

Another element I really have to compliment you on is the handling of the story's overall conflict. You never, ever force any element or push anything too far for the sake of Drama; the Oranges may fuel Applejack's concern, but they only ever do so unwittingly, and you make sure to remind us that they too are simply trying to do right by their dear niece, and that they really do love her as Family should; especially in comparison to the show's choice to present them as fairly one-note out-of-touch Socialites, it's a portrayal I very much liked for bring nuance to that archetype without entirely abandoning it. Likewise, some might be thrown off by the fact that Rainbow and Applejack's falling out resolves as quickly as it does, but for me it actually fits perfectly: again, especially if we take into account the events of the rest of the "Bookish Universe", these are two Ponies who know each other well enough and have experienced enough personal conflicts together by now to also know that neither would intentionally try and hurt or embarrass the other, but instead take an outburst of anger like Applejack's as a screaming-hot signal that there is something else bothering them. It's a strength you demonstrate repeatedly in your writing, an ability to so finely balance the dramatic needs of the story's arc with the realism and integrity of the characters, and it rings especially true here.

I do have a bit of a quibble, though, and it's with your treatment of Granny Smith. For most of the story, she's consistently referred to, but never really seen or given much agency within the story itself; that's not the problem, though. In fact, that goes into the "subtly brilliant" column, because it reinforces the extent to which the shadow of her accomplishments hangs over Applejack's head by making her presence in the story similar: undeniably there, but unable to be really interacted with. But then you end the story on her sagely watching the whole scene between Applejack and Rainbow play out, and I admit it feels a bit awkward for me. Again, you've done such a good job up 'til then "shadowing" her presence that to suddenly have her treated as a normal character again, but without letting us transition into it or give her something to re-humanize (ponyize?) her like dialogue or a shift in perspective, it leaves us in a bit of an awkard lurch between the modes, if that makes sense.

Like I said, though, that's a quibble, and only really tangentially related to the core thrust of the story, which as I say works just about as good as I could have hoped for, if not better, and serves up yet another in a long line of exceptionally affecting and endearing stories from you. Great, GREAT work. ^3^

:+favlove:


*I'm reminded of "G-Gundam"'s running theme about how true Warriors communicate their feelings through combat; it carries the same kind of decidedly personal touch on the reasons the characters value fighting as much as they do, and lends greater strength to the diversity of styles they all use.

**Big Macintosh is older, and early episodes seem to at least imply he has some authority in the family ("I'll tell Big Macintosh on you!"), but he seems to ultimately be involved more with simple hard labor rather than any of the calculations and business-running we've seen Applejack engage in.
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:iconbookishdelight:
BookishDelight Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2012   Writer
Huge thanks for the breakdown as usual, Goji. :) Going over what hasn't already been covered in the Journal:

- I think I've managed to get myself in step with how Rainbow Dash works. It helps that the show paints her as impulsive but dedicated. I will admit, however, that this story was much harder to write before "Hurricane Fluttershy," where Rainbow Dash suddenly becomes tenderly loyal to extremes--it's one of my favorite episodes because of that, everything after the argument here was directly inspired from it.

- The Oranges took a lot of rewrites simply because, yes, the show painted them as socialites, but also socialites that didn't really know any better. It was Filly!AJ's desire to be a city-pony at first before she could see the reality of it, and thus I couldn't place all og the blame on the Oranges as far as the consequences were concerned. So I gave AJ a yearning sense of curiosity as to what might have been--once that happened, everything else clicked... at least until I had to write Rainbow's tirade, but that's a story for another day. ^_^

- BRB writing up character profile for "Packbell," my new mechanical OC pony. :D Kidding, kidding! To tell the honest truth, I... sort of wanted to avoid creating a "Bookish Universe." It always seemed to me that doing that kind of thing would make my works unfriendly to newcomers. At the same time, I've never kept writing for a particular series this long, even pre-Supreme Burnout(tm); and now I find the temptation is just too great. I will continue to try and keep things from becoming insular--otherwise we get things like people being confused as to why Gilda and Rainbow Dash are on speaking terms, for example--however, I also acknowledge the positives of rewarding longtime fans. Delicate balance, indeed!

- Ahhh, Granny Smith! An example of "cutting my losses" that seems to pervade all of my stories at least once. :) I wanted to have an extra scene that showed that Granny felt the farm was in good hooves after all; however, every time I tried it felt like hammering the point home too hard, so I went for the Watching and Understanding angle instead. Your concern is noted, because honestly, we share it. I'll see if the rest of the audience does as well and evaluate from there.

- ...oh, and you didn't miss your guess--you simply jumped the gun. ;)
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:icongojira007:
Gojira007 Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2012
Huge welcome for the detailed reply to said breakdown, Bookish. :)

- Oh my goodness, yes! Back when it first aired, that element of Dash being such an understanding, compassionate individual in respect to Fluttershy's needs and feelings REALLY struck me, and it was no surprise for me to find out the episode was written by Cindy Morrow, who also did "Sisterhooves Social" which pulled off a similar trick: it was really a Rarity/Sweetie Belle episode at heart, but the Applejack/Apple Bloom element received its own compelling bit of spotlight, in much the same way "Hurricane" was a Fluttershy episode but showed Dash in a remarkably effective supporting role.

- :nod: That's another element of Applejack's character I find fascinating, actually, the idea of "What might have been" vis a vis her time in Manehattan. Thankfully, THAT angle does seem to have been noticed by fans, so I've at least had that itch scratched a few times up until now. I think your take on it, though, is a particularly nice one, since it fleshes out not only Applejack but the Oranges as well. And a story for another day, you say? Well...it's technically another day TODAY, so.... 8B

- Packbell, Bookshire Draftwood...goodness, that does take me back. XD; But yeah, that's exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. And good luck keeping that good balance going; for my bits, you've done a rock-solid job of it so far; even the "why is Gilda friendly with Rainbow again?" example you cite comes from a story that is explicitly said to be continuing from "Blunder and Lightning", so it's not like you didn't try to offer up SOME safety buffer for newcomers. In any case, though, I look forward to seeing how the Bookish Universe continues to evolve and improve with time. <3

- Yeah, that's a tricky thing to pull off. Because you're absolutely right, there's actually real value in letting us know Granny Smith feels like Applejack's doing just fine given what we learn of Applejack's own feelings and how they connect to Granny Smith; to not include something like that risks making Granny seem callous or inattentive to Applejack's feelings on the matter. But to go too thick risks compromising the story's emotional integrity, and that too is a big no-no. Given the choice, I think erring on the side of caution was the wiser move, for what it's worth. ^_^

- I think this adequately sums up my feeling to that: [link] <3
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:icongammaeradon:
GammaEradon Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2012
Oh wow, awesome! A follow up to Blunder and Lightning! Awww, and you linked to the picture I had commissioned! Awesome! Thank you so much! Wonder what Braeburn thought of RD and her outfit?

I like these PP stories. I really do like seeing the character interactions and everything seems just so natural and cool. I loved the fight scene, horrible as it sounds and RD's talk was way past cool. The twist with having the Oranges come was really clever and interesting.

Also, hooray for AJ having the sense and decency not to try to make a public spectacle of Rainbow's maid outfit. Bad Rarity! You knew better! *whaps with a newspaper* Hee, I'm torn between giggling at Rainbow's embarrassment and wanting to rush over and hug her and tell everypony else off.

So this was really great, it made my day. Everypony gets ONE, huh? Hmm, wonder what that means?

Heeeey, whaddya mean the 'myriad times' Rainbow Dash has screwed up? >=P
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:iconbookishdelight:
BookishDelight Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2012   Writer
Well, half the time she's being a loyal (yes, loyal--I never bought all that "switched elements" silliness, hence the line near the end) friend, and the other half she's getting into some weird reckless trouble. Which is great--if she were perfect, she'd be boring, but spades are spades and all that.

"Everypony gets one" means, most likely, that you will never see Rainbow Dash doing this again. Never, ever. :) Thanks so much for the feedback...

:iconrarityslappedplz:
...uh-oh. You should probably run now. :D
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:icongammaeradon:
GammaEradon Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2012
Ahhhh. Makes sense. Still, I like Dash. She's trouble XD.

Never see her doing what again? Being in AJ's bed or being in the maid outfit?

Cuz reading this I'm feeling tempted to go commission another artist. =P
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:iconbookishdelight:
BookishDelight Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2012   Writer
Maid outfit--but if you're looking for me to curb your temptations in any way, you're likely to be disappointed. ;)
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:icongammaeradon:
GammaEradon Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2012
You are soooo asking for a cameo in my stories, you know that? XD
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