Endurance’s Ends

 

Rainbow Dash trotted along, staying close by Twilight. Applejack and Rarity had run ahead, and were probably talking again. Dash could see the flicking of Applejack’s tail in the distance. She tried not to look.

“Are you sure it’s going to be okay, Twi? I don’t even dare to ask them. This is horrible!”

“I’m sure you shouldn’t be the one to ask,” said Twilight. “They flipped out when they found out you heard them, remember? You’d better stay out of their way.”

The two lovers hadn’t wanted to talk about their fight. When Rainbow and Twilight had returned, they’d found Rarity and Applejack quarreling, but more gently.

It was weird, too, thought Rainbow, because on the surface it appeared that they were helping each other pack their saddlebags, but both were absurdly private about it for no reason she could see.

“I told you, hooves off!” Rarity had chided. “You’ll see why this evening. We’ll enjoy an eensy bit more luxury, shall we? But pray don’t spoil it!”

“Aw, Rarity!” Applejack had said. “All’s I wanted was to help! If ya jes’ give me some of that there load, I’m sure I could carry some of it, no trouble.”

“Hmm… tempting. Maybe I can fit some of my burden into your pack, then. Let me see…” Rarity had said, and begun to open Applejack’s saddlebags with her magic.

Applejack’s eyes had bugged out, and she’d gone, “Heh. Actually… Whoa! STOP!” She’d leapt upon her saddlebags and physically covered them with her body, as Rainbow and Twilight stared, as Rarity’s jaw dropped.

“Care to explain, darling?” said Rarity, her tone acid.

Applejack had put on one of her adorably stubborn looks. “Sure. Uh… if I cain’t look in your bag, well then you cain’t look in mine. Fair enough? Stands to reason.”

Rarity had glared, and returned to her packing with a “Fine!”, and Applejack had carefully closed her bag up again. Rainbow’d tried hard to peek at what she was hiding, but all she saw was glimpses of beige and red and blue. Some of that had to be food—she was sure she saw an apple in there. She had no idea what Applejack could be carrying that was blue, but Applejack’s jaw had been set, her eyes ornery, she refused even to look at Dash at all, and Dash had backed off in dismay.

“I just wish I knew something I could do to make them be happy again,” said Dash, thinking back on the scene.

Twilight’s patience ran thin, for she had no answer, and it was the eighth time Rainbow Dash had brought it up. “You could give it a rest! Honestly, Rainbow, look at them. They’re fine. They’re staying ahead of us and talking. Do you realize I don’t know what state Trixie is in? I want to gallop as fast as I possibly can, and I know I’d get tired and have to stop. And maybe I have to battle somepony when I get there, wherever ‘there’ even is, and can you please stop bugging me?”

They trotted on in silence for a while, and then Twilight spoke again.

“I’m sorry. That was harsh…”

“Yeah, well, you have a point,” said Rainbow. “I can watch Applejack this whole time, it’s not the same thing at all…”

Twilight griped, “Maybe you shouldn’t be watching her this whole time! That’s kind of creepy.”

“I’d rather watch her than get yelled at by you!” retorted Dash.

“Yikes. Am I…? I am, I can tell. Spike kind of hides when I get this way…”

“Who stuck a burr up your ass anyway? We’re doing this to help you!”

Twilight sighed. “I’m tired, Rainbow, and I’m really scared. I’m sorry. I’m a lousy friend…” but before she could continue, there was a flapping of wings by her side. Rainbow reared and hugged her, impulsively and fiercely.

“You are not! Just because you have a temper… Listen, Twilight, some of us can handle a little roughhousing in a good cause. I used to think I had that in Applejack… well, you have that in me, okay? I am with you, whether you’re cranky or not. We all are. We’re gonna get her back for you or die trying.”

Twilight’s lip quivered. “Oh, Rainbow! You’re a real friend. And I’m still sorry I’m snapping at you. I just feel like I’m gonna freak out, start screaming or something…”

“So scream at me, then. Get it off your chest, and then we’ll keep going.”

Twilight shook her head. “No! I feel a lot better, just knowing you’re here. We keep going! Except I’m gonna take a moment and give you a hug back, okay?”

“Sure. Mind the wings!” cautioned Dash, and the two ponies briefly embraced, before charging onward to catch up with their companions. Applejack and Rarity had spotted them, and slowed up—and the four trotted on, making light conversation.

There was some comfort at least in each other’s presence, even if the conversation sucked.


Trixie lay in the dark, staring at nothing, thinking—or trying to. The hunger was pretty bad, but it was nothing compared to the sensory deprivation. She was trying to read books in her library, from memory—backwards. It was not going well, and she feared the effort was only exhausting her faster.

She needed to keep her energy and her wits, because…?

Escape was going to be tricky, from an underground cave only Luna knew. She couldn’t even see without the light Luna brought. Trixie knew she could provide plenty of light herself—through using up her resources of magic. The trouble was, her resources of magic were about all she had left. She hoarded them determinedly, in case an opportunity arose to use her magic to escape, but she was already hungry, thirsty, and mentally exhausted from trying to out-think her captor.

Wearily, Trixie rephrased that to herself: trying to out-think an alicorn Mistress hundreds of times her age and experience.

She wasn’t going to be able to do that. It had driven her into utter, catatonic withdrawal as her only remaining weapon. Any other act would be turned by the wicked alicorn and used against her. Probably towards sexual pleasure. Unless she managed somehow to attack Luna, or Nightmare Moon, or whoever it really was?

No—she could tell, the Princess was kinky as hell. She could probably flog Luna for hours or torture her ruthlessly and it would turn out that Princess Kinky had come harder than ever before, or something. How could you fight a creature with thousands of years of wisdom and experience with ponies? How could you threaten or punish a domme with thousands of years of perversion?

Cursed creature. What a way to end up—being broken down and reduced to the abject slave of something so overwhelming that it wasn’t even a matter of choice anymore. Luna was the end game for masochism, ultimate, irresistible and superior. She would outlive Trixie by thousands of years. Would she remember her pet, centuries hence? She claimed she would. It seemed important to her that she wasn’t lying to Trixie, just… crushing her spirit.

Trixie whimpered softly, trying to distract herself with the mental book-reading exercise. This time, picturing the book upside-down. But all she could see was her memory of Luna’s eyes—fiery, dominating, or glowing with that strange look as she sucked avidly on Trixie’s throbbing cock.

It had been a look of love, one that Trixie could never return.

No, thought Trixie. She could not pretend herself incapable of responding to this seduction. If she tried to believe herself immune, even that thought could probably be twisted to Luna’s advantage. She had no hope of getting through this at all unless she was totally honest with herself. She chose not to return this overblown Princess-love, because she’d already chosen another. She could imagine Twilight, determined, brave as she’d been when she mastered the Ursa Minor, tracking her lover down and…

…how would she even do that? It made no sense. Trixie was in a sealed cave. She’d never learned any special way of signaling to a distant lover. There had never been anypony for her to signal to, only a succession of temporary and sometimes ensorceled lovers to run away from.

Trixie sighed, taking stock of her thoughts. She had better not even hint that she was entertaining fantasies of Twilight coming to rescue her. Princess Luna would surely take that weakness and run with it. False Twilights, or something. Staged rescues that evaporated into twinkly will-o-wisps and Nightmare Moon laughter. Just the sort of cruelty that made Trixie groveling and wet…

Who was she kidding? Because she was entertaining the fantasies, Princess Luna surely had predicted it. There was no point even trying to conceal anything. It was merely another weakness to exploit. Her reality was that she was lost, and when her mind finally snapped, she would serve her alicorn Mistress until she died—and just as Luna suggested, she would probably be a happy slave, owned body and soul.

It would happen as soon as Luna’s tricks and ploys wore her down—a sequence of planned events, every detail orchestrated to seduce her into total surrender, and it was as inevitable as her death—a death hidden away from the sun and stars, but not from the Moon. The Moon would embrace her in the end.

Trixie stared into nothingness. Her jaw was set, and she did not surrender. Knowing her doom, she resolved to think nothing, to be nothing. She would convince herself nothing was real. She would go mad her way, not Luna’s—the starvation helped. Yes, Luna would have foreseen this too—but so what?

Trixie did not shed a tear—she just bid herself goodbye, and began to categorize every thought, as a way of rendering them more meaningless. She set her thoughts floating mindlessly upon emptiness, and the darkness closed in around her.

Another minute passed.

Another minute passed.

Trixie stared into nothingness.

Another minute passed.


“Oh, stop, do!” called Rarity.

The other ponies slowed their canter. Night was coming on, and they’d picked up the pace in hopes of covering nearly all the distance before making camp for the night. Applejack glanced warily at Rainbow Dash, whose head hung lower than usual—the little pegasus had been taking flying breaks, partly to rest her legs, and partly for relief from the constant jolting of the near-gallop they’d maintained. Dash looked terrible—queasy and sick.

“What’s th’ matter, Rarity?”

“Look, look! Let’s make camp here! I think we’ve gone far enough? Look! There’s a pond!”

There was. Not only that, it was a fine fresh little pond, with a clean sandy shore.

“Good thinkin’! I could sure do with a drink!” exclaimed Applejack.

“And we can put down our saddlebags and rest,” said Rarity, doing just that. The others followed suit, gratefully. They trotted over to the pond, and Applejack bent to drink.

“Oh, Applejack?” crooned Rarity.

“Yeah?”

“Think fast!”

With that, Rarity’s horn glowed—and her body thumped into Applejack’s while her magic caught one of her lover’s hooves. Applejack squawked and went into the pond with an enormous splash. Her head popped up. “Hey!”

“Whoopsy,” teased Rarity.

“Oh, you are so in for it…” grinned Applejack, emerging from the water and stalking towards Rarity, with her tail flicking cascades of water to either side of her.

“That’s if you can catch me!” smirked Rarity.

“Rainbow! Twilight! Help me corral this critter!” said Applejack—and charged.

Suddenly, the tensions of the day evaporated, as the three friends ganged up on the giggling, trail-weary unicorn. She fled from grinning Applejack, feinted at Twilight, broke free but was corralled by a whooping Rainbow Dash who took to the air, the better to buzz her victim and drive her toward the pond.

At last, Applejack and Twilight charged and tackled Rarity at the water’s edge, and all three plunged into the pond with a huge splash—joined by Rainbow, who did a cannonball from altitude and produced an even huger splash.

Four pony heads popped up, beaming.

“Hey!” said Applejack. “Ya know, this ain’t bad?”

“It’s positively refreshing!” said Twilight. “I would never have guessed to go swimming, after running all day!”

“That’s it! We’re totally camping here,” said Rainbow Dash, and the others nodded.

Rarity smirked. “Just as I planned…”

Applejack blinked. “What, you planned this? You wanted a swim, maybe?”

“Better than that,” said Rarity. “I wanted a bath!”

At that, Applejack burst out laughing. “I might ‘a known! Well, you got your bath, sugarcube. You got dunked! And this sure is nice.”

“It’s completely awesome is what it is! Good call, Rarity,” said Rainbow Dash.

“It’s the perfect end to a long day on th’ trail!” said Applejack.

“And,” added Twilight, “it’s the perfect time of day—it’s just getting dark, but there’s still enough light to make camp and see where we’re sleeping. This really couldn’t have gone any better…”

“And I can tell you from the last time I did aerial reconnaissance,” boasted Rainbow Dash, “that we’re nearly there. This is probably as close as we can get to the dragons’ caves without going into their territory.”

“An’ we got time to get a good night’s sleep and be fresh for tomorrow!” said Applejack.

“And I see two leafy bowers—perfect for, shall we say, retiring to…” continued Rarity.

Dash froze. She stared at Rarity, as Twilight peered worriedly at her—and she cleared her throat.

“Define ‘retiring’.”

Rarity didn’t blink, or flinch. “Going to sleep, darling. Resting for the challenges of the upcoming day. What did you think I’d meant?”

“Rarity!” snapped Applejack.

“Of course!” replied Rainbow Dash. “We’re gonna need a lot of rest. So I feel really sleepy, okay? Oh, look, I see a leafy bower too. It looks real cozy over there… on the other fucking side of the pond!”

She didn’t give anypony a chance to say anything. She just leapt straight up out of the water, and blasted across the pond at nearly Rainboom velocity, to vanish into what was far from a cozy bower. It looked more like an unwelcoming, woodsy bank, but it was as far away from the leafy bowers as it was possible to get.

Applejack’s ears were laid back, and she looked furious. Rarity’s expression was narrow-eyed and stern. Twilight glanced back and forth between them.

“Uh… I’ll see you guys in the morning, okay? Keep an eye on our packs. I guess I know where I’m sleeping. I hope it’s as cozy as she says!”

“Yeah,” said Applejack, “you do that, Twilight. Thank’ee. Somepony ought to.”

“Yes, thank you, Twilight,” said Rarity.

Applejack glared. “Ain’t it kinda tacky, you thankin’ her?”

“Why ever would you say that?”

“We talked about that. How you’re goin’ real boy-headed. I tole you I’d work on findin’ my girlyness for ya, if you’d tone th’ cojones down a notch. How is runnin’ Rainbow off, tonin’ it down?”

Rarity batted her eyelashes. “How is leaping upon me, and plunging me into the depths of the pond against my will, demure and feminine?”

“Uh… yeah. Got me there. Consarn it, Rarity, can’t you take it easy? I ain’t ever seen even a real stallion be such a dick. Uh, no offense?”

“I apologize. But you’ll see—I wished some privacy, for us, for reasons that will become apparent.”

“Ain’t in th’ mood, I’ll tell you that right now…”

“No, no!” protested Rarity. “Something different—my surprise for you. That other thing should not be considered surprising, and I’ll restrain myself until we are in more suitable circumstances. Will that do? Darling?”

Twilight shook her head. “Spare me your relationship struggles—me and Rainbow are trying to stay out of your way. I’m not sure I need to be hearing this… see you guys later. Be good?”

“We shall be fabulous,” declared Rarity.

“G’night, Twi. We’ll be all right. Typical evenin’,” said Applejack.

Twilight trotted off immediately, heading around the pond to join Rainbow, while Rarity chided Applejack. “It shall be far from typical! Or, rather, far from typical whilst out in the wilderness…”

“Restful would be nice. Jes’ sayin’.”

“Oh, no. I promised a surprise. And it’s all going as well as I could have hoped.”

“I coulda hoped you wouldn’a hurt my friends!”

“Watch it. While sentimentality is undoubtedly girly, it can also be unwise. Come along, Applejack.”

She did, protesting gently. “Aw, Rarity… I know you explained it all, how you’re teachin’ me my new way of life, but some things ain’t right! I swear, I do want to try an’ be feminine an’ submissive. I understand that you’re tryin’ to be all stalliony on me. Hell, I even like it in a lotta ways—but there’s a time an’ a place for everythin’!”

“Indeed there is, and it is time for you to be cared for in a way you do not expect. Come along!”

They walked into the leafy bower, lit with the last glowing rays of sunset, the glow mingling with that of Rarity’s horn as she levitated her saddlebags and brought them as well. Applejack blinked. “Nopony gonna walk off with that, sugarcube. I’d ‘a thunk you were tired of carrying it around by now.”

“It was worth it,” said Rarity, and her horn’s glow brightened as the pack opened, and things began to emerge, gleaming in the fading sunlight.

Applejack gulped. “Oh, lordy…”

Out came—the green dress Rarity had made for her. Then another, in scarlet, that she’d been working on, that they’d talked about. It seemed that Rarity’s saddlebags were devoted only to Applejack’s fine clothes—there were bolts of cloth for things Rarity had planned, patterns for reference. She’d brought nothing for herself, nothing at all. And finally—poetry in mustard-colored silk—the pajamas Rarity had first made for her, and had destroyed to use as patterns for another design.

Rarity’s voice wasn’t quite steady. “For you, my beloved. Even in the wilderness I shall drape you in the finest silks. Whatever the cost.”

Applejack’s lip quivered. “Oh, Rarity! How is this even possible? I thought ya said when we left that it weren’t done. I’ve been with ya this whole time!”

Rarity’s body wasn’t quite steady either. She wobbled, with emotion or with exhaustion. “Just a little unicorn magic for my very own exquisite mare…”

“An’ I guess I’ve had a bath, ain’t I? You sneaky thing, you.”

“Thank you. Now let’s… whoa… let’s get you ready for bed, darling…”

“Hey. What’s with th’ stumble, best girl? Y’all look mighty tired.”

“Carrying a complete set of outfits is something of a burden…”

Applejack blinked. “I never asked you to do that.”

“No, but I saw your eyes, it was worth it. The sleepless nights, all of it, completely worth it…”

“Hold on,” said Applejack. “Sleepless nights? When?”

Rarity wobbled a little more, and needle and thread levitated out of her pack to join the floating array of finery. “Why, last night! I feigned sleep and finished the last stitching before dawn. I know from couture deadlines that sometimes it’s best to just push on, in those circumstances.”

Applejack’s ears were back. “Uh… no wonder you look tired. Uhh… did it enter your thinkin’, at all, that we was on a rescue mission?”

“That we were!” corrected Rarity. “Please, my nerves may not stand your usual mangling of grammar tonight. And yes, of course we are. We shall sleep tonight and awake rested and prepared for anything. And you shall sleep in luxury. I made sure of that!”

“All right, all right…” sighed Applejack. She kicked at the ground with a forehoof.

“Uht! Dirt!”

Applejack shot her a glare from under lowered brows. “Sorry. There’s kind of a lot of it around here. Seein’ as we’re, you know, outdoors an’ all… ya want me to go wash my hoof?”

“If you would be so good,” replied Rarity.

“An’ how exactly do you figure I’m gonna lie on the dirt with you and not soil that pretty…” began Applejack, and trailed off. Rarity nearly staggered, but another thing began to emerge from her saddlebags and join the array of Applejack’s finery. It was a bedsheet. She’d thought of everything, and carried it out with every scrap of energy she possessed, and clearly expected Applejack to do her part.

“Fine! I’ll go wash my damn hoof. You put some of that there stuff back, you look a mite peakied holdin’ it all up. Wouldn’t wanna drop it, or nothin’!”

When Applejack returned, the bedsheet was spread out without a ripple upon the ground, and only the fine silken pajamas remained unpacked.

“Ready, darling?”

Applejack peeked sidelong at her lover. “Didja really trick me an’ stay up all night, Rarity?”

“Why, I… yes, I suppose that would seem like tricking you, wouldn’t it? It was no trouble at all—as I said, it was entirely worth it.”

“It would be trickin’ me,” pointed out Applejack. “On account of I thought we were sleepin’. As we ought to be doin’ now. We don’t know what we might face tomorrow, and it’s awful important. Ya gotta get a good night’s sleep or you can’t do your best.”

Rarity’s expression was rueful and frustrated. “I could say that I would do my best regardless, but I understand what you are telling me. I am sorry, Applejack—I promise I will not trick you again. You are truly the Element Bearer of Honesty, and I must respect that.”

“An’ you’re Generosity itself, sugarcube, ain’t you? We got to work on havin’ a smattering of common sense in with that an’ you’ll be perfect.”

Rarity sniffed. “I thought I was perfect—or at least made heroic efforts to be. Come, Applejack, your very own special pajamas await, good as new.”

She held them up with her magic, and Applejack stepped into them, one leg at a time, feeling again the caress of the silk. If anything, Rarity had outdone herself with the recreated fabric—Applejack’s heart caught in her throat to feel the intensity of Rarity’s creation against her. She moved, stretched out a hindleg, felt the wonderful pajamas again, exactly as they were in their first triumphant incarnation.

…almost.

Applejack beamed, turning to face Rarity, whose ears were back. “Aw, this is just wonderful, darlin’! Now come on to bed, it’s time for sleeping…”

“Turn around.”

Applejack’s eyes widened in startlement, then narrowed. She took a breath, and whirled in place. “There! Ain’t that ravishin’? It sure is a treat…”

“Turn side-on to me and hold still,” commanded Rarity. She wasn’t buying it.

Applejack gulped. She complied, but she stood up tall, her shoulders thrust forward, trying to conceal that telltale sensation…

“Normal posture, if you please! Applejack!”

Applejack glowered, and settled into her normal posture, and across her withers she felt the fabric rumple up. It probably would have fit wonderfully if she were hugging somepony—as she’d been hugging Rarity, in those redesigned pajamas, while Rarity warned her not to stretch the fabric. Rarity had been so fearful the pattern would be distorted—and her concerns had been every bit as warranted, as they had been ignored. Applejack couldn’t hide the truth—the new pajamas did not fit.

Rarity heaved a great sigh, and looked tireder than ever.

“Off with them, if you please. Duty calls.”

Applejack complied, but as the pajamas floated over to Rarity, she spoke up gently. “Now, how about you fold them things up and lie with me an’ sleep?”

“It won’t be long, darling. You can wait up with me if you wish,” said Rarity, distracted.

“How long?” demanded Applejack.

“I’m stitching continuous seams and will need to extend the new seam line farther than you would imagine—essentially, I must rip the entire back seam out and re-do it. And I do not trust the gussets, I’m certain they were distorted as well. I’m afraid you managed to ruin the pattern quite thoroughly. Never fear, I shall be equal to the challenge!”

“Ruin?” snorted Applejack. “You mean, I managed to hug you while you was upset!”

“Were,” corrected Rarity. “I’ve changed my mind, you’d better sleep, I don’t wish you to stay up and wait. We shall just have to leave your present for another day, curse it. Tomorrow!”

“I got a better idea,” said Applejack. She walked over and took a corner of the fabric between her teeth. “How ‘bout you sleep now, and leave th’ sewin’ for t’morrow?”

“Don’t tug on it! Applejack!” protested Rarity. She released the garment, rather than stretch it, and Applejack carried it away and deposited it neatly in a heap on the far side of the bedsheet.

Applejack’s head was high and proud. “You hear what I’m tellin’ you?”

“Oh, your intentions are quite obvious,” grumbled Rarity.

“And how ‘bout yours? Do ya promise to pack it in, and sleep? We got a big day tomorrow. This ain’t no joke, Rarity.”

The white unicorn glowered, looking sulky. She did not reply, and Applejack’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe I best re-phrase that. Do you, Rarity, promise that you ain’t gonna try and stay up sewin’ all night?”

“The sooner you go to sleep,” said Rarity, “the sooner I shall. Be reasonable, Applejack.”

“That ain’t what I asked!”

“Isn’t!” snapped Rarity. “Very well, do you want the truth? Kindly give me those pajamas back. I’m going to have that seam re-sewn before I rest, and the longer you delay me, the worse it shall be for all of us. On your head be it!”

Applejack gasped, and then her eyes flared wide with sudden anger. “Oh, yeah? Whose is this, Rarity? Y’all tell me right now, whose thing is this here? Is it yours? Or is it mine?”

Rarity bared her teeth. “We’ve established that. It is your property. Give it here, please.”

Applejack had other ideas.

Rarity’s jaw dropped in horror. The country pony seemed transported by rage—or perhaps outrage—and she kicked the precious pajamas that she’d loved so much. She kicked them straight off the bedsheet, and they landed in the dirt, and not satisfied with that, Applejack leapt on them and trampled them, to absolute silence from Rarity.

When Applejack’s gaze rose to meet Rarity’s, there was nothing the least bit girly about it, and her voice held an imperious authority not heard since Applejack’s mother was alive.

“Go to SLEEP,” demanded Applejack.

Rarity met her fiery stare with glittering, unforgiving ice, and silence. Then, she broke the silence, if not the ice.

“This is not working, Applejack.”

“YA THINK?” bellowed Applejack.

“What do you propose we do about it, then?” said Rarity, unflinching.

Applejack took a few deep breaths.

“Aw, consarn it, Rarity! I do love you. You know that. If only you’d keep the crazy unicorn stuff down to a dull roar…”

“And I love you, darling,” said Rarity levelly. “But you have just trodden on my finest work, and I do not like you right now.”

That stopped Applejack, and she looked down beneath her hooves. “Shit. You’re right, I did,” she said. She looked at Rarity, wide-eyed and guilty as if surprised by her own actions, and then her gaze dropped, and she winced. “Damn it. I had to make you not able to stay up sewin’! It’s important! I forgot how attached you are to them things. Well—ain’t you gonna yell at me? I guess it was mighty fine, yeah. Dammit, I wasn’t thinkin’ about that part.”

“No, you certainly were not,” said Rarity. She sat, motionless, eyes glittering with fury, while Applejack fidgeted. “Are you going to be a good girl? I think it matters. I can’t have this, Applejack. It cannot be borne. Are you going to try to be good and cease any ruffian behavior?”

Applejack gulped. “Uh… gen’rally? Nope. Gotta be honest with ya. Uh—fuck that, if you don’t mind my sayin’…”

“I see.”

“Ain’t you got time for a bad girl? Lil’ roughneck girl kinda thing, maybe?” said Applejack, placatingly. She tossed her head in the way Rarity had shown her, hoping to appease her furious mate…

“Forgive me if my delight cannot be described as ‘unconfined’…” said Rarity, in chilly tones.

“Well, shit.”

They stared at each other, thinking, and both saw the maddening double image—all that was adored and appreciated, and all that was not. Applejack’s playful, spirited, wilful character, Rarity’s fierce determination and dominant, commanding mind—for a minute, they just stared, seeing all things at once, feeling the romantic spark and the captivation, while unable to overlook the dark side. For a minute, neither could look away from the other’s eyes.

And though Rarity’s will and selfcontrol was indomitable, it was she who dropped her gaze first, and spoke what she knew to be true and could no longer deny.

“This is SO not working.”

“I’m exhausted,” sighed Applejack. “Are you exhausted, sugarcube?”

“Frankly, darling, yes.”

Applejack sadly walked over to lay down beside where Rarity sat. “Y’all wanna just love each other and not mess with this here bein’ mates? All’s we do is fight worse an’ worse.”

“It’s maddening that we can’t make it work,” admitted Rarity. “I adore you.”

“An’ I adore you too but that ain’t helpin’, is it?”

“No. It ‘ain’t’.”

“Aw! You cussed!” smiled Applejack.

Rarity snorted. “Ain’t isn’t a ‘cuss’.”

“To you it is!”

“True… Parting sex?”

Applejack’s eyes went wide. “Ya just had sex this mornin’. I’m not sure I kin.”

“Indeed. ‘Consarn it’.”

“Now,” said Applejack reprovingly, “you’re teasin’…”

“I’m afraid so. Can you blame me?”

“Naw.”

They paused, Applejack looking up wistfully at Rarity, who still sat upright and looked down sadly into her eyes. And, together, they let out a deep sigh of disappointment. And, together, they began to speak.

“We should…”

Rarity blinked. “Oh, I’m sorry, pray continue! You were saying?”

“No no, you go on…”

“Oh no, I’m sure you spoke first. After you, dear Applejack!”

Applejack frowned. “We done spoke together. You figure we can say it together, then? Might finally see somethin’ eye to eye.”

“I daresay. We should…” began Rarity.

“…keep up th’ appearances…” continued Applejack.

“…and cultivate a positive, cheerful attitude…” suggested Rarity.

“…so’s we can take care of our friends…”

“…and support them at journey’s end, tomorrow…”

“…whatever that turns out to be,” finished Applejack.

“I agree completely,” said Rarity. “They’re on edge and the last thing they need is more chaos and upheaval.”

“Things is bad enough. We best sit tight and keep this to ourselves. They really want us to be happy, Rarity,” said Applejack. “Even Rainbow. You might not believe it, but I can tell. We need to pretend we’re happy with each other, for their sake, until we get home and all this is over.”

Rarity nodded, and allowed herself to relax, lying against Applejack’s body without too much distaste over her dirty hooves. “Agreed,” she said. “You’re good for it? No fits of sobbing from the bad girl?”

“I kin take care of myself,” said Applejack, stubbornly. “How about you? This gonna mess with you, Rarity?”

Rarity looked her in the eye. “How tough do you think I really am?” she said, simply.

At that, Applejack blinked. “Dang. Uh… Now that you mention it, it sounds crazy, but… yeah. You’re actu’lly tough as nails, ain’tcha?”

“Thank you,” said Rarity. “Once we are safe at home, I may indulge myself in some hysterics, if you don’t mind. You merit them.”

“Uh… thanks… I think? What kinda hysterics?”

Rarity looked thoughtful. “I should think some raging, but I may also wish abuse for having stupidly fumbled our relationship. You know, flogging, shaming, degradation—all that sort of thing. That will do nicely.”

“Aw, Rarity, no! I don’t want you to be ashamed. You tried. I tried. Dumb we may be, but I can’t fault you for tryin’.”

“Oh, I agree. I did try. And yes, you were exceedingly trying as well—it really is something of a relief to throw up my hooves and admit defeat. But I did not mean to turn to you for this, darling, so calm yourself—if all goes well, I shall take care of it myself, as always.”

Applejack yawned, and blinked sleepily. “You tellin’ me you’re gonna get yourself flogged, and shamed, and degraded, without me?”

Rarity’s little smile was playful. “You shall find I am full of surprises…”

“Well,” said Applejack, “ain’t THAT th’ truth.”

With that, they slept.