>The tournament was in full swing.
>Lady Rarity found the excitement all too unbearable.
>She was never really into jousting. It was all too violent for her.
>"This is soo exciting," exclaimed Lord Trenderhoof, squeezing Rarity in his arms. "What better way to spend our wedding aniversary than booze, barbecue, and violence?"
>Another pair of mounted knights collided, their shields splintered and lances broken. The crowd oooh'd out loud.
>Trenderhoof clapped excitedly, then leaned in to Rarity for a kiss. His breath reeked of mead and roasted hog. Rarity found her husband repulsive.
"It... It really is, darling," she lied, gently pecking at her lord's cheek. "Thank you for bringing me out here."
>"Heh, you know it."
>Knights and fighters of all stripes lined up on either end of the field, getting ready for their turn to prove their mettle.
>The announcer cleared her throat.
>"What an exciting match that was! Those two are sure going to feel the bruises in the morning."
>THe crowd laughed out loud.
>"Before we move onto our next fighters, let's hear a round of applause for our Lord Trenderhoof, who so peacefully conquered the city of Ponyville on this very anniversary!"
>The crowd erupted into cheers, raising tankards and half-eaten sticks of bread.
>"And let's her one for the lovely Lady Rarity, whose hand our Lord Trenderhoof took in marriage to seal the treaty!"
>The crowd erupted again. Rarity waved at the crowd, her smile rigid and practiced.
>"Now, on to the next fighters," continued the announcer, gesturing to her left. "From the city of Ponyville, a knight of the Order of the Sun...."
>Cymbal crash. The crowd cheered.
>Hardly anyone in the crowd knew anyone from Ponyville excluding Lady Rarity. Oh, everyone *knew* the wife of Baron Trenderhoof.
>But getting caught not making merry at one of Trenderhoof's faires was bad for one's health. So, everyone cheered as loud as they could for the stranger.
>Applejack bowed graciously, then saluted the crowd.
>"Ohh, look at that," sneered Trenderhoof. "One of your... eugh, 'Ponyville' people. Recognize her?"
"Yes, quite," replied Rarity tersely. "One of my people."
>Rarity stared at the knight, studying her carefully.
>The knight hefted the large lance with ease, apparently not bothered at all by its immense weight.
>A pair of piercing green eyes shone through the slit of the visor. She was staring at Rarity.
>The announcer continued.
>"And from the city of Las Pegasus, a knight in the service of the Wonderbolts...."
>"...Our very own, Rainbow Dash!"
>Cymbal crash. The crowd cheered again, without missing a beat.
>Rainbow Dash trotted her mount forward. She stared grimly at Applejack, not acknowledging any of the hurrahs and cheers from the crowd.
>Unlike Applejack's armorclad hulking figure, Rainbow Dash was wrapped in a lighter set of plates, revealing huge gaps in coverage.
>Either this knight was suicidal, or she felt confident enough in her agility.
>Trenderhoof clapped excitedly, then took a long sip from his tankard.
>"Rainbow Dash! Now there's a loyal knight worthy of serving my invincible Wonderbolts."
>Rarity said nothing.
>Rainbow Dash turned her head to the VIP stand, scanning it.
>Her face was largely unprotected, leaving her bright cerise eyes for all to see. She locked eyes Rarity for a painfully short moment, then snapped off a sharp salute.
>"Contestants! To the starting line!"
>Dash broke off her salute, guiding her mount to the starting line. On the other side of the field, Applejack did the same.
>Rarity clutched at her pearls.
'Be careful, you two,' Rarity mouthed quietly.
>The drumroll continued as Dash and Applejack charged at each other.
>Soon, the staccato of heavy hoof strikes drowned out the drumroll, until--
>The drumroll stopped.
>Both knights found themselves flung off their horses, their lances in tatters.
>Rainbow twisted midair, landing on her feet. Her cuirass sported a huge dent in the middle.
>Applejack fell hard on her shoulder, rolled sideways, then stopped in a crouch. She was missing her helmet.
>The crowd went wild.
>"Ohhh, a double dismount!" The announcer shouted. "You know what that means, lads!"
>("MELEE,") the crowd shouted in unison.
>"Indeed indeed! Victory to the contestant who draws first blood!" The announcer added, almost drooling in excitement.
>Rarity's knuckles went white on her lap.
>"Applejack," growled Rainbow through clenched teeth, "it really is you in the flesh. Got tired of hiding?"
>She slowly unsheathed an elegantly curved blade from its sheath. It glinted with dazzling colors in the sun.
>Applejack stood up slowly, feeling her joints pop and creak.
>"The Order of the Sun ain't hiding, sugarcube," she said. "We've got a mailing address."
>Applejack slicked back her sweat-covered blond hair, then unsheathed her longsword.
>"Yeah, behind stone walls in Ponyville," retorted Rainbow dash. "Be honest with me, Applejack. What drives a woman like you to betray her friends and wall up in a castle like a coward?"
>A flash of anger crumpled Applejack's face before subsiding.
>"Why, Ah could ask you a similar question, Rainbow. What drives a woman like you to act like a disloyal fool, sidin' with the enemy?"
>Rainbow let out a frustrated howl.
>"You have NO idea what I went through to protect Rarity and Fluttershy," she stated in a hoarse voice. "Besides, they're not the enemy. Not anymore."
>"So you'd let some darn treaty split up our friends?" Applejack's voice rose, her temper getting the better of her. "For land's sake, Rainbow. Y'all are *complicit* in sellin' out our friends!"
>"YOU SHUT YOUR FUCKIN' MOUTH!"
>Rainbow charged forward, slicing high and low with frightening speed and precision.
>Applejack parried sideways, deflecting the first swing and counterattacking on the second.
>The well-worn longsword glinted with a dull glow as it drew a wide arc overhead.
>Rainbow withdrew her katana and swung at the longsword, striking it away.
>"Slow. Slow slow slow slow," Rainbow mocked, keeping her guard up. "You've gotten even slower than before."
>Applejack smirked, then shot back, "your strikes are just as noodly as before. Are they not feeding you enough grub for being a lap dog?"
>That *really* got Rainbow's anger going.
>"Why, you little--"
>Rainbow dashed forward, thrusting from the front.
>Applejack reached out with her offhand, grabbing Rainbow's sword arm. She pulled the rainbow-haired knight towards her, then drove her gauntleted fist the clump of rainbow hair.
>It never connected. Rainbow bent backward, dodging the armored fist. She dropped down into a crouch and swept Applejack's feet from under her. The heavily armored knight fell like a pile of rocks.
>With her arms freed, Rainbow swung down at Applejack, execution-style. She stopped inches away from Applejack's bare throat.
>Applejack merely stared daggers at her opponent.
>"So be it," she said, her emerald gaze piercing straight through Rainbow. "Finish me, sugarcube."
>"WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR??" Trenderhoof shouted like a rabid dog. "Draw her blood, Rainbow. DO IT NOW. KILL!"
>("Kill,") the crowd responded, ("kill, kill, kill, kill...")
>Rainbow bit her lip, then withdrew her blade. She sheathed her katana, then hung her head low.
>"Y-you...," Trenderhoof stammered, spitting bits of food and liquor in anger. "You... Disloyal fuck!"
>Rarity put a shaky hand on her husband's shoulder.
"D-darling? Perhaps you should let the other contestants fight? This match is, ahh, technically over, after all."
>Trenderhoof looked at Rarity, then scoffed.
>"Hm, very well. Guards!"
>A group of armored figures snapped to attention.
>"Remove that Ponyville trash, she's disqualified and banned for the rest of her life. And boot Dash off the grounds. She doesn't get to play anymore today."
>Applejack sheathed her blade, then picked up her helmet from nearby.
>"Ah'm goin', stop your frettin'," she said as guards approached her. "Winona!"
>Applejack's mount trotted to her side, following her out towards the road to Ponyville.
>Rainbow glared at her, then stomped off the field after her.
>Rarity gently nudged at Trenderhoof as the announcer got busy with introducing the next contestants.
"Darling, please excuse me. I believe I am beset with a sudden migraine."
>"Yeah yeah whatever," Trenderhoof waved her off. "You're interrupting the game."
>He took a huge bite out of a raw tomato, then washed it down with mead.
>Rarity glared at her husband for a moment, then turned to her bodyguard.
"Flash, with me, please."
>"Yes, my lady."
>"What the hell was that about?"
>Rainbow shouted at Applejack closing in on her. They were some ways out away from the festivities, and the cheering crowds and crashing of lances became distant echoes.
>"Ah have no idea what you're talkin' about, sugarcube."
>Applejack stopped, then began to peel her armor off. She undid clasps here and there, and the entire shell fell off of her body piece by piece.
>"That fuckin' lunatic of a baron screamed at me to cut your head off, and I refused! I practically saved your life!"
>Applejack discarded her breastplate, shaking her blond hair loose in the air.
>"Are you listening? I could be in a lot of trouble because of what I did back there. Don't you think you should thank me at the very least--"
>Rainbow paused. Applejack had finished stripping off her armor. A length of white tunic covered her ample breasts, which was soaked through with sweat. Two distinctively pinkish nubs pointed at Rainbow, gently erect in the cold breeze.
>Rainbow breathed heavily.
>"My eyes are up here, sugarcube."
>The two stared at each other for a long while.
"Rainbow Dash! Applejack!"
>Rarity stomped her way towards the two knights, her usual grace abandoned.
>Flash marched slightly behind his charge.
>Before Applejack could even begin, Rarity slapped Applejack with a loud whipcrack.
>Rainbow flinched at the sight.
"You... You ruffian!" Rarity teared up, bouncing her fists on the blond knight's powerful shoulders. "How many years? How many years, Jackie? Now you show up out of the blue and-- and leave without even saying goodbye?"
>Applejack held a hand on the cheek where Rarity had struck.
>Applejack said nothing. Rarity took a long, hard look at Applejack, bruises and all.
>Rarity's face crumpled up, squeezing out ugly tears.
>She clung to the blond knight, sobbing, breathing heavily, sniffling.
>After a few minutes of crying, Rarity pulled away, letting go of her dear friend. She smudged at her own tears with practiced ease.
"I've.... I've missed you so much, Jackie."
>Applejack swallowed a lump in her throat.
>Dash averted her gaze, fidgeting uncomfortably.
>Flash Sentry turned away to keep watch.
>"I, uh, likewise, sugarcube."
>Rarity cleared her throat.
"How's... How's Pinkamena? And Twilight?"
>"They're fine," Applejack said tersely. "Why are y'all asking me for? You and Twi exchange letters all the time."
>Rarity let out a frustrated sigh, shaking her head. Her lips gently curled up in a resigned smile.
"You really haven't changed at all, Jackie. Always so averse to niceties."
>Applejack's eyes softened, stabbing emerald daggers into Rarity's heart.
>"And you aged like fine wine, Rares. Just as graceful as ever, after all these years."
"Oh, psh. Please! It hasn't been *that* long," protested Rarity, waving a dismissive hand. "Fluttershy's doing fine, by the way. Master of the Forest is her official title now."
>"No kidding? Good on her."
"Well, it doesn't actually involve taking care of the animals at all, much to her disappointment."
>"M'lady," Flash intoned firmly, nudging his head towards a distant cloud of dust.
>Rarity turned and looked. It was a formation of mounted guards, trotting towards them from afar.
>"Shit, it's probably the Wonderbolts," Dash said.
>"They won't be happy to see you're still here after being banned for life," Flash muttered towards Applejack. "You should get going."
>"Right," the blond knight said. She smirked, then added, "oh, right. I stole that pile o' armor from one of your equipment tents. Y'all really should guard it more carefully."
>Flash gave her a dumbfounded look, then chuckled heartily.
>"I thought that suit of armor looked familiar," he said. "Next time, no stealing allowed."
>"There won't be a next time," Applejack said. "Ah'm banned from the tournament for life, remember?" She grabbed Winona's reins, then hopped onto the steed.
>"It was a good fight, Rainbow," she said, winking. "You almost had me back there. Take good care of Rares, yeah?"
>"I-I won't go easy on you next time," Rainbow blurted out, her face glowing red. Her eyes darted up and down between Applejack's face and her ample breasts. "A-and... yeah. I'll take good care of her."
"W-wait," Rarity said, reaching out at the departing knight. "Jackie, I know we parted ways in... less than great terms, but will you let me see you again? We still have so much catching up to do..."
>"Soon enough," Applejack said curtly.
>Applejack merely smiled, then rapidly rode away.
>Rarity stared longingly, her eyes glistering with tears.
>Rainbow looked at Rarity, then at the retreating blond knight. Her knuckles turned white on the scabbard.
>After several minutes trotting on the road, Applejack glanced behind her.
>The road was empty except for herself. Tufts of flora grew all around the dirt path, waving lazily in the breeze.
>She dismounted, letting Winona to wander off and graze around for a bit.
>The horse walked off. Applejack walked in the opposite direction, away from the path.
>Not even a couple steps in, Applejack fell to her knees. The tall grass gave easily, staining the knees of her trousers green.
>Tears welled up in Applejack's eyes, blocking her vision.
>She pulled out a largish locket with shaking hands, then opened it gingerly.
>A small portrait of Rarity adorned the inside.
>Applejack gently ran a finger across the smiling Rarity, as though caressing the real thing.
>Hot tears ran down her freckled cheeks as she brought the finger up to her own lips, kissing it gently. It tasted nothing like Rarity's lips, but Applejack still remembered.
>Her shoulders shook with wracking sobs.
>She palmed at her cheeks, leaving ugly streaks of tear-soaked dirt all over her cheeks.
>Applejack clenched her eyes.
>She howled and berated herself and everything else she could think of.
>She cursed the Order of the Sun. Without it, her honor might still be in one piece, never having lied to anyone.
>The Order never forced her to lie, per se, but misdirection was just as good as lying. And it tore at Applejack.
>She cursed Ponyville. Without it, her friends would still be together.
>But above all, she cursed herself. She made the choice to leave Rarity. She could never forgive herself for that.
>What was saving Ponyville worth?
>The sun shone orangish-red out the window, just behind Rainbow's back.
>"She was here for a reason," Rainbow muttered, taking another swipe at her katana with a whetstone. She sat precariously on the window sill, apparently not bothered at all by the dizzying height.
"I know, darling."
>Flash Sentry stood at attention next to the doorway, facing Rarity's quarters. His hand rested gently on the scabbard of his sword, his one good eye fixated on Rainbow.
>"I mean, 'soon enough?' What an ominous send-off! And she's totally not the type to ride out here just to show off," Rainbow reiterated, shifting her weight on the window sill. "This has to be a distraction, or something..."
"Darling, I know," said Rarity in her unmistakably exasperated tone. She hugged at her knees, rocking gently on the ornately decorated bed.
>Rainbow stood up, sheathing her katana.
>"Rarity, we need to talk," she said, eyeing at Flash.
"Flash, dear, please give us a moment."
>The blue-haired bodyguard hesitated for a moment, then nodded. He did a sharp about-face and marched out of Rarity's quarters.
>"Do you still like Applejack?" Rainbow said, as soon as Flash went out of earshot.
>Rarity glared at her.
"Dash... Are you seriously asking me this question right now?"
>"Just answer the question, Rarity."
>Rarity huffed, upturning her nose away from Rainbow.
"Honestly, I could ask you the same thing," she intoned accusingly. "You were eyeing Applejack with that blank, lusty look of yours the whole time."
>"I-I did not!" Rainbow protested. "She... She was peeling her armor off! A-and my eyes kind of... wandered."
>Rarity raised an eyebrow at her flustered friend -- A trick she learned from her recently reunited friend.
>"Fine, I shouldn't be the one accusing you. I'm sorry," Rainbow muttered. "You know I love you, right?"
"I know, darling."
>"Do you love me?"
>Rarity stared at the pair of cerise eyes.
"Yes, of course."
>Rainbow stared back. Rarity let out an exasperated sigh.
"You're really not going to let this go, are you? Yes, Dash. I used to love Applejack, once upon a time," Rarity said, her voice a little hoarse. "Just like you did, once upon a time."
>Rainbow fidgeted uncomfortably.
>She hated-- no, *despised* being reminded of that one brief fling she shared with Applejack.
>"It's just that you two were hitting it off like you always used to," Rainbow said after a brief silence. "And it really makes me worry."
>Rarity smiled sweetly at her.
"It's different now, remember? We swore we'd stick together and tolerate this despicable... "Lord Trenderhoof" of ours for the good of Ponyville."
>"And Applejack ditched us."
"No, she had a different idea on what 'protecting Ponyville' meant," Rarity corrected her.
>Rainbow said nothing.
"And if you'd recall, darling, many of our friends shared her idea. Pinkamena, Twilight, and many others. But I don't see you calling them traitors or anything like that. In fact, you still exchange letters with Pinkamena."
>Rainbow looked away. Rarity gently cupped her chin, leaning close.
"The past is past. We're here together, you, Fluttershy, and me. That's all that matters. The moments you and I shared after Applejack left were... "
>Rarity trailed off.
>"Something special?" Suggested Rainbow.
"Yes, I suppose you could say that."
>Rainbow leaned in for a kiss.
>Rarity met her lover halfway, sealing their lips together. Rainbow loosened up her jaw, pushing her tongue forward.
>Rarity received it gently, but didn't reciprocate.
>If she felt disappointed by it, Rainbow didn't show it.
"It's getting late," Rarity said simply, looking sideways.
>Rainbow got up, then hesitated.
>"Do you... Do you need someone to sleep with you for the night--"
"No, goodness no," Rarity blurted out, then composed herself. "No, you're very kind, but I can't. Trenderhoof will be in the castle tonight. We mustn't risk his wrath."
>Rainbow planted a parting kiss on Rarity's forehead, then walked out.
>Rarity watched her lover leave, then sobbed uncontrollably into the pillow.