Today’s story aches.
You and Her
[Romance] [Sad] • 7,335 words
[Note: This story contains sexual themes.]
You told me that a young designer from out of town would be coming to stay with us for a few days while she discussed business plans with you. I told you that would be fine, that I wouldn’t mind.
FROM THE CURATORS: Relationships are rarely easy. Feelings wax and wane, ebb and flow, and even at their easiest and most effortless, relationships take effort. But maybe you don’t want to put that effort in any more. Maybe it takes less effort to start something new than to maintain something you’ve had for years. Maybe your partner won’t catch on. Maybe they will.
“This story stood out by virtue of sticking with me after reading,” said Horizon in his nomination, “the way the pain from a punch lingers. It’s a blunt, immediate look at the pain of adultery that works almost in a sort of chiaroscuro, contrasting the beauty of their day-to-day life (and Fleur’s denial) with the rawness of the situation.” Others agreed; RBDash47 said it “was skillfully crafted, and yet—and therefore—I did not enjoy reading it at all” and FanOfMostEverything had to admit, “This sort of story isn’t my usual cup of tea. It’s not even in the same cupboard. But I can’t deny that it hits every emotional note dead center.”
Everyone agreed that the author did a fantastic job of bringing a heartwrenching story about a significant other discovering their lover is cheating on them to life. Soge praised its “realistic depictions of cheating, and of a relationship which has progressed beyond the ‘crumbling completely’ stage”; RBDash47 said, “fourths did a great job capturing the floaty, surreal experience of reluctantly confirming your spouse is cheating on you”; Present Perfect said, “while this could have been just another well written story about a dark subject that’s hard to write about, it’s the amount of nuance placed on Fleur’s character that makes it stand out.”
From start to finish, the story’s structure sold the protagonist’s inner turmoil. “The unbalanced nature of the plot itself — the threads left unresolved, the paths left unexplored — function perfectly here to reinforce Fleur’s dazed experience and sense of uncertainty in these moments,” said RBDash47. “We have no idea where she goes from here, because neither does she.” Horizon felt that “the complication and lack of resolution certainly work to sell the messy nature of the situation.”
Read on for our author interview, in which fourths discusses jealous flowers, mid-life crises, and having strong opinions.
Give us the standard biography.
The name’s April, and I’m a 20-year-old queer woman who’s lived in Oregon (not Portland) for literally always—though I’m actually moving to Montana for school at summer’s end. Got into the horse show in November 2011, got into fanfiction just in time to see AbsoluteAnonymous’ The Games We Play conclude in February 2012. Read fic and lurked for a few years without talking to anybody, then got my foot in the door in Skirts’ Noble Jury and started actually making friends with people (especially once I was much less 14 than before). Outside of horse, I’m very big on music—being a musician myself—and very interested in all things political, which is what I’ll be studying once I go east to get West.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Because “fifths” was taken. No, really. And, actually, I’ve long made a joke of Fifths (who I’ve never spoken with) being my secret archnemesis. Which becomes exceedingly ironic as Fifths was previously featured in the RCL back in 2016 and, so goeth the joke, that only furthered the archnemesising. Well, it took me a little longer, but I’m hot on their heels!
But why those numbers to begin with? Back when I started being active on the site in mid-late 2015, my username had actually just been “April” (whose origin should be obvious) after having been “grr” (whose origin is more arcane) from 2012-2014, before I actually talked to anyone. So when I was looking at actually starting to write stuff, I wanted to come up with a fresh handle that was both succinct and memorable, something I’d not used before. At the time, I was taking an intro to classical music class, and with that on the brain I’d been doodling the words “fourths” and “fifths” a lot in cursive, since they have nice loops. And while “fifths” is more beautiful… it was “fourths” I became.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Easily, easily Scootaloo. Oh, I’ll go on and on about how lovely and artistic Rarity is, or how Rainbow Dash is so awesome, or how Pinkie Pie is just the best friend anyone could wish for… but when I get down to it, it’s always been Scootaloo. I think part of it at first was how the show was reluctant to use her—focusing more on Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle as far as the CMC go—yet something about her as the feisty, Rainbow-Dash-lite of the group drew me in. Yet she’s so much more than that, too; because the show doesn’t really give us much of her family dynamic, there’s a whole lot you can do with that. I know at this point orphan Scootaloo and Scootadoption stuff is fairly clichéd, but even beyond those there are many interesting angles you can take with her. And that combined with the relationships she has with the rest of the CMC, and especially Rainbow Dash, make for a super interesting character to explore.
What’s your favorite episode?
This is directly connected to the last question, but it’s easily, easily “Sleepless in Ponyville”. It came out in Season 3, which was the first full season that came out since I started watching the show—and would end up being my least favourite, overall—but for me it came at the perfect time, as it was really in the midst of the first peak of my excitement and enjoyment of the show. And here was an episode that took this character I’d been curious about and put her centre stage, exploring the core of her being and her insecurities and her relationship with Rainbow Dash, who at that point was my favourite of the Mane 6. I’ve probably seen this episode literally a dozen times, at least, but I could probably watch it a dozen more; I’m just that attached.
What do you get from the show?
Joy. I’m at a weird place right now with the show where I kinda forget that it’s airing as it airs and then I forget to watch the episodes for a few months, or I’m too lazy to get around to it or whatever. But then when I finally put one on and I see the horses in front of me walking around and saying words and doing horse things—that is the best. It’s just such a fun, inviting world and I’m so in love with these characters at this point, I want to see them do whatever dumb stuff they’re gonna do. Yeah, sure, it’s occasionally got strong storytelling or worldbuilding or whatever but in reality? I don’t care too much about that stuff. I just want to see these characters live their lives. Which is then a joy of fanfiction, as it’s just dozens and dozens of people on the internet letting them live their lives in so many different interesting directions that the show can’t even get to.
Plus, of course, I’ve made a whole lot of friends due to the shared interest we have in the horse show, and that’s awesome. My life doesn’t exactly revolve around the show, especially not anymore, but it’s staggering to realise just how much of an impact it’s had.
What do you want from life?
“If I don’t survive, I guess all I want from life is to know that I tried before I died.” –Self, “It All Comes Out in the Wash”
I’m still trying to figure this one out, as I think we kinda all always are. The last year has been one of the most hectic of my life; I basically dropped out of college, worked a job full-time for the first time, and decided I wanted to go to a different college in a different state and study something else, which I’m about to do. There are infinity-plus-one things I could do from this point on, and I know I’m just going to discover more. But what do I want?
Ultimately, I want to create. I want to make as many things as possible, to weave together as many influences I’ve experienced, to create things that other people can (hopefully) enjoy, and hopefully contribute to the massive pile of human art and achievement. I don’t need credit, or thanks, or really anything; it would just be nice if I could do that as much as possible.
Why do you write?
I guess because telling stories is fun. I was an avid reader growing up, and something about the art and presentation of narrative appeals to me. I’ve been trying to write stories for a long time, intermittently; especially relevant were some of the very short stories I was messing around with around the time I started high school, right before I got into the horse show—not because they were good, because they weren’t, but that’s really when I feel like I started to grasp “adult” story structures rather than the sort of storytelling children do (and have a hard time writing). I dabbled with a little original fiction in early high school, attempting NaNoWriMo in 2011 and 2012 to middling results.
Why I write fanfiction is a little more straightforward. I’d basically been wanting to since around when I got into the show… but I’m glad I held myself back because I really don’t think I would have written anything any good, plus I think I was too young to get engaged with the community then. But by the time I was starting to actually talk to people, I got interested in writing fic again. So I dived into NaNoWriMo 2015 and wrote 50,000 words… and ended up publishing a one-shot, “A Frosty November Evening”, that became my first fic on the site. Before then, I didn’t really have any ideas, but over the ensuing months, I had a ton. Way too many to even try to keep up with writing. And so the reason why I even try to write fanfiction now is because I have all these ideas that I want to share, things I think would make great stories and things that I myself would like to read but that don’t exist.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
This is I think where I’m supposed to say “read a lot of fiction”, or at least that’s what I’ve seen everyone else say. And yeah, reading fiction is pretty important, at least to get a sense of how narratives work. But I think much more important than that (or at least important after that) is: 1) have a lot of opinions; 2) have a lot of ideas.
And these aren’t necessarily easy things to accrue. But here’s what I mean, working backwards: having a lot of ideas is important, because you should have options on what you’d like to work on. Having options allows you to decide that ideas you have are crap, and lets you get excited about the ideas that you have that you know are awesome. Pursue those. (But don’t let yourself get bogged down by too many awesome ideas. As for the opinions, well, that’s where they come in. Have strong opinions about what sorts of ideas and stories are cool. Have strong opinions of what you think works in a narrative, what characters are the best for what situations, which characters should totally be smoochin’, or whatever. Have strong opinions. And be willing to change them on a dime if you change your mind, sure. But have them strong when you have them, and let them guide your course.
What inspired “You and Her”?
In early 2016, right when I was getting into writing fanfiction, I started a creative writing course at the university that I decided to take on a lark. Along with writing some short stories (one of which became my short story “The Toy Store”), we read a variety of short stories the professor had selected, to highlight certain things about narrative or voice or various other things, which we discussed in class. I enjoyed the class a lot, and I think it had a great impact on me; but something that greatly irritated me so much about so many of these short stories was that there seemed to be no end to the middle-aged cheating story. Sure, they differed somewhat in presentation and style, but at the core so many of these stories we were reading were of men and women who, for one reason or another, tire of their spouse in the midst of some sort of mid-life crisis. Around this time, I also had the pleasure of seeing the film Anomalisa, which I quite enjoyed… but it dealt with a lot of these themes too. Overall, I found these stories annoying, unrelatable to me in my current situation, and ultimately taking up too much of my time.
In mid-2016, just as summer was starting, I began writing a new idea for a fic titled Let’s Talk About Sex!, a T-rated-I-promise romp wherein Rarity goes and talks to all of her friends one by one about their romance-slash-sex lives while secretly just trying to figure out how to deal with her crush on… somepony. (In the fic, Rarity has a generally free sex life, being pansexual and interested in exploring that side of things with as many ponies are interested, irrespective of romance.) If you go look on my userpage for this fic, you will not find it—because I never finished and published it. Right now as it stands, four out of a planned seven chapters are done. Perhaps I shall get around to finishing it someday, perhaps not.
But why is any of this relevant? Well, in the second chapter (Fluttershy’s) of Let’s Talk About Sex!, Rarity starts to talk about how she hasn’t really been active lately, in part because of her crush on somepony and in part because of an incident involving Fancy Pants that kind of put her off of the whole thing. Yes, what I mean to say is that “You and Her” is, in effect, the result of explaining a noodle incident. I got stalled on the third chapter of LTAS! for a bit, and in the meantime came up with an idea for a story involving Fancy Pants, and Fleur, and cheating—and I put two and two together and threw Rarity into the mix. As I illustrated before, earlier in the year I’d become irritated with that sort of middle-aged adultery story, so… we all become what we despise, I suppose. But I became very interested in showing this type of story in horsefiction—as something I hadn’t really seen—and in some ways flipping the genre on its head, by instead focusing on not the cheater or who they’re cheating with but rather the mare being cheated on, while she knows the entire time.
And, for the record, I actually intended to publish LTAS! first; that was the primary story to which “You and Her” was, in theory, just a sidefic. I finished Y&H in December 2016, actually—and the reason why it took until March 2017 to publish was because I was hoping I might finish the other fic, and publish it, before I did this one. I got impatient, and I’m not unhappy I published this on its own; I think it stands well on its own (and other people, evidently, seem to agree!)
How did you go about keeping Rarity “in character” while taking her somewhere the show would certainly never go?
Some of the people in the comments actually figured out my “secret” to doing this—I didn’t. Frankly, while writing, my laser-focus was on Fleur, and it was from her perspective and understanding the whole thing is written. And Fleur doesn’t really know Rarity, and especially not like we know Rarity. So in some sense, who Rarity is and what she does isn’t incredibly important. But I don’t think this Rarity is unrecognisable, either; when she does actual appear directly in the end of the fic, talking to Fleur, I took care to show that Rarity does know: what she’s done here is wrong, she believes it to be wrong, and in the spirit of her element of generosity she reaches out in her letter, in the epilogue, saying that if Fleur wants her assistance, she’s there to help. A lot of this, though, hinges on whether you believe Rarity when she says she didn’t know the situation, that she believed Fancy’s lie to her.
How carefully did you chose the details—the types of flowers and fabrics and room settings and all—to help convey the feelings Fleur barely lets herself feel?
The flowers in particular were especially deliberate. I mentioned before that I joined Fimfiction in early 2012 just in time to watch The Games We Play by AbsoluteAnonymous conclude, and that indeed was the reason I joined the site and that fic was deeply influential to me. One part of it focuses on the Victorian language of flowers, the notion that particular flowers have particular meanings in a sort of code, and that is what I use here in this fic. And understanding the specific meanings of each one—which is not spelled out in the fic—is not essential by any means, but rather they just serve to add extra colour (no pun intended). The most prominent scene is when Fleur switches out a dying iris (signifying faith, valour, friendship) with a yellow hydrangea (jealousy).
Beyond silly a flair like that, though, I wouldn’t say it’s highly deliberate, just… basic, general things that sort of crop up while writing, things that feel natural. Dreary weather with dreary moods, dark rooms with brooding, little things here and there that accentuate that. Much like in real life, your perception of everything is shaped by how you’re feeling. Since the telling of this story is so intertwined with Fleur’s perspective, as I fell into her feelings my perception of the scene did the same thing.
Where do you see Fleur going from here?
Fleur leaves, or at least I really, really hope she does. I’ve tossed around at least one idea for a direct sequel to “You and Her” to at least one person but… in some sense I think the finality of this story is an important part of it. One thing I did learn from that creative writing class is that you kind of literally have to leave the reader wanting more, but at the same time you know that yeah, this is a complete story. And yeah, this is a complete story. I might have some ideas for where Fleur might go, what she might do, and how she might struggle to even begin to heal… but unless I think those can fall into place in another story and that another story could do this one justice, I think I’ll just keep them in my dumb head.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
One more thing I’d like to emphasize—and someday I will write a blog about this aspect of the fic in addition to some other fics and general thoughts, so I won’t go into it too much—is that another part of “flipping this subject on its head” or whatever I said I was trying to do with this fic is that, specifically, Fleur is queer. Although it is understated throughout most of the body of the fic, it’s important to me personally that Fleur is grappling with these feelings for another mare here alongside the treachery and betrayal of her husband—and it’s the same mare, too. And it’s not even that Fleur is infatuated with Rarity in particular, because as I said, she doesn’t really know Rarity. But these feelings for other mares, which she likely hasn’t really grappled with before, are just another thread weaving into this dense, chaotic emotional tapestry.
And that… it’s kind of staggering to be writing these responses here today. I first starting reading pony fanfiction on Fimfiction when I was 14… six years ago now, more than a quarter of my life ago. Since then I’ve gone on to make dozens of friends, write neat things, and talk to some of the people I’ve long respected in the community. It’s been a fun bizarre journey, and I’m immensely flattered that y’all like my little pony fanfiction enough to put it in your little pony fanfiction highlights reel. Thanks!
Beyond that: huge thanks to the people who pre-read this thing for me: Nonchalant, Chryssi, and 0050005. They’re all great peeps, whose eyeballs were much appreciated. Also a huge shoutout to my lovely friends FloydienSlip whom I love to yell about fics with and who is a national treasure honestly, Misago who was essential in talking out this fic and many others, and Badgie who is a hilarious and amazing person whom is much appreciated in these trying times. And of course Skirts, without whom I wouldn’t have started talking to people in this fandom and wouldn’t have started writing. And, finally, to all my friends, collaborators, and assorted lovely people in fourths club and beyond. You know who you are. Keep on keepin’ on, and live your love through everyone.