Part 10 - Home Cooking
Rarity and Twilight's hushed but vivacious voices could be faintly heard coming from the parlor, spinning their tale of the development of the flight harness with the occasional question or outburst of soft, sandy voiced laughter from Rainbow Dash.
Meanwhile, the Apple sisters busied themselves washing up after dinner. The two mares worked in silence save for the clink of glasses and plates and the rattle of casserole pans under the gushing of the faucet and the soft rhythm of the scrub brush strapped to Applejack's hoof.
Presently, the freckled farm mare sent a sidelong glance to her younger sibling. "So... I couldn't help noticin' that y'all're more than a li'l bit taken with Pip."
Apple Bloom's cheeks went bright red and she avoided meeting her sister's gaze, becoming inordinately engaged in polishing the plate she held in her hooves. She let out a nervous laugh. "What... whatever'd give y'all that idea? He's just our test pony. Any interest in his parts... I mean... on my part is strictly professional."
The blonde earth pony let out a sigh and leaned a foreleg on the sink, turning toward her sibling and giving the young handymare a deadpan look. "Sugarcube, y'all should know better'n t' try n' hornswoggle yer big sister. All the hungry looks y'all were givin' tonight were sailin' past my cookin' and were pointed right at him. I ain't never known a pony t' keep droolin' after the dessert plates had been cleared away."
The red headed mare tossed her bandanna bound mane and rolled her eyes, the plate in her hoof beginning to gleam beneath her dishtowel as she continued to rapidly burnish it. "Well I couldn't help noticin' that y'all were starin' pretty hard across the table at Mr. Soarin."
Applejack snorted and tossed her head in reply, picking up another plate from the soapy water in the sink and scrubbing at it with faster and faster strokes of her scrub brush. "I was just watchin' that ill mannered galoot t' make sure he wasn't gonna embarrass himself and th' rest of us by tryin' t' mash his face into the casserole dish or somethin'."
The two mares lapsed into a tense silence, the scrubbing of Applejack's brush and the squeaking of the plate under Apple Bloom's towel forming a brisk counter rhythm to one another.
Both sisters let out a startled yelp and dropped their plates into the sink with a clatter as a soft voice sounded behind them. "I finally got Windy and the twins settled. So many new ponies certainly had them wound up tonight."
Fluttershy cast a quizzical look between her sisters in law, who'd rounded on her with ears laid back and tails lashing. "Do you girls need any help in here?"
Apple Bloom cast a glare at her big sister. "AJ here needs help understandin' that even though Pip is handsome and brave and charmin' and looks smokin' hot in his uniform and has a smile like all o' Luna's stars shinin' at once and has got a set o' flanks on him y'all could bounce a hoof full of bits off of, that don't mean I wanna grab him by his mane and ..." She blinked, blushing hotter, as she gave her head a shake and hastily cleared her throat. "Well, I kinda lost track o' what I was gonna say but she don't know what she's talkin' about neither."
Applejack pursed her lips and rolled her eyes. "And Apple Bloom here needs t' understand that I ain't remotely interested in an overgrowed foal whose mama never taught him how t' behave in polite company..." A look of distaste scrunched up her muzzle. "I was only watchin' him t' make sure he didn't make too much of a mess on one o' Granny's table cloths."
At this Fluttershy pawed at the ground, raising the eyebrow that wasn't obscured by her draping pink mane. "Um... are you talking about Soarin, Applejack?"
She met her sister in law's gaze. "He never knew his mother. His parents abandoned him when he was a foal, probably because they were earth ponies who couldn't..." Her butter yellow brow furrowed. "... or even worse didn't want to try to raise a pegasus."
The freckled farm mare's jaw went slack as her green eyes widened, her ears laying back on either side of her blonde ponytail. "He... he was... but... then all that stuff I said t' him at th' town hall was..." She let out a moan as she sat heavily on her muscular haunches and raised her front hooves to cover her eyes. "Ohhhh... Sweet Celestia's shimmerin' kiester, I ain't felt this small since that first time I got Poison Joked."
Apple Bloom gave her sister a smug look. "And here we are fresh outta pies."
Applejack favored her with a withering glare before turning her earnest eyes back toward the butter colored pegasus. "I reckon I oughta apologize t' him without pie cloudin' the issue. Where is he right now, Fluttershy?"
The soft spoken pegasus nodded past her shoulder toward a window facing out toward the apple groves outside. "Big bunny took him and Pip out for a little stroll around the farmyard and some stallion talk."
The blonde earth pony untied the cord on her apron and shrugged it off, using her tail to flip her hat off of a peg by the back door and down onto her head. She paused and gave her sister and sister in law a resolute look. "I hope y'all don't mind finishin' up in here, but I got a couple messes of my own t' clean up."
Fluttershy gave her a nod and a smile, as Apple Bloom handed her the towel and shifted positions to take over at washing the dishes. As Applejack headed out the door, the pink maned pegasus turned to her younger sister in law with a gentle smile on her face. "So... um... I think you and Pip would make a really cute couple..."
The red headed earth pony mare let out an exasperated groan and dunked her head in the sink.
Big Macintosh leaned nonchalantly against a large boulder sitting at the edge of Sweet Apple Acre's main compound, nodding casually at a hoof shaped indentation in its cracked, stony face. "Eeyup. Normally when I lay a kick into a boulder o' this size, it just busts into a mess o' smaller pieces, but this ol' colt popped outta th' ground like a big ol' peach pit and flew about a furlong or so. Durn thing landed right on top o' th' wagon I was fixin' to use to haul away the rubble. Smashed it t' flinders, which is pretty ironic when y'all think about it..."
He slowly shook his head as he switched a shaft of hay from one side of his mouth to the other. "AJ was mighty upset 'bout that ol' wagon gettin' busted up."
The hulking red stallion cast a level gaze at Soarin and Pip, who stood gaping at the sheer size of the rock. "And I sure don't like it when anything, or anypony, upsets either of my sisters. I reckon the only thing that'd rile me up more would be somethin' upsettin' my darlin' wife or my little ones. "
The sky blue pegasus cast a nervous glance over at the spotted earth pony as Pip flicked an ear with a quizzical expression on his face. "I say. Surely smashing the wagon wasn't the stone's fault, it was yours." Soarin' blanched, suppressing the urge to cram a hoof into the youthful test pony's mouth.
Big Macintosh nodded slowly as he laid a broad hoof in the indentation, where it fit snugly. "Eeyup, sure 'nuff it was, young feller. That's how come I hauled it over here as a reminder t' be more careful instead o' stompin' it into grit with my bare hooves."
Soarin cleared his throat skittishly, his wide green eyes locked on the boulder. "So... uh... so you can crush rocks with your hooves, huh?"
The huge earth pony slowly switched the straw back to the other side of his mouth. "Eeyup. If'n they're about the size of, say... a stallion's head. Just a li'l downward pressure and they crack like a walnut. I don't dare try t' kick 'em, that just launches 'em oh... maybe about as high up as yer average pegasus can fly. I sure as shootin' wouldn't wanna knock anypony outta th' sky that way."
Pip pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I imagine the local pegasi wouldn't be terribly keen on it either."
At this Big Macintosh gave a chuckle and shook his head. "Nnope. But they know I don't bear 'em any bad feelin's. Heck, my son and daughters are all pegasi, and I want nothin' but clear skies fer 'em."
His chuckle took on a bit of a darker edge as he looked skyward. "'Course, things might git a bit more rocky up there once my li'l gals are old enough t' start datin'."
Soarin let out a strained chuckle of his own as Pip gave Big Macintosh a grin that glinted in the moonlight. "Well, if they grow up to be as lovely as their mother and aunts, which I have no doubt they shall, I daresay the skies over Sweet Apple Acres will be quite awash in hurtling masonry."
The huge red stallion's face was impassive as he gave the spotted earth pony a long, flat stare, slowly working the straw back to the other side of his mouth. "Eeyup."
After another long silence he turned and started walking away. "If'n y'all wanna come with me, I can show y'all th' shed where we keep our cider press."
As the two smaller stallions fell into step behind him, Soarin leaned in with a hoarse whisper, his eyes wide with barely suppressed panic. "Are you trying to get our skulls crushed?"
Pip flicked an ear, looking a bit taken aback by what the heavyset pegasus stallion was saying. "Whatever do you mean, my dear fellow?"
Soarin flared his wings for emphasis, despite a sudden inability to say anything coherent enough to emphasize. "What do I...? Wh... His sisters... Applejack... Me... You... her little sister... the boulder... my face... flying rocks..." He trailed off with a shudder as he saw Applejack walking resolutely up the path toward them.
He tucked his wings tightly to his sides and tried with minimal success to hide his bulkier frame behind Pip. "Uh oh, here she comes. Does she look upset? Please, Celestia, don't let her be upset."
She came to a stop before her hulking brother, meeting his eye with a steady gaze as she gently waved her tail behind her. "Howdy, Mac. I need t' talk t' Mr. Soarin a bit if'n y'all don't mind."
Before the laconic stallion could reply, the sky blue pegasus let out a whicker of stark terror and dropped to the ground with his fore hooves shielding his head. "I'm sorry! Whatever it was I did this time I'm sorry! Please don't be upset with me!"
The trio of earth ponies stared at him with quizzical looks on their faces, before Applejack made eye contact with Big Macintosh and gave a jerk of her head down the path. He nodded and turned to Pip. "Come along, young feller. Lets go grab a couple jugs from the cider cellar and see if'n any o' the gals back at the house would like a taste. I know for a fact Miz Dash'd be game."
As the other stallions receded into the dim moonlight, Applejack walked up to stand beside Soarin's cowering form and cleared her throat. "Y'all wanna walk n' talk for a spell, Mr. Soarin?"
He flinched, then uncovered his eyes and looked up at her from his prone position. "You... you're not upset with me?"
She let out a sigh and gave him a comforting smile as she helped him to his hooves. "As long as y'all ain't upset with me, I reckon maybe you and me can call it even and start over from square one."
The trees rustled as they walked slowly along the perimeter of an orchard with small green apples popping from the ends of every branch. Presently Soarin spoke to Applejack in a tentative voice. "So... last time we, uh... talked, you said you didn't have anything else to say to me." He gazed at her profile with searching eyes. "What changed your mind?"
The blonde mare let out a sigh. "Well, some of the things I said to y'all earlier today seem a lot meaner now that I know a couple things I didn't know before."
The dark maned pegasus cocked his head. "Like what?"
Applejack's head dipped a little as her ears drooped. "Well, Fluttershy told me that y'all were abandoned as a foal."
Soarin could see a slight glimmer at the corner of her eyes as she found her voice to continue. "So all those cracks I made about yer mama not teachin' y'all any manners or you bein' raised by timberwolves... Well... I'm sorry."
Soarin gave a shrug. "No way you coulda known. I don't really like to talk about it. I spent most of my foalhood bouncing from foster home to foster home, which is kinda like bein' raised by timberwolves I guess. I kinda left that all behind me when I got scouted by the Wonderbolts outta high school."
The blonde earth pony let out a long sigh and gave a solemn nod. "Well, as one orphan to another, I know how it is. I don't really talk much about losin' my Ma n' Pa, and my brother's got even less t' say. Apple Bloom was so young she don't really remember 'em at all. I dunno if that makes her the lucky one or not."
The pegasus stallion ruffled his wings. "Well, you had each other, and your grandma, and this farm, which makes you all way luckier than I ever was. I didn't have anything like a family until I joined the 'Bolts."
He gave another shrug, his voice becoming a bit thick with emotion. "'Course that's not quite the same, 'cos as close as I was with my teammates, they all had families of their own that they'd go home to be with on breaks, leavin' me to celebrate Harvest Festival and Hearth's Warming all by myself in whatever hotel buffet I ended up in at the tour's end."
Soarin let out a wry chuckle as he shook his head. "Y'know, for the longest time I thought I was livin' the high life. No ties to anypony but my teammates, no responsibilities except keepin' in shape and learning the routines. Chowing down on top flight cuisine and all the other perks that came from bein' a celebrity. Sure beat the cheap oatmeal and fortified hay I grew up on. I thought I had all I'd ever need."
He shook his head. "And it was that way for a while, but then comes this one night I'm pulling meet n' greet at the Grand Galloping Gala, and as I'm heading in to look good and smile for the cameras, I buy this pie from this pretty... no... this beautiful mare selling from a cart right there on the castle grounds."
He met her eyes, a slight blush flitting across both their faces in the silvery twilight before the stallion looked away again. "I took one bite, and suddenly I couldn't stop eating that pie in big, messy gulps until it was gone, grinning like a foal all the while as I lapped up every little bit of it and licked the plate clean. Something about it filled up this empty space I had inside me that I didn't even know I had. Do you know what it tasted like, Miss Applejack?"
The mare cocked an ear and gave a flick of her tail. "Well, if'n y' bought it off me then I reckon it probably tasted like apples."
Soarin let out a rueful laugh. "Yeah, some of the sweetest apples I ever had, and a crust so light and flakey you'd think it had cirrus clouds mixed in, but that's not what got to me." He drew in a ragged breath, looking around him as a soft breeze rustled through the orchards and swirled into the farm compound.
He finally drew up his gaze to meet hers, a bit of moisture welling at the corners of his green eyes. "It tasted like home."
He gave a halting laugh and a shrug. "I dunno if I can really explain it any better than that."
Applejack stepped forward and pulled him into a hug, laying her chin tenderly on his shoulder and speaking to him in a gentle voice. "I know just what ya mean, sugarcube. I know exactly what you mean."
A short while later they disengaged, and the blonde mare gave him a gentle smile, reaching up to wipe away a tear that was running down his cheek. "Well you listen, Mister Soarin, as long as yer livin' in Ponyville y'all can stop by Sweet Apple Acres anytime and get all th' pie you want."
Soarin choked back a sniffle. "I'd like that, Miss Applejack. I really would..."
He cleared his throat and raised his head a little. "But I've been thinking kinda hard about what you said to me earlier, and I think I'd rather earn that pie than just have you give it to me out of pity."
Applejack's tail gave a twitch as her brow furrowed pensively. "You do ya reckon y'all are gonna do that?"
He shrugged his shoulders, causing his wings to rustle softly in the breeze. "I dunno. I guess I'll start by picking myself up and tryin' to make a better pony out of myself. Get outta this dive and start climbing again. Stop going down, start going up. Clean up, straighten up, shape up. And from there, see how high I can go."
The blonde farm mare looked at him with shining eyes. "Now yer startin' t' sound like a Wonderbolt." She reached up and laid a hoof on his shoulder. "But listen, y'all don't have t' make that climb by yerself. Me and my family, and all the folks in Ponyville, they're here for y'all if'n ya wanna make yer home here."
He shuffled his hooves and gave her a shy smile. "Thanks, Miss Applejack."
The pegasus stallion turned his gaze skyward. "Anyway speaking of home, I'd better be getting back to Rainbow's place and get to bed. I've got my first day with the weather patrol tomorrow."
He blinked in surprise as Applejack leaned in and gave him a peck on the cheek. "Well then good luck to ya. I'm sure it'll be a beaut of a day tomorrow. "
With that, she turned and headed away down the path back to the farmhouse, smiling back at him over her shoulder. "See ya around, Soarin."
The sky blue pegasus stood staring into the soft twilight with a stunned look on his face that blossomed into a besotted smile. As he felt his knees begin to wobble he launched into the air with a whoop, turning a loop in the air before flying off with his legs hanging limply beneath him and a growing trail of little red hearts bubbling in his wake.
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