Part 17 - All Of The Above
As Pinkie and Fluttershy frolicked overhead with their children, the pegasi of Ponyville drifted away one by one or in small groups, their curiosity sated and replaced by assorted pressing needs to get back to whatever they'd been doing. Soon, only three winged ponies remained.
Raindrops and Rumbles touched down in front of Soarin and Applejack, the yellow mare clearing her throat and pawing sheepishly at the ground while the young grey blue stallion averted his eyes and self consciously ruffled his wings. By the grave looks on both of their faces, they appeared to be bearing unhappy news for the sky blue former stunt flyer.
Soarin gave them a cautious smile. "Hey Rum. Chief. What's up?"
Ponyville's senior weather mare opened her mouth to speak, closed it, and looked away, nudging her underling with a wing. "Go ahead. Tell him."
Rumbles fidgeted, and looked at Soarin with a flickering gaze set in a hangdog expression. "I... I'm sorry, Soarin, but I'm afraid I'm gonna have to write you up for improper cloud usage." He hung his head. "The cost of replacing that skimmer is gonna have to come out of your pay for this week."
The young stallion winced as he said it, and couldn't bear to face one of his foalhood heroes. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I'm really, really sorry."
Applejack reared up with indignation flashing in her sharp green eyes. "Now just a dadgummed minute, there. What in tarnation's 'improper' 'bout usin' a cloud t' put out a fire?"
Raindrops let out a sigh and turned to meet her gaze. "That was a decorative shade cloud, not a rain cloud. It was spun up to block sunlight and be pretty, not carry and release precipitation."
Soarin lashed his tail as he explained to the blonde earth pony's confused expression. "Its kind of like using your Granny's nice silver pie server to dig up weeds in your garden. It'll do the job, but it wasn't meant to, it won't really stand up to it for very long, and it's kinda expensive and wasteful."
He fixed his gaze back on his superiors. "It was an emergency, okay? I just used what I had at hoof."
The yellow pegasus mare pursed her lips and shook her head. "You should have gone to the depot and grabbed a Number Four. We always keep a couple at full wetload for fire suppression."
The sky blue stallion snorted in annoyance. "For all I knew the whole farm could have been on fire by the time I got Thunderlane up off his rump with the keys to the shed." At this a pained look crossed Rumbles' face as his wings drooped in chagrin.
Raindrops ruffled her wings and huffed. "Look, we got procedures for this sorta thing, and it's for everypony's safety that we expect you to follow 'em"
She cast Applejack a sidelong glance. "If you wanna showboat and impress the ladies, maybe you ought to try and get your old job back."
The blonde earth pony bristled, her apple green eyes flaring angrily as she stepped up and got in the senior weather mare's face. "And I reckon YOU oughta watch what yer sayin', Raindrops, or th' next thing that comes outta yer mouth might be a few teeth."
Raindrop's eyes flashed and her lip pulled back in a snarl, but before she could respond, Soarin stepped forward and raised a wing between them. "Whoa there, girls. Nopony scheduled a cyclone here today."
He leaned over and gave Applejack a peck on the cheek, causing her scowl to dissolve into a startled blush. "I appreciate you takin' my side, sweetheart, but I gotta own up when I screw up."
He turned toward his superior with an apologetic look, smiling earnestly as a bit of a blush appeared on the pegasus mare's cheeks as well. He gave a rueful shrug. "And I screwed up. Sorry, Chief. I'll take whatever hailstones drop, and try to do better in the future."
Raindrops forced her wings back down into a folded position and cleared her throat, her angry frown changing to a look of flustered conciliation. "W-well, that's all right, Soarin. I... I don't think I need to make Rumbles write up a full on, official reprimand. Just a warning and you paying for a new shade skimmer ought to do."
She met Applejack's gaze with a touch of wistfulness creeping into her expression. "Ponyville should count itself lucky to have a good, solid stallion like yourself on the weather team."
The blonde earth pony gave a nod toward Soarin as a fond smile settled on her face. "I reckon we are." She cleared her throat and extended a hoof. "In fact, we're mighty blessed t' have a whole bunch o' good ponies on th' weather team. I sure as sugar couldn't run my farm without y'all's help. I surely beg yer pardon for gettin' all hot under th' harness at ya, Raindrops."
The bright yellow mare laughed sheepishly and took the apple farmer's hoof. "Well, a fire's enough to get anypony worked up, and I probably said a couple things I shouldn't have myself."
As the two mares shook hooves, Soarin stepped forward and gave Rumbles a pat on the shoulder. "I guess while we're all apologizing, I should say I'm sorry for what I said about your brother just now, Rum."
The younger stallion shrugged, pawing at the ground with a hoof. "Don't worry about it. It was a lot nicer than what our mom says about him." He looked up at Soarin with a furrowed brow. "I'm sorry I didn't take charge of the situation better, or you wouldn't have gotten in trouble in the first place."
The sky blue pegasus gave his younger supervisor a wry grin and gentle shove. "You're doin' the best you can with a showboating slacker like me, kid. Don't sweat it. Water under the cloud." He gave Rumbles a wink. "Just try to keep a tighter rein on me in the future, okay?"
Raindrops let loose of Applejack's hoof and took to the air with a beat of her wings. "Okay, well we better take off. There's so much paperwork fluttering around the office you'd think we were six months overdue for Winter Wrap Up, and today's just gonna add a couple more inches to the pile. C'mon, Rumbles." The younger pegasus dutifully launched and took up a position at her wing.
The weather supervisor gave Soarin a nod. "When you finish here, get over to the park and help Cloudchaser corral all the downwind skimmers, and try not to buck any more of 'em into puddle filling, okay?"
The sky blue stallion threw her a salute. "You got it Chief. See you at the depot." The two pegasi saluted back and then lit out toward Ponyville.
Applejack let out a sigh as she watched them leave, and turned to Soarin with a furrowed brow. "Well, as proud as I am o' ya fer standin' tall n' doin' th' honest thing, it's still a durn kick in th' flank they had t' dock yer pay like that."
Soarin nodded ruefully. "Yeah, I guess I'm gonna be a little short on bits this week." He gave her a wry smile. "Ah well, a few night's eatin' boiled hay will be good for my girthline anyway."
The blonde mare tossed her head. "Hogwash. Yer invited over fer dinner until further notice, mister. It's th' least the Apple family can do t' thank ya."
The former stunt flyer turned weather pony chuckled as he cast a wary glance toward Big Macintosh, who stood a ways off watching his wife and her brood playing in the sky with Pinkie and her kids. "Well, I don't want to upset you, so what else can I do but accept your hospitality." He ignored a sharp glance in their direction from the hulking red stallion as he leaned in to share a brief kiss with the freckled mare.
When they finished, he stepped back and angled his wings for takeoff. "I guess I'll see you tonight." He gave the rest of the Harmony Aeronautics crew a nod and a wave, and lit out toward Ponyville Park.
Tootsie lay curled around her little sister in the perambulator, thoroughly worn out and fast asleep as the late afternoon sun cast longer and longer shadows from the bases of the apple trees. Puddin', in turn, wrapped her tiny hooves around her big sister's Rainbow Dash doll, her serene little face a picture of deep, untroubled slumber as she sucked placidly on one of the stuffed figurine's fore hooves.
A sun baked and wind blown Pinkie Pie gave a fond smile over her shoulder at Sweet Apple Acres' vine festooned, wrought iron gate as she set out on the road back to Ponyville with a subdued spring in her step. She looked up with a broad grin and waved her hoof as the shadow of a heavyset pegasus passed overhead, and continued on her way humming yet another happy tune.
She smiled down on her daughters as she reached into the basinet to tuck a blanket around their softly sleeping forms. "Your papa's gonna be sooo sorry he missed all the fun, but I'd bet my best bundt cake pan he's gonna be super thrilled at how easy it's gonna be to get you little wiggle factories into bed tonight."
A sly grin curled the corner of her mouth as she murmured softly to herself. "He might not have too much trouble getting me there either..."
As Soarin wheeled over the rolling expanse of apple trees, his attention was drawn downward to the clang and jangle of a dinner bell echoing up from the main compound of Sweet Apple Acres, accompanied by a loud cry of "SOUP'S ON, EVERYPONY! COME N' GIT IT!"
He banked and spiraled down, touching hooves to ground right next to Applejack with a broad smile on his sky blue face. "Hey, gorgeous. Did I just hear you playin' my song?"
She gave him a playful shove after accepting a peck on the cheek. "P'shew. Yer sweatin' like a hog in August." She assumed an expression of mock disapproval. "Y'ain't gettin' another taste o' Apples 'til ya wash up, sugarcube."
He responded with a look of mock contrition. "I thought a hard workin' farm mare like yourself would appreciate some good, honest perspiration."
Applejack snorted and tossed her head. "Anyplace but at th' supper table, darlin'. Now just you scoot along t' the pump shed n'..." She trailed off as a pair of winged figures, a spotted earth pony and a smallish purple dragon, rose into the sky over the distant alfalfa field.
Her expression hardened and she lashed her tail as she muttered to herself. "Consarn it, Twilight, I know y'all heard me callin'."
The blonde mare cast a harried look at Soarin. "Sugarcube, would ya do me a favor n' go rustle them wayward colts n' fillies back t' th' farmhouse. Tell 'em if'n they don't come right away they ain't gettin' nothin' but cold oats n' barley water fer their supper."
The sky blue stallion gave a nod and snapped off a salute. "Will do. Back in a few."
With that, he launched into the air toward the tiny, circling figures of Spike and Pip.
Apple Bloom glanced anxiously toward the distant main barn looming over the horizon of apple trees. "Twilight, AJ is gonna be plumb riled up if'n we don't head in fer supper." She glanced down at her side as her stomach rumbled. "And she ain't th' only one who's gonna have somethin' t' say 'bout it."
The lavender unicorn mare flicked an ear and gave a shake of her head. "Look, I just want to get one F.A.T. sequence in before we have to knock off. I'm as happy as anypony that Pinkie got to fly with her daughters, but now we're a day behind schedule." She gave the young earth pony a slightly manic look, a rictus grimace tugging at the sides of her mouth. "The clock is ticking, Apple Bloom!"
The handymare gave her employer a deadpan stare. "I swear t' Celestia, if'n y'all even think about slappin' that hearts fer eyes whammy o' yers on that harness I am gonna clamp yer horn in my bench vice and leave ya there 'til Sunday mornin'."
Twilight's ears drooped, and she gave a nervous chuckle as she backed away from the younger pony's glare. Before she could respond, a stallion's voice called out overhead. "Hey there, girls. Applejack sent me out here to threaten you with cold oats and barley water if you didn't come in for... Oh, now what the hay do you call THAT?"
Apple Bloom and Twilight looked up to see Soarin staring in disbelief at Pip and Spike's erratic flight over the alfalfa field. The sky blue stallion gave an irritated shake of his head and a flick of his tail and launched after them, easily matching pace and dropping into formation between the two young flyers.
The pegasus' brow furrowed as he called to Pip. "You're throwing your center of mass off when you dangle your legs like that. Tuck them up to your belly and keep 'em there. Look, see how Spike's doing it?"
The dragonet's scowl of irritation at having his instruction interrupted vanished into self consciousness as Soarin pointed out his superior form. "See? Forelegs tucked up to the chest, legs sweeping back to control his drag, tail acting as a rudder to keep him steady. Of course, a dragon's got different aerodynamics than a pony, but the same principles apply. If you hang your legs down you look like a mop with wings, and fly just about as well."
Pip complied to his directions, his coltish face lighting up with enthusiasm as his forward flight evened out. "Oh, jolly good! I was afraid any more wobbling and I'd need to bring a bucket up with me."
Soarin grinned at him. "That's the stuff, kid. Now lets see you do a right turn, and when I tell you to let your hooves relax a bit on the left to help you get a little momentum."
A couple of hours later the two stallions sat at the Apple family table excitedly chattering about aerodynamics and flight techniques over bowls of uncooked oats and cloudy cups of water. At Pip's side, Apple Bloom sat sullenly chewing on her cold, very late dinner and casting black looks at them and Twilight, while Applejack worked in the kitchen at the sink, scrubbing dishes and occasionally glaring over her shoulder as their conversation waxed and waned. Granny Smith had long since retired to bed, and Fluttershy and Big Macintosh had just been taking Windfall, Blossom, and Bud upstairs to put them down for the night when the group had finally come in to eat.
Neither Apple sister's scowls could match Spike's sulking, as he sat with trails of black smoke curling from his nostrils behind a heap of empty bowls and cups with his arms crossed over his leathery chest. Eventually he stood up, excused himself, and stalked out of the dining room, down the hall, and out the front door. The stout planks of the porch groaned slightly as he sat heavily down and slumped forward with his serrated jaw resting on the palms of his clawed hands.
Soon afterward he heard the scuff of hooves behind him accompanied by the creak of the Apple family's screen door. He kept silent as Twilight sat down next to him, staring over the treetops at the distant, untamed clouds drifting over the Everfree. He ruffled his leathery green wings. "I guess this means I'll be going back to pushing papers and taking notes, now that you've got a real flight expert to help Pip."
The lavender unicorn mare sighed, and edged a little closer, placing a hoof on his shoulder as she leaned in to speak softly to him. "Aw Spike, I know it hurts, but sometimes you just have to accept that there might be somepony who can do a better job at something than you can. You remember when Owlowicious moved in with us? Just because he was naturally better suited to stay up all night and help me didn't make you any less my number one assistant. You needed your sleep so you could grow up into the big, strong dragon you are today."
Spike let out a defeated sigh. "I know. I know. I even learned a couple of things while Soarin was showing Pip his stuff." He gave a petulant shrug. "I guess I can't really compete with a Wonderbolt anyway."
Twilight gently stroked the scales on his upper arm. "For what it's worth, I kind of know how you feel."
She met his quizzical gaze with a wistful grin. "When you started learning how to fly, I know it seemed like I was always nagging at you and fussing over you, but truth be told I was never really worried about you. Not really. Keeping you safe wasn't what kept me awake at night. You're a dragon! Even when you were a baby you could take a belly flop into a pool of molten lava without breaking a sweat. "
A rueful look washed across Spike's face as he absently rubbed his belly at the distant memory. "It still stung like a buck. But..."
She held up a hoof. "No, the thing that was really bothering me was that you were learning things that I couldn't help to teach you. For the first time in your life I couldn't share that experience with you. I was so jealous of Sir Concord and Sir Destrier, watching them guide you as you spread your wings over the towers while I was forced by gravity to just stand below and watch."
She rested her chin on her hoof, her posture mimicking the looming young dragon's. "When I heard about Pinkie's problem with her pegasus daughters, it really struck a chord with me. I guess I wanted to solve it for my own benefit as much as hers, or little Pumpkin Cake's sake."
She let out another sigh. "Although I suppose that barn door's already too far open for me, you're already getting so good at flying and you'll probably be the one teaching me how to do it once I've perfected the harness."
Twilight absently traced circles on the rough boards of the porch with her free hoof. "That is if you don't have anything better to do. It's hard for me, but I guess I'll just need to get used to the idea that the older and bigger you get, the more you're going to be your own dragon and chart your own flight path."
Spike smiled down at her as she reached up and wiped away a tear. He lifted his chin from his palm and reached down to lay his arm across his guardian's withers. "You can fly along with me anytime you like, Twilight. I'll never leave you behind." He gave her a gentle squeeze. "Dragons keep what they treasure."
Her only response was a contented sigh as she nestled in to his side with a tear rolling down her cheek.
Appljack came stomping emphatically into the room shortly after Twilight had followed Spike outside, and set about gathering up the empty bowls and cups that had been left behind. She cast one icy glare at Soarin, spun on her hooves, and stomped back out again with the dinnerware balanced on her back. The two stallions cast a wary look at one another, their enthusiastic conversation about flight techniques finally stilled, then looked over at Apple Bloom.
The young mare rolled her eyes and jerked her head toward the kitchen door as she met Soarin's gaze. "Well! Git yer tail in there and tell her that yer sorry, ya consarned nitwit."
The sky blue former stunt flyer opened his mouth to argue, traded another uncertain glance with Pip, then let out a sigh and got up to follow Applejack.
Apple Bloom watched him go with her ears laid back and her jaw set pugnaciously. When the door closed behind him, she turned to Pip, her amber eyes glittering as a sly smile appeared beneath the faint blush of her cheeks. "So... Y'wanna go into th' parlor n' make out?"
The young stallion brightened up with a gleaming smile. "Oh rather!"
Pip got to his hooves and pulled the chair out for Apple Bloom. As the young couple turned toward the archway leading into the hall, their faces fell. There Big Macintosh loomed with all the sternness of a mountain crag.
A long, anxious moment later a cheerful smile spread across his freckled face, and he presented a scuffed and battered cardboard game box balanced on a broad hoof. "So! Who all's up fer a game o' parcheesi?"
Soarin poked his head into the kitchen with a sheepish look on his face to the clatter of dishes being brusquely done in the Apple family's worn old porcelain sink. He ruffled his wings in the awkward silence as Applejack stood lashing her tail behind her, aware of his presence but unwilling to acknowledge it. He tentatively cleared his throat. "Hey... uh... look, I'm sorry I made us all late for dinner."
She drew herself up archly. "Well, I'm sorry y'all had t' miss out on my special baked artichoke hearts n' scalloped 'taters n' summer greens with apple pan dowdy fer dessert, but y'all knew the consequences and y'all made yer choice."
The sky blue stallion rolled his eyes and let out a long breath. "Yeah. You said if we were late it was gonna be cold oats n' barley water, and according to your friends you never lie, so that's what I should have expected."
He pursed his lips. "If I'd have known it was also gonna come with such big slices of grief on the side then maybe I'd have been better off just havin' boiled hay back at my place."
The blonde mare rounded on him with flaring eyes. "Yeah, well maybe y'can just choke on yer boiled hay, ya slack jawed, bob tailed... no account... ungrateful... galoot..."
When she met his gaze she trailed off, her anger dissipating as a look of chagrin settled on her face. She let out a deep breath of her own and rubbed her forehead with a hoof. "Awww, shoot. Y-yer right. I'm just throwin' a dumb ol' hissy fit 'bout nothin', ain't I?"
Soarin stepped forward and took her hoof in his. "No, I screwed up yet again. Your cooking is amazing, and you made that... that feast special for me, 'cos you knew I'd be coming by tonight, didn't you?" The farm pony gave a halting nod as she averted her gaze.
He let out a sigh as he pulled her into a hug."You do your best to make me feel at home and what do I do but turn right around and fly away, leaving you standing here waiting with platters going cold and empty seats at the table. Well, I'm really sorry. You're a special mare, and you don't deserve to have your feelings blown off that way by a dumb, thoughtless sleet-head like me."
Applejack let out a sniffle and squeezed him back. "Well, I reckon I oughta know better than t' try n' tie a pegasus down. Truth is flyin' comes as natural t' y'all as feelin' the good ol' dirt under my hooves is t' me n' my kind. No amount o' my home cookin' is gonna keep ya outta th' wild blue yonder fer long."
He reared back to look her in the eyes, a look of realization dawning on his face. "You know what? I don't see why that has to be a choice anymore. Why can't we both have it all?"
The blonde mare cocked an ear as a quizzical expression furrowed her brow. "What're ya talkin' about? I don't follow."
He turned and put his wing across her muscular shoulders, leading her out of the kitchen with an enthusiastic grin on his face. "You will! You can! Come with me!"
Twilight and Spike turned with ears and aural spines, respectively, perked at the sound of two sets of hooves stepping out onto the porch behind them. There they saw Soarin and Applejack standing with earnest, excited looks on their faces, although there was an underlying note of barely contained, full galloping panic in the set of the farm mare's jaw, the flick of her tail, and the shifting of her eyes.
The sky blue pegasus stepped forward with an expectant grin. "Doctor Sparkle? Applejack and I have a favor to ask..."
As the receding sun bathed Sweet Apple Acres in a honey colored light while the sky blushed on the horizon in streaks of orange and vermilion, a scraggly bush was making its determined way along the perimeter of the sprawling farm, coming to a stop beside a secluded stretch of fence.
Two heads popped out of the leafy mass, one short necked and round and the other long necked and angular, but both hidden by black balaclavas, with the hatchet faced pony's mask bearing an extra hole in the forehead for a sharp yellow horn. They took a long, furtive look around, and then withdrew back into the mobile foliage.
After a brief bout of shuddering and rustling, a squat little earth pony wrapped from head to hoof in a form fitting black bodysuit clambered up the rungs of the fence, getting hung up at the top as he struggled to heft his rotund frame over with a low undertone litany of grunts and curses.
The taller pony's head popped up out of the shrub and glared up at his struggling companion with bloodshot eyes narrowed in exasperation. After watching the dwarfish earth pony flail his stubby legs trying to surmount the fence, the scrawny unicorn reared back and jabbed him in the rump with his horn, sending him over with a gravelly yelp followed by a soft thud.
With a nod of satisfaction, the gangly figure lifted the bush up and over his head and then tossed it over the fence, where it crashed down on the shorter pony with a muffled clatter just as the stunted creature was climbing painfully to his hooves. The black clad unicorn then proceeded to grab the top rung of the fence and haul himself over, landing in the bush and prompting another grunt of discomfort from his companion as he landed on top of him.
After a brief round of sotto voce recriminations the ersatz shrub was on the move again, creeping among the apple trees like a gigantic wooly caterpillar with eight hooves scampering along beneath it. After following a long, winding, stop and go route through the orchard, the scuttling bush finally settled at the foot of a tree within a short trot's distance to the barn that Harmony Aeronautics was occupying. The logo that Rarity had designed stood out boldly against the red painted walls in the golden evening light.
The tall skinny unicorn reared up, took another look around, and after determining that the coast was clear bounded out of the bush and cleared the distance, dropping into a tuck and roll at the end that brought him up against the corner of the barn. Pressing himself flat against it on his hind legs, he oozed around the corner and up to the doors, his angular head constantly scanning his surroundings.
With a tentative, shaking hoof, he reached out and flipped one of them open, flinching back and covering his face in the crook of his foreleg. After a moment he relaxed, giving a contemptuous snort. "Amateurs..."
He turned and whistled toward the bush and gave a jerk of his head, then ducked inside as the short, stumpy figure scuttled in a straight line across the brief span, laden with a duffel bag roughly twice his size that clanked and clattered softly as he moved. When he'd disappeared inside the barn, the long neck of the taller one craned out, took a final look around, and yanked the door shut behind him.
A sickly green light illuminated the darkened interior of the barn as the scrawny unicorn sparked his horn to life, his eyes glittering with sinister intent as he advanced on the empty flight harness. The mechanism laid open on a framework that Apple Bloom had constructed, sitting atop the square platform among ropes trailing from pulleys in the rafters, looking rather like a giant moth caught in a spider's web.
A low chuckle issued forth from a sneer hidden beneath the black weave of the lead intruder's balaclava. "There it is, Otto. It's almost a thing of beauty. Like a block of marble waiting for the sculptor's chisel"
The chunky little earth pony grunted his agreement as he scuttled at his taller companion's heels under his faintly clanking burden. "Yeh, bozz. I got chisels. Got gouges and an adze too."
The unicorn cracked his bony neck and turned, the glow around his horn flickering as he used his magic to take hold of the zipper on the duffel bag and unzip it. "Good. Good. But I think this particular work calls for a subtler approach."
With that, a large fire ax floated up out of the bag in a cloud of green magic that reflected in the black clad intruder's bloodshot eyes as he brought it around in front of him. His rotund little companion heaved the bag off his shoulders with a grunt, the loud crash of it hitting the floor causing the unicorn to arch his back like a startled cat and bobble the axe.
He turned with a hoarsely whispered snarl and smacked his assistant across the face with a flick of his tail. "Quiet, you simpleton! If those hayseeds catch us in here we'll be lucky if the least they do is tar and feather us."
The squat earth pony cringed and nodded obsequiously, then ducked his head into the duffel bag and came out with a hacksaw clamped in his teeth, his mask puckered around the handle. His companion snorted, gave a nod of satisfaction, and turned back toward the flight harness, raising the axe to strike.
The creak of the door's hinges and the sound of voices sent a shock of alarm along both ponies' spines to the tips of their tails, making them to frizz out like brushes, and continued down their legs, causing them to splay out, and then dance frantically in a staccato of muffled hoof beats as their heads darted in all directions.
A moment later sunlight flooded the empty room, shining on the broad white wings of the flight harness as one of the nearby ropes swayed gently in the sparkling dust motes. The shadows of several ponies and a dragon stretched across the floor from the silhouetted figures of Twilight Sparkle, Apple Bloom, Pip, Applejack, Soarin, Big Macintosh, and Spike.
The lavender unicorn inventor led the way with the red headed handymare in tow. The young earth pony swished her tail behind her as she grinned expectantly over her shoulder at her elder sibling. "Come on, sis. There ain't nothin' to be afraid of."
Her blonde maned elder sibling set her jaw and braced her hooves at the threshold. "I ain't afraid. I just don't wanna chance breakin' yer doohickey here with yer big show fer th' princesses comin' up so fast."
Apple Bloom tossed her head as she took hold of one of the ropes, giving it a tug and lifting the harness up off of it's framework. "Don't worry. This baby's built right sturdy. It'd probably carry Big Macintosh if the straps were long 'nuff t' go 'round him."
The massive red stallion gave a slow shake of his head. "I'll pass. I just came out t' see that nopony gets hurt." He cast a sidelong glare at Soarin that caused the sky blue stallion to ruffle his wings skittishly. The freckled behemoth muttered under his breath. "Or needs t' be..."
Pip spoke up with a grin. "Have no fear, old bean. I can attest to the fact that we've got a cracking safety team in Doctor Sparkle and Spike. Plus Mister Soarin will be up there with her the whole time. She's in the best of hooves."
Big Macintosh gave him a long, flat stare, and then looked back at the flight harness as his youngest sister busied herself helping Twilight check it over, a tiny sigh rumbling deep in his barrel chest.
The pegasus stallion sidled up beside Applejack and gently brushed a wing down her side. "Look, sweetheart, if you really don't want to do this, I'll understand."
She gave him a fragile smile. "No, I wanna. I know yer tryin' t' share somethin' special with me."
He smiled back. "Yeah, but you were tryin' to share your cookin' with me tonight and I gave it a pass. Fair's fair."
The farm mare let out a chuckle. "Well I tell ya what, I'll bake y'all a couple o' pies so we're even, and y'all better eat every crumb."
Soarin gave a toss of his head and laughed, then leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. "Hah! Twist my wing, why don't you?"
Big Macintosh narrowed his eyes at the display of affection, but suddenly found his vision obscured as a battered cowpony hat was casually tossed in his face. "Hold my hat for me, willya Mac?"
Applejack reached up a hoof and pulled Soarin into a longer kiss, and then turned to her grinning younger sister. "Okay, AB. Strap me on in t' this flaptrap." Their elder brother let out a resigned sigh and plonked the hat on his head with a broad hoof.
Twilight looked up from her checklist with a wry expression. "This is another one that Rarity's gonna be positively livid about missing."
Applejack let out a nervous chuckle as Apple Bloom lowered the harness onto her back and began to carefully secure the buckles. The blonde mare gave her friends a grin. "Aw, she'll live. Celestia knows we'd be harvestin' a bumper crop o' smug if'n she was here."
She looked wryly at one of the canvas and ash wood wings as her younger sister manipulated it. "I reckon Rainbow Dash'll be plumb sorry she ain't here t' see this too."
Twilight chuckled as she gave her clipboard a final glance and set it aside. "It's a good thing she's not here, she'd inevitably want to race you, and I'd like to do some more stress testing before I'd be willing to put our prototype through that."
Spike snorted from where he leaned against the doorpost. "As if Pinkie didn't put it through it's paces enough today."
Applejack grinned at the lavender unicorn. "Anyhow, I'd wanna get some practice in 'fore I went up against Dash on her home turf."
Apple Bloom stepped back from her sister's side with a nod to the others. "Well, no time like th' present t' get started. She's ready t' go up."
Soarin stepped up beside Applejack with an expectant smile, which she returned with a nod. With that, they set out for the alfalfa field at a trot with their friends and family in tow.
As they made their way out of the improvised hangar/workshop, one of the dangling ropes groaned high in the rafters, taut with the weight of a gangly limbed unicorn who strained to hold onto the rope with a large axe clenched in his teeth and a surprisingly heavy runt of an earth pony with a large duffel bag of solid metal tools hanging from his neck and severely restricting his breathing.
Several pigeons who had been nesting in an out of the way corner of the barn's superstructure had taken an interest in this lumpy new feature in their domain while the ponies had busied themselves below, and the flock was currently testing it out as a suitable roost.
One of their number, whose rather delicate digestive system had afflicted her with incontinence, was settled as comfortably as her irritable bowels would allow on a pointy yellow prominence toward the top. The faint but insistent shiver that was running through her perch was making it difficult for her to contain herself.
Big Macintosh's placid exterior hid a rather irritable mood as he waited patiently by the door as the others trotted past, then kicked it shut with a bit more force than may have been warranted. The barn door slammed shut with a bang, and the massive stallion cocked an ear as he thought he heard an echoing crash accompanied by a strangled scream coming from inside.
He shrugged it off and hurried after the group, not wanting to be left behind.
In the darkness of the vacated barn, the rawboned unicorn lay sprawled under the crushing weight of his groaning assistant and a bag loaded with painfully angular tools. The suns rays under the door glinted off of the blade of the axe, which had missed the tip of his horn by a hair's breadth. Something acrid and vile smelling was oozing down the bridge of his muzzle, and that was the last sensation he was aware of as his bloodshot eyes rolled back into his head and sweet unconsciousness enveloped him like a cool drink of cider.
As they walked the gently winding path through the apple trees, Big Macintosh kept quiet, as usual, at the back of the group, watching his beloved sister and that nervy pegasus fella. He couldn't hear what they were saying to one another as they ambled along side by side, but he could see the look in their eyes. The ruddy earth pony knew that look. It was the same one he shared with his wife, that he felt with such a powerful stirring inside that it made her infamous stare seem like a casual wink from a stranger.
The big stallion cast a glance up at the battered old hat, sitting atop his tousled orange mane. It had been his pappy's hat, a token and a talisman of love and protection from the sweet by and by, and a reminder of his own duty to look after his little sisters.
He knew. They knew.
Big Macintosh switched his ever present stick of straw from one side of his mouth to the other and gave a slow nod of agreement and murmured to himself. "Eeyup."
They soared like eagles, with vast orchards sweeping past beneath them as Celestia's setting sun gilded the leaves and turned the apples to glinting rubies. Tiny ponys, like colorful little figurines on the flat quilt patch of the distant alfalfa field watched them intently as the pegasus and his mare traced their arcs across the darkening sky.
Applejack's golden mane and tail trailed behind her like victory flags as she whooped and laughed and sang wordless songs of pure exhilaration. Soarin glided easily at her side, feeling something of the pure thrill of flight rekindling inside him as it poured off of his companion in waves warmer than the sun's receding rays.
She glanced over at him with a wide smile on her face, that faded to a question as she saw he was staring at her with his gleaming green eyes. The farm mare's ears weren't adapted to hear voices over the whistling wind that howled past them, but she could read the pegasus stallion's lips just fine as he said just three words to her. With tears streaming from beneath her goggles, she replied, and he heard her loud and clear.
They welcomed the moon as it rose, wheeling over the fields and trees as the fireflies rose up to glow for one another's love. The two ponies, a pony of the earth and a pony of the sky, settled on the roof of Sweet Apple Acres' massive barn, and held one another close as Luna's delicately crafted panorama of stars came out in answer to the glittering vista below.
The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.