Looking around the shimmering lake and the clear blue skies above it, Troy breathed in deeply as he savored this moment. Even though his cloud was now long gone, the Gryphon didn't seem to really miss it at all; he saw how stunning this area really was without it. Now that there was no evidence that anyone lived around here, the lake and waterfall seemed much more natural, as if it was supposed to be an untouched little paradise. However, Troy's feeling of serenity vanished as he heard Rainbow Dash's voice call out from the waterfall.
"DUDE! This lake is really cool! Why the hay didn’t I ever notice this place before?"
Troy could only shrug as he turned his attention to the Pegasus, who was now shooting herself across the lake, soaring only a few inches above the water as it rippled and waved underneath her. Picking up her speed as she reached the edge, the waves she was making turned into a large riptide, causing Troy to shoot up into the sky to avoid getting hit by the wall of water aimed straight at him. Even though he was able to dodge the wave before it splashed into the grass, it didn’t stop Rainbow Dash from laughing as she saw how quickly Troy reacted. As the Gryphon flew up to her height, Rainbow was quick to give a smirk before speaking to him.
"Man, your reflexes are way quicker than I thought! I'm kinda surprised you don’t try being a Wonderbolt or something."
Rolling his eyes, Troy could only smirk back to the mare as he looked around the area that was formerly his place of residence. "Eh, stunt flying isn’t really my thing. Besides…" Troy turned back to Rainbow Dash, carrying a grin on his beak as he narrowed his eyes at her. "… I'd rather not kick your butt for that kind of position."
"You better not!" said the mare in a jabbing tone as she pointed a hoof to the Gryphon with a grin. "Plus, it seems like you caught the acting bug after that whole play thing."
"I think I really did!" said Troy as he smiled at her. "I mean, I didn’t expect to enjoy doing that kind of thing after all those rehearsals, but, man! Hearing that applause was totally worth it!"
"Yeah, hearing ponies cheer your name can totally do that." Rainbow then dropped her smile a little as she spoke to Troy in a more serious tone. "Just don’t let that kind of thing get to your head, dude. Seriously, I kinda know from experience."
"Yeah, I heard about that,” said Troy as he looked back at her. After spending six months in Ponyville, stories about some of the ponies had become common knowledge to the Gryphon, including the Mare-Do-Well incident. While he was surprised that Rainbow Dash's friends would do something that intricate and over-the-top just to teach her a lesson, he also knew Rainbow long enough to realize that she probably needed something that big for the lesson to stick. And considering how well-adjusted the mare was about the whole thing, Troy knew to keep her advice in mind. "Honestly, I wasn't thinking of doing anything huge with this acting thing. I might do some more shows here and there, but that's about it."
"I dunno",” said Rainbow Dash with a skewed eyebrow towards Troy. "I'm not much of a musical fan, but even I can tell you could be really big at it. Who knows, maybe you can even get a gig in Canterlot or something!"
"Doubt it,” said the Gryphon with a skeptical smirk on his beak. As he hovered in the air, Troy looked back to the forest, seeing his new home in the distance before turning to the mare. "Besides, there's no way I would go anywhere if it meant leaving Canvas."
Seeing how lovestruck Troy was, Rainbow Dash smiled at him before looking back at the waterfall. "I guess I can understand that, but did you really have to move to his place? I mean, I seriously want to make a second cloud home here if you're not using it! This isn’t that far from his barn, so it's not like you two were that separated. And you can’t tell me you prefer his shower over that huge waterfall!"
Troy chuckled a little, realizing Rainbow had a valid point. He'd only been living with Canvas for a couple of weeks now, and the only major complaint he could even think of was how small that bathroom really was. Even though the Apple Family helped place a larger outdoor shower at the back of the barn so he could get a decent wash, Troy knew that it was nothing compared to that waterfall. However, even a change like that was more than worth it.
He turned back to Rainbow Dash and said, "Honestly, I have no regrets about my decision. I'm living with the love of my life, I'm still close to work, I don't have to worry about my stuff falling through that cloud, and I'm not sleeping alone anymore. Plus, Canvas's bed is really comfortable!"
The mare could only give Troy a light smirk before she spoke. "So… is he still working on that painting for Celestia?"
"Yeah,” said the Gryphon as his smile dropped a little, "I'm really happy that he's so dedicated to something like this, but he's practically been living in that studio to get it done! And he's been insistent that no one sees it. He even bought a huge blind to cover it so I wouldn’t peek from over the wall!"
"Well, at least he's not slacking off,” said Rainbow Dash. "That Grand Galloping Gala is in less than two months, you know."
"Yeah, I know,” said Troy with a smile. "Canvas already got the tickets so I can go with him."
"Well, good for you!" Rainbow then bumped his shoulder with her hoof before asking in an optimistic tone of voice, "Got anything big planned for the night?"
"Well, I've been wanting to visit the Canterlot Concert Hall. I didn’t get the chance to go last time, so I'd really like to see it while we're there."
"Oh, alright." While she looked alright with his answer, Troy noticed a hint of underwhelmed surprise in Rainbow's eyes, making him suspicious as he eyed her.
"Why? Were you expecting me to say something else?"
"No, no it’s fine, Troy. I just…"
Rainbow Dash thought about her statement for a second before she looked back at him curiously. "I just expected you to be planning something big with your coltfriend in Canterlot. I mean, you two DID get together there!"
"Yeah,” said Troy as he realized what the mare was saying, looking a little disappointed as he spoke. "We should… but it's not like we can go back to that hotel. We kinda got banned from there after I bent that railing. Plus, we got in some trouble for all the stains we left in the room."
Rainbow snickered a little as she looked at Troy, making him quickly put up a talon to her before clarifying, "Strawberry stains! Get your mind out of the gutter!"
"Yeah, sure,” muttered the mare, looking away from him with a smirk.
"I'm serious!" said Troy in a more irritated tone of voice. "We were having a strawberry fight in the room. We also had a… pillow fight… which was another reason we got in trouble with housekeeping…"
Rainbow Dash kept a skewed eyebrow on the embarrassed Gryphon as she turned back to him, shaking her head in disbelief before she spoke in a dubious tone of voice. "So, let me get this straight. You had a strawberry fight… and a pillow fight… with a gay guy…"
"Yes." While he was sure Rainbow was going to add something to his statement, Troy honestly couldn’t come up with a better answer to her question than that as he waited for her reply.
"And you did this… before you realized you like dudes?"
"Shut up!" Troy waved a claw at her and looked away, not wanting to deal with her badgering as he tried to change the subject. "But, anyway, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do for the Gala. But you're right, I should do something special."
"Just give it a little thought,” said Rainbow as she put a hoof to his shoulder. "Despite how I mess with you, I can tell you two are a great couple. I just want you to be happy with him."
Troy turned back to Rainbow, keeping a smile on his beak as he replied, "Yeah… thanks." Troy then looked back at the waterfall, sighing a little before he looked back to Rainbow Dash. "Just so you know, I probably won’t be building a cloud here again, so you can do what you want with it if you’re interested."
Rainbow Dash put out a hoof to Troy. He quickly clenched his talons to bump it in agreement.
Troy landed back in front of the barn, savoring the moment as he realized this was now his new home. Looking over the white walls--which were still blank, due to Canvas's busy schedule--the Gryphon hoped the two of them could do some extra painting to the place. While he wasn't a good painter by any means, Troy still felt like helping out with whatever mural Canvas decided to do for this. Hearing the faint noise of classical music from inside, Troy smiled a little as he opened the door.
Walking into the living quarters, Troy could hear his record of the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra playing on his record player, which was now resting proudly against the wall next to the door to Canvas's workspace. Looking over the shelf of records that stood next to the player--as well as a small rack of cassettes on top from Troy's growing collection for his walkman--the Gryphon felt a lot better about not living on a cloud anymore. He realized he'd no longer have to worry about his stuff falling through to the ground if the cloud wasn't concentrated enough.
Troy looked back to the other side of the room, seeing the space between the kitchen and bathroom doors, which held two large frames with newspaper headlines inside. The first one, from the Canterlot Press, was a large headlining spread that boasted a large picture of Canvas. The stallion smiled in the photo as he stood next to Celestia, with Twilight and Troy next to them. Above the picture, the title stood out in bold, black text as it displayed the large story:
Princess Celestia Inducts the Very First Earth Pony Artist for Canterlot Castle
Seeing how overjoyed Canvas looked in that picture, Troy smiled as he stared at it, slowly turning his head as he looked at the frame next to it. While the headline wasn't nearly as large or fancy, Troy still felt really proud as he looked over the framed front page of the Ponyville Tribune, showing a great picture of him and the rest of the cast from the play in full costume. Standing between Derpy and Pierce in the middle of the group photo (and towering over everypony by at least two feet), Troy was pictured smiling with his mask still on. The title was displayed underneath in a tasteful font:
Ponyville Production of “Phantom of the Opera” A Huge Success!
Above both of the frames, hanging on a small tack on the wall, was Troy's Phantom mask, which was given to him by Stage Presence after the last show ended. While the orange mare tried to make it sound like it wasn't much of a gift, telling him that it was made for his face anyway, Troy could tell that she was really trying to be nice to him after all the hard work he went through.
Looking at the white, porcelain mask as it hung securely against the wall, Troy felt absolutely incredible as he thought back to what Rainbow Dash said. Even though he knew he really could do this as a career if he wanted to, Troy couldn’t feel better with how his life had gone right now.
After all the years he spent listening to his grandparents, hearing their fantastic stories about being in Equestria, Troy could finally feel that same amazing feeling they did. Thinking back to how much those two Gryphons loved each other--despite some of the odd stares they got from others while in public--Troy felt his heart get lighter as he realized he now had that same type of love for someone. While it may have come from an unexpected source, the Gryphon couldn’t care less as his mind went back to Canvas, knowing the pony was back in his studio.
Realizing he was finally able to do something he wanted to do for a while, Troy hopped up on top of the wall to Canvas's workspace, perching himself as he looked over to the large blind Canvas put up as he heard the pony paint.
Clearing his throat, Troy felt a huge grin grow on his beak as he called out to Canvas, speaking in a loud and confident tone.
"Honey, I'm home!"
While many would've thought it to be silly to anticipate saying something that cheesy, Troy didn’t really care as he saw Canvas's head pop out with a smile on his face. Seeing the Gryphon perched on the wall, Canvas trotted over as Troy dropped back into the living space, waiting until the pony came out the door before grabbing him.
As the classical music continued to play on the record player near them, Canvas was quick to kiss Troy on the beak before hugging him. Pulling his head back from Troy's shoulder, Canvas kept a slightly embarrassed look on his face before he turned his attention to the record player.
"I… I may have been listening to some of your records while you were gone. It's a nice inspiration for my painting."
"Well, that's good to know,” said Troy as he nuzzled Canvas. "So…what do you think of my music tastes?"
"Well…" Canvas looked back to the large shelf of records before saying, "I found some of those records from your brother's band, Talon Ripper."
"Ooh." Troy winced a little as he remembered those being in his collection. Despite the tensions he had with his brothers regarding that stupid will, Blade was still insistent on mailing him a few of the new records their band released. While he never really listened to them, or any of the other Talon Ripper records he already had before coming to Equestria, Troy still held onto them, since they were from family. However, the Gryphon knew that Gryphonian Death Metal was probably a bad thing to leave lying around for a pony to hear.
"So,” said Troy worriedly as he kept his attention on Canvas, "you… you didn’t listen to those, did you?"
"Well…" Canvas's face scrunched in a little as he answered Troy's question. "I did listen to a little of one of the records. The one called… Manticore Massacre or something…"
Troy cringed at hearing that. Knowing how graphic the cover art for that record was alone, the Gryphon didn’t want to imagine how his boyfriend reacted to actually hearing the lyrics. "Oh boy. I… I'm sorry."
"Oh, don't be!" said Canvas in a reassuring tone as he looked back to Troy with a smile. "I wasn't a huge fan of it, but I can tell your brother has some good lungs on him. Plus, it's kinda cool to know you're not the only songbird of the family."
Troy chuckled a little, realizing that Canvas was technically right. "Yeah,” said the Gryphon as he looked back at his coltfriend, "I guess Blade would be happy to know that. Although he would probably freak out if he knew I was with you."
"Whatever,” said the pony as he gave Troy a peck on the cheek. "I'm sick of caring about what others think."
With that, Troy moved forward as the two kissed once more, neither of them noticing that the record stopped playing next to them. As the silence enveloped them, Canvas's lips made a light smooching sound as they moved away from Troy's beak, leaving them both blushing before Canvas was able to say something.
"I…" The pony looked back to the open door to his studio before turning back to Troy with a sheepish smile. "I gotta finish my painting. I'm almost done with it."
"Of course,” said Troy with an understanding smile as he bent in and kissed him again.
After Canvas went back into his workspace and closed the door behind him, Troy exhaled as he kept a smile on his beak. At that moment, a million different thoughts raced through his mind about what he wanted to do right now. Thinking about Rainbow's suggestion to do something special for the Grand Galloping Gala, Troy decided to start on making dinner, hoping that he could use that as a way to help organize his thoughts.
Pulling the garlic bread out of the oven, Troy was disappointed to see that, despite his best efforts, it was still burnt around the edges. Even though his cooking hadn’t improved very much since moving in with Canvas, Troy was finally able to make some meals for the both of them without setting off the smoke alarm any more.
As he turned off the burner and began pouring the steaming pot of noodles into the strainer in the sink, Troy didn’t notice Canvas standing at the doorway. Looking both tired and relieved, Canvas stayed at that spot for a moment before stepping in, the sound of his hooves against the linoleum floor catching Troy's attention. As the Gryphon kept his eyes on Canvas, his talon moved the simmering pot of marinara onto a cool burner before Canvas spoke in a feeble tone.
"Troy… I did it."
After taking a second to realize what he meant, Troy's eyes opened wide as he looked at the stallion, making Canvas's grin grow bigger before Troy replied, "You mean… you're done? With the painting?"
Keeping a huge smile on his muzzle, Canvas nodded quickly before he began to giggle. "Yeah, I just finished it!"
"That's awesome!" Troy exclaimed as he moved forward and hugged the pony. Holding him closely, Troy almost didn’t hear Canvas as his voice was muffled in his chest. However, Troy pulled back as he heard Canvas try to speak, looking up to the Gryphon as his voice came out in a light tone.
"You want to see it?"
Troy's eyes opened even wider. He stood silent for a few seconds and let the pony's question sink in. "Really?" he asked with a tone of slight disbelief. "You want me to see it… before Celestia?"
Canvas moved his head in closer, keeping his eyes on Troy as he spoke with a smile. "Yeah. I really do."
After making sure none of the burners were on and nothing was sure to get set on fire (he hoped), Troy followed Canvas as they walked out of the kitchen and into the studio. Walking up to the blinds, Troy noticed a few blankets lying on the worn red couch nearby, making him realize how much time Canvas spent sleeping in here to finish this piece.
Carefully, Canvas pushed the blinds aside to show the back of a large canvas board, five by seven feet tall and secured on a wooden tripod. When Canvas motioned him over, Troy slowly walked over to Canvas in front of the painting, his eyes widening as he saw what Canvas had been doing for over a month straight.
Troy's beak slowly dropped as he saw the painting against the canvas in fine oil paint : a large portrait of Princess Celestia as she stood at the top of a cliff. While the bottom of the painting showed a large wave of water from the ocean hit against the grey stones of the cliff, the Goddess stood at the top of it, staring out with a look of pride and determination as the sun began to rise above her. As her weightless mane shimmered in its multicolored hue, each individual strand seemed to glow against the darkened skies, which moved from a pure black to a vibrant pink the closer it got to the rising sun. Looking closer, Troy was absolutely amazed by how much detail Canvas put into this; he noticed that he actually put in every strand of fur along her flawless, white coat.
After looking at the painting for several minutes, dumbfounded, Troy was in a shocked state of mind before he looked back to his coltfriend, who was looking at the painting with a satisfied smile on his face. Wanting to grab his attention, Troy slowly moved his head in before he gently nuzzled Canvas's cheek.
"Canvas,” said Troy in a faint tone of voice, "it's amazing."
The Gryphon then pulled his head back, looking right into the pony's blue eyes as he spoke again.
With the painting in front of the two of them, Canvas felt his heart flutter as he bent forward, kissing Troy as deeply as he could as they both kept their eyes closed. As he savored how amazing the pony's lips felt and tasted on his beak, Troy also realized how much more sensual this kiss felt. As Canvas kept him in embrace, Troy could feel how much warmth and passion was flowing through the stallion as he kissed him, making him feel as warm and incredible as they did back in that hotel room.
When he finally pulled his lips away, Canvas looked right into Troy's shining golden eyes, keeping his face a few inches from him as he spoke deeply with desire.
"Troy… I love you so much…"
Canvas moved even closer, wrapping his hooves around the back of Troy's neck.
"I… I think I'm ready."
Troy's heart started racing incredibly fast, not needing to know what the stallion meant as his eyes widened.
"You… you mean…"
Canvas only smiled at the Gryphon before pulling him in once more, kissing him sensually again before he uttered a response.
"Yes. Troy, I… I really want to…"
Realizing that he and Canvas were finally going to move forward in their relationship like this, Troy was quick to lift the pony up with his claws as he held him close. Breathing heavily with a huge grin on his beak, Troy could barely keep his wings from shooting out in the studio before Canvas looked out from behind the Gryphon.
"Wait,” said Canvas in a half-exhausted tone as he looked in the direction in the kitchen, "didn't you just make dinner?"
"Screw dinner,” muttered Troy as he held him tighter and eyed him lustfully. "We can eat later."
Seeing how wound-up the Gryphon was getting, Canvas lost himself to pleasure as he kissed him once more, staying in Troy's grip as he held onto him. Walking on his hindlegs, Troy was careful not to hit anything with his wings as they made their way out of the studio.
Looking right into the stallion's beautiful eyes, Troy took his time as he carried him, not wanting this moment to end any time soon. Hoping to make this night as memorable as he could, the Gryphon held the stallion closely, savoring the immeasurable amounts of love he felt for him as they slowly made their way to the bedroom.