"Soarin' where ya'll taken me?" Applejack's voice portrayed little actual interest. It was more of an idle curiosity, one that Applejack barely cared about. Soarin' smiled at her, that cocky charming grin of his. It made her heart flutter and she blushed as she looked away. The two had been an official couple for a few months and it was still new to her. This stallion, this WonderBolt, this Greco-Pony statue come to life was hers!
"It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you, now would it?" He laughed. She narrowed her eyes at him, but kept a wicked smile on her face. She had to give him credit; he was really trying to be a good coltfriend. Still, as much as Applejack loved surprises, her years in Ponyville with Pinkie Pie had taught her to always be aware of well…everything. Always. Her hyper-active pink friend had a knack for hiding in seemingly impossible places; under rocks, in baskets of cookies, and once during a game of hide-and-seek, inside a party balloon.
The two ponies had taken a train out of Canterlot into the Far East of Equestria. From the station they had started to walk…and walk. And walk. Soarin' and Applejack had made small talk to pass the time. Soarin' had kept the farm pony rapt in attention with his stories of the WonderBolts. Although not as fanatic a fan as Rainbow Dash, Applejack certainly found the stories exhilarating.
"So why does ya'll do it?" Applejack asked during a quick lull in the conversation. Soarin', who had been telling the farmer about a trip to the land of the Zebra, and a haunted village therein, paused. His face contorted as he thought.
"Would you accept fame and fortune?" He asked, joking. Applejack laughed.
"Normally sure. But from ya'll?" She looked the WonderBolt up and down, as if seeing him from the first time, "There's somethin' more to it. I can tell."
"Fair enough, Applejack." Soarin' chuckled. A far-away look crossed his face as he stared into the distance, not seeing but remembering, "It's something I've wanted my whole life. Growing up…where I grew up, I needed heroes. Someponies to look up to. I met my first WonderBolt when I was five summers old." He smiled at the memory, "His name was SkyDive, and he was my idol. He was so heroic, so cool and fast."
"Ya'll sound like Rainbow Dash." Applejack laughed. Soarin' smiled at this and nodded.
"I was just like her." He sighed, "The WonderBolts are more than just flyers, Applejack. We're pillars of Equestrian society, expected to perform above and beyond the call of duty. We run charities; operate relief funds to ponies in disaster areas. The Princess herself decreed that the WonderBolts were to be her representatives to the ponies of her kingdom."
"But ya'll…pardon my fancy here, but ya'll just kinda' fly."
"Right now that's what's best for Equestria." He nodded, "But in the off-season, or during emergencies, our speed is put to good use."
"Think about?" He said, "Who is the fastest flyer you know?"
"Exactly. Won the Best Young Flyer Competition." He leaned forward to whisper despite the pony in question being on the other side of Equestria, "And between you and me, she's sure to make it during her try-outs."
"Really?" Applejack asked, delighted. The WonderBolt nodded with a grin.
"But to my point, let's say there is an earthquake in Manedrid." Soarin' continued, "Clear on the other side of Equestria. Who better to be a first-responder than the pony that can get their first? Rainbow Dash will make an excellent WonderBolt one day. Soon, if I don't miss my guess."
"…so ya'll do those performances and whatnot to keep up ya' skill in case the Princess needs fast rescue flyers?"
"Exactly." He said proudly. A silence descended between the two. Applejack gave a low whistle.
"That's might brave of ya', Sorain'." She said in a breathy voice. The tone captured the attention of the WonderBolt who tried to shrug the compliment away. Applejack wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him into a delicate kiss.
"Thanks for protecting Equestria." She whispered when she had finished. Soarin' smiled.
"My pleasure." The two started walking again, Applejack scooting a little closer to the stallion. Soarin' smiled at her and emboldened, she scooted even closer until their arms touched as they walked. A happy thought suddenly entered Applejack's mind.
"I'll bet ya' parents are mighty proud of ya', eh Soarin'?" She asked, nudging him, "Big strong hero that ya' is." Applejack was surprised at his reaction. The farmer wasn't nearly as good at reading ponies as Rarity or Cheerilee. Still Applejack could tell that when Soarin' smiled, it was a false smile. Though he was quick to hide it, Applejack was sure she had seen an old pain in his eyes for a heartbeat.
"Uh….yeah…proud."His voice was distant. Applejack was just about to push the subject when the two ponies crested the last hill. Applejack looked down at the small village below them and her eyes widened.
"Is that ChesterHoof?" She breathed.
"Sure is." He said. From their vantage point overlooking the town, ChesterHoof looked remarkably similar to PonyVille. Applejack could make out the tall green steeple of the school-house, and a grey-marble library. In the distance she could see endless rows of bushes and small trees with a collection of wood buildings placed throughout; a farm, almost identical to Sweet Apple Acres. But it was the town's main square that drew their attention. Hundreds of ponies gathered around stalls, entertainment venues, make-shift home-cooked restaurants and carnival rides.
"I…does ya'll know what happens in ChesterHoof?" Applejack asked, a hesitant smile on her face. Soarin' didn't respond; instead he reached into a saddlebag over his shoulder and pulled out a small piece of paper. He held out the item to the farmer who took it in her shaking hooves. Applejack's eyes welled-up as she read the words on the revealed ticket.
"The Pomegranate Promenade?" Applejack gasped, a hoof coming to her mouth. It couldn't be! "Ya'll got tickets to the Pomegranate Promenade?"
"Sure did." Soarin' said, "No need to tha-" Applejack tackled him to the ground, her lips smashing into his. She kissed him with all her might. When she pulled away, Soarin' gasped for breath but a goofy smile was plastered on his face. "I take it you're happy?"
Applejack's smile was dazzling and she just kissed him again. This may have been the single best gift anypony had ever given her, save of course, her hat. Applejack pulled away after a second and nuzzled him.
"Thank ya' Soarin." She whispered, "Aint no Apple been to the Pomegranate Promenade in a dog's age. I've…" Applejack wiped a stray tear from her eye, "I've always wanted to go. Thank ya' Soarin'. This means so…thank ya'."
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Soarin' said cheerfully. Applejack pulled him into one more lingering kiss. She tilted her head left and right as she drove her lips onto his. She sighed and inhaled deeply as Soarin' wrapped his strong arms around her. Applejack dotted his face with quick kisses and nuzzled him one more time.
"Ok, we can go now."
If ever Applejack were to switch bodies with Pinkie Pie, no doubt as a humorous unintended result of Twilight Sparkle misreading an ancient unicorn spell from the Peloponnyesian League, the farmer imagined she wouldn't be acting much different than how she was now. Applejack was beside herself with joy, the emotion seeming to flow through her very veins. Applejack bounced on her hooves to try to expel some of her pent-up energy. To any passing pony she looked not unlike a little filly that just arrived at The Magic Kingdom Amusement Park.
The lights and sounds of the Pomegranate Promenade filled the farmer with their wonder. Applejack's smile was simply dazzling as she looked around, unable to decide where to go first. She saw a candy stall that advertised home-made saltwater taffy. The stall had a line of almost a dozen ponies, all of whom chatted eagerly about the various flavors available. Yet even as Applejack made to join the queue the flashing lights of a two-story slide drew her attention away. Then the mouth-watering aroma of barbequed corn on the cob grasped her attention it its tangy, smoky fingers.
Here a middle-aged earth pony stood by a cart no bigger than the apple cart Applejack operated in Ponyville. He sold balloons of every shape, color and size. Before Applejack's eyes he folded, pinched and pulled at a hoof-full of bright balloons until it took the shape of a duck. A little filly with a bright yellow mane squealed in delight as she took the animal shaped balloon. The filly's loving father paid the bit with a smile, looking at his daughter with adoration.
There a pony in a white apron poured a jug of cool milk into a massive ice-cream maker. Next he added several cups of sugars, and various spices. Applejack's mouth watered as she saw the pony added entire baskets of plumb, red pomegranate seeds into the mix. The farmer made a mental note to check back at the ice cream stall in a few hours; hopefully by then the ice cream would be ready.
The very air hummed with excitement and energy. Everywhere Applejack looked ponies were smiling, laughing and making memories that will last a life-time. The sun was just setting and the night sky was slowly darkening. The wind was cool and refreshing and filled with the promises of hundreds of treats and home-cooked sweets.
"Come on!" Applejack yelled to be heard over the constant murmur of the pony crowds. She took Soarin' by the hoof and led him into the carnival. Applejack felt a very uncharacteristic sense of smugness as she noticed the fleeting glances of mares at her coltfriend. They wanted him; wanted to be with him. Applejack looked over at him and gave him a sultry wink. When he grinned back she knew he had never even spared a wandering glance at the other mares. The two ponies made their way thought the crowds, eyes dashing from stall to shop and ride. Applejack stopped dead in her tracks, as a slow grin built on her face.
"There." She breathed. Soarin' followed her eyes to the ride she had chosen. He looked back at her and grinned.
"Bumper carriages? Are you nuts?" He asked incredulously.
"Scared WonderBolt?" Applejack challenged. Soarin' narrowed his eyes as he stalked up to the pony. Applejack's grin faltered and she gulped as his powerful presence filled her vision. Soarin' leaned down and gave her the most chaste, yet disarmingly powerful kiss she had ever received. It wasn't aggressive or in the throes of passion. It was short, sweet and Applejack's mind took several longs seconds to restart. When her mind finally began to register the world again, Applejack saw Soarin' trotting confidently into the ride. Applejack narrowed her eyes and a delighted grin plastered her face. She chased after him.
"Ok, maybe that wasn't such a good idea." Applejack staggered out of the ride's exit, knees shaking and head ringing. Her knees gave out and she collapsed. Soarin' was at her side in a heartbeat, wrapping a wing around her to support her. She looked up at her WonderBolt, her Celestia appointed hero and smiled.
"I tried to warn you, little AJ." Soarin' said as he led the laughing farmer to a nearby bench. The two sat down and Applejack looked at the WonderBolt.
"Little AJ?" She repeated, eyes narrowing dangerously. She leaned forward, the menacing smirk on her face causing the WonderBolt to gulp, "Ya' is on dangerous ground there, hero."
"Oh?" He faked worry and held up his hooves, "How can I make it up to you?"
"Oooooo, I can thinks of a few ways." She said in a low, sultry voice. Soarin's blood rushed in his ears and his face burned. She leaned closer and whispered in his ear.
"Them barbeque corns is makin' me powerfully hungry." The WonderBolt snapped away from her, giving her a disappointed look. It passed in a moment to be replaced with a chuckle.
"Not a bit, hero." She nodded towards the food stall, "Git'." Soarin chuckled and gave her a quick kiss. Applejack watched him go; admiring his toned flanks and winged lightning bolt cutie-mark. By Celestia, he truly was gorgeous.
Applejack took a moment to take the entire Promenade in. The bumper carriages had not been a wise idea. With poorly controlled mechanics and little safety features, Applejack and Soarin's bodies had taken quiet the beating from the other drivers. Still, it had been fun, all things considered. And if she had not suggested it, Soarin' wouldn't be off being a good coltfriend. Applejack felt so lucky to have him.
The two ponies walked together through the Promenade. Applejack had dragged the poor WonderBolt through a gallery of old farm tools, from the most basic stone-wrapped-to-a-stick axe all the way to modern plows and auto-seeders. Applejack had been impressed that Soarin' had only yawned eight times during the whole twenty minute tour. Honestly, she doubted even Twilight Sparkle with her studious disposition and knowledge hunger could have stayed awake. At least Soarin had tried.
The corn-on-the-cob had long since been devoured by the ravenous ponies. Now Soarin' carried a paper bag of taffy squares over his shoulder.
"Hey!" Soarin' suddenly exclaimed, "Want a prize?"
"A…what?" Applejack began, a blush kissing her face. Then she saw Soarin' trotting over to one of the many game stalls. Applejack followed him with a delighted grin. All around her ponies competed for stuffed prizes. A group of fillies manned simple water pistols as they tried to be the first to fill a balloon to the bursting point. Another booth had a few ponies throwing horse-shoes, and a third was some sort of coin toss into a bottle.
Soarin' was already counting out a few bits to try at a high-striker booth. Applejack saw the prizes on display were the same adorable teddy bears from every other stall. Still they were adorable and it was classic that Soarin' wanted to win on for his fillyfriend.
"Stand back." He said with a cocky grin. Applejack leaned against the stall and folded her hooves over her chest.
"Imma' watchin'" She said casually. Soarin' lined up carefully in front of the target. He gave the farm pony a wink before bucking hard. The small metal tube shot up and rung the bell with a loud echo. A few ponies nearby cheered and Applejack laughed at the satisfied look Soarin' had.
"Mighty impressive, hero." She said as she approached. She motioned to a small blue teddy bear and the stall operator, an older brown earth pony gave her the toy. Soarin had a smug smile on his face.
"Ya' know…" Applejack looked at the teddy bear in her hooves, "She looks kinda' lonely." Before Soarin' could reply, Applejack laid two bits on the stall and walked to the high-strike target. She bucked with all her might, dented the metal target. The tube shot up fast and hard with all the force of a hurricane. The bell exploded in a shower of metal shards. Soarin's mouth fell open as he stared awed at the farmer. Applejack gave him a sultry smile as she walked by, a new pink teddy bear in her hooves.
"Years of apple buckin'."
The two ponies wondered into a bakery, one of the few permanent buildings open to Promenade goers. Applejack took a deep breath as she entered; fresh apple pies and sarsaparilla. The décor of the bakery was from a different time; checkered tile floors, bright red leather stools, tacky aluminum chrome railings. A jukebox in the corner filled the air with an upbeat jazz number.
"Feels like we done stepped back in time." Applejack said with an amused whistle.
"Sure does." Soarin' said and walked over to the counter. He picked up a menu and started reading, "Gotta' say though, food looks delicious." Applejack wasn't listening. The farmer was meticulously looking at the numerous pictures on the wall. Famous ponies from the last fifty years had visited this bakery; Arianna Hoofington, owner of the Hoofington Post, Pony Davis Jr., and even Hoofphrey Bogart. There were even a few with Princess Celestia proudly drinking a milkshake amongst crowds of happy ponies.
Applejack's breath caught in her throat as her eyes found a single frame photo. Two ponies with delighted smiled, covered in pie filling, looked at the camera. The mare wore a sweater with a massive P on it and had her mane in a pony-tail. Her cutie mark was a steaming apple-pie. One Applejack knew well. The colt had a challenging, proud look in his eyes. His cutie mark was a seed sprouting from the ground. He had one hoof hooked around the mare, who looked annoyed just enough to show it, but not enough to say anything. His other arm was tilting a worn hat. Applejack tilted her hat in the same way, and gasped as she saw her reflection in the glass of the frame. It was the same hat.
"I...I know these ponies." Applejack breathed as she reached out to touch the photo. Her hoof hovered over it, as if it was sacred.
"Who are they?" Soarin' asked. He had noticed the farm pony was staring wide-eyed at something on the wall. The WonderBolt smiled to himself and wrapped a wing around her. Strangely she didn't lean into him.
"Good old Johnny Appleseed." A kind voice called from behind them. Applejack turned to see a kind looking old mare had over heard them. She wore thick rimmed glasses and walked with a wooden cane. Her fur was a dull orange and her mane was white with age. She inched passed the two younger ponies and touched a hoof to the photo.
"I took this photo myself." She said, lost in memories, "Back in '37." She took the photo from the wall and stared at it, "That's Johnny Appleseed, and that mare there is Betty Smith. She and I use to go to the drug store on the weekends for milkshakes."
"Oh we had some good times." The mare laughed, "I remember the day this was taken. It was during the first Promenade." The old pony finally looked at Applejack, "In this very shop."
"What were they doin'?" Applejack's voice was reverent.
"Pie eating contest. This photo is from the first day they met. Betty was just hanging out with me when that charming, handsome Johnny walked in. Oh, he was so cocky; so proud!" The mare said, "And that Betty Smith, Celestia bless her soul, but she just hated it that Johnny was better than her at anything. Very head-strong that pony."
"Oh those two ponies were always arguing!" She laughed but before Applejack could say anything the pony leaned forward with a mischievous whisper, "Don't tell anypony but I think Betty Smith had a crush on him. You should have seen how she blushed when she thought nopony was looking."
"I can imagine." Applejack said with a nod.
"What happened to them?" Soarin' asked. Applejack shot him a look but relented when she saw he was actually, honestly curious.
"We lost touch." Ginger said with a hint of sadness, "Johnny was drafted to fight the hippogriffs back during the war." She laughed, "But Betty…she was so upset that Johnny was drafted and she wasn't. She could do anything he could, you see? She followed him; she wasn't about to let him go to war without her, especially if there was a risk he wouldn't be coming back…Oh Betty…that silly mare. She was so much in love."
Applejack was stiff, unable to move as this old pony spoke. Soarin' noticed the farmer's body language and leaned into her. Applejack refused to break eye-contact with the old timer, but she leaned back.
"Oh goodness, where are my manners?" The mare laughed, "I'm Ginger. Ginger HayLeaf. I've been running this bakery for…well, for longer than I care to remember."
"Howdy ma'am." The farmer tilted her hat, and a look of realization crossed Ginger's face, "I'm Applejack Apple. This here is Soarin' Silverbolt."
"Coltfriend?" the blush the two ponies shared spoke volumes. After a moment, Ginger touched Applejack's hat.
"This hat." Ginger looked down at the photo in her hooves; Johnny Appleseed wore the exact same hat, "Did…do you know Johnny Appleseed?"
"Why, I sure as shoot did!" Applejack said proudly, "Only I always called him Grampy Appleseed." Ginger reached out with a shaking leg and pulled a chair over to sit. She looked overwhelmed, but not in a bad way. More in the way of a filly who just woke up on Winter Equinox Day, eager for presents and candies.
"Goodness." She breathed and looked down at the photo, "And Betty Smith?"
"Granny Smith." Applejack nodded. Ginger looked at the farmer with tears of joy in her eyes.
"I knew it." She said with a smile, "Those two were destined to be together."
Applejack kneeled next to the older mare and looked down at the photo. "They sure is cute together." She thought for a moment, "Ma'am, if aint too much trouble, could…could I buy this photo from ya'? I'd like to bring it back to Granny."
Ginger snapped a look of disbelief at her, "No daughter of Johnny and Betty is paying for anything in my store ever, you hear?" She said soundly. The look Applejack gave her was so charming, so familiar. She looked just like her Granddad. No Apple ever accepted kindness without giving something in return. Ginger looked from Applejack to the handsome Pegasus with her. An idea formed in her mind.
"Tell you what, Applejack." Ginger rose on shaking, old legs. Soarin' was at her side in an instant to help her stand, "Such a gentlecolt." Ginger slapped him playfully on her shoulder, "This here is my wall of fame." Applejack noticed the other photos hanging. Each seemed to perfectly encapsulate their own time periods. Hippie Ponies, disco ponies; everything.
"The only way ponies can have their pictures on this wall is to beat my Pounds of Pie eating contest." Ginger walked over to the counter and pulled out a flyer. Applejack and Soarin' looked at it: Eat at least twenty pies in twenty minutes and the meal is free. "I'll give you the picture if you can replace it with one of yours."
"No Apple has ever turned down a challenge." Ginger said with a knowing grin, "Are you the Grandchild of Johnny and Betty or ain't ya'?" Applejack narrowed her eyes playfully at the mare and tilted her hat down.
"Soarin', I hopes ya' hungry." She said, her voice leaving no doubt she intended to win, "We gots pies to eat!"
Applejack sagged in her chair as a thin line of drool dripped onto her napkin.
Too. Much. Pie.
The farmer had been all piss and vinegar when the contest had started, chomping her way through three cherry pies before anypony knew what was going on. But from there, she had slowed down as her stomach rapidly filled. The cheers of the pony crowd that had poured in to watch the would-be contest winners drove into the farmer's skull. At her side Soarin' paused, half-way through a coconut cream pie.
"Come on AJ!" Soarin' said through a mouthful of pie, "You can do better than that!" The farmer leaned forward and finished the pumpkin pie she was working on in one massive bite. The WonderBolt almost growled in frustration as Applejack sagged back in her chair. For the first and hopefully last time in her life, Applejack wished she was Pinke Pie. This contest almost seemed to be tailor-made for the hyper-pony.
Then Soarin' did something; he reached out and placed the prize of their contest on the table. Applejack stared down at her grandparents; all bright smiles and pie fragments. And his hat; Applejack's hat. Given to the farmer when she was just a little filly by Grampy Appleseed himself. Applejack felt a thrill in her heart. She had never let down a member of her family before, and she wasn't about to start now!
Applejack and Soarin' tore into the remaining pies. A chocolate pie, two banana-cream, sour apples, heirloom apples, and a pecan pie. All came and went in a flash of mashed teeth, and gulps of water. Throughout the entire food massacre Applejack kept her eyes on the photo, her prize, and her hoof tightly in the grip of her WonderBolt.
Finally the last pie, a near perfect blueberry pie with warm crispy crust and sugar crystals. Ultimately it was Soarin' who finished it. The WonderBolt seemed to have a near limitless stomach; how he kept himself in such perfect shape was anypony's guess.
The empty pie tin crashed to the table with an echoing thud. Then everypony shouted, cheered, stomped their hooves on the ground. Applejack nearly fell out of her chair but Soarin' caught her. The two shared a look and started to laugh. They were covered with pie filling, crust, splashes of water and other less wholesome things. Applejack looked at the WonderBolt with adoring eyes.
"Say cheese!" Ginger suddenly called out, brandishing a camera. She was ignored as the two ponies kissed tenderly. The older pony just shrugged and snapped the photo. It was an adorable scene, and every pony could feel the love between the two newest champions. Ginger sat down in a chair and smiled. It was worth giving away the old photo of her friends just to see these two so in love.
"Applejack." Ginger coughed into her hoof and the earth pony pulled away from the Pegasus, "This photo has been waiting for an Apple to come claim it for almost sixty years." She held out the picture frame to the teary eyed Applejack, "I couldn't be more proud of the pony who finally found it."
Applejack pulled the old pony in a fierce hug, tears of joy rolling down her cheeks. Soarin' looked on. He didn't say anything; he didn't have the words.
"Oh Soarin'" Applejack leaned back into the WonderBolt's waiting arms, "I'll never forget this day for as long as I live." The farmer cuddled closer to her coltfriend.
In the night sky, fire and light exploded in brilliant formations. Swirling rockets of golden yellow, followed by garish green flowers made of fire. A dozen burst of purple, and a responding burst of blue, red and white. The noise was deafening; a near endless clapping that reminded the pony of thunder.
Applejack watched the fireworks display from the highest point of the Promenade; the Ferris wheel. Soarin' had suggested that they rest after winning the contest. The farmer had been more than happy to sit down and space out while her body attempted to cope with ten whole pies. Applejack was not looking forward to the next few days. How would she explain to Granny Smith about the photo? Or where she had been?
But right now, Applejack's life was perfect. She sighed and inhaled Soarin' pie covered scent. His body was so warm it made her blood quicken. More fireworks exploded in the sky and she stared into Soarin's green eyes. The light of a dozen fireworks reflected there and right then and there, Applejack knew she loved him.
"Soarin…" She struggled for the words. She was not a romantic pony, not by any stretch of the word. Rarity was much more cut out for these kind of situations. Shoot even FlutterShy or Twilight Sparkle could be more romantic than her; at least they had class, tact and some fancy words memorized. But the idea of any of those mares, friends or not, trying to put the moves on her Soarin' made her blood boil.
"Uh, Aj?" Soarin' asked when he noticed the pony's lip curl.
"Sorry." Applejack said, "Listen Soarin'…I…shoot…today has been…" How does a pony put into words a perfect day? How does she tell the stallion of her dream that she could never imagine life without him again?
"Applejack, are you ok?"
"Just let me say what I gotta' say, would ya'?" Applejack snapped at him. She instantly regretted it, "I'm mighty sorry Soarin'. I'm…not good with words…or romancin'…I…what I'm tryin' to say is that I love ya'."
"Really?" The WonderBolt sat up straight, excited.
"Yes!" Applejack exclaimed, "I love ya' so much!" She captured his lips in a burning kiss and the two fell back on the soft cushions of the Ferris wheel chair. The farmer planted quick kisses all along his face, whispering her love for him between kisses. The firework display reached a crescendo with hundreds of bright whites, blues and golds exploding in the night sky. All around for miles every pony stopped to watch the awesome display.
The fireworks were blissfully ignored as the two ponies kissed.
"Hey AJ, can I ask you something?" Soarin' whispered to the mare in his arms. The farm pony looked up at him and nodded slowly. The WonderBolt's house was surprisingly modest, and even more surprisingly, built on solid ground. Most Pegasus lived in the clouds, but Soarin' had chosen to remain "down to earth" as he put it. Applejack and Soarin' sprawled on his couch watching the latest episode of Ancient Alien Ponies on the Equestrian-History channel. It was just interesting enough to leave on, but not enough to actually pay attention; perfect for just lounging and enjoy somepony's company.
It had been too late to catch a train back to Canterlot when the two had finally left the Pomegranate Promenade. Soarin', being the hero flyer he was, suggested that he fly them back. Applejack had blushed at the idea; everypony knew the act of a Pegasus giving another pony a ride was an intimate thing. Not only that, but only the strongest of Pegasus could even hold another pony; the bones of a Pegasus were much thinner and lighter than unicorn or earth ponies. But as the WonderBolt had pointed out, he needed the exercise.
So Applejack had experience what any mare her age would have given her left hoof to experience. She had clutched the toned body of the star stallion WonderBolt as he flew through the night sky. Of course, she had done her best to distract him with nuzzles, kissing and chewing on his ear.
"Why haven't you introduced me to your family yet?"
The words hung in the air like a cloud of smoke, smothering Applejack's thoughts. She knew this question would arise eventually. She had hoped for longer; she had only been dating Soarin' a few months and she had yet to meet his family either. Come to think of it, Applejack realized with a start, he had never even mentioned his family. Whereas Applejack had at least told a few stories about the Apples, mostly of AppleBloom and the Cutie Mark Crusaders' shenanigans, Soarin' had been tight lipped and masterfully deflected any questions. Applejack had gotten the impression that Soarin' didn't want to talk about his family, so she had never pushed the issue. But Soarin' had been filled with endless questions about Applejack's family; questions that in hindsight had little to do with her family members and more to do with the actions of a family and family life in general.
The two ponies were still new to this whole relationship thing. It was hard for the farm pony to keep coming up with new, reasonable excuses to tell Big Macintosh and the others. But in moments like this, before his question, when the two simply held each other, those problems seemed so minor. And after today, after the time of her life at the Pomegranate Promenade…
What could she tell him? That she was deathly afraid her older brother wouldn't approve of him? Or that her best friend, RainBow Dash, would be forever heart-broken to learn her trusted friend had "stolen" the colt of her dreams? Applejack hated lying, but she wanted this. She wanted him. It felt selfish, but she had been raised to always share and to have a secret like Soarin' felt…exciting? Exotic? She couldn't place it and somewhere deep inside her she knew it was wrong, but she could lose him if the truth came out. For the time being, she just wanted to be held and pretend the world didn't exist.
"They uh…they is gettin' ready for the apple-bucking season." She said, lying through her teeth and hating herself for it, "Ya' know how it is, lots o' chores and hard work. Leaves little time for sleepin' and eatin', much less treatin' a new comer to an official Apple family welcome."
"Oh, cool. Yeah I understand." Soarin' tried not to sound disappointed. A single stray thought planted itself in his mind despite his feverish attempts to deny it. What if Applejack was ashamed to be dating him? Soarin' almost laughed at the idea and refused to believe it were so. This was Applejack! From what he could tell, she was the most honest and dependable pony ever; if she said her family was too busy right now, then that was the truth. Anything else was too disturbing to believe. "But they do want to meet me, right?"
"O' course!" Applejack laughed, a false thing, and kept her eyes glued on the television, unable to look at him, "Ya'll is my first coltfriend." Her voice quivered slightly but she coughed to cover it, "O' course Soarin'. Just let's wait until after Apple-buck season."
"Ok, sure, yeah. Sounds cool." He said, then a sudden hope sparked in him, "Hey, I got some strong legs; want me to help with the harvest? I can have Spitfire ask the Sky-Marshall. I'm sure he'd let me take my vacation time early."
"That's mighty sweet of ya', Soarin'." Applejack said, fighting back tears. Oh Celestia, he wanted to spend his vacation time working on the farm just so he could see her. "I'll ask Big Macintosh when I gets back." She fake yawned quickly.
"Mercy, I'm beat." She said and snuggled closer to him. Soarin' laughed and pulled a blanket from the couch arm over her. She sighed at the warmth she felt.
"Yeah?" The farm pony rolled over and looked into his green eyes for the first time since their conversation started. He smiled down at her and Applejack felt her stomach do flips of happiness. She traced the WonderBolt's hard jaw line with her hoof and pulled him into a passionate kiss. The WonderBolt chuckled into her mouth until Applejack bit his lips playfully. This earned a growl of lust from the colt and he shoved his tongue into her mouth. Applejack felt a familiar warmth in her stomach and below. They had reached this point many times, but Applejack had never let it go any further. Soarin' had shown extreme patience with her, never once questioning her or even bringing it up; he somehow knew what she wasn't ready. Still, Applejack enjoyed the sparks in her mind as she kissed him with all her might. In moments like this, with those big strong arms wrapped around her, his scent in her nostrils and his lips on hers, Applejack found it impossible to care about any of her problems. The world could end for all she cared. She would never let him go.
As the two pulled apart, Applejack sighed happily and closed her eyes. She turned over to face the television again but kept her eyes closed. Soarn's strong arms encircled her, protecting her. Soon Soarin's breathing became rhythmic, punctuated by the occasion gentle snore.
Applejack lay awake for almost an hour after Soarin' had fallen asleep. Her mind wouldn't calm itself, wouldn't just punch-out for the night. She was too busy worrying.
When sleep finally took her, it was a fitful restless thing.