• Published 28th Aug 2016
  • 8,058 Views, 237 Comments

Strange Gifts - Rocinante

Sometimes you're given what you wanted most, without ever knowing you wanted it.

  • ...

New Firsts

I don’t think I realized how much I’d bitten off till I was getting ready for work Monday morning. Choking some cereal down my throat, I stared at Lambert doing the same, trying to figure out how I was going to balance him and work.

The short answer was, I wasn’t.

With no better idea, I had Lambert follow me to the shop. I hated to do it, but I knew Gold would understand me needing to take some time off. Just a few weeks off, till he was in school; not like I was going on maternity leave.

“Oh! You brought in a helper today.” Gold said, looking up from one of the showroom cases. “You decide to keep him?”

Watching Lambert examine the showroom, I shrugged. “Actually yea, till they find a proper home for him. I’m sorry, but I’ll need to take a week off, maybe two. Till he can start school anyway.”

Reaching behind the counter, Gold picked up a butterscotch candy, and pushed it towards Lambert. “Why’s that?” he asked, eyebrows wrinkled in confusion.

“I don’t think it’s right to leave him with a sitter, so I’ll have to watch him at home.”

“Some reason you need to keep him locked in the house?” Gold asked, smiling at Lambert’s delight in the candy.

“No... Other than he dosen’t do crowds well.”

Trotting over to the shop door, Gold motioned for us to follow. “Then just bring him with you. I learned to walk in my mother’s shop. It’s good for a youngn’ to see their parents’ talent.”

I forgot how differently ponies think sometimes, especially when it comes to foals. They’re practically community property. It’s nothing to see foals wander the town seemingly unattended, but really every eye is watching out for them. I could only imagine harming a foal would result in nothing short of exile.

So I didn’t argue with him. If Gold was cool with having a child in the shop, I wasn’t going to argue. It made my life way easier.

Books and minor cleaning chores kept Lambert occupied for most of the morning. After lunch, we were pretty caught up, so Gold started teaching him how to draw wire and roll sheet. It was the most basic of apprentice work, but Lambert glowed at having mastered it well enough to be left alone to do it.

His psychologist appointment was at three, so I dropped him off at the doctor’s office, then came back to finish a few things off even though Gold had already left.

That was one of the many great things about Gold, he didn’t really care when I came and went, as long as things got done. I’d even been known to show up in the dead of night when my insomnia flared up.

An hour later, I locked up the shop and headed back to the office. I was a bit late, but I’d warned them I probably would be.

As the bell on the door rang out my entrance, I was rather surprised to see Lambert happily talking with Applejack.

“There she is,” Applejack said, waving at me. Nudging Lambert to follow, she walked towards me before I’d even closed the door behind me.

“How’s the family?” I asked.

“We’re all doing good. You should come back over for dinner some time. Granny’s been asking ‘bout ya.”

Holding the door open, I followed Applejack and Lambert outside. “Sorry I’ve been scarce this summer. Maybe I’ll come help pick apples for old time’s sake.”

“That’d be right nice. Bring your little one with you, I’m sure he’d love playing out in the orchard,” she said, pausing to smile down at Lambert—who seemed rather excited at the offer. “I kinda owe him after scaring him half senseless anyway.”

Looking at the two, I scratched my head. “I think I missed something.”

Applejack gave Lambert a serious look. “You okay with me talking to her about it?”

Lambert nodded.

“Well ya see...” Turning to stare down the road leading to her farm, Applejack’s ears folded back. “Lambert here and I have some things in common. Things I don’t like talkin’ about. But Twi convinced me to start talking to Doc Page a few years ago. So when he heard about Lambert’s... past, he asked me to come in for a group session of sorts.

“Anyways.” With a sigh, Applejack looked up at me. “While we were talking, it turned out that monster I’d chased out of the hay loft in the dead of night back in the spring was actually Lambert. Feel like a real heel for it too.”

“You thought Lambert was a manticore?” I remembered that she was convinced a manticore had taken up in the south barn. Chased it out in the middle of the night with a torch and pitchfork. I suppose that explains why he’d been avoiding ponies.

Applejack’s only defense was an embarrassed shrug.

My house was on the same road that led out to the orchard, so we used the walk as a chance to catch up on gossip. I filled her in on Rose’s current business fiasco, and Applejack caught me up on her family. Applebloom was apparently in the pangs of her first crush; some colt with a mark for dancing. I couldn’t for the life of me say I’d ever seen him, but I was suddenly reminded that I had promised Thunderlane a date that night.

“Crap...” I mumbled. I’d have to make it another stay-at-home thing. Hopefully he’d understand.

“Something wrong?” Applejack asked, tilting her head.

“Na, Just forgot about something.”

Pausing at my mailbox, Applejack held a hoof out to Lambert. “Know I said it already, but I really am sorry about all that. Friends?”

In an odd motion, Lambert nodded, then lowered his head against Applejack’s hoof. “Friends.”

“Good to hear.” Chuckling, Applejack scruffed Lambert’s feathers. “Well, you two have a good evening. Don’t be strangers.”

“Yeah, I better get inside. I have a date with Thunderlane in an hour.”

“You what?” Applejack gave me a devil’s grin.

Laughing at the look she was giving me, I shook my head. “He asked me out. I realized I was kinda attracted to him, so I said sure.”

“He’s fun,” Lambert chimed in as he sat leaning against my legs.

“And he gets along with Lambert, though I didn’t realize I'd be keeping him when he asked me out.”

Applejack’s smile faded from mischievous to warm and honest. “Good for you. Ya know I’d be happy to foalsit for the night. Stay here and watch the house till you two get back.”

Looking down at Lambert, he didn’t seem scared by the proposal. Taking a knee, I lowered myself closer to his height. “Would you be okay with Applejack staying here with you, while I went out?”

Lambert looked to Applejack, then back to me. “You’ll be back before bedtime?”

“Oh yeah. I’ll be home by nine.”

“Okay.” Lambert nodded, obviously taking this like medicine. Which, really, it was: I couldn’t be his security blanket forever.

Leading us all into the house, I left Lambert and Applejack in the living room while I went upstairs to get ready.

Later, as I turned the shower off, laughter caught my attention. Sneaking to the stairs, I peered down to see what they were up to.

It took a moment to figure out what I was looking at, but Applejack had fabricated a sock puppet of Discord somehow, and was giving a rather lively retelling of some adventure of hers.

I had to laugh along with Lambert for a moment. Applejack’s homemaker side didn’t come out very often, but it was always impressive when it did. I think that’s one of the reasons I liked her so much: She balanced strength and softness much better than I did. She could uproot a tree and wipe away a tear in the same breath.

Meanwhile, I was famous for breaking a diamond dog’s face. Not exactly my proudest moment. Not ashamed of it either, but I didn’t need to go as far as I did.

Returning to my room, I looked through my wardrobe. I’d bought a dress for a wedding a few months ago; I may as well get some more use out of it.

I’d just finished getting ready when there was a knock on the door.

“I’ll get it,” I called, slipping on some sandals before going down.

Lambert and Applejack went quiet as I reached the door. Looking back, I saw Applejack giving me a knowing grin, while Lambert stared at me like I was a stranger. “What?” I asked, trying not to laugh. “I can do pretty when I want to.”

Opening the door, I found a handsome pegasus wearing a dinner jacket. He’d even combed his hair back instead of sporting his usual mohawk. I actually liked the mohawk, though it needed a black leather jacket and some chromed chain to go with it. Not every day mind you. Just every once in awhile.

“Umm... Hi,” Thunderlane said, his wings fidgeting at his side. Blinking, he stilled himself. “You look really pretty.”

“Thank you.” Smiling, I stepped out onto the porch and closed the door behind me. “Ready?”

Thunder nodded. “How’s dinner at Tender Tuffs sound?”

“Oh, fancy.” Tender Tuffs was definitely the fanciest place in Ponyville; reservation only most nights. “Lead the way.”

Resting a hand on the elbow of his wing, I let him led me into town. I think the gesture caught him off guard, but he seemed flattered after the initial confusion.

Dinner was really nice. That place makes the most amazing salads. We chatted about Lambert and Rumble, our hobbies, families, and how our lives had led us to the little town of Ponyville.

My hobby of boxing was just as interesting to him as his understanding of lighting storms was to me. Other than the tail of my fantastical arrival in Equestria, it was all basic first-date conversation. It was wonderfully familiar and comforting to sit in a dimly-lit restaurant and chat with a guy.

“You like a dessert wine?” he asked, looking over the dessert menu.

“I don’t drink, but I will try the banana pudding flamebay.”

“Oh?” Thunder looked up from his menu, curiosity for a story battling politeness not to ask.

“It’s not a big deal, really. I’m just a mean drunk.”

Thunder snorted a laugh. “You, mean?”

Looking down at my hand, I rubbed at the scar between my knuckles. “You know the diamond dog story?”

Thunder nodded: it was a well known story.

Reaching to my necklace, I pulled it from behind my dress for Thunder to see. “What no one mentions is that I’d been drinking that day.”

“What is that?” he asked, leaning forward to examine the trophy hanging from the gold chain.

“It’s a tooth that got lodged in my hand. I made a pendent from it.”

Thunder’s ears flattened against his head. “Why?”

Looking down at the tooth, I studied the gold cap I’d attached to it. “Two reasons. One: it really, really hurt when the nurse pulled it out.” Letting go of the tooth, I looked up at Thunder. “Second: It’s a reminder that just beneath my veneer of civilization is the same tribal creature that used to hunt boar with spears. And a little alcohol peels that veneer off me.”

“Your kind hunted boar?” Thunder asked, his eyes wide.

“Sometimes, just for fun.”

“Wow...” Blinking, Thunder studied me for a moment. I’d expected fear or revulsion, but instead I got curiosity and excitement. “But you overcame that: that’s impressive.”

“I didn’t overcome anything. I nearly killed a diamond dog for little more than bullying.”

Thunder shrugged. “He’s fine now, as far as I know. And I wouldn’t call foalnapping bullying.”

Since I’d already spoiled the mood, I decided to cut to the bone. “What do you see in me anyways?”

Setting his menu down, Thunder took the question seriously. “You’re exotic, pretty, and you always do what’s right. Even when it obviously annoys you.”

“You just described a female Discord.”

Striking an overly-serious pose, Thunder scratched his chin. “Now that you mention it. I should ask him if he has a sister.”

Snorting, I tried not to laugh too loud. “Go for it, but don’t come crying to me when you wind up in another universe.”

Thunder nodded. “Yeah, think I’ll just keep asking you out.”

I had to smile back at the dopy grin he was giving me. “You’re so sweet.” Looking back to my menu, I reconsidered my dessert choice. “You know what actually sounds good for something sweet?”

“What’s that?”

Setting the menus down, I signaled the water for our check. “A milkshake from that little soda shop by the park.”

Snatching up the bill with a grin, Thunder pulled out a stack of bits from his jacket. “An excellent suggestion.”

Outside, we strolled over to the soda shop, my hand holding his wing as we soaked up the summer evening along the way.

“The sky is really pretty,” I commented, studying the long streaks of clouds that faded from orange to red.

“Thanks,” Thunder said, squeezing my hand against him for a moment. “I set it up myself.”

I was honestly impressed. I’d watched weather crews enough to know it wasn’t a big deal, but still... He’d painted the sky for me.

Looking back up, I admired the sky in a new light as he lead me across the park. Now aware of what I was actually looking at, my own craftsman’s eye could see thoughtful touches and creative expression. “Thank you.”

Over at the soda shop, I held the door for Thunder as we stepped inside. I tried not to indulge very often, but I loved this place. You’d think Norman Rockwell had designed it, and the ice cream was the best I’d ever had.

“What sounds good to you?” Thunderlane asked, studying the bright tubs of ice cream behind the glass.

“Rocky road milkshake for me. Make it thick.”

“Cool.” Thunder waved the young colt behind the counter over. “I’ll place our order, if you want to go find a seat.”

“Will do.” Leaving Thunder at her counter, I hunted for a good seat. It was a bit busy in there, but not bad. Weaving through the crowd, I made my way to a secluded table in the corner. It was a good booth for a date, being half hidden by the building’s strange angles.

Unfortunately, the booth was already occupied by two ponies: Applebloom, and a colt I had to guess was her crush. The colt was a cute if timid fellow, and Applebloom had obviously brushed her coat out for the date. Sitting on the same side of the table, they were sharing a huge banana split, but there was enough space between them for me to sit.

“Where we sitting?” Thunder asked, stepping beside me.

Looking down, I gave him a wink. “Humor me,” I whispered.

“Applebloom!” I called, walking up to the table as if I’d just then noticed her.

Applebloom jolted. Her eyes darted away from the colt’s hoof and looked up at me. “Oh, hey Mary.”

“Mind if we join you?” I asked, already shooing Thunder into the booth.

“Not at all,” she answered, sitting up a bit straighter. They both seemed thankful for a distraction.

As Thunder sat my shake in front of me, I noticed he’d gotten a sprinkle-covered sunday, spotted with whip cream and cherries. He must have noticed me staring at the playful dessert, because he drew it closer to his chest, protecting it like I’d eat it before he could.

“Don’t judge me,” he said in mock protest. “I like sprinkles.”

I laughed. Picking up my spoon, I tried a bit of my own treat. “So, what’s your name?” I asked the colt.

The colt spooked at my sudden attention, but gathered himself enough to answer. “Tender Taps.”

“Well, I’m Mary. It’s nice to meet you, Tender Taps. You two having a nice evening out?” I asked, giving them a knowing smile.

“I, um…” Taps stuttered

“We’re a...” Bloom drawled.

“You know, there was a place like this back home,” I said, saving them from having to answer me. Picking out a bit of marshmallow from my shake, I looked around the place as I chewed. “Went on my first date there. It was a double date, actually.”

Across from us, the two young ones were taking great pains to look anywhere but at the other. I could feel the fear of eye contact shattering their hopes that the shared ice cream was meant to be an act of more than just friends.

I laughed a little, remembering my own awkwardness on the date some eight years ago.

“What’s funny,” Thunder asked, leaning a little closer to me.

“My first date in that world started as a double date.” Leaning into Thunder, I gave Bloom a wink the boys couldn’t see. “And my first date in this world ended as a double date.”

“Hehe, that is kinda funny,” Thunder agreed.

Bloom gave me a terrified look, but it calmed to a flattered smile when Taps scooted a little closer, seeming to imitate Thunder’s invite for me to lean against him. Like two magnets drawn together, Bloom snapped to Taps’ side once he’d moved close enough. Tap’s look when Bloom leaned into him was absolutely precious: first surprise, then radiant joy. Meanwhile Applebloom just smiled, but I was pretty sure I could hear her heart beat from across the table.

She didn’t need to know I had been kicking him in the flank under the table to scoot over.

We spent a good while chatting about the little nothings of Ponyville. Taps told us about his mom’s dance school. Bloom caught me up on how school was going for her. Thunder and I told them about Lambert. They seemed pretty eager for a new classmate; which was good to hear.

As the clock tower rang, Bloom shot up. “Oh! I need to be getting home.”

“Your sister’s at my house, swing by and tell her you were with me if she’s going to give you a hard time about staying out late,” I said, standing up. “Taps, would you walk her home, so I don’t have to worry about her?”

Taps nodded. “Yes ma’am.”

Waving the two love-struck puppies off, Thunder and I wandered off to the park.

“That was nice of you,” Thunder said, offering his wing for me to hold. “What you want to do now?”

“Mmm... How does walking in the park, watching the sunset, then you seeing me home sound?” I asked, taking his wing.

Thunderlane smiled up at me. “Sounds nice.”

We strolled for a little while, the conversation having turned to our families. Thunder had a pretty normal family; two parents that worked at the weather factory, and an adoring little brother. Mine took a bit longer to explain, but really it wasn’t that odd. I think part of that teenaged angst about thinking your family is weird has always stuck with me. Only child, lived with my grandparents after my parents died. Far from the oddest life, and we all loved each other.

Sitting on a knoll, Thunder put a wing around me as we watched the sun set.

“I wish I could see Cloudsdale and the weather factory. It sounds cool,” I said once the sun had made its dramatic dip behind the horizon.

Thunder’s ears perked up. “I’d be happy to fly you up!”

I laughed. “No way. I’d fall through, even if you could lug me up there.”

“No, really!” Thunder bounced to his hooves. “Most unicorns know the cloudwalking spell, and I’ve carried ponies up plenty of times. I can fly you home, if you want.”

Blinking at him, I kinda wanted to let him try. “Maybe on our next date,” I said standing up. “I’m wearing a dress. There’s no way I could sit on your back without falling off.”

Thunder stared at me with a peculiar expression; I was pretty sure he was blushing under that dark pelt. “I umm...” he drawled, making a cradling motion with his forelegs. “Always just carried ponies, but if you want to ride...” I could see Thunder’s mind sizing up just how neatly I could sit on his back. “You can.”

Running my fingers through his mane, I nudged him into walking. “I’ll be sure to wear pants next time.”

The walk home was nice, mostly silent, but in that comforting way. Stopping at my porch, I turned to face Thunder. “I had a good time, thank you.”

“Me too,” Thunder said, his wings fluttering against his sides.

Looking me in the eyes, he smiled, then started to turn away.

“Hang on,” I said, drawing his attention back to me.

“Something wrong?”

“In my world, we have a tradition about how good first dates end.” Kneeling down, I gave him a peck of a kiss before he could ask any questions. There was a pause, then a wing encouraged me forward for a second kiss, a real kiss. It was strange, but I liked it.

Standing back up, we both gave each other an awkward smile. “See you around,” he said, spreading his wings to fly away,

“Absolutely,” I answered.

With one final nod, he leapt into the air, and flew away.

Gathering myself, I turned around, only to find Applejack staring at me through the window with the biggest grin I’d ever seen. Looking past her, I could make out Applebloom and Lambert playing some board game.

Before I could even get on the porch, Applejack had come outside to meet me.

“Looks like your date went well.”

“Yeah, no complaints. You meet Bloom’s coltfriend?”

Applejack nodded. “I spoke to him, seems like a good colt. Thinking I’ll be having the ‘be responsible’ conversation with her sooner than I thought. Wouldn’t be surprised if she got her first heat before fall: next summer for sure. Don’t need her getting pregnant.”

“Growing up on you, isn’t she?” Stepping forward, I watched Bloom and Lambert take turns moving little tokens around a board at the direction of dice. “Where’d that game come from?”

Sitting beside me, Applejack joined me in peering into the bright living room. “While I was talking to Tender Taps, she ran home and got it. Said she wanted them to be friends before he had to start school. Been real quiet and patient for him.”

Reaching an arm across Applejack’s withers, I gave her a weak hug.

“You ever need anything, don’t hesitate to ask,” Applejack said, returning the hug three fold.

“I know.”