Hearth and Forge

by etherealunessence

First published

A continuation of the Xenoverse the day of Twilight's ascension in which an Irish blacksmith and hunter named Galen, who was raised in a medieval tourist trap of a village is brought to Equestria, along with his dog, due to said ascension.

A continuation of the Xenoverse the day of Twilight's ascension in which an Irish blacksmith and hunter named Galen, who was raised in a medieval tourist trap of a village is brought to Equestria, along with his dog, due to said ascension.

Here, he'll have to reforge the pieces of his self and his life as he deals with his new home world. He'll go through many changes and learn surprising things that he never knew about his self; but most of all, he'll find that home truly is where the heart is.

This will take place in an alternate universe where deer are a sentient race and play a moderate role throughout the story and some very modest gore as he is a hunter

The Hammer Falls

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The Hammer Falls

A breeze drifted through Sweet Apple Acres during a moderately warm spring night, making what would have been a slightly sweaty night into one of open windows and pleasant half-sighs. Applejack was just beginning to relax in her bed as a strangely colored light began to shine through her bedroom window which caused her to tense up. A few exasperated thoughts about work the next day ran through her mind before the slowly strengthening light forced her to roll out of bed and head outside quietly so she wouldn't disturb the rest of her family.

Once outside and on the porch she found herself in shadow cast by the light, so she walked to the end and dropped onto the grass to see what was going on. Following the light to its source, Applejack stopped dead in her tracks as she contemplated her early demise. She thought that specific thought because, raining down from the sky was an enormous sphere of magical energy, a deep purple color at its core with flashes of midnight blue, gold and a very light pink flashed and flared across its surface. Staring for a second more before springing into action, she ran back inside yelling for her family to wake up and to run into the orchard as fast as they could.

It took only a few seconds for their peaceful sleep to be shattered as they roused their selves and heeded Applejack's words as past experience had told them to do what she said when she was half panicked and do it double time when she was panicked. Well, this was one of those times where she was panicked, so they were out of the house in ten seconds flat and running for the safety of the trees with Granny swaying precariously on Big Mac's back. Applejack looked over her shoulder to see how close the thing was to making landfall just as they passed the first trees and saw it had reached the peak of her house's roof, only it seemed to be falling on the empty hill just to the northeast of the homestead.

It seemed to be slowing down the closer it got to the ground, but that didn't stop it at it seemed to evaporate the ground it touched. It slowed further as it consumed more and more earth until it finally did, once it has eaten almost a third of the small rise and wafted away like smoke in the wind. Once it was over and she waited for a few minutes, Applejack felt it was safe enough to leave cover and investigate whatever damage this magical tomfoolery had caused. Following her lead, the rest of her family trailed her at a reasonable distance. Once she reached the lip of the crater, she noticed a distinct lack of smoke and stopped once she could see over it in the dim light of the moon.

“Oh, Celestia, not another one...” she muttered in slight exasperation.

The cause of her ire happened to be lying asleep in the lowest part of the crater, wrapped in a thick sleeping bag which was soon kicked off as it suddenly became warmer, revealing a large dark brown dog as well. It scratched itself in a spot that made Applejack blush slightly before rolling over to wrap an arm around its companion.

“An' it brought company too. Just great.”


It had been a long night for Rainbow Dash as she, Lero, and the rest of their herd as they had just gotten Twilight back from wherever she had been when she was transformed into an alicorn. They were drinking tea long into the night in the kitchen as they just spent time together in each others company, delaying the topic of Twilight's ascension until tomorrow when they could talk to Celestia privately. It turned out that their night was going to get a lot longer as the door to their humble abode knocked at the presence of a visitor. With a slight smirk at the rest of her herd, Lyra lit her horn and opened the door to reveal Applejack on the doorstep.

“Applejack?” Twilight asked as she saw her friend back in town after having had such a long day herself. “What's wrong?”

“We got another one, Twi,” she responded wearily.

“Another one?” Twilight asked as her mind drew a blank. “Another what?”

“Another human.”

“Oh... Uh... I guess I should send a scroll to Princess Celestia then?”

“Might be a bit helpful. He's sleepin' in a crater at the moment, but he seems right as rain for the most part. His dog too.”

“Crater? Dog?” Twilight said as her eyes widened drastically.

“Yep. Ah figure if they wake up in a bed, they might be a bit more hospitable when they wake up.”

“I can see that,” Lero quipped with half a smirk.

“Lyra, could you please help with our new guests while I handle the letter to the Princess?” Twilight asked surprisingly calmly.

“Sure, Twilight,” Lyra replied with an easy smile as she moved off to leave with Applejack. Just before she left, she looked back over her shoulder with a mischievous sparkle in her eye. “Oh, one thing Twilight? Stuff your muzzle in a pillow before you scream your lungs out? Our neighbors get enough of an earful as it is.”

That happened to be the last straw for Twilight because as the door shut she ran to the couch and unleashed a scream so loud the pillow barely seemed to do anything as she vented her stresses of the day.


Galen reached both arms above his head as he stretched while he held a deep breath that got his heart pumping more as the bright noon sunlight finally pierced his eyelids. He held that pose for a good five seconds before relaxing slightly before he noticed that he wasn't sleeping where he had put his head down last night. Normally, he didn't sleepwalk unless he had been eating before bed, but that hadn't been the case last night. He cracked an eye open as he warily scanned his surroundings while he slid a hand down in search for one of his knives, only to find their familiar presence missing.

Well, don' tha' sod all.

He sighed as he decided to give up the act and sat up in one of the most comfortable beds he had ever been in. He looked around and saw Riley, his German Shepherd rolled lazily on his back, still asleep. Worst guard dog ever.

“Sleep well?” asked a moderately deep male voice from behind and to the left.

“Yeah, real well,” Galen replied as he stifled any reaction from being startled. “Sorry t' impose on ya like tha, but I'll be on my way soon 'nough.”

“That's some accent you have. You from Ireland or something like that?”

“As a matter o' fact, Ah am,” Galen replied after a snort of amusement.

“Well, highlander, you ain't in the moors anymore,” the voice replied. At that, Galen turned and found himself looking at a well built man sitting in the corner of the bedroom with shoulder length strawberry blonde hair, braided simply on the left side of his face and holding a cerulean feather.

“Whaddya mean by tha', stranger?”

“I mean, I have some news for you that you may not like,” he replied. Galen said nothing as he tried to get a read on this odd man and waited for him to continue. “Well... You're not on earth anymore, so that's as good as any place to start.”

Galen felt the pit of his stomach drop out from inside him. Here he was, stuck in a small bedroom with a man that could go hand to hand with him and was likely crazy enough to think they weren't on earth anymore. Someone who had taken away his weapons and likely had one or two on his person.

“Really, now,” he said cautiously, keeping his face as flat as possible. “Well don' tha' beat all, huh?”

“You think I'm crazy, don't you?”

“Shit happens, righ'?”

“No, it's doesn't. It really doesn't,” he said with a lighthearted chuckle. “Sorry for the shock in advance, but do you think you could take a look out the window?”

“Don' see any harm in tha,” Galen replied as he turned slightly to look outside while trying to keep the other man in his peripherals for any forewarning of sudden movement. As he glanced out the window, he caught sight of something incredibly colorful. He glanced back quickly to the man and was met with him reclining slightly in the chair, waving his hand to egg Galen on. Alrigh' then, Galen thought to himself as he turned to look at a pair of surprisingly large and aggressive cerise eyes, partially obscured by a mane of many colors as its ears seemed to constantly swivel in search of sounds from inside the room. Galen tried to make sense of what he was looking at and found himself at a loss, so he turned back to his not-quite-as-insane-as-he-had-initially-thought host. “Wha's tha' outside tha window?”

“That's Rainbow Dash. She's really protective, so she insisted standing guard outside being the big sweetie she is,” he said with a smirk and a chuckle. “I wouldn't try anything around her because she's one tough cookie.”

“So...” Galen waffled for a moment in search of his next thought. “Wha's she anyway?”

“Well, they're called ponies, though not like we think of them. They're just as smart as we are, speak our language and they're not strictly ponies either. Rainbow Dash here is a pegasus. Could you flap your wings to demonstrate for our guest, love?” he said loudly enough for her to hear him.

Galen whipped his head back around to the window in time to see a brief flap of, yes, those were apparently her wings.

“Huh...” Galen said dumbly at the display.

“There are also unicorns, but Twilight and Lyra are trying to run damage control at the moment outside the house,” the man continued. “I know it's a bit of a shock, but since you're here, I figured that it would be best to get you adjusted as quickly as possible, especially before the Princess drops in for a visit.”


“Yeah. She visited me when I first arrived as well, so this is all standard procedure.”

“Ya think Ah could have a moment ta maself?” Galen asked in a surprisingly calm voice.

“Sure, I'll ask the Princess to give you a little bit,” the man replied as he slowly got to his feet, revealing to Galen that Lero was almost a full foot taller than he was. “Don't try to leave though. It would be rude to the Princess and Rainbow wouldn't let you get so much as a finger out of that window, anyway.”

“Got it,” Galen replied as the man went to leave the room. He stopped just as he was about to open the door and half turned back to Galen.

“Oh, I almost forgot to introduce myself. I'm Lero. Pleased to meet you...” he trailed off.

“Galen. Pleased ta meet ya, too. This lazy boned dog is Riley.”

“I'll let you be for now. Maybe after you meet with the Princess, I can take you on a tour of Ponyville. It's a nice place once the locals get used to you. For the most part, anyway.”

“Thanks, Leera,” he replied. “Migh' take ya up on tha' offer.”

“Cool. See you later, Galen,” Lero answered before finally opening the door and making his exit. Once the door shut, Galen flopped back down on the bed causing Riley to snuffle around and squirm in his sleep. At least something was still normal in this strange place. Now it was time for Galen to go through his mental checklist. The situation. He was now in a new and strange land inhabited by sentient ponies, pegasi and unicorns. His current state of affairs. He and Riley were both alive and healthy, though all his means of self protection were missing; Riley not being good for anything except barking at squirrels on a good day and being a good dog. More or less. His mental condition. Not the best. Reeling and more or less in shock, he had no real idea as to what he going to do next. He had been out along the northern edges of the moors, near the bluffs, camping and living off the land as he had planned to do for the next four months as last night had been the beginning of his expedition.

So, what was he to really do? Could he even get back to earth? Could he make a living with his skills in a land of sentient mythical ponies? At least he could do some hunting to help sustain himself and Riley with food, but would they even allow him to hunt. If they were herbivores, they would likely abhor his largely carnivorous diet.

He sighed as he ran a hand through his auburn hair before sitting up to look around for a mirror so he could at least attempt to make himself presentable for the Princess of a foreign world. He found a small one set up on a modest dresser and got off the bed to move over to it, noticing his hair sticking up in unruly spikes, though his shortly cropped beard looked to be free of any debris. His moss green eyes looked a back from his reflection a bit dully, but at least he didn't have any bags under his eyes. He checked his clothes and found them pretty ruffled, his linen shirt stained with dust and dog slobber from Riley, his leather vest doing nothing to hide the stains. His jeans fared little better, stained by grass and dirt. He sighed at his unkempt state and doubted any of his hosts clothes would fit him with his much larger build across his chest and arms while his pants would like Galen was playing dress up with his dads clothes.

“Riley! Time ta move yer lazy bones, ya lazabout,” Galen said over his shoulder to the dog who was now squirming on the bed. Riley whuffed and snorted a couple times to clear his nose before whipping around into a sitting position and looked around with bleary eyes. “We're gonna be meetin' royalty, so you had best be good, ya scamp. Need ta make a good impression an' all tha'.” Riley just wagged his tail and projected nothing but honest happiness as his tongued lolled out the side of his muzzle. “Righ'.”

Galen stood and moved to the door and knocked to get Lero's attention to let him know that he was ready and turned back to the bed to seat himself. He noticed that Rainbow Dash was still watching him like a hawk, so he just gave her a wide grin and waved at her which got him an audible snort of amusement from her despite her unchanging expression before he turned around and half fell onto the bed in a sitting position. It didn't take long before the door opened and Lero poked his head in to look around.

“You ready?”

“Ready as Ah'll ever be unless Ah have time ta wash mah clothes.”

“I guess you're ready then,” he said with a half smile as he withdrew and opened the door all the way. “May I introduce the Princess Celestia, one of the sovereign rulers of Equestria and daily raiser of the sun.”

“Lero,” a warm and melodious voice chided with a bit of mirth out of sight in the hallway, “There's no need to be so formal. I'm just here to visit our newest human inhabitant.”

“Come on, Princess. It's not everyday I get to be a herald to royalty,” Lero joked back.

“Keep that up and I'll assign you a herald, Prince Lero,” Celestia shot back jovially, “since that is now your official title since Twilight is an alicorn and Princess as well.” Lero looked like he swallowed a sour plum at her joke, while Celestia chuckled at his reaction. “Now, I think we could use a bit of privacy while I explain everything to Galen.”

“No problem, Princess. I'll take the girls and Spike over to Sugar Cube Corner for a drink. Let us know when you're done and what's going to happen.”

“No need to worry, Lero. I'll let you know,” Celestia said as she finally came into view and walked into the room. Galen was slightly stunned as he saw Celestia with her regal bearing and demeanor, pastel mane waving in an unfelt breeze. Not to mention that she was eye level with Lero so she practically loomed over him, had a rather imposing horn and large, graceful wings folded at her sides. She made eye contact with Galen as she half turned and shut the door behind her, leaving a small crack and sat herself on the hardwood floor.

Galen snapped out of his stupor as she sat on the floor and hopped off the bed and gestured to it, “Please, Princess, take tha bed. T'ain't right fer me to sit in comfort while yew sit on the floor.”

Celestia beamed warmly at his words but replied, “I sit in comfort almost every single day, Galen. Sitting on the floor for a little while is a nice change of pace, not to mention it's not every day I get to meet with another being from another world, Lero excluded.”

“Still...” he tried to argue.

“Truly, it's alright, Galen,” she said as she gestured for him to sit back on the bed. He did so after a brief moment of hesitation and sighed. “Now, I know this is a bit of a shock, but I'm honestly surprised you're handling yourself so well.”

“Well, if that isn' the understatement of the century, Ah don' know what is,” Galen snorted in amusement, though Celestia chuckled a little. “Ta be honest, Ah'm not quite sure what ta make of it all.”

“You'll find your place soon enough, but please tell me about yourself and where you came from.”

“Well, Ah don' know if it's all tha interestin,' but Ah hail from Ireland. Ah grew up in a little tourist trap o' a town where we lived like th' people of old, though we had school an' the like. Ah became an apprentice blacksmith when Ah was little more than a sprat an' came ta like it enough t' come out a fully fledged 'smith by mah eighteenth year. Ah'm a bit o' a hunter an' survivalist, likin' ta live offa tha land fer months at a time by mah own skill an' hands. 'Part from tha, Ah'm pretty much a regular fella. Not much ta me, really.”

“There's always more to ponies... er, people, than just that, Galen. Do you have any family or loved ones back home?”

“Not as such, no. Ah was raised by mah Gram since Ah was born, though she died a couple o' years 'go. Mah Da died in an accident a month before mah birth an' mah Ma died from mah birth. The village helped raise me, but mah Gram was th' only family Ah had an' she's gone now. Never had no sweetheart though.”

“I'm sorry for your loss, Galen,” she said.

“Can' miss what ya neva had.” Galen said with a wave of his hand. “'Sides, Gram woulda came back ta kick mah ass if Ah mourned her dyin'. Where Ah come from, we celebrate life, not death. It's jus' a goin' away party, not a farewell.”

“Oh...” Celestia said with a slight look of surprise at his explanation.

“Don' fret none, Princess. No harm done,” Galen reassured her.

“Thank you, Galen. It makes me feel better knowing you harbor no grief at my mentioning your family,” she said with a small smile. “But now, let's move on to more serious matters. If you are to live within Equestrian boarders, I must put you through a stress test of sorts to see how you will react when angry or frightened. Even after that, you'll reside here with a probationary citizenship status, your first offense coming to my personal review. If it seems your actions are not out or proportion and all terms of the sentence are met, you will be promoted to full citizen status.”

“Seems 'bout right ta me,” Galen replied. “But jus' so ya know, Ah don' stand fer insufferable fools. If someone gets mah hackles up, Ah won' be afraid ta let'em know where they stand with me.”

Celestia smiled and chuckled at that, “Hopefully you can resolve it as peacefully as possible.”

“We'll see. Jus' like tha bullies back in mah home did.”

“I'm sure they learned quickly enough.”

“Some did, not all, but a split lip an' a helpin' hand after made more friends than jus' takin' a beatin' would 'ave.”

Celestia just laughed at that and gave Galen a thoughtful look after she settled down before speaking again, “You're a lot different than Lero when he first came here. You seem a lot more open with regards to your feelings and seem to act on them more quickly.”

“Not a problem, is it? Ah've never been one ta hide what Ah'm feelin' from others. Gram always said Ah'd pop like a cork if Ah kept'em all bottled up.”

“Not at all, Galen. It's quite nice, really, for someone to express their emotions so openly like you do. But, now I think it's time for the stress tests, if that's alright with you, but might I ask if you send Riley out in the hall for the time being? I wouldn't want to frighten the poor dear.”

“Yew heard tha Princess, out with ya,” Galen said to Riley who looked up at Galen with a slightly hurt expression. “Don' yew try tha' with me righ' now, Riley. Fágaim, madra^,” Galen said in a serious tone which made Riley sulk as he got up, tail between his legs. The door opened by Celestia's magic and closed behind Riley once he was outside the room. “He's a spoiled dog, so Ah have ta put mah foot down once in a while, even though Ah hate ta do it,” Galen replied as he leaned back slightly with a slightly weary sigh. “Ready when yew are.” At that, Celestia took a bracing breath and closed her eyes before opening her eyes in a glare of white light that washed out the colors of the room. Galen's eyes widened and his breath caught in his chest as his heart began racing, he deliberately closed his eyes and moved his lips in a silent mutter as he drew a shaky breath. He opened his eyes again and stood up to face Celestia in her terrible visage. “Ah mus' not fear.”

Celestia blinked in surprise and her power whisked away just like that. “What?”

“Ah mus' not fear,” Galen replied with a small, albeit shaky smile. “Gram taught tha' ta me. She told me tha' fear is a nat'ral thing an' all, but when it stops me from doin' what needs ta be done, it would kill me a little on tha inside. Jus' be glad mah bladder was empty or there'd be a mighty embarrassin' puddle fer me ta clean up. ”

Celestia snorted in a very non-majestic manner and laughed a bit before she calmed down.“Sounds like your Grandmother was a wise woman.”

“Eh, she 'ad 'er moments,” Galen said with a firmer laugh, “Turns out she was quotin' lines outta some sci-fi book at me.”

“Wisdom can pass from person to person without ever having its value known. It looks like it found a worthy vessel in you, Galen.” He blushed slightly at the praise and smiled back at her. “Now, let us begin the next test.” Galen nodded, his smile disappearing. “Let us discuss one of the penalties for your breaking the before mentioned parole. Riley's life will be forfeit if you or he seriously injures another of my subjects.”

Galen felt a wash of cold across his entire body at her words. No one threatens a mans dog, not even potentially deific pony princesses. His mind went still, calmer than in the moment before he would loose an arrow at his quarry. “Yew will nae touch a hair on his living body so long as Ah'm alive. Beidh mé tú a mharú má dhéanann tú, a dhéanamh aon botún^^,” he said in a deathly calm voice.

“I'm sorry, Galen, dear, I don't understand you,” she said cautiously.

“Ah said, Ah'll kill you if you do, make no mistake,” Galen repeated in English, his tone not changing in the slightest.

“Then worry not, because you've passed the stress tests quite well, only threatening but not acting upon your impulse to protect or preempt my threat,” Celestia said as she lowered herself into a supplicating stance on the floor. “I truly meant no harm to Riley. I'm sorry for bringing him into this, but he was the only way I could think of to make you truly angry. I promise you, the both of you shall be under my protection as long as you live within the boarders of my country. If any bring harm to you, they shall be found and persecuted as though you were a member of the royal court. Lero has the same protection, though both your actions and his are not without consequence. If you seek out vengeance or revenge on your own, you will suffer the consequences. I thought I should make that perfectly clear.”

Galen took a few deep breaths before he turned expressionlessly and left through the door. “A ligean ar dul!^^^” he snapped at Riley who whined and followed on his heels, tail still tucked between his legs as he sensed his masters mood. They walked through the house and left by the back door as it was closest and struck out in the direction of the closest copse of trees. They entered the tree line within a few minutes and kept walking until they would have lost sight of Lero's house if they even would have looked back to see, then continued in a different direction. They kept walking until Galen finally couldn't take it anymore. He sat down heavily at the base of a tree and pulled Riley close in a tight hug. Riley whined pitifully and licked at his face as a few tears escaped the corner of his eye.

“Ah guess this is it, huh Riles?” Galen said half choked, the events and shock of the morning finally taking their toll after his closest companion had his life threatened. His comfortable village life back on earth was likely going to end up nothing but a memory. He would have to start all over again, building his way back up from literally nothing but what he had on him. “Well, screw tha' Princess an' 'er test. She 'ad no cause ta threaten mah only friend in this place. Don' yew worry, Riles. Ah'll never let any o' them lay a wrong hoof or whatever on ya.”

They sat that way for a long while, Riley even going so far as to take a nap on Galen as he held him. Galen's stomach eventually growled in complaint at the long neglect of his body. A soft thump next to him drew his attention to it as a plump, red apple fell from the tree he leaned against. He reached out and picked it up, giving it a quick polish before bringing it to his mouth only to be stopped by a voice.

“Ain't much fer apple thieves in mah own orchard, but ya seem ta be havin' a rough day. Ah'll let it slide this time.”

Galen turned slightly to take a look at the owner of the voice and saw a mare with a wheat gold mane and tail while her coat had a healthy tan color. He noticed that she was wearing a well worn stetson as she raised a foreleg to adjust it on her head, revealing emerald green eyes only a few shades lighter than his own. “Yew could say tha',” Galen said before biting almost bitterly into the apple.

“Wanna talk about it?”


“That supposed ta be funny, stranger?”

“Take it how ya will, Ah really don' care righ' now.”

“Ah'll let ya be fer now,” Applejack said with a slightly worried look. “Ah have ta get back ta work, but if ya want a bite ta eat, make yer way south till ya find the path and take it west up to the house. Let'em know Applejack sent ya.” Galen just grunted in response. “If nothin' else, yer dog can get its fill. Ah've got a collie an' Ah buy food in bulk. Don't know what breed ya got there, but Ah doubt it'll matter too much.”

“Thanks,” Galen said as he relented slightly at her generosity to Riley if nothing else. “Name's Galen.”

“Applejack,” she replied. “Hope ta see ya fer supper.”

Galen just gave a noncommittal nod in reply which seemed to satisfy her enough that she left him in peace. He sighed once he no longer heard her steps as she walked far enough away, finally deflated and surprisingly empty. There were a few more hours in the day before supper would come around, so Galen finished off his apple and fell asleep in the sweetly scented orchard as a gentle breeze blew through the treetops.

Dinner up on the Farm

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Dinner up on the Farm

Galen woke up with a sudden rush of adrenaline as he still leaned against the tree. He didn't know where he was at first, but memory quickly came flooding back along with a rush of bitter emotion. He looked around for Riley and saw that he was missing but he heard faint barking off in the distance. He got to his feet and brought a hand to his mouth, two fingers going between his lips as he let loose with a powerfully shrill whistle that echoed slightly. The barking in the distance stopped and it took only a few moments before Galen saw Riley's form barreling through the trees toward him. He panted slightly as he sat down in front of Galen who leaned down slightly to pat him on his head.

“Le's go an' see 'bout tha' supper Jack invited us ta,” he said as he straightened up and began to walk south to the road, turning to his right as he walked between a pair of deep ruts from years of carts being hauled back and forth. They walked for a good ten minutes before the farmhouse was visible just around a bend in the road. A few more and the pair are walking into a fairly large yard and looked around at the main house, the barn and several out buildings of various sizes. As he made his way just across the halfway point of the yard, Galen noticed Applejack sitting on the porch, just to the side of the front door.

“Didn't know if ya were gonna make it in time,” she said with a smile.

“Jus' woke up a bit ago,” Galen replied. “Ya wanna feed Riley in or outside?”

“Inside's fine,” Applejack replied. “Winona's inside already, so may as well give her a little company.”

“Very kind o' ya, Jack,” Galen said with a smile.

“Not a problem, Galen,” she said with a smirk at her nickname but didn't say anything about it. “Now, how about we go on in and see if anything's left fer us, huh?”

Galen snorted at that and walked the remaining steps up to the porch to follow Applejack inside her house. As he stepped in, he felt as if had been once again transported between worlds. The old, but incredibly well built house had stood here for decades, if not a century by now. It had that smell, that feel to it that couldn't be described as anything other than comforting. He saw some furniture scattered about the room, the chairs likely being as old as the house itself or perhaps a little newer. The sofa was much newer, but still quite old if the medley of colorful patches carefully put in place told its story properly.

“Somethin' wrong?” Applejack asked as she poked her head out from the kitchen and looked at him.

“Nah, jus' got a little lost fer a moment,” he replied with a slightly sad smile.

Applejack just gave him an odd look and beckoned him on with a gesture as she turned back into the kitchen. Galen smiled down at Riley and followed right after her. As he walked in, he found himself looking at a full table, both food and ponies with one empty seat and plate set for him. Riley sniffed the air a bit before whuffing and moving to the corner of the room where Applejack's collie was already eating. She looked up at the newcomers as Riley came up to her, they looked each other over and sniffed around a bit before deciding that they liked each other and settled down side by side to eat their food.

“Everyone, this here's Galen an' Riley's his dog, the two that dropped in on us last night,” Applejack said with a wry chuckle that the others shared with her, though Galen gave her an odd look at that last part. “Galen, this here's Granny Smith, our Grandma, Macintosh, or Big Mac who's my big brother and Apple Bloom, our little sister.”

They each nodded and smiled at him as they were each introduced. Galen smiled and replied, “It's a pleasure ta meet ya.”

“Right,” Applejack said once he finished. “Now grab a seat an' let's dig in.”

“Thanks 'gain, Jack,” Galen said as he settled down on the chair that was slightly smaller than he was used to. “Almost like a slice o' home.”

“Ain't nothing but supper as usual fer us,” Applejack replied.

“An' tha's why Ah'm grateful,” Galen replied with a half smile. “Ain't had much normal lately.”

“Ain't that the truth,” Applejack said with a shake of her head.

“Wha'd'ya mean?” Galen asked curiously.

“Don't pay me any mind, we got more important matters ta take care of right now,” she said with a pointedly hungry gaze at the spread of food in front of them.

“Ah can agree with that,” Galen replied with a laugh. As the words left his mouth, Applejack leaned forward and began to gather her first plate of food, her leading being the sign that everyone should start gathering their meal. Galen had to scramble to keep up with their plundering of the table. They may not have hands, but they were incredibly dexterous with their hooves. He laughed as he filled his plate and began eating with the rest of them, quickly devouring his plate along side the rest. They went back for seconds, so he followed suit and refilled his plate as well. They finished this serving in good time as well, though Apple Bloom and Granny Smith had a very small amount of leftovers on their plates. Applejack and Big Mac smiled and went back for a third helping but looked up sharply when they saw Galen reaching out for another serving for himself.

They shared a glance and a smirk before turning to their plates. Galen knew this game and he wasn't one to loose it often, so he just smiled back and joined them in their third serving. As they neared the end of this plate of food the two siblings smiled to one another as Galen had slowed his eating to a methodical pace though he finished only a few seconds behind them. As they began loading up their fourth serving, they looked at Galen with raised eyebrows that asked if that was all he had. He answered with a smile as he reached out and served himself again. Their smiles disappeared as they soldiered through their fourth serving. Galen ate his plate methodically and finished a few moments after they did, their sighs of contentment telling him of their absolute fullness. They were about to say something to Galen about how he was practically an Apple with his appetite but were stopped short as Galen began to cut slices of apple pie, serving himself two healthy pieces and grabbed a few apple fritters and even a large apple from the small basket in the middle. He smiled with devilish glee as he saw their looks of incredulity and raised a slice of pie to his mouth and took a healthy bite of it. He finished his last serving in short order and sighed himself as he leaned back slightly on his chair. With him relaxing after the meal, Riley took that as his queue to come over and force his head under Galen's hand. Galen snorted as he absentmindedly scratched him as Riley closed his eyes and lay his head on his leg.

“Ah've never met another pony that could match us Apples plate fer plate when it comes ta supper,” Applejack said with a grin. “Lero cut out partway through his third plate when we invited him ta supper.”

“Well, Ah ain't no pony, an' yer food is hearty enough ta ration a squad o' soldiers if ya had a bit more,” Galen replied with a laugh. “Though bein' a 'smith works up a mighty hunger on it's own.”

“Yer a blacksmith?” Applejack asked with raised eyebrows.

“Ah was 'prenticed an' everythin',” he replied. “Took me almos' nine years ta make master status, but Ah made it.”

“How old are ya now, Mister Galen?” Apple Bloom asked curiously.

“Ah'm twenny six as o' las' January,” he replied.

“So you started when you were seventeen?”

“'Eleven, actually” Galen replied.

“Well, Ah'm ten now! You think you could teach me?” she asked enthusiastically. Applejack stifled a snort of amusement and pulled her hat down over her face to hide a small smile at her sisters unbridled lust to try anything and everything she could to get her cutie mark.

“Smithing ain't a job fit fer mos',” Galen replied in a grave tone that did little to curb her enthusiasm. “It's somethin' tha' can make 'r break a man dependin' on what 'e's made of.”

“I'm sure if you teach me right, I can do it,” she almost pleaded.

“Ah might be willin' if Ah had all o' mah tools from home,” Galen replied. “It ain't too hard ta build a small forge, but Ah don' think you'll be able ta wield a hammer properly an' hold tha metal at tha same time.”

Applejack offered a short laugh as she looked over to him and asked, “Jus' how many hammers do ya need ta pound hot metal with?”

Galen just looked at Applejack flatly. “Well, first, Ah would need a proper forge and an anvil weighing 'round 380 pounds ta even get started,” Applejack's eyebrows lifted quite a bit at the weight he would need, “then, Ah would need a few sets o' tongs. A fuller fer thinning out tha bar o' metal, a flatter or two dependin' on what Ah'm workin' on an' the size needed, a trio o' ball pein hammers, a set o' sledges ranging from three pounds ta ten. Now, on ta tha other things Ah'd need ta be able ta properly make a simple knife...”

“Okay! Okay!” Applejack said as she laughed at Galen's list by rote. “Ah get it. Ya need a lot o' tools ta be a good smith.”

“No, Jack,” Galen corrected. “Ya need ta be a good smith ta be a good smith. Ya need tha tools ta do tha job proper.” Applejack nodded at his words and was about to reply when a massive yawn stopped her reply. “'Bout time ta hit tha sack?”

“Just about,” she said a bit thinly. “Been a long day. Ya got someplace ta stay?”

“Not as such, but it wouldn't be our first time sleepin' under tha naked stars,” he replied with a reassuring smile.

“No need fer that when we got an empty guestroom for ya ta stay in,” Applejack said firmly as she got off her chair. “Just sit tight fer a moment and Ah'll get ya set up right.”

“Tha' a threat or a promise?” Galen asked with an amused smile.

“A promise if ya wait an' a threat if ya even think about leaving,” she replied with a slightly wicked grin.

“Then Ah'll hold ya ta tha' promise, Jack,” he replied as he eased forward in his chair. “Ah'll help with puttin' tha room ta rights.”

“Ah can handle it just fine, Galen,” she replied with a little smile. “Just sit back and relax.”

“Thanks, Jack,” he said as she left the kitchen.

“So,” Granny began once Applejack left the room, “ya said you're a smith?”

“That I am,” Galen replied with a half grin.

“Think ya might be available fer some custom orders or repairs anytime soon?”

Galen frowned at that, “Ah would be if Ah were set up proper like Ah was tellin' Jack an' Bloom. Tha only thing Ah had with me that Ah wouldn't have ta buy was tha first hammer Ah made once Ah made journeyman apprentice. It's a bit of a self made lucky charm fer me.”

“That would be a might tricky then,” she said with a slight frown.

“That it would be,” Galen replied with a chuckle. “But if Ah get set up anytime soon, Ah'll give ya a good deal. That is once Ah know what tha goin' rate is fer smithing.”

“I'm sure you'll get things sorted out sooner or later,” Granny said with a knowing smile. “Ya seem ta have a sharp mind on your shoulders and those shoulders seem strong enough ta do whatever ya set your mind to.”

“Now yer soundin' jus' like ma Gram,” he said with a little smile.

“Sounds like she's a woman who knows her stuff,” Granny replied warmly.

Galen just nodded. It was so strange for him, he thought, to be sitting here at a table with talking ponies and feeling right at home. He didn't have long to dwell on that for long as a massive yawn of his own completely derailed his thoughts. A moment after he rubbed at his slightly bleary eyes, Applejack walked back in and smiled at his tired look.

“Ah think everything's about ready fer ya, Galen,” she said as she motioned for him to follow her.

“Thanks, Jack,” he replied as he stood up, Riley taking a step back to look up at him. He turned to the rest of the seated ponies and smiled before saying, “Thanks fer the company an' tha warm welcome, everyone. Thanks especially fer tha meal an' puttin' me an' Riley up fer tha night.”

“Ain't a problem, dearie,” Granny Smith replied. Big Mac and Apple Bloom just smiled happily and nodded in tandem. Galen smiled a bit broader and nodded one last time before turning to follow Applejack back into the living room and down a short hallway beside a set of stairs. She led them to a fairly spartan room that only contained a small dresser with a pitcher of warm water, bowel and a towel for him to wash up with and there was a freshly made bed, though it was just a bit too small for him to stretch out properly.

“It ain't much, but it's better than sleepin' outside,” Applejack said as she saw him survey the room.

“It's more than I had hoped fer since Ah don' even have a thing ta offer in thanks,” he replied.

“Don't you worry 'bout that,” she said. “Lero had a heck of a time when he first got here as well. We all helped get him on his feet, me and my friends, and didn't ask for a thing in return. He helped us out often enough since then with the odd job here and there.”

“Thanks, Jack,” Galen said as he stifled another yawn.

“Ah'll let you two be so ya can turn in,” she said as she turned to leave. “Night, Galen.

“Oíche mhaith^,” he replied as she left the room. He shut the door a moment after she had left and moved to open the single window, letting in a sweetly scented breeze. With that done, Galen stripped down to his boxers and washed up before turning down the sheets and sat down, the bed creaking beneath his weight. He patted the bed, calling Riley to join him and lay down beside him once he had flopped down on top of the covers, pulling the light covers up and got himself situated on the small bed. He yawned once more before closing his eyes, falling asleep with the scent of apple trees in the air and their gentle rustling in the breeze.

Old Things Return as New

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Old Things Return as New

Applejack woke up in the last few moments before dawn, a steady rhythm from something outside finally breaking through the veil of her sleep. She blinked and yawned before she rolled to the edge of her bed and moved across her room to look out the window in the silvery predawn light. The source of the steady metronome revealed itself to be Galen out by the corner of their barn, ax in hand and shirtless. She watched for a few moments as he brought another round of wood to the chopping block and placed it on its end. He moved into position once again, thick ropes of muscle bunching and springing into action for a brief moment as he brought the ax down in a perfectly controlled strike. The wood seemed to split apart of its own accord, almost as if it were afraid to be struck by the ax. He moved one of the halves back up and repeated the process to split it into easily manageable quarters.

She watched him for a little while more, until the sun rose and gilded his sweaty form in golden light that shone off the hard edges of his muscles. She smiled and thought about getting breakfast started before he came in. She left her room and made her way to the bathroom, brushing her teeth and freshening up quickly before heading down the stairs to get started. Once there, she gathered the ingredients for apple cinnamon pancakes, making sure to gather a little extra for their guest with the extraordinary appetite. Once the first batch was sizzling away on the skillet, she went back to the pantry and brought out the kibble for their dogs, quickly pouring out a generous portion before putting it back. About halfway through her cooking, she noticed that the sounds of Galen's wood cutting had stopped.

It wasn't long before she heard a loud splashing and sloshing from just outside the window as Galen doused himself from the water barrel outside before he entered through the kitchen door, shirted and soggy, Riley following on his heels. “So ma gracious hostess cooks as well?” he asked with a wide grin once he saw her in front of the stove flipping a pancake. “A woman o' many talents, Ah see.”

“Ah can clear a tree of apples with a good buck too,” she replied with an evil grin that wiped the grin off Galen's face in a second.

“Tha's good ta know,” he said neutrally.

“Don't worry too much, Galen,” Applejack said with a laugh. “Ah only buck during the working hours. For the most part, anyway. Why don't ya pull up a seat, breakfast should be ready soon.”

“Thanks, Jack,” Galen replied with a smile. Once he had seated himself, Riley made his way over to the food bowls and began to eat his fill. “So where's Winona at this mornin'?”

“She's around here somewhere,” she replied. “She'll come 'round when she's ready.”

“Ah,” Galen replied lamely.

Just as their silence was about to reach the awkward silence stage, Big Mac made his way into the kitchen, accompanied by a mighty yawn. “Mornin', Mac.”

“Eeyup,” he replied as he made his way to the table and sat down.

“So, out of curiosity, how long 'ave yew an' yer fam'ly lived here?” Galen asked to keep the silence at bay.

“Well, the farm was established over a hundred years ago, Granny could tell ya all about that since it was our great grandfather that started it,” Applejack replied, “and we've been here ever since.”

Galen's eyebrows rose up quite a bit as he heard Granny's age, “She's pretty sprightly fer bein' tha' old.”

“Age is just a number,” said Granny with a smirk as she walked in the kitchen. “Yer only as old as ya are in yer heart an' that's as young as can be.”

“Right yew are, Granny,” Galen said with a laugh.

“Breakfast almost ready?” Granny asked as she took her seat. “Ah'll be nothin' but skin an' bones before much longer.”

Galen and the rest shared a good laugh at that. “Won't be too much longer. Apple Bloom won't be getting anything ta eat if she don't get her flank down here soon, though.”

“I'm here, I'm here,” called the grumpy filly as she walked in. Galen noticed she had fairly pronounced bags under her eyes as she sat herself.

“'Bout time too,” Applejack replied a little gruffly before she smirked and ruffled the filly's mane. With that, she took the last pancake off the skillet and, after putting a fork on the side of each plate, slid them across the table where they stopped in front of each individual. Once they had their plates, Applejack turned back to grab the tray of butter and jar of syrup that she passed to Granny first. They were passed to Galen next and once he had what he wanted, passed it on and so forth. Galen took his fork and looked at it curiously as it had a piece of twine looped through a hole in the end. He watch the others as they hooked their hooves through it and used it to hold the eating utensil in place as they began eating. He shook the thought from his mind and started in on his own breakfast. To say that they were perfect would be to say the sun was bright. The strong, but not overpowering bite of the cinnamon with the apple pieces and syrup provided a meal that was both filling and more flavorful than anything he ever remembered eating back on earth.

“If Ah can eat like this everyday, Ah wouldn't mind livin' 'ere forever,” he said after finishing his first bite.

“Well, Ah don't know about that just yet, Galen,” Applejack began with a smirk, “but let's just keep our options open for now.”

He just realized the way he had phrased his statement and blushed as he coughed on his next bite. “Ah... -cough-... didn't mean it like that,” he said as he felt his ears burning.

Applejack and the rest laughed at his reaction, “Ah know, just havin' a little fun.”

Galen shook his head with a wry smile and slurped a bit as he ate another syrup soaked wedge of pancake. The meal went by in good spirits until they had all finished and only sticky plates and forks remained. Big Mac nodded to his sister and left out the kitchen door to get started on the chores for the day. Apple Bloom groggily mumbled something before heading back to the living room briefly before the sound of the front door opening and closing as she likely went off to school. Granny soon left as well to do whatever she did around the house, leaving Applejack and Galen as the last ones in the kitchen.

“Think ya might need a hand 'round tha farm?” he asked as he began picking up the used plates.

“Not so much right now, since we're only harvesting the early apples,” Applejack replied, “and ya don't need ta do that. Ah'll take care of the dishes.”

“It's tha least Ah could do ta thank ya fer tha meal,” he replied, shaking off her protests.

“Thanks, then,” she said with a small smile. “Since ya got some time, ya should probably make your way back to Ponyville and get registered at the Mayor's office as a resident.”

“Ah guess,” he replied as he brought his load to the sink and turned on the tap. He would have to do it at any rate and at least if he had to settle anywhere, at least there was another human around that he could ask about things.

“Come on, buck up Galen,” Applejack said warmly. “It's not as bad as it could have been.”

“But it's a lot worse than you'd think,” he replied.

“What do ya mean?”

“Well, tha' princess o' yers ain't so great,” he replied.

“Lero had a thing about her, but they got it sorted out eventually,” Applejack replied confident that the same would happen for Galen.

“It'll take a bit more than nice words an' promises fer her ta make things right 'tween us,” he said bitterly. “Not after threatening Riley tha way she did. Even if she meant no harm, ya never threaten a mans dog, doubly so if 'e's innocent.”

“No way the Princess would do something like that,” Applejack said loyally. Galen turned to look at Applejack and the look on his face made her take a step back.

“She did an' Ah tol' 'er tha' if she ever harmed a hair on 'is living body tha' Ah'd kill 'er maself,” he replied grimly. Applejack almost feared for herself from the sheer weight of that single sentence. Almost, if she didn't know that he was only protecting his own. That didn't make her any less frightened though. Galen was on his own for the most part in her world and Riley was the only living remainder of his old life and depended on Galen or the charity of others. She had felt pity for Lero, but he made his way well enough on his own, even having left family behind. Galen, on the other hoof, had to look after Riley and he would protect him from any harm from another. Even if it came in the form of their Princess. If nothing else, Galen had earned Applejack's respect for being so strong, just as Lero had, even if he had threatened Celestia in return. Once he saw her fear, he dropped into a crouch so that he was eye level with her and his face softened. “Ah din't mean ta frighten ya so, Appahjack. Ah swear tha' yew an' yer fam'ly 'ave nothing ta worry 'bout from me. 'Specially since ya fed an' brought us inta yer home so freely.”

Applejack's sudden spike of fear melted like frost in warm sunlight. That open and honest declaration showed Applejack that he would keep his word, that he truly was grateful for her generosity and that if ever she wanted another friend as loyal as Rainbow, well... she was looking him in the face. “Ah know, Galen,” she replied. “Yer just protecting yer own.” He nodded with a firm smile, happy that she understood, even if she wasn't used to such direct methods. “In any case, Ah should get out there and get started on ma chores.”

“Don' let me hold ya back,” Galen said with a smirk.

“Never said ya were,” she answered with a snort of laughter. “Anyway, when yer done with the dishes and wanna head inta town, just take the road back and follow it to the market square. The Mayor's office should be on the east side. Ah won't expect ya back until supper, so take yer time and take a tour of Ponyville if ya feel up to it. If ya wanna go fer a walk in any woods, just steer clear of the Everfree to the south. That place is full of all kinds of nastiness you don't wanna stumble across by accident. The Whitetail Woods is nice enough if ya wanna get lost fer a few hours.”

“Thanks,” he replied as he stood back up. “May jus' do tha'. Ah shouldn't take too long with these plates, so should Ah dry tha dishes off an' put 'em away?”

“Nah, just put them on the rack there ta dry off,” she replied with a dismissal wave of her hoof.

“Alrigh',” he said as he turned back to the sink and plugged the sink while Applejack left with one last glance back over her shoulder and a rueful smile on her face. It didn't take Galen long before he had washed the last of the plates and silverware, finding himself facing the trek into town. He took a long, bracing breath and held it for a moment before letting it out in a rush. “Ya wanna go inta town, Riley?” Riley picked his head up and wagged his tail slowly from where he was beside the bowels, only one being empty though. Winona hadn't come by yet, but he guessed that the collie was just a late sleeper unless Applejack needed her help with something.

Galen walked out of the kitchen, waving for Riley to follow him as he went into the living room and left through the front door. He saw none of the Apples out and about, so he just crossed the yard and started down the road to Ponyville. A few minutes down the way, Galen suddenly found himself accosted by a disgruntled rainbow blur landing in front of him. Once the dust settled, he recognized Rainbow Dash from her eyes and mane from just outside the bedroom window yesterday. “Just where the heck have you been?!” she asked angrily. “I've been looking for you everywhere since this morning!”

“Why do ya care?” he replied as he started walking again, bypassing Rainbow Dash. “Ah can handle maself jus' fine.”

“Well, there are some pretty nasty woods near here and if you got lost in it, we'd be picking up pieces of you for days if you weren't careful,” she replied as she turned herself grumpily to walk beside him. “There's all kinds of nasty creatures that live in the Ever Free Forest.”

“An' there seems ta be one trailing me now,” he muttered under his breath before replying, “If they're flesh an' blood, Ah can handle maself jus' fine. Wouldn't be tha first time Ah've been hunted by somethin' else.”

“Well, timber wolves aren't flesh and blood,” she replied almost angrily. “They're made of wood and will attack almost anything to protect their territory. It's only thanks to the other nasties that their territory isn't any bigger than it already is.”

“Why are ya even here, huh?” Galen said as he turned abruptly on the spot. “Ta tell me jus' how different a world Ah'm in now? Tha' Ah don' know anything? Ta find me 'cause Ah ran off yesterday after yer high an' mighty Princess royally pissed me off?”

“Don't you talk about the Princess like that after you only met her for a few minutes!” Rainbow yelled back, “You don't know anything about her!”

“Ah know she threatened ta kill ma dog if Ah hurt any one o' you too much!!” he bellowed back, the sheer emotion and force of his yell making Rainbow immediately wilt under his fiery glare. “She threatened him jus' ta make me angry, without a second thought 'bout me an' mah situation! Ah don' care what yew or any of yew ponies have ta say 'bout how great she is! Ah'll have nothin' ta do with 'er!”

“She...” Rainbow choked out dumbly before Galen cut her off.

“Jus' shut tha fuck up,” Galen replied quietly as he restrained himself, Riley whining pitifully as he tried to provide comfort to him. “Ah don' care 'bout what yew have ta say. Jus' leave us in peace so Ah can make some kind o' life fer us here. There ain't nothin' yew can do that'll make this any easier fer us, so jus... jus' go 'way.”

Galen almost choked up as he turned from Rainbow's stricken face, but held himself in check. He kept his back straight and looked straight ahead as he walked off, his unshed tears burned away by the still smoldering embers of his anger at Celestia. He had vented so much at her that he felt much better despite his feelings of guilt for yelling at Rainbow and turning her away in such a manner. He took a purging breath and pushed those thoughts aside for the moment as he had something to do for the time being. At the very least, he needed to apologize to her at some point in time, but not anytime soon.

Galen finally spotted a few faint wisps of smoke over the top of the trees and could even see a splotch of color here and there in the distance. He was almost to Ponyville and picked up his pace so he could get his registration in order all the faster. As he finally walked the well packed dirt streets, Galen saw a few ponies walking around, their hugely diverse palette of colors almost a cacophony to his eyes. He just kept going through the streets despite the odd pony looking at him and Riley before either dismissing them, running off on whatever errands they had, perhaps the most surprising thing he would have expected, smiling warmly at him and giving him a nod in greeting. He may have been fuming a bit, but he still gave a tight smile and nodded to this last group of ponies. As Applejack had said, once he reached the packed market square, he saw an obvious administrative building that sprawled a bit and was a story above any of the other buildings around.

Most of the ponies seemed to ignore him and Riley for the most part as they were likely caught up in their business at the moment or were familiar enough with Lero around that they didn't think too much about a human walking through the market. It took them a while to make his way through the moderately thick crowd and walked up the short flight of steps and onto the wide front porch. Once he stood in front of the door, Galen pointed to the spot beside the door and told Riley to stay. He gave Galen a slightly betrayed look but did as told. Galen smiled and patted him on the head a couple times before opening the door and walking in.

The reception room was fairly large with a long wooden bench along the wall to his left and had a rather large rug that covered most of the floor except for a perfectly edged boarder between it and the wall. There were a pair of doors on either side of the room that led to hallways that had the offices for the various public employees. Just past the doors was a fairly large counter stretching across the room with a small gate for entrance behind it and a dark doorway in the middle of the back wall, though there was nopony sitting at it currently.

Galen walked up to the counter, placed his hands on it can called out, “'Ello? Anyone 'ere?”

“Yes! Be with you in a minute!” called a feminine voice from the dark door. Galen didn't have long to wait as a cream coated unicorn mare with a glossy black mane and tail emerged from the back. She froze for a second when she spotted him but smiled warmly and continued as though nothing had happened. “ Oh! You must be Galen. The Princess said you might be by within the next couple days, so she had us immediately draw up all the proper paperwork for you to become a resident here in Ponyville.”

“That would be me an' thanks,” Galen replied simply. “This gonna take long?”

“Not at all,” she replied, not put off by his attitude in the least as her horn glowed a charcoal gray and a manila envelope floated up to land neatly on the counter. “We only need your signature on two forms for identification and residency purposes, the last doesn't need your signature, but a list of your talents so we'll be able to help you find work here in Ponyville. There's also a paper with reasonably priced homes and apartments for sale or rent if you would be interested.”

“We'll see,” he said as he flipped the folder open and withdrew the first three sheets of paper while the mare brought an inkwell and quill over for him to use. Galen dipped the quill in quickly before bleeding of the excess ink on the lip of the well. He quickly scribbled his signatures down on the obvious line before moving onto the last sheet. He took a few moments to write down his various skills, though he decided to leave out his hunting related ones as they would likely make the town wary of him, even if they had nothing to worry about. Unless he had to defend himself or Riley, or if they thought they could bully him around.

“Thank you very much, Galen...” she looked to his paperwork for his full name, “McCaffrey. I hope you get used to life here soon. It really is a pleasant village to live in and everypony is quite friendly.”

“Thanks,” he replied with a slightly sad, but warm smile at her words. “Ah'd better be on ma way fer now.” He suited his words as he took the manila envelope in hand and turned to leave.

“Oh! One last thing before you go,” the mare said before he had taken more than a step. “We'll hold any mail and job offers here for you as you don't have a permanent residence. Just drop by every day until you find something that suits your tastes for a job or if you find lodging and we'll forward your address to the post office.”

“Will do,” he replied without turning around. He left the building a moment later and patted his hip to give Riley the sign to follow him. He made his way back through the market and into the near empty street that he had taken on him way to the Mayor's office. He made it half a block before he saw a small group waiting in the middle of the street. Rainbow and Lero were at the center while a lavender alicorn and a mint green mare flanked the pair. He could turn down a side street or make his way back to the market, but that probably wouldn't help him with making friendly with the only other human in this world.

He stood there with with Riley for a moment, a neutral expression on his face as Lero locked eyes with him and nodded a bit stiffly. Galen nodded back and waited for whatever was going to happen as Lero bent down and whispered something to Rainbow. She closed her eyes tightly for a moment before nodding slightly and walked slowly forward. Galen just looked at her as she approached him and saw that her eyes were slightly bloodshot and the fur beneath her eyes was matted slightly.

She stopped a few paces away from him and sat down, not even attempting to look him in the eye and croaked out a raspy, heartfelt, “Sorry.”

Galen waited a moment before nodding in acceptance and glanced at Lero who looked inordinately happy for that little bit of peace between the two of them. “Anything else ya needed?”

“I...” she began but coughed slightly at a catch in her throat. “I was wondering if you would like to have lunch with us at our house. We'd really appreciate It if you did, but you don't have to if you don't want. I'd understand if you didn't want to have anything to do with me.”

Galen felt the guilt from earlier come back in full force as he heard all that Rainbow had to say, especially the way she almost broke down at the end. Galen crouched down slowly, resting his forearm on his raised knee and motioned for her to raise her head. Once she did, he replied, “Ah'd like tha'.”

Galen almost teared up with her when she smiled tremulously and hiccuped a bit as she choked back a sob. He smiled back himself and stood back up as Rainbow turned back around, showing her friends the smile she wore. They all broke into warm smiles themselves and walked over to them, Lero crouching down and pulling Rainbow to his chest for comfort. “We never heard from Celestia after you had left. We received a letter as we were eating supper telling us that you had gone off on your own to settle down after the tests. To be honest, when Rainbow came rushing back to the house in tears, we had feared the worst. When we finally had the full story from her, we couldn't believe it ourselves. Twilight wrote a letter to Celestia to get the full story. The only thing she wrote in reply was that she had done something unforgivable, even if she never meant a single word of it and that if you named anything within her power, she would do her best to see it done as an apology.”

“Even Celestia, with her centuries of knowledge isn't infallible,” the lavender mare said with a look that was hard to decipher. “But she is willing to do whatever it takes to make amends.”

Galen just held a neutral expression for a while as he let their words sink in. He kept his face passive as he replied, “A gift from Celestia tha' Ah could use ta live in tha lap o' luxury fer tha the rest o' mah days? No thanks. Ah don' need anythin' like tha' from 'er.”

“Surely there's something you would want that she could give you...” The mint mare replied, trailing off as if she were dangling tempting bait in front of him.

“Ah don' want anythin' from 'er,” Galen reaffirmed strongly but smirked after a moment at seeing their disheartened expressions. “But Ah guess Ah could borrow a few things ta help me get set up,” he finished a bit gruffly.

They all smiled at that and the green one laughed a bit. “I'm sure she'll be happy to hear that,” Lero said after a moment. “Would you care to come over to our place and relax until lunch? It's not much, but you're more than willing to.”

“Ah don' have anythin' else planned fer tha day, an' Jack won't expect me back 'til supper time, so Ah got some time ta kill.”

“Jack?” Lero asked with a curious look before Rainbow gave him a look. “Oh! Okay. You're talking about Applejack. So that's where you went yesterday?”

“Apparently Ah wandered inta her orchard yesterday an' she found me like tha lost puppy Ah was. She fed us an' put us up fer tha night.”

“That sounds like her,” Lero replied. He smiled at Rainbow and let her go as he stood back up. “Why don't we head over to our place and you can tell us about your stay over at the Apples.”

“Ya sure?” he asked. Twilight nodded with a smile, so Galen gave a shrug. “Ah guess Ah could relax fer a bit if yer willin'.”

Lero smiled before turning and waving for Galen and Riley to follow, which he did once he gave Lero a couple steps of distance. As they made their way, he introduced Twilight as the recently transformed alicorn and Lyra as the unicorn. They walked until they were almost at the edge of town before Lero opened the door to his house two from the edge and they all walked in. Galen gave a pointed look from Lero to Riley as Lero held the door for the rest of them and gave Galen a nod. “I was always a dog person, anyway,” he said with a grin. Galen smiled and waved Riley in who wagged his tail happily to be inside. Once inside, Galen could take the time to look around and appreciate the house Lero had come to call his home.

The room was fairly large with a plush looking couch against the western wall where the three mares sat with Rainbow in the middle. Apart from that, there was a generous love seat that could almost be considered a small couch on the opposite wall with a set of stuffed book cases on either side, and a comfortable looking chair angled in the corner beside the couch. The far end of the room looked to have a low counter that spanned half the width of the room, separating the living room from the kitchen. “Seems ta me tha' yew've done well 'nough fer yerself,” he said to Lero as he took a couple steps in.

“Thanks,” he replied. “Why don't you take the love seat? I don't think you'd fit too well in my chair.”

Galen watched as Lero took the seat himself, looking quite snug in it as he settled down into the plush cushioning. “Ah think yer righ' 'bout tha',” Galen said with a smirk as he moved over and sat down across from them. Once he had settled down and Riley came over to rest his head on Galen's knee, he took a bracing breath and looked across the room at Rainbow. “Yew've already made yer apology, but Ah've gotta make mine yet.” Rainbow's eyes widened as she tried to shake her head in denial along with the others but Galen raised his hand and stopped their attempts to excuse his actions. “Ah get it, Rainbow, Ah really do. Ah ran off without any idea what was out there an' Ah coulda ended up dead if Ah went inta tha wrong neck o' woods without knowin' a thing. It was a stupid thing ta have done, but when Ah went off, Ah din't really care at tha time. Yew din't deserve what Ah did ta ya, Rainbow. Ah jus' couldn't take it anymore an' it all jus' came boilin' out. Ah'm sorry, Rainbow.”

“Apology accepted, Galen,” she replied. “Lero explained some of what he felt when he first arrived too. He came to our world through a different way and wasn't entirely himself when he went through it all, so he had something to help ease him into his new life. You don't have any of that, so it's not like you could have helped it, right?”

Galen just gave a slightly melancholic smile and nodded slightly. With that taken care of, they began asking Galen questions and he asked some in turn. Turned out that Lero was something like the town handyman, Rainbow Dash was the lead weather pony, Twilight was the town librarian and Lyra was an auxiliary guard member who liked to publicly perform music. That took them down a tangent as Galen had just found out that only certain areas have naturally occurring weather patterns, like the Everfree forest. That had Galen laughing for a while just out of the sheer ludicrousness of it, but just let it float on with all the other things he was quickly learning. Just another fact to be digested and accepted about this strange new world. They told Galen about how the sovereign race of ponies were the immortal alicorns and that Twilight had recently ascended to that status as of two days ago after a series of bizarre events changing the destinies of her closest friends. That began the whole cutie mark explanation which Galen found interesting as he saw the various marks that they displayed on their flanks. As they wound down, Galen took note of their companionship and thought to ask about it.

“So,” he began as he looked from each mare to finally settling his gaze on Lero, “how'd yew end up boarding up with three mares? They tenants or somethin'?”

The three mares all snorted and laughed at that while Lero just blushed a bit before replying, “Well... they're my wives.”

Galen's mind simply stopped. “Yer wives. Not friends, not anythin' more or less. Yer wives.”

“Yeah,” Lero replied. “I know it may seem weird to you, but I assure you that I love them all the same. They're smart, compassionate, loving and beautiful.” The mares all blushed at differing levels of embarrassment at his praise in front of a relative stranger and wore glowing smiles that revealed to Galen that they truly did love him and he them. Lero gave them all a brief, loving smile in return before turning back to Galen. “It took me a while to get used to the idea of a relationship with a pony, but they're really no different than any woman you'll find back on earth on the individual level, they just come in different packaging. If anything, they're even more attentive than our women because the male to female ratio is so skewed.”

“Ah don' mind tha' so much,” Galen replied slowly. “Ah mean, we had a few same sex couples livin' in our village 'cause they wanted ta live naturally an' work fer their keep. Ah know how love don' matter tha how's or whys, jus' as long as it's there, it'll work out. Ah'm more surprised 'bout yew havin' three wives. Ah don' know if Ah should be jealous or wonderin' if yer as crazy as Ah thought ya were yesterday mornin'.”

They all looked a little worried after Lero had given his brief introduction into human/Equestrian romance, but broke into wide smiles once he talked about his views on love and broke out into full on laughter at his closing statement. “You're accepting our relationship pretty well, Galen,” Lyra said once her laughter abated.

He just shrugged and replied, “Love will do what it will. Ain't like yew can control who ya fall in love with?”

“Not to mention he's phenomenal in the sack,” Rainbow added with a dirty grin that almost caused Lero and Twilight to ignite from the ferocity of their blushes. She, Lyra and Galen all had a good laugh at their expense. Once their latest bout of laughter tailed off, the blushes subsided and tears of mirth wiped away, Lero got up with a shake of his head and made his way to the kitchen, turning to look back at the small crowd.

“Would any of you care for a drink? I think my latest brew should turn out better since I got some pointers from Berry Punch.”

The mares just asked for tea or water, but Galen practically jolted in his seat. “Beer?” Galen asked with a slightly surprised expression.

“Well, it's a stout by my best guess...”

“Oh, Lero, yer already mah best friend,” Galen replied as he practically leaped from the love seat. “Ya gotta show me yer set up an' what yer usin' fer ingredients.” Riley just snuff a slight sigh as he hopped up on the love seat and settled down for a nap.

“A bit of a brewer, Galen?” Lero asked with a laugh as he led Galen into their moderately sized pantry, one lower side of the left wall holding a trio of small oak barrels that had a hearty thunk when Galen leaned down and knocked his knuckles against them. Beside them rested a small bag of barley and a few smaller ones that gave of the aromatic scent of hops and other spices that could be added.

“Yew could say tha',” he replied. “Where Ah lived, if ya wanted beer, ya either traded fer it from a neighbor who 'ad a draft ya liked or learned ta make it yerself. Ah'm partial ta stouts an' stiff ales, maself. Not many 'ave tha constitution fer 'em, but nothin' keeps tha body hale an' hearty like it.”

“Passionate about it too,” Lero said with a grin.

“Jus' a fan o' good food an' good drink, Leera,” he replied with a smile.

“Well, in that case, I'll introduce you to Berry Punch, our local wine and brandy maker after you've established yourself.”

Galen looked like he was practically glowing with excitement and stood back up to pull Lero into a one armed hug that made his ribs creak and expel the air in his lungs with a faint whooshing noise. “Ah think this is tha start ta a beautiful friendship, Leera.”

Rainbow, looking in from the kitchen caught their attention with her wide grin and snickering at Lero's plight and his silent, pleading look. She looked over her shoulder and motioned for her herdmates to come look, which they did without delay. “Looks like Lero's got a new friend,” Rainbow said with her voice pitched a couple octaves too high. Lyra and Twilight just snickered along with Rainbow at the situation.

Galen let Lero go who leaned wheezing against one of the shelves. Galen grinned evilly as he took a couple steps out of the pantry, “Le's all share tha love o' friendship an' share a hug, huh?”

Their faces changed so dramatically that Galen almost lost it as he lurched forward and snagged all three of them in his wide arms, Rainbow Dash almost managing to duck away but Twilight bumped her and stalled her timely escape. Galen proceeded to hug them all with just enough force to make them squirm, squeal and laugh in their shared plight. He let them down after a few moments and leaned back against the counter and watched them with a grin as Lero walked in to stand beside him.

“You're a lot faster than I thought you would be, especially with how you got the drop on Rainbow like that,” Lero said with a snort that made him wince in pain due to his slightly abused body.

“Well, ya can't chase a flagging buck after ya feather it, if yer a slouch,” Galen replied without thinking.

“I thought you might be a hunter with that bow you had, but I wasn't quite sure,” Lero replied quietly. “You'll have to talk to the Mayor and Fluttershy to get permission to hunt small game in the immediate area.”

Shit, he thought with a angry frown for himself but cleared it in a flash. “Ah wasn't sure if Ah would be all tha' welcome here if they knew Ah was a hunter.”

“Well, I don't have any skill in that department, so I never thought to ask until a few months ago when a griffon moved into Ponyville,” Lero replied. “When I asked Twilight about it, she said that to make it viable for carnivorous immigrants to live within our boarders, Celestia had it mandated that they could apply for licenses from the local government head or game warden of the area to hunt small game or to purchase rabbits and the like from breeders. We just happen to have both and Fluttershy is quite caring toward her charges, but she also knows that other beings need to eat. It shouldn't be too much of a problem as long as you follow the rules and regulations.”

Galen nodded at the explanation but looked up sharply once he realized that Lero had talked about another mythical creature come to life. “Griffon? As in 'alf eagle, 'alf lion griffon?”

“Yeah, there are also minotaurs and dragons,” he replied. “Twilight once told me about how she had to lead Cerberus back to guard the gates of Tartarus as well. The Everfree Forest is home to manticores and cockatrices too and we know of at least one hydra that lives in the Froggy Bottom Swamp.” Galen wasn't sure if he was excited or terrified at discovering that so many creature out of myth and legend were alive and well in this world, but he knew that he would be lucky if he escaped any encounters with those creatures unscathed.

“The minotaurs and dragons are sentient, as are the griffons, zebras, cows, buffalo, mules and deer,” Twilight explained to Galen once she had regained her breath. “Lero has told us a lot about your world and we wouldn't want you to accidentally commit a murder through ignorance.”

“Got ya,” Galen replied a bit breathlessly. He was wondering if they thought his comment would be construed as premeditated murder when she just smiled back in understanding. It wasn't his fault he had made the comment, he was as new here as a new born babe. The only difference was that if he made a mess, he could get sent to jail or worse just because of his ignorance.

“How about we get those drinks now?” Lero said to break any lingering doubts about the situation.

“About time,” Rainbow groused with a smirk to show that she really didn't mind. Lero just snorted and went about gathering their beverages, even filling a bowl of water for Riley to drink from. They sat around the kitchen table and enjoyed their drinks, the beer getting chilled by a quick application of magic from Twilight to the thanks and gratitude of both Lero and Galen. It was another scene that gave Galen a sense of situation based vertigo. If most his company hadn't been ponies from a realm of myth and magic, he could have imagined himself at a neighbors house sharing a beer with the family. A friend who just so happened to have three wives. That still threw him for a bit of a loop.

By the time they had finished their drinks, it was time for lunch. That ended up being an affair that included all of them except Galen, as he was the guest. He watched from his spot as they interacted with one another in a way that warmed his heart. He could tell from a glance that they all loved and cared for each other, even if it was Lero that had brought them together. He just smiled and watched as they made up a modest lunch consisting of a large salad with ranch or olive oil and vinegar for dressings while the main course happened to be a nice sized communal plate of simple grilled cheeses. Galen didn't remember the last time he had eaten a grilled cheese, but the smells of hot butter, freshly toasted bread and seared cheese made him absolutely ravenous. Too bad they didn't know about his appetite otherwise they might find themselves out of more than a few essentials. He would just have to hold himself back so he didn't eat them out of house and home.

“Those smell great,” he commented as the tasted treats started to pile up.

“Yeah, it's something Lero showed to us and we can't get enough of them,” Twilight said as she wiped a slight glazing of drool from the corner of her mouth. “I have no idea why nopony ever thought to do this before, but they're absolutely amazing.”

“It's really amazing what they have and don't have here sometimes,” Lero said with a laugh. “They don't really have a market for pasta at all, so when I made some simple noodles, Rainbow wasn't even sure about how they would even taste.”

“Yeah, but it turned out okay,” she replied. “I don't even want to remember that one time you tried to make vegetarian chili.”

“Ugh...” Lero shivered at the memory. “Hey, even I get phantom taste flashbacks from how bad that turned out.” Galen gave a few laughs at that as the conversation petered out in favor of finishing the meals preparations. With a little scraping of a few loose strings of cheese on the skillet, Lero snatched them up, only to find Rainbow having reared up to steal the other half of his plunder as it dangled out of his mouth with a quick kiss and turned to head back to the table with a flirty smirk. Galen just grinned as Lero shook his head ruefully. “She used to be really shy about public displays of affection too.”

“Quiet, you,” she said gruffly.

“Seriously, it was really cute when Lero would steal a kiss and she would blush like it was no ones business,” Twilight said with a giggle as Rainbow turned a grumpy stare on her. “Sorry, Rainbow, but it's true!”

Twilight laughed as Rainbow tackled her to the floor and blew air over her ear, making it twitch and let loose a slightly high pitched moan before her entire face lit up in a furious blush. Galen wasn't sure how much longer he could keep grinning as his face was actually beginning to get sore. He couldn't remember the last time he had smiled so much, but it felt good.

The two ponies got back up, Rainbow cackling as she trotted off and Twilight grousing under her breath as she half chased the quicksilver pegasus. After a few moments, Lero shook his head and moved the meal to the table along with some silverware, dodging the two ponies as they got it out of their systems. Lyra just seemed pleasantly happy as she had a small smile and just stood by as a spectator.

“Alright, girls,” Lero said as he took his seat from before, Lyra sitting beside him this time instead of Rainbow. “Let's eat before they get cold on us.” At Lero's words, they stopped their playful game of cat and mouse as they took the remaining places at the table. “You're the guest, so you get dibs,” he said to Galen with a motion towards the plate of sandwiches and bowl. Galen took the hint and helped himself to two sandwiches for starters, setting one on his plate and taking a hearty bite of the other in his large hand. At his lead, the plate quickly dwindled as the others took a pair each and started eating as well. The first bites of his sandwich were slightly bitter from the toasting, buttery, salty and almost explosively tart from the rich cheese. Galen couldn't stop the rush of saliva, so he did the next best thing to save himself the embarrassment of drooling in front of his friends and quickly scarfed another bite. He managed to hold the surge in check as he chewed and swallowed his bites.

“Holy hell, Leera,” Galen said as he half grinned at Lero. “Is it jus' me, or is it tha place? Everythin' tastes amazin' ta me in this world.”

“I think it might be Equestria,” Lero said with a little smile. “They don't really have a lot of industrialized areas, so, by my best guess there might be a few percents more oxygen in the atmosphere than in our world. Everything smells and tastes so much better here than from what I remember of earth.”

“Ah can agree ta tha',” Galen replied as he took another bite. “Ah swear Ah may jus' call this place ma home soonah ratha than latah if it turns out there ain't no way back ta earth.”

“Well, the way I came through drove me mad for a while and the... things that live there aren't the most gracious of beings,” Lero replied a little darkly.

“The Princess still isn't even sure how you managed to get here, Galen,” Twilight said after she finished her first sandwich. “Applejack said you fell from the sky, in an orb of magic that flared different colors that disintegrated a good portion of a hill near their house.”

“Ah was wonderin' 'bout tha' this mornin,” Galen said as he picked up his next sandwich. “Ah was choppin' some wood an' noticed a hill behind their barn was partially gone. Ah figured tha' they were diggin' ta set up a reservoir or somethin'. Guess tha' would explain why tha rest o' tha hill ain't torn up.”

Lero snorted at that with a slight smirk before they all quieted down to eat their meal, the salad getting divvied up by Twilight once their plates were finished. Galen opted for the oil and vinegar for his salad as did Lyra while the others slathered a healthy dose of ranch on their portions. The salad was crisp and fresh, a familiar side for Galen where such could be had every spring and summer with regularity. By the end of the meal, Galen felt that he could definitely eat more, but the comfortable weight in his stomach told him that he would be fine until suppertime rolled around.

“Tha' was pretty good,” Galen said as he leaned back in his chair. “Been a long, long time since Ah've 'ad a grilled cheese.”

“I know,” Lero said. “I don't know why I started making them a while ago, but if I don't cut back, I'm gonna start packing on the pounds.”

“Don't you worry about that, Lero,” Rainbow replied. “If you start to get pudgy, I'll help whip you back into shape.”

“That's a good reason to cut back right now,” Lero said with a mock shudder. “Your workouts are the things of nightmares.”

Rainbow shot him a glare that held no weight before replying, “Suck it up, buddy.”

That got a round of light laughter from everyone at the table before subsiding into a pleasant silence that they simply basked in for a while, content sighs and small smiles on their faces as they just stared off into the middle distance. Before too much time had passed, Lero shifted his weight and sat up a little straighter before asking, “So, do you think you may have anyplace to stay or do you think Applejack would expect you to stay at her place again?”

“Ah think she might take it amiss if Ah didn't at least drop by fer supper at tha least,” Galen replied. “'Sides, Ah wouldn't want ta put ya out.”

“Alright,” Lero replied. “If you want to wait, I'll bring your things out and you can take them with you. We've held onto them since yesterday in case you dropped by.”

“Thanks,” Galen answered as Lero got up and strode into the living room and opened the small closet by the door. Inside was, indeed Galen's limited belongings, but what Galen found curious was that the bulk of its contents seemed to consist of warm looking towels and what looked to be a moderately well made wooden umbrella. Once Lero had closed the door and returned to the kitchen, Galen had turned his chair to the side, leaning forward for when Lero placed his belongings in front of him. As Lero sat down, Galen pulled his large rucksack over and began rummaging through it, just to make sure everything was still there. After a quick survey, he was satisfied and would do a full inventory later.

With that done, he looked at the other bundle which happened to be his blanket roll with the top fifth of his hunting bow sticking out of the top. Once he unzipped it, he found his modest arsenal. The eighty pound pull recurve hunting bow that he had carved himself from a yew along with his quiver of arrows, all thirty still looking to be there. He checked the condition of the strings wrapped around the stave and found all four intact. Moving on to his blades he saw that they were all still sheathed, so he slipped the smaller ones into their wrappings on the outside of his boots and cinched the leather straps tightly to hold them in place. He grabbed the thickest belt, his personal smithing belt, and saw his modest four pound hammer hanging merrily in front of him. He smiled at seeing his old companion and wrapped the belt snugly around his waist before settling it just so. Grabbing the final belt, this one having two sheathed blades, he buckled on first before moving his hand to the longer of the two blades. He slid it out a couple inches to check its edge before sliding it back. The other looked to be much older, if the wrappings were anything to go by. Galen ran the palm of his hand smoothly over its pommel before gripping it and sliding it out halfway. This blade didn't seem to be a usable blade as it appeared to be made from silver, tarnished slightly and stained from time. It wasn't the prettiest of blades, but it meant something to Galen. A charm of sorts passed to him from his grandmother. The only stipulation that she had made when she gave it to him was that he never go on a long trip without it. Said it would always make a way for him to get home. If only it really had that power, Galen thought ruefully to himself as he slowly sheathed it again. As he removed his palm, he felt something akin to a static shock jolt from his hand all the way into his chest. Grunting a bit, he took a step back and shook his head to clear it from the shock.

“Something wrong?” Lero asked, a slightly worried expression on his face.

“Ah'm alrigh',” he replied with a reassuring smile. “Got a shock 'r somethin'.”

“Huh,” Lero said. “That's weird. Maybe it got charged with magic or something?”

“Beats me,” Galen said as he leaned back down to pack up his bedroll and leaned his bow stave and quiver against the counter.

“You want to stick around until it's time for you to leave?” Lero offered. “We could show you around Ponyville and where everything's at.” Rainbow and the others looked at Galen with expressions bordering on pleading, hoping they could play the tour guides for their new friend.

“Ah could do tha',” Galen agreed. “Ain't like Ah got much ta do righ' now.” As he finished replying, the trio of mares all grinned widely and readied to head out.

“Then why don't you leave what you want and we'll be on our way?”

Galen looked at his meager belongings and shrugged. “Ah'm good ta go. Ready when yew are.”

“Then let's head out,” Lero said cheerfully as Galen stood up and motioned for them to take the lead. With that, they left Lero's humble abode and into Ponyville on a bright, cheerful day to show him how life was in their quaint little village.

Welcome to Ponyville

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Welcome to Ponyville

Lero and his wives were quite the tour guides for Galen. They each had favorite places that they enjoyed, places to eat, spots to relax, places where one could go for public music performances and even places where spontaneous games broke out. The town sprawled quite a bit despite its moderately narrow feeling streets and lanes, each block holding a surprising number of houses of all shapes and sizes. They led him from the outskirts, slowly spiraling inward for about four hours until Galen noticed the feeling of being watched and casually glanced over his shoulder but saw nothing in the street behind him, pony or otherwise. He dismissed the sensation for the time being and focused his attention on what his guides were saying.

Halfway down the block they were on, almost to the market square when Galen suddenly had a sense of creeping dread and spun around while moving his hand to his large knife. The street was still empty, though that feeling of dread was still heavy around him.

“Galen?” Lero asked worriedly as he stopped and looked to him. “Is everything alright?”

“Somethin's stalkin' us,” he replied as he scanned the area for anything that would give a clue as to who or what it was.

“What are you talking about? There's nothing there,” Rainbow said with a small scoff.

“An' tha's what's wrong,” he replied. “There should be ponies out an' about, righ'?”

“Well, it is a little strange,” Lero conceded. “But it is almost supper time.”

“Ah would agree with ya there, Leera,” Galen said as she stood back up but kept his hand on the hilt of his blade, his eyes never stopping their restless scanning of the immediate area. “But there's somethin' missin'.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked, her expression getting slightly worried.

“Tha sounds o' tha town,” Galen replied, the silence he spoke of encroached upon the small group. When they were finally aware of it, they realized just how much noise their home normally had and now it's comforting presence was missing. They began huddling around Lero, facing outwards as their instincts urging to protect their man from danger kicked in. “Jus' follow mah directions an' we'll make it out o' here in one piece.”

“You sure?” Lero asked as he looked nervously around.

“Ah've been hunted by wolves before, Leera. If Ah can deal with a determined pack o' wolves, there ain't too much Ah won' get out of,” he replied grimly. “Tha only thing is tha' Ah don' know all tha rules here, yet. Ah won' know if there might be a surprise 'r two, so jus' stay close an' follow mah directions.”

“We trust you, Galen,” he replied, the mares looking up at him with determined expressions and nodded in agreement.

Galen nodded back and drew his blade in a reversed grip. He leaned forward slightly and began walking in a way that made it impossible for Lero and the mares to hear his tread, though it was effortless and almost second nature to him. He motioned for them to follow him with a wave of his hand and ducked between two houses, scanning through the windows, the edge of the roofs and for any sign that there may be something waiting at the end of the alley. He glanced back over his shoulder at irregular intervals as well to both ensure that the others were following him and that nothing was behind them. They made it to the back yard without incident, Galen stopping one step outside of cover while he held a hand back to keep the others in hiding.

He quickly scanned the area and took a few steps forward, motioning for the others to follow. He glanced back and saw them follow, but something down the path they just came through was casting a dark shadow and Galen felt his heart rate ramp up as adrenaline pumped into his bloodstream.

“Hurry!” he urgently whispered as he waved them off to the side. “Somethin's comin'!”

Their expressions changed immediately into a mix of fear and determination as they bolted down the way Galen pointed with Galen covering their retreat. He called out hushed directions as they darted from one place to another in their attempt to loose whatever it was that was trailing them. Galen would split off and attempt to circle around behind the thing as he sent them ahead, but never found any trace of it. To say that it was making him progressively more worried was an understatement.

Then, almost suddenly, they were at the edge of the village, a wide stretch of open ground stood between them and the White Tail Woods. Galen looked over to his companions and released a tense breath. “Alrigh',” he said softly, “We gotta cross this stretch an' we can find a place ta bunker down. Once yer settled, Ah'll swing 'round ta Jack's an' check up on 'em.”

“Alright,” Lero replied. “Lead the way, Galen.”

He nodded and scanned the immediate area once again before motioning them to make a sprint for the edge of the woods. He gave them a five second head start and readied himself to intercept anything that pursued, but nothing did. That worried Galen more than he could explain. He sprinted after them and maintained his distance. Just over a minute later, they arrived at the edge of the woods and continued walking at a sedate pace as Galen led them deeper. Even if he were in a different world, the same rules of the wood should apply here as on earth, so he went about looking for a suitable place to lay low. He found it about a half mile into the woods, in a fairly deep gully. For the most part, it looked like a pile of random tree limbs, roots and other debris interlocked in a tightly woven shell, but knew it for what it was. Shelter.

He led them down and looked the structure over before looking for the easiest entryway. “What is this?” Lero asked, his curiosity getting the better of his anxiety.

“They don' really 'ave a name,” Galen replied. “They show up when it floods an' all kinds o' stuff gets washed inta a gully an' settles when tha water recedes. If we're lucky, we won' 'ave ta hollow it out too much.”

“Need any help?” he asked as Galen crouched down low and twisted his torso to the side as he reached in to see if the way was obstructed.

“Jus' keep an eye out,” he replied. “These things can be a bit tricky.” Lero nodded and they did as told. Sheathing his knife, Galen slid himself into the opening and made his way by touch as the tightly woven structure screened out any light. He soon found himself in a wider opening that only had a few small limbs littering the ground. Feeling around, he thought it would suit their purposes for the time being, if it ended up being a bit cramped. Satisfied, he made his way back out and froze when he sensed that he was alone. Lero and his wives were gone.

Galen felt his skin prickle slightly. He drew his knife again as he slowly exited the structure and looked around for tracks. He saw those of the others head back up the slope. Once his head rose enough to see around, he scanned the woods and saw nothing that would indicate anything was amiss. Their tracks stopping a few paces from where he stood. Something was wrong... Very wrong. He had no idea what could empty an entire village, but it must have strange powers he could not even hope to comprehend. If nothing else, he owed it to Applejack and her family, to Lero and his wives to see them back safe if he could. He didn't worry about Riley because his dog knew enough to flee when something dangerous was about when Galen was gone. He had probably hid himself under Lero's bed or the like.

Galen took a slow breath and felt grim resolve within him as he strode forward purposefully, completely in the open, inviting whatever it was to come for him as he followed the trail leading him on. He soon left the edge of the woods and saw a bounding shape just over a hill to the west, heading in the direction of Sweet Apple Acres. With a slight growl, he lurched forward and broke into a ground eating lope. He slowly picked up his pace and was rounding the village a few minutes later as he vaulted the boarder fence of the Apples' property, barely breaking his pace. He slowed down a bit as he entered the orchard, keeping his eyes open for whatever it was. His vigilance was rewarded by the sight of the shadowy form loping in the direction of the farmhouse. He broke into a full sprint, his burning legs' and lungs' complaints ignored in his desire to see the others safe.

It seemed to taunt him, keeping its distance despite his best turn of speed. Yew'll not get 'way wit' this, he thought darkly as he urged his body to go faster and faster. Suddenly, he broke into the yard of the farm and was absolutely floored by a massive wall of noise as soon as he broke free of the trees.


He tripped and tumbled hard, dropping his knife lest he stab himself by accident and came to a skidding halt a few feet from the front line of the assembled town, Lero, his mares, Applejack and her family in the front, but all laughing and grinning at his expression of pure shock. He didn't say a word. He couldn't. It was beyond his imagination that from the time of their frantic flight until now had been nothing but an elaborate and perfectly executed surprise party. Riley came running over and bowled him over happily, licking his face and wagging his tail that hit like a switch as Galen pushed him away with a laugh.

He couldn't believe it. All this for him.

A bright pink mare with a darker pink mane and tail trotted over from his side, her bright blue eyes shining as brightly as her smile, “Welcome to Ponyville and Equestria!” she said happily. “Did you enjoy our game of cat and mouse?”

“Tha' wha' yew call it?” he replied weakly as he flopped on his back weakly, his body choosing that moment to finally give out from his exertions. “If yer mice 're as scary as all tha', then Ah don' think Ah wanna meet a cat.”

She just giggled and moved around him, nudging him to a sitting position. “Everything's fine, so just relax and enjoy yourself. This party's just for you, after all,” she said, mirth silvering her words.

“Thanks,” he replied with a laugh as he twisted around to look at her. “Ah seem ta be at a disadvantage 'ere. Yew seems ta know mah name, but Ah don' seem ta know yers.”

“Oh! I'm Pinkie Pie,” she answered with a smile.

“Pleasure ta meet ya,” he replied as he slowly got up. He went back to pick up his knife and sheathed it before turning back around. “So, Ah take it yew were tha one ta kidnap an entire town an' set up this little shindig?”

“Of course!” she replied as she bounced in place slightly. “It's not everyday that we just happen to have someone from another world just show up, so we gotta welcome you right!”

“Don't question it, Galen,” Rainbow said as she walked over. “This is Pinkie Pie we're talking about. She's the best caterer in Ponyville, it's her talent after all.”

“Besides, her parties can get pretty legendary,” Lero added with a grin. “She pulled some strings and hired a small army of foal sitters for when the party goes into the night.”

“Yeah!” Pinkie said happily. “I got a huge bag of bits this morning and a letter from Anonymous saying to make Galen feel as welcome as possible, so I went all out! I've been baking since this morning and put in orders with all the other restaurants in town for food.”

Galen shook his head, a grin splitting his face. Of all the things, he was not expecting to have a welcoming party. Maybe just a small get together with his friends once he got established. He thought he could have just slipped into life without making too much of a splash. It looks like this mare decided to blow up the pond.

“Thank ya, Pinkie,” he said as he walked over to her, crouched down and gave her a quick hug before holding her at arms length. “But ya din't even know me before now. Why go through all this jus' ta welcome me ta Ponyville?”

“Hey, it's what I do,” she replied with a grin before raising her voice and half turned to the amassed crowd. “Now, are we ready to get this party started?!”

The answering roar of approval drove the resting birds in the orchard from their spots in a quick bout of panic. They easily parted for Galen and his small entourage as Pinkie led them to the center one out of a trio large pavilions set up along the northern edge of the yard, surrounded by enough tables that half the town could easily be seated. The middle pavilion seemed to be for Galen while the two that flanked the central one held several long trestle tables, every square inch filled with platters of food. The yard enclosed by the barn, out buildings and house had been designated as a dance floor of sorts and a small bandstand had been put up to provide music. The barn had been closed up and a sign put up that said “Open After Dark.” Galen grinned as he knew that it likely held the more adult refreshments and was pleased to know that these ponies were the responsible sort.

After weaving their way through the tables and benches until they stood at the entrance to the pavilion, Pinkie looked to Galen and motioned for him to look behind him. He did so and found the crowd looking at him expectantly. He sighed with a smirk. They really did things the old way here and they wouldn't really start until he gave them some words. Well, he could entertain them, he supposed.

He turned to face the mostly silent crowd and took a deep breath before letting it out slowly.

“Even though Ah've only been 'ere fer about a day, but Ah mus' say tha' Ah'm overwhelmed,” he began. “When Ah first showed up, Ah was shocked, confused an' worried 'bout what would become o' me and Riley. Yesterday, Jack an' 'er fam'ly took us in when Ah was down, feeding and housing us fer tha night without askin' fer a thing in return. Today, Leera an' 'is wives taught me a lot 'bout where Ah am an' 'bout how is in yer town. Though Ah've found maself far from home, an' from what they say, likely never able ta get back, Ah think Ah lucked out in coming here. Seeing yew all out 'ere jus' ta welcome me jus' drives tha' point home. So, thank yew all fer comin' an' le's not waste any o' our mysterious donors money! Le's party!”

The crowd cheered wildly and stamped their hooves to the ground in approval as they surged forward to officially introduce their selves to Galen and get the party started. Pinkie, being the excellent party mare she was, steered Galen and the others to his table of honor in the pavilion, the Apples sitting to his right while Lero and the others to his left. A line quickly formed up and the introductions started coming. Off in the distance, music was starting up as the ponies cleared away from the dancing area while others made their way to the food and started to help their selves. Galen was able to hold his own for quite a while as the ponies came one after another, from shop owners to musicians to scribes to fillies and colts, excited to meet the new human. Apparently Lero made it around town enough that each of the villagers had passed on some of the good will that he had spread back on to Galen. After almost an hour, Galen's stomach finally decided to noisily protest its lack of attention, so with a final greeting, he broke away for a while to get himself some food.

As he made his way to the pavilion on his left, he spotted Lero piling up a plate with what looked like seafood. Galen also noticed a rather large pot as well, simmering gently as Lero took up a bowl and ladled it full with what looked like a very rich gumbo. Grinning, Galen hurried over and caught his attention as he grabbed a plate and looked at the spread.

“Sneakin' off an' leavin' me ta starve?” he asked with a tone of mock hurt.

Lero snorted with a grin, “Hey, I can't help it if you're the toast of the town right now.”

“So, kinda surprised ta see seafood,” Galen said with a wave at the spread.

“This is all stuff from Crispy's,” Lero answered. “Pegasi eat seafood fairly often, and their cooking is top notch.”

“Ah'll take yer word fer it,” Galen replied with a grin as he started heaping his plate high with grilled fish, toasted and golden in its breading, sauteed shrimp in garlic butter, and other things he couldn't name but looked delicious anyway. With the plate filled to the brink of its capacity, he took a pair of bowls and filled them to the brim with the gumbo that Lero had just helped himself to. Lero stood by, watching with raised eyebrows at Galen's serving size and laughed when he was asked to help carry back Galen's plate so he could get another one filled up. With Lero holding the heavy plate and his own bowl, Galen quickly retrieved another plate and loaded it with the other courses that he didn't have room for on his first pass. With a second plate similarly filled to capacity, Galen took both bowls, one in each hand and cradled his plate delicately on his wrists as he started heading back to their table.

As they returned, Lero was given an odd look by Rainbow that quickly turned to a bit of surprise when she saw that the plate was for Galen. “I almost thought you had suddenly grown a second stomach,” she said laughing at Lero. “Holy crap, Galen,” Dash continued as she saw what he had brought over. “Didn't you eat enough today?”

“Sorry,” he apologized with a weak smile. “Lunch was more of a snack than anythin'.”

“Galen's got an appetite ta match me an' Big Mac after a long day of work,” Applejack cut in with a grin. “We didn't have hardly any leftovers last night.”

“Din't hurt tha' tha cookin' was top notch either,” Galen replied once he had set his plate and bowls on the table as well.

She just shook her head with a rueful smile and sat back to watch him dig in and see for herself his appetite in action. Galen sat down, scooted close to the table and arranged everything just so before picking up a fork from the table and began to eat. It didn't take much more than twenty minutes before everypony and Lero to stop their conversation as Galen ate every bite of food on his plates and the contents of his bowls, not even leaving anything more than a paltry few drops of moisture in them. For Galen, it was a treat to have such well cooked seafood, rarely getting the chance to eat much back in his village nor in such variety.

“Whew...” he said as he slid the last bowl away and sighed happily. “Tha' should set me righ' fer a while.”

“A while?” Rainbow dash said incredulously. “That would feed me for days!”

The others laughed at that and shook their heads at Galen's gastronomic capacity. “So, wha's there ta drink?”

Pinkie suddenly appeared on Galen's left, startling him enough that he almost tipped himself over. “Well, there's fizzy cherry soda, apple cider, punch, pretty much any juice you could think of and water if you like that sorta thing.” Galen paused for a moment to process the rapid list she told him, pondered it for a moment and decided on a mug of apple cider. Pinkie just grinned and seemed to blink out of existence as she ran off to get him his drink. It took little more than a moment before she reappeared on his other side with a mug of foaming cider balanced perfectly on top of her head, this time only causing his heart rate to jump up uncomfortably. “Here ya go!” she said happily.

“Thank ya very much, Pinkie,” he replied with a slowly growing smile at the mares eccentric behavior. “Why don't ya pull up a seat an' relax fer a bit. Yew certainly deserve it since it was yew who pulled this whole shindig tagether.”

“I couldn't,” she demurred, placing her hoof to her chest. “I still have a lot of things I have to do to make sure this turns out to be the best welcome party for someone from another world.”

“Well, Ah think yew've done more than enough, Pinkie,” Galen replied with a warm smile.

“But...” she tried to say but Galen cut her off.

“Seriously,” he said as he swept his hand across the view in front of them, the ponies of the entire town milling about and having a fantastic time with good food and friends. “Yew brought literally the entire town out just fer me. Every one of them seems ta be havin' a good time. Why don't yew jus' relax a bit an' enjoy all yer hard work? 'Ave yew even eaten yet?”

“I guess I could...” she conceded with only a mildly put off expression, “and I always sample the food that's served, so I've eaten plenty.”

“Well, tha's good ta know,” he replied warmly. “Wouldn't do fer tha party planner ta not enjoy 'er own plannin'. 'Sides, yew can always check in a bit later ta make sure ev'rythin's goin' smoothly.”

Pinkie smiled and giggled at that, “That makes sense.” With that, she trotted off to find herself a chair while Galen and Applejack scooted apart a bit to make room for Pinkie when she returned a moment later with a chair balanced on her back. She bucked slightly, sending the chair sailing over her head to land perfectly between the two and hopped over the back of it, landing squarely on her rump.

“So, how are you liking everything so far?” she asked Galen once she situated herself a little more comfortably on her seat.

“Ta be honest, Ah don' quite know yet,” Galen replied. Pinkie cocked her head to the side in confusion and Galen snorted a bit at that. “Ah guess Ah mean tha' Ah was completely broadsided with yer plans an' Ah know tha' Ah'll have a good time, but it won' really sink in fer a while. Sorta like a festival, ya know? Yew know yer gonna 'ave fun, but yer so excited an' distracted tha' yew don' know yew 'ad a good time 'till yer exhausted an' 'bout ready ta pass out.”

“I never really thought of it like that before,” Pinkie replied. “Did any of you girls feel that way when we had parties?”

“Sometimes,” Applejack replied with a rueful smirk. “It's like your parties are so good that we get all caught up in the moment and it only sinks in on the way home.”

“Exactly,” Twilight chimed with a wide smile in as she leaned forward to look at Pinkie.

“Huh...” she said with a hoof under her chin in a ponderous pose. “I guess that makes sense.”

The assembled group just chuckled a bit at that before Pinkie suddenly gasped before waving her hooves dangerously close to her neighbors heads and yelling, “Rarity! Rarity!!! OVER HERE!!!”

They all flinched away slightly from the volume of her voice near the end but they noticed a white unicorn mare with a painstakingly groomed violet mane and tail trotting between ponies and tables to them. She smiled winsomely with a slight toss of her mane and locked eyes with Galen, “You must be Galen, it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Rarity, owner of the Carousel Boutique and I must say that when you have a moment of spare time, please drop by so that I can take your measurements so that I can make you some clothes.”

Galen smiled back at Rarity, “Business first before play, huh?”

“Of course,” she replied smoothly. “Best to get it over and done with so that one may enjoy the festivities.”

Galen nodded at that, “Thank ya fer yer offer. Ah'll be sure ta drop by when Ah have tha chance.”

“Please do,” she continued. “From what I hear, you've yet to even get settled, so please feel free to ask for any attire you might want or need. I'll give you a wonderful deal and you won't have to worry about paying me back all at once until you've found work.”

Galen smiled warmly before replying, “Thank yew, Rarity. Yer generosity warms mah heart.”

“Think nothing of it,” she responded, her smile growing wide.

“So, have yew 'ad a chance ta eat yet?” he asked as he motioned to the pavilions flanking his. “There seems ta be plenty fer everyone an' it would be a waste not ta enjoy yerself.”

“Not yet, but rest assured that I will have a wonderful time,” she replied. Galen smiled and waved as she turned and went off to get herself a plate of food.

“She seems nice enough,” he said to no one in particular.

“She's normally not so formal, but she can't help it when she's in the middle of a large party,” Lero supplied. “You should have seen her at our Hearth's Warming party last year. She got a little deep into the cherry brandy and tried to dance with my coat rack.”

Galen choked slightly as he tried to restrain his laughter while the others just laughed about the memory out loud. They sat there for a little while meeting and greeting the seemingly endless stream of villagers, each of them going to get something to eat once or twice before they eventually meandered out into the mass of ponies. The party had been going at a steady clip for the past two hours, but the sun was beginning to set, so the fillies and colts were being herded together to the waiting group of foal sitters who greeted their charges with bright smiles and nuzzles for all. Galen was pretty surprised to see how excited the little ones were to be sent home with their caretakers.

Pinkie, sensing that the time was almost upon them, slipped from the table with a few muttered instructions for Lero, his wives and the oldest Apple siblings. Galen was just about to get up for another pass at the food tables for some dessert but found himself flanked on both sides by his companions once he got up. He looked curiously at them but remembered suddenly that there was a barn to be opened once all the little fillies and colts had been sent off. Well, they were on their way back to town now, so it was time for the adults to kick things up a notch.

“Time ta open tha barn?” he asked the obvious question with a grin.

“Time to open the barn,” Lero confirmed, his own grin matching Galen's.

With that, they proceeded to make their way between the tables, the various ponies looking up at the group being headed by Galen and grinned as they either moved to join them or ran off to gather their friends for the second half of the festivities. It wasn't long until Galen found himself standing in front of the barn and turned to Pinkie.

“So, should Ah jus' open it up? Or should Ah wait a bit?”

She looked around and spotted a few stallions bringing logs around from behind the barn, unloaded by a pair of unicorns and getting stacked in the makings of a trio of bonfires. “Just give it a bit,” she replied with a slow nod of her head and a smirk. “Gotta wait for the logs to get stacked before we kick things up a notch.”

“Ah got ya,” he said as he moved to the front of the barn and leaned his back against the doors. “So, this sorta party common 'round here?”

“We have two or three like this every year,” Rainbow answered. “I hope you have a good constitution, Galen, because we're gonna drink you under the table.”

His smile left his face at that. “Tha' so, little mare?” he replied with a wicked grin.

Rainbow bristled at that while Applejack guffawed. “Darn straight, big man. Ain't no pony, no man that can out drink the Rainbow Dash.”

Galen's smile just widened a bit at that as he watched her puff herself up proudly. Lero just moaned piteously as he wiped his hand down his face. “We're not going home tonight, are we?” he asked to no one in particular.

Twilight giggled, a grin of her own splitting her face, “We'll have to see if Applejack has a room we can borrow for the night.”

“You guys know we got one for ya,” Applejack supplied. “Jus' don't mess it up as much as last time.”

Dash blushed a bit at that remark but said nothing. Lyra snickered, Twilight laughed delightedly and Lero just smiled. Galen snorted a laugh and craned his neck to see that the towers of wood were close to completion. “Looks like tha show's 'bout ta start. Yew guys ready ta open tha big box an' get this party started?”

“Hell yeah!” came as the collective reply from the group and mass of ponies behind them, so Galen pushed himself off the wall with a twist so that he was facing it when he came to a rest. He lifted the heavy piece of timber from its rests and let it tumble to the side as he grasped the handles, pulling the doors open with a dramatic flourish. The inside was immediately lit up by the light of the setting sun and it was glorious. Fifty large barrels of hard cider acted as the roost for more than three times their number in smaller casks of brandy and colored glass bottles of harder liquors. Galen felt his heart thump once in excitement. He hadn't had a night like this in front of him since the last Beltane.

We turned back to the ponies looking on with glee plastered across their faces, “Then what're we waitin' fer?”

He was almost bowled over as the laughing ponies rushed forward to remove the barns store of treasured alcohol. The band stand was converted into a makeshift bar as barrels were set up on their sides and taps hammered in. Mugs were distributed and filled with surprising efficiency and Galen found himself with one in his right and a blazing torch in the other without knowing how it had happened. Looked like he was to start this part off as well. Well, he would start it right. Walking into the center of the three towers of wood and waited for most of the ponies to get served their first mugs of hard cider. They encircled the small space set aside for the fires and looked on eagerly. Galen lifter his mug to them and walked to his right, trailing the torch along the base of the logs, lamp oil flaring to life in a flash of heat and smoke. He walked on to the next and did the same thing but stopped at the third, raising his mug to the crowd. “Ah'd like ta propose a toast ta tha Appah's fer their kindness an' 'ospitality, Leera an' 'is wives fer their patience an' understandin'. But, Ah gotta say tha' Pinkie deserves a toast most of all, 'cause without 'er workin' 'er flank off, we wouldn't be 'ere tanight ta enjoy tha boon of our mysterious benefactor. Hear, hear!” he finished, tilting his mug back and downing the drink in ten seconds flat.

“Hear, hear!!!” the crowd shouted back enthusiastically. Galen waited for them to finish with their drinks, or as much as they could before he took the torch and jammed it down the hole in the top, the puddle of oil springing to life in a large puff of smoke that billowed up in a ring. As the crowd cheered, he rejoined his friends a moment later, grinning hard enough to hurt.

“A bit dramatic, don't you think?” Lero asked with a half smile.

“A bit,” Galen replied. “But tha's what these things're all about. Gotta follow protocol an' give a good show ta start things off righ'.”

“That was a good toast though,” Rainbow said with a grin and a chuckle. “You even got Pinkie to blush from that.”

“Speaking of which, where is she?” Applejack asked, looking around.

“She ran off somewhere to cool down,” Twilight answered with a giggle. “I don't think she's used to getting acknowledged for her parties like that.”

“She's a party planner, ain't she?” Galen asked.

“Yeah, but she works for the Cakes at Sugar Cube Corner,” Rainbow answered. “She plans and sets up the parties but the Cakes get most of the credit since they're the caterers and she works for them. She's used to working from the background, just as long as everypony has a good time.”

“Well, she deserves more credit than tha',” Galen replied with a smile. “She brought out tha entire town jus' fer me. Ah jus' thought Ah was gonna slip inta town without much fuss, but thanks ta her, we all got ta 'ave an' amazin' day.”

“No kidding,” Lero said with a laugh. “She really is an amazing mare and a fantastic friend.”

“Ah'll second tha',” Galen said. “So, Ah was wonderin'... how'd yew guys get 'ere? Ah saw yer tracks disappear a little way from tha shelter.”

“Oh, Pinkie Pie got our attention and told Twilight to teleport us over here for a surprise party,” Lero answered. “Everything immediately clicked once she told us that and we showed up in the middle of that massive crowd that greeted you.”

“Tha' magic o' yers is mighty handy,” Galen said to Twilight and Lyra with a rueful shake of his head. “Yew'll 'ave ta show me some o' what yew can' do sometime.”

“Okay, okay,” Rainbow cut in as she headbutted Galen in the side of his hip. “Enough talk, let's get to drinking. You started it, but I'm gonna finish it metal man.”

“Yew get our table, Ah'll get tha drinks,” Galen replied as Lero rolled his eyes, laughter dancing in them as he watched his wife picking a fight of cups and mugs.

“I'll be waiting,” she said as she grabbed Lero's hand in her mouth and dragged him off with her.

“You sure you'll be alright by the end?” Applejack asked with a smirk. “Ah've gone hoof ta hoof with 'er before and she ain't no lightweight.”

“Ah'll be fine,” he replied. “This ain't mah first dance.”

Galen smirked in response to her grin at seeing his casual confidence before heading over to the makeshift bar and grabbed a few mugs of cider along with five medium sized bottles and four shot glasses. He meandered into the crowd and soon spotted Lero waving him over. He put the mugs on the table before setting the bottles down and sliding one of the glasses over to Dash.

“I didn't think you'd start with some cider,” she said with a smile.

“Jus' one fer each o' us with a slight modification,” he answered. “Which o' these is tha hardest?”

“That one,” Dash replied, her hoof tapping the bottle with a violet wax seal. “Berry Punch color codes her waxes.”

“Neat,” Galen replied as he drew his knife and sliced the seal off easily. Once he sniffed the mouth of the bottle, taking a quick sip of vanilla and cinnamon flavored liqueur, he filled two shot glasses before dropping each one in a separate mug of cider. “'Tain't beer, but it'll do fer a decent opening,” he finished as he sat down across from Rainbow Dash.

“Oh man,” Lero said with a grin. “I never thought about trying a hard cider boiler maker. I'm gonna be right back.” He got up with a chuckle and practically skipped into the crowd to get a shot glass and another mug of cider for himself. Once he had left, Applejack and Big Mac showed up with Pinkie Pie in tow.

“Bottom's up,” Galen said as he grabbed the handle of his mug and downed the contents in a few moments. Rainbow followed suit, drinking hers at a distinctly faster clip and slammed her mug on the table.

“Alright, Galen,” she said with a glance to the other bottles. “Enough kiddie games. Let's get serious.”

“Hoo boy,” Applejack muttered quietly as she pulled up a seat. “It's gonna be one of those parties, ain't it?”

“Eeyup,” Big Mac answered before sipping his own cider.

With the addition of the Apple siblings, other ponies came over to see what was going on and yelled to others that Rainbow was already having a drinking contest with the new human. That got everypony excited in a hurry and they were soon jockeying for a good position to the show. Lero managed to find his way back just in time with Twilight and Lyra as well as another bottle of hard liqueur and a trio of shot glasses. As they took their seats, Galen filled each of their dry glasses with a healthy sloshing of the cinnamon liqueur. He set the bottle back down and raised the glass to his lips before tossing it back with a flick of his wrist, Rainbow downing hers a few seconds later. The drink smoldered on its way down, sweet and spicy with the spark of alcohol wafting back up to set fire to the smoldering heat. In moments, their previous mugs of drink suddenly decided to make their contributions known as a gossamer web of warm comfort that they welcomed gladly.

They continued in this manner for some time, the crowds excitement becoming more and more tense as bets were made, lost and won time and again with ever increasing stakes as Galen showed himself to be a worthy competitor. Eventually, they ran out of the first bottle and moved onto the next one. Galen's first shot tasted like smokey cherries and nuts, the flavors of late autumn and warmed him as it would without the fire that accompanied the first bottle. Things were getting fuzzy around the edges as the alcohol coursed through their bodies in ever increasing amounts. The ponies and man around their table had been steadily imbibing as well, simply getting their mugs replaced and bottles of preferred brandies or liqueurs brought to them by eager acquaintances.

Galen wasn't sure when they started in on their third bottle, or their fourth since everything began blurring together by that point. He looked down when he noticed a sleight weight at some point resting on his lap and found Pinkie Pie looking back up, her face flushed with alcohol, laughter sounding from those around him as though at some great prank. He grinned down at her and ruffled her mane as he downed his next shot and saw that Rainbow was laughing at him as well. Lero cut in half a bottle later and decided to call it a draw to their indifference, Rainbow Dash grinning sloppily as she surged across the tabletop yelling something about still winning and tackled the modestly inebriated Lero to the ground. Galen laughed and cheered with the rest of the ponies and stood up with Pinkie Pie who squeaked slightly as she was cradled easily in one of his arms and strode into the crowd, on to the next event.

That's all he knew at that point before the alcohol took him completely.


Galen woke up the next morning with a disgruntled snort and a slimy feeling mouth as golden sunlight streamed in from somewhere. He just lay where he was and waited for the headache of the hangover to start, smacking his lips and working his tongue in his mouth to at least clear it of the feeling. It never came, so he just relaxed and fell back asleep, turning over and basking in the warmth he was in, his arm wrapping around something soft and warm.

He woke up some time later, slightly groggy from sleeping too much though he didn't have much of a headache which surprised him. His bladder was complaining rather forcefully of it's need to be relieved, so he moved to get up and noticed that he was sleeping in the middle of a pile of straw. At least he knew he hadn't wandered too far in his black out drunken state and should at least still be on the farm. He began brushing the layer of straw off and found himself in the buff, his clothes nowhere in sight. He sighed and shook his head before giving up and just leaving quickly with a carefully placed hand in front of his groin to take care of urgent matters. As he made his way through the barn, he heard the distinct sound of dozens of ponies snoring in other similar piles of straw and picked up his pace. Once outside, he rushed out into the orchard to deal with matters since he didn't want to wake any of the Apples if they were still sleeping, especially if they found him like this. The sun showed that it was somewhere between eight and nine in the morning and after a night like that, he wasn't sure if he wanted to stumble across a half drunk Applejack and have to explain himself. Once he was out of sight of the house, he found a bush to use and finished as quickly as possible, thankfully not being disturbed during his entire ordeal.

He quickly rushed back to the barn and the pile he woke up in and tossed himself back first onto it with a casual sigh, piling a layer of straw over himself to preserve his modesty for the most part. He brought his hands up and behind his head, lacing his fingers together as he relaxed and tried to recall the night after Rainbow Dash had apparently began a drunken make out session with Lero. He kinda remembered a rather tall, dark pony showing up at some point, yelling forsooths and huzzahs, but he was pretty hazy on the details. There was something about Pinkie Pie and a few other mares trying to dance with him, but that was about it. To say the least, he hadn't gotten that drunk in a few years and hadn't felt this good after a night of hard drinking either. He felt his stomach rumbling with hunger and wondered if there was any food left over from yesterday outside.

With a quick yawn, Galen returned himself to a sitting position and was about to stand up when a stirring to his side drew his attention to it. He glanced over and saw a portion of his hay mound rise up and fall away to reveal a bright pink coated mare with a slightly darker mane and tail with her back to him. She looked around owlishly before turning around enough to see that Galen was occupying the same mound as she was. Her eyes widened slightly and a furious blush rushed from the base of her neck to her hairline as she let out embarrassed little squeaks. Deciding to take the initiative, Galen did the only thing a man could do in a severely compromising position such as this after a night of hazy debauchery and finding a woman in his bed, or in this case, mound of straw. “Mornin',” he said in a low voice so as not to wake up any of the other sleeping ponies. “Some night last night, huh?”

About Last Night

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About Last Night

Galen sat there, holding his breath for the inevitable explosion that would erupt. Pinkie's eyes were almost comically wide in shock and confusion, her cute little squeaks of distress ringing in the gentle ambiance of snoring ponies as she tried to pull together a coherent thought. Finally she broke eye contact with Galen and turned her head away in embarrassment, her furious blush still showing on her lower neck despite her face being covered by her curly mane. Galen felt guilty for making light of the situation and sighed quietly before he scooted over a little to place his hand on her shoulder. She twitched slightly at the contact though she didn't pull away.

“Yew alrigh', Pinkie?” he asked quietly. She nodded slightly, not turning to look at him.

“I can't believe we did that last night,” she said quietly.

“Ya sure we did?” Galen asked, concerned about her mortified reaction.

“Not entirely, but why would we be waking up together and you being naked?”

“Well, Ah'm not entirely sure, but Ah couldn't find any o' mah clothes when Ah woke up,” he replied comfortingly. “Maybe somethin' happened an' they're bein' taken care of?”

Pinkie looked back at Galen, though her blush was still there. “Maybe? Last night did get pretty insane,” she replied with a giggle as her blush began lowering in intensity, though she still had a flush to her face.

Galen snorted in amusement at that. “Ah don' have anythin' but hazy memories after drinkin' with Dash. Ah remember a few things, but they don' make much sense.”

It was Pinkie's turn to snort in laughter at that, quickly covering her mouth in a moment of embarrassment before seeing Galen chuckling with her. She lowered her hoof and joined him in their shared plight. When their quiet laughter died down, Galen looked to her and asked, “So, what now? Now tha' yer awake, it wouldn't be seemly fer me ta jus' run about unclothed.”

She blushed and giggled before replying, “I got ya covered. I'll look around and see if I can find your clothes, or a towel or blanket if nothing else.”

“Much obliged,” he said with a toothy smile. With that, Pinkie slid down the short slope of the hay pile they were on and made her way out of the barn. Once outside, she blushed slightly as she did a quick mess check with a hoof swiping quickly between her hind legs. It came back without any kind of residue, so that further reassured her that Galen had the right of things and was pretty sure nothing happened last night. Smiling to herself, Pinkie began looking around to area for Galen's clothes. She didn't have far to go before she spotted a little pile of what appeared to be severely charred rags. Rags that happened to be the same color and apparent material as his clothes. She wasn't quite sure what she should make of it, but she thought that asking Applejack for a towel would be prudent. Once she had made her way to the farmhouse, she knocked on the front door with a few heavy blows. It didn't take long before she heard a slight racket from the living room followed shortly by a weary Applejack opening the door.

“Good morning, Applejack,” she said cheerfully. “Do you have a spare towel or blanket Galen could borrow? It looks like his clothes caught fire last night, so he's hiding in the barn right now.”

Applejack's mouth quirked up in a smile as she snorted in laughter. “Ah didn't dream that up then, huh?” she said with a chuckle before continuing, “Yeah, sure, Ah got a towel he can use.” Applejack moved back, letting Pinkie in as she went over to the linens closet and opened it up, only to take a startled step back as she saw what was inside. Pinkie looked in and saw Rarity curled up in the cramped confines of the closet, several of the shelves having been taken down for room, half covered under several sets of bed sheets and towels. “What in tarnation?”

Pinkie struggled to choke back her laughter at the sight. “M-maybe we s-should j-just get what we n-need a-and let her be?”

Applejack shook her head in defeat and took the top sheet from Rarity's pile before closing the door and leading them back to the living room. “Ah swear, Pinks, one of these days Ah'll stop being surprised at the aftermath of your town wide parties. Don't mean Ah want 'em ta stop or anythin' like that, just that Ah won't be surprised once the dust settles is all.”

Pinkie giggled at that and grinned back at Applejack. “As long as everypony has a good time, I don't mind helping to clean up the mess.”

“Ya know, Galen was right yesterday,” Applejack replied. “Ya gotta stop holding yourself back so much.”

“What do you mean?” she said with a slight frown.

“Once you get a party set up, you don't really get ta enjoy it,” she explained. “Sure, you dance with us and play games with us, but you're always worrying about something that needs ta be done. You can't really enjoy your parties. That's part of the reason why we got together ta throw your birthday party like we did.”

She looked back at Applejack, a slightly melancholic expression on her face. “But that's what makes me the happiest. Making everypony, everyone else happy. It's the least I can do for my friends.”

“That may be, but your friends want you to have as much fun with us as we do with you,” Applejack said as she moved closer to Pinkie and gave her a quick hug before holding her by her shoulders. “Like last night. Ah swear, we never had such a great party, all 'cause Galen dragged you into it without takin' no fer an answer.”

“I'll keep that in mind,” Pinkie replied, her eyes shimmering slightly from happy tears pooling slightly but not falling. “But Galen really needs that sheet. He's still naked in the barn.”

Applejack guffawed as she passed it over to Pinkie who was chortling at the situation with a slight blush. “Once he's decent again, come back in and Ah'll whip up some breakfast for you two.”

“You don't have to,” Pinkie replied. “There's plenty of leftovers for us to eat.”

“Ah know, but this way, Ah can get you guys up ta speed about what went on last night,” she said with a smirk that had Pinkie blushing again. She was getting worried that she would burst into flames if she kept blushing so much.

“Alright,” she said as she bundled the sheet on her back and turned to head out. “See you soon.” Applejack just smirked and nodded in reply before heading into the kitchen while Pinkie left the house. Quickly crossing the yard, she reentered the barn and saw Galen scratching his bearded chin as he tried to recall everything that had happened last night.

“I think your clothes aren't gonna make it,” Pinkie said as she walked up to him, drawing him out of his reverie.

“Ah kinda remember tryin' ta jump through tha bonfire fer luck, but Ah can't remember how it turned out,” he replied with a sigh. “At least Ah didn't wind up hurt.”

“Why would you jump through for luck? Wouldn't you already need luck to jump through it in the first place?”

“It's an old custom,” he replied as he ran a hand over his hair. “Ah made it through alrigh', but not mah clothes. There's somethin' ironic here, but Ah'm jus' not seein' it righ' now.”

Pinkie giggled at that before whipping the bed sheet off her back, covering Galen. “There ya go. When you're decent, come back to the house. Applejack said that she'll have breakfast for us in a little bit.”

“Alrigh',” Galen replied once he had the sheet off his head. “Mind turnin' away fer a moment?”

“Oh,” Pinkie said with a slight blush before doing just that. “Right.”

From behind, she heard slight rustling and patting noises as Galen stood and brushed off the straw from his body. She didn't hear much else as he covered himself and almost jumped when she felt his hand tousle her mane. “Ready ta go?” he asked as he looked down at her with a grin. She smiled back and nodded in reply before letting him lead the way. For the most part, Galen hadn't done anything fancy as far as covering himself with the sheet went as he had just wrapped it around his waist a few times before tying it off snugly on the side of his hip. Pinkie couldn't help but feel her face heat up again as she watched him walk away, the way the muscles of his back undulated with the slight shifting of his hips as he walked silently through the barn. Catching herself staring, Pinkie hurried up to match his pace but a little behind to hide her blush. Once outside, he glanced around and spotted the small pile of charred rags but tilted his head in confusion after a moment. “These all there were, Pinkie?”

“Yeah, why?”

“'Cause I don' see any remains o' my boxers.”

“Boxers? What're those?”

“Underwear ta keep mah privates privater,” he said with a smirk.

Pinkie gave an uncontrolled snort of laughter at that before catching herself with a blush. Galen gave her a grin and a low chuckle before turning back to the house. They quickly crossed the yard and walked inside the house to the sounds and smells of Applejack cooking in the kitchen. Galen walked with an appreciative sniff of the air. Pinkie followed a second behind him as she took an appreciative whiff of the slightly sweet, slightly bitter aroma of simple pancakes sizzling on a hot skillet. Applejack looked up at the pair briefly before returning her attention to the cooking food. Galen moved around the table and took a spot at random while Pinkie decided to seat herself on the opposite side. They waited in silence for only a few minutes while Applejack finished preparations for their short stacks. With her usual panache, she slid the plates across the table to rest in front of them before seating herself and pouring some maple syrup over her meal before passing it over to Pinkie.

“So?” Pinkie asked as she leaned slightly closer to Applejack. “What happened last night?”

“Eat your breakfast first,” she replied as she sliced off a good sized piece and practically stuffed her face with it. Pinkie frowned slightly but did as suggested. It would be a horrible waste to let such great smelling pancakes go cold. Galen soon was slathering sugary goodness over his cakes and began eating. They didn't last long, but the weight of the meal left them much more awake and ready to weather what was coming.

“So...” Galen began.

“Yeah, you two were nothin' but trouble last night,” Applejack said with a grin that showed she didn't mind one bit.

“Really?” Pinkie asked with half a grin.

“Well, you got it in your head after more than a few hard ciders that Galen was the 'best thing since quintuple chocolate cupcakes with vanilla filling' and stole a kiss a little bit after the contest,” Applejack said with a smirk. Pinkie just flushed with embarrassment from her neck on up, trying to hide it with her forelegs. “Yeah, Ah know Pinks. Ah was there an' saw the whole thing.”

“Such a bold mare,” Galen said with a warm grin that only inflamed Pinkie's blush further.

“You're not much better, Galen,” Applejack said with a wry smirk that only made Galen grin wider. “You just made things worse! I mean, you almost ended up mobbed when you not only let Pinkie kiss you, you kissed her back sayin' there was 'nothin' wrong with a kiss 'ere an' there between friends.' You almost got to be 'friends' with a good portion of the town after that.”

Galen devolved into snorts and full bodied laughter at that while Pinkie gave a barely audible squeak. “At least Ah'm whole an' hale. Seemed ta come out all righ' in tha end.”

Applejack just shook her head with an amused expression. “You certainly seemed ta push your luck when you tried to jump through each of the bonfires. You didn't do too bad for the most part, 'cept for settin' all your clothes on fire. You got out of those right quick, Ah can tell you that.”

“Yeah, Ah saw tha',” he replied with a chagrined smile. “Didn't find any signs o' my boxers though.”

“Oh, yeah, those,” Applejack said with a blush before pulling her hat over her face, only to let out a startled yelp and threw her hat away with an even deeper blush. Galen and Pinkie just looked at each other before fixing Applejack with a look. “What? It ain't my fault. Take a look.”

Pinkie made her way over to where the hat lay and looked inside before snorting in laughter, beckoning Galen over. He went over and picked the hat up to look inside. The contents of the hat were certainly a bit of a surprise as he pulled out his missing underwear. “Really?” he asked with a raised eyebrow to Applejack.

“Yeah, really,” she replied, still blushing a little. “You told me you were goin' native and ta take care of them before just stuffing them in there and running off as free as a lark with a gaggle of blushing mares hot on your heels. Ah forgot all 'bout 'em until just now.”

“Ya think any of them will remember anything?” he asked with a slightly worried expression. He didn't want to have to keep sidestepping any number of mares making advancements or offers to him in the following weeks.

Applejack snorted at that. “If there's more than one or two that would after a night like that, Ah would highly doubt it.”

Galen gave a little sigh of relief as Pinkie giggled at the whole situation. Galen stood back up before stepping into his boxers, sliding them up under the bed sheet without compromising his modesty. What little he had to salvage after his apparent stunt last night, anyway. He took the sheet off and draped it across the back of a chair before returning to his seat with a sigh. “So, who all else is up and about righ' now?” he asked.

“Well, Lero and the others went back ta their place to recuperate. Dash was still drunker than you would believe, so Lero had ta carry her home. The rest weren't too bad off, tired, some headaches and probably the worst mornin' breath you'd ever smell. Not too bad after a night like that.”

“Really? Ah thought she would be up at tha least,” Galen said. “She could certainly drink with tha best of 'em.”

“That she can do,” Applejack agreed. “But pegasi don't have the same constitution the other tribes have. When they get drunk, they stay drunk for a good while. She won't be back to normal until tonight at the earliest an' tomorrow at the latest.”

“She do this often?” Galen asked with some concern.

“Only when we have these big parties, but Ah ain't too worried since she has Lero and the others ta nurse her hangovers,” Applejack replied with a smirk.

“Tha's good ta know,” Galen said, relieved that she wouldn't be more than inconvenienced with some lingering drunkenness. “So, what happened ta my other stuff?”

“Ah got it stored up in mah room, so no need ta worry,” she replied.

“Got ya,” he said before he fell into a thoughtful silence. “So when does tha cleanup start?”

“In a bit,” she replied. “Not many get up 'fore noon.”

“Normally take long?”he asked, continuing when Applejack shook her head with a happy smile, “Ah was thinkin' about brainstorming some ideas 'bout what all Ah need ta start up a forge an' business 'ere. Can't go freeloadin' offa yew and yours too much.”

“Don't you worry 'bout that,” Applejack said almost gruffly, her smile removing any hint of perceived anger. “We'll take care of you and Riley 'till you get back on your feet. Ah know you'll make it up to us one way or another.”

Galen nodded with a smile. “Thanks, Jack. It really means a lot ta me tha' we have friends as open an' generous as yew after only knowin' us fer only a short while.”

“We gotta look out for each other,” she replied with a confident smile. “That way when one of us stumbles, the other can help us back up.”

“Righ' enough yew are, Jack,” Galen said with a smirk. “So, Ah don' know 'bout yew two, but Ah'm gearing up fer a nap soon.”

“That doesn't sound like too bad of an idea,” Applejack replied.

“If we end up sleeping anymore today, we'll be reaching Dash levels of sleep,” Pinkie said with a giggle.

“Must mean we're getting too old fer all this crap,” she said with a snort of laughter and a half grin.

“Either tha' or we had a helluva nigh' last nigh',” Galen replied.

“I think we can agree on the second one of those,” Pinkie said with a laugh at Applejack's remark.

“Ah can agree with that,” Applejack said with a grin. “So, how about we all hit the hay fer while?”

“Sounds like a plan ta me,” Galen replied as he stood up. “Ah'll take tha couch an' Pinks can have tha guest room.”

“No, no,” Pinkie said trying to pass it off. “I'm fine with the couch.”

“Not after tha way yew reacted this mornin',” he replied. “Ah'm sorry 'bout tha' again, Ah've neva been so drunk tha' Ah've ran about naked in front of a whole town before.”

Pinkie and Applejack blushed and laughed at that before Pinkie finally agreed to the arrangement. Once Galen had situated himself on the incredibly comfortable couch, he let out a content sigh and gave a yawn that completely blocked out everything for a moment. Blinking owlishly, he rolled onto his side and settled down to sleep. It was but a few minutes later, that if he had been awake in the least, that he would have seen a red faced Rarity creeping daintily through the house in an effort for nopony to see where she had ended up. But she made good her escape and as far as she knew, nopony knew what had become of her last night.

Setting the Foundation

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Setting the Foundation

Within the next couple hours, ponies started coming out of their alcohol induced hibernation. They came from the barn, the outhouses, from the outlying orchards and even the trees themselves. Galen watched from his spot on the porch with no small amount of wonder at how quickly the remnants of the party disappeared, the leftovers being divvied up between those who wanted some to take home for a late breakfast or lunch. He had tried to offer his help in cleaning up the mess, but none of them would have him do anything of the sort and turned him away, so he just found his current spot on the edge of the porch and watched. Riley had found him again, finally, as he had wandered off somewhere during the festivities. Likely getting hand outs from the huge congregation and gorging himself on who knew what.

Once every one of the villagers had woke up and chipped in their bit of help, it took under two hours for everything to look like it had the previous day, leaving Galen with a vague sense of emptiness. They had all come out for him, to welcome him and make him feel as though he belonged. He certainly felt welcomed, but he had yet to even begin belonging here. Lero had done it, but Galen knew he wasn't cut out for being a handyman. He was a blacksmith and he doubted that he would ever want to do much else, especially since he loved working with metal so much.

He did have Celestia's offer, and he would take it up on the condition that he repay her for anything he received. He wouldn't become a charity case so long as he had the ability to provide for himself. The only thing he needed was a leg up and he could see what he could make for himself here. Of course, if there was any way to get back to earth safely he would likely take it, but that was neither here nor there at the moment. He could only work with what he had at the moment, but he would make the most of it as long as he was here.

“What're you thinkin' about?” Applejack asked from behind him, disturbing his thoughts. “Mighty intense expression you had there.”

“Jus' 'bout where Ah'm goin' from 'ere,” he replied as he turned slightly to glance at her. “Thinkin' 'bout takin' up an offer that'll help me ta get set up proper with a forge.”

“That'll be mighty handy,” she replied with a raised eyebrow. “Who's hoofin' out the bits?”

“Tha Princess,” Galen muttered to her surprise. “She was willin' ta set me up without a thing in return.”

“Really,” she said levelly.

Galen nodded once and said, “Almost thought 'bout throwin' it back in 'er face, but Ah know Ah need help if Ah'm gonna make any kind o' life fer maself 'ere. Can't be so bull headed 'bout it an' beggar maself. Ain't too much fer me ta loose as it is, but Ah won't do tha' ta Riley.”

“You're a good man, Galen,” Applejack said earnestly. “Ah know pride can be a mighty stiff and stubborn thing from experience, but you seem ta know when it gets in the way. And when ta hold it in check an' take from others what ya need ta do what needs to be done.”

“Oh, Ah'm not takin' a damn thing from 'er,” he replied with a snort. “Ah'm just gonna take a loan of sorts. Ah plan on payin' 'er back, cause Ah'm not takin' a thing from 'er if she won't accept tha' much at tha least.”

It was Applejack's turn to snort in laughter this time, a smile lighting up her face. “Ah guess your pride's a bit stiffer than Ah thought. Least you can bend it a bit.”

“Ain't no point in havin' it if it ruins ya,” he replied, Applejack just nodding at that. “So, since tha town's recovering today, what's there ta do 'round here. Ah won't take yer generosity without pulling my own weight 'round here.”

“Not much ta do for a few days,” she replied. “We normally get a few days of chores taken care of for free for hosting these shindigs, so we got nothin' for ya. You're just gonna have ta grin and bear it,” she finished with a grin of her own.

“Ah guess Ah can find somethin' ta keep me occupied,” he replied with a smirk. “When do ya think Rarity will recover? Ah'm kinda short in tha clothes department as ya can see.”

“Ah'd say give it 'till tomorrow,” she replied with a faint nod.

“Least it's warm,” he said with a smirk. “Wouldn't be any fun if Ah were freezing my stones off.”

Her faint blush and snort of amusement said more than enough about that. “Ah think Pinkie's still around if you get bored. You seemed ta have a good time with her last night, but Ah'd suggest keepin' the kissin' to a minimum unless you're willing to be more than just friends. Ah don't want one of my best friends getting led on.”

Galen blushed at that, rubbing a finger over his mustache and giving a little cough. “Ah hear ya loud an' clear, Jack. Ah wouldn't do tha' ta any woman. Ah always make where we stand loud an' clear.”

“An' that's just as friends fer now?”

“'Course,” he replied. “Ah'm in no position ta start anythin' with anyone right now. Ah don' even own a full set o' clothes at tha moment.”

Applejack snorted in amusement at that before saying, “Least you got your priorities straight.”

“Yep,” he replied. “Most important thing on the list being ta get some decent clothes. Then comes tha other stuff.”

“So, 'bout your forge...” Galen raised an eyebrow as she continued, “Think you wanna set it up in town?”

“Would be a bit easier ta get shipments of materials and have a local market ta work with,” he replied with a moment of thought. “Though, Ah'm sure there would be restrictions on where Ah'll be able ta build since it can get mighty noisy.”

“Well, ever since you told us 'bout bein' a smith, Ah was thinkin' that you could build it out here on the farm,” she said with an inquisitive glance up at him. “Wouldn't have to do any ground breaking either since you demolished the top of that hill. Ah'll just charge you for the entirety of that hill and you can move in with us as well.”

Galen looked at Applejack with raised eyebrows as he thought it over. Sure, it would be a bit more difficult to get the materials out to the property, but it shouldn't be anything to worry over. He wouldn't have to worry about building restrictions due to noise or the proximity of other buildings and he could design the forge as big as he wanted since he would have an entire plot of land to work with. On the upside he would have a place to call home, with ponies that shared almost identical values about work and how they treated others, not to mention that he would likely have no shortage of work around the farm. Even if he built the forge out here on the property, he could invest a little more in a small building in town so that he could take commissions and sell the little odds and ends that make up the steadiest portion of a smith's income.

“Ah'll consider it after Ah look 'round a bit,” he replied neutrally. Couldn't seem too eager after that comment he let slip the other day. Besides, there actually might be a better option available and he could still help out the Apples. “Shouldn't make up mah mind without all the facts first.”

“Alright,” she replied. “Just thought Ah'd put that out there for ya.”

“Thanks fer tha offer, Jack,” he said with a smile. “Ah'll let ya know what's up after Ah find ev'rything Ah need ta know.”

She just nodded. “Ah don't know about you, but Ah'm gonna go take a nap. There's gonna be plenty of leftovers in case ya get hungry.”

“Right,” he replied. “Ah'll catch ya later, Jack.”

“Later,” she said as she turned from him and went back inside to crash on the couch again. With nothing to do, Galen decided to go for a walk around the orchard with Riley, especially since things might end up being more than a little awkward with Pinkie at the moment. He hopped off the porch and wandered across the yard between the various lingering ponies who waved or said hello as they went on their way, replying in turn until he found himself walking between the trunks of the trees as he headed north.

He walked for close to a mile before he finally found a nice group of trees by a small pond and lay down in the shade as a gentle breeze came through. Riley sat down beside him before falling on his side, sprawling across Galen's midsection as he wriggled around. Galen just shook his head at his dog and lay back to ponder his current situation a bit more but found himself quickly pulled under as the low grade fatigue from the past twenty four hours caught up to him again.


Pinkie was sitting in the kitchen, rubbing her hooves together with a pensive expression on her face as Applejack came back in for a glass of water before her nap. Applejack ignored her for the time being as her friend would speak what was on her mind if she wanted to. As she put a glass under the sink, Applejack watched her friends expressions in the reflection of the window. To see Pinkie looking so worried was something that didn't happen and Applejack finally turned to her friend and broke the silence.

“What's the matter, sugar cube?” Pinkie didn't respond, not really, opting just to look at Applejack and give a little whine as she frowned worriedly. “That ain't tellin' me anythin', darlin',” she deadpanned as she pulled up a chair beside her.

“Well...” Pinkie began in a tiny voice, “It's about Galen.”

“Ah,” Applejack said simply.

“Well, him and my Pinkie Sense,” Applejack raised her eyebrows at that. “You see, ever since he came here, I've been getting these new combo's and they're all tied to Galen. I don't know what a lot of them mean yet, but I do know one combo as clear as day.”

“Yeah?” Applejack asked with more than a bit of worry in her voice. “What's that?”

“If he can't find a life for himself here, in Equestria, a lot of really bad stuff is gonna happen,” she replied. “I'm pretty sure that Lero's involved as well, but I have no idea how or why.”

“And this has nothing to do with why you two were lockin' lips like ya were last night?”

Pinkie blushed at that and gave a weak smile, “I can't help it if I find him attractive for living in the here and now. I doubt we'd be able to do the same if the situation was reversed.”

“What do you mean by that?” Applejack said with a quizzical expression.

“Well, I'm sure that you'd want to find your way back home as soon as possible if you were in his position, right?” Applejack nodded. “Well, he's doing that but he's also not worrying about it either. He's not putting his life on hold until there's a definite answer. He's already thinking about what he needs and has to do to make a living if it does turn out that he won't be able to get back.”

“He seems like the hard workin' sort, that's for sure,” Applejack replied before leaning forward in a conspiratorial manner. “So, ya really have a thing for him after only knowing him a little?”

“Kinda,” Pinkie said with a brilliant blush. “He's nice, lets himself have fun for the sake of fun and he was willing to do whatever he needed to do to get Lero and the others back, even if he would have gotten hurt in the process. What's not to like?”

Applejack snorted at that, “Ain't a lot of stallions like that. Plus you're forgetting how honest he is, not to mention he's faithful to his friends, even if he only knew 'em for a little bit like Lero and the others.”

“Sounds like you've noticed a few things about him as well,” Pinkie said with a little grin.

“Just call it like I see it,” Applejack replied with a smirk of her own.

“And you offering him the chance to build his forge a hop skip and a jump from your place has nothing to do with it?” Pinkie said, turning Applejack's own phrase against her. She blushed and said nothing. “Come on, you can tell me. I told you what I liked about him so much.”

“You heard that?” she asked with a slightly embarrassed expression. Pinkie just giggled and nodded in response. “Fine...” Applejack said with a sigh. “Ah guess that Ah have a thing for strong stallions, and not just his muscles either. He's just... Ah don't know how to say it right, but he seems like the kinda guy Ah'd fall for.”

“So you're in the same boat as me, huh?” Pinkie said with a cheesy smile.

“Maybe,” Applejack replied with a slight frown. “But we gotta go about this the right way if it does turn out that Galen's a good match for us. That means you gotta back off for a bit and let him get things in order before you try to get him involved in anything serious. Same goes for me. Nothing wrong with bein' friends with him, but we should try to keep it at that for now. Not to mention, getting to know him better's a good idea as well.”

“True,” Pinkie said with a chuckle. “I guess I can manage that. So we'll talk more about... this? Us? Whatever it is we have going on right now after Galen settles down?”

“Sounds good ta me,” she replied just before a massive yawn almost toppled her from the chair.

“Ready for a nap?” Pinkie asked with a grin.

“Ah got a bit side tracked,” she replied with a smirk. “You're welcome ta stick 'round if ya want, Pinkie.”

“Nah, that's alright,” she said with a wave of her hoof. “I should get back to Sugar Cube Corner anyway. Don't want the Cakes to worry about me too much.”

“Alright,” Applejack said as she got off her chair as Pinkie did the same. “Ah'll see ya 'round?”

“You bet!” she said with a smile. “I'll be by every so often.”

“Catch ya later, then,” she said as she made her way to the living room and flopped down on the couch, too tired to do much else.

“Sleep well,” Pinkie called back as she walked out the front door despite Applejack already being asleep. Humming to herself, she made her way to the road back to Ponyville with a little extra spring in her step, already beginning her plans for her first date with Galen.

Provisional Plans and Candid Conversations

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Provisional Plans and Candid Conversations

Once Galen finally woke up and made his way back to the farm around supper time, everypony except for the Apples had left. Apple Bloom had made her way back home and they were all lazing about the house, not even bothering with a familial meal as their appetites would surface at odd times or just not be hungry in general. Galen ended up sleeping for the majority of the day and turned in early after gathering his things from Applejack's room. The next morning, he was up bright and early with the sun to make his way back to town and ask Rarity if her offer of clothing was still available, though he left Riley at the farm since he wouldn't be gone for long by his reckoning.

He made his way through town and quickly found himself in front of the Boutique, an eyebrow cocked up at an angle at the establishments outward appearance. Hopefully, he could get a set of clothes here without having to convince her to use durable materials and simplicity. Spying the open sign in the window, Galen let himself in with the gentle chiming of a bell. Rarity was nowhere to be seen, but her voice called out melodiously from someplace in the back, “Just a moment~”

Galen moved around the foyer out of curiosity and looked at her various display pieces. There was a large variety of clothes, from elegant gowns fit for royalty to simple sun dresses with beautiful embroidery. To see that Rarity wasn't so much of a specialist as a pony who catered to any walk of life gave Galen some hope that he would have little trouble in getting some decent work clothes.

To say the least, he was a bit stunned as he left the Boutique about a half hour later with plans to drop by later today to pick up three sets of clothes. She knew exactly what he needed and even offered to make him a set of leather chaps to protect his jeans from the worst of any potential wear and tear. To say that Galen almost choked on his tongue would be about right. Rarity saw his expression and quickly reassured him that this leather was solely made from the bark of a certain tree that came off in strips and was put through a slight curing process. Galen shook his head and wandered over to Lero's place to check up on them since he remembered Rainbow being fairly drunk the other night.

A few moments after he knocked on the door, Lyra opened it up and smiled up at Galen. “Good morning, Galen. What brings you here?”

“Well, a quick trip inta town ta visit Rarity fer tha most part,” he replied. “That an' Ah wanted ta talk ta tha Mayor 'bout property prices and where Ah could set up a forge. Figured Ah'd drop by real quick an' check up on yew and yers.”

“Thank you for dropping by to check up on us,” she said with a small grin. “You could just ask Twilight all about that,” Lyra continued, “She's rather... knowledgeable in all kinds of topics. I'm sure she could answer most of what you need to know aside from the property prices.”

“Is she up? Wouldn't want ta disturb 'er if she isn't,” he replied.

“Yeah, she's up,” Lyra replied. “She's just being lazy right now. Come on in and I'll go let them know you're here.”

“Thanks,” he replied as Lyra let him in. He moved to the love seat from before and sat down as Lyra made her way back to their bedroom. He didn't wait long as Lyra, Twilight and Lero came in a few moments later, settling on the couch across the room from him.

“Morning,” Lero said with a grin. “Rainbow's sleeping right now, though she'll be up and about by the time she smells breakfast cooking. You eat yet?”

“Not yet, though there's still plenty o' leftovers back at Jack's place,” he replied.

“It won't be any trouble if you joined us,” he said with a smile.

“If yew insist,” Galen said with an answering grin.

“I do,” he said with a laugh. “So, you had some questions for Twilight?”

“Yeah,” Galen said as his smile faded away as he got into a more serious mindset. “Ah was wondering 'bout the building and noise regulations fer a forge in Ponyville.”

“So that's what you want to ask from the Princess?” she asked with raised eyebrows.

“No,” Galen said with a slightly angry expression. “Ah won't be askin' a thing from 'er unless it's ta get me home. If there's a way home. Ah'm jus' gonna take out a loan ta get started. Thing is that Ah don' even know how much things're worth, what ya use fer money or if ya barter.”

“Well, we have a common currency called a bit, though bartering is still common enough around the smaller villages and communities,” Twilight began as she straightened her back and raised her head to begin lecturing. “Since you're usually buying from the source here, you can haggle with the vendors for a better deal, though you can't do that so much in the larger cities because of the merchant guilds establishing a stable market price. As far as assigning monetary value, the standard of the bit revolves around a standard of living. Years ago, Princes Celestia wanted to eliminate the effect of greed on the lower classes of her citizens and through a number of laws changed the total value of a bit and regulation of the set prices of basic necessities like food. What that means is that for anypony to live a standard of life, from rental of an apartment, feeding themselves and even earning slightly more than they spend in their weekly needs so that they can prosper instead of just surviving. That being said, anypony working for an employer will earn no less than twenty bits a week in highly populated cities and no less than fifteen bits in towns and villages like Ponyville and the like.”

Galen blinked a few times as his mind digested the information and gave it few minutes to ponder what that meant. To say the least, it made Galen very happy to hear that for the most part, wealth and happiness weren't one and the same. However, he still had very little actual information on how much it would cost for him to purchase everything he needed. His consternation must have been evident as Lero cleared his throat and nudged Twilight's shoulder with a small smile. She looked over at him and understanding came to her a moment later.

“Oh, right,” she said with a small blush. “It's not often I get to explain our monetary system and couldn't help myself.” She paused for a moment as her horn lit up and a book suddenly popped into existence in front of her which fell about an inch before her aura surrounded it and kept it afloat before opening and flipping through several pages before stopping partway through it. “This is a catalog of building supplies from Canterlot, their set bulk price and the quantities per unit. This is the same guide that each contractor uses to help provide an estimate for their customers. So what would you need as far as materials go?”

“Well, Ah'd need at least enough granite fer the forge, chimney an' foundation, so tha's simple enough,” he began. “Then a twelve foot high roof surrounding the foundation with four or five foot cross beams an' supports so Ah can maneuver heavy projects 'round without harming maself. Would only need walls fer tha sides. Fer tha rest, Ah'd say a small five room cottage in tha back would be good enough fer me an' Riley ta live comfortably.”

“Hmmm...” Twilight hummed to herself. “What would the length and width of the forge's foundation be?”

“Twenty foot by forty would be reasonable, though thirty by fifty would be better,” he replied. “Tha forge would be a ten by ten by four an' set back just over halfway.”

“I would say roughly two tonnes would suffice with a little left over,” she mused aloud. “That should run about two thousand bits or a little less since you're buying such a large quantity. The lumber will run about one thousand four hundred with the sizes you gave me. Would you want a contractor from Canterlot or would you prefer a local group?”

“Local would be fine,” he said. “If Ah'm going ta be livin' in tha community, Ah should support it, right?” Lero and his mares gave Galen big smiles at that. “Ah'll need ta do some shopping fer tools as well. Ah take it there's some forges up in Canterlot?”

“There are a couple if I remember correctly, though most are run by unicorns since they can shape the metal by magic and don't need to use tools to work the metal,” she replied. “Earth pony and pegasi smiths have slowly faded away, though there are some around since their talents led them to becoming a smith.”

“Ah'll have ta visit them in tha' case,” Galen with a crooked smile. “Can't make much with only mah lonely little hammer ta help.”

“That hammer's not so little if you ask me,” Lero said with a laugh.

“It is when compared ta some o' tha hammers Ah used ta repair some o' tha farming tools in tha village,” he said with a snort. “Had ta use a ten pound sledge ta repair a plow once. Mah arm was sore fer a few days after tha' piece o' work.”

Lero winced at the thought of such grueling work. “I guess you're right about that. So, do you think that's all you'll need? Think you'll be happy with just that?”

Galen took a few moments to roll Lero's words around. He thought about what he could do with his life here, a forge to call his own and a community to provide a service for. If he couldn't get home, at least he would have a life here that he would be satisfied with. If they did eventually find him a safe way home, he would stay long enough to work off his loan and leave it to some pony who could make the most of it. Could he be happy with that? “Yeah,” he finally said. “Ah can be happy with tha'.”


Applejack had just made her way down to the kitchen when a knock came from the front door. Curious as to who it could be at such an early hour, she made her way over and found Pinkie Pie smiling cheerfully back at her.

“Good morning, Applejack,” she said with a big grin as she lifted a small, steaming basket up that gave off the scent of warm cinnamon rolls. “I brought some rolls!”

“Ah can see that,” she replied with a snort. “So, what brings ya out here?”

“Oh, I just thought we could talk about a few things,” Pinkie replied. “That's all.”

“Oh?” Applejack said as she slightly raised an eyebrow. “Well, why don't you come on in. Ah was about ta have some breakfast, so you may as well join me.”

“Okie dokie,” Pinkie replied as she came in, humming merrily. “So what's on the menu?”

“Just some fresh fruit and apple juice,” she replied. “Haven't eaten too much since we're not all that busy right now.”

“I see,” Pinkie said as she tossed the basket up on the table and took a seat.

“So,” Applejack said once she gathered her modest meal together and took a seat herself. “What did you want to talk about?”

“Us,” Pinkie replied without any preamble. “I want to get to know you better and I'm sure you'd want to do the same with me since we're both looking in Galen's direction.”

Applejack blushed slightly and gave a little cough. “Ah suppose that's true enough,” she replied. “But ta be honest, there really ain't that much ta me that you don't know already. Ah'm pretty dull once ya peel back all our adventures. Just a simple, hard workin' mare that tries her best to look out for her family and friends.”

Pinkie smiled a bit sadly at her words and said softly, “Well, that's the mare I want to know.”

“Oh, come on, Pinkie,” Applejack scoffed. “Ah'm sure you'd get bored with me quick enough. You're a cute mare and Ah'm sure you'd have your pick of the stallions and herd mates if you put yourself out there.”

“You'd think that,” she replied as she brought a gleaming apple to her mouth and took a small bite. “But that isn't what I want. I want somepony... someone that I have to work for. Plus I kinda tried the whole dating thing in the past and it didn't work out too well for me...”


“Yeah,” she said with a half smile. “Turns out I get reeeally nervous when I'm trying to make a good first impression and I try to over compensate which leads me to get a little hyper and that makes everything worse because I realize what I'm doing and that makes me get self conscious as I worry about how I'm starting to make a scene or a complete fool of myself in front of the stallion I'm interested in...”

Her words were suddenly cut off by a tan hoof in her mouth. Applejack looked at her from across the table with an unreadable expression. She let out a small huff of air as she leaned back and took her hoof away from Pinkie's mouth, her expression changing to one of slight annoyance. “Ah never thought you'd be one ta get nervous or worry about appearances when it comes ta getting somepony ta like ya.”

“Being friends is one thing,” Pinkie replied before a slight blush dusted her cheeks. “But it's a whole different game when I'm trying to get them to like like me...”

Applejack snorted in amusement before she distracted herself with a cinnamon roll. She took a bite to buy her some time as she just looked at Pinkie across the table. She still sported her blush and was fidgeting in her seat in abject nervousness, but now that she said what she had, Applejack spotted the faintest of worry lines in her friends expression. Pinkie really was worried that if they went for Galen on their own, that if Applejack didn't want to deepen their relationship, they would find their selves at odds against one another. “So, how'd you figure out Ah was even starting to look at Galen like that? Ah mean, Ah wasn't even sure until you asked me about it.”

“Well, I kinda had a hunch, but I couldn't help but notice how your eyes lingered on him and how you looked back at him every so often,” Pinkie said with a sheepish smile. “I may be good at setting ponies up every once in a while, but I'm still pretty inexperienced when I try to put my own advice to use.”

“Ah would think you've been reading too many romance novels, but Ah gotta say that he was lookin' mighty fine the other morning as he chopped up some wood,” Applejack said with a half smile.

“So, you don't mind the fact that he has hands or anything like that?” Pinkie asked with a tilt of her head.

“What do ya mean?”

“Well, I remember Dash grumbling a while back about how you thought they were weird and completely brushed Lero off as someone you would never consider getting to know more than as a casual acquaintance,” Pinkie supplied.

Applejack looked off in the middle distance at that, her face flaring into a brilliant blush as her own words came back to haunt her. “Ah suppose Ah did say that... Ah guess that Ah don't mind 'em so much since Ah've actually spent more time with Lero after Dash and the others got with him. He's good to them and works hard to take care of them, even when they're trying ta do the same. Guess it took a while for me ta look past his body ta really see what it was that they found in him... A strong stallion with a stronger heart.”

“I didn't really have that problem, but I thought I really had a shot with Lero, Dash and the others, but I don't think his heart had enough room for one more mare in it when things started to settle down...” Pinkie said with a melancholic expression. “It would have just ended up in one or more broken hearts if I had tried, so I didn't and saved us all the trouble.”

“Oh, Pinkie...” she said lamely.

“It's alright,” Pinkie said with a curt wave of her hoof. “What's done is done. I knew it was only a crush and I kept it at that. Anyway, that's beside the point. I want us to keep being friends, even more possibly, especially since we're aiming for the same stallion. I don't want either of us to feel like the other is taking more of his time or trying to get him to like either of us more than the other. I've seen too many relationships go sour because of jealousy and misunderstandings. I don't want that for us...” she finished in a tiny yet firm voice.

Applejack was taken aback by her quietly passionate words. Gone was the Pinkie that she had known, that cheery and always optimistic pink pony that could quite literally bend over backwards to accommodate somepony. This Pinkie was strong and unerringly frank with her words. This Pinkie had found someone she wanted in her life and, if she had to, would go head to head for his affections if she couldn't convince Applejack to see her as something more than she appeared to be. Wanted her to truly see her as who she is.

“That'll never happen,” Applejack said firmly as she tentatively reached a hoof halfway across the table to Pinkie. “Ah won't let it happen and neither should you. We'll do this together or not at all.”

Pinkie smiled and reached her own hoof across to meet hers. “Together,” she said happily with a backbone of unforgiving steel.

“So, now that that's settled, how 'bout we finish breakfast?” Applejack said with a little laugh.

“Sounds good to me,” Pinkie replied with a little giggle.

With that, the two mares began to slowly eat their meal with lightening hearts and a healthy dose of optimism for the future. As they talked, they began delving slightly deeper into topics than friends usually went into as they went about getting to know each other better. As the time rolled on by without their noticing, everypony that came by just left them be as they were oblivious to anypony outside the room, opting instead to either briskly go about what they needed and left or just went out to take care of their minor errands. That is until Galen finally made his way back to the farm...


Galen trudged his way back to the farm by five and made his way to the kitchen for a glass of water before a reasonably well deserved nap. Riley had come up to him for a quick pat on his head before running off, so that was one less thing to worry about. Over the course of the day, he had been quasi-molested by Rarity's magic in her moderately overzealous attempts to get his attire as well fitting and functional as possible after her initial measurements, though he had left her establishment with a modest wardrobe in a sturdy canvas bag that could be reused. Of course that was after Twilight dumped huge volumes of both numbers and information on him, complete with a comprehensive sheaf of papers for him to peruse within the next few days. He hadn't even made it up to the Mayor's office before he had been ran down to the barely functioning husk he was now. For him to walk into Applejack's kitchen with barely half a mind was a feat in and of itself, but it was something involving that basest of male instincts that made him pause at the doorway before entering. He looked in through his sleepy haze at both Pinkie Pie and Applejack as they looked back at him with slowly widening eyes. He had a very uneasy feeling as he looked at the pair, so he slowly backed away and fervently prayed to whatever divine being of this world with the remainder of his feeble energy that he would survive the encounter.

“Smart move, sonny,” Granny cackled from her seat in the corner.

“Huh?” he replied dumbly as he turned to look at her.

“Least ya got good instincts,” she replied with a wide grin. “Maybe ya should just head back on ta bed since ya look like something the cat dragged in. Ah'll leave something fer ya ta drink in a bit.”

Galen was too tired to respond reasonably, so he just followed the wizened mare's advice and went back to the guest room, only staggering once in his seemingly endless fatigue before laying helplessly on the bed he borrowed from his hosts. He had been up for over eleven hours and had done little actual physical work, yet he was so tired he hadn't enough energy to spare to worry about some things. He hadn't felt this way since he was in his final classes in high school several years ago and never thought he'd feel this way again since his graduation. He took some small solace in the fact that he'd never face the awkward gathering of relatively faceless names from an online graduation years after the fact, even if he hadn't come to a land inhabited by magical ponies and mythical beasts of legend.


Applejack looked back at Pinkie with a slightly shaken expression before she chuckled. “Ah guess we'll finish this discussion later?”

Pinkie gave her a full bodied laugh as she hopped off her seat and walked around the table before stopping beside her and said, “The usual spot. Wednesday. Just after lunch.”

“It's a date,” Applejack replied jokingly despite Pinkie blushing at her words.

“Definitely,” she replied softly before giving Applejack a soft kiss on the corner of her mouth and darted off through the back door.

Applejack stared after her as she raised her hoof to the spot that was kissed and smiled softly. Her brief state of shock was cut short by the low laughter from the other room as Granny Smith walked through. She looked at Applejack with a wide grin until Applejack finally asked a gruff, “What?”

“Nothin',” she replied with her nose pointed to the sky. “Just getting Galen a glass o' water since you two scared 'im off with your mare talk. Poor colt looked worn enough ta have worked two full fields without you two scaring him off like a territorial timber wolf.”

Applejack flushed at her grandmare's words and looked away slightly before replying, “Ain't like he was walking in on us during something private or we was talkin' 'bout him. He could have gotten what he wanted without a fuss.”

“May as well have been,” Granny replied with a brief cackle. “Don't think Ah didn't hear 'bout your date this Wednesday either. Ah'll make lunch like usual an' make sure you leave room ta snack with your new marefriend. Earth below, help us if Applejack musses this up...” she finished with a playful grin.

“Don't you worry none about me,” Applejack replied hotly.

“You know Ah always will,” Granny said as she walked over and brought Applejack into a warm hug. “Just want you ta be happy. That's all.”

“Thanks, Granny,” she said quietly as she nuzzled back.

“Now, if you'll let me go, Ah got a glass of water ta fetch for that poor boy,” Granny said a moment later. Applejack gave a little laugh and broke away from her.

“Thanks for keepin' tabs on us, Granny,” Applejack said with a half smile. “Glad ta know we got somepony lookin' out for us still, even if Big Mac and Ah'm a little old for it.”

“You're never too old for me not ta worry over,” Granny replied as she turned the tap on and slipped a glass under the stream. “Maybe once you're the same age as me, Ah'll stop worryin'.”

Applejack snorted at that, a wide smile spreading across her face. “Right,” she simply said. “Well, we got the chores caught up till Tuesday. Figure Ah can take the initiative tomorrow an' try to keep everything manageable.”

Granny just nodded in agreement as she turned the tap off and stepped back from the sink. “Applejack?” Granny asked to get her attention. When she had her attention, Granny continued, “Just remember that even though Pinkie ain't a farm mare like you, she still works just as hard as you do. Maybe even harder some days.” Applejack tilted her head in a gesture that she only half accepted what Granny said. “Just trust me on this one, Applejack. Ah know from experience. Make sure you keep that in mind if you start something with that cute mare.”

Applejack made a slight choking noise as her cheeks flushed slightly at her words. “Ah...” she began, “Ah'll keep that in mind, Granny. Thanks for the advice.”

“No problem, young'un,” Granny replied as she left the kitchen.

“Ah don't think she ever told us that story before,” Applejack mused as she looked aimlessly around the kitchen. She sat back down at the table and pondered a few things about the next day that she wanted to get done. As she sat there, she found herself buffeted up on an indescribable feeling. One that she hadn't thought she would feel again for at least a while more. The feeling of happy elation that she not only had a date in a couple days, but also that fluttery sensation of nervousness that always came with starting a new relationship. After a time, she shook her head with a smile and muttered to herself, “Ah'm as excited as some school filly with a new crush.”

So with a rueful chuckle, Applejack got up and went about preparing dinner, a constant and unwavering smile on her face for the rest of the night.

Details and a Date

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Details and a Date

After his initial consultation with Twilight, Galen went back into town every day for the next week to work out all the seemingly endless details that would go into building his forge. He visited the Mayor's office early on in the week and looked into the prices of land as well as the relevant ordinances concerning noise. He made sure to keep Applejack in the dark as far as what the prices were when he asked her about how much it would cost to purchase that little plot of land she had offered and added it to his rapidly growing sheaf of papers concerning his project.

So, here he was, sitting in Lero's living room with Twilight and the others as the two of them went about finalizing his plans just before lunch on Saturday. With everything as it was, his choice of building area chosen, contractors, material suppliers, transport of said material and various other minute details like raw materials for him to work with at the start, the total cost of his project was five thousand seven hundred bits.

“So, ya think tha's a reasonable amount fer what Ah'm getting?” Galen asked her from across the table. “There's gonna be a bit left over so Ah got some bits ta live off of fer a while, but not too much.”

“To be honest, I think you're being a little modest in your spending,” she replied. “Since we started this project, I went to visit one of the forges in Canterlot and their dimensions, forge sizes and living quarters give much more for them to work with in terms of area per pony.”

“Ah don' need a massive forge or huge amounts o' floor space,” he replied with a grimace. “Ain't like Ah'll be smithing massive projects or smelting raw ore.”

“I guess you're right,” Twilight conceded. “Have you talked to Applejack about some of your plans yet?”

“I plan ta do jus' tha' this afternoon,” he said. “Kinda wanted ta surprise 'er with everythin'.”

“I'm sure she'll be happy with how everything turned out,” Twilight said with a smile.

“Ah hope so,” he replied with a half grin.


While Galen was busy with his plans, Applejack and Pinkie Pie were busy with plans of their own. During the week, Pinkie had dropped by once more and she had rather shyly asked Applejack out for their first date that Saturday for lunch. Applejack had practically been floating an inch off the ground for the rest of the week, her giddiness apparent for everyone to see. When she was called out on it by Galen and Apple Bloom, she was more than a little embarrassed by it, but fended off their questions with a few flippant comments that had them chuckling at her and letting her have her secret plans.

Even with her embarrassment, it still didn't do anything to spoil her excitement. So, today was the day and she was putting the finishing touches on the small meal she was bringing to compliment what Pinkie was going to bring. Once finished, she put everything in a set of covered basket saddlebags and made her way out of the house through the back boor so she could avoid Big Mac and Granny Smith. They had agreed to meet up at a cozy little spot by the lake in the White Tail woods, which worked well for Applejack as she needed to drop by the spa to get her courting flower. Applejack had nothing against Roseluck, but she didn't have the color she was looking for in her particular type of flower.

The usual trip into town seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye for Applejack as she trotted in with a spring in her step, her incredibly happy smile seeming to infect those she saw with a smile and brightened their already great day. She passed by Sugar Cube Corner and noticed Mrs. Cake in the window who noticed Applejack as well a moment later, her worried worried expression changing into a gently encouraging one. Applejack wasn't quite sure what to make of that, so she just gave her a confident expression that she hoped would put the older mare at ease. After crossing the square and turning down a side street, she entered the spa with a jingle.

“Mornin', Aloe,” she said with a grin as she saw the pink coated mare behind the counter. “How're you today?”

“Quite fine, Miss Applejack,” she said in her oddly accented speech. “I take it you are here for your flower?”

“Yes, please,” she replied. “Thank ya again for lettin' me have one. It really means a lot ta me.”

“With how often your friends visit, it is not a problem in the slightest,” she replied as she rummaged around under the counter. “We just wish we would see you in here more often. You are quite the beautiful mare yourself, yet you take so little care of your coat and mane...”

“It's not much of a priority living on a farm,” Applejack said as her cheeks heated up a little once Aloe came back up from behind the desk and sat a small paper box on top of it. “Plus it'd be a waste of your efforts, getting me all prettied up just to end up all sweaty and dirty the next day.”

“That is not a worry for us, Miss Applejack,” Aloe replied soothingly. “We know it is only temporary. What we work for most of all is to bring out the inner beauty in our clients, even if it is for only one night. As long as you shine for an hour or two and are happy, we are more than happy with the results.”

“Ah never thought 'bout what you got out of sprucing us up, to be honest,” Applejack said with a slightly subdued smile. “Aside from a living, that is.”

“Not many do, but all feel the same and we are pleased with that,” Aloe said with a small smile. “Now, if I am not mistaken, you have a date to get to.”

“That I do,” Applejack replied with a grin. “Thanks again for just letting me have this. It really means a lot to me.”

“They sit around and look pretty mostly,” Aloe replied. “You are the first to ask for one as more than a simple snack. It means a lot to my sister and I.”

Applejack really didn't know how to reply to that, so she just gave Aloe a grateful smile and said, “Ah don't really know what ta say.”

“Just promise that you'll come here before your next date,” Aloe said with a grin. “We will make your date speechless in appreciation of your beauty.”

Applejack blushed and laughed with Aloe, her mood rising ever further than she would have thought. “You have my word then,” she said as her mirth faded.

“See you then, Miss Applejack,” Aloe replied with a brilliant smile.

With their conversation concluded, Applejack put the small box in one of her baskets and made her way outside. She turned down the way and made her way across the short bridge that spanned the small stream on the east side of town on her way to the woods. As she made her way, she passed several ponies on their way to the woods as well, though she ignored them as her mind was singularly focused on the mare that was surely to be waiting for her there.

Now that was a conundrum for the farm mare. A pony that seemed to be obsessed with the happiness of others yet ignored her own. She didn't seem to work very hard at all, but Granny said she worked harder than she did sometimes. She had been surprisingly frank with Applejack, talking to her in terms that were almost too frank for the honest pony. Well, it was time for Applejack to give a little in this budding relationship. Celestia knew she was filled to the brim with happiness at the moment and had so much to share that it seemed endless.

Soon enough, she was passing through the dappled shadows of the woods on her way to the lake, the deep green of the woods lending their color to those passing under their boughs and branches. Eventually making its presence known, the lake gave off silvery shivers of light between the thick trunks of the trees and Applejack increased her pace so that she wouldn't keep Pinkie waiting for much longer. Suddenly, the light assaulted her in a brilliant flash of silver as she left the dense shadows.

Looking around after her eyes adjusted, Applejack spotted a small spot of vibrant pink across the lake and made her way around. As she got closer, she noticed Pinkie had her head down between her forelegs, her mane seemed to be a bit deflated as well. Applejack closed the remaining distance, her happiness draining away as worry for the pink mare replaced it. “What's the matter, Pinkie?”

Pinkie raised her head up with a little sniffle and looked at Applejack. She just shook her head as a tear leaked out from the corner of an eye and sat her head back on the ground. Keeping a sigh in check, Applejack wiggled out of her saddlebags and lay down beside Pinkie so that their barrels and shoulders touched. “What has the happiest mare I know so down in the dumps,” she gently cajoled. “You and Ah are supposed to have a great day, so that's what we're gonna do and Ah won't take no for an answer.”

Pinkie just gave a puff of air and shifted around a bit before settling back down. Applejack knew this game. Apple Bloom did it every once in a while when something didn't go her way, so Applejack did what she normally did in this situation. She just settled down to wait, leaning her head to the side so she could give Pinkie a gentle nuzzle on the side of her neck before matching her posture. It didn't take long for Pinkie to begin shifting uncomfortably as she knew she was the cause for Applejack's patient waiting.

“I told you nothing ever turns out right for me on dates...” she finally said in a low voice.

“What happened?”

“I kept messing up on everything I tried to make for lunch,” she said as she raised her head up, tears gathering in her eyes.

“Ah'm sure it wasn't that bad,” Applejack replied.

“I forgot to put baking soda in the muffins, accidentally swapped the salt and the sugar when I tried cookies and burned the pie I tried to make,” she said in a trembling voice. "I even set part of the kitchen on fire..."

“Oh...” Applejack said lamely. “In that case, we'll just have to share what Ah brought and be happy with it.”

“I'm sorry,” Pinkie said as she fought back tears and sniffed loudly.

“Hey, don't worry about it,” Applejack said in a quiet, forceful voice. “Sometimes things don't always turn out like we planned. Don't mean we can't make the most out of it.”

“I guess you're right,” Pinkie replied. “Sorry for being so mopey. I was just hoping this time would be different is all.”

“It's already different from those other times,” Applejack said with a smile as she moved away to grab her saddlebags. “Ah already know what Ah'm in for and so do you. Anyway, it ain't like Ah'll turn you away because you got the jitters and set a kitchen on fire.”

Pinkie gave a quavery laugh at that before saying, “Thanks, Applejack.”

“Ain't a problem,” she said as she sat back down beside Pinkie, her saddlebags placed in front of them. “At least it won't be unless you set my kitchen on fire.”

Pinkie giggled as she blushed, leaning a little bit into Applejack as she nuzzled her back gently. “Don't worry. I'm normally not that bad. I can't help it if I get nervous before I go on a date with one of my hottest friends.”

Applejack nearly choked at that and her face felt like it would ignite as she looked around to see if anypony was close enough to have heard. Thankfully, there wasn't anypony nearby, so she turned back to Pinkie. “Really?”

“Yep,” Pinkie replied happily, all traces of her bad mood gone. “You better believe it.”

Applejack really didn't know how to respond to that, so she distracted herself from the topic and pulled out the food she brought. Once everything was out, Applejack pulled out the small paper box and placed it next to Pinkie's hoof. “May as well start with this,” she said with a little nudge to the box.

Pinkie took the box and opened it, revealing a dark yellow lotus that had a slightly golden sheen to it. She looked back at Applejack with a smile as she rummaged around in her mane and pulled out a small box of her own before passing it over to Applejack. Applejack took the box and opened it to find a bright pink casablanca lily. They exchanged one last smile with one another before they took the exchanged flowers and placed them behind their ears.

With that done, Applejack and Pinkie settled down with small smiles as they split the modest salad and miniature pie between them, Pinkie getting to use the one plate Applejack had brought. They didn't really talk about anything as they ate, opting to just enjoy each others company and close proximity. They watched across the lake as other ponies began gathering and playing in the water or relaxing on the beach. “So,” Applejack began as she too the first bite of her portion of the pie. “Did ya really mean it about me being hot?”

Pinkie almost choked this time as she blushed and looked at her date. “W-huh?”

“You heard me,” Applejack replied with a slightly wicked smile. “What do ya find so sexy about me?”

“W-why do you wanna know?” Pinkie stammered out.

“Just curious,” she said with a tilt of her head. “Ah'll even tell ya what Ah think makes you so cute too.”

“Cute?” Pinkie squeaked.

“That's one thing right there,” Applejack said smoothly as a little blush dusted her cheeks. “You have this cute little squeaky thing you do every time you get really embarrassed.”

Pinkie squeaked again.

“See? There it is. It's so cute Ah almost can't stand it,” she said with a low chuckle. In all her experience, Pinkie had never had a date progress like this before. Normally she never got to the point where she and her date listed off things they liked about each other, but Applejack apparently felt that their preexisting friendship entitled her to skip a few dates in terms of protocol. Applejack leaned into her a bit more, her smile turning comforting instead of mildly saucy. “Come on Pinkie, you can tell me.”

She took a deep breath, closing her eyes and pointing her head away from Applejack before letting it go slowly. She scrunched up her muzzle a bit before she mumbled something.

“What was that?”

“I really like the way you sway your hips as you walk when you're in a really good mood,” Pinkie said as her blush flared brighter.

Applejack cocked her head at Pinkie's words, “Ah sway my hips?”

“Oh yeah,” Pinkie said with a wicked little grin of her own that she turned on Applejack. “You turn heads wherever you go when you're really happy. Most of your customers at the Gala weren't just there for your wares. Why do you think they asked for stuff that was in the back?”

Applejack snickered a moment later, full blown laughter coming from her soon after. “No wonder so many of those mares were giving me the stink eye after Ah closed up for the night.”

Pinkie joined Applejack in her laughter, all worries about her flubbed first date long gone in the company she was in and the conversation they were having. They talked about less sensitive topics after that initial question from Applejack and finished their desserts. With their meal eaten and a companionable silence settling over the pair, they packed up and seemed to reach an unspoken agreement that this should be the end of their first date. They walked side by side back around the lake and down the trail back to town, finally stopping outside Sugar Cube Corner on a surprisingly empty street.

“Sorry for being so mopey earlier,” Pinkie said with a little small.

“It's alright,” Applejack replied with a bright smile. “We had a good time anyway, right?”

“Yeah,” she said as she looked in the front window to see the dark interior.

“You wanna come on back ta the farm?” Applejack asked as she noticed that the bakery was closed for the day. “Won't make ya do any chores, Ah promise.”

Pinkie giggled at that. “Sure,” she answered. “They gave me the day off anyway and I didn't have anything else planned for the day.”

“In that case, you can stick around and help with dinner,” Applejack said with a smirk as she led Pinkie off. As she walked, she payed attention to how she walked and noticed that she really did sway her hips when she was in a good mood. She looked behind her and saw Pinkie looking off at some point in the sky with a brilliant blush on her cheeks. “Looking's free, sugar cube,” she said with an absolutely devilish grin at turning the tables on the unpredictable mare. Pinkie mumbled something in a strangely high pitched voice as she looked fit to catch her mane on fire. Applejack just continued on her way, sure that Pinkie would catch up sooner rather then later and was proven right when Pinkie came up level with her barely ten seconds later. “Everything alright, sugar cube?”

“That's not very nice,” she said while she kept looking ahead, a cute pout pushing her bottom lip out a little.

Applejack laughed and moved to give Pinkie a quick peck on the corner of her mouth, however, she she moved, so did Pinkie and they ended up kissing full on. Applejack was taken a little by surprise but quickly went with the flow, pressing forward a bit to give the unexpected kiss some force yet remain relatively chaste. Pinkie on the other hoof was completely taken by surprise and she froze up as she felt as if electricity were coursing into her from her lips for a moment before melting into the kiss as Applejack took the lead. They parted a few seconds later, both panting slightly and smiling with slightly goofy expressions.

“That make it better?” Applejack asked with a small smile, a blush dusting her cheeks.

“I guess,” Pinkie said as she resumed her pout for a moment until an absolutely brilliant grin split her face. “Okay, that totally makes up for your teasing.” Applejack laughed and continued on, Pinkie keeping pace with her. “You're a really good kisser, by the way,” she said with a little titter.

“Ah've had a few dates here and there,” Applejack replied. “Nothing stuck, though a few were good for a tumble in the hay or two before they figured they'd rather live the easy life than work on a farm.”

“Oh...” Pinkie said softly. “I'm sorry.”

“Don't be,” Applejack replied. “Ah wouldn't be here with you like this if things did work out.”

“I guess that's true,” she said with a giggle.

They finally finished the trek up to the farm and crossed the yard up to the house, Applejack opening the door for Pinkie and entering right behind her. Just as Pinkie entered the kitchen, Applejack spotted Galen leaving his room from down the short hallway and waited for him to come closer.

“Hey, Galen,” she said as he entered the living room. “Just get up from a nap?”

“Kinda,” he replied with a yawn that popped his jaw. “Yew got a moment? Got somethin' Ah wanna talk ta ya 'bout.”


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Ground Breaking

Applejack looked back at Galen, her face suddenly neutral as a spike of worry cut through her good mood. Galen noticed her change in expression and held up his hands in supplication, “It ain't anythin' bad,” he said. “Ah jus' wanted ta let ya know what Ah decided on in regards ta mah forge.”

“Alright,” Applejack replied as she moved more into the living room and took a seat in the chair. She looked back at the kitchen and saw Pinkie Pie looking out with a slightly worried expression on her face, but Applejack just waved her off with a smile that said things would work out whatever he decided. She turned back to Galen as he settled down on the couch and asked, “So what did ya decide?”

“Well, Ah'd like ta take yew up on yer offer an' build mah forge here,” he said with a smile. “Ah'll be payin' yew what Ah think yer land's worth an' Ah won't take no fer an answer.”

Applejack's fur bristled at that, “Now you listen here, Galen. This land's been in our family for a long time and Ah think Ah gave you a reasonable price.”

“Yew did,” he replied with a wicked half smile as Applejack was suddenly disarmed.

“Then what're ya talking about?” she asked in confusion.

“Ah checked the prices of similar land prices 'round town and yew were by far the cheapest,” he replied. “Taking inta consideration jus' who owns tha land an' what it means ta them, Ah think Ah deserve ta make a final offer. Yew offered that plot ta me fer fifty bits an' Ah think tha's far too low fer such precious land. Ah think six hundred bits is a far more satisfactory offer.”

Applejack heard wild thumping coming from the kitchen as she choked on her tongue for a moment as Galen chuckled at her response. A sudden coughing fit and gasp of air had her leaning against the arm rest of her seat. “S... Six hundred?!” she choked out.

“What?” he asked with a wide grin.

“You could buy a house and twenty acres of land for that much!” she shouted. “Minimum!”

“So?” Galen replied with an expression of stern determination. “Yew took me in an' gave me a place ta rest mah head without askin' fer a thing in return. Now, yew offered me a place ta work an' live fer as long as Ah'm here. Yew are givin' me an' Riley a home an' it means a lot more ta me than a bag o' money.”

“One hundred,” she replied in a stern voice. Galen smiled, knowing that he had gotten to her.

“Five ninety,” he countered.

“One fifty.”

“Five seventy-five.”

“Impossible man!”

“Let's cut to the chase an' call it good at four hundred an' we can crack out th' cider,” Galen said with a smile.

“Fine, but Ah won't forgive you for this,” Applejack replied. “Ain't right throwin' that much money at ponies tryin' ta do a good deed.”

“Call it yer just rewards,” he replied with a smug smirk. “So, yew wanna head ta tha kitchen with me fer tha' cider?”

“Oh, you're gonna regret this for quite some time, Galen McCaffrey,” Applejack rumbled with a devilish smirk.

“As long as Ah have enough cider, Ah won't mind,” he said with a chuckle as he got up and started crossing the room. Applejack got up and followed him, almost getting floored as Pinkie let loose with her party cannon as Galen entered the room. Galen was literally thrown back a couple feet from the force of the cannon and landed on his back just in front of her.

Applejack looked from the weakly coughing Galen to Pinkie who had a brilliant blush on her face and gave a weak smile over the back of her cannon. “Sorry, Galen. I think I added too much powder this time.”

“Oh, yew'll get yers, Pinkie,” Galen growled with a groan as he got up and ran a hand through his hair, dislodging a small shower of confetti. She just meeped in reply and sank down lower behind her instrument of chaos, her eyes widening slightly. Applejack couldn't help but laugh at the sight and needed to lean against the door frame for support. Pinkie glanced at Applejack worriedly and Galen took the moment to pounce, a wicked grin on his face as he dashed two quick steps into the kitchen and around the canon. Pinkie responded with good speed, but Galen was already in motion and caught her around the barrel just as she turned around to flee.

“No no no no no!” she shrieked with laughter as he shifted his grip, an arm under her flank while the other began tickling her ribs and stomach. She squirmed and shrieked her protests, but Galen was too strong for her to break free from easily. Big Mac suddenly burst through the back door as he thought something was wrong, but as soon as he saw what was going on he held a hoof up to his mouth and gave a few choked snickers before walking off with shaking sides. Her brothers appearance and reaction made Applejack loose it completely as she slid to the floor and rolled onto her back, guffaws and snorts beginning to make her stomach hurt. “Ga-Galen...” she tried to pant out between heaving laughs. “Le-let me go-ho-ho... You're gonna make me pee-he-heee if you don't st-ha-ha-haaap!”

Eventually Galen relented with a laugh of his own and sat Pinkie down on on the floor before she sprinted off to the upstairs bathroom in a blur of pink. There was an indignant yell from Apple Bloom followed by the sound of a slamming door. Galen chuckled as he looked through the door Pinkie had just ran through. He looked down at Applejack and asked with a smirk, “Need some help there?”

“Ah'm... Ah'm good,” she managed as her laughter subsided. She got up on shaky legs and made her way to a seat at the table. She watched as Galen walked over and rummaged in the lower section of the ice box, pulling three bottles of chilled cider out before moving to the table. He popped off the caps and slid one in front of Applejack and opened one for himself before taking a long pull from his own. “Jus' so ya know, Ah was serious 'bout tha' first offer. Ah'm sure yew could use tha bits ta get a few things that would make life here a lot easier.”

“We're fine with what we have and your bits are more than enough ta see that happens anyway,” she replied gruffly. “Heck, even my offer would have gotten us enough ta dig another cellar.”

“An' yew were talkin' ta me 'bout pride th' other day,” Galen said with a snort. “Call it generosity from a man who had barely a thing ta his name an' has a way ta show his gratitude.”

“You're impossible,” Applejack said with a shake of her head as she took her own bottle and drank half of it in one go before loosing a rumbling belch.

Pinkie finally came back from her unexpected trip to the bathroom and wore a blush as she took a seat at the table as Galen opened the last bottle and slid it over to her. She shot him a glance that was impossible to discern and proceeded to drink deeply from her bottle. “Yew make it in time?” he asked with a shit eating grin. Pinkie sprayed a little cider and coughed a little before she shot him a look that promised retribution.

“Yeah, I made it,” she mumbled to Galen's chuckles.

“Was tha' Bloom Ah heard yelling at ya up there?”

“Yeah,” she groused. “I had to cut in line because someone had to tickle me until I almost had an accident.”

Applejack and Galen got a good chuckle out of that. With a moment of calm, Galen looked between the two mares and noticed their accessories. “So, wha's with th' flowers?” he asked as he looked between the two ponies. “Somethin' goin' on tha' Ah should know 'bout?” Applejack and Pinkie blushed simultaneously, Pinkie looking away with a very fetching look at Applejack to rescue her from further embarrassment. Applejack looked across the table at Galen who wore a small grin that slowly grew wider and wider as he watch them.

“Ah neither confirm nor deny anything,” Applejack replied as she looked away.

“Alrigh',” Galen said. “Ah won' press ya if yer not ready ta talk 'bout it.”

“Thanks,” she said dryly. “So, when are ya gonna start building your forge?”

“Ah had Twilight send a letter ta Celestia before Ah left, sometime 'round noon, so Ah should be hearing something soon.” He shifted in his seat with a slightly uneasy expression. “Still feels weird takin' a loan out like this, especially since Ah wanna deck her still fer what she said. Ah've always worked my way up to it before, but Ah have nothin' ta work with since Ah came here.”

“Are ya serious?” Applejack asked with wide eyes. “You wanna punch the Princess?!”

“If it would serve as a way to atone for my mistake, I would be more than willing to let Galen strike me,” said a melodic voice through the window. They all whipped their heads over and saw none other than Celestia standing outside the window.

“Princess!” Twilight gasped, though they couldn't see her yet.

“Really, it would be fine,” she replied. “I would even be willing to count this as Galen's first offense and judge it appropriately.”

Galen gave a rueful smile and stood up from the table as he flexed his hands. “You can't be serious,” Applejack said incredulously as she looked at Galen with wide eyes.

“As serious as Celestia is,” he rumbled with a grimly eager expression to have all this behind them.

“Wonderful,” Celestia said with a grin at the overall absurdity of the situation and how it was progressing. “Now, let's get this over with so that we can move on to discussing the terms of your loan.”

“What's going on, Twilight,” said a youthful boys worried voice from outside.

“Nothing you need to know about, Spike,” Twilight replied. “This is between Galen and the Princess.”

Galen moved to the door and stepped outside, freezing on the spot as he noticed the young dragon riding on Twilight's withers. Spike looked back and started a bit at seeing just how drastically different Galen was in respect to the only other human he had known. “Holy cow, your arms are huge!”

Galen snorted and gave a little grin. “Who's the little guy?”

“Hey, most of us would be little compared to those massive things growing from your shoulders,” Spike retorted with a snort of amusement. “But seriously, are you going to punch the Princess?”

“Hey, she said Ah could, so Ah'm gonna,” he replied as he started stretching out. Applejack and Pinkie Pie came out reluctantly as he moved out of the doorway and stopped a pace before Celestia. “Yew want somethin' ta bite down on?”

“I'll be fine,” Celestia replied as she moved Twilight and Spike with a wing.

“Might break a few teeth if ya don',” he said levelly.

“I can repair any damage you may do,” she replied.

“Suit yerself,” he replied as he settled into a boxing posture and raised his fists in front of him. “Yew ready?”

“I am,” Celestia said as she raised her chin slightly.

Galen nodded and seemed to settle into his posture, left leg forward, and waited for a moment. Suddenly, he dashed the final step forward, planted his right foot forward and crouched down as he brought his right fist down and up in a massive blow that landed squarely on her chin. For all of her weight, Galen's blow snapped her head back and actually managed to lift her forelegs up from the ground by almost an inch before she fell back to the earth and staggered around drunkenly for a brief moment. She pursed her lips and spat on the ground, her saliva a glob of deep crimson spotted with small, jagged white pieces of tooth. The ponies around them looked sickly at the bloody spot, Spike even managing to turn a little greener.

“P-Princess?” Twilight asked in a tiny voice.

Celestia lowered her head and held out her foreleg to stall the younger mare from talking any more. With silence guaranteed, her horn lit up with a golden glow that seeped across her head and focused on her mouth and muzzle. A few sickening clicks and pops sounded from her jaw before she pursed her lips and spat out a larger glob of blood and bits of tooth.

“Want some water, Celestia?” Galen asked as he flexed his hand. She nodded, so he went back inside and returned a few moments later with a cold glass of water. He offered it and she took it in her magic. She took a modest mouthful, swished it around and spat.

“May I have some milk, Applejjjack?” she asked, her odd pronunciation due to three of her teeth having been completely shattered and another pair obviously broken.

“Of course, Princess,” she replied steadily before going inside.

“What was that popping noise?” Spike asked with curiosity.

“Oh, Galen broke my jjjaw in one place and frakshured it in two other places,” she replied with a nonchalant shake of her head. Twilight's mouth fell open at that. “He has quite a punch.”

“So, we good?” he asked as Applejack returned with a tall glass of milk.

“One moment, Galen,” she said as she rinsed her mouth out once more with water before drinking the entire glass of milk in one go. Her magic glowed around her muzzle once again and a very faint grinding noise was heard as she repaired her shattered and broken teeth. A moment later the noise stopped and she rinsed her mouth out one last time to rid her of any lingering fragments of tooth. “There, much better,” she replied with a smile to show of her perfect teeth. “But yes, I would say that we are. As far as your violent offense goes, I will have it noted that I had incited you to such actions and we will leave it at that with no further actions taken.”

“Thank yew, Celestia,” Galen replied with a nod of his head. “Ah must say tha' Ah'm sorry as well. Normally, Ah don' get so riled up or hold onto anger like Ah did, but no one and nothing says things like tha' without retribution.”

“I suppose you are right,” she replied with a chagrined expression. “So, shall we go inside to work out the details?”

“Unless Jack says otherwise,” Galen said with a smirk at Applejack.

“You're kidding, right?” she asked in a deadpan. She shook her head, “Come on, you two. Let's get this taken care of.”

Galen let the others go in ahead of him and was about to go in when Twilight suddenly turned around with a slightly worried expression on her face. “You're not going to get all punch happy, are you? I know Lero was a little antsy after his first major scuffle.”

“No, Twilight, Ah'm not gonna get all 'punch happy,'” he replied with mirth in his tone. “Takes a lot ta make me loose mah cool an' it normally blows over as quick as it comes.”

“Good,” she replied. “Because I really don't want to have to loan you the bits for the fines you'd likely get if you punched somepony else.”

“Not to mention the hospital bills,” Spike snarked.

“Ah wouldn't take 'em anyway,” he replied after a laugh at Spike's words. He made a shooing motion with his hands for her to continue on. “Let's forget it ever happened. Done is done an' Ah forgive Celestia. Took a lot of courage ta jus' take a punch like tha'.”

Twilight gave a little smile at hearing his words and turned to continue into the living room. The various ponies were spaced around the room with Pinkie and Applejack flanking Celestia on the couch which left Galen, Twilight and Spike the two remaining chairs. Once Galen sat down, Celestia looked to him with a smile.

“Twilight tells me that you'd like to use your request to build a forge here on Sweet Apple Acres,” she said.

“Tha's righ',” he replied. “It's gonna be a bit costly, but Ah don' mind workin' it off. Ah'd rather earn it than jus' take it.”

“A very honorable stance,” she replied. “Twilight's project outline projected the cost at five thousand seven hundred bits. At the standard repayment rate, your payments would be roughly sixty bits a month. That won't leave you very much money left over for much of anything.”

“Ah don' need much an' Riley's happy as long as he has a full belly an' a limb ta rub his belly,” Galen said with a shrug. Celestia's expression turned a little melancholy at that.

“If you say that is how it is, then I won't argue that point,” she said. “I would like to offer you the most favorable terms I can. With that being said, I cannot let you impoverish yourself in an effort to remain wholly independent. To that end, I will split your loan in two, the first payment of the first loan coming due two months after the completion of your forge. The first payment of the second loan will come due the first month after the other loan has been payed off. If you wish to pay in advance, I cannot stop you from doing that, but this will give you a chance to enjoy your time here instead of working yourself ragged to make each months payment.”

“Ah suppose Ah can live with tha',” Galen replied with a small sigh. Celestia nodded and lit her horn, a pop sounding as a sheaf of creamy parchment, ink and a quill came into existence. She dipped the quill and the furious sounds of the quill writing rapidly sounded for a few minutes as she drew up the document. She finished it and levitated it and the quill over to Galen who read over the paper and signed underneath her signature. She smiled and the document and the other items she conjured disappeared with a tiny pop.

“Now, with that done, I would like to commission you for some official work,” she said with a smile. “I know you won't be able to work for a while, but I would like to be your first customer if you would grant me that privilege.”

“Well, tha Apples get tha' privilege,” he replied with a smirk at Applejack who blushed at being put on the spot like that.

“In that case, how about your first consignment?”

“Ah suppose tha' works,” he replied.

“Wonderful,” Celestia said with a smile. “I have been meaning to open a small mint to supply our expanding cities in the south, Apploosa and Dodge Junction specifically. You would produce a quota of coins as requested each month and earn one bit in ten to be payed out once my treasury representative receives them, the same as any of my other minters.”

“Why not jus' have them made in tha capital?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I have a ten year consignment with them as it is and they do an adequate job, but they also have the secondary job of receiving bad coins and reworking them into blanks and usable currency,” she answered. “Not to mention the fact that smithing is not a very common talent, so whenever somepony, or person in this case, has the talent in a desirable location, I like to make the offer.”

“How do yew prevent them from making their own bits?”

“I infuse the dowel magically with a specific number of uses,” she replied smugly. “There is no such thing as a bad strike when forging the blanks as the spell reworks the surfaces into a standard bit. When the treasury representative takes the bits, they take the dowel and give you another one along with the next orders blanks.”

Galen raised an eyebrow. “Pretty slick,” he said in an approving tone.

“I can't take the credit for that specific stroke of ingeniousness,” she said with a smile. “That came from a unicorn mage by the name of Clover the Clever who lived thousands of years ago. She offered much inspiration to future generations of unicorns with her unique spells and philosophical musings.”

“Ah can see how she got 'er name,” he replied.

“So, would you like to take the consignment?” she asked. “I can reduce the contract to a year with the option to renew if you so desire.”

Galen sighed and made a show of looking thoughtful. He kept up the act until Applejack and Twilight began to look worriedly at one another before he snorted a quick laugh and grinned at Celestia who smiled back. “Sure,” he replied simply. Their worried expressions disappeared in a flash and they gave him rueful smiles.

“Fantastic!” Celestia stood from the couch and offered a foreleg for him to shake, Galen stood up as well with a smile and gave her a single shake. “I'll have the paperwork sent to Twilight tomorrow for you to go through at your earliest convenience.”

“Sounds like a plan,” he replied with a small grin.

“Well, in that case, I must be off to pester the Royal Treasurer about my newest minter,” she said with a grin. “I swear she likes coins more than ponies sometimes.”

“Have fun with tha',” Galen said with a laugh as he followed her out the front door.

“I'll see what I can do,” she said with a smirk. “I'll see you all sometime later and I'll be in touch soon, Galen.”

They all nodded and made their appropriate farewells to Celestia as she moved off, her horn igniting before she disappeared in a flash of light.

“You know, Ah still can't believe you punched the Princess,” Applejack said with a shake of her head.

“Eh, shit happens,” he replied with a shit eating grin, immensely pleased with himself for some unknown reason.

“Enough with that,” Twilight said with a sigh. “We should be taking care of some pressing matters in preparation.”

“Yeah,” Pinkie chirped in happily. “We need to have a 'Galen punched the Princess in the face and now he's building a forge party!'” Galen and Spike just laughed as Twilight and Applejack facehooved, Pinkie Pie grinning the whole time.

Looming Quarry and Quarry to be

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Looming Quarry and Quarry to be

Two days after Celestia and Galen signed their agreement, a member of the Royal Treasury came by with a writ of transaction for Galen to take to the Ponyville branch of the treasury to be redeemed and to establish an account. That turned out to be surprisingly easy and they even provided a notary public service, so he and Applejack worked out the document for the sale of her plot of land and had it verified. The only thing he needed to finalize the transference of property was to go up to the town hall and speak with the pony in charge of the surveying department and had the deed drawn up to show that he now owned that specific plot of land on her property. Never in any situation in the past would he have ever imagined himself to become an inter-dimensional landowner. With those things taken care of he made a trip to Rarity's and payed her for her generosity, giving her a healthy tip for the exceptional quality of his clothes and commissioned another set of work clothes and a couple sets for casual wear. He payed in advance this time.

Now, he had to make a trip to Canterlot to see about the purchasing of his building supplies and the date of their arrival, not to mention a trip to one of those forges Twilight had mentioned for some tools and accessories. So, here he was this morning, sitting on the six thirty train to Canterlot with Twilight, Spike and Lero. Lyra and Rainbow Dash both had work that day, but with Twilight being a scholar and a Princess, she had the ability to free her schedule at almost any time. Lero had a few odd jobs around town to take care of, but he could postpone them until the afternoon and could accompany them until the noon train while Twilight and Spike would take the afternoon train so they could show Galen the sights and provide advice if needed. Galen, however, would be staying overnight in Canterlot as his business would take a couple days minimum to see it all concluded. The Princess had extended an invitation for Galen to stay at the castle during his stay and he decided to take her up on her offer.

“So, yer a dragon, huh?” Galen asked from his seat beside Spike, Lero and Twilight sitting in the seats mirroring theirs. It turned out that Spike had been up in Canterlot for the past week, attending a comic convention and stayed at Twilight's parents' place. He had returned the day of Celestia's latest visit and had yet to be properly introduced to Galen and was brought along so the two could get to know each other a bit better.

“Yeah,” he replied as he glanced over at the man. “Want me to go burn down a village or something?”

Everyone choked back their laughter at his response, Galen finally going on to say, “Nah, nah. Just wondering how yew ended up with such an odd group.”

“I ask myself that every once in a while,” he said with a mock sigh, his grin giving away the joke. Twilight and Lero grinned at that while Galen had a good laugh out of it. “Well, to be honest, Twilight hatched me during her entrance exam for Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. Long story short, I've been with her ever since I can remember.”

“So yer like her little brother for tha most part?”

“More like her keeper until Lero showed up,” he replied with a snort. That had Twilight blushing as Lero chuckled and comfortingly patted her withers. “Now, I'm pretty much free to do what I want. I help Twilight and the others stay in touch with the Princess since I can send scrolls and such with my fire.”

“Huh,” Galen replied. “Tha's pretty cool. Have yew ever tried sending things to places or ponies other than tha Princess?”

“Not really,” he replied with a thoughtful scratching of his chin. “Never really had a reason to before.”

“Tha' migh' be somethin' ta give a try,” he said with a thoughtful look of his own. “So, when we get to Canterlot, we're going to drop by this Doughnut Joe's place?” he asked Twilight, changing the subject.

“Oh yes,” Twilight replied, bouncing slightly in her seat like an excited filly. “He has the best coffee and doughnuts ever. Ever.” she finished in a firm tone and with a firmer expression that showed how devout she was in he opinion of this pony's confections.

Galen held up his hands in mock surrender and smiled. “Ah'll take yer word for it.”

Lero chuckled and said, “They are pretty phenomenal.”

“So,” Galen began as he changed the topic. “What're some of the things ya do most often round town?”

“Oh, this and that,” he replied with a tilting of his hand. “I do have a steady part-time job at the spa as a masseuse. The owners even sent me abroad to study massage therapy.”

“Huh,” Galen replied. “Oddly enough, that seems like a good fit fer ya.” Lero snorted as a smile split his face.

He was about to reply, but Twilight chimed in,“We're almost there.” Galen twisted around to look out the window and saw the many roofs on the edge of the plateau and the gilded tops of the castle in the distance. There was only one more switchback until the station which filled Galen with a healthy dose of adrenaline and his heart started pumping in anticipation. The conversation died away after her announcement as they made preparations for their arrival which mostly involved a healthy amount of stretching and yawning. Galen didn't have much on him aside from a moderately sized bag of bits that he had tied to his waist and his hammer so that he could test the stock he would be getting through the forges foundry.

They pulled into the station ten minutes later and departed the train amid a billowing cloud of steam that chilled and obscured. Twilight broke through the cloud first with Spike on her back as she led Lero and Galen out onto the main thoroughfare. Galen looked around as he followed subconsciously, trailing Twilight's lavender form in his peripherals as he gawked like the worlds most obvious tourist. He was astounded as he walked down the relatively narrow lane at the London-like feel this place had with its dark gray stone, narrow houses comfortably pressed next to one another and the familiar scent of wood smoke from thousands of morning meals being cooked. They passed by chandlers, souvenir shops and countless other businesses set up near the station for ponies who would be passing through and looked to profit from their transient visits.

Twilight knew where she was going and soon had them cutting into the thick of the city, taking them through narrow alleyways and little market squares until they suddenly stepped into a massive plaza that easily took up two acres of precious space in front of the castle. The tall buildings and narrow alleys had kept the castle from casual sight and it seemed to suddenly burst out from hiding, commanding all of his attention. Galen had been silent as he took in the sights and sounds of the city but was actually stricken with a sense of awe at the sight of the castle. Its alabaster stone and gilded towers conveyed a sense of stately grace and uncompromising strength at the same time.

“Tourists,” Spike commented with a grin. Galen gave a little twitch as he snapped out of his slight daze and grinned at Spike.

“Everyone's a tourist 'til they've been there,” Galen said with a wink.

“I guess,” he replied with an odd look.

“Come on guys,” Twilight said with a slightly pleading tone as she shuffled her hooves a bit. “Doughnut Joe's is right there and it's just before the morning rush. Let's go before everypony else shows up.”

“Alright,” Lero said with a chuckle at his wife's behavior. Twilight took off at a brisk trot and the two men had to walk briskly to avoid being left behind. She led them across the plaza that was rapidly beginning to fill with ponies going briskly about their business. Their destination became clear as Galen spotted an older looking diner that had aged remarkably well. They walked in with a chime and Twilight took a deep breath and sighed with an almost euphoric expression on her face.

“Mornin',” said a slightly gruff looking stallion behind the counter where he had been wiping down a mug. “Take a seat and I'll be right with ya.”

Twilight led them to the corner booth and scooted herself in to allow Lero beside her and levitated Spike to her other side. Galen took the spot beside Spike and settled in to wait. They didn't have long to wait as the stallion from before came up to them with a smile and asked, “So, what'll ya be having.”

“Good morning, Joe,” Twilight said with a smile. “I'll have the usual.

“The usual,” Spike said as well.

“I think I'll try out your raspberry supreme this time with a small black coffee,” Lero said. “I wanted to try it last time, but I got filled up on your long johns.”

“Good choice,” Joe said with a little grin. “Those're pretty popular right now.”

“What would yew recommend?” Galen asked his companions and Joe.

“Pretty much anything,” Twilight said with a grin. “They're all good.”

“Ah guess Ah'll have a half dozen and two tall milks,” he conceded with a helpless grin.

“No problem,” Joe said with a grin. “Anything in particular you want?”

“Surprise me,” Galen replied. Joe gave a nod and a smile before walking off to fulfill their orders. As they waited for Joe, the store surged with patrons getting ready for the day. The sudden influx of noise into the little diner was almost deafening and conversation was almost pointless as they almost had to shout to be heard above the general noise. Joe returned sooner than Galen expected and soon found two ice cold glasses of milk along with a large plate proudly displaying an assortment of confectionery perfection.

Galen had only eaten plain doughnuts in the past, so he had no idea what the names of these were and was more than happy to eat them anyway. He looked at what his companions were having and saw Twilight with a pair of round pastries with chocolate icing, yellow custard leaking out of puncture marks and a large black coffee. Spike had one that looked to have been twisted around skillfully before being baked and had several shards of sapphire liberally dusted on top while Lero had a round one that had a light pink icing and a deep red jam seeping out.

With his stomach growling promises of retribution if he held out any longer, Galen grabbed one of his rolls and bit into it, adding a mouthful of milk to dull the sugary edge. His eyebrows shot up as he ate that first bite. Lero and Twilight were watching him expectantly so he gave them a grin and a nod to show his enthusiastic approval. Twilight looked smug and Lero laughed when he noticed her expression. Spike was busy as he ravaged his poor pastry.

Galen demolished his rolls and milk in good order, finishing with a deeply rumbling belch that drew more than a few stares from the other patrons who either laughed or shot him a dirty look before returning to their own food and drink. With their meals finished, Galen glanced at the others and saw that they were ready to leave as well. Completely unsure about what to pay, Galen fished out ten bits and tossed them on the table. Twilight raised an eyebrow and levitated half of them back to him with a little smirk. Lero brought out an equivalent amount for their orders and moved out from their booth.

The rest followed suit and made their slow way out of the packed diner. “Tha' was pretty good,” Galen said with a deep sigh as he patted his stomach. “Thanks fer showin' me this place, Twilight.”

“Told you,” she said with a chuckle. “So what was it you wanted to do first?”

“Ah wanted ta get tha materials fer tha forge an' cottage in order first,” he replied. “Ah was thinking about visiting tha local smiths after tha' an' see what Ah can arrange.”

“So why the two day trip then?” Lero asked with a slightly puzzled expression.

“Like Ah told Spike,” he replied with a little laugh. “Ah'm a tourist an' Ah figured tha' Ah'd make tha most o' mah trip an' see tha capital.”

“I wish I'd done that after I first got settled in Ponyville,” Lero said with a slightly wistful expression. “Can you believe that I never made it to Canterlot until a couple months before we all got married?”

“Huh,” Galen said. He paused for a couple moments before continuing, “So, where are we goin'?”

“We'll have to cross the city to the mountain side,” Twilight replied. “They quarry directly into the mountain for their stone and their lumber business works in the valleys around the area. They only log a certain number of trees every year and maintain a laudable reforestation effort.”

“Yew certainly do yer research,” Galen said with a little grin.

“Of course,” Twilight replied primly with a pleased smile. “You should always know who you're buying from and if you're getting a good value.”

“Can't argue with tha',” Galen said with a slightly sheepish smile.

“Alright,” Twilight said as she turned and started to trot off. “Enough dawdling. We have building supplies to buy.”

“Yer more excited about this than Ah am,” Galen said with a laugh as he trailed after her, Lero and Spike falling in on either side of him.

“She gets this way sometimes,” Spike said conspiratorially. “Especially when it involves projects she can micromanage.”

“I just like making sure that everything goes smoothly,” she said primly.

“An' Ah really appreciate it,” Galen said warmly. “Be sure ta drop by anytime yew guys might need somethin'. Ah can always make time fer mah friends.”

“Thanks for the offer, Galen,” Twilight replied in as warm a tone. “We'll keep that in mind if something comes up.”

With that, the conversation died off as they focused on making their way across the city. The streets were bustling and they just went with the flow of traffic, following Twilight's lead. The traffic steadily thinned out until they broke free of the last line of houses, seemingly stepping into a fairly thin forest that flanked the city. In the distance, Galen even spotted the telltale silvery sheen of a large pond. Twilight took a right, skirting the houses until they came upon a moderately wide gravel path which wound off between the trees. She led them down the path for a few minutes until the dark mouth of the cavernous quarry revealed itself. As they got closer, the large archway loomed an easy thirty feet at its apex.

Soon enough, the path widened out into a large yard with a modest two story building nestled along the right side of the arch. It was quiet and peaceful, something that Galen found strange as he had been expecting to hear foremen shouting and the sounds of ponies hard at work. He looked over at Lero with a curious expression and he found a similar one on his face as well. The group walked over to the house and up onto the modest porch before knocking on the solid door. It took barely a moment before a light gray pegasus mare with a bone white mane and tail opened the door and grinned at Twilight before her eyes widened as she noticed the two men towering over them. Her mouth hung open for a moment before Twilight cleared her throat politely with a small smile.

“Oh!” she said with a start, chuckling nervously. “I'm sorry, where are my manners? My name is Slate Gray and I'm the secretary for my dads business. What can I help you with?”

“We're here to see about some stone and lumber for a project we've been working on,” Twilight replied with a pleasant smile.

“Oh! Wonderful!” Slate turned around and waved for them to enter with a wing. “I'll let my dad know you're here and he should be with you shortly.” She led them into the house which had the feel of age to it. It was well taken care of and had a comforting feel to it, the faint smell of beeswax and oil prevalent amid the fading aroma of the morning meal. She took them to a small sitting room furnished with several plush chairs and a modest coffee table where she told them to make their selves at home and left to go tell her father about their presence. They settled around the room though Galen remained standing as he walked around the room inspecting the little things around the room that decorated it, including a fairly large painting hanging between the two windows that depicted a rough featured earth pony stallion with the same coloring as Slate, his stance and demeanor as indomitable as stone.

“That's my great great grandfather, Granite Bluff,” a gravelly voice said from the doorway. It belonged to a slab muscled stallion that looked a lot like his ancestor though his features were more weathered. He shared the same coloring as well. “He was a hard stallion. He was also incredibly sharp of mind, cutting out the unicorns of Canterlot from the local market. His trick back then was buying plots of land underneath the mountain in large swaths for dirt cheap since it hadn't been officially declared as inclusive to properties at the time and it was still in a legal gray area. They took the matter to Princess Celestia and tried to get him to sign over his leases, but she upheld his claims under the condition that he neither charged ponies for living above his land and to maintain a one hundred fifty foot distance from any dwelling above ground, never quarrying underneath said buildings either.

“Once the dust settled, there he stood with the deed to the mountain. He had bought nearly half of the mountain by that time and the Princess prized such cleverness, so she gifted him the remaining portion of the mountain. That being said, the property tax she levied almost broke his bank, but he persevered and so here we are.”

“Come on, dad,” Slate said with a groan from the doorway. “You always tell that story to whoever shows any interest in that portrait. You don't have to tell it every single time.”

“You should have a little more pride in your family,” he said gruffly.

“I have plenty of pride,” she replied. “I just don't go around retelling that tale at the drop of a hat.”

“Bah,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “Well, anyway, it's a pleasure to meet you all. I'm Basalt Spire, the current owner of this quarry. What can I do for you?”

Well,” Twilight began with a small, confident smile. “There's a few things...”


Back in Ponyville, Pinkie Pie was humming happily to herself as she was making lunch of long, thin honeydew and watermelon wedges. She had a vibrant flush across her face as she planned something special for her and Applejack. She moved around the kitchen of Sugar Cube Corner as though she had electricity coursing through her veins, laughter barely held in check from how excited she was. Mrs. Cake walked in and raised her eyebrows slightly at seeing Pinkie in such a state.

“What's going on, dearie?” she asked as she tried to keep the pink pony in sight.

“Oh! Hi there, Mrs. Cake,” she replied with a huge grin as she stopped in front of the older mare. “I'm just making lunch for Applejack and myself. I thought I'd surprise her with it.”

“That's very thoughtful of you,” she said with a warm smile. “It's good to see things working out for you, especially with such a lovely young mare.”

Pinkie blushed profusely and looked away bashfully. “Well, it's not just with her I'm hoping to be with. We're interested in the same guy, so we're seeing how things work out between us first, especially since he hasn't had a chance to settle in yet. We didn't want to try and start anything when he's still trying to get established.”

“I see,” she said with a warm smile. “Do I know who the lucky stallion is?”

“A little,” she said in a bashful tone. “He's still kinda new in town, but he made a big entrance.”

“Uh huh,” Mrs. Cake replied with a sly look. “I see. I know you had your eyes on Lero a while ago, but it never worked out with you. Galen seems like a good sort from what I've heard, so I wish the two of you the best of luck.”

“Thanks,” she said as her blush intensified. “I hope it does too.”

“I'll let you be about your lunch, then,” she said as she turned around. “I'd recommend adding some apple wedges with the melon. The sweet and tart goes amazingly well together.” With that, she left the blushing Pinkie to quickly scrounge a few apples together and sliced them up to join the thinner wedges. She finished her preparations a little after eleven and hurried out the kitchen door with her basket in mouth and a smile evident on her face. The ponies she passed on her way perked up as they saw her bright, if slightly goofy smile and waved or nodded, Pinkie returning the favor as best she could while keeping her pace up.

She made her way out to the farm a short while later, just as Applejack appeared from wherever she had been in the orchard. Pinkie cantered over and Applejack pulled up short with a little grin for her. “What brings you out here, Pinkie?” she asked with a big smile.

“I thought I'd surprise you with a nice lunch,” she replied after she sat the basket down. “Do you know a nice place where we can eat by ourselves?”

“Sure,” Applejack said with a curious expression. She knew better than to ask the pink mare when she asked for certain things. She'd tell her sooner or later. “Just follow me.”

With that, she turned and led Pinkie back into the orchard, Pinkie following with her basket. They walked for roughly ten minutes before Applejack stopped on the edge of a very small clearing between two hills that was filled with vibrant wildflowers. Pinkie strode forward, leading Applejack to a shaded section amid the flowers and settled down, Applejack sitting beside her. She lifted a flap and pulled out a medium sized bowl filled with the sliced melon and apples which had Applejack smiling in anticipation. When she didn't pull anything else out, Applejack looked curiously to Pinkie and asked, “Did you forget the plates and silverware?”

“Nope,” Pinkie replied with a blush. “I thought we could try something different.”

“Different?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. “Different how?” Instead of answering, Pinkie leaned down and selected a wedge of honeydew and held the end of it in her mouth, the majority pointing at Applejack as she turned to her. “Ah think Ah like different,” she said in a low, slightly husky voice as a slightly sultry expression crossed her face. Pinkie's blush turned brilliant as Applejack leaned in and took the majority of the wedge in her mouth, biting it off once she had gotten close enough to Pinkie that she lightly grazed her lips with her own. She pulled back with a slight huff and chewed the crispy melon, an incredibly pleased expression on her face.

Applejack leaned down and did the same with a piece of watermelon and waited for Pinkie to do the same. Pinkie finished her morsel of melon that was left over from Applejack's first helping before leaning in and mirrored what the other mare had done, only she gave a firmer kiss than Applejack had before pulling back with a proud expression. They repeated this until there was nothing left and the kisses turned more prolonged until they were simply leaning against one another, heads touching and eyes closed as they enjoyed the close proximity of one another.

“That was really nice,” Applejack whispered as she grew sleepy. “Thanks for lunch, Pinkie.”

“I thought it'd be a good way to make up for messing up our first date,” she replied just as softly as she nuzzled Applejack slightly.

“You didn't mess anything up,” she replied with a gentle kiss to the side of her muzzle. “Ah thought everything turned out just fine.” Pinkie gave a content sigh in response and seemed to relax even further, leaning into Applejack with a little more weight which made Applejack do the same. Without thinking about it, they ended up falling asleep for almost an hour, only waking up as the sun shifted and the light fell across their eyes. They stirred gently and woke up with slight blushes of embarrassment and started as they realized how long they had been asleep for and had to get back to their respective duties. Applejack and Pinkie hurried back to the farm at a trot and soon arrived at the yard.

“Wait a moment,” Pinkie said as she stopped, basket on the ground a pace behind her. Applejack turned back and was caught off guard as Pinkie closed the distance and kissed her warmly. Applejack wasn't normally one to believe that a kiss could paralyze somepony, but Pinkie's came damn close. She melted into the kiss as Pinkie pushed a little harder to prolong the kiss, pulling apart finally with a little gasp and leaving Applejack a little flustered and Pinkie blushing. “I'll see you later,” she said with a little grin.

Applejack just nodded slowly, a slightly goofy smile on her face as she watched Pinkie turn around to grab her basket before cantering over to the road. She looked back at Applejack and waved goodbye, she waved back a couple seconds later after her mind had caught up with her. Pinkie giggled and hurried off, leaving Applejack alone in the yard. She stood there for an unknown amount of time as she worked through what she was feeling for Pinkie Pie at this time. It was definitely more than what a date and a lunch should leave her with, but she wasn't about to push it away. She knew she was falling for the pink mare and had no qualms about it.

Now, she only had to wait for that blasted man to finish building that blasted forge of his and the two of them could start turning their attention on him.

Over in Canterlot, Galen shivered and looked over his shoulder for reasons he couldn't explain.

Sparks and Embers

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Sparks and Embers

Galen groaned, yawned and stretched as he walked away from the house beside the quarry, the midday sun shining warmly down as he looked over at Lero and the others. They were walking at a leisurely pace as they made their way back to Canterlot at large. Lero and Spike looked ready for a short nap while Twilight was rather energetic, all things considered. He never understood how someone could go the whole day without a nap.

“That went really well,” Twilight said as she led them back into the city.

“Yeah,” Galen said as he barely suppressed a yawn. “Ah'm kinda surprised ya got a discount like ya did. Ten percent ain't nothin ta scoff at with how much Ah'm spendin'.”

“Well, he had a lot of surplus stone with summer close to half way over,” she replied. “He would need to move it anyway to make room for fresh wood coming up to be cured over the winter, so selling it at a small discount makes it worthwhile.”

“Ah guess there's tha',” Galen said, finishing with a massive yawn that bludgeoned its way out.

“You look ready for a nap,” Twilight said with a giggle.

“Couldn't hurt,” he replied.

“In that case, let's go to my parents place,” she said with a glance at Lero and Spike who perked up immensely at that. “I'm sure that they'll let you borrow a couch for a little bit, Galen.”

“Oh, Twilight...” he began, fake emotion choking his voice up. “Yer a saint!”

“Stop hamming it,” Spike said with a chuckle.

“Ah could go fer a bit o' ham, now tha' yew mention it,” Galen said with a ponderous rubbing of his stomach. “Gah, why'd yew have ta go an' do tha' ta me?”

“Not that I've gone there more than a couple times, but there is a griffon establishment near the ambassadorial quarter of Canterlot,” Lero said helpfully. “I was treated to it by Twilight's parents a few days before our wedding. It was fairly upscale from what I remember, which makes sense as it caters mostly to griffon nobility.”

“Might have ta drop by before Ah come back ta Ponyville,” Galen mused out loud.

“Could I give you some bits and have you bring me back some bacon?” Lero asked hopefully as his time in Canterlot was limited.

“Sure thing, Leera,” Galen replied. Lero grinned widely and fished around in his bag and handed over fifteen bits.

“I'm not sure how much it'll cost, so just make sure I'm getting a good deal,” he said with a nod and a smile to show his appreciation.

“Oh, ew!” Twilight groused in a high pitched voice. “You're not going to cook that while I'm at home. Last time you did that I got so nauseous I had to leave the house for the day because of the smell.”

“Le's say Ah take care of it, Twilight,” Galen supplied. “We can have a good ol' fashioned camping session an' cook us up a hearty meal.”

“That sounds like fun,” Lero replied with a grin. “I'll bring the beer and bacon.”

“Ah'll see if Ah can't talk to tha' warden an' wrangle up a rabbit or two,” he said with a grin. “Yew ever had rabbit?”

“Can't say as I have,” he replied. “But I'm sure I'll find out soon.”

“Damn righ',” Galen said with a pleased expression. Twilight just shook her head with a sigh while Spike looked between the two like they were the best comedy show he'd seen in years. Maybe they were.

“Okay, enough with that you two,” she finally said with a strange expression. “I really don't want to think about you killing little rabbits and cooking them over an open fire right now.” Her cheeks turned a little green at that and she shuddered. “Let's just get to my parents place, take a nap and visit the forge after Lero leaves.”

“Sorry, love,” Lero said with an apologetic smile. “It's just that I haven't had a chance to satisfy my inner predator properly in a few years. Sure, we go to Crispy's fairly often, but this is different.”

“Okay,” she said in an understanding tone. “I get it. I really do. It's just something I don't like to dwell on, even though I love everything about you. I just tend to forget that you're an omnivore and have certain needs, even if you don't indulge in them very often.”

“Thanks for understanding,” he replied warmly. Twilight just smiled over her shoulder at him.

“But you're not kissing me without brushing your teeth at least three times afterward,” she said flatly. Lero and Galen chuckled at that before picking up the pace as Twilight sped up. “Just a few more blocks and we'll be there.”

True to her word, Twilight led them to a small three story house that didn't appear any different than any of its neighbors, walked up the short flight of stairs and knocked on the door. A couple minutes passed before the door opened to reveal a unicorn mare with a light gray coat, her mane and tail were striped in white and light purple. She looked up at the group with light blue eyes that widened before she gasped and broke into a massive smile, pulling Twilight into a spine cracking hug.

“Twilight!” she exclaimed happily. “What brings you to Canterlot and why didn't you let me know you were coming?”

“Hey, mom,” she grunted as she struggled for breath. The mare released her daughter and held her by the shoulders as she looked around at her companions. “I see your entourage has increased by one,” she said in that snickering, scandalous tone that parents used to mortify and scar their children.

“Mom!” Twilight exclaimed with a brilliant flush. “This is Galen. He's new to Equestria and the reason we made the trip to Canterlot. We just got done ordering materials from the quarry for the forge he wants to build and the guys are getting a little worn down, so we were wondering if we could impose on you for a little bit so they can get a nap in. Lero has to take the one thirty train back to Ponyville to take care of some jobs and Galen has to visit the Royal Forge and Foundry.”

“I don't mind in the slightest,” she replied warmly. “Come on in and get you three settled in.”

“Thank yew kindly, madam,” Galen said warmly as he followed the others in. “If Ah knew mah way 'round town, Ah would've brought yew a hospitality gift.”

“Nonsense,” she chided as she shut the door behind him. “Getting to meet another of Twilight's friends is gift enough. And please, call me Velvet. I'm nothing so proper as a madam.”

Galen gave a little chuckle at that as he followed her into the house. “Lero and Spike can take a nap in my old room,” Twilight suggested. “Galen can take the couch unless that's a problem.”

“Tha's fine by me,” he replied with a little yawn. “Don' take much ta keep me happy.”

“Alright,” Velvet said with a slightly uncomfortable expression. She obviously was used to pampering those who came under her roof. “Have you had lunch yet?”

“Not yet,” Twilight replied.

“I was planning on getting a bite from a stall near the station before I left,” Lero replied.

“In that case, I'll get started cooking,” Velvet said firmly. “I haven't eaten yet either, so it's not a problem.” She finished, killing any protests before they even left his lips. Lero just gave her a rueful smile and nodded in appreciation before he made his farewells and trudged his way up the stairs with Spike in tow. “The couch is right this way,” Velvet said with a smile as she led him into their living room while Twilight waited in her spot. Galen didn't pay much attention to the room as a whole as his eyes were immediately drawn to their couch which looked to have wonderfully padded cushions and a couple pillows strewn about it.

He crossed the room and took a seat with a look of supreme happiness as he sank down a little but not too much. “Thank yew so much fer puttin' up with tha intrusion,” he said tiredly. “Ah'll make it up to ya someday.”

Velvet gave a half smile that said she'd like to see him try. “Would you like a blanket?” she asked as she half turned to leave.

“Ah'm fine, but thanks fer tha offer,” he replied as he untied his bag of bits and hammer. setting them on an end table with a solid thump. She gave him one last smile before leaving him to the glorious embrace of the couch. So with a deep yawn he slid to his side, pulled a pillow over to rest his head on and slipped to unconsciousness within moments.


He awoke roughly twenty minutes later to the smells of an incredibly flavorful meal being prepared and the sounds of gentle laughter coming from a room nearby. Galen rubbed his tongue against the top of his mouth as he worked his jaw so that the taste of sleep would go away faster. He sat up slowly and ponderously, akin to a bear waking up from its winter hibernation and looked about dully. His body suddenly took a deep breath of its own accord and his heart started beating with fervor as a short burst of adrenaline charged his system. His mind snapped back into focus quickly as he yawned aggressively and stood up, stretching out the muscles he had slept on before grabbing his bits and hammer, leaving the room in search of food. Nothing like a good nap to re-energize oneself.

Like a bloodhound on the scent, he quickly found his way to the kitchen and grinned as he found Twilight and her mom sitting at the kitchen table. They looked up as he entered and looked kinda surprised that he was even there.

“That was short,” Twilight said with a little grin, Galen's good mood infecting her.

“'Course it was short,” he replied. “It's only a nap.” He paused. “Tha' an' Ah couldn't sleep with this delicious food teasin' me awake.”

“You're such a flatterer,” Velvet said with a chuckle.

“So, you wanted to go to the Forge after Lero left?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Were ya gonna leave with him?”

“I was thinking about it, but you don't really know your way around the city,” she said in a slightly worried tone. “I wouldn't want you to get lost.”

“Ah'll be fine,” Galen replied with a wave of his hand. “If Ah get lost, Ah can always ask fer directions.”

“How about I take him, dear?” Velvet supplied with a warm smile. “I don't have much planned until supper anyway, so it wouldn't be a problem in the least. It'll give me an excuse to drop by the castle and walk home with your father when his shift ends as well.”

“If it's alright with you, Galen,” Twilight said uncertainly, as though he would be uncomfortable with a new pony to guide him around.

“Ah don' mind at all,” he said with a chuckle. “An' Ah gotta say thank yew again, Velvet, fer opening yer house ta me, even if it was only fer a nap an' a meal.”

“Think nothing of it,” the older mare said with a confident smile. She turned to Twilight and gave her a little nudge before saying, “The soup should be ready soon, so why don't you go wake your prince with a kiss?”

Twilight giggled, rolling her eyes and blushing before she hopped off her chair with a grin, trotting out to do as suggested. A bout of shrill laughter and a little bit of squealing sounded from upstairs a couples minutes later, Galen and Velvet grinning at each other. Galen stood up and asked where the dishes were so that he could help her get everything around. She smiled and directed him to a cupboard with some soup bowls while she set out linen cloths to protect the tablecloth and spoons for them.

Velvet began serving a spicy pumpkin soup with clove and fresh peppercorn, the aroma of it fresh from the pot making Galen's mouth water. A moment after she finished dishing out the last full bowl, Lero led the way into the kitchen with Twilight and Spike right behind him. They didn't say much as they settled down around the table, the need for food precluding idle conversation aside from their hearty thank yous to Velvet for providing them with sustenance. Slurps and the clinking of silverware on porcelain bowls were the only noises as they had their lunch.

After seconds and thirds for many, fifths in Galen's case, everyone was relaxing easily. They talked and chatted idly for a time until one thirty began looming closer and Lero decided it was time to head to the station since he wanted to get the three of them good seats on the train before it got crowded. With that, the five of them left for the station around one since it was roughly a ten minute walk to the station. The trip went by quickly and they arrived before a crowd started to form, getting into line for the trip back down the mountain. Velvet and Galen didn't want to get caught up in the press of the crowd, so once the others were pretty much set, they bade their farewells and made their way out of the train station and onto the main thoroughfare.

“So, where to?” Galen asked Velvet as he looked down at her.

“You're asking me?” she said in a mock tone of shock. She chuckled as Galen took the bait and looked at her with a slightly panicked expression. She laughed and grinned at him, giving away the joke which made Galen chuckle ruefully. “We'll be going this way,” she said with a little grin as she turned down the street leading back toward the castle. They made their way through the gradually thickening crowds of ponies who were going about errands or returning to their jobs after lunch. They walked onto the main square in front of the castle once again and made a beeline straight for the front gates. Galen nearly had a moment of panic as he realized that the Forge was directly on the Castle's grounds.

They joined the queue of ponies waiting to gain admittance to the castle and settled in for the wait. Galen slowly grew more and more nervous as the queue shortened and the guards became more visible in their lustrous armor and stoic expressions. Velvet looked back at Galen and gave him a reassuring smile which settled him a little bit. In what seemed like no time at all, there was only one pony in front of them and they were soon waved along leaving Galen and Velvet at the front of the line. He gave the guards a sickly smile as his nerves skyrocketed again. They gave him their flat stare, completely nonplussed at a strange creature having come up to the front gates to the Castle of their ruling monarchs.

“Good afternoon,” Velvet said in a happy tone.

“Afternoon, Ma'am,” replied the guard on the right. “Reason for your visit?”

“We're here on business with the Forge,” she replied with a smile. Their eyebrows raised slightly at that.

“If you'd care to follow me, we'll have you wait in the guard house while we send a runner to get someone from the forge to escort you,” the guard on the left replied. Galen's nerves dropped off like a cliff and he let out a relieved sigh. He wasn't sure why he had gotten so nervous, but as he was led to the guard house he grinned like a kid who had just gotten away with stealing the metaphorical pie from the neighbor's windowsill. They walked the short distance to the guardhouse and walked in to find Celestia speaking nonchalantly with the guard in charge of the post.

“Oh! Princess!” Velvet said excitedly as she trotted forward with a huge smile. “It's been ages since we've seen each other. How have you been?”

“Oh, Twilight Velvet!” Celestia said delightedly, a wide smile of her own gracing her features. “I've been quite well, thank you. It has been quite some time, though hasn't it? I do believe the last time we had seen each other casually was at Twilight's graduation ceremony from my school several years ago.”

“It really has been too long,” Velvet replied warmly, a nostalgic smile coming across her face. “We should have tea again sometime soon.”

“I agree,” Celestia said. “I have a few matters to deal with today, but perhaps you can drop by the Castle for lunch on Friday?”

“I can certainly make it,” Velvet said with a eager grin.

“Wonderful!” Celestia said as a grin split her face in anticipation. “I look forward to it.”

“Afternoon, Celestia,” Galen cut in as a lull presented itself.

“Galen! I didn't notice you there,” Celestia said happily as her attention was diverted. “What brings you here?”

“Ah'm here ta visit tha Forge,” he replied with a grin at seeing her relatively unguarded, enjoying the chance meeting of an acquaintance. “They'll probably be tha place Ah'll get mah stock from an' introduce me ta suppliers Ah'll need fer coal an' such.”

“In that case, I'll lead you there personally,” she replied warmly.

“Yer guards should be sending a runner anytime,” he said with a wave of his hand. “Yew ain't gotta do any such thing.”

“Consider it a favor to myself as much as to you,” she said with a little grin. “Any chance I have to break the usual routine is certainly welcome.”

“Ah know how it is,” he replied with a slight grimace. “Tha's why Ah go out on survival expeditions every once in a while. Break away from tha normal an' get a little livin' in.”

“I'm sure it isn't quite that bad,” she replied with an uncertain expression.

“It wasn't,” he said with a slight smirk. “But it served ta refuel mah love o' forging an' appreciate tha time Ah spend out in tha wild country.”

“I suppose that's one way to look at it,” she said with a tilt of her head. “So, would you like to take me up on my offer?”

“What do yew think, Velvet?” he asked the other mare in the room who looked surprised to even be addressed in their conversation.

“I don't see why not,” she replied with a slightly confused expression.

“Ah jus' didn't wanna take 'er up on tha offer an' leave yew feelin' like ya were second fiddle,” he said as a little smile crept up on his face.

She blushed slightly and smiled widely at his honest answer before replying, “Thank you for being so considerate, Galen. Not everypony thinks the same way you do. I honestly didn't think about it either to be honest.”

“Galen's certainly one of a kind,” Celestia said with a grin. “He'll never let anyone feel insignificant when they offer him their friendship.” Galen just grinned wider in response. “So, how about I lead you two over to the Forge so you can get on with your business?”

“Sounds good ta me,” he replied. “Yew two can catch up a bit while Ah'm checkin' things out as well. Wouldn't wanna bore yew two with conversations 'bout hittin' hot bits o' metal with other pieces o' metal.” Celestia chuckled with Velvet at his disparaging tone before they made their farewells to the guards and left for the Forge, Celestia and Velvet walked side by side while Galen trailed behind them. As they made their way, several guards called out to Velvet by name, respect and friendliness evident in their tones. “Yew tha barracks mom here, Velvet?” he asked with amusement after Velvet had commented on one guard and his apparent loss of weight. “Seems like yew know a lot o' these guys.”

“These are a lot of class mates that graduated with Shining Armor, my son and previous Captain of the Royal Guard,” she replied. Galen's eyebrows rose at that. “He isn't here any more, so I don't get to see them too often unless they're on patrol while I'm out and about,” she said wistfully, a sigh escaping her lips.

“Somethin' happen?” he asked cautiously lest he tread upon a social landmine with a new acquaintance.

“He got married,” she replied with mock gruffness, though her expression of unbridled happiness said that she was as happy as could be. “He lives in the Crystal Empire with his wife, Princess Cadence, the alicorn of love. She's a wonderful mare and I'm happy to call her my daughter-in-law.”

“Good on him,” he said as his eyebrows climbed a bit higher. “Seems like yer kids have big things goin' on.”

“I'm just glad they're healthy despite their shenanigans,” she said with a rueful shake of her head. Celestia gave a hearty belly laugh at that.

“Ah think Ah'm missin' somethin' important here,” he said with as he rubbed the back of his head.

“I'm sure you'll find it sooner or later,” Celestia said with mirth still in her voice. They rounded a corner and Galen was greeted with the sight of a sprawling, two story brick building that belched gray smoke that dissipated far quicker than it should have. Celestia looked over her shoulder and smiled to Galen, “May I present to you my Royal Forge and Foundry, producer of fine armor, weapons and coin.”

The building easily covered an acre of land and was kept in immaculate condition. It had terracotta tiling for roofing, immense beams of timber showed at the eaves and had tall, narrow windows of darkness that revealed nothing but the occasional sullen red glow of immensely hot fires and golden sparks of metal protesting its forging. As they got closer, Galen caught a faint whiff of the acrid smoke of coal and hot metal. The smells of home and passion that he had missed more than he had imagined.

They crossed the remaining distance and moved over to the wide double doors that would allow heavily laden wagons entry and equally heavy wagons exit as they carted off their newly shaped loads. The interior was almost pitch black as they stepped inside, the red glowing ominously and faint hissing noises their only company for the time being. As Galen's eyes adjusted, he began noticing a few things around them and walked over to one of the massive anvils that stood just over waist high on him, resting his hand on the icy object.

“Something I can help you with?” asked a stallion's harsh voice from behind Galen. The voice sounded as though each word had to be roughly formed and fought with before leaving his mouth. Galen turned and found himself looking at a lean unicorn looking back without an ounce of outward curiosity or uncertainty, his lithe muscles showed starkly underneath a coat that was a dirty gold color while his mane was a dusky orange. He had several silvery streaks and splotches of fur where he had been burned and healed with only minor assistance through salves. The way he carried himself and considered Galen and his companions intruders immediately named this stallion the master smith of the Forge.

“Afternoon, master smith,” Galen said with a respectful nod of his head. “Ah'm here ta see 'bout buyin' maself some basic necessities since Ah'm lookin' ta establish mah own forge in Ponyville.”

“Just call me Hard Edge,” he replied with a huff. He looked Galen up and down, appraising him in a moment. “So you say you're a smith, huh? Well, come on then. You can show me what you can do. I wont sell anything to anyone who'll hurt themselves with it.”

Galen followed the older stallion and gave a knowing look to Celestia who just smiled and nodded. Galen nodded to her in thanks and waved goodbye to Velvet with a warm smile before hurrying after. They didn't talk as they walked since words were pretty useless in this profession. Galen would have to show this stallion that he was a smith of skill before he would consider selling him his wares. They walked down a wide hallway that had doors spaced out evenly on the left with windows on the right. Galen shivered slightly, unsure as to why until he looked into one room and saw a massive crucible being lifted from a fire pit, molten metal popping and bubbling sluggishly as it was tilted and poured into a massive trough and ran down deep, narrow channels and pooled into depressions that would create ingots of iron. Heat should have been pouring through the doorway but there was nothing more than a gently warm breeze.

“What keeps yer forge so cool?” he asked as he continued behind the other stallion.

“We got magical heat sinks set up round the place that pulls ambient heat out of the air to a certain extent,” he replied without turning around. “They work in pairs, synchronized so that if one gets hotter, so does the other. Same as when they get cold. We keep their pairs in a cistern in the Castle to provide hot water for everypony who lives and works here.”

“Neat,” he said, though all he understood was that these things kept the forge cool and provided water hot enough that it would likely severely burn anyone who didn't know any better if they left the hot water running long enough. They didn't speak again until the stallion turned into a slightly dim and modestly sooty room that brought back a sense of nostalgia for Galen. In the middle of the room was a low, wide forge along with a large set of bellows. Directly in front of it was a small anvil that barely reached up to mid thigh on him. He looked over to the walls and found three barrels along with a plethora of every tool he could ever need. “Think yew could find me an anvil o' proper size?” he asked as he walked over to the barrels where he dipped his fingers before tasting them to find out which was fresh water, salt water and oil. “Ah'll get everything else started an' set up if yew'd be so kind.”

The other stallion grunted in assent and a dusky orange glow akin to a hot forges light surrounded the anvil and it slowly levitated up and coasted toward the door. While that was going on, Galen began moving the barrels of liquids closer to the forge where it would be somewhat similar to his own forge. He returned to the wall and picked up several hammers to test their weight. He finally settled on a ball-peen hammer and a six pound flatter which he set next to the barrels before returning to select a chisel, a square punch and a rough file in addition to a pair of tongs that would work well enough for him. The stallion came back as Galen finished setting down the remainder of his tools and began scooping out a small pile of coal into the middle of the forge, spreading it out to create an even bed of it. As the dust filled the air, he took a deep breath and let it out with a grin. He was back in his element. A resonant thud sounded in the air and was felt through the floor as the larger anvil was set down, a lighter clinking noise sounded as a one pound ingot of iron was placed on top of it. He nodded in thanks to the other stallion. He returned to the wall and selected a large leather apron and tied it in place before returning to the forge.

He took a piece of coal and dipped it in the oil before taking the flint and steel from the side of the coal basket and brought it back to the forge, scraping the steel over the flint in a shower of sparks that caught the oil soaked piece of coal on fire after a couple tries. He watched it for a moment to ensure that it wasn't a false start and returned the flint and steel to their resting places. While the fire was spreading, Galen took the tools he had set around and moved them to the holsters on the side of the anvil and moved to the bellows. He crouched down and slowly drew the bellows up before slowly pressing back down. He watched the fire as it started spreading faster and faster, waiting for it to spread halfway over the entirety of the coal before he quickly moved over to the anvil. He took the tongs and grabbed the ingot of iron, nestling it within the bright embers for most of its length and returned to the bellows, pumping away at a faster rate than before. He watched the ingot of iron, dull gray among the orange. As he worked, he thought of what he would make. A hoof trimmer would probably show off his knowledge as a farrier. Then he could craft a small knife to show a basic knowledge of weapon smithing and follow that up with a small set of nails for general smithing. He could do a lot more, but he felt that these three fields would be the best for now.

The heat quickly rose in the room but seemed to plateau as the heat sink in the room began absorbing any heat that would make it absolutely unbearable. He was at his task for nearly fifteen minutes before the ingot began to lighten noticeably in color. He kept at it until the ingot was on the verge of a vibrant yellow and moved with purpose, grabbing the tongs and moved the ingot to the anvil. He grabbed the flatter and struck it until it spread out a couple inches on either side, sparks flying in every direction before switching to the chisel and his three pound hammer. He set the chisel roughly a third of the way from one end and struck confidently, the chime of metal on metal rang out as he split the ingot and returned the larger part of it to the forge to keep it hot.

Picking up the flatter again, he spread out the piece further before he took his own hammer and began folding it over and over again until it formed a tall rectangle and the color had dulled to a dusky orange verging on red. He returned the iron to the coals and worked the bellows some more until it turned a bright yellow. He took it to the anvil again and began working on one end specifically with his hammer, shaping it into a downward slope. He turned it and shaped the metal back into line with the sides. He took the ball-peen and began adding a curve to the slope before he turned it around and created the final slope leading to the blade. With that done, he took the rough file and shaped the blade of the trimmer. He buried the square end in the coals for a few moments to reheat it before he took it out, placed it over the hardy slot and used the square punch to open a hole in the main body. He did that twice more so that it would have a rectangular slot for the handle to fit through and filed away the jagged edges. He quenched it after that in the oil so that it would take in a bit of carbon to help it keep its edge longer. He would add the final edge to it later when he had access to a grind wheel.

As he worked that first piece, he felt a rising in his chest, as though a small part of the forge had invested itself in him and his spirit was rising on the updraft. He felt alive as he enforced his will through strength and discipline, time seeming to loose meaning. The metal spoke to him in a wordless voice, telling him where it was strongest and where it was weakest. As he started working on the knife, he subconsciously folded the metal so that the harder metal was shaped onto the edge while the softer metal formed the rest of the blade. He dipped it in the salt water for a soft quench before returning it to the forge for tempering. Waves of yellow flickered and flowed up the length in waves like a heart beat. He pulled it out when it began flickering quickly and quenched it in the fresh water to preserve the tempering. The nails barely took any time at all for him to quickly create fifteen of them. Here, he cut off small rectangles of iron, held them vertically in the tongs and struck them on top so that the ends would flatten out. He took it by the stem and worked one of the ends into a rough, jagged spike that would easily pierce wood and quenched them in salt water. He was breathing a little hard and had worked up a healthy sweat in his efforts, but felt as though that heat in his chest had suddenly been extinguished, leaving him empty and weak. He looked around dazedly and found Celestia and Velvet watching from the doorway beside Hard Edge, strange expressions on all their faces. He blinked a few times and staggered slightly, bumping into the anvil roughly before sliding to the floor. His sweat turned cold suddenly and began shivering as he brought a hand to his forehead.

Celestia suddenly entered his sight, her horn alight and brought it forward to touch his chest. His shivering suddenly ceased as a heat suffused him and he slipped into unconsciousness.


“Princess,” Velvet said worriedly as Celestia levitated Galen onto her back. The two of them had wanted to wait for Galen to take care of his business and let him go in on his own, but Celestia had been drawn here with a sense of urgency shortly after they had entered the castle. “What was that? I saw... something swirling around him. It was like fire, only... more.” She looked up to Celestia. “But what were those other things? He positively reeked of power...”

“It was something I had never considered happening before,” Celestia said with a slightly worried tone. “It would be best if you kept what happened here to yourself. Do not even tell your daughter. The same goes to you Hard Edge.” They nodded, troubled expressions on their faces.

“What will happen to him?” Velvet asked as she looked to Galen's prone form.

“Nothing,” Celestia replied in a reassuring tone. “For now, anyway. I'll ensure that he is taken care of and protect him as long as I can from himself, but he will learn the truth at some point. Sooner more likely than later since his magic is tied so closely to smithing. I will see what I can do about finding him a tutor, but he may have to go to them. Myself or Luna could teach him, but we may soon find ourselves dealing with some unpleasant business.”

With that, Celestia left the two to go about what was left of their day as she took Galen to a guest room near her chambers and set about contacting some very old acquaintances of hers.


Galen was asleep, yet he didn't so much as dream. Instead, he drifted through sensations. Feelings of a deep, passionate heat, indomitable strength and a force of will that seemed boundless. He didn't shy away from these sensations, he dove deeper into them and made them a part of himself because they weren't so much as foreign feelings as they were more of what he already was. He simply became more of himself.

He awoke slowly, coming up from the depths of where he had been and opened his eyes to see Celestia sitting in a chair beside the bed he was in. She looked over to him as he drew in a deep breath and disturbed the quiet. “Wha' happened?” he asked quietly, not wanting to dispel his deeply relaxed yet energized feeling. It was like waking up after having the perfect sleep after a perfect day, fulfilled and content yet ready to be about the next day.

“I think you worked yourself too hard and passed out,” she replied with a comforting smile. “A little too much too soon perhaps?”

“Didn't seem like it,” he replied with a look of mild confusion on his face. “Hadn't felt tha' good in a long time ta be honest, except fer tha last bit. Don' know wha' came over me.”

“I'm sure it was a fluke occurrence,” she said with a dismissive air, as though that was that and didn't bear any further thought. “However, it is nearing supper time and my sister, Luna, should be waking up soon if you feel up for eating supper. I remember you saying you are a hunter, so meat would be a large part of your diet. It must be rough on you to suddenly transition to a largely vegetarian diet, so I asked one of the griffon ambassadors to allow us to make use of one of his chefs to prepare you a couple meat dishes. Don't worry about offending our sensibilities as we've dined with many a carnivorous ambassador before.”

Galen gave her a toothy grin and shifted up to sitting position. “Ah think Ah can manage tha' much.” As if to punctuate his statement, his stomach gave a low and resounding growl which made Celestia laugh and Galen chuckled ruefully. “But seriously,” he said after a brief moment. “Sorry 'bout tha trouble. Think Ah messed up mah chance with Hard Edge?”

“I believe he was quite impressed with the ease and proficiency you displayed earlier,” she replied. “I don't think you have anything to worry about on that front.” She gave him a reassuring smile. “So how did your other business go?”

“Pretty good,” he said as he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. “Just have ta talk to tha contractors in Ponyville an' they'll contact the quarry 'bout tha materials. Should have construction startin' in a week after Ah finalize tha plans.”

“If you'd care to, feel free to ask the aid of my personal architect,” she said with a smile. “She's normally not too busy most days and would likely enjoy helping you design your forge.”

“Ah may just do tha',” he replied with a thankful smile. “But Ah don' know 'bout yew, but Ah'm 'bout ready to keel over if Ah don' get somethin' ta eat soon.” His stomach gurgled again, punctuating his claim.

Celestia laughed jovially at that and stood up after setting her book on the bedside table beside his hammer and bag of bits. “In that case, let's be on our way.” She led Galen out of the modestly appointed room after he replaced his belongings at his hip and was into a hallway that would put most of the monarchies back on earth to shame in its casual display of wealth. The ironic part was that it had a certain humility to it as well, not flaunting gaudily or pridefully the wealth amassed within these walls. Elegant pieces of art were hidden from sight in masterfully placed niches that would suddenly reveal their treasures, surprising and delighting those who had a taste for such things.

Galen just followed Celestia by keeping her in his peripheral vision as he gawked and looked appropriately awed by the surroundings. Even having little appreciation for high art didn't mean that he couldn't recognize masterworks of craftsmanship. They walked for roughly ten minutes, turning into a modest sized room whose back wall was mostly made up of tall panes of glass that looked into a garden closer in resemblance to a forest glade. There was a small, rectangular table set for three. Apparently it was to be a private dinner.

“As the guest of honor, why don't you take the seat at the head of the table?” Celestia suggested with a smile. Galen gave a little shrug and smile as he moved to take his seat. He paused at the last moment and stopped behind the seat he was about to pass and pulled it out for Celestia who gave him a little grin and let him seat her. With Celestia seated, he took his own and looked around aimlessly, twiddling his thumbs and whistled tunelessly. “You're not one to wait too often for something you want, are you?” she asked with a smirk at his behavior.

“Don' help any when mah stomach's eating itself,” he replied with a laugh.

Celestia laughed as well, a smile settling on her face as the doors to the room opened and Luna walked in. “Sister!” Celestia said cheerfully. “May I present to you our guest, Galen.”

“You!” They yelled simultaneously as alcohol hazed memories suddenly crashed to the forefronts of their minds. “What are you doing here?”

“You two know each other?” Celestia replied with no small amount of surprise.

“Know her?” Galen said with an unbelieving scoff. “She showed up at tha town party out ta Jack's place an' drank half a barrel of hard cider by 'erself! Ah thought she was a dream all this time!” Luna blushed and coughed daintily behind a hoof before lowering it with a smirk.

“And it seems as though you're more clothed than last I remember too, noticeably less prancing about as well,” Luna replied with a wicked grin that set Galen's ears ablaze. He grumbled something under his breath and looked away. “It seems as though I win this round,” Luna said with a self satisfied grin. Celestia simply shook her head in confusion and held back her confused laughter.

I know I gave Pinkie Pie some bits to make it a welcome party to remember, but I didn't know it got that out of hand, she thought incredulously. But how much did Galen drink if he ended up stripping? Not even Lero strips when he gets thoroughly drunk.

She cleared her throat with a cough and drew their attention, “Maybe we should reminisce as we eat?” Celestia prompted with a little grin. “I know I'm both hungry and wanting to know more about what the two of you are talking about.”

“Of course, sister,” Luna said with laughter in her voice. She walked over to her seat across from Celestia at the table and settled down with a smirk in Galen's direction. Once Luna was seated, several servants came in with trolleys for each of them and deposited their meals with minimal pomp, lifting away the metal domes that had kept them warm and prevented their aroma from being a distraction until it was time to eat. Galen looked to his covered plate and was tickled pink as a large haunch of roast beef, seared and crispy on the outside with a coating of garlic and herbs while medium done in the middle greeted him from its bed of dark rice. To say that he restrained himself and didn't drool would have been a lie. Celestia and Luna didn't miss the fact either as he quickly grabbed a linen napkin and brought it to his mouth lest he drool all over his lap. Galen glanced over to his companions plates and found that they had incredibly lush salads with vinegar and oil slathered generously on it and a buttery loaf of dark brown bread that looked deliciously fluffy.

“Contain yourself, Galen” Luna said imperiously, an impish expression on her face. “You need not chase this prey to ground at least.”

Galen gave a barking laugh and grinned back at Luna, “Sorry 'bout tha'. Been nearly three weeks since Ah've had any meat. Tha' griffon cook yew borrowed certainly knows how ta make a meal.”

“I'll pass your compliments to the chef,” Celestia replied warmly.

“Thanks,” he replied as he grabbed a large knife and fork, secured the beef with the fork and efficiently carved a hearty piece from it. He paused a moment before the meat passed his lips as he noticed the sisters having not moved to eat yet. He moved the morsel away from his rapidly salivating mouth, swallowed and asked, “Yew two say grace or something? Ah wouldn't want ta be rude or anythin'.”

“Nay,” Luna replied. “We just thought to let our guest be the first to enjoy a meal he has little enough chance to enjoy anymore.”

“In tha' case,” Galen said with a massive grin as he quickly brought the morsel to his mouth and ate it. The first thing he noticed was how the charred flavor mixed incredibly well with the spicy garlic and sweet herbs, causing his mouth to flood almost violently. He quickly chewed the meat and swallowed, a low moan reverberating from deep within his chest from the pleasure to which the Princesses smiled and chuckled at. He paid no attention to them as he lost himself to the simple pleasure of eating for the next few minutes as the way his mouth was watering would have led to some decidedly awkward talking patterns involving odd gulps and slurping noises. About halfway through the meal he tried his best to hold a one sided conversation via hand gestures and the occasional noise conveying an appropriate emotion to what they said.

The Princesses were vastly amused at Galen's pantomimed arm waving, nonverbal grunts and mumbles as he attempted to engage them in conversation during the meal. As they ate, his well intended antics kept them on the verge of laughter. This precarious balance was soon devilishly exploited by Galen as whenever they were to take a bite of their salad, he would do something or mumble something in such a way that they would have to delay their eating as they laughed, oftentimes with a mouth full of salad which they almost would choke on or splutter back onto their plates which set off even more laughter. Whenever this would happen, he would laugh and almost choke himself as well. Their meals ended up roughly half eaten as their laughter had left their stomachs rather tired and sore.

“Galen,” Celestia said in a rather light voice as she was recovering from her latest bout of laughter. “It appears as though our appetites weren't as large as we thought.”

“Indeed,” Luna replied with a grin of her own. “It seems as though laughter was to be our main course.”

“Not that it wasn't a pleasant surprise to find on our plates.”

“Or on the table due to some inopportune laughter,” Luna said giggling with a pained expression as her stomach was still sore. She shot Galen a victimized glance. “You are an incorrigible scoundrel, Galen.”

“Scoundrel?” he said with a wounded look and a little smile. “Ah'd say Ah'm closer ta rapscallion than scoundrel.”

Celestia chuckled weakly at that before looking over to Galen. “In any case, I do believe that we're done with dinner. Why don't I show you to your guest suite for the night and make sure you're settled in?”

“Think Ah can have this saved fer breakfast?” Galen asked with a puppy dog expression to which both Princesses snorted in amusement.

“I think that can be arranged,” Luna replied with a smirk. “Though I could imagine the morning chef throwing a fit about you eating leftovers.”

Celestia chortled as she rose from her seat and started walking slowly to the door. Galen made his farewell to Luna with a promise from her to drop by the farm when the forge was finished for a party to celebrate and caught up with Celestia before she made it halfway down the table. They didn't say anything as Celestia took him through the halls to a room beside a pair of tall gilded doors that were obviously her own quarters if the emblazoned sun had anything to say about it.

“I'm sure you know what to expect,” she said graciously as her horn lit up and his doors opened up. “But allow me to show you where everything is.” With that, Celestia led him through the six rooms he would have to himself for the duration of his stay. He would have been fine with a single room as long as the bed were comfortable, but being friends with royalty apparently had its perks. Finally, they returned to the antechamber where Celestia made her own farewell to Galen before leaving him be. Galen let out a sigh and stretched his back with a couple satisfying pops before he took his hammer and bits from his belt and sat them on the main table, being careful to not scratch the varnished surface.

He went to the bathroom and got the water running at the perfect temperature before he plugged it and stripped, lowering himself into the slowly filling tub. He scrubbed and cleaned himself quickly before pulling the plug so that the sudsy water and dirt could drain away before replacing the stopper and let the tub fill up most of the way so he could settle down for a good soak. He emerged some time later, pink skinned and in nothing but his boxers and carrying his clothes as he made his way to the bedroom. He dropped his clothes on the back of a chair before pulling back the covers of the bed and slipped underneath. He sighed and lay back, sinking into the downy comfort and missed the familiar scruffyness that would have been Riley sprawling beside him, however he didn't miss it for long as the long days toll finally caught up with him and he soon slipped into sleep. Here, he dreamed of the forge. Of being both the smith wielding the hammer and the white hot metal that had no shape yet though it spewed sparks and folded easily under his own might. When he woke the next day, he had no memory of the dream, though he knew that he had to make something worthwhile out of his life while he lived here. He had something to do, even if he wasn't sure of what it was yet.

Paying Her Due

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Paying Her Due

Applejack wasn't up when Galen left for Canterlot, but that was just fine by her. She didn't want him seeing the smarmy smile she wore when she woke up. Everypony who saw her that morning knew something was up and didn't want any part of what it was she was doing. She ate her breakfast with a few low chuckles here and there while looking off into the middle distance every so often. It worried her brother and sister, though when they asked Granny if they should be worried, she only laughed and told them to not worry about it. They still worried.

After breakfast, she dispatched her most import chores quickly and let Granny know that she was heading into town to take care of something. She took a hoof full of bits from their repository in their “office” and put them in the little pouch inside her hat before heading out. Once in town, she made her way to the Boutique and went around the back to the kitchen so she wouldn't have to hear Rarity's usual spiel. Luckily for her, Rarity was there herself enjoying a cup of tea and smiled as she caught her friends attention. Rarity let her in with a welcoming smile and invited her to sit down and join her.

“So, what brings you here so early, Applejack?” she asked with a little smile after she took a sip of her tea. “It's barely even ten o'clock and you're normally so busy that it's uncommon for you to be here apart from market days.”

“Just though you could help me with a little payback,” she replied with the same smarmy smile she wore to breakfast.

“Oh?” Rarity said as her interest and excitement surged. “And who might you be paying back?”

“Galen,” she said simply.

“Really?” she said in confusion. “What has he done that you need to pay him back for it with my assistance?”

“Well, he's too generous and hard headed for his own good,” she replied with a huff and looked away with a little flush to her cheeks. “You know about how he's starting up his own forge out to the farm, right?” Rarity nodded as she had heard about it from Twilight last week over tea. “Well, anyway, he bought that little hill that got demolished for four hundred bits.”

Rarity's eyes widened and she looked like she had swallowed one of her precious gems. “F-four hundred bits?”

“Yeah,” she replied dully. “Ah told 'im he'd regret it, so here Ah am to ask you for a bit of help.”

“But... what can I do to help you get revenge on him?” Rarity asked in confusion. “I only make clothes and if you're asking me to make anything he asks me for at a substandard quality, then you're barking up the wrong tree as it were. It's a matter of pride for me to make anything with as much skill as I can bring to bear and I shall do no such thing.”

“Ain't askin' you to do that,” Applejack assured her with a wave of her hoof. “Ah'm askin' you to make somethin' for me and Ah'll pay for it with the same bits he gave me.”

Rarity looked back at Applejack in confusion. “But, how would that be getting revenge on him? Besides, you know I'd gladly make it for you for free.”

“Wouldn't be the same,” she replied. “So Ah'm gonna pay you and you're going to accept it. Ah want him to know he brought this on himself.”

“Alright,” Rarity said with an odd look. “So, what would you like me to make you?”

“One of those Prench maid outfits that Ah've seen in Canterlot Castle with a few extra frilly frills,” Applejack said levelly.

Rarity made a few choking noises and blushed a deep red. “W-what?!”

Applejack blushed at her reaction and chuckled herself. “Since he gave us so much, it made me feel indebted to him. As Ah fumed and thought it over, it reminded me of a few stories Ah've read about indentured servants from the past and it suddenly clicked. So here Ah am, askin' you to do this for me.”

Rarity spluttered and blustered incoherently, a look of incredulity plastered all over her face before she suddenly stopped, took a deep breath and laughed. She laughed and laughed her high, clear laugh of pure enjoyment that Applejack only heard when she finally let loose and enjoyed herself. Applejack joined her, cutting loose with her own laugh that echoed in the room. “Oh, Applejack! That's so decidedly clever that I never even would have though to do that myself!” Rarity finally said as her laughter died down and wiped a tear of merriment away from the corner of her eye.

Applejack grinned widely. “So you'll do it?”

“Do it?” Rarity asked with a look of pure joy. “Of course I'll do it! Oh, this is going to be so deliciously daring that I know he's going to be dumbstruck at the sight of you wearing this!” She laughed joyously and hopped off of her chair, completely ignoring her tea and motioned Applejack to follow her as she practically pranced out of the kitchen. Applejack grinned and chuckled as she followed at a slower pace. Rarity led her upstairs to her work area and took her measurements efficiently before moving over to one of her mannequins and adjusted it slightly to match Applejack's measurements.

“Should Ah come back later?” Applejack asked slightly nervously as Rarity began levitating a veritable storm of materials and tools around that were decidedly sharp and pointy.

“Nonsense,” Rarity replied. “You can wait downstairs if you would like, but I shan't be long in making your outfits.”

“Alright,” she replied as she carefully edged her way around the circumference of her friends artistic chaos. When she was safely out of the room, she let out a happy little sigh and grinned. “Teach you to do things without considering tha feelings of others, even if it's something wonderful.”

She was giggling madly as she went down the stairs and into the lounge like living room and basically rolled herself onto Rarity's chaise sofa, settling onto her back and pulled her forelegs up to her chest as she wiggled a bit to scratch her back. This was turning out to be a great day for her and knew that Galen was going to choke on his own generosity. With that, she felt herself relaxing at an alarming rate and didn't fight it as she fell asleep for an unexpected nap.

She woke up around noon when Rarity nudged her shoulder, a smirk hidden behind her hoof as Applejack looked around dazedly. She had been snoring and drooling into her mane, which Rarity normally would have been aghast at, but seemed to find it hugely amusing this time. “Wha'? Wha' time is it?” she asked, mumbling as both lingering drowsiness and a sticky mouth mangled her words. “Wha' you laughin' at?”

“Nothing!” Rarity squeaked as a case of the giggles took over. “I just thought you should know that I'm done with your outfit.”

Applejack closed her eyes again and smacked her lips together as she worked the sleep from her mouth. Rarity's giggles started turning into snorts which made her laugh all the harder. Applejack just grunted as her friend was apparently having a mental breakdown. She opened her eyes and looked over to see Rarity winding down from her bout of insanity, sighing and wiping tears of laughter from the corners of her eyes. She sighed and grunted gently as she rolled off the sofa and back onto her hooves, replacing her hat and tried her best to work her drool matted mane apart with a few strokes of her hoof.

When she was certain she could do no more, she looked expectantly to Rarity and raised an eyebrow to see if her friend was going to have another episode. She didn't. Instead she gave a happy sigh and led Applejack back upstairs to see her efforts. With a little fanfare, Rarity opened the door and led her in and Applejack was pleased. It turned out that Rarity had made three uniforms and they were exactly what she had wanted. They were made from an incredibly black cotton with pristine white lace accents. The skirt was modest but cut slightly short so that it was the perfect balance between professional and flirtatious. It even came with a pair of socks for her rear legs with similar lace trim along the top that was just short of reaching the bottom of the skirt. The bonnet on the head was made of the same black cotton with a central white section and lace patterning to provide an accent, though it had Applejack's cutie mark embroidered in the center of the white section, a splash of color that not only drew attention to the head but made the whole ensemble come to life.

“This is perfect, Rarity,” Applejack said gleefully. “How much do Ah owe you?”

“Well, since you want to pay, I would have to charge you seven bits per uniform,” she replied grudgingly.

“Perfect,” Applejack said with a grin as she doffed her hat and shook out the bits to pay her friend.

“Why don't you try one on?” Rarity asked as she levitated the money over to a table and removed one of the uniforms from the form. That was when Applejack noticed one small detail about the uniform. It even came with black cotton panties, complete with white lace trim. By the sun, Applejack thought her face was going to burst into flame. Wearing a maids uniform was one thing, but panties was another. Then again, she shouldn't mind it so much, especially if she could taunt Galen with an “accidental” flip of her skirt. Her blush faded a bit as she felt its heat move under her tail a bit. Hopefully she wouldn't ruin the dainties before she even got them out of the door.

“May as well,” she replied. “Even though Ah know it'll fit perfectly.”

“Wonderful!” Rarity said with a wide grin. With that, she passed the clothes to Applejack who moved behind the dressing screen in the room and went about putting everything on. She went about the delicate task of putting the panties on first. She swallowed her reservations about it and slipped her rear hooves through the holes and balanced herself precariously as she used her forehooves to slide them up to cover herself. Just as she was about to slip them around her hips, she pulled them so the dock of her tail fed the base of her tail through the small hole that would help keep them in place and worked her tail through it with a little bit of effort with one hoof while the other helped her keep her balance. She felt herself heat up as the delicate fabric caressed and pressed gently against her delicate parts.

With that done, she sat down and went about the slow process of slipping the socks up her hind legs. That took a bit of work, but she finally got them both on and felt herself heating up a bit more at the thought of Galen seeing her this way. She shook her head to clear it of messy thoughts and quickly slipped on the uniform which settled over her exactly like she thought it would. It was snug but not confining, easily letting air flow through it so it wouldn't be uncomfortable in the least. Last was the bonnet which had a pair of little dull hooks that would secure it in her mane. She removed her hat and settled the bonnet over her forehead. When finished, she took on an innocent expression and lowered herself slightly to make herself look submissive. Then she walked out from behind the divider.

Now Rarity normally thought herself as being mostly a straight mare, having only rarely shared her bed with other mares during excessively heavy heats, so when Applejack revealed herself in the manner she did Rarity's heart stuttered briefly before pumping far more quickly than her excitement at the moment called for. She flushed and brought a hoof up to the side of cheek in wonder at seeing such a decidedly feminine side to her usually tomboyish friend. “My, my,” she said a touch breathlessly.

“Why, whatever is the matter, miss Rarity?” Applejack asked in the very accent she had mastered years ago as a foal while she lived with her Aunt and Uncle Orange. “You seem flushed! Are you running a fever?” Applejack looked on at Rarity with false concern and worry, her mannerisms flawless as she raised a forehoof out to comfort her without moving forward in an unseemly manner. Oh, that devilish mare.

“Eve-” Rarity's voice cracked suddenly as she went to reply and coughed to clear her throat. “Everything is fine, Applejack. I must say that it looks quite marvelous on you.”

“Heh,” Applejack chuckled with a wry smirk as she reverted to her usual self. “Maybe you made this outfit a little too well.”

Rarity fanned herself with a hoof and looked away with a very obvious flush to her face, “Perhaps I did, but you certainly pulled it all together. I must say though, Applejack, that you make a mare question herself in certain areas where she had always been confident before.”

Applejack blushed and grinned at Rarity, knowing exactly what she was talking about from past conversations. “What can I say? Must still have some of that Manehatten charm.”

“I would have to agree with you on that.” Rarity glanced aside so that she could reassemble some of her composure before looking back a couple moments later. “So, might I ask if payback was all you intended this for?” Rarity asked in her most innocent voice. Applejack's throat tightened up and she glanced away as her face flushed with a vibrant blush. Rarity chuckled throatily, making Applejack's embarrassment at being found out so easily redouble itself.

“How'd you guess?” she asked, looking back without turning to look at her.

“Pinkie Pie came by asking for romantic advice and quickly spilled the metaphorical beans when I prodded a bit,” Rarity replied with a self satisfied smile. “I think it's absolutely darling that the two of you are building a relationship even before the two of you turn your attentions to the stallion you both have your eye on.” She paused as she let Applejack squirm a bit since it was so very often she got to see this side of her friend, however she cut it mercifully short with a change of topic. “So, did you enjoy your little lunch on the meadow the other day?”

“That was your doing?” Applejack asked incredulously.

“I merely pointed her in the right direction,” Rarity replied with a mischievous smile. “Though she did tell me the juicy, melon flavored details.”

Applejack wondered if somepony could die of embarrassment, and sincerely hoped she didn't find out at that moment. “Okay, okay... So maybe Ah have a thing for Galen and maybe thought about a thing or two Ah'd like to do to rile him up a bit with this get up,” she replied, answering Rarity's first question with a mortified blush. “Pinkie and Ah both do as far as that goes, so we've been getting to know each other a bit better while he gets himself established.”

“There's nothing wrong with that as long as you share the details,” Rarity said with a mischievous expression, a wide grin splitting her face at having the rough and tumble mare out of her element for a change. “Just so you know, Pinkie seems as though she's quite smitten with you as well. You've helped her overcome some of the major hangups she's been struggling with for the past few years, though she's still quite fragile.”

“You of all ponies should know Ah'd never do a thing to hurt her if Ah have any say in the matter,” Applejack said with a bit of heat in her voice as she turned to look at Rarity, a little fire evident in her eyes.

“And it seems that you're more than merely fond of our dear Pinkie Pie as well,” Rarity replied with a satisfied smile. “It's good to know that the feeling seems to be mutual between the two of you. I must say that I pity poor Galen when you two set your sights on him. He won't stand a chance with not one, but two stunningly beautiful mares vying for his attention.”

Applejack blushed a bit deeper, however she smiled in gratitude at her friend. She may pour on the flattery with customers, but she was always honest with her friends. She may go about it delicately sometimes, but she was still honest and that really made Applejack swell with pride at her friends words. “You think so?” she asked even though she knew what her friend was going to say.

“Why not?” Rarity responded. Applejack certainly wasn't expecting that for a reply.

“Well Ah've always been told that Ah'm unreasonable, wanting a stallion that Ah can work beside on the farm,” she replied in a slightly melancholic tone. This was a long standing hangup of hers, always being told of how her own mother and father did much the same. She knew she was a mare following in the hoof prints of her mother and wanted a stallion that could at least be a match to her. One who neither pushed nor dallied. A stallion who she could lean on and who could lean on her as well, knowing that the strength and character of the other would hold the other up if they stumbled along the way.

Rarity picked up on Applejack's unsaid words immediately. She knew what her friend wanted because it was what she wanted as well. “I don't think it's unreasonable at all,” she said quietly, a slightly sad smile on her face before it turned happier. “But from what I've seen, I do believe that Galen could simply pick you up and carry you if it came to it.”

Applejack started, Rarity providing a response to words only spoken in her heart. “What?” she asked in complete astonishment.

“We're not quite as different as you would believe,” Rarity supplied in what she hoped was a sufficiently mystical manner. Applejack snorted in amusement, shook her head ruefully and smiled at her friend.

“Guess so,” she said with a little smile. “So how about Ah get out of this and you can wrap it up with the others?”

“What?” Rarity asked with a tilt of her head. “You don't want to wear it out?”

Applejack's eyes widened comically with a look of disbelief at the very thought of being seen in town wearing her outfit and Rarity found herself laughing again, leaning against one of her sewing machines for support. “Oh! You should have seen your face! It was absolutely priceless!”

“Yeah, yeah...” Applejack grumbled with a little smirk. “Laugh it up.” With that, she retreated back behind the divider and went about stripping back down. This went much faster and she was pleased that she hadn't gotten excited enough to leave any traces on the dark fabric. That certainly would have been more than embarrassing if Rarity would have noticed that.

When she came back out, Rarity had already wrapped up the other uniforms in heavy brown paper and tied them up with a bit of coarse twine. The clothes floated away from Applejack with a blue glow, folded up in a neat manner and quickly wrapped up similarly before all three bundles were wrapped up with a loop left for Applejack to use to carry it in her mouth. With that taken care of, Rarity led her back downstairs and paused at the foyer. “Just to let you know, I'm here if you need to talk about anything at all. Even if it's just to hear yourself get everything out and work it out on your own, I'd be more than happy to be that pony for you.”

“Ah may just take you up on that offer,” Applejack replied with a warm smile. “Ah'll see you around. Been away from the farm for a while now and they're probably wondering where Ah'm at about now.”

“I'm sure you still have much to do in any case and I shan't keep you any longer,” Rarity said as she opened the door for Applejack. “However, I might recommend dropping by Sugar Cube Corner for a surprise lunch with Pinkie Pie. I know she'd absolutely love the spontaneity of your visit.”

“Ah'm sure she would,” Applejack said with a smile. “Thanks for the idea.”

“Not a problem in the slightest,” Rarity replied warmly. “Don't forget some flowers either.”

“Good idea,” Applejack said as she took her bundle with a smile of thanks and nodded goodbye as she walked out. She hooked a left and made her way over to Roseluck's stall and picked up a modest bouquet of assorted flowers for a bit and made a beeline for Sugar Cube Corner. At the peak of the lunch rush. Applejack was stopped dead in her tracks by a line leading out through the front door of the bakery and sighed as she watched another pony join the end of the line. Since she didn't want to abuse her growing relationship with Pinkie Pie, Applejack joined the queue and settled in for a wait. Chores would just have to wait for a bit longer.

The line moved at a fairly good pace though it felt like it was taking forever for Applejack. It gave her some time at least to think about a few things. Like how she wanted Pinkie to be the one to make all the decisions for their second date. Rarity's comments about Pinkie really stuck with her and she wanted to make sure the mare knew that her happiness was truly important to Applejack. The sooner she made that apparent the better she felt about the way they would grow as a couple. With herself lost in thought and moving with the line it was a surprise when she finally looked up and found herself face to face with Pinkie Pie herself.

“Heya, Applejack!” she exclaimed happily beaming at seeing her. “What're you doing here?”

Applejack dropped both the bouquet and her package before presenting Pinkie with the flowers. Pinkie's grin turned significantly warmer as she took them and Applejack finally replied, “Came in to town to take care of something and figured that we could have lunch if you're not too busy.” Applejack wasn't quite ready to admit to her marefriend that she was getting some advice from Rarity as well.

“It looks like you're the last one in line to me, so I think I can spare some time for lunch with my marefriend,” Pinkie replied with a giggle as Applejack looked around and saw that she was indeed the last pony in line. “Come on back and we can eat in the kitchen. That way I can still be near in case somepony needs help.”

“Alright,” Applejack said as she took her package and rounded the large, mostly empty display as she followed Pinkie into the kitchen. Pinkie was busy putting together a plate filled with a veritable cornucopia of treats, so Applejack slid a short chair over to the table and took a seat, setting her package down beside her. A short time later and Pinkie was sitting across the table from her with a cupcake balanced on her hoof, a ponderous expression on her face as she looked discerningly at it for some reason. “Everything alright there, sugar?”

“Yeah...” Pinkie replied absentmindedly as she narrowed her eyes at the pastry. Applejack was used to Pinkie's odd behavior by this point and decided to just let her get it out of her system. She'd tell her if something was going on if it was important. With a mental shrug, Applejack picked up a sugar cookie and took a healthy bite out of it when Pinkie finally spoke up, “You think we should start turning our attention to Galen in a week or two?”

“I don't see why not,” Applejack replied after she swallowed. “He's getting everything in order with his forge, so construction should start in a couple weeks and then it'll be out of his hands unless something comes up.”

“Alright,” Pinkie replied. Applejack took another bite of her cookie. “Because I'd like to get enough dates in so that we can have a stallion for when we come into season.”

Applejack spluttered and coughed as her latest bite when down the wrong pipe. “You seem pretty sure about this,” she wheezed.

“Call it a hunch,” Pinkie said as she finally ate her cupcake. “But for some reason, I've got this feeling that Galen will look past our physical differences. Not to mention we can ask Dashie about how Galen probably thinks so there shouldn't be too many misunderstandings. Remember how Lero took care of himself with Chuck Wagon and Shimmer? Galen probably won't take too much guff from anypony either and if we step in, it'll hurt his feelings, especially if he feels that we need protecting.”

“Ah see your point,” Applejack replied with an introspective expression. “Ah did say Ah wanted a strong stallion after all.”

Pinkie Pie giggled at that before she tossed another pastry in her mouth and ate it in short order. “So, what's with the package?”

Applejack flushed with a little smile. “Just a little payback for Galen,” she replied smugly.


“Yep,” she said. “Maybe you can drop by the farm sometime tomorrow in the afternoon to see how it's working out?”

“Oh!” Pinkie said excitedly bouncing in place. “That sounds like fun!”

Applejack snorted in amusement, “Oh yeah. To be honest, Ah kinda thought about using this payback as a chance to kinda flirt with him as well. If you're interested, drop by Rarity's and ask her about what she made me. If you want, ask her to make you a set of uniforms like Ah got and tell her that Ah'll be pay her back when Ah come into town for market. We can pay him back together and maybe ruffle his feathers a bit.” Pinkie Pike giggled at that.

“You said 'uniform,' right?” Pinkie asked with a look of unbridled curiosity, her cheeks flushing a bit. “It's not something naughty, is it?”

“Maybe just a touch,” Applejack said with a small but fiery blush. “Ah feel indebted to Galen, so Ah thought Ah'd be cute with how Ah pay him back. Gettin' to be flirty with it is a bonus.”

“You're cute anyway,” Pinkie said with a little smile. Applejack chuckled at that.

“So, anyway, Ah was thinkin' about our next date and Ah'd like you to take the lead this time,” she said as she reached for a double glazed apple fritter.

“Are you sure?” she asked timidly, a faint blush dusting her cheeks. “I mean, I don't mind you taking the lead for the most part.”

“Of course Ah'm sure,” Applejack replied confidently and with a reassuring smile. “Weren't you the one talkin' to me about how we're in this together? Well, you'll probably end up alone with Galen on a date of your own at some point so let's see if we can't get you over your nervousness before then.”

Pinkie flushed at the thought of a date between just her and Galen. It didn't help that she had been daydreaming about just such a possibility a couple days ago either. “I guess that should be something I need to work on.”

“Just remember that Ah'm gonna be with you every step of the way,” she reassured her.

“Thanks, Applejack,” Pinkie replied, an affectionate smile growing on her face. “So... Since I guess I'm taking the lead here, do you have anything going on Friday evening?”

“Not that Ah can think of right away,” she replied after she polished off her fritter.

“Great!” Pinkie said happily. “In that case, I'll get everything planned out. Don't you worry, Applejack. I got this.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Applejack said warmly. She was glad Pinkie was so willing to give it a go again after all the trouble she had in the past. “Ah look forward to it.”

With plans for their next date in the works, Applejack and Pinkie Pie turned the conversation to how their days had been since they last saw one another and silly or odd things that had happened to them. They finished the plate without being interrupted and Pinkie Pie stood with Applejack beside the back door and opened it for as she sat her package down.

“So Ah'll see you soon?” she asked with a tilt of her head.

“Oh yeah,” Pinkie replied enthusiastically, a bright smile on her face. “I'll be over as soon as I get everything planned.”

Applejack smiled warmly and leaned in for a gentle kiss that lasted for a couple moments. They parted a couple moments later, faintly flushed and chuckled. “Ah look forward to it,” Applejack said before she took her package and walked out the door. Pinkie Pie watched her go and shut the door behind her. She stood in place for a moment as everything cemented itself in her mind and her smile faded, replaced with one of worried uncertainty. Hopefully she could break her bad luck with Applejack. Their first date turned out alright thanks to the farm mare, but she still worried about herself. She would just have to make sure to keep her cool and not try to overcompensate for anything too much.

Maids and Mischief

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Maids and Mischief

Galen woke the next morning in the predawn light feeling strong and energetic. Oh, the wonders a glorious meal of beef can do. He practically leaped from his bed from the force he got up with and stepped lightly over to his clothes. He dressed quickly and found his way outside of the quarters he was given and found a pegasus maid in a rather flattering uniform humming merrily as she dusted a vase likely worth more than his entire forge was to cost. He did a bit of a double take and found himself flushing slightly as she swayed her hips as she went about her chores. It must be the uniform, he thought ruefully.

“Mornin' miss,” he hailed with a broad smile. “Do yew know who Ah have ta hunt down fer mah breakfast?”

She chuckled a little nervously at his comment, though she smiled at his enthusiastic attitude. “If you'll give me a moment, I'll pass word along to the kitchens and have someone come along to guide you to the dining room when everything is ready.”

“Thanks, Missy,” he said cheerily. He paused a moment as he pondered a thought. “Say, yew don't mind if Ah go get lost in tha castle fer a bit? Ah'd like ta take a gander 'round tha place an' see what Ah stumble across.”

She shook her head with a laugh, “Not at all, sir. We'll be able to find you easily enough, even if you can't find your own self in here. Just be careful of the objects you see on display. It would be a tragedy if something were to happen to one of them.”

“Got ya,” he replied with a broad grin. “Ah'll see ya 'round.” With that, he set off down the hall, passing Celestia's chambers where she was just getting up herself, yawning widely and blinking away the fog of sleep. She had decided to indulge herself and sleep a little extra that morning after she raised the sun. She didn't let herself do it often unless she led by example, as she often did by pure accident, and made sleeping in later than usual a social trend.

Galen had absolutely no idea where to go and even less of an idea as to what he would find, but that was of little consequence to someone accustomed to striking out on his own and forging his own path. He took a narrow staircase on his right and followed it down three flights before emerging into a well lit cobbled courtyard. He glanced around and saw a few doors leading off to parts unknown and decided to take the one on his left that led into a tower that was connected to the main castle by sheltered walkways set at every other floor. Once he entered it, he found himself turning right and walking down a slightly dim hallway that followed the outer wall. There wasn't much of beauty or grandeur here, but he didn't mind that in the least.

As he walked, he took the next staircase he found up one level and into a vast library rising level upon level thick with the smell of old paper and parchment thick in the air and lit by flame-less orbs of light. He restrained a loud sneeze, and walked out onto the thickly carpeted floor. He had a healthy appreciation for reading, but would likely find nothing that he would or could understand here, so he looked around for the exit to the walkway he saw from above and made his way to a thickly paneled door and opened it to the brighter outside and shut it behind him before crossing and made his way back inside the castle.

He looked around and jumped slightly when he found Luna not even a pace away from him. She chuckled and gave him a little grin. “Out and about early this morning, Galen?”

“Jus' explorin' a bit,” he replied as his heart slowed down a bit. “What about yew?”

“I was on my way to the Royal Archives to return a book before breakfast,” she replied, a book levitating at her side evident as she waved it about to show him. “If you would give me but a moment, I would be more than happy to accompany you on your wanderings.”

“If yew want to,” he replied with a thankful smile at her offer. She was quite different than her sister and Galen wouldn't mind getting to know her better as well.

“Of course,” Luna said with a little smile, making her way by Galen and through the door he just came in through. He waited for a few minutes before Luna came back through and smiled at him with a wave of a foreleg. “After you, dauntless trailblazer,” she said with a little grin. Galen snorted with a roll of his eyes and took off at a familiar, ground eating pace. He knew he wouldn't have too much longer to wait until one of the staff would find him and be his escort to breakfast, so he wanted to make his time wandering worth it. Luna kept pace with him at a brisk pace, almost a trot and she looked over to him with a raised eyebrow. “Whatever is your rush? You didn't flip the skirt of one of our maids, did you?”

Galen laughed at that. “Nope. Jus' tryin' ta get as good of a look at tha castle as Ah can before Ah head out into tha city proper. Doin' tha whole tourist thing before Ah head back ta Ponyville since Ah don' know when Ah'll make it back up.”

“I see,” she replied, happy that Galen could take a joke. She would have to make it a point to get to know him better as he seemed like such an amiable fellow. “Would you care to see the Royal Glade?”

Galen thought it over for all of one second before nodding with a grin and motioned for her to lead the way. Luna grinned and gave a little laugh as she broke into a canter, grinning over her shoulder as Galen took a couple seconds to realize he was being left in her dust. As soon as he noticed that, he growled with a fierce grin and broke out his loping sprint that quickly closed the gap to Luna's surprise. Feeling her competitive spirit rise to the occasion, she broke into a full gallop and laughed loudly at the thrill, her shod hooves thundering like a crystal bell on the marble. Despite her galloping, Galen kept pace. One didn't hunt deer in the wild without being able to chase it down properly after feathering it. That was a great way to both go hungry and lose a potentially recoverable arrow.

Luna was greatly surprised that Galen could keep pace, so she felt that she needed an edge to ensure her absolute victory and brought her wings into play, using them to propel herself forward. Galen tried to keep up, but he simply couldn't match the velocity Luna was pouring on. She suddenly banked a hard left at the t-intersection, flapping her wings to compensate for her speed. Galen was not so lucky on the other hand. He had been watching Luna like a wolf on the hunt and hadn't noticed the intersection coming up, so when she suddenly turned his own response was delayed slightly and he couldn't slow down enough to safely make the turn. He leaned as far to his left as he could and tried to keep as much traction as possible, but it was all in vain as the sole of his right boot slipped on the polished marble and sent him sliding hard along the floor and into the wall with a loud 'oof!'

Luna looked over her shoulder at the sound and skidded to a halt as quickly as she possibly could and sped to his side. “Galen! Are you okay?”

He groaned in pain as he shifted around and glanced about dizzily. “Ugh...” he replied as he settled back on his elbows and his eyes finally settled on her. “Tha' probably wasn' tha best idea.”

“Are you hurt?” Luna pressed, worried that he had possibly broke or sprained something in his accident.

“Jus' mah ass an' pride,” he said with a wince as he moved to stand up. “Kinda hit tha floor hard, but tha's tha worst of it.”

“Oh,” Luna replied, relieved that he was okay. “Maybe we should walk the rest of the way.”

“Migh' be a good idea,” he said with a smirk. “Don' know if mah can can take any more abuse like tha'.”

Luna giggled and smiled widely at that. “It has been a long time since anypony has given me a run for my money. Maybe we could make sport of it in the future?”

“Migh' be fun,” he replied with a grin as they started walking down the hallway again, Galen walking with a slight limp due to his bruised 'ego.' “Haven't been as active as Ah'd like lately, so Ah wouldn't mind a good run here or there, but Ah'll be goin' back ta Ponyville later today which migh' put a bit of a damper on it.”

“Not to worry, Galen,” she said with a little grin. “It would be nothing but a short trip by wing for me.”

“Ah guess if yer okay with it, then Ah am too,” he replied with a half smile at her willingness to make things work just to have a bit of fun.

“It's settled, then!” Luna exclaimed happily. “I look forward to it!”

Galen chuckled at her enthusiasm and wondered if she would take it amiss if she were to find out the real reason why he was such an adept runner. He shook the thought from his head as head and followed Luna through the halls. It didn't take them long to reach their destination and Galen was not disappointed in the slightest. As they walked outside, they entered a slightly misty forest glade with knee high grass glittering with dew and trees that towered above. There was a slightly chill atmosphere reserved for those almost magical areas found in forests that would have been around for hundreds of years. The silence was that of nature, the gentle rustling of leaves in an almost imperceptible breeze, the scratching of a squirrel as it ran from one branch to another and the flutter of wings as a bird took wing.

“This is amazing,” he said quietly so that his disturbing the silence would be minimal.

“I know,” she said quietly as well, though she wore a little smile. “Tia was the one who wanted to keep this glade intact, so she built around it in a manner as to not stunt its ability to thrive and cast a spell so that all of the light that would naturally fall upon this place still does despite the proximity of the castle walls. If you look in the distance, you can see a tiny little brook as well.”

Galen looked in the direction she pointed and saw the slight shimmer of light on water through the faint mist. Galen smiled as he found his favorite place in the entire castle and turned to Luna. “Thanks fer showin' me this, Luna,” he said in a gentle rumble. “It's amazing.”

She smiled slyly back at him with a smug, knowing expression on her face before moving deeper into the glade with a flick of her head. Galen followed wordlessly, his steps barely rustling the grass as old habits surfaced in this place. They walked between the trees for a few minutes until a rather massive oak began to reveal itself, silver edged leaves swaying slightly and branches spread in a natural display of might and majesty. As they came closer Galen guessed that its top branch stood over sixty feet in height from its thick, gnarled trunk. Back when this whole area was a forest, this tree would have been nothing more than a scrawny sapling. Now it was the king of this glade.

Galen was in awe of its majesty. In all his years, he had only seen one other tree to match this one in size and glory. Sadly, it was dying when he saw it, either from old age or some reason unknown to him. He had never returned to its resting place because if he did, he knew he'd likely cry like a baby at its inevitable loss to the world and he would be the only one who knew of it. Now, standing under this trees boughs, he was filled with unadulterated joy at seeing what could likely have been its twin thriving in this magical world where such wonders were hidden away and kept safe.

“I take it you're enjoying yourself?” Luna asked in a rather smug tone. Galen didn't say anything as he made his way over to the tree and sat down with its trunk to his back, a smile of contentment on his face. Luna smiled to see her new friend so happy at such a thing. She remembered Lero simply being in awe of the tree his entire time here, able to appreciate its conservation and beauty but unable to really connect with it like Galen did.

“Very much so,” he said in an odd tone that Luna had rarely ever heard before and couldn't place off the top of her head.

“What has you troubled?” she asked, worried that something might be amiss.

Galen looked at her in utter confusion. “Nothin'. Nothin' at all.”

“But you sounded so odd a moment ago,” she replied.

“Odd?” he said, his head tilted to the side as he thought about how he felt. “Ah was at peace.”


“Yeah,” he said with a little smile at her confusion. “Peace. Righ' now, Ah'm not worried about a single thing. Sure, Ah have a lot goin' on an' a lot more ta be about, but righ' now? Ah'm jus' content ta sit under tha shade o' this tree.”

“I see,” she said as she moved to join him at the base of the tree. She sat down and tried to find what it was that he found under it to be at peace about. She looked around the area, the grass stretching out into the modest distance and into the swirling mist in gloom between the trees. A soft breeze came down and disturbed the treetops and rustled like the breaking of waves on a distant shore with the smell of life strong in the air. Luna didn't get it.

Galen looked over at Luna askance. “Not doin' it fer ya?”

“I guess it has its appeal, but I only find myself coming here to find a quiet place to think or to just show off Bartholomew.”

“Who now?” he asked in utter confusion. Luna looked up to the tree above them. “Oh.” he said lamely before he thought about it. Then he started chuckling and then laughing great belly laughs that had Luna worried.

“What? What's so funny?” she asked with a confused expression. When he didn't respond for a time, Luna took on a pouty expression for being ignored when she really wanted to know. Eventually, Galen settled down and wiped a tear of mirth from the edge of an eye.

“Hoo... Tha's rich,” he said as a couple chuckles interrupted him. “Yer sister's got a funny sense o' humor.”

“How's that?” she asked with narrowed eyes, still a bit peeved.

“Tha name, it means 'son o' fertile land,'” he said with a huge grin at the literalness of the name. Luna took it in and found herself sharing a laugh at it as well, her mood lightening now that she knew what was so funny. She didn't think her sister had such a strange, literal naming sense as well. Luna had just thought that the names were kinda cute in a old fashioned kind of way.

Their time was cut short under the tree, however, as Galen spotted Celestia walking calmly between the trees, looking about. She spotted them finally and made her way over to them.

“I see you're enjoying the shade under Bartholomew,” she said with an warm smile.

“Yeah,” Galen replied with a grin. “Yer not so little 'son o' fertile land.'”

“You know what his name means?” she asked in surprise.

“Knew a Bartholomew back home,” he replied. “He was older than dirt an' a farmer born an' raised there. When he hit seventy, he was still strong enough ta throw a log at tha festival competitions. Still couldn't beat tha old coot ta this day.”

“That's... rather impressive,” Celestia said with raised eyebrows.

“No kiddin',” Galen said with a snort.

“So, are you two ready for breakfast?”

“I would have to say so, sister,” Luna said with a little flush as her stomach chose that moment to punctuate her statement with a rather unladylike rumble.

“Ah could go fer tha rest o' tha' roast beef,” Galen said with a chuckle as he got up a little stiffly from his bruise.

“Then let us be on our way,” Celestia said with a smile.

When they returned inside and had started making progress down one of the halls, Galen spoke up, “So what were yew doin' in tha Glade?”

“Well, one of the staff reported to me that you two had gone in a while ago,” she replied. “For some reason, they generally don't like to go into the Glade unless it's absolutely necessary.”

“Weird,” Galen said with a tilt of his head. Luna chortled at that with a grin. After that, they made their way to the same room where they had eaten the previous night, golden light streaming through the crystal clear windows and glittering off of the crystal goblets and silverware. They each took a seat, Luna sitting at the head of the table so the light wouldn't bother her eyes with the windows at her back. They waited only a couple moments and the staff came bustling in, bright eyed and radiating a low grade aura of happiness before they quickly found their places set and meals uncovered for their enjoyment.

“So, what plans did you have today, Galen?” Celestia asked a few minutes into their meal, once their initial hunger pangs were seen to.

“Was gonna check with Hard Edge ta see if Ah can get supplied through tha Forge an' Foundry,” he replied with a tilt of his head. “Then Ah was gonna head out on tha town an' do a little sight seein'. Gotta find tha' griffon place Leera was talkin' about an' bring 'im back some bacon.”

“I don't think you have to worry about Hard Edge,” Celestia said with a smile. “After you were indisposed of, I returned to the Forge to retrieve your hammer and asked him what he thought of your talent. He was quite pleased by your aptitude in all the implements you created and was more than willing to sell you any tools, implements and metal stock you may need.”

“Tha's great ta hear,” he said with a relieved sigh, some of the tension visibly leaving his frame. “Ah didn't want ta buy from any o' tha other places since their cost was a good bit more than here. Wouldn't even wanna think 'bout tha price of a four pound flatter if their stock was five bits more on average fer ten five pound ingots.”

“That is one of the advantages you have as a Royal Minter and friend of the Crown, after all,” she said with a smile. “Not many individuals can buy from us as we use most of the stock produced here in the production of weapons, armor and miscellaneous projects required to upkeep the rail ways and other necessary products.”

“Ta be honest, Twilight mentioned it, so Ah sent a letter askin' about it,” he replied.

“Ah, yes, I received word from Twilight about your project and smoothed the way a little bit for you,” she replied with a slightly guilty expression. “It was before our little encounter at Applejack's farm and I didn't want you to run into any major hardships getting yourself established. At that time I had no idea that your favor was to borrow some money from me for that very purpose and didn't want you to feel as though I was trying to win your good graces through favors.”

“Hey, enough 'bout tha',” Galen said a bit gruffly. “Yew owned up ta it an' done is done. Ain't no use bringing up something tha's been settled.”

“Thank you again for forgiving me, even if it came about in a rather unorthodox manner,” she said with a grin. Galen just nodded with a grin of his own.

“What happened between you two?” Luna asked, her curiosity rising quickly. As she waited on a response, she sipped on her orange juice.

“Nothing of any great import,” Celestia replied. “It's been settled and forgotten as Galen has said.”

“Ah decked yer sister,” he said in a flat voice. Luna choked and spluttered on her orange juice, a look of utter shock and surprise widening her eyes comically. Celestia facehooved and Galen chuckled as he ate another mouthful of his roast beef while Luna recovered.


“Broke 'er jaw an' straight up shattered a few teeth too,” he replied with an odd tone of satisfaction. Celestia simply sighed and took a large bite out of a multi-grain muffin slathered in melted butter. Luna looked between the two with a look of utter astonishment, Galen happily eating his roast and Celestia with a mildly chagrined expression bordering on grumpy.

“Why would you do such a thing!?”

“I was the one at fault, dearest sister,” Celestia cut in. “I would rather not dwell on my own shortcomings when handling new and potentially dangerous beings coming into our world when I'm unsure of their general disposition. My diplomacy comes up a bit short when something, or in this case, someone, suddenly appears and is heavily armed.”

“Ah was kinda decked out in mah survival gear, so Ah don' really blame yew, but there are some things yew simply shouldn't do,” he said in a level rumble.

“I think I learned that lesson succinctly, thank you very much,” she said primly. “Now, moving on to other things, why don't I arrange for a guide for you for when you go out? Wouldn't want you to be later for the train just because you got yourself lost. What time were you planning on leaving anyway?”

“Tha' would be much appreciated,” he replied with a thankful nod and smile. “Ah was thinkin' 'bout leavin' on tha first train after lunch so Ah could drop by tha contractors an' get tha ball rollin' on construction sooner rather than later.”

“That reminds me,” Celestia said after a short pause. “The royal architect was quite happy to provide her services in helping you make the most of your materials.”

“Ah'll drop by after breakfast,” he said with a wave of his knife. “Ah can jus' find mah own way since yew got things ta be abou'.”

“Are you sure? It wouldn't take too much time out of my schedule,” Celestia replied.

“Ah'm sure,” he said after swallowing another bite of beef. “Yew ain't gotta fret over me an' give me tha royal treatment.” Luna giggled at that around her own mouthful of food.

“Alright,” she said with a smile. “But before you go, I have something for you and Lero. I thought that you would enjoy yours, especially since you seem so active and Lero might appreciate his since it looks like he might have trouble incorporating a second feather into his braid.”

“Oh?” Galen said, curious as to what it was that she had dusted off for him and Lero. “In tha' case, let me thank you in advance.”

“Don't think anything of it,” she replied cheerfully. “I think the original owners would much rather see their items in use instead of collecting dust in a store room.”

Galen snorted at that and gave a wry smile, “Ah suppose tha's true enough.”

After that, silence reigned supreme as they demolished the remainder of their meals. Luna made her farewells as she turned in for the day while Celestia had Galen wait in the dining room. He didn't have long to wait as she returned a few minutes later with a pair of items floating in tow. “This,” she said as she levitated a necklace crafted out of a silvery-blue metal with a modestly sized engraved pendant of silver hanging from a link before her, “was a gift from an enchanter from centuries ago. He was a unicorn who, surprisingly enough, defied the usual established herding practices and fell in love with mares of a completely separate tribe because he found his unicorn suitors far too pompous. He ended up loving not two or three pegasi, but five all told. He loved each and every one of them equally and felt that if he were to braid any of their feathers into his mane would be the same as placing one above the rest due to the order, so he came up with this pendant.

“He thought that if he could keep all of their feathers in a place close to his heart that it would show not only them, but any who looked on that he loved openly and equally among all the mares who shared his heart. I think that Lero has finally come to the same place that he was and shares his heart unreservedly between his three wives. So, with Twilight's rising to the ranks of royalty, I do not think that Lero would want to make either feel as though one were more important to him than the other and would appreciate this gift greatly.”

“Ah'm sure 'e would,” Galen said with a smile. He wasn't particularly one for sappy stories like that, but he could appreciate a man wanting to make sure all all the women he loved knew that they were important to him.

“Now, your gift is much simpler in story,” Celestia said with a chuckle as she levitated forward a small pouch that was reminiscent of a messenger bag. It had five strips of flexible metal inscribed with various symbols on the top flap and a thick canvas strap held in place by a well worn buckle. “I actually made this item myself for a rather bold adventurer. He was an earth pony cartographer who wanted to be the first to map the entirety of our world and sought my approval for his venture. It would be the work of decades for him to explore beyond the edges of the maps the previous kingdoms had made. To ensure that he would never be without sustenance, tools or shelter, I made this for him.

“Reach in and you will be able to pull out whatever you want, as long as you have put it in to begin with. Food will not spoil, nor water become foul and nothing will contaminate anything else. Peel off a metal strip and place it on the ground to have it turn into a small tent that can weather all but the most severe storms. It can heat or cool itself at a thought to provide respite in any climate. To convert it back, simply push firmly on one of the sides of the tent while thinking about packing it up and it will revert back to one of the strips you see. I hope that you can put it to good use since I remember you saying that you enjoy going out into the wilderness for extended periods of time.”

“Tha's a mighty fine gift, Celestia,” he said with a wide grin. “Ah'm sure Ah'll get plenty o' use out of it. So each o' those strips can become a tent?”

“Indeed they do,” she replied with a grin. “I had the forethought to include more than one in case he had any companions who could use any succor they could get.”

“If they were travelin' like yew say, Ah'm sure they could use all tha' they could get,” Galen said with a hearty chuckle that Celestia joined in as well. “Still, these're amazin' gifts an' Ah thank you very much, Celestia.”

“I'm certain that the two of you will be able to appreciate these gifts and put them to good use,” she said as she floated the pair closer so that he could take them. As he did, he sucked in a quick breath as he felt the hand holding his gift warm suddenly before a flash of heat washed over his body with a faint pressure that dissipated faster than it had appeared. He let his breath out slowly and wondered if he would ever have a normal reaction to something magical. First his charm-knife that had picked up some kind of charge and now this.

He shook his head with a little smile and said, “Ah'll be sure ta take good care o' this an' make sure ta tell Leera 'bout 'is gift too.” Celestia nodded and smiled her thanks. “But, if Ah'm ta get anythin' done today, Ah should really be 'bout it.”

“Of course,” she said as she took a step to the side to let Galen through. He made his way back to his rooms, gathered his bits and hammer and left again in search of the architect. He found his way there after roughly twenty minutes of wandering and general directions from the palace staff. The visit was surprisingly short as after he had introduced himself, the mare had him immediately sketch his designs out and took the reigns. She quickly and efficiently drew out another set of blueprints that had him baffled in how easily she managed them. As she neared finishing, a stray thought about the heat siphons used in the forge came to mind and about how they were used to heat the water for the entire castle. He asked her if she could add designs for a medium sized cistern for said use as well as plans for a small bath house as well. He'd have to send a message back to his supplier for more wood and stone, but felt that the extra expense would be more than worth it since he had saved so much anyway.

With a pleased smile, Galen left the architects offices with his blueprints in a sealed tube that he dropped in the new bag Celestia had given him and watched in wonder as it simply fell away into nothingness. He reached inside with a thought for the same tube and felt it rise to meet his reaching hand before letting it go again. This was going to be handy. Galen grinned and strode purposefully as he sought the exit. He found it after getting lost a couple times, somehow even finding his way by complete accident into the mares changing room which he left promptly along with several shrill shrieks and laughter at his expense. After that, he was politely escorted by a grinning mare who had took pity on him and chased after him to help. She also took the opportunity to tease him mercilessly the whole time by flirting shamelessly and sashaying her hips seductively. By the time he walked through the front gates, he felt as though his head had been boiled and wondered if his ears were still red.

With a cough to clear his throat, he asked one of the two guard ponies which way to the griffon restaurant in the ambassadorial quarter and was pointed down the street that was parallel to the castle wall. With a quick thanks to the obliging guard, he made his way down the street and wove between ponies going about their own errands. It didn't take too long for Galen to notice the impressive domiciles of the foreign dignitaries. They were rather hard to miss as not a one was under six stories tall with intimidating guards of several different races standing watch at the entrances.

With no further clues to go on, he took the next logical step and looked for the griffons. They weren't particularly hard to spot as they wore plate caps that sculpted to their heads while a mixture of leather and chain mail protected the other sections of their bodies. He was pretty impressed in the manner they presented outward and decided that a direct approach would be most useful. He walked up to them and they turned to address him.

“What business do you have with the ambassador, creature?” the one on the left asked when he was close enough.

“Not a thing,” Galen replied. “Ah was wonderin' if one o' yew knew where this fancy restaurant was located that catered to us meat eaters.”

“What do we look like, guides?” the right guard replied sarcastically. “Go ask somewhere else.”

“Now, now,” Galen said in a deeper tone, letting some hardness leech into his face and speech. “Tha' ain't no way ta go 'bout treatin' a tourist. Ah was jus' askin' ta be pointed in tha righ' direction an' Ah'll be on mah way.”

“Too bad,” the guard replied as he took a bold step forward. “Now get on your way before we arrest you for loitering outside of a diplomats residence.”

Galen knew it would be a bad idea to get into a scuffle here and land himself in a cell. So instead, he drew on the same body language, tone and emotion he used when faced with a dangerous predator. As he lurched down to eye level with a growl and made direct eye contact with his tormentor, he felt a stirring somewhere in the pit of his stomach and a small wave of heat washed through him before it snuffed out a second later. The guard, whose bravado immediately vanished as he backed up an involuntary step, squawked awkwardly and hunkered himself down in submission with a look of fear plainly on his face. “Yer ambassador mus' be a real piece o' work if yer tha sort tha' 'e hires. Ah'm sure 'e's jus' as petty, mean spirited an' vindictive as yew are an' Ah feel sorry fer yer people if this is tha best ya have ta show tha other nations how willing ya are ta even offer up even a single speck of common decency. So yew can jus' go get bent an' bugger yer bedfellow ya sodding cuntnugget. Ah'll jus' go find tha damn restaurant on mah own.”

With that, he stood up and all traces of his foul mood disappeared with a falsely bright smile. “'Ave a good day, now,” he said mockingly cheerily to the guards who both had cowered from his display. As he turned, he noticed that he had drawn a crowd of onlookers who all wore looks of either scandalous shock at his words or were outright laughing at the pairs public humiliation. Galen shrugged nonchalantly and strode off down the street through the crowd that parted easily for him. As he made his way, he chuckled to himself and wondered if he'd get in trouble for that later. Oh well. He'd deal with it when it happened. He had a crowd of onlookers to provide any testimony he needed after all.

“Hey traveler,” a slightly rough voice called out from across the street. Galen stopped and turned to look at a lazy looking minotaur that was leaning against the gate post. He was dressed in a simple loin cloth and had a red velvet quarter cape covering his right shoulder. His build wasn't exceptionally bulky, but neither was he any pushover, especially with a pair of dark gray horns curving almost gracefully over his brow. “That was pretty impressive, but I wouldn't recommend being caught out alone after dark. Ambassador Black Wing's an honorable sort, but his guards tend to forget their basic training soon enough when they land this easy gig and let their power go to their heads unless he yanks on their leashes. So, unless you're on his 'untouchables' list, you should stay clear of the local bars where the griffons go to unwind unless you're looking for a scuffle.” He looked Galen over for a brief moment. “Not that you would be in too much trouble even if the odds were two to one.”

“Thanks, stranger,” Galen replied with a nod and a smirk. “Any chance yew know where tha' fancy griffon restaurant is? Ah'm lookin' ta pick up some odds 'n ends without too much hassle.”

“Keep going down the way you were going and you'll find it on the right side of the plaza at the overlook,” he replied.

“Thanks,” he said as he crossed the street and offered his hand in greeting. Their hands met, tested each others grip and parted respectful for each others strength.“Name's Galen.”

“Ambassador Steel Heart,” he replied with a smug smile and a chuckle as he watched Galen's expression turn from pleasantly happy at the turn of events to embarrassed shock. “Don't look so surprised, Galen. You did know you were in our quarter after all, so you should have at least expected to see one of us here.”

“Yeah,” he conceded. “But Ah din't think Ah'd be askin' one fer directions.”

Steel Heart laughed at that with a smile. “You should have seen the expressions of the bar regulars when they finally found out who I was. They practically ran for their lives, thinking they were going to go to jail for drinking with an emissary.”

Galen snorted and felt his mild shock drift away at his new acquaintances sense of humor. “How's tha toss 'ere in Equestria? Any good?”

“If by 'toss' you mean alcohol, it's not too bad,” he replied. “I'm rather fond of Sweet Apple Acres' ten year reserve brandy. Costs you a horn a glass, but it's most definitely worth it.”

“Ha! Ah'm livin' there righ' now!”

“You're kidding me!” he said in utter astonishment. “You're a lucky son of a dog, aren't you?”

“Yew could say tha', though Ah'll have ta ask Jack 'bout tha' reserve o' 'ers,” Galen said conspiratorially, a sly grin on his face.

“Hey, mind if I tag along with you for a bit? It's worse than Tartarus in this damned estate and you seem to have an interesting tale to tell,” Steel Heart asked, eager to hear Galen's story.

“Ah don' mind,” he replied. “Jus' grabbin' some stuff from tha' place an' wanderin' tha streets until tha one o'clock train back ta Ponyville.”

“One sec,” Steel said with a quick grin as he jogged back to the front door, opened it and yelled, “I'M GOING OUT FOR A WHILE! DON'T BURN THE PLACE DOWN AGAIN OR SO HELP ME I'LL TAN YOUR HIDES!!!” He jogged back and smiled a slightly embarrassed smile at his expression. “It's the kids, you see. They burned the place down by accident. Twice.”


“Twice.” Steel Heart rubbed the back of his head. “I'm ready when you are.” Galen just nodded slightly with an unsure smile and turned to continue walking, this time with Steel Heart at his side. “So... Tell me, Galen, how'd you get here and what have you gotten yourself into since then?”


Steel Heart had a good appreciation for Galen's story as he told it while going about his quest for bacon and then through the surrounding area to do a little sight seeing. Steel was even able to sympathize with the general culture shock, though he was able to acclimate to it through short amounts as he had come with his father on occasion to Equestria when he had held the same position. Eventually, Steel followed in his fathers hoofsteps and became an ambassador as well. By the end of Galen's story, Steel Heart had even asked if he could come down to visit his forge once it was finished and see the quality of his work to which Galen welcomed him wholeheartedly. He even offered to treat him to some cider as he doubted he'd have his microbrewery producing anything by then. That definitely had Steel more than eager to make the trip.

By the time noon rang out from the many local bell towers, they both felt that they had started the beginnings of a great friendship and Steel offered to help Galen back to the train station so he wouldn't get lost and miss his train. Galen accepted his offer without a second thought and hoped that Steel would make it home without finding his palatial home smoldering. They crossed the distance to the train station in relatively short order which left Galen with roughly twenty minutes to leave after he got his ticket, so he glanced around for a few touristy things to spend a few bits on for himself and his friends.

For himself, he settled on a set of decorative spoons that displaying the various sights one could see in the town for himself and vowed to see them all the next time he came up to Canterlot. For Lero and his herd, because of the help and friendship that they so freely offered, got them each a blown glass ornament of Canterlot Castle that had an enchantment that constantly gave off a slightly golden glow. For Applejack, he found a dusty silver hair pin with a patinated copper representation of Equestria that had a “Earth Fair, 900 A.B.” logo in a stylish block text. Pinkie Pie was harder for him to pick out, but felt it was worth his while to find something for the mare that somehow managed to pull an entire town together to celebrate his arrival to their world. He was almost late getting to his train, but felt that he had spent his time well as he found a wooden figurine of a painted clown pony who gave the world at large a massive smile that Galen couldn't help but return as a tiny smirk even though he was in such a rush. He was juggling with three balls of varying colors while standing atop a ball that served as his pedestal, almost seeming to be on the verge of moving when seen from the corner of his eye. Shelling out the eighteen bits in a rush as soon as the total rang up on the register he tossed his items into his new bag and bolted from the store, rushing madly for the train and swinging aboard as the first chug of its steam engine began to move forward. He handed his ticket to the conductor who gave a long suffering sigh and smile before taking a chunk out of it with his punch and moved off to confirm the other passengers fares.

Galen found a vacant seat and sat down roughly before he smiled contentedly at what he thought would be thoughtful gifts, even if they were gaudy or odd. He thought about his time in Canterlot, getting to know Luna, finding out about Celestia's silly naming sense and even his strange reaction to seeing mares in clothing. That may take some time getting used to, but he will admit that they looked pretty damn cute. Especially when they were undressing. He felt a blush creeping up his neck and forced his thoughts to his new friend Steel Heart, the down to earth ambassador. Steel Heart seemed like a down to earth fellow and was a family man (bull?) to boot. At least he had met someone else to potentially hobnob around with that seemed to appreciate the efforts he invested in forging something of quality.

To be honest, it came as something of a surprise that he nodded off on the return trip to Ponyville. Especially since he was almost certain that a certain pink mare would be waiting for him on his return.


Galen walked off the train with a light yawn. He had dozed for most of the return trip and woke easily enough when the conductor came around announcing the stop. He was pretty sure that he'd need another nap if he was to make anything productive done. With that in mind, he took the easy route out. He dropped by the contractors with his vastly improved blueprints and let them know about the additions of the cistern and bath house. He told them to request the additional materials in his name to the same wholesaler and to forward the charges to him when the additional charge came due. Finally finished with all his most pressing matters, Galen made his way back to Sweet Apple Acres.

The trip passed in a slight fog as his want for sleep got the better of him so, when he entered the front door, he wasn't prepared for the sight that he found waiting for him. There, a couple paces in front of him stood Applejack and Pinkie Pie, slightly leaning against each others shoulders. Now, that wouldn't be much of anything to think twice about, but what they were wearing certainly was. They were both dressed up as maids, the only difference between their outfits being their cutie marks embroidered on their bonnets, and had vibrant blushes dusting their cheeks as they looked up at him. They smiled and fidgeted on their hooves in a way that Galen could only describe as cute. It took a moment for Galen's mind to fully comprehend what he was seeing and felt the same flushing embarrassment from earlier that day when he had walked in on the mares' changing room in the Castle.

When Galen came through the front door, Applejack and Pinkie Pie felt a surge of nervous panic. It had taken some rather inventive explanations for Big Mac to get why they were dressing up the way they were, but Granny and Apple Bloom were on board from the start as Bloom loved a good prank and Granny saw right away what they were trying to do. So, there he was, standing in the doorway for a long moment before he flushed a deep red from the base of his neck to the beginning of his hairline. Even the tips of his ears turned red. They almost couldn't help themselves as laughter bubbled up within them fighting with the urge to rush him with hugs because it was so adorable seeing him so vulnerable. Galen on the other hand didn't think it was quite that funny. He choked out a noise that could only be considered panicked surprise before he turned around and stood stiffly, wondering what in the world was going on.

“What's the matter, master?” Applejack asked in her polished accent. Galen twitched slightly at that. “Are you not happy to return home?”

“It seems as though he's peaked from his travels~,” Pinkie said in a slightly breathy tone that seemed to trail a finger lightly down the back of his neck. It made him shiver involuntarily despite the warmth in his face. “Perhaps we should help him to his bed so that he can recover~?”

“That may be for the best,” Applejack replied. She walked forward and stopped just behind him. “Now, come along to bed. We wouldn't want you coming down with something just because of some travel fatigue.” With that, Applejack moved to his side and took a hand in her mouth, Pinkie quickly copying her. Galen almost jumped out of his boots when he felt Applejack's soft, warm lips close around his hand. They were very warm and surprisingly dry as they wrapped around a couple fingers. Pinkie's lips were slightly warmer but no less soft as they closed around his other hand.

With his mind well and truly derailed, first by his want for sleep followed quickly by this rather odd turn of events, he simply let himself be led along. They turned him around and led him by the hands back to his room where his bed had already been turned down. They took him to the edge of the bed where he sat down. Applejack hopped up to pull his bag off and moved it over to the dresser while Pinkie moved up and pushed Galen down to the bed. He got the idea quickly enough and arranged himself. When he was settled, the two mares each moved to take a corner of the light sheet and pulled it up to his shoulders.

“Sleep well,” Applejack said with a smile.

“Don't let the bed bugs bite~” Pinkie added.

Galen just stared blankly up at the ceiling.

“If Riley comes back to the house, would you like me to let him into your room?” Applejack asked.

Galen gave a very slight nod. Applejack smiled and gave Galen a little pat on his shoulder before she gathered Pinkie and left his room. They made their way to the kitchen before they finally exploded in barely contained giggles, their faces flushing brightly and tears running down their eyes from the force of their restrained laughter. They leaned against each other and slowly sank to the floor. Granny Smith walked in on the pair and shook her head with an amused smile on her face. Ignoring them after that, she got herself a cider, opened it with a sharp hiss and left without a word. That only set the girls to laughing even more.

After a time, their laughter finally ran out and they lay there panting as they wiped tears of laughter from their eyes. “Did ya see his face before he turned around?” Applejack asked in a strained voice.

“Oh my gosh! It was so funny!” Pinkie squeaked. “I didn't know he'd react like that!”

“Me neither, but it was so worth it!” Applejack chuckled. “So, you see that blush?”

“Yeah,” Pinkie said with a giggle. “I didn't know he'd get so flustered seeing us like this.”

“Just wait 'til he gets up,” Applejack said with a giggle. “Ah wanna see if Ah can get steam ta come out of his ears.”

Pinkie snorted and giggled at that. “Can he do that?!”

“Beats me, but it never hurts ta try,” she said with a fit of giggles. “Anyway, Ah'm really glad ya decided ta dress up with me. You look cuter than ever, if that's even possible.”

Pinkie blushed and snuggled up to Applejack. “Just you wait~,” she said in that breathy tone from earlier. “I have some plans, just for the two of us this Friday~”

Applejack shivered as Pinkie's hot breath ran over an ear, sending a flush of heat above and below. She squirmed around slightly and nuzzled up under Pinkie's jaw, so incredibly happy that Pinkie had finally started taking confident steps forward in their relationship. Maybe they'd take the next step sooner than she thought. She gave a throaty little growl and nibbled along the edge of Pinkie's jawline which had the pink mare shivering as well before Applejack pulled back and gave her a brief but smoky kiss.

“Plans, you say,” she said huskily. “Ah like plans. But sometimes we can just cut loose, you know.” Pinkie's blush was so furious that Applejack could feel the heat rising from her face with how close they were.

“That's always fun,” she replied in a husky tone that rasped slightly. “But I'd rather do this right, you know?”

Applejack just nodded and gave Pinkie a much tamer kiss in reply. They sighed as they just lay there on the kitchen floor, finding that they were more than comfortable as long as the other was by their side. That was until Apple Bloom walked in on them.

“Ah!” she yelled in surprise, a blush of her own flaring to life at seeing her sister and Pinkie Pie canoodling on the kitchen floor. “Get a room you two!”

“We already have one, go find another,” Pinkie replied with a grin and giggle. Applejack chuckled in amusement despite the blush she had.

“Come on, Bloom,” Applejack said with a grin. “It's not like you wouldn't do the same thing if you had a colt or fillyfriend of your own. Besides, we haven't even done anything other than kiss.”

“And nibble,” Pinkie added.

“And nibble,” Applejack amended.

“Yet,” Pinkie continued with a half lidded gaze at Applejack, punctuated with a quick peck on her cheek.

“Yet,” Applejack said with a throaty chuckle.

“Gah!” Apple Bloom said as she quickly raised a foreleg to shield her eyes. “You two are hopeless.”

“She'll understand someday,” Pinkie said in a strangely sagely tone.

“That she will,” Applejack agreed with a nod before giving a mischievous chuckle. “Now, where were we?”

“Kissing and cuddling?”

“Sounds about right.”

“I'm gonna go see what Scootaloo's up to,” Apple Bloom said exasperatedly as she lowered her foreleg and turned to go. “For some reason, I feel the need to do something life threatening.” Applejack and Pinkie Pie snickered at that. “I'll be back in time for supper, but could you two please keep the smooching to a minimum if Pinkie sticks around to eat? I know I'd like to keep my food down without you two being so sickeningly sweet.”

“We'll see,” Applejack replied with a snicker.

“But no promises,” Pinkie finished.

Apple Bloom just shook her head but couldn't help the smile that crept up on her. Ever since her sister had started dating the exuberant mare, she had grown more playful and loving to everypony around her, more likely to smile for absolutely no reason and just... happier with life in general. Apple Bloom couldn't help but give her sister guff because it was both fun to do it and ended with everypony laughing at the playful banter. With that final thought, Apple Bloom trotted off to go find her winged friend and see what they could make of the day.

Once Apple Bloom left the house, Pinkie turned back to Applejack and gave her a loving nuzzle which was returned easily with a gentle sigh. Galen would be asleep for a while, Apple Bloom was out of the house, Big Mac was tending to the orchard and Granny Smith was probably working on some project or other of hers. They had a good, long while to do what they pleased and were more than content to spend it as they were. Side by side, enjoying the warmth of one another and trading gestures of affection easily as they slowly grew tired from their busy morning. They fell asleep together, Applejack's head and neck resting lightly over Pinkie's shoulders as the light of the sun washed over them lying in the middle of the kitchen floor.

Best Laid Plans and Spectacular Fireworks

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Best Laid Plans and Spectacular Fireworks

Galen wasn't sure when he finally fell asleep, but when he woke up the sun hadn't made any noticeable progress on its celestial journey. He noticed a familiar pressure along his left side and saw that Riley had made his way to him while he was sleeping and had curled up for a nap as well. Galen smiled as he pushed the sheets down and gently ran his hand over Riley's head, feeling contentment as his companion gave a low grunt of happiness and squirmed at the attention. He looked out the window and saw an errant balloon floating over the orchard (likely lost by some foal in Ponyville) when his memory suddenly came crashing back.

Two mares in maid uniforms waiting for him.

Treating him like he was their master.

The surprisingly refined tones of Applejack and the sultry voice of Pinkie Pie.

What was going on and what was he going to do about it? Knowing Applejack, she'd probably tell him straight to his face and continue on her merry way because that's how stubborn she was. Pinkie Pie, from what little he knew about her, would probably giggle and say it was all a part of the fun. He sighed and considered going back to sleep for a while longer. His rumbling stomach had other thoughts though as he had skipped lunch due to his sight seeing with Steel Heart and a drastically reduced appetite from his meaty breakfast.

So, he got up, careful to not wake Riley and made his way to the kitchen. He almost had a heart attack as he walked into the bright room and found the two troubling mares in the middle of the room but quickly recovered when he saw that they were only sleeping on the floor. In a way that he could only describe as heart meltingly adorable. And maybe a little flustering as they both were still wearing their maid uniforms.

Using his knowledge of where the squeaky floorboards were and years of woodsman skills at remaining undetected by skittish prey, he made his way to the fridge and raided it for a healthy sized wedge of cheese, a pair of apples and a bottle of alcoholic cider before settling down to eat at the table, seating himself to their rear so that he could hopefully ambush them and get the upper hand in this encounter. As he ate, his eyes couldn't help but be drawn back toward the sleeping pair. He had known for a couple weeks by now that the two were a pair, but actually seeing them together like this really drove the point home that the two really were knocking hooves together. Now that turn of phrase brought all kinds of unexpected thoughts and Galen felt his face flush at the mental images.

He finished the last bite of his second apple, the cheese long gone by now, and downed the rest of his cider. However, before he could put his bottle back down on the table, Pinkie Pie's breathing changed and she stretched like a cat. Exactly like a cat, as she reached forward with her forelegs, popped her rear way up in the air as she sensually curved her back without shifting her shoulders so she wouldn't disturb Applejack and completed the image by lifting her tail as high as it could go. Oh, by all the gods who still listened to the pleas of mortals. She was wearing black and hot pink striped panties that concealed everything and hid nothing. Galen felt his grip on his bottle slacken suddenly and couldn't do a thing as it thudded to the tabletop.

Pinkie Pie froze. She froze so completely that he was sure that if something were to touch one of her hairs, it would break from its fragility. Then she cracked an eye open and Galen watched in a mortified stupor as she slowly looked over to him. They maintained eye contact for a total of three seconds before her entire face blazed to a fiery blush so fierce that a faint cloud of steam puffed from her mane, wisps floating lazily this and that way in the subtle air currents of the room before dissipating. Galen would have marveled at the seemingly impossible thing that had just occurred if he hadn't just been caught getting an eye-full of Pinkie Pie presenting herself directly to him.

Galen struggled to say something... anything... but he simply couldn't. Pinkie Pie was in a similar predicament although she could at least make some noise as she squeaked like a chew toy being mauled by a particularly rambunctious puppy. That in turn cause Applejack to wake up. She lifted her head and blinked a few times as she took in the scene that had unfolded. She snickered suddenly, a smile lighting up her face as she hugged Pinkie Pie who squeaked an octave higher and made mock kissing motions at Galen who choked on his own tongue.

She noticed the remains of his meal and asked in a husky voice, “Lunch must have been good for your stomach, but how was the desert for your eyes?”

Galen made to get up quickly so he could about face but ended up toppling both the chair and himself as it caught on a crack in the floorboards. He landed with a loud thud and an “Oof!” Pinkie twitched in sympathy while Applejack guffawed. Big Mac was on his way to their tool shed for the plow when he heard the loud noise and made a quick detour to see if anypony needed help and stuck his head in through the back door. He took in the scene stoically, blushed and slowly withdrew his head lest he draw any unwanted attention.

As Galen lay there on the floor he could only think of that last image emblazoned in his mind. Applejack hugging an embarrassingly exposed Pinkie while she made sultry kissing motions in his direction. To say the least, he had the most awkward case of arousal he had ever known and didn't know what to make of it. His thoughts were interrupted as Applejack got up and walked over to him.

“Everything okay, big fella?” she asked in her usual tones.

He cleared his throat uncomfortably and gave her a nod. “Yeah, ev'rything's peachy,” he replied. “Ah came back ta two mares in maid uniforms, embarrassed, babied an' flashed. Ev'rything's fekkin' peachy.”

Applejack held a hoof up to her face as she snorted in laughter. “What did you expect?”

“Not this,” he answered simply. “Anythin' but this.”

“Ah told you that Ah'd make you pay for giving me so much money,” she replied smugly.

“Yeah, but Ah figured it would be yew giving me a hard time, not dressing up like a maid an' hookin' yer girlfriend inta yer schemes as well.”

“That would be marefriend, and she was the one ta join in,” she said as she tossed a grin over her shoulder at Pinkie. “Ah was ready ta do this all on mah own.”

“But that don' explain a thing.”

“You made me feel indebted ta ya, so what better way ta repay that kind personal debt than serving you until Ah feel satisfied?”

Galen looked away then back to Applejack with an expression of mild dread and confusion at how it all turned out like this. But then started wondering how far she was going to take this. His expression changed to one of devious mischief and rolled himself out of his tumbled chair and stood up with fists on his hips. “Tha' right?”

“Darn right,” she said sternly as if she thought he'd try to talk her out of it, “and you're not gonna change my mind 'bout this.”

“In tha' case, Ah've got some stuff tha' needs doin',” he said as he moved to pick the chair up and returned it to its place at the table. “An' Ah'm sure Ah'll need tha help.”

“Whatever do you need my help with, master?” she asked, returning to her refined tones and a happy expression plastering itself on her face. Despite her outward appearance, she felt a small seed of worry plant itself.

“Jus' a few things,” he replied. “If yew'd go grab mah bag from tha bedroom fer me, Ah'd like ta apologize ta Pinkie Pie fer embarrassin' 'er.” Applejack nodded and walked off. When she had gone, Galen moved over to Pinkie Pie who had moved to a sitting position and was looking off to the side, her blush having not diminished in the slightest. Her expression and demeanor almost painful for Galen to see. He knelt down and lowered his head so it was level with Pinkie's before speaking. “Ah'm really sorry fer how things turned out. Ah was only tryin' ta surprise tha two o' ya an' get some answers while ya were off guard. If Ah thought it'd turn out this way, Ah never would o' done what Ah did.”

Pinkie fidgeted and moved so that she could look Galen in the eye. Even though things turned out like they had, she really couldn't blame him either. It was an accident after all. Besides, it wasn't as though she hadn't thought about... other things involving him either. Plus there was the whole barn incident and she had certainly gotten an eyeful of her own, so she supposed fair was fair. “It's alright,” she replied quietly. “I wasn't anyponys fault, right? Plus it wasn't like you flipped my skirt or anything like that.” Galen's cheeks heated a bit at that, but he nodded with a little smile. “Thanks for apologizing,” she finished, moving suddenly and wrapping Galen up in a warm hug. He froze for a moment but quickly returned it with just enough strength to make Pinkie sigh a little.

Applejack cleared her throat politely from the doorway and they broke the hug quickly, awkward smiles on their faces. “I have your bag, master,” she said with a smile at seeing that there were no hard feelings between the two.

“Alrigh',” he said as he stood up and walked over to sling the bag over his shoulder. “In tha' case, le's get goin'.”

Applejack paled slightly. “Going? As in out?”

“O' course,” he said with a smirk. “Ah need ta head inta town an' need some help bringing stuff back. Unless yew feel you've paid me back enough.”

Applejack let loose a low growl of displeasure as she felt her face heat up at the thought of going into town like... this. Well, she thought to herself. If he wants ta play dirty, Ah'll play dirty. “How could I ever pay you back in only such a short time?” she eloquently said instead. “I'll be right by your side the whole time.”

“That's good ta hear,” Galen said with a little grin. “In tha' case, how 'bout we get goin'?”

“Of course, master,” Applejack said with a wave of her hoof. “Lead the way.”

Galen chuckled as he left the kitchen and passed Applejack. Once his back was turned, she shot him a look of pure venom. He was wily, but she would out stubborn him if she had the last say in this. He suddenly stopped as he was about to leave and headed back to the kitchen. “Hey, Pinkie, Ah've got a gift fer ya if'n yew'd be willin' ta hang 'round 'till we come back.”

Pinkie's ears sprang up and an incredibly happy expression washed over her face at his words. “You do?” she asked, just to make sure she wasn't hearing things.

“Yeah,” he said with a grin. “Figured it was tha least Ah could do fer tha mare who brought a whole town out jus' ta welcome me.”

She smiled and blushed a little at his words. “It wasn't anything special, really,” she replied demurely.

“There ya go again, downplayin' yerself like tha',” he said, the barest hint of roughness in his voice showing that he was frustrated about it. “Yer an amazin' mare, Pinkie. Don' let anyone tell ya different. Even yerself.” With that he left and walked out of the house with Applejack on his heels, leaving an incredibly happy Pinkie Pie still sitting on the kitchen floor.

“You're a good man, Galen,” Applejack said after a time.

“Ah try ta be,” he replied. “Some days it's easier than others, but Ah try.”

Applejack just smiled and kept following. Then she remembered where she was going and what she was wearing. Her smile disappeared as she glowered at his back. The trip seemed to drag on for entirely too long and ended entirely too quickly for Applejack's liking. They had passed the blissfully concealing line of tree and were now out in the open as they walked the final stretch into town. She felt like there were eyes everywhere staring at her, even though nopony was about. She was sure she should have been more confident, but the entire situation was throwing her off and she knew that she'd never be able to turn this back around on the man.

“Hey! Galen!” called an all too familiar voice from overhead. “Who's that you're with?” Rainbow Dash swooped down from just overhead and landed a few paces ahead. Applejack, wanting to prolong the inevitable for just a few more short moments, kept herself hidden behind Galen. Oh, how her face was burning.

“Hey, Dash, fancy meetin' yew out here like this,” Galen replied with an easy grin. “Jus' comin' in ta town ta drop off a couple souvenirs Ah picked up fer yew an' yers. Tha' an' pick up a thing 'r two.”

“Cool,” she replied as she craned her head side to side in an attempt to see who was hiding behind him. “But that still didn't answer my question.”

“Well, tha's a funny thing, yew see,” he said, a snicker clearly heard in his voice. “Yew already know this lovely, humble mare who's been so gracious ta me. She's even taken it on 'erself ta repay an act o' kindness in 'er own, 'unique' way.”

“Come on...” Rainbow groused. “Quit stallin' and tell me who it is.” Instead of answering, Galen grinned and did a quick hop-step to the side so that Applejack had no chance to shadow him. She froze as she looked wide eyed at Rainbow. Rainbow froze in shock at the sight. It was Applejack. AJ, her main competition in events of any athletic nature. But she was wearing a really cute maids uniform and blushing so deeply that her green eyes seemed to have a faint inner light of their own. She felt an involuntary blush come up on her cheeks a second before she completely lost it, falling over and rolling on her back because she could devote no strength to standing at the moment.

Applejack shuffled her hooves on the dusty track and looked off to the side. “Sh-shut up,” she protested weakly. Dash just kept laughing and that quickly turned her embarrassment into anger. She growled and glowered at Dash who was still rolling on the ground, trotting over to her friend and prodded her hard in her stomach. Dash twitched and grunted from it and finally stopped laughing, though she still had a few residual echoes of her mirth. “Seriously?” Dash asked squeakily as she wiped a tear from an eye.

Applejack looked briefly away before she returned her gaze back to Dash. “It... didn't work out exactly like Ah planned, but Ah'm not gonna let that stop me,” she said determinedly.

“Sounds like you're learning that not all pranks turn out how you expect, huh?” she asked with a shit eating grin. “At least you're going all the way with it and not chickening out.”

Applejack snorted and gave her a little smile as she leaned in to stage whisper with a shit eating grin of her own, “Ta say the least, it's paid off well already. You shoulda seen it earlier. Pinkie got in on this as well and accidentally flashed 'im. You had ta be there ta see it! Totally worth it when 'e toppled his chair over backwards!”

Dash's eyes widened when she heard that Applejack had convinced Pinkie Pie to join in as well and felt her stomach clench painfully as her laughter came gushing out again. Galen gave a little smile at that. Sure, it was embarrassing, but even he could appreciate something when it was funny. Dash finally began to peter out, her laughter turning light and raspy as her abdomen became uncomfortably sore from the force of her laughter. Eventually, she just lay there breathing deeply to reclaim some much needed oxygen and finally sat up with a sigh.

“'Ad enough, huh?” he asked with a grin.

“Yeah,” Dash replied in a airy voice. “I... I'm good.”

“In tha' case, le's get goin',” he said.

“Sure thing,” she said with a grin directed at Applejack. “I'm sure Lero and the others will just love to see Applejack's new look.” Applejack groaned mildly at that.

“An' whoever we meet in tha' market as well,” he added. At that, Applejack tried to lower the brim of her hat and just ruffled her bangs.

Rainbow's eyebrows shot up at that and she had to fight off another bout of laughter. “You're gonna take her through the town like that?!”

“Yeah, since she's wantin' ta be mah maid fer a while until she feels she paid me back enough,” he replied. “This is day one an' Ah gave 'er a chance ta call it good, but she seems determined ta 'pay me back.' Figured Ah'd drop by tha' brewery place yew were tellin' me 'bout tha other day an' pick up a few things ta get me by fer tha moment. Also need ta drop by tha game warden's place ta see if Ah can do a bit o' hunting.”

“Oh, cool,” she said with a wide grin as she swiveled her head back to Applejack. “I'm sure she's more than happy to lend a hoof with whatever you need to get and she knows the way to Fluttershy's place so you can head right over.”

“Tha's what Ah figured,” he replied. “Come on Dash, Ah got some stuff ta unload at yer place before Ah can do mah runnin' 'round.”

“Alright,” she said as she moved to lead the way. I need to have Lero take a picture of this, she thought with a cat like smile. They entered the town far too quickly for Applejack's liking but it seemed to be a slow time of day so only a few ponies were out and about. Still, those that were out gave her the oddest looks as they recognized her despite her best attempts at ducking her head and staying as close behind as Galen as she could. They all blushed a bit and snickered behind their hooves. She knew she'd be the talk of the town before the sun set. Thankfully, they came to Lero's house before anypony else could see her and they ducked inside.

“Lero!” Dash called out as soon as the door closed. “I'm back! Bring the camera with you too!”

“Dash! No!” Applejack practically squealed as Galen began laughing while he shared a wink with Dash.

“Oh, come on,” she said plaintively. “We gotta record this for posterity.”

“Now you're sounding like Twilight,” Applejack said grumpily. “But seriously... No cider fer a month if ya go through with this.”

“Acceptable losses,” she said with a devious smirk. “You want a copy after it gets developed, Galen?” Galen blushed and looked away guiltily as Applejack snapped her head over to him, giving him the eye.

“No thanks,” he said weakly which satisfied Applejack. When she turned her attention back to Dash, he caught her attention and mouthed, “Yes. Very much.” Dash's grin widened as she threw him a wink that Applejack missed.

“What's going on, love?” Lero asked as he walked into the living room. “Lyra and Twi are... *ahem* cleaning up right now...” He stopped as he saw Galen and Applejack, his cheeks warming as he gave a another little cough. “Wh-what's up?”

“Jus' out fer a bit o' runnin',” Galen answered with a shit eating grin. “Tha' an' Ah got yew all some souvenirs.”

“I see,” Lero replied. “So what was that about a camera?”

"I thought we should take a picture to memorialize the occasion since Applejack never dresses up like this," she said with a faint snicker. "Besides, she's just so cute with that little bonnet in her mane."

“Lero, no, please,” Applejack pleaded, blushing in humiliation.

“Love, stop teasing Applejack,” Lero chided. Rainbow pouted cutely in reply to his denial and was just laughed at by Lero. “That may work every once in a while, but not right now.”


Lero laughed at his wife's antics and moved over to tousle her mane. “I've got to say though, Applejack, you're really cute in that uniform. Rarity make that for you?” She gave a tiny nod and shuffled behind Galen a little. “In that case, we'll have to see what she can whip up for us, eh?” Rainbow gave Lero a cheeky grin and a saucy wink that promised him good things to come.

Galen coughed into his fist to hide his smile. “Anyway, Ah got a few things fer each o' yew ta say thanks fer helpin' me out so much an' a gift from Celestia fer Lero. They ain't much, but they're somethin'.” He reached into his bag and retrieved the handful of ornaments and presented them to Lero who grinned and took them gratefully.

“Twilight always told me that these things were rip offs for how much they cost, but I still thought they were pretty neat,” he said.

“Heh,” Galen said with a chuckle. “Now fer yer own personal gift...” He reached back in and pulled out Lero's necklace, holding it out to him. “Tha Princess thought yew'd appreciate this since it seems as though yew've had a feathery modification ta yer herd. She said tha' since yer at tha' place where ya love each o' yer wives equally, yew migh' not wanna unintentionally put one over tha other since yew braid tha feathers in yer hair. She said tha' tha original owner had five pegasus mates an' didn't wanna do tha' ta them, so 'e made this. Tha' way 'e could show tha other ponies tha' they all had an equal share o' his love an' their feathers were always close ta his heart. Not entirely sure how it works since Ah forgot ta ask, but Ah'm sure yew'll figure it out since yer smart.”

Lero chuckled as he reached out with two hands as Galen passed it over to him. He held the necklace up and gave a very happy smile at receiving it. He settled its thick links around his neck and inspected the center medallion carefully before pulling Rainbow's feather from his hair and pressed it to it. The metal rippled and absorbed the feather, holding its quill in its entirety while leaving the vane for all to see. “This is amazing,” he finally said, almost whispering as he felt strong emotions welling up as he looked at the necklace. “I'll have to write her soon.” He looked back at Galen. “Thanks for everything, Galen. Still looking forward to our cookout later this week.”

“Ah'll get word ta ya 'bout the details,” he replied with a smile. “Ah've gotta get goin', so tell Twilight an' Lyra Ah said 'hi' an' Ah'll stick 'round longer next time.” He paused suddenly before he left the house, reached into his bag and tossed a small package wrapped in thick brown paper to Lero who caught it easily. "Almost forgot 'bout yer bacon," he said with a little grin. "Don' eat tha whole thing in one go. Bad fer yer digestion."

“I'll keep that in mind,” Lero replied with a chuckle as Galen made his way back outside with Applejack. Once they were out of the house, Rainbow ran off deeper into the house leaving Lero confused and a little bit worried. She came rushing back with their camera jostling around her neck by its strap and bolted out through the back door before he could get a word out. He sighed and planted his face into his palm with a sigh. “What am I going to do with you, Rainbow?” he asked the empty room rhetorically.


Once they had left Lero's place, they made their way to the local brewery and stopped in. Applejack had pretty much given up at being embarrassed and had progressed to a state of mild grumpiness at the world in general, paying no attention to the gawkers anymore. Berry Punch greeted them with all smiles and a lascivious eye wandering at Applejack who threw daggers back with her eyes. Galen talked for a bit about what it was he was looking for at the moment and eventually had a few small bags of grain, several dozen packets of yeast and a ten quart copper pan. He counted out the eight bits for everything and began allocating the supplies.

Galen tossed the packets of yeast into his bag carelessly and carried the large pan while Applejack took the bags of grain with a little arguing from Galen. They only weighed about ten pounds each, so it was only a modest burden for the farm mare turned maid and she carried them easily. Once they had their stuff arranged, they left the shop and made their way to the outskirts of town before turning down a well worn dirt pathway that led to Fluttershy's.

Just after they had been walking for a few minutes, a noise and sudden gust of wind kicked up and flipped Applejack's skirt up around her waist. Applejack was too busy trying to resettle her skirt, keep her load balanced and making sure Galen wasn't looking to properly pay attention, but Galen noticed a rustling noise from a nearby bush and saw a rainbow colored mane retreat back into its leafy hiding place. Galen chuckled a little and gave a thumbs up to it before he looked back at Applejack with a grin he didn't even know he was wearing. She looked back with a miffed expression and asked gruffly, “Get a good look?”

“Ah have no idea what yer talkin' about,” he replied with barely contained laughter as he refused to make eye contact.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said with a sigh. “Let's just keep it moving.” Galen chuckled and took the lead after that. After roughly five minutes of walking, they finally spotted Fluttershy's cottage and crossed a small bridge before walking the final approach to their destination. When they both stood before the door, Galen with a bit of nervousness at possibly not making a good impression on the pony who would have final say whether or not he'd be able to hunt small game and Applejack blushing faintly at yet another of her friends would be seeing her in her uniform.

Galen steeled himself and knocked firmly on the door, a soft melodic voice calling out a second later, “I'll be there in a moment.” They waited a short minute as Fluttershy finished with her current chore and the door opened to reveal the timid pegasus as she half hid behind the door, looking unsure up at the large man. “Oh. Um. Hello there. What can I help you with?”

“Hey, Fluttershy,” Applejack said as she inched out from behind Galen to put her friend more at ease. “Galen here's dropping by ta ask you about something.”

“Alright,” she replied as she took a step back and opened the door further. “Why don't you come inside so you're comfortable?”

“Thank yew very much,” he answered as he followed the mare to her living room. As he walked through the room, he noticed how her house was as much an animal sanctuary as it was a place to live. “Anyway, Ah figure it's best ta get this out o' tha way first,” he said as he settled down on the little couch with his pan on the floor underneath a modest coffee table that rested just in front of the couch. Applejack set down her bags of grain before taking a seat beside him.

Fluttershy finally turned around as she sat in a chair and froze as she finally saw what Applejack was wearing, her face burning in a brilliant blaze of bashfulness. “U-u-um... A-Applejack?!” she stuttered in a high pitched squeak as she hid half of her face behind her mane. “Wh-what're you wearing?!”

Applejack looked away a bit as she replied simply, “A maid's uniform.”

“B-but why?” Fluttershy asked as her confusion and curiosity got the better of her embarrassment.

“This big galute paid me way too much for that little hill Ah sold him and Ah felt indebted to him, so Ah thought Ah could repay him a bit at a time around the house this way,” she replied as she shuffled her hooves a bit.

“B-but you're wearing that... outside,” she said as she lowered her head so that her mane covered all but the barest sliver of her visible eye.

“Yeah, Ah am,” Applejack said roughly with an irked expression directed at Galen as he chuckled. “He told me that Ah could call my personal debt good and stay home or go into town with him ta help him with his errands. As you can see, here Ah am trying ta make good on what Ah owe.”

Fluttershy 'meeped' as she thought of herself in such a mortifying position and shivered at the thought. She would probably be so shocked at the notion that she would petrify herself if it were even suggested. “So, Ah hear yer tha game warden o' Ponyville,” Galen finally said after a few moments of embarrassed silence, shocking Fluttershy out of her fugue. She raised her head and partially uncovered her face enough that they could see half of her face before she nodded. “Well, tha thing is, Ah'd like ta get yer permission ta fish an' hunt fowl an' small game.”

“Y-you would?” she asked, slightly off kilter at the change in topic.

“Yeah,” he replied with a solemn nod. “Ah've been a hunter fer a good, long while now an' red meat's a good portion o' mah diet. Riley, mah dog, eats a lot o' fresh meat too an' Ah wouldn't want ta change 'is eating habits too much if Ah can help it. Ah've seen 'im hunting tha odd mouse 'r rat 'round tha farm, but Ah'd like somethin' more substantial fer 'im ta eat.”

“Oh!” Fluttershy said as she sat up straight. “You should have come to me sooner if that was the case. Why did you wait so long to come ask me?”

“Well... a lot's been going on since Ah've been here,” he replied a little dully. “More than Ah'd care ta go through again any time soon, but since everything's finally in motion an' can spare some time fer other things tha' need ta be dealt with. Comfort can come after tha hard work's outta tha way.”

“I see,” she said with a slow nod of her own. She spared a glance for Applejack to make sure her friend wasn't feeling left out and found that she had a very pleased look on her face as she looked back at Fluttershy. “Um, I don't see why I couldn't give you permission, but I do have a few questions before I can sign the paperwork and send it into town.” Galen nodded his agreement, so she proceeded. “Have you ever killed any animals with malicious intent?”

“No,” he replied immediately. "Never." Applejack nodded her approval on his statement which made Fluttershy feel more at ease.

“Have you ever physically abused any animals, wild or tame?”

“Never, unless it was ta punish really bad behavior, but nothin' more than a firm swat ta tha rear,” he answered as he rubbed the back of his head. “Riley had a bad habit o' chasin' chickens down an' would kill them by accident. Ah couldn't abide tha', an had ta break 'im o' tha' hard an' fast. Made sure ta teach 'im tha' it was okay fer 'im ta hunt vermin though. Couldn't stand it if 'e had ta be put down fer becomin' bloodthirsty just 'cause 'e thought 'e was havin' fun.”

Fluttershy turned a little green at that thought. She had to put down a dog before because it had gotten rabies and would quickly become a danger to everything around it. There wasn't anything that could have been done for it and it had broken her heart for weeks because there was no other way to keep it and others safe without cruelly confining it for the rest of its days. “T-that would have been absolutely horrible,” she said faintly.

“An' tha's why Ah did what Ah did,” Galen said with a slightly weary sigh.

“I understand,” she replied. “One last question and we're done here.” Galen nodded and Fluttershy smiled, happy to know that even though Galen ate other animals, he had a great love for them as well and treated them with respect. “Have you ever killed more than you could eat without it spoiling, letting the flesh go to waste?”

“No,” he answered. “Back home, Ah hunted... larger... game often enough an' would preserve tha meat Ah couldn't eat fresh through salting an' smoking, eating it when Ah run out o' fresh meat ta reduce mah need fer hunting. Ah have killed a few wolves in tha past in self defense, but tha' was a last resort. Ah did make sure ta use what Ah could, like tha pelts which were made inta cloaks fer kids by our tanner, but Ah made sure ta bury tha remains.”

Fluttershy nodded with a queasy smile. “I think that satisfies me. I'll just fill out the proper paperwork and have you sign it. I shouldn't be more than a few minutes since I always have a few copies made out in advance.”

“Thanks, Fluttershy,” Galen said as she got up and began walking off. “Glad ta know yer so understandin'.”

“Everything needs to eat,” Fluttershy simply responded, slightly somber. “I just try to make sure the little ones don't perish needlessly or cruelly.” Galen nodded with an understanding smile, keeping his peace to let Fluttershy go about her paperwork. She was true to her word and came back a few minutes later with two sheets of paper, a quill and a small brass badge. She placed them on the coffee table before she explained their purposes, “I just need you to sign these two contracts at the bottom and you're all set. These are magically binding in the extreme so that if you break any of your previously answered statements, your privileges will be revoked and restricted only to the purchasing of meat from licensed vendors. The badge is yours to prove to anypony questioning you about your activities that you've been given permission for hunting fowl and small game. Fishing is only regulated for businesses who fish in bulk.” Galen nodded and took the quill, quickly scraping out his signature before he felt a slight tingling settle on him, passing through his skin and feeling like his very bones vibrated slightly before fading. “That should be everything,” she said as she tucked the paperwork under a wing. “I'll get the second copy to the Mayor safely so you don't have to worry about anything else.”

“Thanks fer everythin',” he replied as he tucked away the badge in his bag. “So where am Ah allowed ta hunt?”

“I'll have a map made up for you, but generally it's no more than a half mile into the Everfree Forest and the wilder parts of the Whitetail Woods.”

“Ah heard 'bout Manticores an' such,” he said with a look of curiosity. “Are they considered large game at all, an' if they aren't, Ah'm allowed ta kill ta defend maself if attacked, right?”

“They are considered large game, but the hunting season for them is very limited due to their sparse numbers and only one or two are permitted to hunt a year,” she answered with an uneasy expression. “They're very territorial and tend to kill each other often in territorial disputes. That's why the general hunting grounds are where they are, so that there's less of a risk of encountering one outside of mating season. Of course you're allowed to defend yourself, but please, for my sake, try to not kill one if you're threatened. I know it's a lot to ask, but I would understand if it can't be helped.”

Galen nodded with a small smile. “Give me some time ta get used to tha area an' Ah'm sure Ah'll be able ta avoid any o' tha'.”

“That's good to hear,” Fluttershy said with a small smile. “Um... If there isn't anything else, could I interest you in anything to drink? Tea or milk maybe?”

“Ah think Ah might have ta give yew a rain check on yer offer,” he replied. “It's been a long day an' we still have ta get back ta tha farm. Maybe in a day or two?”

“Oh! Of course,” she quickly said. “That would be wonderful. Also, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, do you think you could bring Riley over as well? I'd really like to meet him and give him a check up.”

“Sure thing,” he said as he got up, idly toying with his pan as he picked it up. “Ah'm sure he'd love ta meet ya.” Fluttershy smiled warmly at that while Galen helped Applejack load back up with the grain. “Thanks again fer everythin'.”

“Yeah,” Applejack chipped in. “Good seeing you again, Fluttershy. See ya on market day.”

“I'm glad I could help and I'll see you there, Applejack,” she replied warmly. “Take care you two.” With that, they made their way outside and took off across the hills in the direction of Sweet Apple Acres so that they wouldn't have to go back through town.

“She seems nice,” Galen said offhandedly after a time.

“She is, but a might shy as Ah'm sure you noticed,” she replied.

“Yeah,” he said simply as he thought of his recent encounter. “She kinda reminds me o' yer brother.”

“Huh?” she said with an odd look at him. “How's that?”

“Well, yer brother didn't really talk ta me much until about a week after Ah got here,” he answered. “He's a bit shy too, though it's hard fer most ta tell since 'e's a stallion o' few words.”

Applejack snorted her amusement at that and grinned. “Ah suppose so, though Ah'm sure he'd look at ya funny if ya told him that.”

“Ah'm sure 'e would,” he said with a snort of his own. After that, they walked in a comfortable silence through the hills and orchard, the house eventually coming in sight which made them pick up their pace to get back and relax after their trip. Plus, Pinkie was still waiting for them which was reason enough to hurry up. Once they were on the front porch, Galen held Applejack up as he took the sacks of grain from her and placed them in a pile with his pan on top before going inside.

Pinkie was still wearing her uniform while she sat on the couch in the living room with Granny Smith while Apple Bloom occupied the small stool as they talked about the young filly's latest attempt at finding her special talent involving her pegasus friend and botched hooficures that still stained her hooves with hoof polish. “Hey guys!” Pinkie said happily as the pair walked in. “How'd everything go?”

“Could've been better,” Applejack grumbled. “Think Ah may have ta have a word or two with Berry Punch 'bout wandering eyes though.” Granny cackled along with Galen while Pinkie and Apple Bloom blushed at the mares frankness. “Dash wanted ta take pictures too...” she finished with a mumble that just made Galen laugh harder since he was the only one to hear that last bit.

“So,” Galen said with a toothy grin as he clapped his hands together. “Like Ah promised earlier, Ah have a present fer ya Pinkie.”

“Oh!” she squealed with a giddy grin. “That's right!” Galen chuckled as he moved over to the excited mare and knelt down to eye level before he reached into his bag and brought out the little figurine for her. When she saw what it was, her eyes widened greatly as she gasped, leaning back slightly with a look of ecstatic disbelief on her face. “P-Ponyacci?” she squeaked as pure happiness seemed to radiate from her.

“Ah'm not sure who tha' is,” Galen said with a lopsided smile. “But when Ah saw this, Ah knew yew'd love it.”

“It's perfect!” she practically squealed as she leaped from the couch and topple the pair over in a massive hug, Galen giving a brief yelp of surprise as they thudded to the floor as he held the wood figuring away to save it from their fall. “Thank you so so so so so so much!”

“Glad yew like it,” he said roughly as the breath was inexorably squeezed from his lungs.

“You have no idea,” she said warmly as she nuzzled the edge of his jaw. Applejack chuckled from where she stood, an incredibly wide smile of her own stretching her face at seeing Pinkie so happy.

“You should take it easy on the poor man, Pinkie,” Applejack said barely contained mirth. “Ah think Ah can hear his ribs creaking from here.”

Pinkie twitched as though she had been goosed and let go of him, though she still sat on his stomach. She reached over and took the figure between her forehooves and hugged it gently to her chest with an expression of gentle love on her face as she looked down at it. Galen felt his heart warm at seeing her so happy and smiled just as warmly at the sight. He looked back at Applejack with a rueful smile and she looked back with a warm smile of her own, nodding her great approval at his choice of gift.

“Ah've got something fer yew too, Jackie,” he said with a smile. Pinkie perked up at that and grinned widely between the two.

“Do ya now,” she said as an eyebrow lifted.

“Ah do,” he replied simply while he reached into his bag with Pinkie still on top of him and pulled out her pin, trying to keep it hidden in his palm as he offered it to her. Pinkie caught a glimpse of it, the words especially, and brought a hoof up to her mouth as she tried to hide her trembling smile. Applejack looked at her questioningly due to her reaction and turned her attention to Galen's suspended fist before putting her hoof underneath. Galen gave a little grin as he gently placed her gift in her hoof and pulled his hand back.

She looked down at it and her eyes widened as she saw the pin. It was an exact copy of the pin she had so adored growing up. The pin that still rested in Granny's little porcelain bowl of jewelry that she had accrued over the years. Applejack's gift was one of the, now very few, remaining memorial pins that had been crafted for the very same fair where Princess Celestia had granted her family the swath of land they still worked, loved and called home. She felt her chest warm up greatly and gave a smile, much the same as Pinkie's as she held it to her own chest. “Thank you, Galen,” she said in a slightly emotional voice. “How on earth did you find this?”

“Jus' lucky, Ah guess,” he replied in embarrassment as he rubbed the back of his head. “Ducked inta some gift shop near tha train station an' found these. Ah didn't think it was much, but Ah jus' 'ad this feelin' tha' it was perfect fer ya. Same fer yew, Pinkie. Ah wish Ah could've gotten yew two better gifts, since yew've both done so much fer me...”

“It's perfect,” Applejack cut in quietly but firmly. She looked at Pinkie Pie and flicked her eyes to Galen with a nod, to which Pinkie grinned nervously, before she walked up to stand beside her shoulder to shoulder. “Ah think you deserve a... personal... thank you for these gifts,” she said with a mischievous smile that had Galen slightly unsure about what was going to happen next.

Almost as one, the two mares lowered their heads, blushes rising high on their faces as they pursed their lips. Galen felt his heart thud painfully in his chest and a burning flush of his own as they closed the distance quickly and a set of lips each made contact with a cheek. His vision was filled with wheat gold, vibrant pink and red aplenty as he felt their soft, slightly moist kisses press gently but firmly to his face as he lay immobilized out of surprise. They pulled back with faint popping noises and Galen felt his heart pounding away rapidly, a blank look on his face.

“Ah think ya broke him, girls,” Apple Bloom joked with a blush of her own from her seat while Granny cackled with unrestrained laughter. Pinkie Pie looked away in slight embarrassment despite her small smile while Applejack chuckled weakly, a hoof coming bashfully to a cheek that had dimpled from her own smile. “You two go on to the kitchen and let the poor guy cool off a bit,” she chided with a little giggle.

“Ah'll say,” Granny chimed in, voice higher pitched from her mirth. “Haven't seen a stallion get that flustered in a long time. You two are dangerous fer 'is blood pressure.”

“Go on now,” Apple Bloom said with a laugh as she hopped off her seat and started pushing the two mares away. “Git!”

Applejack and Pinkie giggled as they were shuffled off and went along with the smaller filly's pushing and prodding, gently cradling their new treasures the whole while. When the three had gone, Granny Smith chuckled as she looked over at Galen. “Those two mares got their eyes set on ya, sonny,” she said with mirth silvering her words. “They're gonna chase ya ta ground an' there's not a thing you can do ta stop it. They were ready ta wait fer ya ta get settled with yer forge, but yer gifts blew those plans ta smithereens.”

“Wha?” Galen said as his wits came back. “W-why me?”

“You're gonna have ta ask those two their own reasons, sonny,” she replied with a wry smile before turning a terrifyingly serious expression on him, promising retribution if he hurt her family because he led them on. “But if you're not interested, you had better come clean right now. Ah won't stand ta see ma granddaughter an' 'er marefriend led on. If ya need some time ta think about it, Ah'll give it to ya, but Ah wanna hear yer final answer with my own two ears an' see yer sincerity with my own two eyes. Ah won't hold it against ye if ya just wanna stay friends, but Ah won't stand fer it if ya play with their hearts.”

“Ah-” his voice choked off, causing him to cough roughly to clear it enough to continue. “Ah understand, Granny. Ah'm not sure what ta make out of everythin' jus' yet, but Ah'll have yer answer as soon as Ah figure it out.”

“That's all Ah ask, youngun,” she said with a motherly smile. “Now, you look like ya could use a stiff drink or ten, so take a seat and Ah'll be right back ta set ya straight.”

Galen nodded numbly and picked himself up off of the floor, stumbling slightly as he made the short walk to the couch and sat down hard. Granny returned from wherever she had gotten herself off to and carried with her a crystal decanter filled with a deep amber liquor with a matching pair of low, wide crystal tumblers. She sat the items on the narrow end table and poured each of them a splash of drink and recapped the decanter. Granny took her glass, tilted it around and watched it make its circuit before making a little toast to herself before tossing it back without a trace of a grimace, “Ta young love an' all the craziness that come with it.” Galen grunted his agreement as he took his own tumbler and tossed it back, barely tasting the honeyed apple brandy as it made its fiery way down his throat. Granny chuckled and poured him a double shot before she took her previous seat on the other side of the end table and splashed herself another shot.


They were still there when Big Mac came back from the fields and looked around cautiously for anything he should keep his snout out of. He took a long look at Galen's slightly hunted expression and Granny's happy smile and wished the man good luck in his head. It wasn't his problem and his sister would kick his flank if he interfered in any way, so he just made his way to the kitchen where Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Apple Bloom were bustling around as they made dinner. His sister and her marefriend had changed out of their ridiculous uniforms and he was just fine with that. They all seemed in exceptionally happy moods as they went about their tasks, so he just kept quiet and took his customary seat at the table, waiting patiently for everything to happen on its own. Everything would fall where it would, so he just smiled and settled in for the dust to clear.

A Chaotic Venture

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A Chaotic Venture

The next morning saw Galen rather unsure of himself as he lay in his bed idly rubbing Riley's head at the crack of dawn. Normally, he knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it, but as of right now he was floundering. Last night, he had found out that not only Applejack, but Pinkie Pie as well had romantically inclined feelings for him. Lero's words had come to pass and he had quickly adjusted to seeing them as more than what they outwardly appeared. It was in this light that he thought about the two mares; he thought about who they were and not what they were. He gave up a few minutes later. Thinking by itself was never one of his strong suits anyway as he preferred to think as he did something else, letting his problems percolate in the back of his mind so he could eliminate any clouding thoughts and get straight to the heart of the matter.

He sighed and sat up, rubbing Riley roughly up and down his side to wake him up. Riley grumbled in his doggy way and squirmed in pleasure as Galen brought his nails into the equation, scratching him in all the right places. He stopped after a few more times and Riley let out a puff of contentment. Galen snorted and got out of bed. “Yew wanna go on a trip today, Riles?” he asked his dog. Riley's ears perked up immediately as he snapped to attention and looked up at Galen happily. “Tha' so, huh? Well, le's get a bite ta eat an' head out.”

Riley gave an excited bark and bounded from their room and into the kitchen followed shortly by Galen. Applejack was there with Apple Bloom whipping up hash browns, hotcakes and all kinds of other delicious treats for breakfast. Applejack laughed as Riley sidled up beside her and tried to snatch the most recent hotcake from the skillet on the platter, only to be thwarted by a quick shove to move him away from the counter by Applejack. “Git you thievin' dog,” she said with a laugh. “You have your own food ta eat.” Riley gave her a hurt expression but moved off to eat his bowl of kibble that rested beside a dozing Winona.

“Mornin',” Galen said softly.

Applejack flushed and gave him a shy smile as she turned to look at him. “Mornin',” she replied softly. “Sleep well?”

“Yeah,” he replied as he moved to take a seat at the table.

“You have anythin' goin' on today?” she asked as she turned back to the sizzling skillet, pouring another dollop of batter that hissed loudly on contact before quieting down some.

“Jus' a little wanderin' in tha woods,” he replied. “Gotta go find tha trails an' get a lay o' tha land.”

“Ah,” she said as the conversation petered out.

Apple Bloom gave her sister an irked expression and turned to Galen. “You wanna go into town with Applejack around nine? It's a half day for the market and I'm sure she'd love a chance ta spend some time with ya.”

“Bloom!” she said as she looked at her younger sibling, her blush blazing brighter. She glanced nervously over at Galen, but was unwilling to contradict her sister's nudging them together like this.

“What?” the filly asked boldly. “You were dilly dallying like a filly talkin' to her first crush. If Ah didn't ask 'im, you never would've gotten 'round to it.” Applejack didn't have an answer to that except to pull the brim of her hat down over her eyes. “So, how 'bout it, Galen? Wanna take this fair filly into town later?”

Galen couldn't help but laugh, an easy grin coming to him as Applejack ducked her head a bit. He looked over to the ticking clock on the wall and noted that it was only a little after six in the morning. He gave it a little thought and decided that he could make his venture a short one. “Ah don' see why not,” he replied. “Wasn't plannin' on spendin' all day out there anyway.”

“See?” Apple Bloom chided mirthfully to her sister. “You just had to ask.” Applejack just muttered something that made Apple Bloom chuckle in response. The rest of the preparations finished quickly as Big Mac and Granny joined them in the kitchen. Breakfast was served and eaten quickly, Galen finishing well before everyone as he only took half a helping extra after his first load. He made his excuses, retreated to his room for his bracer, bow, arrows, charm-knife and a few thin strings that he used for snares. He strode back through the house with a quick whistle to call Riley to him and left in good order. He struck out to the south and made his way through the orchard with long, ground eating strides and emerged to see the buffer of hills between the orchard and the wild woods. Riley was wound up with excitement but knew better than to leave Galen's side when they were going into the woods, so he didn't run off no matter how much he wanted to.

Galen took his time then to string his bow with practiced efficiency and tested the draw before pulling an arrow from his quiver, holding it in place with his left index finger. Satisfied with his preparedness, he continued on through the hills and entered the dark forest with a healthy dose of caution. To be honest, it wasn't much different from most of the forests back on earth, but there seemed to be an odd sense of dark awareness to it. Like it was some kind of beast that would try to swallow him without a trace. He shrugged his shoulders and snorted a breath as though challenging the forest to even try.

He made his way forward slowly, Riley following closely behind in a crouched position, ready to pounce or dash away depending on the situation as he was even more on edge than Galen was. They went straight into the forest for almost ten minutes, the forest swallowing them within moments and hiding the outside world barely a minute into their trek. Thanks fully for him, his experience in the woods let him keep an internal compass pointed toward the outside as he meandered on his way. The forest was alive, but it was as though it was subdued. Galen had been in the woods in conditions similar to this and he knew what it meant. There was an apex predator around. He knew enough to look out for the signs and even more of how to get away from these predators.

Once he was far enough into the woods that his nerves seemed to be balanced on a knifes edge, he started scouting around the area, heading west so that he could scout the area. Riley gave a little whine of displeasure at being in the forest with something that quieted the forest so much. Galen made a little noise in the back of his throat which Riley took for encouragement and he wagged his tail a bit, knowing that he'd be getting a big treat when this was all over. As Galen scoured the forest floor, he was rewarded with the sight of a very well used rabbit trail in the undergrowth. With a grin, he knelt down quietly as he pulled a snare line from his bag and went about his task of setting it up with the aid of a young, springy sapling; setting his bow down to do his work quickly. Riley gave the most pitiful whine and Galen froze as he felt the forest seem to hold its breath around him and a presence made itself known to him.

Oh shit, he thought as he looked up. There, roughly thirty feet away in front of him was a sight that made his blood run cold as it looked back at him with glowing green eyes. It easily stood two heads taller than him, had the shape of a heavily muscled wolf and seemed to be made of nothing more than a random assortment of tree limbs. He dropped the snare line and picked his bow back up, knocking the arrow in a smooth motion as he stay crouched. “Rith^,” he muttered in a low growl to Riley. Riley whined, wanting to stay by his masters side in the face of this menacing enemy. “RITH!” Galen yelled as he stood up, drawing his bow to its full bend as he aimed for the creatures chest and let his arrow fly with the sound of a hell born wasp. The creature howled a chilling cry as the arrow struck with a hollow noise and lunged forward as Galen turned tail and fled back the way he came. If he was going to lose this thing, he'd do it in the forest and not out on the hills where it would have free reign to run him down. Riley shot off ahead of Galen, picking out a path for Galen to follow.

Galen's heart was pumping blood through his body that felt like it was laced with ice from the amount of adrenalin pumping through his system. His legs barely even seemed to touch the ground as he fled through the woods and his lungs worked like a bellows used at ten times their normal pace. The trees flashed by him faster and faster as he payed more attention to the ground in front of him and less to the panic that had threatened to overwhelm him only moments before. He had survived being chased down by a pack of wolves, surrounded on all sides by slobbering, snarling beasts that worked together to try and bring him down. That was worse than outrunning a single monstrosity in unfamiliar woods.

They ducked, wove and skidded through the woods on their flight, Galen glancing over his shoulder on occasion only to see the thing still on their trail, Galen's white fletched arrow bobbing almost comically from its chest. Their flight took them back east, past Fluttershy's cottage and down into a shallow valley. Galen spotted a path through the gloom and picked up his pace, hoping to make use of it at least temporarily. Suddenly, a bright blue patch of flowers surrounded him and Riley, hidden from sight by the undergrowth and quasi-darkness blending their color with the rest of the forest. The wooden monstrosity halted its pursuit of them with an annoyed growl and came to a skidding halt. Galen looked over his shoulder at the noise and continued a few more places before slowing to a stop. The thing shot Galen a resentful glare, paced back and forth twice more and retreated back into the forest, quickly becoming lost to sight in the foliage.

Galen heaved a sigh of relief as he dropped to sit down amid the beautiful flowers before he started laughing out of sheer relief. He supposed that there was more danger in this world than he ever would have imagined. As he thought back about his visit with Fluttershy, he was more than surprised that she of all ponies lived so close to these dangers despite her love of nature. He shook his head and laughed all the harder. Riley dashed over, bowling him over in his zeal as he licked Galen all over his face, relieved that he was alright. Galen finally fended him off after an exceptionally sticky face washing, got up with his bow and made his way over to the path. He shrugged his shoulders to bring some strength back to them and strode off with Riley right behind him, ready just in case that thing decided it still wanted a piece of him. He wasn't sure why it backed off like it did, but he was sure as hell going to keep on his toes for anything out of the ordinary.


Applejack was a bit pissed as she made her way out to the barn where Big Mac was waiting for her. Galen had told her that he was going to go into town with her and here it was, ten minutes after the time she was going to go and he still hadn't shown up. She snorted and tossed her head just before she entered the door and was barreled into by a vibrant pink mass that yelled “Applejack!” as it hit her.

“P-Pinkie?!” she said in surprise. “What's going on?”

“I-It's Galen!” she cried, a few tears leaking from her eyes. Applejack's annoyance at the man evaporated immediately as an icy cold mass settled in the pit of her stomach. “I-I need your help! Yours too Big Mac,” she added as the stallion poked a worried head outside to see what was going on. “Can you bring your oil can? Galen's in a bind and needs our help. He's gonna be really sore if we don't hurry...”

“Eeyup,” he replied with a fierce look before disappearing for a moment to get the requested oil.

“Oil?” Applejack asked in utter confusion. “Why does he need oil? And why would he be getting sore?”

“You'll see!” Pinkie replied with a modestly worried expression as she got off of Applejack and practically hauled her back to her hooves. Big Mac returned with the can balanced expertly on his head and nodded to the mares. “Come on! He must be cramping up really badly right about now!” she yelled to their confusion as she started running back to the road into town with the two worried farm ponies in tow. They made it about a third of the way down the road before Applejack noticed something odd along the side of the road. It seemed to be a gray metal statue shining dully in the morning light while a tiny cairn terrier was yipping and running around it in circles. As they came closer, she looked up to see that it was in fact Galen. If Galen had been pieced together out of metal piping of all sorts. His upper face was much the same, except that his nose had elongated with a small tube and his lower jaw was a piece of sheet metal with shiny curls of copper replicating his beard. On top of his head was what appeared to be a funnel settled at a jaunty angle. In his left hand was a woodcutters ax.

“What's all this?” she asked as humor and confusion fought for dominance.

“I think he ran through some poison joke in the forest,” Pinkie said as she snatched the oil can from Big Mac's head and went about oiling Galen's joints. “Or more like he rolled around in it if he changed this quickly. I think the little dog might be Riley too.” As the odd thumping of the oil can continued, Applejack felt humor win out and she started laughing at the situation. Sure she had been angry with him, but this was something she could forgive easily.

“Hoo...” she finally said as Galen finally started to move jerkily with little metallic shrieks of protest. “Guess we should see about headin' inta town and getting you a bath, Galen.”

Galen, finally oiled up enough to move around normally gave Applejack an annoyed expression. He was about to say something about that, but a sudden tickle in his nose pulled him up short. His face scrunched up, he took in a few quick breaths through his mouth and suddenly he sneezed, a golden explosion of pollen pouring through both the hole in the end of his nose and the funnel on top of his head. It obscured absolutely everything in their sight and when it all settled, they looked around warily.

“Yep,” Pinkie said in a morose tone. “This has poison joke written aaalll over it.”

Applejack looked over to Pinkie Pie and saw that she had been changed quite a bit. Gone was her usual form and in its place was the tawny brown and lithe form of a lioness though she still had her iconic curly mane, albeit a dark brown now, bouncing around her still recognizable face. Applejack looked over to her brother and saw that he was now a she and wearing a plaid dress with a poofy white blouse underneath it while a pair of sparkly little slippers sat snugly on her hind hooves. A cute little padded basket hung around her neck, resting between a pair of pigtails. She had to choke back her laughter, but she just couldn't and she pulled a repeat performance identical to what Rainbow Dash did the other day. Pinkie Pie looked at Applejack and saw that she was wearing what looked to be her Nightmare Night costume, only this time her body seemed to have been transformed into burlap.

“Wha's all this craziness goin' on now?” Galen asked in an incredulous tone as he looked at the transmogrified ponies around him.

“Poison joke,” Pinkie said with a slightly annoyed expression. “It's a magical plant whose pollen creates all kinds of mischief. It's easy to take care of with an herbal bath we can get at the spa.”

“But tha' don' explain this,” he said as he waved an arm to the area around them. The road had been transformed as well, the dirt gone and in its place was a gold paved road that glinted brightly in the mid-morning light. Down the road was what appeared to be a dark green crystal palace shining brightly.

“Well this is different,” she said with a look of utter surprise.

“What're-,” Big mac went to say but cut off with a strangled and incredibly feminine gasp. Applejack laughed all the harder. Pinkie Pie and Galen couldn't help but chortle their own amusement at his embarrassment. Applejack finally laughed herself out and stood up on shaky legs as she wiped tears from her eyes.

“Ah don't think Ah've ever laughed that hard in my life,” she said weakly as she pulled her brother-cum-sister into an apologetic hug. “Sorry for laughing at ya, Big Mac.”

“Alright,” Big Mac replied in annoyance with her new voice, a light tenor that almost matched Rarity. “But what're we gonna do?”

“Looks like we can either stand around talking or go to the obvious place where Discord's waiting for us and get some answers,” Pinkie Pie answered with a giggle, one of her large canines poking out cutely over her bottom lip. At her words, Applejack and Big Mac gave little groans of annoyance as realization suddenly dawned on them as to why this was happening.

“Who 'r what's 'Discord?” Galen asked with a look of slight worry.

“He's the god of chaos and tends ta do this ta ponies on occasion,” Applejack replied in an annoyed voice as she started walking off down the road. “He'll set it straight soon enough or Fluttershy'll have words with him.” Galen looked to Pinkie and Big Mac, shrugged and followed after her despite his curiosity. The other two were right behind him after the tiny terrier jumped up and settled down in Big Mac's basket with a smug expression. Big Mac just gave a sigh and rolled her eyes before just deciding to go with it. They made their way quickly enough and watched little dioramas of scenes that tickled the back of Galen's mind. Then it clicked when he saw the plastic flying monkeys carousing around on their strings. They had been transformed into the main characters from the Wizard of Oz.

“Oh mah god,” Galen groaned with a palm to his forward. The others stopped and gave him an odd look. “Whatever tha' god o' yers, 'r whatever, is recreatin' a movie back from mah world. Seriously... What tha 'ell?”

“That seems to be what he's good at,” Pinkie replied with a smile. “He's always doing something or saying things that almost nopony gets.”

Galen just grunted at that. They picked up their pace so that they wouldn't be messing around like this all day and put it behind them. They had to take a couple pit stops to re-oil Galen when his joints started rusting up on him again. They took a brief rest at a group of plush couches sitting the the middle of a poppy field that was snowing only on the flowers, leaving the couches nice and warm. That was roughly a quarter mile from the now looming Emerald Palace and they figured that they wouldn't want to show up overly sweaty or oily in Galen's case. He leaked black oil instead of sweat much to the amusement of the others. It was really quite nice, but they didn't rest for long and continued on their way.

Finally, they stood at the massive front doors of the Palace and just walked in as the door glided open noiselessly on perfectly balanced hinges when Galen moved to knock on it. Inside was a massive foyer with another door on the other side. As they crossed it, a witches cackling sounded from above which made them look up to see a paper witch leave behind a floating trail that spelled out 'SURRENDER DOROTHY.' The others look to Galen to clarify the meaning and he just shook his head and muttered darkly about shoving his metal foot up a certain god of chaos' ass.

They entered the door on the other side and were greeted with a massive holographic projector displaying Discord's disembodied head. “WHO DARES APPROACH THE GREAT AND POW-OH! HEY! I'M NOT DONE MONOLOGUEING!” he thundered. Not even waiting for Discord to get his steam rolling, Galen moved over to the curtained alcove where he was manipulating the projector and abruptly pulled him out by the scruff of his neck. “Oh, come now my boy!” Discord said in a chipper tone. “It was all done in good fun!”

“Ah swear if yew don' take care o' all this an' set us straight, Ah'll plant mah foot so far up yer ass tha' Ah'll be ticklin' yer tonsils with mah toenails an' yew'll be fartin' metal shavings fer weeks,” Galen threatened as he tossed the god in front of the small group of irked ponies and a cutely smiling lioness.

“Okay, okay,” Discord said with a sigh as he got up, brushing the dust off of his chest. “I did have a reason for all of this, just so you know. Sage words of advice and all that.”

“Alright,” Applejack said as her expression softened somewhat at his honest explanation. She could tell that he didn't mean any harm and honestly thought he had good advice for them. “Ah suppose we can at least hear him out if he was honestly tryin' ta help us.” The others looked flatly at her, but she just shrugged, nodded and gave a little smile.

“Applejack!” Discord said with a wide grin. “The voice of reason! I suppose I can lead with you first. If you'd kindly follow me?” She nodded and followed him back to the curtained alcove which had transformed into a lounge set with a tea set, a pair of cups steaming gently on their saucers. “Care for a cup?” he asked as he took one of chairs for himself. Applejack just shook her head as she sat across from him. “Well then, I'm sure you'd like to hear my advice.”

“Yep,” she answered. “Don't mean ta rush ya, but today's a market day an' Ah have things that need doin'.”

“You let me worry about that,” he replied enigmatically. Applejack just snorted in amusement. “Anyway, there's a reason why you and Galen are dressed as you are. You two are the exact opposites of your characters as you are right now. You, Applejack, have absolutely too much on your mind, versus too little While our dear boy's heart is guarded tighter than a prince in a keep. You're planning and plotting, trying to work out the best way for things to come out when you should just let things happen naturally. Trust the others to rise to the occasion and they'll surpass your every dream.”

“So, you did all this just ta tell me ta take it easy?” she asked in a deadpan voice.

“Would you have listened if I had just popped up and asked you to heed some advice?”

“Ah suppose not," she replied with a sigh. "But next time, just do that and not... this. Did give me a good laugh with what ya did ta my brother, even if it wasn't nice of me, or you, ta do that.”

“So, you'll think about my advice?” he asked sincerely.

“Ah'll give it a try,” she answered with a smile.

“That's all I ask,” he replied magnanimously. “If you could, please send Pinkie Pie in next?”

“Sure thing,” she said as she hopped off her chair and left to fetch her marefriend. “Discord's askin' for you next Pinkie.”

“Alrighty,” she said as she bounced off to the side room. Surprisingly, it was the same as when Applejack was in it and Discord asked her if she'd care for some of the same tea to which she declined as she took her seat across form him. “So!” she began once she settled on her chair, licking a front paw cutely while she leveled a narrowed eye at Discord. “What advice do you have for me?”

“Simply be yourself, be confident and open your heart to the ponies... er... entities that you love,” he simply said. Pinkie froze on the spot with a light pink blush.

“That's easier said than done,” she muttered with a little puff of air.

“Why's that?” he asked.

“Well, you haven't had several dozen failed dates because you were wound up too tight or nervous about making a good first impression because the first ten dates came crashing down in exploding flames by being yourself,” she replied in a deadpan. Discord blinked as he tried to triage the damage caused by her blunt force reprisal. “I mean, Applejack's the longest running relationship I've had to date and I'm so so so worried that I'm going to do or say something that might ruin what we've got.”

“Pinkie Pie,” he replied softly as the gears in his mind finally reengaged. “How long have you known Applejack and how long has she known you as more than simply an acquaintance and more as a good friend? A few years now, right?” She nodded in reply before cocking her head at his odd question. “Well, I think she knew exactly what she was getting into when she started going out with you. She knows that you're quirky, that you value the happiness of others as the ultimate currency in your life, that happiness and fun are what you live and breathe. So what would she think if you thought that you needed to be less of who you are to be with her? That you felt you had to lock away part of yourself just to make her love you?”

Pinkie's expression fell lower and lower at his examples of exactly what she had been doing and what she thought she had to do. “S-she'd probably be r-really sad,” she said quietly, fighting back her tears as he struck right at the center of her worries.

Discord floated up and over to Pinkie, wrapping her up in a one armed hug. “Exactly,” he said in a consoling tone. “That's why you shouldn't do what you're doing. Because if you bring anything less than your everything to the table, they're going to feel cheated and you're going to feel resentment, even if it's directed at yourself. You just have to have the courage to open up and be yourself. Completely and without reservation. I can tell you that they will need you, all of you, sometime in the future. Galen especially.”

“Can you tell me what's going on?” she asked as her sadness washed away.

“I'm sorry, Pinkie,” he replied seriously. “If I tell you anything about what's going on, it could change the outcome of everything... But my advice is still good, even if a grim and terrible fate didn't rest on it...”

Pinkie's expression turned to shock at his words, leaving her spluttering as she tried to get out a response. “H-huh?! Bu-but how?! Why?! Wh-who! When?!”

“Enough foreshadowing for now, Pinkie,” he replied with a well natured wink. “But I would appreciate it if you'd keep that last bit just between you and I...”

Pinkie pushed her jaw back up with an audible clack before she gave a feeble nod in agreement. “I can do that,” she said in a faint voice.

“Thank you, my friend,” he replied gently as he pulled her into a hug. “But my advice still stands. Be yourself as best you can and have the courage to let them love you as you are. Quirkiness and all.”

Pinkie gave Discord a massive smile that lit up the room and launched into him with a bone crushing hug. They hit the floor with audible popping sounds as his spine was forcibly realigned and a surprised gasp followed quickly by a pleasured groan as the long ignored tension in his back was suddenly let lose. Pinkie giggled as she looked up at Discord. “Seems to me that some-draconeqqus has been under a lot of stress...”

“Maybe a little...” he conceded with an uneasy expression.

“But seriously,” she said warmly as she changed the topic back. “Thanks for kidnapping us and giving us some advice. Although, I don't know why you included Big Mac...”

“Just needed someone to come along for the ride to fill out the cast,” he replied with a chuckle. “Can't do something like this without at least a little chaos...”

Pinkie giggled as she let him go and bounced back a step while Discord floated back up to settle down on his rear legs. “I guess,” she said with a little smile. “So... you want to talk to Galen next?”

“If you wouldn't mind,” he replied with a grin. “He probably has the biggest stakes in all of this, everything considered.”

“Okay,” she said in a tiny voice. “Can you at least tell me a little bit about what's going on?”

“I'm sorry my dear,” he replied sadly. “I must keep certain to airs so that things hopefully turn out for the better.”

“Alright...” she said with a cute little pout before a memory lit up her expression. “Oh! A while back, I kinda had a Sense thingy about Galen a while back a few days after I officially met him telling me that he needed somepony to make this place a home to him. Does your secret have anything to do with that?”

“Maybe?” Discord said with a helpless expression. “I've heard about your Pinkie Sense, but even I have no idea what it is or how it works.” Pinkie gigged at that. “In any case, I have no doubt that you and Applejack can make this place a home for Galen if anypony can.”

“Awww...” Pinkie said with a faint blush and a nuzzle under his chin. “Thanks.”

“Anyway, I'm sure everyone's wondering what's taking us so long, especially since my little chat with Applejack was so short,” Discord said with a sigh. “It was quite nice talking with you, Pinkie Pie. We really should get to know each other better. You seem like a lot of fun.”

“Maybe I can find some time to throw a God of Chaos meet and greet at Sugar Cube Corner... as long as you promise to keep it tame,” Pinkie replied with a slightly serious expression. “Since the Cakes have the twins, I don't want too much funny business going on.”

“That sounds wonderful and you have my word,” he said with a smile while he made a shooing motion with his lion paw. Pinkie giggled as she got the message and bounded from the room to fetch Galen who had adopted an expression of quiet suffering. It really was quiet suffering as his joints had rusted up again without anypony noticing and was starting to cramp up from being locked in place for so long. They oiled him with giggles and apologies aplenty before he was sent on his clanking way at Pinkie's words.

“Now...” he growled as he walked into the room with Discord. “What do yew want?”`

“Please,” Discord replied with a sneer, resorting to old habits to cover his unease at the situation. If he didn't handle this just right, things might not turn out so well for everyone involved at the end of everything. “It's not what I want, it's what's best for you that I want...”

“Why would yew want tha'?” Galen asked in confusion, all thoughts of separating the limbs from Discord's body and returning them to their rightful owners forgotten in a flash.

“Well... it would be amusing to say the very least,” Discord mused with a chuckle as Galen growled and hefted his ax. “Come now, my dear boy. No harm has come to you or anypony you care about. The only thing I ask of you is to lend me your ear for a bit and ask that you heed my advice.”

Galen puffed out a breath as he looked Discord up and down, taking in his tense and worried posture. If he was so worried about something as little as this, it really couldn't hurt to just listen to the fellow, could it? “Ah suppose,” Galen replied with a warning in his voice. “But Ah'll have yer word tha' yew'll make this wasted time up ta Applejack. Ah won' have 'er sales mucked up because yew couldn't come talk ta us proper.”

“You have it,” Discord replied quickly as a relieved smile brightened his face. Galen nodded and eased his stance.

“Come on then,” Galen said impatiently. “Out with it.”

“Alright,” Discord said as a steely expression settled on his face. “From what I've heard, you have two mares vying for your heart, is that not so?” Galen didn't say anything, although the bit of steam suddenly flowing from his funnel gave away his embarrassment as did his curt nod. “Well... would it really be so bad if you gave up looking for a way back?”

Galen felt like he had been punched in the gut without warning. “Why would yew ask tha'?” he asked warily. Sure, he was invested in finishing his project and paying it off, but Celestia had promised him answers about a potential way back home in the next week or two since she was supposed to be looking into it. If he had a chance at going back home, he wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't take it once all his debts had been settled, but the curve ball thrown his way by Pinkie Pie and Applejack had rocked his boat more than he'd want to let on.

“Well, you have a pretty pair of fillies chasing after you for starters,” Discord replied with a little grin. Galen's expression changed to one of unease at that. “Oh, come now, Galen. Surely you can't be so shocked by that, can you? A strong male like yourself who works hard for what he wants and doesn't simply collapse in despair when he finds himself in another world with but a paltry few possessions to call his own.”

“Kinda,” he replied with a metallic clang as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Not sure if Ah would end up leavin' them for sure if there is a way back ta where Ah came from. Ah know Leera's got a life here an' 'e loves 'is wives, but Ah'm still jus' tryin' ta find out where Ah fit in with evr'ything. Ah jus' don' wanna start somethin' Ah'm not sure Ah can be faithful to...”

“Let me ask you this instead,” Discord said in a ponderous tone. “Is it a home you're trying to return to or is it just a longing for what's familiar?”

Galen froze at his words. Is that it? he thought to himself as his mind was quickly thrust into high gear. Am Ah really jus' tryin' ta get back ta what Ah know? Sure, tha' village was where Ah grew up in an'd there's plenty o' good memories there, but it ain't like it used ta be. Ah mean, Ah leave fer months at a time jus' ta do mah own thing an' there's barely a welcome back when Ah come strollin' down main street.

“How much do you really know,” he said defensively instead, unused to having his mind cracked open so casually. “Why do ya care so much 'bout me an' those fillies?”

Discord's expression turned gleeful at that as he twisted and turned sinuously in the air above where he stood. “I simply know what I know and probably a few things I shouldn't. But to answer your second question, I suppose it's because I have a thing for the chaotic and your life happens to be neck deep in it at the moment. Maybe it's because I've found that love is the only madness that any entity willingly throws themselves into and I want to see how it plays out. If it plays out well, it ends up boring, stable and happy, but the ride along the way is simply spectacular.”

Galen's expression turned ugly at that as he strode forward purposefully with a deep growl in his throat. “They ain't no game or ride. It ain't a thing ta sit back an' watch fer yer own amusement... Fer some reason, they've fallen fer me, but Ah'll be thrice damned an' throw maself straight down tha mouth o' hell if Ah'll let them end up as somethin' fer yew ta laugh at.” He lunged forward the last couple paces and grabbed Discords horns in his steely grip as he felt a deep and unbowing well of strength well up from the pit of his stomach. He wrenched Discords head down so that he could stare the god of chaos eye to eye. “Their lives are theirs ta live, an' Ah swear if yew ever...” he paused for a breath as he felt a hard, razor sharp determination swell up to match a sudden blossoming of raging passion matching and melding with the strength he felt. He felt like he could move a mountain if he had to. “Ever make those fillies regret their relationship or where their hearts lead them, Ah'll find a way ta make yew rue tha' decision fer tha rest o' yer days...”

Discord felt pure, unadulterated joy at Galen's proclamation. This was the hard one, the one whose walls he had to crack and he had done it spectacularly. Now, he just had to let those cute fillies plant their little seeds and let their vines exploit those cracks. “Oh~ So scary...” Discord said with a chuckle as he detached his head from his horns with a little difficulty and walked off. “I guess I'll have to keep my distance in that case.”

“Discord!” Galen yelled a moment after he got over his confusion at holding a mismatched set of horns. “What're yew playing at? Why do yew even care? We're only three in a world o' thousands an' thousands... Why us...”

“Because you have some some forging to do, blacksmith,” Discord replied in a sinister rumble.

“What're yew talkin' 'bout?” Galen asked in confusion.

“Something that you'll know after some time,” he replied as he magicked into existence a anvil, hammer and a piece of jet black coal. “But just remember that you can destroy as easily as you can create with these things...” At his words, the things he brought to the room cracked and shattered, falling into a pile of tinkling shards and dust. Discord snapped his fingers and in a blinding flash of light the pair was back with the others, Discord standing at their head as Galen had been moved to stand in their ranks. “I thank you for your time, everypony, dog and man. To return home, I must direct you to little Miss Mac who has had the means to do so the entire time!”

Everypony traded flat stares between Big Mac and Discord while Galen slapped his face with a clang, muttering “Why didn't Ah think o' tha'?”

“Simply click your rear hooves together while saying 'there's no place like home' and POOF!” at his last word, Discord literally exploded in a nova of glitter. “You'll be back at Sweet Apple Acres, back to normal and everything along with a little something for your trouble,” his disembodied voice continued, a smile evident in its tone.

When it was evident Discord had nothing else to say to them, they all looked to Big Mac whose red cheeks had darkened a few shades and shuffled at suddenly being the center of attention. “Well?” Applejack said with a raised eyebrow. “Get on with it.”

Big Mac shuffled on her hooves a bit.

“Come on,” Pinkie Pie added with a smile. “Get on with it!”

Big Mac's blush deepened and she looked down at the floor.

Everyone sighed and yelled “Get on with it!”

A rumbling disembodied voice chimed in with a sigh a second later, “Oh, come on! Get on with it!”

Big Mac and everyone looked around for a startled moment before Big Mac took a deep breath and did as instructed, muttering “There's no place like home” while clacking her rear hooves together. After her fifth repetition, a white fog rose up from the ground and obscured everything. After some time, the fog dissipated and they looked around to see that they were all standing in front of the Apple's barn, everything still as it was. The moment Riley found his species and dimensions returned, he gave a high pitched bark of joy and ran off in search of Winona. “So that was a thing,” Pinkie Pie said with a giggle at seeing her familiar hooves and fur back to normal. She looked around a bit and let out a loud “Ooh!” as she spotted a small bag filled with five solid gold apples, complete with a small stem and a tiny leaf enameled the proper colors. “These are awesome!” she said with a bounce, her grin coming close to splitting her face in two as she balanced one on top of her head. “And it looks like Discord was nice enough to give us each one, Riley included!”

“Gotta admit,” Applejack with a smile at the apples. “At least he knows how ta give his gifts a bit o' flair... But at the least, Ah got some things Ah gotta think about tonight.”

“Me too,” Pinkie replied a bit quietly before her chipper attitude resurfaced a split second later. “But that doesn't mean you aren't getting out of our plans on Friday.” She finished with smoldering eyes and a brief kiss on Applejack's lips.

Applejack flushed a bit at that and chuckled with a goofy smile. “Ah wouldn't miss that for the world,” she said.

Galen cleared out his throat politely, a faint blush on his cheeks. “Yew still want me ta come inta town with ya, Jack?”

“Sure,” she replied with a smile. “And Ah'll even pay for lunch despite everything that happened.”

“Hey,” Galen replied defensively. “Ah was chased by some massive wolf made out o' wood! Ah think Ah deserve a bit o' slack fer extenuatin' circumstances.”

“Oh!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed with wide eyes. “You're lucky you survived without even a light mauling! We've had a few encounters with the timber wolves before and they're super mean. We were crazy lucky and Applejack only had a pinched ankle for our trouble.”

“Yeah,” Applejack said sternly as she looked up at Galen. “You should steer clear o' them things. Might extend your life by a good while.”

“Yew can say tha' again,” Galen groused with an amused snort. “Damn thing chased me an' Riley fer a couple miles easily. Didn't know what Ah was dealin' with an' lost an arrow ta it before we ran.”

“At least that was the only thing you lost,” Applejack said softly, a worried expression warring against her other emotions at his revelation. “If you're gonna go out again, make sure you drop by Fluttershy's again an' have her give you the low down on the Everfree.”

“Ah'll make sure ta do tha',” he replied with a nod. “Sorry 'bout worryin' yew like tha', Jack. Ah know Ah didn't mean fer any o' this to happen.”

“Nopony does, especially when Discord gets involved,” she said with a snort.

“I think this calls for a 'Galen didn't get mauled to death' lunch date,” Pinkie Pie said with a smirk.

“Ah think that sounds along the lines of what Ah was planning,” Applejack supplied. “How 'bout we meet up 'round one?”

“I'll reserve us a table,” Pinkie said before Galen could get a single word in protest out. “See you two there.” With that, Pinkie bounded off with her peculiar leaping gait, golden apple bobbing and bouncing as she made her way as she left the group to gather their things for market as well as the rest of their wits.

“Well, come on,” Applejack said as she made her way into the barn to get hitched to her wagon. “The day waits for nopony.”

Galen snorted at that with a slightly dazed smirk while he took his bow, quiver and bracer off to rest in the tool room just inside the barn, the bag of surprisingly heavy gold apples coming to join his belongings while they were off in town. After taking care of everything, he was just in time to catch Applejack and match her pace as she started out of the barn while Big Mac hurried around to pick up where he had left off on his chores. Galen left the farm with a little sigh and a whole new set of thoughts percolating in the back of his mind as he strode down the road by Applejack's side.

Hunting Birds and Punching Ponies

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Hunting Birds and Punching Ponies

Applejack and Galen made it into market at a fairly reasonable time with all things considered, trundling in close to eleven o'clock. There were a few well natured taunts and catcalls asking where her uniform was and dubious questions bout why she was so late compared to usual, but she responded with quick wit and sarcastic replies despite her fetching blush. Galen snickered at the interchange, happy that his forced march hadn't wounded her standing in town at all. Applejack just gave him a look that if he did much more, she'd have words to share with him which made him chortle in amusement at the whole thing. She just shook her head with a smirk without saying a word in reply.

When they arrived to her usual spot, she had Galen move a few of the bushels around to display her wares while she propped up the sign and counter. Quickly enough, more than a few ponies had queued up to get their fresh apples which had Applejack hopping with business and Galen hopping at her requests. He noticed this and quietly thanked her for treating him fairly instead of like a hired hoof (or hand as the case may be). Time seemed to fly by and quickly enough the lunch hour came around and Applejack took the bits earned from their time in business before leading Galen off to Sugar Cube Corner.

The bakery was bustling, a dull roar of general noise greeting them as would be expected of the hour and they spotted Pinkie Pie juggling three conversations at once while serving four others all the while. To be honest, they weren't entirely sure if it was one mare doing all that or several with the speed and fluidity she was exhibiting. A moment after they entered, Pinkie called out to the kitchen, “I'm going on break for a few minutes like I asked for, Mrs. Cake!”

“Okay, dearie,” called a motherly sounding voice from the kitchen. “Just give me a moment so I can take over.”

“Okay!” she called back before she turned her attention to Applejack and Galen. “You two can go pop a squat over there.” She motioned to a comfortable looking booth nestled over in the corner of the large storefront windows met the wall. Applejack smiled warmly while Galen gave an appreciative nod and made their way over. Galen sat facing the window on the sun soaked bench while Applejack took the opposite booth with a grateful smile at being given the shaded bench. They only waited for a few minutes before Pinkie was able to make her way over to the pair, sliding onto the bench with Applejack after depositing a tray of drinks and pastries on the table. She gave Applejack a warm nuzzle and a quick smooch without even a blush before she turned to give Galen a very warm smile that made him smile as he felt his own happiness rise to mirror hers.

“So, how's yer day been goin'?” he asked to start the conversation.

“It's been absolutely cray-cray!” Pinkie said as she flung both hooves up and over her head while she rolled her eyes. “We had five separate catering orders to do that I stalled a bit because of our trip with Discord and I've only just finished helping with that while dealing with the customers. Let me tell you, I almost wish I could have a strong cider or two right about now. I mean, it wouldn't be so bad, but I've been distracted with Discord's advice this whole time and I've had a few dozen eensy-weensy-itty-bitty slip ups that I totally should have caught but didn't.”

“Don't worry about it,” Applejack said as she leaned gently against Pinkie. “Ah'm sure the Cake's will understand if you told them everything that happened.”

“Well, not everything,” Pinkie replied with a nervous titter as her cheeks darkened in color. “But enough that they knew it wasn't my fault I took so long when I had to run out because of my Pinkie Sense. The rest is all my fault...”

“Ah've heard a few things in passin' 'bout this Sense o' yers,” Galen said as he took a glass of ice water from the tray and sipped it before continuing. “What is it?”

“Nopony really knows,” Pinkie said as she shrugged helplessly. “Not even Discord really knows what it's about or even how it works. The only thing that I and everypony else knows is that it gives me hints and clues about vague things that are going to happen in the near future and I'm left to avoid or manage the consequences.”

“Huh,” he said with raised eyebrows. “Like what sort o' things?”

“Falling things, messes, doors opening, world-shattering changes in someponies perception of the world,” she began listing nonchalantly by rote.

“Swarms of bugs, when a friend is feeling down in the dumps, when a squirrel forgets where it stored its cache o' nuts for the winter,” Applejack continued.

“When it's my lucky day, when there's an alligator in the bathtub, when a rainbow's going to appear,” Pinkie added.

“When my cider's been aged to perfection, when she's gonna find money just laying about, when she's going to help somepony find their soul mate,” Applejack said with a grin directed at Pinkie who blushed fetchingly as she brought a foreleg up to partially hide her little smile. “And a whole lot more besides.

Galen looked between the pair with a flat expression, quite unsure about what to make of that exceptionally eclectic list of her precognitive skills. With Applejack vouching for the validity of her abilities, he was willing to believe in her natural intuition but felt that he should still take it all in with a grain of salt. At least until he's had a chance to see it in action. He shifted in his seat and coughed into his hand before he smiled back at them, “Ah'll take yer word fer it.”

Applejack snorted with an amused expression as Pinkie giggled. “Just spend a day with her and Ah'm sure you'll be a believer by the end,” Applejack said with a knowing smirk while Pinkie blushed at the proposition.

“Oh, you don't have to do anything like that,” she said quickly enough as her blush intensified while looking down at the table, waving a hoof back and forth as if she were trying to brush the idea away. “U-unless you w-want to, that is...” she finished softly in a perfect imitation of Fluttershy as part of her mane dropped over half of her face while she looked back up at Galen with a glittering cerulean eye. At the sight, he felt a uncontrollable jolt in his chest and felt his neck and cheeks warm up.

“Ah-” he cut off as his voice caught in his throat and coughed into his hand for a quick moment before taking another sip of water. Applejack's smirk turned to a full blown smile at this. “Ah don' see why we couldn't...”

Pinkie's blush blazed to new heights which made her seek refuge as she ducked her head behind Applejack's withers while the farm mare chuckled and held her in a half hug. “Ah think that's a 'yes,'” she said warmly to Galen whose own cheeks felt as though they were radiating heat. “Well, now that you two have a date set for whenever her next day off is, how 'bout we get to eating before Pinkie has ta get back to work, yeah?”

“Y-yeah,” Galen replied as he ran a hand through his hair. Now why'd Ah go an' do tha'? he thought in annoyance at himself. Ah haven't even 'ad a chance ta settle down after Discord went an' told me all o' tha' an' sort it out. Was 'e right after all? Galen forcefully bludgeoned these thoughts aside forcefully after his first bite of a chocolate chip cookie went down the wrong pipe due to his distracted nature. Applejack gave him a smarmy taunt at that as she passed the still 'hiding' Pinkie a apple fritter while she bit into a strawberry cupcake.

They ate quickly and finished their drinks in this way with only a modicum of small talk passing between Applejack and Galen, Pinkie Pie only mumbling a reply from behind Applejack when asked something directly, too shy and distracted with thoughts at the moment to really pay attention to the conversation. When they were finished, Pinkie rushed out from behind Applejack in a barely discernible blur of pink with a flash of red, grabbed the tray after collecting their glasses in a loud clatter and rushed off with a gust of wind at her passage that left Galen speechless and Applejack chortling.

“So, you have a date with Pinkie Pie,” Applejack said with a smirk after she had stopped laughing. “When am Ah gettin' mine?”

Galen choked up and felt his flush return, to which Applejack gave an amused little chuckle. “Yew'll get yers soon 'nough,” he replied a little sheepishly, his thoughts making him uncharacteristically sheepish.

“Ah better,” she replied with a content little smile as she scooted out of her seat and onto the floor. Galen slipped out from his own bench and followed Applejack back outside.

“So 'bout how long is tha market open today?” he asked as they walked back down the street.

“It'll be closin' down soon enough,” she replied. “Half days only run 'till two, so we got less than two hours left. You can go wander 'round for a bit if you want to. Ah'm sure Lero wouldn't mind it if ya dropped by for a visit.”

“Ah suppose Ah could do tha',” he said as he looked around. “But Ah think Ah'll take a little walk 'round first ta work mah meal down a bit.”

“Alright,” she said with a smile. “Ah guess you know your way around well enough that Ah shouldn't worry about you getting lost.”

Galen snorted at that, an easy smile coming to him as the pair reentered the market. “In tha' case, Ah'll meet up with ya near Leera's place.”

“Sounds good,” she replied with a wink as she broke away to hurry back to her stall where several ponies were loitering around for her to get back. Galen couldn't help but notice a little sashay to her flanks as she walked away and looked away guiltily before he turned to wander off into town for a bit. He walked down a side street lined with an assortment of shops that catered to pretty much any small amenities that somepony might want or need. He cut down a side alley and didn't notice the light green form trailing him as his mind was a million miles away at the moment. When he had reached the junction of this alley and another cutting through behind the store shops, the form rushed forward and bucked his feet out from under him as he turned to see what the sudden noise was.

He hit the ground hard and quickly found a pair of hooves pressing hard into his chest as he looked up to see a clearly angry mare glaring with an ugly snarl a few inches from his face. Galen froze, not knowing who or why this pony would attack him out of the blue like this, but unwilling to do anything until he knew the entire picture. “What the buck do you think you're doing with Applejack, you freak,” she said roughly as she leaned a little harder into him. “I've known her for years, but I've never seen her do the things she's done with you, not to mention that little stunt you pulled with her and that trampy little get up of hers. She has a mare already, so you just keep your distance.”

“Ah have no idea what yer so pissed 'bout,” Galen replied in confusion. “She did tha' all on 'er own. Besides, they both have their own uniforms...”

“Don't you lie to me,” she said snarling as a ugly sneer twisted her face. “I know how you two legged freaks operate.”

“Wha' tha fuck is yer deal,” Galen shot back with a surge of anger. “Ah haven't done a damn thing!”

“Oh, so she just decided to go running around town like that all on her own?” the mare said mockingly. “You didn't have a thing to do with it? I saw her carrying around some sacks of grain that I know she didn't need to go out and buy while you only carried a copper pot... So you're telling me that she suddenly felt that she needed to be your maid all on her own?”

“Tha's exactly what she did,” Galen snarled. “She said she felt she had ta pay me back an' tha's how she figured she'd do it.”

“What could a monkey like you do to make her even want to pay you back,” she said derisively. “Lero's a good for nothing pervert who makes his living getting all touchy-feely with mares stupid enough to pay for it and I doubt you have much of anything to bring to this town apart from trouble and embarrassment for hard working, honest mares like Applejack.”

“Ah ain't gotta give you shit fer explanation,” Galen replied as he tensed. “Ah know mah own worth an' Ah bet yer jus' jealous tha' yew couldn't get Applejack ta even look yer way.” That got the reaction he wanted as the mare reared back a hoof to strike him. He whipped his hands up, one to grab her raised hoof before she could bring it down and another in a fist that he slammed into her ribs with a satisfying thud and a whoosh of air leaving her involuntarily. She staggered and Galen quickly wrestled her around so that he was in the dominant position with another solid punch to her stomach to drive the point home that he was in charge now. She writhed and groaned with a pitiful cough that only made Galen angrier.

“Now yew listen here, bitch,” he snarled menacingly into her ear as he leaned down in the same way she had done to him, though he pinned her forelegs tightly to her chest, her ankles popping from the force of his grip. Her expression of shock and fear incensing him further because she was nothing more than a bully who was used to getting her way through intimidation and violence more often than not. “What Applejack or Ah get up ta ain't none o' yer god damned business. Ah ain't some pissant who'll jus' roll over an' tuck tail at some harsh words. It'll take a hell of a lot more ta scare me away from a mare tha' Ah like. Ah've dealt with a meddling god of chaos already this mornin' an' yew ain't got shit on 'im, so yew can jus' fuck off or Ah jus' may use yew as an excuse ta blow off some steam. Start any trouble with me again, an' Ah'll be tha one ta end it... fer good.” he finished in little more than a rumbling growl. “Now, Ah'm gonna let yew go an' if Ah hear even a whisper 'bout this floating 'round, Ah know we'll be having words again sometime real soon.”

The mare shuddered and nodded at his words laced with promises of retribution. Galen levered himself up while keeping a grip on her forelegs, letting them go last as he took a quick step back to get out of striking range. The mare got back to her hooves slowly with a look of anger that she quickly snuffed out. Galen hocked a glob of spit and lobbed it into the dust at her hooves to put action to his expression of anger, scorn and contempt. She grit her teeth and turned to walk away with a slight limp from the bruised knot forming on her ribs. Galen felt the tension leave him as her shadowed form walked out into the street and turned off.

He sighed and leaned against a nearby wall. Of all the things here in Ponyville, a mean spirited bully like that was among one of the last things he would have expected. Hopefully that mare would take those bruises as a lesson and keep her snout out of his business from now on. He really didn't want a repeat of his younger years now of all times, getting in scuffs and scrapes with hard headed assholes who thought they were the only law that mattered.

“Mmhmmhmm,” a scratchy feminine voice reminiscent of Rainbow Dash chuckled from somewhere in the alley. Galen pushed himself off from the wall and looked around to see who it was but didn't see anything. “Up here, smith.” It called. Galen looked up and saw what looked to be a rather large eagles head looking over the ledge of the store he had leaned against.

“Yew gonna go tell somepony 'bout what yew saw?” he asked in a resigned tone.

“Oh, nothing of the sort,” she replied with a wave of a talon handed foreleg. “Although if she does, I'm sure you'd appreciate my testimony.”

“Ah probably would at tha',” Galen replied with a rueful smirk. “Name's Galen.”

“Alexandria of Clan Sprocket,” she replied as she stood up and dropped down with a few flaps of her wings. Now that she had fully revealed herself, Galen saw that she was a griffon and was eyeing him up and down in clear approval, if her slowly swishing tail gave any indication. The tips of her primary feathers were a coppery color he noticed as she folded them back to her sides while her leonine half had its familiar tawny color. Her eyes were a smoky gray that seemed to sparkle as they were framed with a gunmetal gray liner. “But I must say, that was quite a display. So many of the ponies around here shy away from violence while others can't seem to find any other way to go about getting the things they want. You seem to know how to use violence quite well, but only after words don't seem to do the trick.”

“Sometimes a good beating's tha only thing some can understand,” he replied with a sigh. “Ah don' like it, but Ah won' shy away from it either if it's tha only way...”

“Ah,” she said in a musing tone. “The fight not fought is the best fight, no? I happen to agree whole heartedly in that sentiment, but sometimes, others don't agree.”

Galen nodded with a little smile. “So, what were yew doin' up there? Jus' watchin' tha show?”

“I would have intervened if it looked like you were in trouble,” she replied cheerily. “That was Honeydew. She's a mare who has a history of causing trouble for ponies who get into interspecies relationships. I'm an auxiliary guard under the command of Lyra Heartstrings. I noticed her suddenly start tailing you when you left Applejack's company and thought I should keep an eye on things just in case.”

“Lyra's a guard?” Galen asked as his eyebrows rose in surprise. “Ah never would 'ave guessed it.”

“Nopony ever does,” Alexandria replied with a smirk. “That's the whole point of us auxiliaries.”

“An' Ah suppose yew want me ta keep tha' bit o' information a secret?”

“If it wouldn't be too much trouble,” she replied thankfully. “I thought it would be a good idea to let you know just in case you ever need our help. Lero knows, of course, as do a few others that we've helped before, but we're not full time guards. We only intervene when and where it's needed if we happen to be in the area, so it wouldn't be conducive for us constantly being sought out for nonsense claims.”

“Ah could see how tha' would be a trouble,” Galen replied with a little grin. “Ah suppose Ah should thank yew fer lookin' out fer me.”

“No thanks are necessary,” she replied. “I'm just doing my job.”

“Ah know,” he replied with a smirk. “But tha thing is, Leera an' Ah are havin' a little cookout this Friday evening an' figured tha more tha merrier, righ'? Yew should come over with us an' 'ave a bite ta eat.”

“I wouldn't want to intrude,” she replied demurely.

“Didn't say yew would,” he shot back. “Besides, Ah'm sure yew'd appreciate a meal yew didn't have ta hunt yerself.”

“Meat?” she asked with a slight widening of her eyes, a suddenly eager expression coming over her expression. “What kind?”

“Ah was thinkin' a brace o' rabbits an' some trout from a local stream,” he replied casually.

Alexandria was practically drooling at the thought. Even though she bought wild rabbits from Fluttershy, she couldn't afford to very often and her hunting time was severely limited due to her primary and secondary jobs, so being offered a veritable feast, her self control shattered spectacularly. “I...” she paused to swallow as her mouth had quickly flooded in anticipation. “I suppose I can as long as you're absolutely sure you don't mind.”

“Don' make me repeat maself,” he replied with a laugh.

“Okay,” she said with a laugh of her own. “You live out at Sweet Apple Acres, no?” Galen nodded. “How about I just fly out there and meet up with you when it's time?”

“Tha' works fer me,” he replied. “Ah was thinkin' sometime just after seven.”

“Fantastic,” she said with a wide smile that curled her beak up at the corners. “I'll see you there. Be sure to stay out of trouble until then,” she said with a laugh as she turned and trotted back to the street proper. Galen just snorted his amusement and gave a little sigh before he too left the alley, reemerging back into the bright light of the day.

Surveying and Surprises

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Surveying and Surprises

After his altercation with Honeydew, Galen made his way back to Applejack's stall, forgetting his earlier desire to drop by Lero's for some advice. Applejack welcomed him back with a smile which quickly faded away as she picked up on his irritated mood. She didn't want to upset him any further, so she just kept her peace and let him be. She trusted that he would tell her what was bothering him if it was really important. The rest of their time in the market passed surprisingly quickly and they were on their way back to the farm, the creaking of her cart the only noise between the pair.

“Yew know some mare named Honeydew?” Galen asked suddenly, catching Applejack off guard.

“Yeah,” she replied, a gasp suddenly sounding as she remembered all the trouble the mare had given Rainbow Dash. “What did she do?” she said in an angry rumble as she stopped the cart, stomping a rear hoof in anger.

“She thought she could scare me off with a bit o' bullyin',” Galen replied with a serious expression as he flexed his fists. “Ah told 'er tha' ain't happening...”

Applejack took a moment to digest that and felt a surge of warmth surge in her chest while a blush crept up on her cheeks. “That so?” she asked in a quiet, warm voice.

“Tha's righ',” he replied with a smile. “She took a couple bruises with 'er ta drive tha point home too.”

“You got in a fight?” she asked, suddenly worried if there would be some huge fiasco like there was with Lero a while back.

“Naw,” he replied with a wave of his hand as he started walking again, Applejack quickly starting again to keep pace. “More like a little scuffle. Didn't even get a broken nail fer mah trouble.”

“That's not what Ah'm worried about,” she said sternly.

“Ah know,” he said with a smirk. “Ah had someone lookin' out fer me from above. Said she'd have mah back if tha' mare tries ta start somethin'.”

“Yer lucky somepony saw what happened in case it comes back ta bite ya,” she replied in a slightly scolding tone.

“Weren't no pony,” he said with a smirk. “It was a griffon.”

That raised Applejack's eyebrows. “That so?”

“Yeah,” he replied with a little grin. “Ah invited 'er ta tha' cookout Leera, Spike an' Ah were havin' as thanks. Speakin' of which, yew think Big Mac might wanna join in?”

“You'll have ta ask him that yourself,” she said with a smirk. “Ah'm sure he'd appreciate the chance ta unwind with a few guys though.”

Galen nodded at that with a smile. They started walking again after a moment, eager to get back to the farm. “So, yew wanna head back in town later tonight?”

Applejack felt a warmth in her cheeks suddenly rise up. “What for?” she asked, curious as to why he'd want to head back to town so soon.

“Jus' a nice meal out on tha town,” he asked with a smirk in response. Applejack's cheeks flared a light pink and Galen chuckled in response. “My treat.”

“Ah couldn't ask you to pay for our whole meal,” Applejack replied with a shake of her head. “Ain't right for a mare to take advantage of a stallion like that.”

“Didn't say yew were,” he replied easily. Applejack's fuming expression said otherwise and he cleared his throat hastily. “Ah guess we c'n split tha bill...” he amended.

“That works,” Applejack said with a satisfied smirk before it turned rueful. “So, this is my date, huh?”

“Nah,” he said immediately. “Pinkie's got a proper day planned out an' yew deserve no less. How 'bout tha day after hers? Ah'll even do all yer chores so long as Ah don' have ta kick no trees?”

Applejack snorted a laugh at that. “Ah'm a big mare, Galen. Ah can do my own chores. As far as the buckin' goes, Ah suppose Big Mac wouldn't mind, especially since he owes me for a few things here and there.”

“Ah know yer a big mare,” he said with a jaunty wink that made Applejack laugh. “Ah just wanna let yew take it easy fer a change. Ah've seen how much ya work 'round tha farm an' if Ah take yew out on tha town, Ah wouldn't want ya ta get tired on me. Not very polite ta fall asleep on a date after all...”

Applejack couldn't help but laugh at that. She gave Galen a quick glance and saw that he was smiling widely at his own joke. “Ah suppose it ain't... But Ah'm gonna cook breakfast and lunch at the very least...”

“Deal,” he said quickly with a satisfied smile.

“... in my uniform,” she finished after a brief pause.

Galen's smile faltered slightly.

“With Pinkie helping as well,” she said with a shit eating grin.

His smile disappeared completely while a flush crept its way up his neck.

“Sure you're still wanting to add more to how much Ah feel Ah need ta pay you back? Ah sure as heck haven't even begun ta begin workin' on the interest.”

To be honest, Galen was looking forward to it a little more than he thought he should. “Sure,” he replied with a little smile. “May as well go fer a gallon if Ah can get a cup.”

Applejack laughed at the turn of phrase. “Since we're goin' back into town for supper, we should invite Pinkie along as well. It wouldn't be right ta leave her out, especially since it was her who set all o' this in motion in the first place.”

“Really?” Galen said in surprise.

“Yeah,” she replied with a little smile. “She wanted to go after you with me. Besides, you could use some time getting to know her better. Ah'll just play second fiddle tonight and give Pinkie any support she might need.”

“Ah'd like tha',” he replied warmly. The pink mare was something of an enigma for Galen still. She had done so much for him with her welcoming party and he wanted to get to know her better, her feelings for him notwithstanding. “She's a real sweetheart, Pinkie Pie.”

“Ah know,” she replied just as warmly. “And she really is. Just wait until you get to cuddle up with her for a nap...” Galen felt his ears warm up and Applejack laughed at him with a teasing smile before they fell into a comfortable silence that lasted until they reached the farm. Galen helped Applejack stash away the unsold apples and tend to the cart, greasing the axle and giving it a quick once over. When finished with that, Galen retrieved his things from the tool room and followed Applejack back to the house. Galen quickly took his things to his room, stored them after taking out the apples that belonged to Applejack and Big Mac and made his way back through the house. He found Applejack in the kitchen sitting at the table with a cold cider. Galen grabbed one as well after he set the siblings' apples near her and sat down across form her as they drank their beverages in silence.

“So Ah may have come to a decision,” Galen said quietly after a few minutes of silence after he was about halfway through his.

“Decision?” she asked with a tilt to her head.

“'Bout whether or not Ah want ta know if there's a way ta get me an' Riley back ta our world,” he replied. Applejack swallowed past a sudden lump in her throat as a surge of dread swamped her heart. She had forgotten all about that. Galen had quickly established himself into their home and had completely forgotten that he had asked Celestia about getting back.

“That so?” she choked out in a voice barely above a whisper.

Galen nodded with a look that could be described as reassuringly resolute. “Yep,” he rumbled out. “Ah don' really have tha words fer it righ' at tha moment, but if yew'll give me tha night, some paper an' a quill ta write, Ah'll have it all worked out fer ya.”

Applejack felt a soaring, ephemeral sensation well up from her chest and she had to bring a hoof up to brush away the tears that suddenly sprung up from a well of unbridled happiness. Galen smiled and took another sip of his cider, letting Applejack collect herself. She sniffed a few times and finally gave him a smile so strong that it quavered slightly. “Ah think Ah can wait a night,” she said in a slightly scratchy, husky voice.

Galen nodded, smile still on his face. “Thanks,” he replied quietly. A moment later, a knocking sounded from the front door. Galen raised an eyebrow at Applejack who shrugged in response. “Ah got it,” he said as he got up with a little sigh. He opened the door and spotted a small group of stallions who wore bright pocketed vests and billed caps to shade their eyes.

“Mr. Galen!” said the fore-stallion at the head of the pack. “Just the stallion I wanted to see. We're here to take care of the surveying for the forge. We got word from the wholesaler that your materials will be arriving in two days time and we want to get everything staked out.”

“Oh,” Galen said with a grin. “Let me go tell Jackie an' Ah'll be right out.”

“No rush,” the stallion replied with an easy grin. “This is the easy part. Tomorrow comes the digging and shoring up for the foundation and then comes the real work after the stone and wood comes in.”

“Ah hear ya,” he said with a rueful laugh that said he knew exactly what was involved. “Go 'head an' get started. Don' want ta tie yew up longer than normal.”

“Alright,” he replied with a thankful smile and nod. “I'm sure we'll be seeing each other quite a bit over the next few days.”

Galen just nodded and smiled as he returned to the kitchen. Applejack looked up questioningly for an answer which Galen replied, “Surveyors from tha contractors here ta stake out tha forge an' everythin'.”

“Ah,” she said simply.

“They said it shouldn't take too long.”

“They know what they're doing,” she said with a smile and firm nod. “They have plenty of practice 'round here since it seems like there's some major disaster or other going on once or twice a month.”

Galen raised his eyebrows at that. “Seems pretty calm fer tha most part ta me.”

“Just give it time,” Applejack said with a wink and a smirk. “We're a bit overdue as it is, so you need to keep your wits about you.”

“Uh huh...” Galen replied simply before draining the last of his cider. Applejack just snickered at the unbeliever. He took the empty bottle to the sink and rinsed it out quickly before giving Applejack a smile as he moved to the back door. “Ah'm gonna go give tha fellows outside some company while they work. Ah promise Ah won' run off or anything...”

“You better not,” she said with a playful expression. “You don't want ta know what I'd do if Ah had ta hunt you down...”

Galen just smirked and chuckled. “Ah'll be a good boy.”

Applejack laughed as Galen turned and left the kitchen. When he walked outside, he heard the restrained yelling of the stallions at work and made his way over to where they were bustling about their work. Despite the look of unorganized wandering they had, Galen could make out that they were following through with their usual motions. He sidled up to the leader and greeted him with a grin.

“So,” the lead stallion said with a grin of his own to match Galen's. “What's it like living with the hard flank mistress of the Acres?”

“'Bout what yew'd imagine,” he said with a chuckle. “ But Ah've had it pretty easy fer tha most part.”

“That right?”

“Yeah,” he replied with a wistful sigh. “Ta be honest, Ah've been busy setting all this up so tha' took up most of mah time along with a good bit o' help from Twilight. She an' 'er herd mates have been tha best friends yew could ever want, helpin' me get used ta life an' explainin' ev'rything.”

“Twilight and her herd are practically a pillar in the community of Ponyville,” he replied with a wide smile. “They've done a lot for all of us at one point or other. Lero worked especially hard since he was to different to us at the time and wanted to prove to us that he was exactly the kind of stallion he is.”

“'E's a good man,” Galen said with a touch of pride for his friend. “So, how long does this usually take?”

“Not too long,” he replied. He paused to scribble down another measurement that was called out on his notepad. “We finished the outer perimeter and the layout of the forge. Now we only need to outline your cottage, the bath house and where we need to dig to sink the cistern. After that we'll call it a day.”

“So a pretty easy day?”

“Yeah, but we'll earn our pay in the next couple days or so,” he replied with a wicked grin. “You sure you didn't want to add another tonne or two for us to move? You know we're gluttons for punishment since we live in Ponyville.”

Galen couldn't help but burst into full on laughter at that, the leader joining in a second later. “Oh god,” he said as he caught his breath. “Ah heard it gets pretty crazy 'round here every so often.”

“You have no idea, buddy,” he replied with a rueful chuckle.

“So, yew an' yer boys want ta stick 'round after tha last nail's hammered in?” Galen asked with a friendly smile. “Ah was thinkin' 'bout havin' a bit of a party ta celebrate tha occasion.”

“I'm sure they'd love to, especially if there's good liquor involved.”

“Tell 'em Ah was thinkin' three bits a head ta cover tha drinks, one fer their marefriends,” Galen said with a wink. “Gotta have them tha day before construction finishes so we can get right to it.”

“Sounds like a plan,” the leader said with a conspiratorial grin and rumbled in a tone that wouldn't carry. “I was planning on treating them all to Crispy's when it was over, so I'll have them bring it out here and make a good time great.”

“Ah like tha way yew think,” Galen said with a grin.

“Hey, when you earn your bits the way we do, you want to play as hard as you work.”

“All work an' no play makes Galen a grumpy ass, so yew won' hear a word 'bout it from me.”

His companion laughed at that. “I'll pass the word around and bring you the bits for everypony the day before we finish or even before that if everypony's interested.”

“Sounds good,” Galen replied as he turned to head back inside. “Yew can drop by tha house when yer done.”

“Will do,” he replied as Galen started walking off.

Once Galen was back inside he found Applejack laying out on the couch as she took a nap, her hat on an end table with her mane unbound. It cascaded across most of her face, down her foreleg and shimmered brightly along her barrel. Galen couldn't help a gentle smile that came across his face at the sight and went back outside to sit on the patio for the workers wouldn't wake her up with their knocking. He waited for roughly fifteen minutes before the group came around the side of the house. Their leader waved and nodded in return as Galen gave a quick wave in acknowledgment before heading back down the road. When they were lost to sight, Galen stretched quickly and stifled a sudden yawn. He scratched the back of his head and went back inside to take a nap in his room. On his way back through the house, he couldn't help another lingering look at the slumbering mare on the couch.


Pinkie Pie was just finishing her closing chores in the store around eight thirty when a knock on the kitchen door sounded. She quickly dried and racked a mixing bowl, wiped her hooves off and went to see who it could be at this hour. Once the door had opened, she found herself face to face with Applejack and Galen who greeted her with smiles.

“Oh!” Pinkie exclaimed with a blush brought about by Galen's presence and memories of her earlier behavior. “W-What are you two doing here?”

“Thought we'd all go out fer supper,” Galen said with a easy smile.

“That and he'd like to get to know you better before your big date,” Applejack said in a slightly teasing tone while a little grin lit her face up. Pinkie felt a sudden spike of nervous excitement at hearing that. This was definitely a surprise and she loved surprises, right? Because she was the most super-dee-duper surprise party pony in Equestria, right? Right. If she had learned anything about surprises, she just had to roll with it. But Galen was a bump in the road and she was up in the air with a fifty-fifty chance of landing in sheer panic and ecstatic joy.

Applejack saw the thoughts racing behind Pinkie's eyes and decided to help push her in the right direction. “Why don't you wait here for for a bit? Ah'll help Pinkie freshen up and be back in a few minutes.” Galen cocked an eyebrow at Applejack and shrugged with a frown that said 'if that's what you want' before he took a couple steps to the side and leaned against the side of the building. When he had settled in to wait, Applejack looked to Pinkie, smiled warmly and walked inside. When she had closed the door, she gave the slightly trembling Pinkie a nuzzle that she melted into with a faint whimper. “You alright, hon?”

Pinkie shook her head and pulled Applejack into a hug. “I'm scared,” she said quietly.

“Scared?” Applejack said in confusion.

“I... I want to follow Discord's advice, but I'm just so scared that Galen's not going to like me, just like all the other stallions,” she said as she trembled slightly against Applejack.

“Ah think you're forgetting something important, Pinkie,” she said warmly as she squeezed Pinkie tighter and nuzzled her slowly, communicating her love for the mare in the gesture. She wasn't really sure why Pinkie was still so nervous, so she just spoke honestly and explained how she felt as best she could. “Galen ain't a stallion. He's a human, like Lero. Sure, Galen's no Lero, but Ah wouldn't want another Lero. Ah don't think Ah could ever love Lero like Ah know Ah could with Galen. Galen's out there right now, waiting on us to get ready for nothing more than supper and a chance to get to know you. The real you. The you that Ah know who loves surprises, pranks and having a good time. Who loves to snuggle in the warmth of the sun, who loves to see her friends smile and blushes hot enough to light a candle when she's embarrassed. What do you say to that? You want to go out to dinner with absolutely nothing riding on the outcome? Because the two of us would probably go home and eat leftovers if we couldn't get our favorite pink mare to join us.”

Pinkie felt her heart swell and swell with her love for the mare who she held and who held her. She felt as though she could handle another Nightmare Moon all on her own. She smiled so brilliantly when she drew back from Applejack that the farm mare couldn't help but feel her own heart surge in happiness. “I'll be right back down,” Pinkie said in a surprisingly calm voice before she cantered off.

Applejack's smile never left her face as she stuck her head outside and looked over to Galen who was picking at something in his teeth with a nail. “Won't be much longer,” she explained simply. Galen flicked something off of his fingernail and nodded with an understanding smile. Applejack grinned and shut the door so she could wait for Pinkie Pie which didn't take all that long as the pink mare came clattering back downstairs a few seconds later with an easy smile lighting up her face.

“You ready?” she asked with light panting from her running around and finding the time to get washed up.

“Yep!” Applejack said with a grin. “Best not keep him waiting too long.”

Pinkie nodded with a smile and walked past Applejack with a passing nuzzle that had her grinning even wider at her marefriends confidence. Galen moved away from the wall when he heard the door begin to open and was waiting casually in the middle of the alley with an easy smile waiting for Pinkie who led the way. Pinkie met his smile with one of her own despite a slight, lingering nervousness. When she felt Applejack move up beside her, she felt a calming sensation flow through her that washed away any trepidation she felt for the date.

“Sorry for the wait,” she began. “I had to wash up a bit, let the Cakes know that I was going out and give the twins their nuzzle before bedtime.”

“No worries,” he replied warmly, glad that she had accepted their offer. “Yew bring any bits with yew?” Pinkie nodded her head with a smile. “Good ta hear since Applejack an' Ah came to tha agreement tha' we'll be splittin' tha bill between each of us tonight.”

“Sounds good to me!” Pinkie said happily. “So where are we going?”

“Ah was thinking Crispy's,” Applejack answered. “That way we all can have something good to eat. That and Galen's never been there yet.”

“They had some real good vittles at mah welcome party,” Galen replied with a quick swallow to clear his mouth as it began watering uncontrollably.

“If you two were so hungry, you should have just said so,” Pinkie chided as she looked at Applejack who was swallowing obviously as well. “Let's get going before you two start digging in our trash.” That had the other two laughing as they started out. The trip wasn't long as the bustling establishment was only a couple blocks away from Sugar Cube Corner. They walked inside and was greeted by an older, blue pegasus with a silvery white mane and tail and light cerulean eyes.

“Evening you three,” she said with a welcoming smile. “Table or booth?”

“Good evening, Gem,” Pinkie Pie said cheerfully. “A booth would be fine?” she asked with a glance to her companions who nodded in agreement.

“Alright,” she said with a knowing smile. “Right this way.”

The three followed her through the crowded restaurant, drawing a few curious eyes and more than a few inquisitive stares. Galen felt a pair of eyes on him specifically and looked around to see Honeydew glaring at him with pure venom in her eyes and an ugly scowl twisting her face from her seat in a lonesome booth. Galen's eyes hardened and an expression came over his face while a surge of heat flared briefly through his stomach. A sudden look of uncertainty came across her face before it was replaced by a cringing fear, her ears folding back and she broke eye contact to stare at the table with a tremble. Galen snorted a quick puff of air through his nose in satisfaction.

He was just glad Applejack didn't notice the confrontational mare. “So,” he said as they finally arrived at their booth and began taking their seats. “Yew always this busy in tha middle o' tha week?”

“We're this busy every day of the week,” Gem said with an easy laugh. “Can't really complain too much when you rake in the kind of bits I do in tips though. Really helps when your stallion is a cook here as well.”

“Tha' good, huh?”

“Oh yeah,” she said with a grin. “So, what can I get you three to start off with for drinks?”

“Ah'll take a golden ale,” Applejack answered.

“I'll have a cherry soda,” Pinkie supplied.

“Ah'll take tha ale too,” Galen finished.

Gem nodded and walked off to get their drinks. When she had gone, Applejack nudged Pinkie and whispered just loud enough to be heard above the clatter, “Alright, Pinkie. Just talk to him and tell him about yourself. No need to be nervous.

Pinkie gave Galen a mischievous smile that Applejack didn't see. Galen felt a smirk come across his face and watched as she turned to reply. She brought her muzzle up to Applejack's ear, stuck her tongue out and licked the pink inside from base to tip, covering it in a generous layer of saliva. Applejack flinched with a surprised cry and shocked expression as she curled her head into her shoulder to protect her ear from any further torment. Galen on the other hand broke out immediately into laughter at the sight while Pinkie giggled and snorted.

“Gah!” Applejack exclaimed as she brought a hoof up and rubbed at her molested appendage. “What the hay was that for?!”

“Just though I'd check and see if the rest of you tasted like apples,” she said with a saucy wink at Galen while she stuck the tip of her tongue out cutely. Galen just laughed harder as Applejack blushed furiously and tried to slouch ineffectually down in her seat. A few of the mares from the nearest table heard her and chuckled throatily and whistled foxily at the words and display which made Pinkie flush a little but did nothing to dim her mood.

Applejack felt like her face was burning up and when Gem returned with menus and their drinks, she snatched her ale and started chugging it like a champ to their waitresses raised eyebrow. “I'll go get you another one, dearie,” she said with a little chuckle in her voice after she slammed the empty wooden mug down with only a few fluffs of foam left around the rim. Applejack just nodded with a worried expression that she'd need two or three more before the end of their meal.

“So,” Galen began weakly after he regained his breath. “How did she taste?”

“Like a pony,” Pinkie replied with a look of mock disappointment directed at the mare beside her. Galen snorted as a grin split his face. He took his own ale and took a quick swig, letting the sharp and pungent brew wash over his tongue briefly before giving it a mental thumbs up for quality.

“Pinkie...” Applejack bemoaned despite her obviously conflicted expression.

“What?” she asked with a carefree smile.

Applejack sighed and shook her head before she picked up her menu and buried her face in it. Pinkie giggled and pulled her into an apologetic hug as she gave her a little kiss on her cheek. Applejack just huffed and returned the favor with a quick nuzzle despite her perusal of the food offered. Galen and Pinkie both followed suit with little grins directed at Applejack and looked over their menus as well for their choice of dinner. It didn't take them long to decide on their meals and pass them along to Gem when she dropped by a few minutes later, taking the menus along with their orders; Applejack going for a hay burger with a side of onion rings, Galen opting for an all you can eat fish with garlic butter to slather over the fillets and Pinkie with a bowl of tomato and lentil soup along with a salad and lemon vinaigrette for dressing.

While they were waiting on their meals, Pinkie asked Galen about what he had been up to lately. He largely told her what was going on in his life, although he decided to leave out the bit with Honeydew. She seemed happy to hear that he was making friends and was excited for the party he was planning for the completion of his forge, making sure that if he needed any help at all, she would be the first pony he turned to for assistance to which he readily agreed to with a smile.

Galen then directed the conversation to Pinkie Pie, asking about what she did for a living, her favorite hobbies and what she liked in general. Applejack finally came out of her embarrassed fugue quickly enough and joined in the conversation, adding colorful commentary here and there that had them all laughing and spreading a few blushes here and there. Their meal was served along with Applejack's second ale, Galen preemptively ordered a second one as he was almost done with his, as did Pinkie who was in a similar predicament. The conversation died down for a while as they ate their meals.

When they finished, they lingered for a third drink each and talked about inconsequential things as the crowded restaurant slowly emptied. Eventually, they finished the last of their drinks, paid their share of the bill along with a generous tip for Gem and left the establishment close to ten thirty. As they walked, Pinkie began yawning and flagging a little which Galen noticed and remedied by casually picking her up and cradled her in his arms despite her furious blush and protests although nopony was out on the streets. Maybe it was the alcohol in his system, but he felt unusually confident that this was the right thing to do.

Pinkie, on the other hoof felt all traces of her fatigue fly away as she was held gently in his strong arms, her heart throbbing almost painfully and fidgeted slightly before settling down. Galen was busy watching the way ahead and didn't notice her as she took a chance to look up at his hard edged, bearded face, his green eyes almost black in the faint light of the half full moon. She blushed and looked ahead as well so that she wouldn't get caught staring. She felt so safe in his arms, like they were a bastion of strength and security that would keep all the woes and troubles of the world at bay as long as she was here. She closed her eyes and snuggled closer to his body that had a slightly pungent odor of clean sweat and the outdoors as he hadn't yet bathed that day was by and far the most masculine thing she had ever smelled. She felt her whole body heat up but she couldn't care less as she was slowly getting drunk off his smell alone. After an amount of time that seemed to last half of forever and far too soon, she felt herself being lowered to the ground and opened her bleary eyes to see that she was back in front of Sugar Cube Corner.

She heaved a little yawn and rolled slowly, reluctantly from his arms and back to her hooves before Galen stood back up with an easy smile. “Thanks for goin' out with us, Pinkie,” he said warmly. “Ah had a great time an' it was a blast getting to know yew better.”

“I had a lot of fun too,” Pinkie said quietly due to her sleepiness. She fought back another yawn and rubbed at her eyes with a foreleg. “I'm looking forward to Saturday...”

“Ah was wondering what day yew'd have off,” he replied with a smile. “Saturday would be perfect. What time should Ah drop by?”

“How about nine in the morning?” Pinkie supplied. “That way we can sleep in a little.”

“Ah'll see yew then,” Galen replied with a grin. “Ready ta head back?” he asked a slightly swaying Applejack who simply nodded without saying anything in her sleepy haze. Pinkie giggled quietly and gave her marefriend a quick kiss goodnight and went inside after unlocking the door. A faint clank sounded as the door was locked again.

Galen let out a quiet breath and scooped up the groggy Applejack who didn't even put up a word of protest due to her exhaustion. She simply snuggled closer to his warm body and let out a content sigh before promptly falling asleep in his arms. Galen chuckled quietly at her for a brief moment before he started walking down the street and out of town with Applejack in arm. The way back through the orchard was quiet of all except the occasional call of a nocturnal bird or insect chirrup and he was fine with that. He would occasionally steal glances at the sleeping face of the mare in his arms, a feeling of happiness welling up inside of him as her completely content expression remained unchanged throughout the trip back.

After a little awkward groping, he opened the door to the dark house. He tread quietly upstairs by memory and moonlight to Applejack's room and opened the door to reveal her sparsely furnished room, populated with worn but well cared for furniature, framed ribbons on the walls from well known contests and the odd memento from who knew where on a shelf or anywhere she felt like putting it. He made his way to her bed, pulled back the sheets and lay her gently down with only a whimper of protest from the sleeping mare that quieted down a second later. He gently pulled the covers up and she snuggled herself down deeply into them. Happy that he hadn't disturbed her rest, Galen left her room and closed her door before going back downstairs to his own room where Riley was already sleeping sprawled out over most of the bed. Postponing his rest for the time being, Galen took the small sheaf of parchment, ink and pen from the nightstand and made his quiet way to the kitchen where he sat down at the table and arranged everything just so in the shaft of faint light from the kitchen window.

He wasn't sure how long he'd be here, but he knew for certain that he wouldn't be leaving this seat until he had written down everything that he meant to. He had to get this just right, especially if he really, truly wanted to know the full extent of why he wanted to stay in Equestria. He cracked his knuckles with a deep, resounding crack and picked up the quill after unstopping the inkwell. He dipped it in the ink and bled off the excess ink along the lip and lifted it back to the blank sheet before him and let the tip hover a hairsbreadth above it before he turned his minds eye inward. A few minutes of motionless introspection and then the quill began scratching away quietly...

Saucy Sauced Ponies

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Saucy Sauced Ponies

The next day found Applejack waking up in her bed with the sun without any idea about how she got there. The last thing she remembered about last night was a brief kiss from Pinkie Pie followed shortly by the feeling of warmth and security. That only left her with one reasonable explanation. Galen must have carried her home like he did Pinkie. She felt a gentle warmth in her cheeks and felt a smile stretch the corners of her mouth. He really was one of a kind, that smith who called this place his home.

From outside, she heard the yelling of orders and the various sounds of the construction crew hard at work on the next phase of their work. She should be about it herself, so with a sigh she rolled out of bed with a brief yawn. Once she had completed her daily ablutions, she walked into the kitchen and found Galen along with Apple Bloom hard at work making breakfast. Well... More like Apple Bloom telling Galen what to hand her as she cooked everything up.

“Mornin' you two,” Applejack said with a smile.

“Mornin' sis,” Bloom replied cheerfully.

“Hey sleepy head,” Galen said with a little grin despite the bags under his eyes. “At least yew could make it out of bed without any help.”

Applejack felt a faint heat in her cheeks as she looked away slightly. “Yeah...” she replied with a little chuckle. “Thanks for carrying me home last night.”

“No problem,” he said warmly. “Ah didn't mind it. Yer lighter than yew look anyway.”

At that Applejack flushed warmer while Bloom chuckled at her sisters expense. “Go ahead and have a seat, sis,” she said after she flipped a hotcake. “We got everything covered today.”

Applejack just nodded and made her way to the table while the two kept at their work. Not too much later, Big Mac and Granny had joined her at the table and were waiting patiently for the meal to be served. Granny was complaining a bit about the noise from outside, so Applejack said that she'd ask Twilight to drop by and see if there was anything she could do to make it a bit quieter. It took a bit longer than usual, but that was to be expected since Galen seemed to be exceptionally bad here. When asked about it, he looked around a bit nervously and gave an uneasy grin as he simply explained that his cooking talents lay in a different area. Applejack knew enough to let it lay and let him be. She really didn't care to know what kinds of creatures he had killed and eaten in the past. It wasn't as if she rejected that part of him, just more along the lines that she didn't feel like loosing her appetite.

Eventually, breakfast was served and they ate with some light conversation, Apple Bloom asking about their dinner date which made Applejack beam in happiness about how the night turned out. Granny asked a few innocuous questions about it and seemed to get some answers that weren't directly tied to what she asked but was happy with them nonetheless. Galen took the opportunity to ask Big Mac if he would be interested in joining their cookout the next night and got a positive answer when he was told that there would be plenty of vegetarian stew as well as some good drinks to wash it all down with. Applejack let everybody know about her big date with Pinkie the next night as well and told them that she wasn't sure when, or if, she'd make it home that night and to not stay up waiting for her. Everyone except Big Mac gave her a teasing smile and look that had her blushing while she looked down at her plate of food.

After that, they finished their meals and started their preparations for the start of the rest of their day. As they were finishing the last of their meals, Galen asked Applejack and Granny to wait for him in the living room for a bit as he had something important for them to look at. Granny smiled knowingly while Applejack felt exceptionally nervous as her heart started beating hard in anticipation. The time between her cleaning up, Bloom and Mac's departure and moving to the living room felt as though it passed in the blink of an eye. Galen had gone back to his room to retrieve his letter after Big Mac had left and was still in there. When she made her way there, Granny was sitting on her usual rocker and she nodded to Applejack to take the easy chair on the other side of the couch, which she did. Applejack was wondering what in Equestria was keeping the man for so long when he suddenly appeared in the doorway with a little smile and a decent sized piece of parchment in hand.

Granny held out her hoof expectantly when she saw the parchment and Galen passed it to her readily. With that taken care of, she nodded for Galen to sit on the couch and began unrolling the parchment in her hooves. As she went about her reading, Galen took his seat and leaned against the back of it with a little sigh as he closed his eyes. Even though he didn't show it, he must have been pretty wiped out, Applejack thought to herself. He didn't get back until eleven at the earliest after their date and had probably been up for hours after he had tucked her in. He was probably running on adrenaline and nervousness at this point and probably needed some real sleep by now.

Granny took her time reading the letter and if her smile had anything to say about it, Galen did a good job of satisfying her exacting standards. When she was finished, she rolled it back up and motioned for Applejack to take it with a warm smile. She hopped off her seat and took it quickly before returning to her seat which had Granny chuckling at her eagerness to see what it said. Galen hadn't stirred from his spot and if his slowly deepening breaths had anything to say about it, was well on his way to getting that sleep he needed. She gave Galen a little smile before she unrolled the letter and started reading...

When I first came to Equestria, I was confused, scared, disbelieving and angry at everything that was happening. I couldn't be sure if this wasn't some fever dream and I was back in my bed with a life threatening disease or other. The first day here was one hell of a ride and at the end of it, I met a farm mare who took me and my dog in with compassion and generosity, refusing to take anything more substantial than a simple promise from me to get back on my own two feet sooner rather than later. She and her whole family were like an island of familiarity wrapped in a pony sized and shaped package. My life, at that moment, became a bit more stable, knowing that I had these ponies I could fall back on and it let me have a touchstone in this new world. She and her family have been so good to the two of us since we've started living here that I don't think I could ever truly repay them for their generosity.

Not even a day after I made the acquaintance of such a wonderful mare and her family, I made some friends. After a little bit of a rough patch they showed me that life in Ponyville was as much the same as it was different. Lero and his wives have been nothing but understanding and helpful to me since I picked a direction and a course of action. They were the ones... well, mostly Twilight... who helped me get in touch with all the right ponies who could help me build my forge, budget everything out and even get all the materials for it at a discounted price at that. They were all very supportive and kindly understanding of my ignorance, taking the time to explain things that I never would have known of, if not for something I said that showed how little I knew. I'm just glad they didn't treat me like the idiot I knew I was.

Last, and most certainly not least, is this vibrant, pink mare who's involved with the farm mare. She's absolutely amazing, no if's, and's or buts about it. Somehow, she managed to not only set up, get the word out and choreograph an enormous party out at the farm involving nearly every pony from the town, but arranged the catering, drinks and everything else that made a good time memorable. I'll tell you, it was probably the most surprising party I've ever been involved in. This mare is amazing in her own right, although I wish she would focus a little more on her own happiness. She may claim that seeing her friends happy is enough for her, but sometimes I just want to make her happy because she doesn't think it's as important as the happiness of those around her. A mare like that deserves to be happy for herself. Especially a mare like that.

Since I've been here, somewhere in the back of my mind, I've always been wanting to find a way back to where I came from. Some days, especially recently, those thoughts became less and less important. A short while ago, I was given some advice that shook me up pretty good and a date following it up only proved how right it was. I wasn't really trying to get back to anything or anyone in particular. The place that I had called home was no longer what it once was. A place of strangers who payed little attention to the goings on of their neighbors and focused more on their own troubles instead of helping those they could who would help them in turn.

If I'm honest with myself, I don't want to return to that kind of life... After finding myself in a place like this and getting to know the ponies, and person, I have... I don't want to lose it, or them. Especially those two who've found it in themselves to fall for a stranger to their world like me and turn this place into a home like I remember. I'm sure there's some things I'll still be learning in the days and weeks to come, but I hope that they'll be patient with me as I sort a few things out. I should probably stop my rambling for now and wrap this up with a few final thoughts. Despite what brought me here and the troubles I've had, I find myself thinking of this place as my new home. I have friends who I'm truly proud to give that title. Also, surprisingly, there's a pair of mares who have set their eyes, and hearts, on me and I think I'm starting to look at them in the same way. Never really had a real girlfriend back on Earth and now here I am looking at being with not just one, but two mares at once...

I don't think I need to go back anymore, Celestia... I've found a new home...

Wish me luck because I'm sure I'll need all I can get,


Applejack lowered the letter with a smile that would have made Pinkie proud while her heart felt fit to burst with joy as she looked over at the half dozing Galen. She gently placed the letter on the night stand before standing up on her chair, lowering her front and pounced like a pony sized cat across the distance with a cry of pure happiness. Galen was helpless to defend himself as Applejack wrapped him up in a bone realigning hug that drove all the breath from his lungs as she nuzzled the side of his face, giggles and happy laughter filling the air. He gave a happy, if groggy chuckle of his own as he wrapped his arms around her barrel in a hug as well, his fingers running through her warm, slightly coarse coat and making her shiver slightly at the sensation.

“Enough, young'un,” Granny said with a smile that gave of a glow of happy contentment. “You're gonna strangle the poor colt if you keep on like that.”

Applejack lessened her hold on Galen and pulled back a bit to look sheepishly between the pair, cheeks flushed with high running emotion. Galen looked up at her with a blush inducing expression of happiness while Granny had one of joy at seeing their relationship budding so strongly early on. Applejack gave a little cough and moved to sit beside Galen, leaning against his side and feeling the warmth of him on her side while he reached an arm over and around her to hold her tight to his side.

“Big Mac should be out o' the barn for a while if'n you two want to make the best of it,” Granny said with a cackle that had the pair scarlet in the face. Galen choked on his words while Applejack spluttered, embarrassed by her grandmare's words.

“Granny!” she said in a strangled voice.

“Ha ha ha ha!” she cackled with a slap to a hind leg as she rocked back and forth in her chair. “I'm sure there'll be plenty of that goin' on after he has his cottage built anyway... No other way to properly break in a bed like a pair of pretty mares, right sonny?” Galen didn't say anything, opting instead to just lean his head back against the couch again with a calming breath. One had to pick their battles after all and there was no winning against this wizened mare. Applejack shivered slightly as a slightly glazed expression washed over her face. “Well, that's enough teasin' for my old bones,” she finally said with a chuckle. “Applejack needs ta be about her work anyway and I'm sure you have another mare to show that letter to.”

“That Ah do,” he said with an easy smile. “An' a princess as well.”

Granny Smith nodded with a knowing smile. “In that case, you two should get about your chores. The canoodling can wait for later, as long as you keep it quiet.” She finished with a teasing smirk. Applejack just shook her head in defeat and reared back to give Galen a quick kiss on his cheek before hopping off the couch and out of his embrace.

“Ah'll see you for supper?” she asked knowing that his time in town would probably run long.

“Ah'll be there,” he replied with a smile. Applejack nodded and left the room and out of the house to be about her chores with much more vigor and energy than usual.

“You meant every word in that letter, didn't you, Galen?” Granny asked once Applejack had left.

He looked over to her and nodded with a resolute expression. “Tha' an' so much more,” he replied quietly. “Everything's just starting, but Ah know there's gonna too much ta put in words. Things tha' can't be put in words. If ever Ah had an overabundance of hope fer tha future, it's righ' here an' now.”

Granny just smiled and leaned back in her chair. “Then Ah have no qualms about leavin' those two mares in your care,” she replied. “Ah know you'll treat them right.”

“Ah wouldn't treat them any other way,” he replied as a warm expression washed over his face. “In any case, Ah really should be off. Ah have another mare ta show this letter to.”

Granny just nodded in response and let Galen get up in peace, snagging his letter as he bid her farewell and left the house. In the comfortable silence of the house, Granny let out a happy little sigh as spring was coming for a few lucky individuals.


Galen made it into town in good order, not seeing hide nor hair of Applejack along the way as she had probably ran off to catch up on her chores. He passed by Lero's place which was devoid of life at the moment and made a mental note to drop by and ask a few bits of advice about how developing relationships with mares tends to go. Galen wasn't about to try that one on his own. He wasn't brave enough to face a truly angry Applejack if he did something socially unforgivable, not to mention she might make him sleep in the pit that was being dug or boot him into town if she felt like it. It was still her house and surrounding property after all, even if the deed said that he owned that little hill.

With a tiny shiver he continued on his way to Sugar Cube Corner to show his letter to Pinkie Pie. He walked through the streets while keeping a weathered eye out for any trouble and made it there without spotting hide nor hair of a certain pony. As he walked inside the empty cafe with a faint jingle, he spotted a cheerfully smiling light blue mare who had a two tone pink mane and tail. Galen returned her smile and crossed the room to the counter.

“Good morning, dearie,” she said in a motherly tone. “Is there anything I can get you to eat?”

“Ah'm good, thank yew,” he replied with an apologetic smile. “Might Pinkie be around though? Ah have somethin' Ah'd like 'er to read.”

She stole a glance at his letter with an unreadable expression and seemed to mull his request around for a moment before nodding with her previous expression. She turned around and made her way upstairs while Galen let out a little sigh and shook out the tension in his shoulders that had accumulated in that short span of time. A short while later, he heard the clack of hooves on wood and looked to the stairs as Pinkie came down them at a brisk pace with a huge smile on her face at his unexpected visit.

“Mornin', Pinkie,” Galen greeted.

“Good morning to you too,” she replied warmly once she reached the bottom of the stairs. “Here to sweep me off my hooves again?”

Galen flushed slightly at the memory and gave a little cough at which Pinkie giggled. “N-not righ' now...” he said as he looked away slightly. “Jus' thought Ah'd swing by to show you something important.”

“Oh?” Pinkie said curiously as she tilted her head slightly. She came around the counter and stopped a couple paces away from him.

“Uh... Yew think we could take a seat?” he asked as he eyed a booth. If she was going to react anything like Applejack did, he wouldn't mind a bit of a barrier between the two of them.

“Sure,” she replied in a worried tone as her fears were suddenly resurrected from the ashes of Applejack's fiery, impassioned logic. Galen led Pinkie over to the same booth in the corner where they'd had lunch yesterday and took a seat while Pinkie took the one opposite him. When they had settled down, Galen put the rolled up parchment and rolled it across the table to Pinkie who stopped it gently with a hoof. She looked at it with a combination of emotions that had her afraid to even see what was on the inside of it. She looked up at Galen for reassurance and found him leaning back in his seat with eyes closed and his breathing deepening slowly.

She gave his odd behavior an equally odd look and glanced back at the letter in confusion. Surely, if this was a letter containing anything bad, he'd be awake and alert, not on his way to dream land. Besides, he hadn't said anything other than that this was important, so she had to read it. Right? Right. So, with a slightly shaky breath to calm her nerves, she took the parchment in her hooves and opened the letter. As she first started reading, she was a little confused. As she read further, her heart warmed. By the third paragraph, her heart was a whirling vortex of plasma and when she finished the letter, she was ready to explode. Or implode. She wasn't quite sure... Maybe an exploding implosion?

It didn't matter. What mattered was that Galen was sitting right across from her and there wasn't a Pinkie Pie hugging him yet. Well, she would just have to fix that. She let the roll of parchment curl back up and quietly slid out of her seat with a calm she didn't feel. She hopped up into his booth and nuzzled his face, making him twitch slightly before she sat down and gently wrapped her hooves around his shoulders. After his initial twitch of surprise, he found himself smiling warmly without opening his eyes. He reached around and brought Pinkie into a hug as well that gave the both a feeling of warmth that was far greater than simple body heat. He could practically feel the joy radiating off of Pinkie.

They sat like that for an easy five minutes until a polite cough interrupted the moment like a little bit of turbulence that would cause a birds flight to wobble. They opened their eyes and looked over to Mrs. Cake who was smiling in a knowing way from the base of the stairs. “I'm sorry to interrupt since it looks like you two are having an absolutely wonderful moment, but it's almost time for us to start baking for the lunch rush and get started on our special orders for later today,” she said in an apologetic tone.

Pinkie gave a little pout that Mrs. Cake simply chuckled at as her smile turned rueful. She looked up to Galen and her expression turned apologetic as well. “She's right,” she said with a little sigh. “I'm so glad you let me read your letter, Galen. It made me so happy that I have no idea why I haven't exploded... or imploded yet.” She nuzzled against his face and he leaned into it slightly with a happy expression. “I'm looking forward to Saturday like you wouldn't even believe,” she finished as she slowly pulled away, reluctant to end her contact with him.

“Same here,” he replied in a faint rumble. “Ah'm takin' Jackie out Sunday as well...”

“Oh, you are, are you?” she asked slyly. “If I didn't know any better, it sounds like you're serious about this, huh?”

“Maybe a bit,” he said with a coquettish smirk. “Besides... Yew two are a couple already an' Ah'm not gonna be tha one ta break yew two up. Ah'll take tha two o' yew or not at all.”

“Mmmmmm...” Pinkie hummed appreciatively. “Are you sure you don't know anything about herding? Because you're saying all the right things, buddy...”

“Well, it's not like Ah'm a complete idiot,” he said with a little snort. “Besides... Who wouldn't want a pair o' cute, strong an' incredible mares after their attention? Sure, it took me a while ta sort things out, but Ah'm not about ta say no ta either one o' yew. Ta be honest Ah don' know all tha rules yet, but if yew both want me, yew'll both have me...”

Pinkie blinked a few times before giggling up at him with a slight blush. “You kinda are an idiot,” she said with a smile that took away the sting of her words. “But you're an idiot in all the right ways.” She leaned over once more and gave him quick peck on his cheek. “But you seriously need to ask Lero for help here... I don't want to lecture and I'm sure Applejack's more than busy enough as it is... I'm sure Lero won't mind helping you out though.”

“Ah guess,” he said in a mock grumpy tone, his lie given away by his smirk. “At least Ah didn't put mah foot in mah mouth...”

“Oh, eww,” Pinkie said with a face before she snorted and giggled in amusement at the mental image. “Anyway, I really need to get going before Mrs. Cake gets upset. I'll see you Saturday!” she called as she trotted off back to the kitchen. Once she was lost to sight, Mrs. Cake came back out as Galen stood up to leave. She gave him a look that made him wait as she came around the counter and looked up at him from halfway across the room. Galen gave her a smile and a nod that she returned sparingly.

“So, you're going to be dating Pinkie Pie and Applejack?” she asked politely.

“Ah certainly hope so,” he replied.

Her expression hardened and Galen fought the urge to gulp out of nervousness. “You be good to her,” she said in a low, iron hard voice. “She came here to be our apprentice when she found out her special talent. She's like a daughter to me and I've seen her heart broken too many times to have much sympathy for anypony who fools around with her...” Galen smothered a sigh ruthlessly as he closed the distance and offered her his letter. If it was good enough for Granny, then he was sure it was good enough for Mrs. Cake. She raised an eyebrow before taking it from him and taking a seat at the closest table before reading it. She took a few moments and let it roll back up before looking back at him. “I suppose this will do,” she said with a little smile that held plenty of warmth in it. “But I'll still be keeping my eye on you...” she finished in a hard tone.

Galen smiled as he moved over and took his letter back. “Ah wouldn't have it any other way,” he simply said as he turned and crossed the room to leave. Mrs. Cake gave him a curious look as he walked away and shook her head with a little smirk. He's certainly one of a kind, I'll give him that, she thought to herself with a little bud of happiness. Hopefully the three of them could help it bloom fully. Pinkie certainly seemed a lot happier ever since last night and after this little visit, she'd probably float up and away if she ever went outside. Mrs. Cake popped a little crick in her neck and hopped off the chair before making her way back to the kitchen where Pinkie was hard at work.


Galen made his way to the library after finishing his business at Sugar Cube Corner. Twilight had told him that she was normally there most days from six in the morning until four or later depending on how busy it was, so Galen knew exactly where to find the wyrmling he was looking for. A couple minutes later, Galen found himself inside the golden glow of the Golden Oaks Library with motes of dust flitting around him like faeries from the old tales as he looked around.

“Hello?” he called out in the silence that almost seemed sacred to the place.

“Good morning, Galen!” Twilight said happily as her head suddenly popped up from upstairs. “What brings you here?”

“Ah was lookin' for Spike,” he replied. “Ah have a letter for Celestia 'bout something.”

“You don't mind me asking what it's about, do you?” she asked with honest curiosity. Galen really couldn't deny her request, especially when it concerned her as well... albeit on a less personal level. She had helped him so much that he doubted he would even be where he was if not for her.

“Why don't yew come on down and give it a read?” he asked with a half grin, knowing that she would either end up blushing uncontrollably or hopping around like an overly excitable filly. Twilight perked up immediately with a grin of her own and scurried down the stairs. That is if a princess of Equestria could scurry.

Twilight pulled up short with a beaming smile and caught the scroll of parchment with her magic as Galen tossed it to her. She started reading immediately, her eyes slowing down markedly as she mentally digested the contents of the letter and a faint flush blossoming on her cheeks. When she finished, she looked up at Galen with an abashed expression with a healthy dose of uneasyness. “I... Are you really, truly sure?” she asked in a quiet voice.

Galen's grin widened as his face warmed to a comforting glow of total assurance. “Ah'm sure,” he replied in an equally low voice.

Twilight's expression turned heart meltingly happy as she gave a little nod. She turned around slowly and trotted back up the stairs to where Spike was presumably napping and disappeared from sight. Galen waited patiently for a few moments as he heard the quiet murmurs of their conversation before the quiet noise of Spike's flame was heard. All was silent for a few more minutes before another rush of flame was heard which heralded Celestia's reply. Twilight came back downstairs a brief moment later and levitated the reply directly to Galen who opened it...


I'm sorry I couldn't reply more in depth as I'm currently knee deep in court at the moment with only a few minutes to spare for a brief recess... But are you absolutely sure about your decision? This will be a decision that will not only affect your life, but the life of two mares who are just beginning to open their hearts to you as well. If you have any lingering doubts or desires regarding your old life, it very well might taint all your endeavors and lead them to ruin from within.

I don't mean to be melodramatic, but this is a decision that I can simply follow through with if there's any doubt in my, or your mind. I can only ask you how sure you are. Are you willing to make this work despite the differences in species and culture? In starting over absolutely with a rather substantial debt over your head? What about children and a lasting legacy in Equestria?

There's so much you're giving up for these two mares alone. I know that I may be asking some rather cold and calculated questions, but they are important nonetheless to your happiness and well being as well as that of two dear subjects of my own.

I can only ask you once more, Galen McCaffrey...

Are you sure beyond a shadow of a doubt?

Galen tore off a small piece of parchment form the letter, briefly scribbled a quick, three word reply with the quill form her check out desk and passed the little scrap to Twilight who took it with a slightly worried expression before taking it back upstairs to be whisked away by arcane fire. A few tense moments passed before the same scrap returned with a reply written on the back of it. When Twilight passed him the scrap, he glanced at it, huffed a little breath with a smirk and passed both scrap and letter to Twilight who read them worriedly. Her expression waxed concerned as she read Celestia's letter, giving Galen a brief glance that showed her nothing more than absolute confidence before looking at his reply.

I am sure.

She flipped it over with a flutter in her heart.

So be it... Also, good luck...

She looked at Galen and gave him a smile that was decidedly watery as tears of happiness flooded them. She laughed in a warbled voice and trotted over to Galen who knelt down to receive her warm hug. “You're quite a guy, you know that?” she said in an emotionally choked voice.

“Whoa, now,” he replied with a chuckle. “Ah am who Ah am. Just so happens tha' Jackie an' Pinkie mean more to me than mah old life. All tha's left o' tha' are memories of better times an' a plot Ah called mah own. Ah have all tha' an' more waitin' righ' here for me.

“Mah Gran always said tol' me tha' 'home is where tha heart is...'” He paused as a content expression washed across his face. “Well... Ah'm pretty damn sure it's here now...”

Twilight felt such a case of the warm and fuzzies come upon her that she could barely contain herself from bolting from the spot to find one of her herd mates to violently hug and snuggle. “I'm glad to hear that,” she said instead. “You've become such a great friend in such a short time. I would have hated to see you go and I know it would have broken their hearts... I'm so glad you're staying...”

“Glad ta know Ah've got such great friends,” he replied heartily as he gently rubbed her back. “Well, yew know Ah'm not goin' anywhere now, so yew can let go anytime, Twi...”

She twitched which made Galen give a chuckle before she pulled back with a faint flush. “I guess so,” she said with a giddy smile. “I know Lero's going to be thrilled to hear it and I know Rainbow has been complaining about you not playing any hoofball, so there's that...”

Galen cut her off with a snort of amusement as Twilight rambled to cover her awkwardness at the situation. “No need to fret,” he said with a grin. “We'll get to it when we do. For now, Ah think Ah need ta take a nap if tha's alrigh' with yew. Ah think Ah had 'bout two hours o' sleep las' night an' it's startin' ta catch up with me...”

“Oh!” she exclaimed with a shocked expression as she levitated a bemused Galen up in her magic as she summoned a thin blanket while bringing him to the couch along the back wall of the library. “Just take all the time you need to sleep. This couch is surprisingly comfortable and I can wake you up in an hour if you want. Lero and the others should be around for lunch by then as well, so you can join us if you want.”

“Sounds good,” he replied in a deadpan as he was quite effectively manhandled by the mare and was settled gently on the plush couch. “Do yew always baby visitors like this?”

“Only ones who spend most of a night writing declarations of love,” she said with a giggle at his expression and flush. “But seriously, I've pulled more all-nighters than you would believe, so I know what I'm talking about here. An hours sleep will do you a world of good and you can get through the rest of your day without turning into something made out of pure grumpiness.”

Galen fought back a massive yawn and gave Twilight a small, thankful smile and reached for the thin cover. With a quick whipping of his arms, he unfurled and settled the sheet over him lightly with a jaw cracking yawn. “Thanks fer lettin' me crash here fer a bit,” he said quietly. Twilight just gave him a knowing smile and walked off to let him get his shut eye. He was out in seconds...


After Galen's visit, Pinkie Pie was floating on a cloud that made the day seem to fly by in mere minutes as she was lost in her own little world. Mrs. Cake, for all her love of the mare decided to simply bump and prod her along in the right direction instead of bringing her back down to earth. When the day finally finished, Pinkie was more than ready to turn in for some much needed sleep (and fantasizing), but was reminded by Mrs. Cake that she had some final phone calls to make to ensure her date with Applejack the next night turned out well.

Throughout the entirety of the previous week, Pinkie had dipped deeply into her treasure trove of favors, I.O.U.'s and bank account to ensure that this would end spectacularly. So, with that friendly reminder, Pinkie trotted over to the phone and went about her business. Her first call was to Aloe and Lotus to make sure her reservations were set and locked in. Luckily, with Lero working there, he had talked to them in offering her his own personal discount of twenty percent off for all services. He had even scheduled himself to come in an hour early so that he could be there to not only keep her company, but also give her a massage to help keep her tension in check. The call went quickly and smoothly, only a few friendly words being exchanged before she hung up and called her next destination.

Au-delà de doores fermés, was quickly becoming one of the most lucrative hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Canterlot, catering to both the nobility who sought a moderately less formal venue along with a vibrant atmosphere and everypony else who had the bits to spend on a guaranteed good time. She was often called as an exclusive, paid consultant for their luxurious deserts due to her exposure through baking competitions, not to mention her legendary party skills for when the place was booked for such an occasion. Her award winning recipes were often copyrighted (at the insistence of the Cakes looking out for her future) and she sold all their rights to restaurants who placed bids on them. To say the least, Pinkie had more bits than she knew what to do with and could only spend so many of them on balloons and party supplies without overburdening herself and the Cakes.

So, when she made her second call she was greeted by the warm, formal voice of the Maitre'D. They exchanged pleasantries and she asked after her reservation. The Maitre'D admonished her that she always would have a place reserved for all the work and help she had done to help establish the business, going above and beyond what was asked of her. She had even loaned the owner several hundred bits when her business hit a few major obstacles. Pinkie ended the call a couple minutes later after catching up on a few odds and ends, giving her farewells and greetings to all the other employees at the restaurant.

She let out a light sigh as she reset and picked the phone up one last time before dialing the number for a modestly upscale hotel she had talked to a couple days ago. The receptionist picked up after the first ring and Pinkie went through the usual routine. She gave her name, confirmed that the reservations were for two, from Friday evening until seven in the morning and requested a wake up call a half hour before their checkout time. The mare scribbled down some notes and let Pinkie know that everything was in order. Pinkie thanked her and hung up the phone for one last time that night before picking up a letter beside their phone.

It was from a theater in Canterlot and this was the letter replying to her request for reservations for two side-by-side reservations for a romantic western that she had looked into thoroughly before deciding that it was the best out of the offered movies. Nervously breaking the seal, she scanned the contents of the letter before a smile lightened up the room as it looked like all her plans were coming together without a single hitch.

Mrs. Cake was waiting patiently with a smile that radiated a gentle glow of happiness. “Everything in order?” she asked with a slight tilt to her head.

“Yep!” Pinkie replied with a grin. “Thanks again for giving me Friday off on such short notice...”

“Think nothing of it,” Mrs. Cake said warmly. “You certainly do enough for us that it's the least we could do to repay you a little.”

“Aww!” Pinkie said with a slightly watery expression as she closed the gap to give her long time employer and adoptive family member a hug. “You're the best,” she said with a warm expression that Mrs. Cake couldn't see, but could certainly feel from her embrace.

She just smiled and nuzzled Pinkie as she returned the hug for a few brief moments before holding her by her shoulders. “You should head on up to bed, deary,” she said with a smile. “You have a long day ahead of you and need your rest since today was still pretty busy despite the lull before lunch.”

“Okie dokie,” she said before giving one last, quick hug before cantering off upstairs to take care of her nightly rituals before retiring to her bed, Mrs Cake following immediately in her steps.


The next morning found Pinkie almost springing from her bed as the first rays of the sun lit upon her eyelids. She knew she had several hours until she and Applejack would even be leaving for Canterlot, but she knew that she wouldn't be able to stop herself from getting antsy if she couldn't find to take her mind off of it for now. Maybe she should see if Rainbow Dash had some free time to hang out. She had been meaning to talk to her about how her relationship with Lero has been different than one with stallions. As she was about to leave her room, an itchy sensation rolled from her dock to her withers and fought the urge to flop onto her back and wiggle about like Winona to scratch it, opting to hop in place with an audible squee of glee as her Sense told her everything was going to go exactly her way today.

With that thought in mind, she practically skipped to the bathroom to brush her teeth and take care of business as usual before trotting downstairs after getting her saddle bags and bits, going out the door with a cheery farewell to the Cakes who gave her a happy smile in return. They gave each other a look as their expressions of warmth deepened at seeing their once-upon-a-time charge, tenant and employee so happy without bounds. Once out on the street, Pinkie turned right and made her way through the sparsely populated market, making a quick pass by Applejack's stall for a quick smooch and a gifted apple that she demolished in moments before leaving her marefriend to her business extracting a promise to meet her at the train station by three o'clock. Applejack told her that it wouldn't be a problem as Big Mac had promised to take over after lunch which would let her get prepared for their date as well.

With a little purr and a lingering kiss that had a little more warmth than the sun on their coats, Pinkie was off, riding a cloud of ecstatic elation like Rainbow Dash scooting around the sky on a cloud. Unsurprisingly, when she made it to said mares house, she found her friend just waking up with a frumpy look and aroma that said she'd not gotten much sleep but was still well rested despite all that. She let Pinkie in with a smile and offered her some of the breakfast Lero was currently in the process of making while she made herself scarce to wash off the scent of their activities.

She joined Twilight, Spike and Lyra at the table with a greeting, giving Lero a smile that expressed her thanks for letting her join them as well. He just gave her a rueful smile and told her that she'd always be welcome at their table for all the efforts she had gone through to help everypony get to know him. She'd been the one to help spread the word about his eclectic set of skills that made him uniquely suited for a wide range of problems that needed fixing, after all.

By the time Dash made it back, breakfast was being served. They ate at a sedate pace while they all talked about their plans for the day, which seemed to be a daily ritual, letting each other know what was going on and how available they were in case something came up and needed help. Pinkie took a mental note about this and vowed to bring the idea up with Applejack for when they got to this point in their relationship.

Twilight had some correspondence to catch up on with some scholars around Equestria and would be at the library for some hours as she wrote out her replies and researched this and that for others who were making inquiries to her; Spike, of course, would be by her side the whole time. Lyra would be performing for a function the Riches were hosting from ten to three for their business partners but had the rest of the day free. Dash had the day off since she had been training Blossom Forth as assistant weather team leader and felt that she was ready to take the reins for first time on her own. Her flexible nature (no pun intended) made her great at dealing with unexpected situations and brilliant at finding solutions that quickly and effectively dealt with them.

When breakfast was finished, Twilight and Spike left promptly with a kiss for each of her loved ones and a warm hug for Pinkie. Spike simply opted for hugs all around. Lyra had a couple hours to spare and lingered around to give her lyre some love in one of the chairs while Dash and Lero claimed the couch. Dash brought her gem encrusted comb to Lero with a puppy-like expression that had Lero chortling as he patted his lap. Once he took the grooming implement from her, she practically fell onto the couch with her head resting in his lap as he began brushing her mane. Pinkie couldn't help but find the sight adorable as she settled down into one of the last available chairs and began asking a few questions that quickly had her as the center of attention.

They all looked from one to the other when they realized the nature of her inquiries and who was likely the object of her information gathering. When asked about it, she told them cryptically that both she and Applejack were sure and so was he; that she was only trying to understand him better as a human and not a stallion before going any further than they had so far. When she brought that up, she had to tell them about their date the other night which had them all giving her big, blush inducing smiles at the mental image of her being carried home by Galen.

To say the least, Pinkie's head was practically spinning with all the advice and details they supplied by the time Lyra had to finally pack up and head out for her gig. Some of the details doled out by Rainbow Dash were so blush inducing that she was surprised that the tips of her ears weren't singed. So, with a hug for Pinkie and kisses for the others, Lyra was off with her well tuned lyre in magical tow. Pinkie decided to make that her cue as well and made her farewells to the lazy pair with hugs and nuzzles for their support and well wishes at her and Applejack's success in their endeavors. After she left their house, she made her way straight to Aloe and Lotus' spa for her appointment.

She was a little early for her appointment, but that wasn't much as an issue as they led her to the sauna to start off with. She waited in companionship with several other mares who were there as well who asked innocently why she was there on her own. She answered with a slight blush that she had a big night ahead of her and left it off at that despite their animated inquiries and recommendations for what she could do to make it a memorable affair. After a steamy session of twenty minutes, Pinkie was brought out and led to the mane and coat styling area since her hair would be much more receptive to their treatments after the heat and moisture.

They treated her coat with oils and extracts that had minty and floral aromas just shy of burning while the others gave her the impression of soft caresses and sighs. Her coat which was always slightly poofy and curly, quickly became a shimmering and form hugging sensual wave along her shapely curves, drawing lingering looks and envious expressions as her cuteness was transformed into something much more... or more simply bringing out what it was that she always had in the first place that others never had. They finished her coat off with a full currying that only accentuated the waves in her coat and left it with a silky sheen.

Her mane and tail were teased out of their usual state of chaos with gentle combs and brushes with the aid of oils and special exotic waxes that darkened bright pink about half a shade. As the twins worked, her mane and tail changed from amorphous blobs to one that gleamed as it fell in a energetic and undeniably sexy cascade that was even more striking a transformation than what her coat had gone through. Even with the waves, her mane fell well past the knees of her forelegs and washed over her withers in a shimmering curtain; her tail was long enough that it trailed on the ground for close to a foot behind her. Seeing how long both were, she asked for a trim that would leave her with a framing set of locks that would fall to either side of her face and could be pulled back elegantly with a hair pin in a pair of loops when she got that far while her bangs would rest just above eye level while her tail was trimmed so that it fell in layers, stopping roughly a foot from the floor. They acquiesced to her request and with a few minutes of effort, Pinkie was satisfied with the result.

Oh, how she quickly transformed from the energetic mare they all knew to the bombshell beauty that they now saw, drawing looks from all across the open floor as she moved to the massage table for the final part of her treatment as one would ease any tension she had while the other would trim, file and polish her hooves to a smooth and glossy finish. To say the least, nopony recognized the mare who left the spa an hour after she had arrived although she unknowingly drew the eyes of a large portion of the passing traffic on the streets as she made her way to Carousel Boutique.

When she showed up, Rarity was absolutely beside herself in appreciation of Pinkie's new look, her eyes appreciatively going over her curves as a warm flush washed through her at the sight of her friend. Pinkie didn't have much time for small talk and made he apologies to Rarity for the rush as she asked her for any small accessories she though would look good with her new style and a few for Applejack as well. She wanted for both of them to look good without the need for a full outfit. Rarity, for her part had exactly what Pinkie Pie was looking for.

She gave Pinkie an elegant silver hair clasp that held a radiant baby blue sapphire. Next, she came up with a silver necklace made of heavy links and set with small, dark green emeralds that seemed to make not only her coat and mane become even more vibrant, but made her eyes appear to glow with a smoldering inner light. For Applejack, Rarity had a pair of rose gold foreleg bracelets engraved with stylized stalks of wheat and apple branches that were set with emeralds so dark that they appeared black, flashing in the light with a green so deep that it brought with them thoughts of pure, vibrant life. Along with those, there was a matching torque set with a trio of silvery blue topazes. When she asked about the jewelry, Rarity simply said that these were accessories she had planned to include with their new dresses for the next Gala and saw no reason to hide them away when they could be used to help them turn heads.

Pinkie flushed at her friends praise and thanked her with a hug that she hoped conveyed her appreciation and love for her before taking the small bag Rarity had put the jewelry into before making her apologetic farewell. Rarity, of course, understood that she had a whole plethora of odds and ends to take care of, not to mention unwinding a little before the date unless she wanted to be high strung throughout it. Pinkie giggled and left without much else being said except for another thank you.

After leaving Rarity's with roughly an hour and forty-five minutes until she was to meet Applejack at the train station, Pinkie dropped by to get a pair of round trip tickets in the luxury car so that they would have a little bit of privacy so that they could change on the way without any unwanted eyes watching. That was if they could manage to make it on board without a mass of ponies mistaking one of them for somepony famous... Like she noticed she was drawing as she stood around. So, after paying for the pair of tickets and tucking them into a curl of her mane, she quickly made her way back to Sugar Cube Corner to wait out the rest of the time in relative peace. The Cakes were busy with the remnants of the lunch rush and didn't pay much attention to Pinkie as she trotted up to her room, closed the door and settled gently down on her bed for a short nap after setting her alarm to go off a little over an hour later.

She woke up to the energetic buzzing of her alarm at exactly the time she set it for and went about her final preparations with focused excitement. Wanting the jewelry to be a surprise, she slipped the bag, a healthy supply of bits and the train tickets in a black crushed velvet shoulder bag that she had been given as a gift by none other than Rarity for a birthday some time ago. Never having an occasion to break it out before now, she took a few minutes to carefully wash the light covering of dust off in the bathroom with a slightly moist washcloth. After drying it, she made her way downstairs to the now quiet lobby of Sugar Cube Corner. Mr. and Mrs. Cake were cleaning a few of the tables and looked up when they heard her coming and collectively dropped their jaws when they saw her transformation, her smile giving away that this was still the same bubbly mare that they knew and loved.

“I'll be back tomorrow morning, so don't wait up for me,” she said with a blush and a wink as she continued on her way across the floor and out the door. For a few minutes after her departure they stood around in shock at her transformation.

“Um...” Mr. Cake began, breaking their shocked silence. “Was that...?”

“Yes, dearie,” Mrs Cake answered. “That was Pinkie Pie...”


“Going out on a serious date and went to the spa,” she replied in a no nonsense tone. “Just wish her luck and be happy for her.”

“Okay, snookums,” he said with a ponderous expression, opting to wish her the best of luck in his mind.


Pinkie arrived at the train station, after getting another casablanca lily from Roseluck, with roughly twenty minutes before three and waited for Applejack to arrive in her own time. To be fair, when Applejack finally showed up, Pinkie almost didn't recognize her immediately. First, she came from the direction of the uptown district instead of the market like she would have thought. Second, Applejack must have timed her own visit to the spa to end just before their date and came straight here. Her thick coat shone with a bright gloss that matched Pinkie's, although her coat was straight instead of wavy. Her mane and tail had been trimmed in a layering manner similar to what Pinkie had, although Applejack hadn't asked for anything special like what Pinkie had asked for. Usually bound and heavy, her mane and tail was loose and glided freely instead with a golden shimmer that made her eyes the center of attention. Pinkie felt her tongue glue itself to the top of her mouth and gulped at the sight.

Applejack, on the other hoof spotted her out with only a little trouble and bade a beeline for the model-esque beauty she had become with a flush and a heavily thumping heart. The only reason she knew that this seemingly strange mare was even Pinkie was from her brightly sparkling eyes since her transformation had been so complete. Quickly closing the remaining distance, Applejack stopped a few paces away and gave Pinkie a smoldering once over that had Pinkie smiling sultrily back with a flush of her own.

“Like what you see?” Pinkie asked in a slightly husky voice.

“Uh-huh,” Applejack dumbly replied with a slow nod.

“In that case, come on,” she said with a smirk and a flick of her tail. “You can ravish me after our date, cowpoke.”

Applejack's face felt like it could roast marshmallows as she watches Pinkie Pie walk away, hips swaying, tail flitting playfully and a half lidded eye looking over her shoulder to see if she was following. Applejack knew Pinkie had always been cute, but this was almost too much for the poor mare and her heart. She followed after a couple seconds and rushed to walk side by side as they made their way to the boarding area. Barely a minute had passed by the time of their arrival, but they were already drawing a good deal of attention from the various ponies around them. Hopefully they could return to Ponyville without a crowd of paparazzi lying in wait similar to what Fluttershy had had to deal with.

As the train pulled into the station, some little filly asked her mom if the two pretty mares would take a picture with her. Applejack and Pinkie both adopted a look of horror and dashed aboard the train as soon as the conductor was opening the door, brushing past him with rushed apologies as Pinkie led Applejack toward the back car and the private compartment that they would claim as their own for the trip. They both loved foals, but today was just about them and nothing involving flattering pictures with random foals was going to make it that for long. They rested for a few minutes until a slightly grumpy conductor showed up asking after their tickets which Pinkie supplied with apologies for their rude entry. The conductor just made a noncommittal grunt, punched the tickets and returned them to her before wandering off.

“Hoo...” Applejack sighed loudly with a little grin that showed just how narrowly they had dodged that bullet. “Talk about a close one...”

“No kidding,” Pinkie said with a barked laugh. “You didn't bring any bits with you, right?”

“Nope,” she replied. “Just enough to cover mah spa trip an' those are gone as you can see.” She punctuated her statement with a coquettish tossing of her mane.

“That's good to know,” Pinkie replied as she sidled up to her and nuzzled her. “This is all me taking you out, after all...”

“That's right,” Applejack said as she pressed her lips up against Pinkie's silky smooth cheek. “And Ah know it's going to be a great time... So where are we going? You never told me any details other than for me to meet ya at the train station a bit ago. You've been mighty secretive with all this...”

“I just want to surprise you with a great time,” Pinkie replied with a lidded gaze and a kiss to her nose. “Just relax and let me take the lead tonight. I promise you that you're gonna have the night of your life.”

Applejack leaned into Pinkie and let out a happy sigh at the utter confidence in her voice. This was her night to show Applejack that she had finally come into her own. Her night to shine as Applejack's marefriend, for Applejack to follow in her lead and be swept off her hooves like she had done with Pinkie Pie not so long ago. “Lead away, sugar cube,” she answered in a sultry voice that pulled the two together for a slow kiss that left the pair slightly breathless before they broke away. They had the rest of the night for things to go further than that, so they had to beat back the flames that threatened to consume their bodies for the time being.

After the kiss, they each took a seat on the bench across from one another and waited for the train to depart. Applejack decided to start by asking Pinkie about where she had come up with the bits for everything. She answered readily (if bashfully) about the rather lucrative sale of some of her recipes and her consulting services. Applejack nodded with a sly smile and commented about how Pinkie was probably loaded with so many bits she didn't know what to do with them all. Pinkie bashfully looked away and flushed which had Applejack chuckling nervously.

“Y-you're not that loaded, are ya?”

“I've got about forty five hundred bits give or take a few hundred floating in my bank account?” Pinkie replied in an unsure tone, as if she weren't exactly sure herself. “I may be slimming that number down a little since I didn't pay attention to my balance and most of my fees are directly deposited to my account. Plus, it's not like I check my account every month... Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that was the balance a few months back so I'm pretty sure it's closing in on or passed the five thousand mark by now...” Applejack felt like she had swallowed her tongue at her admission. By Celestia's toasty flank was Pinkie loaded. She could buy a house exactly like what the Riches had and still have over half her bits. For all of Applejack's and Big Mac's efforts, they had only accrued maybe half that in stable funds. “I don't really like to talk about it. I don't think I could ever use all of them anyway despite all the free parties I host, so I just ignore the bits unless I need more for party supplies and food.”

“A-Ah see...” she said faintly, pausing her response as the trains steam whistle sounded with a final boarding call by the conductor. A couple moments later, they lurched as the train started on its way. “Ah suppose that makes a lot of sense with how you always seem to have an unlimited supply of parties for everypony and every occasion.”

Pinkie just nodded and looked out the window before her eyes widened and let out an excited squee. Applejack looked outside and saw the unmistakable prismatic contrail of Rainbow Dash taking off in the distance, a darker mass clinging tightly to her back before she slowed down enough that the now obvious obvious form of Lero could rear back and stretch his arms out in a clear motion of elation. Pinkie giggled as Applejack chuckled at the sight before turning their attention back to one another.

Eventually, they lost sight of the flying pair as they rounded a curve and fell into a comfortable silence. Applejack let out a little yawn and Pinkie suggested that she take a nap since she had been up since early that morning and they still had most of an hour to get to Canterlot. Applejack raised her eyebrows a bit at that before a coy expression came across her face and she slunk her way to Pinkie's bench to sit and lean against her, a content expression overtaking her previous one as she made herself comfortable on the bench. Pinkie lay down a moment later and acted as the big spoon, draping her head over Applejack's withers so that she could doze for a little bit as well... It was going to be a long day after all... and night...


Pinkie had stopped her dozing about three quarters of the way to Canterlot and had spent the remaining time just relaxing beside and on top of Applejack, being relaxed by her marefriends steady breathing as she slept. Eventually, Pinkie felt the shift in momentum as the train began slowing down and moved away from Applejack to stretch before she went about trying to wake her up. Instead of her usual method of shaking her gently while saying her name, Pinkie felt that she should change things up a bit and moved in front of her sleeping face.

“Applejack~” she cooed, barely louder than a murmur. She leaned in and gave her a little kiss on her lips. Applejack didn't respond, so she repeated her actions again. And again. And again. And again.

She wasn't sure how many times she did that since she got a little too into it, but eventually she noticed a little smile on Applejack's face and noticed how her breathing wasn't the deep breaths of sleep. When Pinkie paused in her new wake up method, Applejack opened an eye that twinkled in mischief as her smile widened.

“Ah was wondering when you'd notice Ah was awake,” she said with a yawn as she sat up.

“He he he,” Pinkie giggled. “Who said I minded?”

Applejack chortled and leaned forward for one more kiss before looking out the window. “We almost there?”

“Yep!” Pinkie replied. “I wanted to wake you up so we could help put our accessories on before we left the train.”


“I borrowed a few pieces from Rarity,” she explained. “I thought that since this is our first big date and all, we should look the part. At least a little bit anyway since I figured that clothes would only get in the way later.” She finished with a flush and a saucy smile that was immediately mirrored by Applejack.

“Ah don't mind fancying myself up every once in a while,” she replied. That and the promise she made to Aloe and Lotus helped sway her decision to drop by the spa for tonight. She was glad she went through with it all as well since Pinkie had apparently pulled out all the stops for tonight. “What am Ah gonna be wearin'?”

Pinkie rummaged around in her bag before pulling out the jewelry bag and upended it on the bench between them, separating the pieces between them. Applejack gave a little whistle at the high quality pieces and brought one of her braces up to get a better look at it. To say the least, even though it was probably worth a lot more than she ever would consider spending on a piece of jewelry, it was gorgeous and in a style that didn't flaunt wealth. A humble piece for a humble mare.

“I'll help you with your necklace if you'll help me with my pieces,” Pinkie said with a smile before it turned sly. “I'd do it myself if I could, but I need to arrange my mane just right for the hair pin and I'm sure you'd like to get your hooves on me at least a little bit before tonight...”

“Darn right,” Applejack growled with a grin as she slipped her bracelets on where they contrasted darkly against her shimmering coat before she scooted closer to Pinkie Pie. When she was close enough, Pinkie took the two slightly longer strands of her mane and brought them into position with a little fancy hoofwork. When she was ready, Applejack took the pin and slipped it between her hooves where it secured her mane tightly. After it was in place, Applejack brought her forelegs around Pinkie's shoulders and nibbled on her ear lightly. Pinkie cooed at the affection and pressed into Applejack's warm barrel where she let this go on until Applejack started licking the edge of the appendage, causing silvery sparks of pleasure to flick into life.

“Tha-that's enough for now...” she said in a slightly breathy voice. “Wouldn't want to leave any stains for the conductor to clean up, now would we?”

Applejack blushed hotly as she reluctantly backed away. “Ah guess,” she grudgingly agreed. After that she took Pinkie's necklace, bringing it gently over and around her neck before lowering her lips and teeth down to gently work the clasp. Pinkie shivered as she felt her hot breath wash through her coat and across her sensitive skin.

“Your turn~” Pinkie sang when Applejack finished securing her necklace and pulled away. Applejack smiled and pulled her mane up and out of the way for Pinkie as she brought the crescent shaped torque to rest on her collar bone and worked the chain around. She worked the clasp just like Applejack had, the only difference being she had more finesse. Instead of pulling away, Pinkie scooted closer and wrapped her forelegs around Applejack just like she had done to her before treating her to some feisty ear nibbling that had the sturdy mare melting at her touch. She would let out breathy little whimpers whenever she nipped a particularly sensitive nerve. Suddenly, their teasing was cut short with a jerk as the train finally came to a stop and the whistle blew. “That's all for now,” Pinkie said teasingly as she stopped cold and hopped off her seat to Applejack's very great displeasure. “We have the whole night ahead of us, sweetie. I won't leave you hanging...”

“Oh...” she groused with a grin to give the lie. “Fine... But if you get me much more riled than this, Ah won't be held accountable for mah actions. Ah've never seen you act or behave so sexy and it's hitting all the right buttons...”

Pinkie brought a hoof up to hide her cheesy grin. “There's all kinds of buttons I know I'll be pressing... and licking... and nibbling before the night's over.”

“Ah!” she yelled as she jumped from her seat, hoping to catch her for a little snuggling and maybe a few smooches but Pinkie was too quick for her and darted out of their cabin with a clatter. Applejack's face broke out in a massive grin and she turned on her forehooves as soon as she touched down, leaping out on her tail with a happy yell. She chased Pinkie through the train cars and out onto the platform at a flat out run filled with laughter instead of panting. Pinkie dodged, wove and leaped over the throngs of ponies who made shocked noises at her high speed pace as she made her way out to the main thoroughfare with Applejack only a couple body lengths behind; eliciting her own cries of surprise that she paid no mind to.

Going by memory, Pinkie ducked into an alleyway and pelted down it with a high pitched, squealish laughter that echoed down the way. Applejack followed her in this way for a good long while until they were taking a narrow, winding path that ended in an explosion of color as they found their selves in the middle of a massive flower garden. Applejack slowed down quickly as she looked around in wonder, slowly walking up to stand at Pinkie's side.

“You know,” she said faintly as she panted slightly from their run. “Ah would have come with you if you had only asked...”

“I know,” Pinkie replied with a giggle. “I just thought that this way would be more fun!”

“Darn right it was fun,” Applejack said with a laugh. “Ah don't think Ah've ever had such a tease of a date before, not to mention Dash is normally the only other pony who can keep up with me.”

“Well, I can keep up with her even when she's flying,” she replied as she stuck her tongue out a little and closed her eyes.

“Well, Ah'm glad Ah caught the important part already,” Applejack said with a flush and a grin as she looked over at Pinkie.

“Oh yeah?” she asked as she opened her eyes and tilted her head. “What's that?”

“Your heart,” she said softly as she leaned over to kiss the end of her nose.

“You're a cheater,” Pinkie replied warmly as she returned the gesture. “But I don't think I mind you catching me every time...”

They fell silent for a time as Pinkie led Applejack through the garden, enjoying the scenery and just making small talk. When they passed one of the small tower clocks around the area, Pinkie led Applejack out of the garden and back into the city proper. “So, where are we goin' next?”

“The movies,” she replied simply.

Applejack whistled lowly. “Back row?”

Pinkie giggled and shook her head. “Not this time~” she sang with a smile. “I wanted us to actually watch the movie. Besides, it's not often we go out to see a movie and I don't think you'll want to be caught in this place.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well... I may have made reservations with the most high scale theater in Canterlot,” she said sheepishly. “Couple that with being fairly well known and being in the sixth row back...”

“We'd literally be making out in the middle of the upper class who would gossip about it like no tomorrow,” Applejack replied with a rueful smirk. “Ah guess Ah can be a good filly and keep my hooves to myself... This time...”

“I thought you'd see it my way,” Pinkie said with a laugh as she picked up her pace, Applejack keeping right beside her.

They made it to the movie with a half hour to spare, waiting outside for a few minutes as a stream of ponies flowed out. When the flow died down, they entered into the main lobby where a unicorn stallion wearing an off gray dress vest completed with a black bow tie waited at a ticket booth. His drab, upper class expression brightened with curiosity when he saw the couple walk up to his booth and greeted them cheerfully. “Good afternoon, madams. What show might interest you today? You're here early enough that you can see any of our featured films with only a minimal wait.”

“We already have reservations,” Pinkie replied. “Two for the four thirty showing of Gilded Ridge, under the name Pinkamena Pie?”

The stallion smiled and nodded as he checked his reservations and saw that she was indeed listed. “Very good,” he said with a smile. “Your tickets will be fourteen bits.” Applejack's eyes widened and she spluttered slightly at the price but didn't say anything as Pinkie pulled a twenty bit coin from her purse before hoofing it over to him. He returned her change along with a pair of lightly gilded tickets that she put in her bag. “Enjoy your show,” he said as the pair turned and continued on their way through the velvet roped maze that would lead them from area to area in the lobby before the cinema circle. After a quick stop at the concession stand for some light snacks and a medium drink apiece, they made their was around until they found their movie and found their seats quickly enough.

The seats were just plush enough that it was a happy medium between firm and soft with wide enough rests that they could rest their forelegs on them without any fear of awkwardly cramping the other pony sharing it. The time seemed to fly by quickly as they munched lightly on their treats and sipped conservatively from their drinks as they watched the ponies slowly flooding the cinema. Unsurprisingly, they drew a few eyes and were the topic of a few conversations. The only thing that kept the ponies around them from rather blatantly hitting on them was that the two were obviously on a date and had a set to their faces that nothing would interrupt their date without it being absolutely worth their time.

Almost without warning, the lights dimmed to where the only lights were the faint leads along the aisles designed to be unobtrusive but helpful for anypony who needed to exit the dark theater. The screen in front of them flickered to brilliant life and a faint clattering sounded from above as the projector came to life; a crackling static sounded as the record needle touched the vinyl that went along with the movie. An image of a stark, gray-scaled plateau standing proudly amid the sparsely vegetated desert landscape came into focus with the title of the movie in an embossed font that conveyed a rough and tumble setting.

The story was fairly simple for the most part, but enthralling. A unicorn farm mare of high repute finds a pegasus stallion on the run from a band of outlaw mares looking to find a stallion to break for their purposes. He had been a merchant, and they had not only stole his entire caravan, but held him hostage to be used and abused. She takes him in, slowly nursing him back to health. After some time passes and the stallion heals up from his injuries and undernourishment, he begins to help out around the farm, picking up some of the work load. The heroine is surprised that he's so ready and willing to lend an eager hoof. Eventually, the stallion comes to a decision and decides to give up his wandering lifestyle, asking the heroine if she'd be willing to take him after he finishes tying up some loose ends back where he lived. The film suddenly shifts to a band of four earth pony mares with an outlaw cast to their appearances, though the youngest of their number has a much softer appearance. They plot to track their stallion down and make sure he won't think about running away ever again.

To say the action, romantic sub-plot and surprising twists and turns jumped up from there would be a bit of an understatement. There was a saucy little bit where things got pretty heated between the heroine and the stallion and even a betrayal withing the group of outlaws by the youngest one shortly after they invaded the heroines home. The minimally censored sex scene had a good portion of the mares in the theater squirming in their seats while the invasion had them mixed between the shocked, worried mares and those that rumbled menacingly at the thought of their stallion being taken away from them. Applejack and Pinkie Pie were in the latter portion of those. By the end of the movie, the remaining three out law mares had been arrested and the youngest had been offered a chance to stay with the heroine and stallion, both willing to give her a chance since things would have turned out very badly if she hadn't helped when she did. To say that the younger mare was tear stricken and happy beyond words would have been an understatement, but the rather heated scene involving all three at the end left in noponies mind that it was a happy ending.

When they finally left the theater two hours after getting there, they walked around for a little bit to cool off and unwind a little bit before dinner. Opting to go for another nature based stroll, Pinkie led Applejack to a nearby arboretum. The building was absolutely massive, with enormous crystal panes instead of glass that made up the roof, silvered and dripping with the humidity of the warm interior. After they paid their admission fee, they wandered around the building for almost an hour as they took in the clean, invigorating air and peaceful atmosphere. By the time they left, they had a bounce in their step and were teasing one another with little nips and rough nuzzles. Pinkie eventually put an end to their fun as the time came for them to progress to the next part of their date and led Applejack to a small restaurant with a matte black sign that read Au-delà de doores fermés in a silver, flowing font.

“You sure about this place?” Applejack asked with raised eyebrows as she eyed the massive line of ponies waiting for admission.

“I'm sure,” she replied with a sly smile. “It just so happens that I have a standing reservation here...”

“Is that right?” she asked with an air of uncertainty.

“Yep! Now let's get going...” she said as she walked forward. “The day's not getting any younger after all~”

Applejack swallowed her uncertainties and followed Pinkie up to the bouncer, a rather intimidating brown pegasus mare that wore a black vest along with a sleeveless white shirt under that, brought together with a simple red bow tie. When she noticed Pinkie, her expression brightened from her perpetual neutral glower to a full faced grin. When Pinkie closed the distance, they met with a giggle inducing hug that had Applejack at a total loss for words.

“Pinkie!” she said in a velvety smooth voice, a Manehattan accent clearly evident. “I heard you were dropping by today for a date. What I didn't expect was for you to show up looking like a model pulled straight from the pages of Play Colt.”

Pinkie flushed with a giggle. “It's not every day that I get to take my marefriend out on a big date and I wanted to properly show her how much I love her~” Applejack blushed and looked around nervously.

“Your marefriend's just as drop dead sexy as you are!” she said as she looked Applejack over. “No wonder you were always turning down my offers if you had your eyes on her this entire time...”

“You cut that out right now,” Pinkie said sternly.

“Ha ha ha~” she said with a light punch to Pinkie's shoulder. “Got ya! I know, I know... You really weren't looking for anything back then, but that doesn't mean you can get out of some teasing~ Just wait until the others get a look at your lady love.”

Pinkie grumbled wordlessly with a tiny smirk to give the lie and finally gave a little giggle. “I guess that's fair...”

“Alright,” the mare said with a smirk. “Enough from me. You two go on inside and Missy D will get you seated. I have to keep everything nice and tidy out here, so have a drink for me since I have a couple more hours until my shift is over.”

“Will do, D.R.,” Pinkie replied with little grin. “Don't bust too many skulls... Wouldn't be good for the reputation.”

“No promises~” she said with a giggle before turning back to the pony heading the line who had a suddenly nervous expression on her face at the last bit of their conversation. Pinkie ducked under the rope with Applejack right behind her and they made their way inside. To say that the change from bustling Canterlot street to a languid, gently floating atmosphere was startling to say the least. The interior of the entryway was carpeted with a velvety smooth crimson carpet with golden oak and ebony paneling along the walls that gave a safe, comforting feeling. The air was slightly hazy with smoke from several different sources, giving a heady aroma that only added to the atmosphere as did the golden lamps that gilded the slowly rolling haze. When they made their way to the reception room, an off white unicorn mare with a silvery-blue mane and tale with sapphire blue eyes was wearing a full tuxedo smiled warmly at Pinkie Pie as the pair walked up to her.

“Welcome back, Ms. Pie, to Au-delà de doores fermés,” she said in a lilting accent that matched the atmosphere of the place to a tee. “I'm so happy you've had the chance and occasion to make use of your permanent reservations. I dare say that your table and chair have been quite lonely without you and if not for our impeccable staff, I dare say there would be a coat of dust on them as well.”

“Pshaw!” Pinkie said with a splutter and a laugh. “It hasn't been that long...”

“It's been nearly eight months since you've started helping us and five since you've gotten your own personal table, Ms. Pie,” she replied with a little smirk that said she won this argument.

“I... Huh... Has it really been that long?”

“Indeed it has,” the Maitre'D replied with a solemn nod. “Now, enough dillydallying. You and your lovely date must be famished by now and would like nothing more than to unwind at this point, especially if she's had to keep up with you.”

“Ah do well enough,” Applejack said with a chuckle as she found a chance to get in on the good natured ribbing. “Being a farm mare will give you stamina for days when it comes to Pinkie, here.”

The Maitre'D's eyes widened and she spluttered with incredulity. “A- A farm mare?! I thought you were a model at the least!”

“Yep!” Applejack replied with a blush and a smug, proud smile. “Ah'm Applejack Apple out of Sweet Apple Acres.”

The Maitre'D was temporarily stunned speechless until Pinkie back poking her with a giggle to see if she was broken. After the third time, her hoof was batted away and the mare recovered. “I... I see that we'll be hosting one of our suppliers as well this evening.”

“Really?” Pinkie asked with an odd look between the two.

“Probably the case,” Applejack replied with a smile. “Ah'll explain about the fine details some other time, but let's just say that a lot of the restaurants in Canterlot decided to pool their bits together and place bulk orders all at once, taking their cut of the order when it comes in. Ah don't rightly know who all buys mah apples, but it seems like this place knows who has the goods if they're getting in on the action,” she said, finishing with a sly little smile.

“No wonder their apples tasted so familiar...” Pinkie mused out loud.

“In any case,” the Maitre'D said to get the conversation back on track. “How about we get you two seated and started off with a nice wine?”

“That sound super,” Pinkie said as the head waitress turned and walked to the door on their left. When they walked through it, they found that they were in a rather large room floored and paneled exactly like the entryway, although it had a low ceiling that gave a very cozy feel to the dining room. Almost making it feel intimate despite the large amount of floor space. Along the walls were booths that held many a couple and several herds out and about for a good night while couples and trios sat around the many smaller tables set precisely in grids on the floor. In the direction they were heading, a small stage was seen although no performers were on it at the moment. As they made their way, conversations quieted as eyes were drawn to the shining pair before they resumed their conversations again, the topic being the happy couple and why they had never seen such a beautiful mare or couple before.

After a little bit of weaving through the tables, Applejack and Pinkie were placed at a cozy little table just the right size for both of them that had a little stiff felt placard that had Pinkie Pie's name name on it front and center of the stage. When the Maitre'D removed it, conversation died down a little more when they realized who it was that they were talking about. “Why don't I start you two off with our house white wine?” she asked with a glance between the two. “Unless you two feel in the mood for something a bit more... substantial?”

“I think something more substantial would be better,” Pinkie replied with a smile. “We've had a long day and now it's time to unwind.”

“I'll have that sent right out with a waitress to take your orders,” she replied before walking off to arrange everything.

“Is it just me, or are you some kind of celebrity here?”

“I kinda am,” Pinkie replied with a little giggle. “I'm the pony that kept this place afloat for a couple months and helped make it so successful, but I've only been here a whopping four times now. Plus, that's not to mention that I've only eaten here one other time. This table's on permanent reserve just for me in case I feel like dropping in, but so few ponies know about me in Canterlot that I'm a bit of an enigma.”

“You've always been an enigma, sugar cube,” Applejack said with a smirk. “But Ah love you for it... Wouldn't have Pinkie Pie without a few mysteries wrapped up in ya.” Pinkie blushed and giggled as she moved her hoof across the table to caress Applejack's lightly. She pulled back slightly when she noticed a tawny pegasus mare coming up with a bucket of ice nestling a bottle of wine in it on her back and a pair of glasses under a wing. She turned to her side and Applejack felt her breath catch when she saw the bucket begin tipping, but quickly laughed in appreciation as the bucket slid down and up her unoccupied wing, coming to rest solidly on their table. The glasses quickly came to rest in front of the pair a moment later and they watched as their waitress took the bottle of wine in a wing, pulled the loosely set cork off easily with a quick flick of her other wing and poured each of them a third of a glass.

“Good evening, you two,” she said in a youthfully scratchy voice. “My name is Dust Dervish and I'll be your server for the rest of the night. Would you two care for a menu or would you care to hear the specials tonight?”

“What are your specials tonight?” Pinkie asked as she took the lead again.

“Well, tonight we have a lightly seared garlic parmesan eggplant fillet on a bed of spinach and iceberg lettuce,” she listed off by rote. “It also comes with a bowl of spicy apple and tomato soup.”

“Ooohhh... I'll take it!” Pinkie said excitedly.

“Make it two,” Applejack chimed in with a smacking of her lips.

“I'll bring it right out as soon as it's finished,” she replied with a tiny grin. “It's nice to see you again, Ms. Pie. Thank you so much for the card and present last week for my birthday.”

“Not a problem,” Pinkie replied with a smile. “Glad you enjoyed it.” Dervish smiled again before turning and walking off to place their orders. After she left, Pinkie Pie took her glass of wine and gave it a tentative sip. Her eyes widened in enjoyment at the sweet red wine and let out a sigh as the alcohol shortly began its job of loosening tension in her body. Applejack followed suit and found the wine much to her palate as well.

“So, Ah never would have had you pegged for some underground celebrity in Canterlot...” Applejack began as she started some casual conversation. Pinkie quickly found herself telling Applejack all about how she had gotten into not only helping this specific restaurant so much, but her contests and swelling of wealth. This was a whole side of Pinkie that Applejack was sure nopony ever knew or even guess at. It probably helped that Pinkie's eccentricities often made everypony forget any questions they had about how she kept herself in money all the time.

Oddly enough, Applejack suddenly remembered her grandmother's words about how Pinkie worked harder than even she did and Applejack found herself humbled in front of her marefriend. Pinkie worked hard for everyponies happiness, letting the quality of her recipes bring their monetary rewards and she would spend an absolutely astounding amount of said rewards on everypony else. Applejack couldn't help but feel a slow burning fire light itself in the pit of her stomach and knew that there was only one pony who could put it out.

Pinkie Pie on the other hoof was completely unaware of Applejack's growing desire for her and turned the conversation back to her and what she had been up to lately. Applejack felt that she hadn't much to talk about herself since the only major things going on right now was the beginnings of Galen's forge being built and that wasn't very exciting at the moment. The party he had planned for its completion though? That was an entirely different bushel of apples and she brought the topic of taking Galen out on a date or two before then so that they could really make the party memorable. To say the least, they both had a healthy glow to their cheeks as they talked and planned a bit.

As they poured their second glasses of wine, Pinkie brought up the topic of the movie that they saw with a smile, a little squirm in her seat and a deepening of her blush. This conversation quickly became heated as they brought up favorite characters, favorite parts and a healthy appreciation for the steamier scenes of the movie. By the time the first part of their meals were brought out, they were almost ready to start chewing ice to help cool off. The meal was led off with the soup, still steaming slightly from its freshness. It was sweet, tart and just spicy enough to have a little bite from the peppercorns it was cooked with.

The soup didn't last long as they were eating it while it was barely cool enough to be considered safe to their mouths. After that, they finished the second glasses of their wine and had made part of their way into their third when their entrees made it out to them. The fillet was, in a word, exquisite. The savory garlic, creamy parmesan, succulent eggplant and the bed of leafy greens had the perfect blend of flavors. The clear little crystals of sea salt dusted across the fillet had them grinning like fillies about to get their first lick of the stuff. They knew where the night was going to end and Pinkie made the first move as she stuck her tongue out sensually, lowered her face down to the plate and came back up with a gleaming speck on the tip of her tongue. She curled it back lazily with a little grin and sucked on the morsel until it dissolved, sticking her tongue back out with a wink to show that it was all gone. Applejack felt a telltale dampness on her seat and was infinitely grateful that she was sitting on her tail. If she left a stain, she was sure she would die of mortification.

Their main course didn't fare any better as they ate and drank for the next forty minutes, extending their meal with conversation as their inhibitions lowered to just the right level for what they had planned and both faces flushed red with alcohol, salt and desire for one another that was just about ready to reach its boiling point. When they finished, Pinkie grabbed three ten bit coins and dropped them on the table with an eager smile before she hopped off her seat. “So, ready to go to the final stop of the night, rosy rump?”

Applejack guffawed and hopped off with a grin. “Lead the way, pink cheeks,” she answered with a chortle. Pinkie giggled and trotted off between the tables, leading Applejack with coy looks and tantalizing flicks of her tail, uncaring of the ponies around them as Applejack was the only pony on her mind. Whenever they passed the staff, they gave little calls of encouragement and wishes for a fun night. Pinkie called out replies that seemed to satisfy them, but barely payed any mind to them as she was more focused on getting to their room for the night.

They left the restaurant at a canter, jumping over the red velvet rope with chiming laughter and a clatter of hooves as Pinkie led Applejack on another chase in the dusk down the street. They didn't have far to go as the hotel Pinkie made reservations at was only half a block away, but far enough to get their blood pumping. Pinkie slipped in through the revolving door with a giggle and cantered up to the receptionist and quickly confirmed her room, got the key and signed her name in the guest log by the time Applejack had made her way through the same way as she had gone on a second circuit on accident. Pinkie giggled when Applejack finally caught up with her and they made their way to the first available lift and Pinkie pushed the top floor. As soon as the door closed, Applejack pressed herself up against Pinkie's chest and engaged her in a deeply impassioned kiss that finally brought their desire to the burning point.

Pinkie kissed back with as much passion as Applejack did and parted her lips with a confidence she didn't normally feel and her tongue asked permission for entrance. Applejack moaned and opened her lips readily and felt Pinkie's tongue dart in without any hesitation, caressing her lips and tongue as she brought her own tongue into play. Applejack felt herself being pushed back and suddenly standing upright as Pinkie became more aggressive in her passion, keeping Applejack upright as she leaned up against her and forced her against the wall. Whenever they had to part for breath, Pinkie would pepper kisses and nips up and down Applejack's jaw and neck to her great pleasure while Applejack would bring a hind leg up between Pinkie's. The first time caused Pinkie to start and let out a shuddering moan, but the second time had her grinding her hips against the limb and dampening it with her fiery arousal.

About ten seconds before the bell sounded for the floor, Pinkie pushed off with an annoyed albeit cute little growl and readied herself to exit, as did Applejack a few seconds later when she saw Pinkie give her a wink and jingle the key. It was a good thing they cut their activities off as well as there was a trio of ponies waiting for the lift when it opened up. Neither mare paid much attention to them as Pinkie looked left and right for the right numbers and galloped off to the right with a crystalline laugh, Applejack right behind her. They thundered down the hall and came to a stop only a few seconds after they started, waiting only long enough for Pinkie to open the door, dart through with Applejack and shutting the door hard before their mouths found one another again in the dimly lit room, the light of a full moon shining through a wide window at the head of the bed giving light to the room.

They fought for dominance with panting breaths, pushing bodies that sought as much contact with the other as they could get as they made their progress in jerky starts and stops to the bed. Applejack halted their jumping into bed at the foot for a few moments to roughly take off her bracelets and worked her mouth behind Pinkie's neck as she removed her hair pin and necklace as quickly as she could without damaging them. Pinkie did the same for Applejack's necklace when she realized what she was doing and as soon as the last piece of jewelry hit the floor, Applejack lunged carefully and brought the pair up on the bed with a little bounce, her resting on top.

As soon as their vision settled, Applejack kissed Pinkie hard, thrusting her tongue back in without any resistance and enjoyed the moment before Pinkie fought back with her own dexterous appendage. As they kissed, Applejack brought her hooves up and pinned Pinkie's to her side before breaking for air. She kissed and nipped Pinkie, licking her fur and skin after each act which made Pinkie give off little mewls of pleasure. By the time Applejack was suckling, nipping and licking at her collarbone, Pinkie was practically writhing under her. After a few more moments at this spot, Applejack began shifting her attention down further and further, leaving a broken trail of wet patches of fur that stood up at odd angles and cooling patches where her heated breaths had left their mark.

Eventually, she had to shift her forelegs away. When she did, she quickly brought them under and around Pinkie's hind legs to keep her in her submissive position. After the quick shift, Applejack finished her path down Pinkie's stomach and found her muzzle resting between her per little breasts, nipples standing proudly erect from excitement. Applejack wasted no time as she nuzzled one while she opened her mouth and clamped her lips around the other. Pinkie twitched at the electric sensation seemed to pump even more warmth and heat into her veins, only to be replaced by iced lightning when Applejack nipped and nibbled at it. Seeing her reaction, Applejack spent a little bit of time switching between both breasts, a wicked grin on her face as she watched Pinkie melting under her ministrations.

Eventually, Applejack stopped her teasing and began laying a slow trail of kisses down between her breasts leading to her arousal drenched lips. Pinkie felt her breathing increase as Applejack neared her absolutely sopping folds, letting out faint little squeaks until the first kiss touched the top of them. Applejack heard Pinkie's breath hitch when she made contact with her folds, only to let out a breathy, shivering moan that only served to spur both Applejack's arousal and actions further. Licking her lips to get a taste of her arousal, Applejack was greeted with a tart flavor that had very faint undercurrents of cherries and strawberries. With a quick motion Applejack set herself at the base of her lovers folds, flattened her tongue and dragged her way all the way back up slowly as she gently pressed into her. Pinkie's back arched as she tried to grind her hips into Applejack's muzzle, only to be pulled up short as Applejack would pull back with a smirk while maintaining contact the whole time.

As Applejack lapped and dove into Pinkie's folds, she couldn't help but teasingly graze that little pearl hidden shyly at the top of each stroke. Her teasing drew Pinkie into twitching, panting, mewling mess as her pleasure strained against what seemed like steel bands for release. Applejack, was paying close attention to her and with one final trip from bottom to top, she coiled her tongue around that overly sensitive pearl of pleasure and suckled gently. With this last act, Pinkie felt her pleasure pitch higher than she had ever felt in her life and the imaginary steel bands she felt constricting her blow apart as her world was obliterated in a wash of crashing, electrifying pleasure so intense that she couldn't even make a sound to mark its arrival. When Pinkie reached her peak, Applejack felt her body go utterly slack as minuscule convulsions wracked her form while a tiny spray from her folds matted the fur down around her muzzle. To help prolong her orgasm, Applejack gently lapped at Pinkie's tender folds, drinking in the dribbles that glistened in the faint light. Eventually, the last waves of her orgasm faded away and Applejack moved up to see Pinkie's slightly delirious expression, a weary grin plastered there along with copious amounts of sweat.

“How was that, sugar cube?” Applejack asked in a husky whisper, her messy face split with a grin of her own.

“Mind blowing,” Pinkie replied between breathy pants. “Give me a moment to catch my breath and I'll try my best to return the favor~”

“Take your time,” Applejack said as she settled down to cuddle the temporarily spent mare. “We got all night to get to me.” Instead of replying, Pinkie rolled onto her side and pulled Applejack's head in for a sloppy, breathless kiss that ended as quickly as it came before she settled back down to recover. While Pinkie recovered, Applejack spent her time giving Pinkie light, fleeting kisses to her mane or nibbled the edge of her ears. Feeling the love and affection in Applejack's actions, she recovered faster than she thought she would and shifted onto her side to catch Applejack's mouth in a kiss that tried to convey all the passion she felt for her in it. She shifted further and moved over Applejack as she rolled to maintain the kiss. Eventually they both broke with gasps for air and love in their expressions.

Pinkie started off slowly, with lingering kisses, gentle suckles and heated licks along Applejack's jaw and neck as she retraced her impassioned trail from before. By the time Pinkie was making her slow way down her barrel, Applejack was sighing breathy moans to give voice to her pleasure. When she reached her stomach, Pinkie's actions only multiplied as she began to add playful little nips as well that only made her next loving action seem to be electrified. Deciding to mix things, up, Pinkie started nuzzling energetically on her downward way, leaving a hot trail that flared to life when Pinkie nipped and licked immediately after breaking the contact. As Pinkie closed the gap to her breasts, Applejack felt her arousal flaring back to full force with a heat that she was sure Pinkie could feel.

Suddenly, Applejack felt Pinkie lick up through the small valley between her slightly smaller breasts, leaving a trail of icy fire. Without missing a beat, Pinkie latched her mouth onto a nipple while she brought a hoof up to massage and tease the other which dragged a deep moan out of Applejack. Pinkie nibbled, nuzzled, twirled and sucked stoking Applejack's fires higher than any of the other mares who she brought to her bed in the past managed to. A fleeting thought that crossed her mind brought the fact that she hadn't loved any of those others like she loved Pinkie might have something to do with it as well.

However, all her minimal thoughts fled her mind when she felt Pinkie back away and her heated breath wash over her own slick folds, making her feel skittering sparks fly through her nerves as the fluid soaking her fur cooled ever so slightly from the action. For only one more moment Pinkie hesitated, letting another breath wash over her before she leaned in slowly and lapped her flattened tongue from the bottom to the top of her folds as she tasted her pleasingly musky, slightly fruity juices. Applejack let out a hitched gasp as she felt like climbing the walls from that little bit of pleasure. Pinkie lapped again, her tongue flooding with Applejack's flavor as she delved deeper into her folds, reaching in and curling up against the velvety walls of her tunnel.

Applejack's breathy moans turned husky with a distinctly scratchy sound as her pleasure rocketed. Pinkie let herself smile as she dove back in, tongue straining and reaching as far as she could, twisting and curling as she found one area that had a slightly different texture. When Pinkie's tongue ran and pressed on that special spot, Applejack felt the muscles in her lower back tense up with a fiery sensation as her back arched and her breath hitched with a raspy moan caught in her throat. Pinkie quickly repeated that action once more before quickly extracting her tongue and lapping up between her folds before flicking up against Applejack's barely hidden pearl, latching her lips around it a split second later; lavishing it with firm licks and lightly caressing it with her teeth. Applejack's hoarse cry of release echoed in her ears while a hot gushing splashed against her, soaking both her chin and neck liberally a few seconds later as her whole body tensed and strained.

Applejack was lost in a sea of pleasure from Pinkie's loving ministrations. Never had anypony been able to touch her the way Pinkie was right this instant, never mind the fact that her usual source of pleasure hadn't even been touched yet. However, when she turned her attention to it, Applejack suddenly found herself dragged to the bottom of said ocean without a moments notice. She loosed a scratchy cry and felt her body flash unbearably hot at the same time her nerves were lanced with ice while her vision and hearing was replaced by white noise. When she finally started to come back to Equestria she felt the tender, gentle lapping of Pinkie who cleaned her recently flooded folds of their glistening tide.

Pinkie eventually stopped her lapping when she noticed Applejack's breathing begin to slow again. She looked up to see a pair of weary emerald eyes looking back at her and smiled warmly. “I take it you enjoyed yourself?” she asked in a warm tone.

Applejack let her head flop back with a few weak, husky chuckles and gave a content sigh. “If only you knew, lover,” she replied. “Ah'm too tuckered for a shower...”

“I could give you another tongue bath~” Pinkie teased as she stood up and began pulling the edge of the comforter across the bed.

“Maybe some other night when Ah have the stamina,” Applejack pleaded, worried about what might happen if she became addicted to Pinkie's special brand of pleasure.

Pinkie giggled with the comforter in her mouth, dropping it after she had pulled it back enough. “Think you can drag yourself under the sheets so you don't fall asleep in your own mess?” she asked with a smile evident in her tone.

“Ah suppose...” Applejack said groggily as a long day, a long date and a mind blowing orgasm finally started to catch up with her. She rolled over and scooted forward on her stomach which had Pinkie snorting in amusement and a smile coming up involuntarily on her own face. When she had made it over to the uncovered section and dropped her head down on the pillow, Pinkie flung the comforter back over the pair while she quickly dropped down and curled up around Applejack, forming the big spoon out of the pair.

“Sweet dreams, apple of my eye,” Pinkie murmured as she wrapped her forelegs around Applejack's barrel.

“No fair,” Applejack grumbled half awake. “Ah can't think of anything cute to call you...”

“I don't mind,” Pinkie replied as she tightened her hold and nuzzled into her mane with a content sigh.

“Love you, Pinkie...” Applejack said in half a whisper as sleeps talons sank deeper into her consciousness, dragging her under faster and faster.

“I love you too,” Pinkie whispered back as she felt her lover falling asleep in her hooves. Applejack's breathing deepened more and more as all the tension left her form, one last sigh escaping as sleep finally claimed her. “And I know you'll never let me go...” Pinkie whispered to herself as she surrendered herself to sleep a few moments later.

We Should Do This Again (Part 1 of 2)

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We Should Do This Again Sometime (Part 1)

Galen woke up from his nap with a sharp intake of air and a groaning sigh just over an hour when he felt the change in the library's atmosphere. He squirmed and made odd little noises on the couch Twilight had loaned him before letting out a massive yawn and sat up to look blearily around. He didn't notice anything out of the ordinary although he heard some low murmurs coming from the kitchen. He got up from the couch and made his ponderous way there as he roughly rubbed the back of his head to try to wake up a bit more. When he could see through the doorway, he saw Twilight and Lero standing around and announced his presence with a massive yawn that had both of then chuckling.

“Have a good nap, Romareo?” Twilight asked with a giggle.

“Tha' supposed ta be some odd wordplay?” Galen asked as he popped an eyebrow in question.

“They have some really odd cross cultural connections here,” Lero supplied with an smirk. “In fact, most of their major cities are equine based puns on some American cities. Baltimare, Filly Delphia and Los Pegasus to name a few.”

“Huh...” Galen replied, nonplussed. “Tha's certainly something.”

Lero gave a snort of amusement. “You get used to it after a while. I constantly frustrated Twilight by my breaking out into odd bouts of laughter when she was teaching me about Equestria at large. Well, that is until I finally told her about why some of these things were so funny to me. Now, whenever I find something like that, I just roll with it.”

“Ah'll keep tha' in mind,” he replied with a slow shake of his head.

“So,” Twilight chimed in with a little grin. “Do you want to stay for lunch or head out after you catch up with Lero?”

“If it isn't any trouble...”

“Oh, none at all for a friend,” she said happily. “We don't have too much here, but definitely enough for a good sized salad and a few grilled cheese sandwiches.”

“Tha' sounds good ta me,” Galen replied with a grateful smile. “But if it ain't much trouble, would yew mind if Ah cooked tha sandwiches? Ah'm always bein' treated an' maybe a bit coddled... Ah wouldn't want ta loose mah edge in tha kitchen.”

“Life here in Equestria might do that,” Lero said with a chuckle. “Mares always try to treat their stallions as much as possible. Keep them interested since there's so many for them to choose from.”


“Yeah,” Twilight supplied with a slightly melancholic smile. “Only two to three in every ten foals born are colts as of the last census. Always has been and it looks to always be that way. I'll tell you more about it if you want some other time, but let's just say that any mare who can catch a stallions eye and keep it is either good at catering to the whims of a spoiled colt or found herself somepony who's a cut above the rest. I really lucked out with Lero, much to many a mares disappointment around town, especially since he isn't interested in increasing the size of his herd.”

“Ah don' think Ah'd much care ta associate with them spoiled colts yew talked about,” Galen replied with a disgusted grimace.

“That's why I know you're going to make a few certain mares very happy,” Twilight said with a smile that quickly turned into a gasp as she looked up at Lero whose eyebrows rose halfway up at that statement.

“Is that so?” he asked with a questioning look between a blushing Twilight and a grinning Galen.

“Yep,” Galen supplied. “Ah'm gonna be here fer good, neighbor.”

“Care to tell me the details over lunch?”

“How 'bout at tha cookout?” he suggested. “Makes fer good fireside conversation. Planned on askin' yew a bit about courtin' mares an' such anyway, so Ah'm sure Spike wouldn't mind tha pointers too.”

“That's really thoughtful, Galen,” Lero replied with a warm smile. “But I think I may have a few things to pass on, no page of notes under the table required.” He finished with a mischievous grin.

“Hey!” Twilight exclaimed with an exceptionally cute pout and radiant cheeks.

“Sorry, love,” Lero replied as he knelt down to eye level, sparkle of mirth still in his eye. “Couldn't help myself.”

“I suppose it was pretty silly, bringing notes out on my first date,” Twilight said with a little titter as her pout turned into a half grin. “But don't think you'll be getting out of this completely unscathed.” She finished with a look that said promised a special kind of retribution that not even her sister-wives would be able to talk her out of.

“Alright, yew two,” Galen said with a chortle. “Ah'm sure yew could go at it in a supply closet since Spike's still upstairs, but Ah'm hungry an' don' know where yew keep yer stuff.”

The pairs cheeks flushed as they chuckled at Galen's good natured ribbing. “I suppose he does have a point~” Twilight teased with a wink up at Lero.

“You're almost as bad as Dash now,” Lero replied, warm humor lending his voice a rich tone. “I swore off of quickies in supply closets after we almost got caught by your mom that one time.”

“Fine,” she replied with a mock huff. Galen and Lero both chuckled at her as she lit her horn and a sudden swarm of glowing purple cooking utensils, ingredients and plates came from around the room and settled down around the counter top with minimal noise. “Are you sure you want to cook? It wouldn't be any trouble for me.”

“Ah'm sure,” he replied as he turned to turn the stove on, a clicking noise sounding as the starter pulsed and a fwoosh as the gas caught alight. He placed the pan on top after he turned the gas down and went about slicing half inch slices of cheese from the chilly block with quick, precise knife strokes. As he worked, Twilight sidled up beside him so she could put the salad together while Lero sat down at the table to wait patiently as they worked. In a relatively short amount of time, Galen had enough cheese sliced up for ten of those toasty treats and stopped at that while Twilight was studiously ensuring the salad was as visually pleasing as it was nutritious. He wanted enough to make a decent lunch for three plus himself, not clog their veins with cheesy delights.

With a quick swipe of his knife, a cube of butter was put on the skillet with only a faint hiss as it melted. Quickly tossing enough strips of cheese to completely cover a few pieces of bread, he managed to squeeze three on the skillet and topped them with another slice of bread and put the lid on top to trap the heat, ensuring that the cheese would melt without burning the bread. Quickly enough, the scent of wonderfully toasting bread swept through the kitchen and library. After a few minutes, Galen checked the sandwiches and flipped them to reveal the dark brown color of a slightly over toasted sandwich. Part way through this first skillet of sandwiches Spike wandered in with a yawn as Twilight was finishing her portion of the meal and brought it to the table with some vinegar and oil for dressing.

Spike joined Lero at the table after a quick, bleary eyed greeting and a few words of praise about how good lunch smelled as Twilight joined them with the salad. After they settled in, the rest of the cooking went fairly smoothly as Galen passed the first three sandwiches over to the table so that they could dig in while he made their second set of sandwiches. “So, how's everything coming along with the cookout?” Lero replied with a little grin, eager to hear about their outing tomorrow night.

“Not as well as Ah'd like,” Galen replied a touch sullenly as he cut another slice of butter to cook his sandwiches. “Ah'm gonna have ta get a few rabbits through Fluttershy since Ah couldn't lay any snares 'cause o' some lumberyard guard dog reject.”

Twilight's eyes widened as she gasped, a hoof coming up to her mouth. “You were attacked by a timberwolf?!”

“Yeah,” he said simply before a wicked grin split his face. “Fer all tha runnin' we did, tha' termite ridden mongrel didn't even give me a splinter. Next time, Ah'll be sure ta bring a maul an' split some wood fer a bonfire.”

Lero and Spike both had looks of incredulity on their faces while Twilight just looked at him blankly before all four of them broke out in chuckles. “You almost had me worried there,” Twilight replied as Galen set a pair of sandwiches to toasting. “You sounded so serious.”

“If Ah can, Ah'll take one out,” he replied in an even tone without looking around. “They're dangerous an' need ta be dealt with fer tha safety o' everyone.”

“That's not really an option,” Twilight replied in a consoling tone. “They can't be dealt with. They're manifestations of the Everfree Forests spirit and reform if they're broken apart. We just try to steer clear of them for the most part and generally it works. Plus they have a rather glaring weakness. Just toss a decent sized stone down ones throat and it'll 'choke,' giving you an easy ten to twenty minutes to get away before it fully reforms.”

“Really?” he said incredulously, finally turning to look at Twilight. “A stone?”

“Yep,” she replied with a giggle.

“It's true,” Spike replied with look of pride and a laugh of his own. “Even I took one out with a pebble.”

“Huh,” he said with a nonplussed expression. “If anypony would know, Ah'm guessin' yew would.”

Lero gave a prideful nod. “That she would be and if she didn't it wouldn't take her long to be an expert on the subject either.” Twilight blushed at the praise and leaned over to give him a quick, if slightly greasy, kiss. Galen chuckled at that and turned back to his cooking. The conversation died down for the next few minutes as Galen made his lunch and they finished their last sandwiches. When he finished with his last sandwich, he turned the stove off and brought his meal with him as he took his seat and took a pair of large bites out of a cooler sandwich.

He ate a few more bites before the memory of a certain eagless popped into his mind. “So we'll be havin' another guest yew jus' so happen ta know joinin' our little cookout tomorrow night.”

“Oh?” Lero said with a raised eyebrow.

“Alexandria's 'er name,” Galen replied with a little grin as he watched Lero and Twilight's expressions brighten up. He finished off his first sandwich and took a bite out of his next one.

“Really?” they asked eagerly and once again, simultaneously. Galen and Spike laughed at their synchronicity for a few moments before Galen nodded in the affirmative. “How'd you manage that?” Lero asked with an eager smile. “We've been trying to get her out of her house more often aside from when Lyra or her job forces her to.”

“Well...” Galen told them the basic gist of the story between bites of his sandwich, all three of his friends looked resolutely grim by the end despite his nonchalance. “But Ah coaxed a promise out o' 'er before she went on 'er way.”

“You need to be careful around Honeydew,” Lero replied guardedly. “She's a very troublesome mare and knows how to make problems for others. If she gives you anymore trouble, be sure to let us know and we'll help out how we can.”

“Ah'll deal with 'er if she becomes a problem,” Galen answered, leaving no doubt that if he had to, she would always give him a wide berth forevermore by the time he was finished.

“Just make sure you resolve it as peacefully as possible,” Twilight preemptively chided. “You really don't need to pay any fines for fighting in Ponyville, especially since they can get a little hefty for excessive violence.”

“Ah'll keep tha' in mind,” he replied with a thankful smile even if his tone didn't lighten.

“So, I think you may enjoy hanging out with Alexandria,” Twilight said after an awkward moment to both lighten the mood and change the topic. “She's an inventor of clock and steamwork devices with a healthy understanding of arcane applications and modifications to said devices.”

“Sounds like she needs ta get out more often,” Galen mused before taking another bite. “But yew seem pretty well adjusted fer such a sharp mare.”

“That's just me though... I have Lero, my herdmates and all my friends to balance me out,” Twilight said with a little sigh. “To be honest, that was the main reason she was sent to Ponyville from Canterlot and given the job she has now in addition to all her other duties. Before she left the castle, she was the head of the Engineering branch of the entire Guard. She's absolutely brilliant, but had to have a keeper, otherwise she would be living in filth as her own genius consumed her. Lyra's made huge breakthroughs with her with some help from Lero, Dash and I, but this is the first time she's really gone out and promised to do something on her own.”

“Ah did promise her meat though,” Galen said with a little chuckle. “Tha's a great motivator fer those who 'ave a taste fer it.”

Twilight only shook her head and gave an amused sigh. “She must be skipping some vital meals in favor of getting more materials then. I'm going to have to talk to Lyra about her.”

“That eagless,” Lero said with a rueful smirk. “She's really something else. I mean, not even Twilight was that bad on her most hectic of study days.”

Galen snorted in amusement at that before the conversation generally died down as they let him polish off the rest of his meal before it went cold on him. When he finally finished his sandwiches, he took the plates and skillet to the sink to let them soak with a little soap to break up the grease while Twilight magicked everything else back to its place from her seat. “Anyway, Ah need ta be on mah way,” Galen said with a content sigh. “Need ta pick up a few other things aside from tha... ahem... live ingredients.”

“Alright,” Lero replied with a grin. “Thanks again for setting this up. Anything I should bring?”

“Jus' bring some more o' tha' brew yew make an' Ah'll be a happy camper,” he replied with a grin.

“Will do,” Lero said with a nod. “See you tomorrow night at seven?”

“Tha's tha plan, so Ah'll see yew two there.” Spike and Lero nodded in agreement. With nothing else to do or talk about, he made his farewell to Twilight and made his way outside to get on with the remainder of his errands for the day. He crossed over into the market, smiling and greeting the ponies who extended the simple courtesy and wandering around for a little bit before picking out the right road that led to Fluttershy's cottage and started down the path. When he finally made it there, Fluttershy was watering the plot of flowers in her front yard and greeted him happily. He returned the pleasantries and closed the gap.

“So Ah had a bit of a mishap tha other day an' Ah couldn't lay any snares,” he said with a slightly chagrined expression. “Think Ah'd be able ta take yew up on yer offer an' buy a few wild rabbits off o' ya?”

“Of course,” she replied with a sad little smile. “How many do you need?”

“Ah think six should be enough,” he replied.

“Six? Why so many?”

“Well, Ah'm havin' a cookout with Alexandria, Big Mac, Leera an' Spike,” he explained. “Wanted ta have enough fer us meat eaters ta have our fill. Plus, Ah want one jus' fer Riley.”

“That's... nice,” she replied with obvious wariness about the subject since the majority of the guests would be eating rabbit.

“Yeah, but Ah still wish Ah didn't have ta bother yew with some o' tha preparations,” he said with a scratch on the back of his neck.

“It's no problem,” she said with an understanding smile. “Some times things just don't work out, but that's why I'm here. Alexandria's usually so busy that she only comes to me for fish and rabbits only a couple times a month, but she must be swamped with work right now because she hasn't been by for weeks.”

“Twilight said she may be skipping on her meat based meals so she can use 'er bits elsewhere,” he said with a chuckle.

Fluttershy immediately took on an irked expression. “She really can't be doing that! She needs to eat right or her health's going to suffer!”

“Twilight said Lyra'll have some words with 'er, so no need to get yer feathers too flustered,” he replied with a little grin at his turn of phrase. “At tha very least, she'll eat plenty tomorrow nigh'.”

“Okay...” she said, her expression softening only a little. “But you be sure to let her to know that I want to see her here before Wednesday next week or I'll be having words with her as well.”

“Ah'll make sure she knows,” he replied with a chortle.

“Good,” she said with a firm nod. “Now, would you like to take your rabbits with you now or come back tomorrow sometime?”

“Ah'll pay fer 'em now an' come back tomorrow,” he replied. “How much do Ah owe yew?”

“Twelve bits, two per rabbit,” she answered. “Fish are two for one bit in case you were wondering.”

Galen hummed in thought for a moment and nodded when he came to a decision. “Go ahead an' make it five rabbits an' four fish in tha' case. Would yew mind if Ah came by 'round six 'r six thirty ta pick them up?”

“That shouldn't be a problem,” she replied with a smile.

“Thank yew so much, Fluttershy,” Galen said with a relieved sigh as he dug around in his coin pouch for a ten bit coin and a pair of singles. After he passed her the bits, his expression changed to one of chagrin and apology. “Ah can only imagine how uncomfortable this whole business makes yew, bein' a warden an' all yet havin' ta bring in yer charges ta give in exchange fer a few paltry bits. Jus' fer us ta simply eat right.”

“It never really gets any easier, even after all these years,” she replied with a sad little smile. “But, all the bits spent goes to provide supplemental supplies for all the creatures under my care. They all know this and even though it's sad, they know that they leave a little something that helps all their friends and family this way.”

“Ah'll let you be, then,” he said as he took a step back. “Ah'll see yew tomorrow afternoon?”

“Of course,” she replied, sad smile still on her face. “We'll be waiting for you.”

Galen just nodded with a thankful smile before turning around with a wave and walking off across the hills instead of going back through town. As he walked, he pondered his visit to the gentle mare and felt a strong pang of remorse. He really did feel a bit guilty for asking Fluttershy to provide the creatures he would be slaughtering for their enjoyment tomorrow evening. If he could help it, he'd never ask her to perform that particular responsibility again if only because he thought of providing meat for himself and Riley as his own prerogative. His thoughts were derailed as he spotted the familiar red coat of Big Mac wandering through the orchard and hurried along to catch up with the stallion before he got wherever he was going.

“'Ey! Big Mac!” he called out when he was withing hearing range. “Yew got a moment?” Big Mac looked around and stopped when he saw who it was that called out to him and gave a little grin in greeting. “Hey big fella, jus' thought o' somethin' when Ah spotted yew. Yer gonna be tha only pony at tha cookout an' we're gonna have some meat there. Ah was jus' wonderin' if yew'd prefer it we cook it at a diff'rent fire an' eat as a group, unless yew jus' don' care one way or tha other?”

“Ah don't think Ah'll mind ya cookin' at the same fire,” he replied after a moment of thought. “No need ta go out of your way just on my account.”

“Thanks, Mac,” he replied with a wide smile. “Jus' didn't want ta make yew feel like tha odd one out tomorrow.”

“Ah'll be fine,” Mac said with a chortle. “Thanks for bein' considerate, though.”

“Hey, it's what friends do, righ'? Wouldn't want ta make yew uncomfortable.”

“Like Ah said, don't worry 'bout it,” he replied with a wave of his fore hoof.

“Alrigh',” Galen said with a grin as he held out his fist to which Big Mac bumped with his raised foreleg. “Ah'm gonna go get started on tha preparations fer tha fire pit, so Ah'm gonna go off an' find a nice spot.”

Big Mac just nodded in reply and waved as Galen turned and walked off toward the farm house. It didn't take him too long to come up on the farm house, but nopony was out and about, so he just made his way over to the barn and pulled a spade from the tool room. With that taken care of, he made his way out into the north orchard at large and began wandering around in search of a clearing to use. He meandered around the property for a few good hours, scouring hills and gullies for a section of land just large enough that he wouldn't have to worry about damaging any trees. Eventually, he found the perfect spot almost three quarters of a mile away from the farm. It was situated on the northwest side of a stepped hill and had most of the work already done for him as it had once been the resting place for an old tree that had been felled due to either age or disease.

There was a large swatch of still uncovered soil and the land was just flat enough that if he were to bring out a few logs for seating, they shouldn't be too precarious to sit on. With a glance around, he spotted the roof top of the farm house and set the location in his mind before he turned back to the cleared ground and got to work digging the pit, six inches down and three feet in diameter. The dirt he dug up in neat chunks and set a few paces away so it could be easily replaced the next day. He finished the digging after only ten minutes of quick work and neatened up the edges to his liking and called it good at that. When finished, he made the trek back to the farm and found Granny Smith rocking on the front porch with a content smile on her face.

“Afternoon, sonny!” she called out when she saw him walking across the yard. “What're you gettin' up to?”

“Afternoon yerself, Granny,” he called back with a grin and a wave. “Jus' gettin' things 'round fer tomorrow night. Found a nice spot an' dug tha fire pit, jus' need ta bring a couple logs out fer seats an' a bit o' firewood.”

“Ah see,” she replied with a smile. “If ya don't mind takin' a cart, you can use the hauling one in the barn we use fer when we drop an old tree. As fer logs, Ah'm sure there's a few lyin' 'round here.”

“Thanks, Granny,” he said with a smile. “Definitely easier than draggin' a pair of logs with a piece of rope slung over mah shoulders.”

“Glad to help,” Granny said with a chuckle.

With that, Galen went into the barn, replaced the spade and pulled the single axle cart out. The traces came just up to mid-stomach on him, so he went back in for a thick piece of rope to tie on the hitch so he could pull it without doubling over. With that taken care of, he pulled it around to the side of the barn where the small wood lot was and loaded up a pair of six foot long logs that had been split length ways as well as a good portion of seasoned firewood. When all was said and done, the load was over one hundred fifty pounds, but nothing excessive compared to what he'd been forced to deal with before.

Draping the rope over the back of his neck, he hooked his arms around the rope on either side, pulling them forward to pull out any slack before leaning forward and pressing forward with only minor resistance until he found some purchase on the ground. After he got the cart moving, he looked over to Granny and gave an awkward wave with a bright grin. Granny laughed and waved back as she watched him leading the heavy load with him into the orchard. Applejack and Pinkie sure found an ambitious stallion, she thought to herself with a grin. He certainly doesn't do things by any half measure, that's for sure. Maybe Ah'll have a few great grandfoals sooner rather than later if they turn serious. With that last thought, Granny leaned back in her chair and gave a sigh before nodding off for another nap in the warm afternoon.

Galen, on the other hand had soon broke out into a light sweat as he made his meandering way between the hills and trees since there wasn't a cart path in the direction he was going and the grass was just tall enough that it threatened to drag the cart to a stop if he slacked off in his efforts. The only thing the grass didn't count on was his desire for a good time with his friends and the energy that thought provided him. If anything, he only picked up his pace with a fierce grin and forged on ahead. The second trip took him almost half again as long just to reach the foot of the hill, but that was to be expected with a heavy cart in tow.

Steeling himself, Galen leaned forward and started sprinting as much as he could to build up momentum so that he wouldn't stall out. When he hit the incline, he scrambled momentarily and strained as his line gave him slack only to pull on him with twice as much force suddenly when he was about a quarter of the way up. He leaned more forward until he was almost parallel with the ground and brought his hands to play as much as he could, digging his fingers into the soil as if he were climbing a cliff. The pace was slow but he never came to a full stop and crested the hill with heavy pants and dirt encrusted hands of a man who just overcame some self imposed challenge and overcame it. He pulled the cart over to the side of the fire pit and dropped the rope from his shoulders with a slight groan as blood suddenly flowed freely once again through the dense ridges of muscle.

He worked his shoulders back to life with a few arm rotations and moved to the side of the cart before he had a chance to cool down, hefting a log to the side and pulling it up and over the side so that one end tipped over and landed with a thud on the ground. Moving the log around, he lined it up with where he wanted it to land and let it fall with a satisfyingly loud whump. He repeated the process with the the next log and hopped up into the cart when that was done so he could quickly toss half of the firewood into the pit while the other half landed beside it in a messy pile. When it was empty, he hopped back out and went about neatening the pile in the pit into a nice, tightly packed cone while moving the other pile to one end of a log so that whoever that sat there could toss in more as needed. Happy with his arrangement, he draped the rope back across his shoulders and made his way carefully back down the hillside on his way back to the farm. When he finally returned to the farm and emerged from the barn after returning the cart, he found Apple Bloom waiting for him just outside.

“So, you're takin' sis out on a date this Sunday an' havin' a cookout with Big Mac tomorrow night,” she stated with a curious expression that turned to one of slight embarrassment and want as only a young mare could have. “Am Ah gonna have a day with ya too?”

Galen couldn't help but feel a pang of guilt as he looked at the growing filly. Here he was, building relationships and friendships with her siblings and she felt left out. If he had had the flexibility, he would have kicked himself in the back of his head for his thoughtlessness. “O' course yew'll get your own day, Bloom,” he said as he knelt down so that they were closer in height, his voice taking on an apologetic tone. “Ah'm sorry fer not sayin' anythin' sooner, but Ah've jus' been so busy. Yew've been jus' as patient an' acceptin' o' me as everypony else an' Ah'm more than 'appy ta make a day jus' fer yew. Ah'll let ya pick yer day any day o' tha week an' we'll do whatever yew want.”

“You mean it?” she asked with a brilliant smile. Galen just gave her as wide and endearing a smile as he could. She giggled and launched herself into him with a hug that latched onto his neck with the strength only an ecstatic filly could have. “In that case, would it be alright if all my friends came along as well so they can get ta know you too? They're the next closest thing ta family Ah have and Ah want ta share everythin Ah can with them...”

“Are yew sure?” he asked as he returned the warm hug. “It's yer day, after all...”

“Ah don't mind,” she said with a giggle. “They're mah best friends in the world, so it's only right Ah let them come along. You don't really mind, do ya?”

“They're lucky ta have such a great friend as yew, Bloom,” he replied with a laugh. “Ah don' mind since it's what yew wanna do.”

“The more the merrier, right?” she said as she loosed her hold and dropped back to the ground. Galen nodded with a little grin. “In that case, Ah'm sure we'll have a blast!” At that, she turned and galloped off with a bright laugh across the yard and into the south orchard, likely to relate the news to her friends and make plans for their day.

Galen shook his head ruefully, knowing that he could have handled one energetic filly on his own. If her friends matched her for energy, he may end up ran into the ground by the end of the day. Oh well, he thought with a smirk. Bloom deserves ta 'ave a piece o' me, jus' like 'er siblings. He stood back up and walked back inside the house with a sigh, patting Riley's head when he rushed up happily upon seeing his return. Checking the clock, he saw that it was almost five by now and decided that he'd only take a light snack, hop in the tub for a relaxing bath and turn in early for bed after the day and night he'd had. He let Granny know what he planned as well as the outcome involving his little conversation with Apple Bloom when he spotted her on the couch in the living room and she just nodded.

He gathered up and ate a few crisp apples, half a roll of moist brown bread slathered in chill butter, a hunk of bright orange cheese and a couple hard ciders. When he finished his cold meal, he retired to the bathroom for a steamy soak and unwound with the pleasant rumbling of his stomach digesting its meal before changing into a light tunic and a pair of shorts. He dropped by the kitchen to say his goodnights to the family, them saying theirs in turn and made his way to lay down for sleep with the door open just enough for Riley to come in when he was ready. Sleep wasn't long in coming after his head met the pillow.

We Should Do This Again (Part 2 of 2)

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We Should Do This Again Sometime (part 2)

The next day found Galen up with the crack of dawn and found him with very little to do for the first half of the day aside from helping make breakfast. During breakfast, Bic Mac and Applejack were teasing Apple Bloom about the day she and her friends would be spending with Galen as only siblings could, while warning him of all the trouble the fillies might get him into. He just waved off their concerns, taking their tales with a grain of salt and told them that he'd be more than able to handle anything that they could dish out. Apple Bloom, on the other hoof, shot back at their own teasing with snarky responses that had everyone laughing and chuckling. When all the older ponies had made their way out of the kitchen, Apple Bloom lingered for a few moments to let him know that she wanted her day to be this Tuesday and for him to plan on it being an all day thing. Galen gave her the okay and she ran off with a grin.

With everypony out and about, Galen decided to kill some time by watching the construction stallions at work with Riley at his side. They had made short work of digging out the foundation like the forestallion had said and today was the first day where they would be bringing in the first blocks of stone. They had hired on some temporary laborers and had three heavy duty carts, each laden with a single thousand pound slab of stone. They were slow and methodical in their laying of the stonework and Galen didn't see the lone unicorn doing much of anything except for tapping each block with his glowing horn. When he asked about it, the forestallion told him that the unicorn's special talent was creating a solid and stable foundation. He did it with a special, and intricate enchantment that would fuse all the blocks together and ensure that as the foundation settled, it would always stay level and never crack. If that was true, then Galen was exceptionally happy that he'd called upon these contractors for his forge. When told that most every construction company had a similar unicorn, his enthusiasm dwindled slightly, but he was still content in supporting these local ponies.

He watched them work with interest for almost three hours, when they called the day early due to the demanding and grueling work they put in to provide a quality service. Well, that and so they didn't break a slab to put more strain on their unicorn to repair it. They packed up and made their way back to town with a weary, but not unduly so, stride and made their farewells. Just before he left, the forestallion came up to Galen and hoofed over a hefty bag of bits, the cover charges (along with a hefty donation from his own wallet) for all the stallions and their mares for the festivities in a few weeks' time. Galen thanked him and took the bag to his room after the stallion left.

With noon coming around shortly, Galen decided to get an early start on their lunch. He caught himself and reduced the amount needed as Applejack wouldn't be back until tomorrow because of her date with Pinkie and got to work on a light meal that would carry them through until supper for those who'd be around. The ponies of the house filed in and sat around making casual conversation until Galen finished his preparations and quieted as they were busy eating their fill. The meal was finished in short order and everypony filed back out as Galen took charge again, cleaning and drying all the dishes.

When he'd finished that chore, he decided to go out to the side of the barn and cut some wood for a while to replenish what he'd be using tonight while Riley ran off to parts unknown with Winona in the lead. The work greedily devoured the time as he got caught up in his task. He worked for roughly an hour and a half, producing a pile of wood easily three times as large as what he'd taken and spent the next half hour stacking the wood with the other fresher material along the east side of the barn. Instead of taking a shower, he just stripped off his shirt, dunked it in the rain barrel and dumped a few small buckets over his head to wash off before replacing his soaked shirt. He shivered a bit at that and decided to go check on the spot one more time to make sure everything was as he had left it. Letting Granny know, he walked off and found the spot in good order. He checked the wood and found the bottom layer only the slightly damp from the moisture in the ground. A bit of lamp oil and a few sparks, and he'd had a fine fire crackling merrily.

Satisfied with that, he returned to the farm and rounded up a small flask of said oil along with his flint, setting them on the edge of the patio for easy access when the time came along. Since it was only just coming on four o'clock, Galen decided to take an hour long nap on his bed and woke up a few minutes past his self imposed limit with Riley cuddled up by his side. He smiled and got up without waking up his furry friend and made his way out, deciding to go to Fluttershy's early so that he could get the rabbits and fish prepared without his guests having to see the tail end of the bloody process, especially since Big Mac might not appreciate it despite his acceptance of the cooking of the meat at the same fire.

With that thought, Galen let Granny know that he was going out to get a few things for the cookout and would be out for a while. The trip to Fluttershy's went by fairly quickly and she was both happy to see him as well as more than a bit sad that her charges time had come sooner than expected. She understood his reasoning as he explained his actions in a roundabout manner and agreed that it might be for the best. When asked about the manner he would end their lives, he explained that a quick and painless snapping of their neck would be the way he'd do it. She looked slightly queasy after his words, but nodded her approval nonetheless, saying that it was as merciful an end as she could ask for. Before leaving, he asked her if he would be able to get a large sheet of waxed paper for a few odds and ends. She nodded in understanding and said it wasn't a problem as she went about fetching a decently sized piece, returning with it a few moments later along with a wicker cage filled with healthy looking rabbits.

Galen took the paper, small wicker cage and the fish, which had already been cleaned and gutted, wrapped in a thick brown waxed paper. Noticing his slightly awkward load, Fluttershy asked if he'd care to borrow a basket to carry the fish and paper in. He gave her his thanks and accepted her gift with a warm smile before making his way back, circling wide of the house through the orchard to avoid any awkward encounters. He made his way to the hill just east of the fire pit, set the basket and fish down and readied himself for his tasks. He pulled out his largest knife and knifed out a plug of soil and lifted it out of the ground. With that taken care of, he moved back to the cage and pulled out one of the rabbits which tensed as he grabbed it, held by the neck in a tightly pinching grip just past the shoulders so it couldn't escape. He turned around, took a breath and raised his free hand, bringing it down quickly with his palm open. He made contact, feeling only the briefest of resistance as the poor creatures neck tried to withstand the force and broke like a small twig, going immediately limp as the life fled its small form.

Taking a deep breath, he placed it on the ground and turned back to the cage for the next. The other rabbits perished in a similar manner, quickly and painlessly. With that grim task out of the way he turned to the grisly task of skinning and preparing them for cooking. For this part he used his second largest blade as it had a keener edge and made quick work of the rabbits, placing the entrails in the hole he dug after draining the majority of the blood out into the same hole. When he finished with each carcass, he placed it in the basket he had been loaned, lined with the extra wax paper Fluttershy had given him. He replaced the plug, tamping it down with a firm heel to remove any indication that something was amiss.

He returned to the fire pit and hung the basket up in one of the trees on one of the bare branches so that it would be out of reach in case one of the dogs happened to catch scent of it. He set the cage at the same tree so he could keep track of everything. With that done, he returned to the farm and made his way to the bathroom to wash off as much of the scent of blood he could from his hands and cleaned his blades before checking the time. It was roughly five thirty by now, so he decided to kill the rest of the time until their meeting time by putting together the rest of tonight's ingredients. He found a pair of medium sized handled cast iron kettles, a few large old wooden bowls and mugs in the back of the cupboard, spoons, a pair of ladles and even a set of metal skewers that he asked if he could use. Granny told him that by this point he didn't have to ask her about borrowing little odds and ends before shooing him off in mock annoyance to his great amusement.

After that, he put all of their eating utensils and implements in one of the kettles and hunted down a small basket that he'd use to carry the rest of the food in. He found enough ingredients to whip up enough stew, both regular and vegetarian, and put a little note for Big Mac or Apple Bloom to let them know what all he took, promising to replace all the things with an early morning trip to the market the next day. With that taken care of, he checked the time and found that it was six o'clock. Time to head off and start the stew, so he grabbed the lamp oil and flint, putting them in his pocket when he got outside. He took the empty kettle and filled it to the brim with water from the spigot outside before finally making his lumbering way once again into the orchard.

Once he got there, he settled everything within easy reach and got to work starting the fire. It went quickly with the liberal use of lamp oil and he quickly had a good fire going. He wedged the empty kettle down into the space between the pile of wood and the lip of the pit, slowly filling it with half of the water so that it wouldn't tip over. When done with that, he took the other kettle and settled it into a spot to the left of the other and set it in a similar way. With the water heating up, Galen took two bowls out of their little pile and started dicing up veggies equally between them. Carrots, leeks, roughly cubed potatoes (after being quickly skinned), red pepper and a full clove of fresh garlic for each.

With that done, he brought out the ingredients for the base and started distributing them into the water; a parcel of whole wheat flour, a few heaping tablespoons of corn starch, salt, black pepper and a medley of dried herbs. The water was still heating up and the offset heating would delay it that much further. Confident that it would keep to itself for now and not run away with its boiling for a decent while, he left everything as it was and made his way back just in case any of his guests were early for the festivities. As he made this next trip, he swore to himself that this was probably the most work he'd done since coming to Equestria, aside from getting his forge put in order, and felt a sense of contentment solely from the fact that he was doing this for his friends and acquaintance.

When he made it back to the farm, he hunted down a clean bucket in the house after checking the time, filled it with ice and some water and made his way down to the cellar to pull a dozen hard ciders for the adults along with four non-alcoholic ones just for Spike since he wasn't sure if he could have any. Normally, he wouldn't add the water to the bucket, but it would serve a dual purpose in case he needed to re-water the kettles if they had boiled too far down by the time he made it back. When he reemerged from the cellar and walked to the front, Big Mac was sitting just in front of the porch and nodded with a smile to Galen who returned the gestures. Setting the bucket down, he waited in amicable silence with the stoic stallion as they waited for the rest of their guests since it was roughly ten before seven.

Apple Bloom was the first to show up, even if she wasn't coming along. She livened up the atmosphere with a brief retelling of her adventurous summer day and a hug for both of them before cantering on inside to get about making supper for her and Granny. Not even had the banging echoes of the storm door shutting died down when a trio of shadows was seen making their way down the dusty old trail. Galen perked up with an excited grin and called out with a overhead wave. A familiar baritone called back with a similar gesture and they picked up their pace. Soon enough, the guests of the hour appeared from the shaded path and approached with grins and good spirits with spirits under arm as well, in the form of a medium sized cask of dark ale.

“Evening, ev'ryone,” Galen said when they were a couple paces away. He adopted a fake posh accent that grossly failed to hide his unique speech which made all those around him chuckle and laugh in amusement. “Glad yew could make it. Righ' now, Ah've got tha stew base thickening fireside an' all tha goodies ready ta be cooked an' added. Fer us meat eaters, Ah chose two options. One bein' trout while tha other is rabbit, both of which are awaiting our leisure.”

Everyone got a laugh out of that last bit, but Lero led the reply, “In that case, please, lead on fair host.”

“Righ' this way,” Galen replied with a chortle as he grabbed the bucket and led them off, whistling a quick, note as he opened the front door to the house to call Riley. He came bounding from the kitchen, likely pestering Apple Bloom for free tidbits and thankful for the mooch to be called away. As they walked, Galen made small talk and asked a few questions while Riley sniffed and snorted around the newcomers, curious about who some of them were and where they'd been. It turns out that Spike can have alcohol since his inner fire metabolizes it almost as quickly as he can consume it. Lero made a few offhand comments about teaching Galen a few of his massage tricks involving earth ponies that had him giving Lero the stink eye as he wondered how much he knew about what was going on. Big Mac talked about how Galen's forge was progressing with Lero and the others agreeing as well on the evident progress that had taken place, easily seeing the work in progress as they walked by it. Alexandria made a few comments on this or that as they talked, but generally kept to herself. Galen knew she'd be the toughest nut to crack to open up if they all wanted to have a fun time together and made a mental note to bring her out of her shell.

Before he knew it, Galen smelt the telltale scent of wood smoke and picked up the pace, as he wanted to check on the kettles. The others followed behind him, silently eager to get this cookout on the way. When Galen and the others came up on the pit, the fire had burned itself down to a merry crackling while the base had thickened a bit too much for his liking. He draped his forearm across the lip of the bucket in his hand to hold back the bottles and poured a measure of chilled water into each kettle and pulled out a ladle to stir each one back to a proper thinness for cooking. With that done, he grabbed a bowl of diced veggies in each hand and dumped one in each kettle with a patter and a plop.

With that done, Galen put the bucket at one end of a log and smiled at the others. “Find a seat an' make yerself comfortable,” he said with a mock bow and a sweep of an arm. “Ah'll put tha meat over tha fire an' set ta cookin' in a moment.” At his words, the others moved around and found seats on the pair of logs and were commenting on the slowly building aroma of the stew. Lero took a spot on the log opposite the wood pile and sat his keg down on the ground beside him. Spike sat beside him, while Big Mac and Alexandria sat at a comfortable distance on the other. Riley followed Galen as he made his way over to the tree and fetched the basket of meat. He barked with a whine as he suddenly realized what was in it and pranced about Galen with an unmistakable look of happiness. Galen laughed and fended him off with one hand when he'd make a lunge for the basket. Finally, when he reached the fire, Galen turned to Riley and said in a commanding tone, “Suí!” Riley let out a hurt sounding whine as he stopped in place and sat down, but Galen only shook his head and laughed. “Yew can be patient, Riles.”

“You seem to have your dog well trained,” Alexandria said idly as Galen took the skewers laying about and started lancing them into the rabbit carcasses before forcefully pushing the bases into the ground to anchor them in place. “Is that some special code you made so that Riley only listens to you?”

“Not trained well enough if yew ask me,” he replied with a rueful smirk. “Yew gotta be stern with 'im 'r 'e'll jus' ignore ya. As fer tha code, it ain't one. It's tha one Ah spoke most growin' up. It's called Gaelic an' it's tha language o' mah ancestors.”

“Interesting,” she said with a tilt of her head. “Were they known for much?”

“Not a whole lot,” he replied with a predatory grin as he kept putting more meat on skewers and setting them. “We mostly kept ta ourselves until we got visitors. Tha Holy Roman Empire, ta be precise. They wanted ta take our land an' civilize it, but we weren't havin' none o' tha'. We stopped tha military might o' the strongest civilization in our region cold with a horde o' berserkers unwillin' ta let 'em 'ave what they 'eld dear. They never did defeat us. Best they could do was cut their losses an' build a wall ta hold us back. We bled 'em dry fer years fer even darin' ta try wha' they did.”

Alexandria blinked with a mildly surprised expression. “So your entire people declared a blood feud on an entire civilization? Were their lands extensive or their families large?”

“Not exceptionally,” Galen replied nonchalantly. “We jus' wanted ta see 'em gone. Whether they left o' their own will 'r watered the ground with the last drops o' their blood. We protect wha's ours 'gainst any threat, by tooth 'r nail.”

“Remind me not to get on your bad said,” Spike remarked with raised eyebrows.

Galen snorted in laughter before replying, “As long as yew don' steal mah fair maidens, Ah think we'll be good.” Everyone laughed at that, Alexandria a good bit harder than the rest.

“So, how 'bout a few ciders ta kick this off?” Galen asked the group after setting the last skewer.

“Fine by me,” Lero replied with a grin while the others nodded eagerly. Galen nodded with a smile and moved to the bucket, pulled out five ciders and passed them around, unscrewing the cap for Big Mac when he got to him and sat down on the seat closest to the pile of wood. They all took a few moments to sip and appreciate the crisp bite of the perfectly chilled drinks and started chatting as the smell of roasting rabbit and fish permeated the air.

They kept the conversations out of serious territory as they waited for the food to cook, opting to talk about some event or other that had taken place during the week. Impromptu hoofball games, funny stories about things that had happened a while ago, and the odd joke for the most part. Galen got up after a few minutes and took one of the rabbits off the fire and tossed it on the ground in front of Riley who knew enough to wait for it to cool down from previous experiences. He returned to his seat and cracked open another cider after he drained his current one. Spike took a non alcoholic one shortly after that, saying that since it really didn't matter since it tasted about the same to him and that it would be better if they appreciated the alcohol in his stead.

After some time, Galen checked on the meat again and asked if any of them wanted theirs cooked medium rare. Alexandria took up the offer, so Galen took one off the fire and checked the stew with a spoon. It was close enough to being thoroughly cooked by now, so he ladled out a dish for her and put a fresh spoon in it before passing both the skewer and the bowl to her. To say that she wasted no time in tearing into the rabbit was an understatement as she gasped and tried to cool the meat, both in her mouth and on the skewer faster in her greed to eat it as quickly as possible. Everyone laughed at her and she weathered it with a serious expression on her face. Considering the fact that she had actually been close to two months without any red meat in her diet, unbeknownst to Lero and the others, and focused more on eating the succulent meal given to her.

After the laughter died down, Galen offered bowls of stew to his guests who readily accepted the first serving of vegetarian stew and filled them close to the brim with the thick, hearty substance. After everyone had been served, Galen took the kettles off the fire and passed about another round of drinks as they waited on their meal to cool. By now everyone, except Spike, was just starting to get a warm and fuzzy feel creeping up on their mind as the alcohol did its job. As was the usual in such situations, they felt their comradeship strengthening and felt far more at ease with one another than they already were.

“This is pretty good, Galen,” Lero said with a grin after he had sampled his first spoonful of stew. “Is this your own recipe or something you picked up?”

“Jus' somethin' Ah whipped up with what Ah had,” he replied with a half shrug. “Ain't no forever stew, but it'll do tha trick.”

“Forever stew?” Alexandria asked as she cocked her head.

“It's a stew that you always keep going,” Lero supplied. “As you take out, you add in more. Normally it has meat in it, but a vegetarian version isn't unheard of either. Basically, it turns into this absolutely delicious amalgamation of all the different herbs, spices and ingredients that literally never ends as long as you keep adding to it.”

“That sounds absolutely delightful...” Alexandria said with a decidedly dreamy expression, a glob of drool sliding out of the corner of her beak as she imagined its flavor. “Do you think you'd be able to do something like that?”

“You know what Lyra'd say,” he chastised with a smirk. “Besides, it's easy to do and maintain. You need to do this stuff more on your own, now that you don't have somepony to take care of you...”

“You're right...” she said with a slight flush at the memory of how bad she had been at just about everything except drafting hundreds of new inventions over the course of a few months. “I don't know why I'm so bad at taking care of myself...”

“You can't help it when your passion consumes you,” Lero said in a consoling tone. “You just need to learn how to bank your desires into a manageable state.”

“Ah don' smith ev'ry day,” Galen cut in with a knowing smirk. “Hell... Ah used ta go on survival stints fer months at a time before tha forge called me back.”

“Hmmm...” she mused with a small smile. “Maybe you'll have to teach me how to just let go for a time and find something else to devote myself to?”

“Ah could always use a huntin' buddy,” he replied. “Not sure wha's goin' on after next week, but Ah could prob'ly plan a trek inta tha Everfree if yer game.”

“That sounds like it could be dangerous,” she said with an unsure look before a decidedly predatory look took its place. “Count me in. I could also use that time as a field test for some of my inventions...”

Galen and Lero both broke out in laughter for different reasons at that. Lero, simply because he knew how she'd go to insane lengths to prove the validity of her inventions and Galen for her casual brushing aside of flagrant danger in the face of going out for a good time. “Ah'll hold ya to it, birdbrain,” Galen said once he regained his breath. Alexandria squawked at that, her neck and wings fluffing out in indignation at his casual insult. Galen noticed her reaction and guffawed loudly for a few moments while the others looked askance between the two and waited for the sparks, or feathers and blood as the case may be, to fly. “No need ta take it so seriously, Lexi,” he said as he suppressed his mirth. “Jus' a rib between buddies, righ'?”

“I'll have you know that I have several different devices specifically designed to non-lethally incapacitate targets with the most allowable pain to be inflicted without involving a maiming...”

“Scary as tha' migh' be, Ah think Ah sould tell yew a tale before yew whip out tha thumb screws, missy...”

“It had better be good,” she replied as her fluffy appearance diminished somewhat, her razor sharp mind exerting complete control for now despite years of griffon social reactions regarding insults, not to mention the pair of ciders she had drunk so far. She never had been able to hold her alcohol very well...

“Oh, it's good,” he replied with a chuckle. The others turned to him and listened intently to his tale. “Ya see, when Ah was growin' up, there was this odd bloke tha' lived a couple moors north o' me. Ah found 'im one day when Ah stumbled upon a Shetland filly o' 'is when Ah was out roamin' tha wilderness. Took me a while ta find 'im, but 'e was lookin' fer 'er as well an' we stumbled upon one another jus' when we were both jus' 'bout ta give up. Anyway, tha bloke was some guy who was interested in our old tales an' such; come all tha way from Australia ta hear our gran'mams yarn on 'bout Cú Chulainn 'r tha Morrigan. 'E 'ad a thing fer manly men 'an battle, but Ah don' judge none. Anyway, even though 'e came fer tha stories, 'e stayed fer tha ponies if yew know wha' Ah mean...” he paused for a wink directed at Lero who blinked a few times in confusion at the memory trans-location. “'E was inta a wee bit o' animal husbandry an' there were no stallions in 'is 'erd if yew catch mah drift.” Lero finally caught on and made a face that had Galen laughing for a few moments. “Tha's what Ah thought when Ah figured it out.

“'E 'ad a decent plot o' land an' lived it on 'is own, 'cept fer tha ponies tha' called it home as well. We got on well an' became friends faster 'n yew c'n say 'buck.' 'E taught me a bit 'bout 'is homeland, how insults 're a 'how do ya do' an' always strivin' ta give better 'n wha' ya got. 'S a challenge, more 'r less ta show yew c'n stand toe ta toe with 'em an' 'ave 'ide thick 'nough ta weather their taunting.”

“I maybe understood one word in three...” Alexandria said with a few blinks. “I think your native tongue is coming out...”

“Ah'm to sober fer this,” Galen muttered under his breath with a chuckle at Alexandria. At least she didn't look like she was half ready to rip his throat out. He said out loud instead, “Long story short, jus' brush it off an' insult me back, yew daft bird. It don' mean a thing unless yew don' think yew can trade insult fer insult.” His tone turned mocking at this point. “If tha's tha case, yew should jus' turn in yer tough girl card an' go pick some daisies fer a little flower bonnet an' go skippin' through a meadow with an' teach a class o' fillies 'ow a real mare behaves... Besides, if mah native tongue came out, Ah'm sure yew'd prob'ly get a tongue lashin' an' come back fer seconds!” At that, Galen broke into laughter and waited to see how she'd respond.

Oh. If there were words to describe how livid Alexandria was, they certainly don't exist. Her expression was one of wide, dilated eyes, fluffed feathers, brilliant flush, slightly parted beak and a squirming movement on her seat that none could translate properly. Galen and Big Mac were laughing while Spike and Lero were worriedly looking between the two. Eventually, Alexandria responded in a way that surprised one of the pairs to no end. She snorted in a decidedly cute way that almost could have been mistaken for a dainty sneeze. She made a grinding noise in the back of her throat for a couple seconds and finally began laughing herself as the absolutely ridiculous and outlandish insult Galen had thrown her way apparently broke her ingrained sensibilities, because how could one take an obviously absurd insult like that seriously?

When she finally stopped laughing, she had to bring a talon up to her eye and wipe away a tear of mirth before she could look at anyone. Galen had a wide, smile on his face as he waited for her response. Well, if that was how they did things back where he was from, she'd certainly try her best to oblige him and his odd customs.

“If I were to teach fillies about being a mare, I'm sure you'd do just as well in my place,” she shot back with a snort. “Your insults certainly have the touch of a milk drinker...”

Lero and Spike looked at Alexandria in shock at her words, only to look back at Galen who replied after downing the rest of his cider. “Tha only milk 'round 'ere's what yew let drip from yer haunches an' tha's not ta mah likin'. Not like yew got a lot ta offer anyway, seein' as yer as prickly as a porcupine who 'ad an unexpected visitor go up 'er ol' dirt road.”

“I don't mind a trip up the old dirt road as long as they're not trespassing,” she replied with a wink as Galen's smile turned almost feral in his enjoyment. He grabbed another cider and popped the cap with a sharp hiss before downing a third of it quickly as Alexandria continued. “I bet you'd make your way just fine with that flimsy little walking stick I'm sure you're packing...”

Lero and Spike's eyes were comically wide at this point as they witnessed this interchange of insults between the two. “It's big enough to beat off anyone who goes barkin' after mah tree,” he said with a bark of laughter. “Ah would say standin' stone, but it's bein' lazy righ' now.”

“And I'm sure it would topple just as easily,” she said with a disdaining smirk. “Hart to put up but fall down easily enough...”

“Fekkin' 'ell, lass...” Galen said between wheezes, continuing after he caught his breath. “Le's jus' say tha' if it falls easy, it'll leave a mighty fine furrow in whatever field it finds itself in...”

At this, it was Alexandria's turn to wheeze and laugh. “You two sure you should be goin' at it with language like that with Spike here?” Big Mac cut in just as Alexandria was about to retort. Their eyes widened slightly as they had forgotten all about their companions in their brief war of insults and not-so-cleverly hidden metaphors.

“It...” Spike began, only to cough and clear his throat as he realized the show was about to end because of him. “It's cool. I just turned sixteen a couple months ago, so it's not like I'm a kid or anything.”

“Well, tha' settles tha',” Galen said with a grin.

“Indeed it does,” Alexandria added with a pleased expression. “Now, quit holding onto all the ciders and pass me one, or are you saving them for a special occasion?”

Galen grabbed one and tossed it to Alexandria who caught it mid flight with a deft swipe of her talons. “Looks like tha' bird brain's gettin' a bit catty,” he replied with a smirk.

“Just remember that both halves have claws, smith,” she said with a wink.

“Ah'll be sure ta get yew a scratchin' post an' roost combination fer yer birthday in tha' case,” he shot back. Everyone broke out and laughing at that as she did a rather spectacular spit take as she herself laughed. After that, the ice seemed well and truly broken between them as Galen let their brief war of insults die off. He checked the meat again and it had cooked to a medium well-done in their time talking. When he announced that, Lero and Spike both said they'd that theirs like that, so Galen took the two off the fire and passed the skewers to the pair.

Taking the last rabbit for himself, he slid it into his bowl straight from the skewer before laying the skewer down near the log he sat on before moving back to the kettle and serving himself some more stew to mix in with the rabbit. When Spike and Lero saw what he had done, they copied him readily. Alexandria took this as a chance to eat her fill as well and asked if she could have some fish. No one minded with rabbit on their plates, so she put a fish in her bowl and filled it with stew as well.

“Guess tha stew was all vegetarian, Mac,” Galen mused out loud to his friend with a smile. “No worries though as long as ev'ryone eats their fill.”

“Eeyup,” was his simple reply.

As they all ate, the beer was cracked open and their mugs were filled. It was just as dark as Galen remembered and tasted even better with the stew. They talked and laughed as the night carried on, their merriment and good cheer rising with the moon. Eventually, Spike and Big Mac started yawning more as they were both up far past their usual bed times. That being said, Mac had to graciously duck out due to chores the next morning. Lero almost made to leave as well to return Spike to home, but Galen offered to let Spike take his guest room back at the farm house for the night, saying that it was a perfect night to sleep outside anyway. He took the offer with a smile and Spike tottered off after Big Mac's retreating form with a call.

When the pair was gone, Lero leaned back on his seat and looked over to Galen with a smirk before saying, “So... I hear you've got a pair of fillies chasing after you.”

Galen nearly choked on his mouthful of stew and nodded before taking a swig of beer. “Yeah,” he replied with a slight wheeze in his voice. “An' Ah could use a bit o' advice here an' there.”

“No problem,” he replied with a grin. “I'll give you all the help you'll need.”

“I'm surprised you hadn't received any attention sooner,” Alexandria put in. “I mean, with how few stallions there are, mares tend to gravitate and try to establish a relationship as soon as possible.”

“He probably had and just didn't catch wind of it because the mares here behave so much like we did back home,” Lero supplied. “I mean, Rainbow basically had me claimed against all the other mares in town for close to two months and I never even knew...”

“Yeah?” Galen said with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah,” he replied with a chuckle. “I'll tell you all about it sometime.”

“Awww, isn't that sweet,” Alexandria said with a smirk. “I hope you two sweeties have a good time on your first date. Just remember that no self respecting stallion gives up a kiss on the first date~”

At that, Galen and Lero sputtered and choked as they tried to come up with a response, all while Alexandria laughed and laughed, falling off her seat with a thud. That just made her laugh even harder. After they eventually settled down, the night progressed well. Food was eaten until there was almost nothing left, jokes were told and much alcohol was drank. They all eventually wound down and began getting drowsy. They each found a spot to lie down around the fire after Galen tossed a fair amount of wood on it to keep it going throughout the night. They fell asleep quickly with full bellies, fuzzy heads and a happiness in their hearts born of a good time had by all.

Tickled Pink

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Tickled Pink

Galen was the first to wake up the morning after their little party. He felt a good deal warmer than he should have and noticed a faint weight draped across his chest. Opening his bleary eyes, he looked down at himself and found a wing draped across his torso. Following it up to its owner, he found Alexandria cuddled up to his side, purring gently in her sleep. He grinned at the situation and couldn't help himself as he brought a hand up and around to lightly tickle around her collar bone, where feathers gave way to fur. She let out a little gasp and squirmed under his onslaught, finally waking up with a squeak as he touched on a particularly sensitive nerve. She gave a squawk of alarm and jumped to her paws a couple feet from where she had been, her cheeks flushing with a light pink color. Galen was pretty sure feathers didn't work that way, but there was absolutely no way he could deny its cuteness.

“Sleep well?” he rumbled as a grin split his face. He levered himself up to a reclining position with his elbows so he could watch her easier.

“Wha?!” she spluttered in a high pitched squeak as she looked around in confusion. “What were you doing?! Why were you cuddled up to me like that!”

“Well, Ah was ticklin' yew if ya must know... an' Ah think yew 'ave tha situation reversed, 'ere, Alex,” he replied before his chuckles broke out. “Ah woke up with yer wing draped over me. Yew get cold las' night'? Ah'm pretty sure Pinks an' Jackie migh' be fine with a bit o' cuddlin', but if yew want any more 'n tha', yew'll 'ave ta ask 'em 'bout it...”

She couldn't find any reasonable way to respond as her flush turned into a full on red cheeked blush, so she opted for the next optimal method of expressing herself. Namely the flustered and embarrassed throwing of any handy objects around her. Galen's eyes widened and his laughter cut off as the first empty cider bottle almost clipped his head. He had to drop back to the ground a second later as the bucket he brought passed through where his head had been with a sloshing noise as it still held the melted remains of the ice from the night before. He quickly scrambled to his feet just in time to take a slightly crusty bowl to the face followed by a bottle thumping into his stomach with a hollow noise.

He pried the bowl from his face while sticky bits of stew clung to his face and beard and returned fire with a laugh and a grin. Alexandria was far too agile for his halfhearted throw and snatched it out of the air, throwing it back with much more velocity and nailing him in the forehead with a thwap before it went tumbling off over his head from its speed. Galen glowered at her and she glared right back since nothing else was in easy reach. “That was uncalled for,” she finally said with a huff.

“Oh, come on,” he replied with a sigh and half a smirk. “Yew can't tell me tha' Ah'd let yew get away without a bit o' teasin' after wakin' up like tha'.”

“That may be so, but going so far as to suggest I talk to the mares courting you to join your herd? The nerve!”

“Jus' fer a laugh!” he said with a bark of amusement. “Thought yew could take a joke 'r two!”

“Uggghhh...” came a pitiful moan from Lero. “What's with the fracas? Some people have hangovers to nurse you know...”

“Great, you woke Lero up,” Alex replied with a smug expression as she set him up for the fall.

“Me?! Bollocks ta tha', yew catty little shite! Yew were tha one tha' started throwin' anything yew could get yer mitts on!”

“Yes, you! If you hadn't said what you'd said, this never would have happened, you perverted slag pounder!”

“So says tha daft bird who Ah found cuddled up ta me this mornin'! Yew were purrin' away like a cat who jus' 'ad 'er bowl o' cream an' a cozy place on tha windowsill!”

Alex was just about to shoot back another retort as her blush once again blazed to a brilliant hue when Lero interrupted their little back and forth, “Would you guys give it a rest?! I don't care who started it, but I'm ending it! This headache is absolutely horrible and you two are only making it worse. If you're going to fight, make sure it's to determine who's going to go get me a bucket of water to drink...”

Alex looked abashedly over at Lero and lowered her head while Galen snorted in amusement. “Not much o' a drinker, are ya buddy?”

“Not as such, no,” he replied as he moved to a sitting position and scooted himself over to one of the logs, leaning back with a groan as he shaded his eyes. “I can hold my alcohol, but I get hangovers pretty easily unless I drink a lot of water.”

“Ah get ya,” Galen replied. “Well, there's nothin' fer it, Ah guess. Come on, Leera, up yew go. Let's get yew back ta tha farm an' a nice spot ta lay down.” To match his words to action, Galen walked over to the downed man, grabbed one of his arms, draped it over his shoulders and hefted the larger man to his feet with a groan of protest.

“Ugh... Not so fast, Galen,” Lero said as a slightly greenish tinge painted his cheeks. “Urp...”

“If yer gonna chuck, yew'll chuck,” he replied. “Ain't tha worse Ah've been covered in before.”

“I'd prefer not to, if it's all the same to you,” Lero replied in a faint voice.

“Much appreciated,” Galen said with a chortle before looking over to a still slightly sheepish Alex. “Hey, Alex, sorry if Ah rubbed ya tha wrong way... Didn't mean anythin' by it.”

“I suppose I can let it slide this once,” she replied in a slightly grudging tone. “Just... keep it light until I get used to it. I have to say that it was a lot of fun trading insults with you last night and I'd like to try it again sometime when you're not being a horrible ass. We griffons are normally a prickly bunch and we're raised to retaliate on any slight to our honor.”

“I didn't think mah can looked tha' bad,” he said as he looked over his shoulder to mock giving his rear a look.

Alex couldn't help but snort at that. He was just so flippant about everything, hiding that tempered core underneath an easygoing camouflage. If anything tried to take a bite out of him, she was sure they'd break their teeth on that hard core of his. “Your rear aside, I'll be around at some point if your invitation to hunt with you is still open. I need to get back to town soon and check in with Lyra, so I'll talk to you later, smith.”

“It is, an' Ah'll be ready when yew are,” he replied with a smile and a nod. “Ah need ta take this big baby back ta tha house so Granny can coddle 'im back ta health.”

Alex giggled at the thought of that. “I'll let his wives know about the coddling. I'm sure they'll come out to collect him at some point.”

“Sounds like a plan,” he replied with a chortle. At that, Alex turned around and took to the air after a couple bounding leaps, quickly rising above the canopy of the orchard and disappeared to sight.

“Hey, Galen...” Lero said weakly after a moment. “Think we can get going now? I don't think the world's supposed to spin this way...”

“Sure thing, Leera,” he replied with a half grin as he started out with Lero shambling beside him. “Yew sure are a delicate thing fer such a big bloke.”

“Less talky, more walky...”

Galen laughed at that and fell into an easy silence as he escorted his charge back to the farm. They made it in good time, all things considered. Riley even showed up for part of the way as if to let Galen know he was alright before scampering off when he heard a bark from Winona. Galen chuckled as he watched his dog run off to go spend time with his companion. After that, Lero got fairly nauseous a couple times as they got closer to the farm, having to stop for a few moments to recover, but didn't get so unsettled as to get sick. When they made it to the house, Lero let out a funny little warbling noise that combined happiness and a feeling of reaching sanctuary into one sound. Galen thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard out of the mans mouth and planned on saving that for later use. Likely when one of his wives made it out to bring him home if he wasn't already gone by then.

After walking inside and depositing Lero on the couch, Galen fetched him a large mug of cold water and brought it to him. He drank about a quarter of it immediately and then started nursing it. After Lero had been set up well enough, Galen checked the clock and found it to be a few minutes past eight. That left him with enough time to take a shower and grab a light snack before his date with Pinkie.

So without any hesitation, he got to work sprucing himself up. He took a bit longer than usual to make sure he scrubbed himself well and even hunted down a pair of scissors and comb before his shower so he could trim up his beard and mustache which had grown rather bushy in his time here. He left it just thick enough to hide any trace of skin underneath, leaving him with a distinctly framed face. He turned his attention to his hair next and cropped it to as close to an even inch all around as he could. Looking at himself in the mirror, he gave himself a smile at seeing how well he cleaned up. He turned on the water in the sink and dunked his head underneath the running water to wash out any lose strands of hair with a brisk rubbing before pulling back with a splutter. He dried himself once again and got dressed in short order before cleaning up the bathroom of his grooming, finishing up around twenty to nine.

He practically bounded down the stairs with a barely contained enthusiasm and found Granny in the living room, giving Lero a taunting as she nursed him childishly. By childishly, he meant really childishly. Between taunts, she talked to him in a tone reserved for a foal who had done something stupid they knew they should have known better than to do, spoon fed him bites of lightly spiced applesauce that had a bit of milk added to it and generally tormented as much as she helped. Galen couldn't help but stand there silently and appreciate the scene before him. Granny shot him a grin when she noticed him and nodded appreciatively upon seeing his groomed appearance before shooing him off with a hoof to finish getting around. He just smiled, nodded and went off to do just that, only stopping as Lero called out to get his attention.

“Hey, Galen!” he said in a much stronger voice than earlier.

“Yeah?” he replied as he turned back to look at the couch ridden man.

“If Pinkie wants to pay for a meal or anything like that, just let her,” he said as he relaxed once again into the soft embrace of the couch. “Here in Equestria, we're the ones who get treated and pampered. Wait until next time to return the favor.”

“Thanks fer tha advice,” Galen replied with a thankful smile. “Ah'll keep it in mind.”

“One other thing...” he said with a little grin as he looked up from his position. “You have to tilt your head a bit more to the side when you kiss a mare.”

Galen held himself in check, only his reddening ears giving away any sign of potential embarrassment. “Got it...” he said in a tone of voice a bit fainter than normal. Totally nailed it.

Lero only gave him a chuckle for a response and obediently opened his mouth for the next spoonful of food. After finishing his brief talk with Lero, Galen opted to go to the kitchen for his snack. He kept it really light just in case Pinkie wanted to have a late breakfast and only ate a pair of apples with a couple glasses of milk to wash them down with. After tossing the cores in the compost bin and cleaning his glass, he left after letting Granny know he'd be out for a good part of the day with Pinkie. She just nodded and waved him off without turning from her charge. He didn't bother with his bag of bits due to the advice given to him by Lero, but he still pocketed a pair of ten bit coins just in case. When he stepped outside, he couldn't help but feel a surge of energy that seemed to fill him to the brim, making his nerve endings feel as if he were vibrating slightly. With a quick huff of breath, he took a bounding leap off the front porch and hit the ground running as a wild grin split his face.

His pace quickly ate the distance and he rounded the last bend in the road only a few minutes after he started out. He cut his pace back a little bit as he passed the first houses of Ponyville, opting for a loping jog as he made his way through town. The ponies out on the street spared him a glance as he went by, his good mood seemingly pulsing off him in waves and making them smile without knowing why. A few called out greetings as he went by and he returned a jaunty greeting in response that had them laughing. He spotted Sugar Cube Corner a couple blocks away and his grin couldn't get any bigger as he closed in on it. He only stopped his jog when he stepped in front of the establishment, opened the door and strode through with the jingling of bells to herald his arrival.

Mrs. Cake was behind the counter and she looked up from her current patron to see who it was and greeted him with a smile that turned very warm at seeing how excited he was to spend a good portion of the day with Pinkie. She finished helping her customer and waved him over.

“Mornin' Mrs. Cake,” he said cheerfully. “How're yew this mornin'?”

“I'm doing quite well, Galen,” she replied without letting her smile from earlier drop. “Pinkie and Applejack got back a while ago and are up in her room getting ready. You can take a seat if you'd like while I go let them know you're here.”

“Thanks fer tha offer, but Ah don' think Ah'd be able ta keep still at tha moment,” he replied with a rueful cast to his current smile.

“Well, you certainly seem eager,” she replied with a giggle.

“It's not every day a guy goes on 'is first date with a pony,” he replied with a bark of laughter. “Not ta mention it bein' tha very same pony who did so much jus' ta make me feel welcome here.”

“Well, I'm sure Pinkie's just as excited as you are,” she replied with a grin at his earnest statement. “Let me just go let her know you're here.”

Galen just nodded in thanks as she turned and went upstairs.


“Oh my gosh, I'm so nervous!” Pinkie whisper-shouted to Applejack as she watched the clock tick another minute forward. She was currently half hidden under her comforter with a pillow pulled over top of her head, letting her muzzle poke out adorably from underneath. “What if something weird happens and it totally ruins our date!”

“Pinkie,” Applejack said with a little sigh at her marefriends sudden loss of confidence from last night. She was just putting the brush she had just used to help Pinkie brush out the kinks in her coat back on her night stand and looked over to her. “Would you just cut it out? You're gonna jinx yourself if you say stuff like that. Nothing's going to go wrong. Just be yourself and show him that mare who showed me the best night of my life!” She got up on the bed and hugged her marefriends' covered form. “She's in there, Pinkie. She's there, ready to show the ponies in her life just how much she loves them. You just have to stop being afraid and be yourself.”

“Really?” she asked as she carefully lifted the pillow from her head so she wouldn't mess up her carefully brushed mane and looked over her shoulder at Applejack with a little smile.

“Really really,” Applejack replied as she leaned in and gave her a warm kiss. “Now, pony up and go show him a good time. Pinkie Pie style.” She paused for a second as a mischievous smile spread across her face. “We don't need Shy Pie 'round here when we can get Kinky Pie to come out to play...”

Pinkie blushed and gave a giggle as her smile turned much more confident. She was about to reply when the all too familiar voice of Mrs. Cake called out a few paces from her door. “Pinkie, dear, Galen just showed up a couple minutes ago. He looks as ready as he'll ever be, so I wouldn't keep him waiting for too long.”

“Okay, Mrs. Cake! I'll be down soon!” Pinkie answered in a half yell. The older mares retreating hoofsteps were their only answer as she made her way back down.

“You got this,” Applejack said with a competitive expression.

“I got this,” Pinkie copied firmly as her head nodded in affirmation.

“You got this!”


“Too much, tone it back a tad.”

“I got this?!”

“Close enough...” Applejack couldn't help a chuckle from escaping. “Now git! Galen's waiting on you. Remember that he just wants to spend the day with you, so show him just how amazin' a day with Pinkie can be.”

“I'll remember, Applejack,” Pinkie said warmly as she crossed her chest and gently laid a hoof over an eye. “Pinkie Promise.”

“Good girl,” she said with a fierce grin. “Now quit stalling and go.”

“Aye, aye, ma'am!” Pinkie saluted with a giggle and hopped off her bed, landing with barely a clatter before cantering to her door and rushing out to the hallway after grabbing her purse from the other night. As she made her way down the stairs Galen looked up and she felt a little stutter in her heart when he locked eyes with her. He had spruced himself up quite a bit since the last time she'd seen him and she thought he looked quite good. Galen, on the other hand was quite stricken when he saw Pinkie as she came down the stairs. Her mane had regained some of its curliness after the night she'd had, but it was still styled enough that it cascaded down the left side of her face and neck in a bouncy waterfall of shimmering pink. Her coat still had its glossy sheen, but it all paled in comparison to her eyes. They shone with a crystal-like radiance that seemed to make the world just a tiny bit brighter. “Right on time!” she chirped with a bright smile.

“Wouldn't do ta ta keep a pretty lady waiting, now would it?” he replied with a smile of his own.

Pinkie's cheeks took on a slightly pinker hue at the casual compliment. “So, what do you want to do today?”

“Whatever yew wanna do,” he replied as she finished coming down the stairs and around the counter. “Today's all 'bout yew, after all.”

Her blush deepened just a bit. “Hmmm...” she hummed as she pondered this. Rainbow had mentioned yesterday, somewhere in all her super embarrassing advice about being with Lero, that most human males tended to be a lot more mare focused than the stallions she was used to. “I have absolutely no idea!” she said with a laugh that had Galen chuckling along as well. “But I'm sure I can think of something we'll both enjoy!”

“Ah'm sure if anypony could, it'd be yew,” he replied with a grin.

Pinkie giggled at that before brushing past him with only a flick of her tail and a smile over her shoulder. “In that case, we should be on our way,” she said in a tone that gave off a confidence she only faintly felt. “Time waits for nopony, after all.”

Galen was about to follow her when he caught Mrs. Cake giving him an expression through her eyes that said, despite her cheery countenance, 'if you hurt her, you won't eat here safely again.' Galen just replied with a warm smile that said 'Ah'd never live with maself if Ah did.' They both nodded to each other simultaneously after their wordless exchange and Galen hurried out after his date. Pinkie was just outside and looking up and down the street with a ponderously distant expression on her face. Galen was about to say something when he noticed her suddenly shiver and trot off down the street leading back to the market. Galen opted to keep silent and let her take the lead. They entered the modest throng of ponies going about their daily routine, Pinkie drawing more than a few glances and prolonged stares due to her appearance while Galen only felt himself puff up proudly as he was her sole companion today.

For the most part, the market was only moderately busy, but even so it was as if their combined air of confidence and expectation of a fun day turned an imaginary spotlight on them. It also helped that they made a striking pair, the baker and the smith. They walked through the light crowd and spotted a game booth up ahead. Pinkie pointed it out with a gleeful shout and cantered over to it with Galen trotting to keep up. The game was a simple affair, a vertical wheel with dozens of metal spokes jutting forward and a wooden flapper to show what they would win when it came to a stop. Beside it was a simple rectangular table with a small suitcase in the middle of it.

“Good morning you two!” a golden orange mare with a two tone mane and tail of light and dark green called out in greeting. “Could I interest you two in giving the wheel a spin? It's a promotion of from the Grand Equestrian Travel Agency and free of charge.”

“Oh! Oh!' Pinkie hopped in place excitedly. “I wanna spin it! But I have a question first! Why's your travel agency 'Grand?'”

The mare's happy expression turned to light puzzlement at the question. “I'm... I, uh, I think it's only just part of the name.”

“That's silly,” Pinkie replied as she stuck her tongue out a little. “Why call it something if it's not really that?”

“Don't ask me,” the mare replied with a nonplussed expression. “I just work for them and ask ponies to spin the wheel once a year.”

Galen couldn't help but laugh at Pinkie's line of questioning. “Let the poor mare be, Pinkie,” he said as his laughter died down.

“Okay,” she replied with the most fake pout he'd ever seen, making him chuckle a bit more. “So, can I spin the wheel?”

“Sure,” the stall owner replied as she plastered her standard smile back on. “You two only get one spin and it has to go all the way around at least once. The prizes range from a collection of postcards from every town and city in Equestria that has one to the grand prize of luxurious trip around the world!” She pointed to the wheel to showcase the differing odds of each prize. When Galen spotted it, the trip around the world had slim odds indeed. “Of course, the more valuable prizes can be substituted in case you're not able to make use of them for anything else.”

“Okie dokie!” she chirped with a big grin. She moved to the side of the wheel and put her hoof up to one of the spokes as her face took on an expression of cute concentration. She eyebrows scrunched up slightly, eyes narrowed and just the barest hint of her tongue poked out as she bit it slightly. She widened her stance and took a deep breath as she prepared to spin. Then she sneezed. Her hoof shot out and started the wheel spinning as she staggered to the side a couple steps and an odd expression of discomfort and embarrassment washed over her face. “I bith mai thongue!” she squeaked as the injured appendage flopped out of her mouth.

Galen almost laughed. It was just so absurd and unexpected that he almost lost it completely. He held himself in check with some serious effort and moved over to her, knelt down and pulled her into a one armed hug. “Yew gonna make it?”

“Yeah,” she responded with a little sigh as she leaned into him. “Really embarrassing though...”

“U-um... Miss?” the mare behind the table interrupted in a slightly nervous tone. “Would you like your prize or a substitute?”

They both turned to look at the wheel and found the flapper resting on the grand prize. A trip around the world. Their jaws dropped and they traded looks of disbelief with one another and the mare running the stall. “I... Uh... I dunno? Maybe?” she replied in a daze. “What else do you offer?”

“Well...” the mare scrambled around to quickly pull out a small folder that held several sheets of paper referencing what prizes she had. “Let me see... Let me see...” she perused the list for a few seconds before answering. “We have dinner passes for Au-delà de doores fermés, one of Canterlot's up and coming restaurants...”

“I have a permanent reservation there and I'm friends with the owner,” Pinkie replied with a wave of her hoof.

“In... that case,” the mare continued cautiously as she wasn't entirely sure what to make of that, “How about a three day trip to the Crystal Empire's Shimmering Hot Springs Resort?”

“Oh! That sounds like fun!” Pinkie said with a giggle. “How many can go?”

“Up to four and it's all expenses paid, a value of one hundred bits per pony,” she explained with a hopeful smile.

“Are they redeemable at any time or do they have an expiration date?”

“They can be used any time before the end of next year,” she replied. “Either send a letter to our address on the voucher or call us if you can and we'll take care of all reservations and travel preparations.”

“That's perfect!” she said with a crystalline laugh that brought smiles to the faces of everyone around her. “I'll take 'em!”

“Wonderful!” the mare replied as she pulled out a form, quill and inkwell from her suitcase and put them on the table. “I just have a little paperwork for you to fill out for our records and you'll be all set!” Pinkie looked the form over, nodded to herself and went about filling in the blanks. She wrote surprisingly quickly and had it filled out in a couple minutes, blowing on the last bit of ink to help it dry faster. “Thank you very much, Miss... Pinkie,” she said as she looked it over. “We hope to hear from you soon!”

Pinkie just smiled brightly as she took the voucher envelope and gently slid it into her purse. “Thanks for everything, lady!” She turned to Galen. “Well, that was exciting! You ready to do something else?”

“Lead tha way,” he replied with a grin.

Pinkie did a little hop, rotating on her rear hooves and turned around with a stylish flaring of her mane and tail before leading the way at a casual walk. She unconsciously added a little sway to her hips that Galen couldn't help but be drawn to. It was so unlike her usual energetic step, this smooth little sway. Pinkie noticed it after a little bit and surreptitiously glanced over her shoulder to see if Galen noticed it too. She saw his eyes darting to her rump before flicking away, like he was embarrassed by himself for looking, only to have his eyes drawn back. Pinkie suppressed a titter and looked back ahead with a rosy tint to her cheeks and a self-satisfied smile on her face at knowing Galen was attracted to her body as much as he was to her personality.

Her stomach gave a little gurgle, letting her know that she should probably get something to eat soon since they hadn't had much time in getting back to Ponyville from Canterlot, Applejack and her only snacking on a couple bunches of grapes on the train. “How does a bite to eat sound?” she asked as she openly looked over her shoulder this time. She caught him breaking his eyes away from her rump again, the tips of his ears flushing a deep red.

“S-sounds good ta me,” he replied with a minor stutter in his voice. “Anywhere yew got in mind?”

Pinkie had to bite back a giggle at his reaction as she bit her bottom lip cutely, her face turning ponderous as she looked back ahead. “How about Diner Dash's Dive?”

“Never heard o' tha' place,” he replied. “Any good?”

“It's this nice little place on the south side of town,” she replied as she picked up her pace a little. “Most of the hard working ponies go there to eat, but I absolutely love their flapjacks! I still can't recreate them and they won't let me back there to see how they make them, so I'm stuck going there whenever I get the itch.”

Galen chuckled at that. “I take it yew normally don' 'ave any trouble with tha' sorta thing?”

She gave a high pitched little growl that forced Galen to choke back a laugh. “No! And it drives me nuts!”

“Maybe one day,” he said with a little smirk at seeing how much a silly little thing like this got to her. “But until then, Ah don' think Ah mind goin' out ta eat 'em with tha company Ah'm currently in.”

Pinkie made a funny little noise between a harrumph and a hum, a smile gracing her face. “Smooth talker,” she said with a low giggle. “I guess I can let it go this time as long as you promise to help me on my next attempt at making these again...”

“Ah gladly look forward ta it,” he replied with a smile. “Besides, Ah don' think Ah've 'ad any o' yer cookin', yet.”

She gave a little gasp when she realized the truth of his statement and stopped to turn around to stare him down. “In that case, mister, I'm going to treat you to a lunch to end all lunches before the end of the day.”

“Please don't,” he replied with a laugh as he raised his hands up defensively. “Ah like eatin' an' cuttin' a meal out o' mah day would be horrible...”

Pinkie snorted and giggled at that. “Okay,” she said after a moment, “But it's still going to be delicious.”

“Ah don' doubt it,” he said with a laugh of his own as Pinkie grinned just a little. After their exchange, Pinkie turned back around and led them to the little diner in short order. From the outside, it looked like any other house, but a small collapsible sign beside the steps out front proclaimed that it was indeed a small diner. Without any fanfare, the couple walked up to the door and entered the restaurant. Inside, it was dim but the golden light from the windows pierced the gloom and radiated outward on sparkling motes of dust. There were cozy little booths along the walls with a little walkway between them and the counter. As their eyes adjusted, they spotted a few ponies sitting around, eating a late breakfast or drinking a cup of coffee to go with the mornings newspaper. The scents of the air inside was mouthwatering and it had Galen idly rubbing the roof of his mouth in anticipation of their meal.

“Mornin' you two,” said a cream coated pegasus mare from behind the counter. She had a dark blue mane styled in a no nonsense bun while her tail was simply tied at the end with a ribbon. “Take a seat and I'll be right over.”

Galen and Pinkie both smiled their thanks and moved to an area with a buffer of booths between them and their closest neighbors and took a seat on the firmly padded seats across from one another. “This is cozy,” Galen mused as he looked around.

“Yep!” Pinkie replied with a little smile. “It's super hard to get a spot in the early morning since all the regulars usually make it here before I can get away from the morning baking. I'm just glad they serve breakfast later than usual.”

“Sounds like a hot ticket fer a early mornin' date,” he said with half smile and a wink. “Ah'll 'ave ta keep tha' in mind an' ask Mrs. Cake if Ah can't kidnap 'er number two sometime.”

“You don't have to do that,” she replied with a faint flush.

“Yew gotta take tha chance when yew can,” he answered warmly. “Sometimes yew jus' gotta steal a li'l happiness; like a kid snatchin' a cookie from tha jar.” Pinkie blushed furiously at his analogy and Galen couldn't help it as he burst into laughter at her expression. “Yew did jus' tha', didn't yew?” he said after a short moment with a grin that pulled his face tight.

Pinkie made a few noncommittal squeaks that could have been either acceptance of the act or flat out denial. She was saved by the waitress showing up and sliding a pair of menus on the table. She looked between the pair and gave a long suffering smirk at them that had Galen and Pinkie snickering to their states. With a look passing between the pair, they offered a temporary ceasefire as they perused the menu. To Galen, it all sounded wonderful except for the hearty hay hashed browns, but he followed Pinkie's lead and ordered a matching tall stack of flapjacks due to her stellar review earlier accompanied by a tall glass of milk for each (strawberry flavored for Pinkie). After the waitress took their order and left to place it, they talked about this and that. After she had brought their drinks to the table, Galen asked about her Pinkie sense.

This was probably one of her biggest worries, that he would find her odd little quirks and subsequent actions a major turn off. She started out timidly at first as she tried to gauge his reaction. Galen, for his part, didn't bat an eye at her explanation of her quirks. Instead, he seemed to really enjoy getting to know more about her and each little thing she explained about herself. To him, it was like looking at a beautifully cut gem with its multitude of facets, never ever seeing all of them but getting just the tiniest little spark of elation when he discovered yet another. The only thing that made that particular analogy better was the fact that it applied to this bright young mare sitting across the table with a smile on her face. When she told him that when they left Sugar Cube Corner and she had an itchy back, which meant that it was going to be her lucky day he couldn't help but chuckle at that and reply with a very warm smile; “It wasn't jus' yer lucky day, Pinkie. Ah'd say it was mine too since Ah get ta spend part of it with yew.”

Oh, how she blushed. Her mane even curled a bit as she felt her chest fill up with a warm breezy sensation that made her feel as if she were floating on helium filled clouds made out of cotton candy. Then the waitress showed up with a gentle clank and clatter as she set their meal on the table which made Pinkie let out an absolutely adorable squeak. The waitress gave Pinkie an odd stare at the noise before smiling back with a throaty chuckle. “You two love birds better keep it p.g.,” she said quietly with a smirk that refreshed Pinkie's blush. “I don't want to have to break out the upholstery disinfectant before the heat season rolls around...”

Pinkie was too mortified to make a sound as her face turned the darkest shade of red that either of them had seen and sunk until her muzzle was below the tables edge. The other two could only laugh good naturedly at her plight. When they'd had their share, the waitress apologized with a sincere expression as she hadn't expected Pinkie to get so embarrassed from her lighthearted ribbing. Pinkie perked up immensely as she tried to displace her apology with one of her own for being overly sensitive. The waitress wasn't having any of it and just gave her a smirk as she took the blame. She left them to their meals a moment later. Galen smirked and chuckled at Pinkie who blew a raspberry in his direction. “Yew know, it ain't like yew gotta take tha blame jus' ta make 'er feel better,” he replied with a consoling tone. “She said it, she takes tha blame. Tha's 'ow it works, bhean óg.”

Pinkie's blush reduced dramatically to a simple fetching flush as she giggled. “You know, some of the words you use sound so silly. Did you make them up or are they real, like Prench or Germane? What do they mean?”

“They're real, tha's fer sure,” he replied with a smile as she returned to her usual self. “Ah'll explain a few o' 'em while we eat.” Their meal was simply delicious. A tall stack of buckwheat flapjacks that had dried pieces of various berries and spices mixed into the batter to give it a medley of flavors that made these a real treat. After buttering and glazing them with more syrup to their liking, they didn't last long. They were sliced up into pieces that were almost too big to fit in their mouths, leaving smears of syrup and butter on the corners of their mouths. Galen would pause every now and again in his eating to explain a bit about his native language to Pinkie who would take it in with an eager nod of her head.

Eventually, like all good things, their meal ended and they found their selves slumping back in their seats as they sipped their glasses of milk and planned their next move for the day. They paused in their conversation when the waitress dropped by with the check to thank her. When Pinkie went to take the bill, Galen held it in place with his fingertips and said he was willing to let her pay this time if she let him treat her the next time. She gave a little smile that spoke volumes about just how happy that made her and agreed to let him do just that. She fished out a five bit coin from her purse and dropped them on the table to cover the bill and the tip.

They slid out from their seats and made for the door when Pinkie suddenly stopped just short of the door when her tail began twitching uncontrollably. “Twitchy tail!” she warned everyone within her vicinity. Galen looked back in confusion as he continued out the door as everypony else ducked for cover underneath their tables.

“Huh?” he said as he looked behind him when he should have been looking up and to his side. As soon as he made eye contact with Pinkie, a body suddenly careened into his torso which sent him slamming into the ground, knocking the wind out of him. Pinkie watched in shock as a brown and white form tumbled end over end for a good distance down the street, finally ending with them precariously balanced upon the front of their chest with a distinctly feline rump and legs twitching in the air as they tried to maintain their balance subconsciously. It was not to be as their rear slowly tilted and fell to the ground, her hind legs splaying out behind her. It suddenly clicked that it was Alexandria that had crashed into Galen. The eagless groaned and writhed pitifully on the spot, but Pinkie was too busy freaking out, wondering if Galen was okay.

Galen, for the most part was fine aside from the moderate bruise that was going to be on the side of his ribs if the pain was anything to go by. Pinkie rushed up to him and rolled him onto his back with gentle hooves and was chattering so quickly in such a high pitched voice that Galen had absolutely no idea what she was saying. He took a few gasps to try and refill his lungs as he brought a hand up to cup the side of Pinkie's face as he gave her a comforting look before she lost it completely. After a few more gasps, breathing became easier and he chuckled with a wince at the pain in his side.

“Ah-” he coughed weakly, but took another breath and continued, “Ah'm fine, Pinkie. Jus' 'ad tha wind knocked out o' me. Go check on whoever crashed inta me.”

She nodded and cast one more worried look at Galen before slowly pulling back and trotted over to where Alexandria had stopped. She was still whimpering slightly, one of her wings bent at a bad angle at the base and a few tears matting the feathers around her eyes. Pinkie wasn't a doctor, but it looked pretty bad to her. She heard Galen groan a bit and looked back to see him moving up to a sitting position as he looked over his shoulder. He scrambled up to his feet drunkenly and shambled over to them and leaned down to see what had happened to her as well. He took in the sight with a stoic expression before he moved his arms to gently pick her up and cradle her tense form. She gripped his right forearm with one of her hands as he hefted her, her talons sinking into the flesh a bit but he weathered it with a hiss of breath.

“Come on, Pinkie,” he rumbled, oblivious to the stares he was garnering. “Le's get 'er ta tha doc's.” She nodded and put on a brave face as she suddenly noticed a scarlet rivulet flow down from where Alexandria gripped his arm. He didn't pay it any mind so she tried her best to ignore it as well, but she still felt the fur on the base of her neck rise up as long ingrained lessons to protect your stallion came to the forefront. The only thing that stopped her from saying or doing anything was the stoic look of determination to see this through on Galen's face as he walked. They were quite the spectacle as they walked through town; Galen bleeding from the punctures that had turned into gashes due to the walking and his charges unintentional writhing, Alexandria whimpering pitifully due to her battered and bruised body and Pinkie obviously upset about everything but putting on a brave face just to match her stallion. If he could be so casually strong about this sort of thing, then by Celestia, she'd try her best to weather it as well.

When they'd made it about half way, Rainbow Dash showed up in a blustery rush to see if the rumors were true. Galen greeted her without stopping and a flippant comment about how he had promised Alex a combination roost and scratching post, only he never thought that it would turn out to be himself. Dash had to choke back a scandalized laugh as he walked around her. She flitted around him to inspect Alex and she made a hissing noise as she took in a slow breath and grimaced as she surveyed the damage Alex had taken. With a practiced eye, she gave a rough diagnosis that she had suffered a dislocated wing and possibly some hyper extended muscles if she was lucky, minor muscular tearing if she wasn't. With Galen, she was sure would need several stitches from the various sizes of the gashes.

After she had given them her two bits she flew off in a flash, saying that she'd bring word to the clinic and see if they couldn't meet them part way. Well, she was true to her word as a couple blocks later, she returned saying that a couple nurses would be coming with a gurney for Alex. They made the last turn toward the clinic and saw a pair of uniformed nurses just rushing out a pair of wide doors with a gurney. They broke into a gallop when they saw them and closed the distance quickly.

“You can put her here,” said a white mare with a light pink mane and tail. “Be careful so she doesn't tear your arm up any more than it already is. We'll rush her right back, but you had better be right behind us. You need to be attended to as well.”

“Got ya,” he replied as he set Alex down as gently as he could. She shivered and tensed slightly when he set her down. She gripped him slightly harder, but not enough to do much more than make him shiver as silver lightning lanced up his arm. He gently pried her talons from his arm and extracted himself from her grip gently and stood back up. The nurses took the gurney and gently made their way back up, increasing their pace slowly as they went.

“I'm gonna go wait with Alexandria so I can find out what caused her accident,” Dash said after a moment to the approving mumbles of the pair.

Once Dash had flown back off to the hospital, Galen looked over to Pinkie and gave her a chagrined smile. “Sorry 'bout ruining yer day with me,” he said in a slightly dreary tone. “Should've been payin' more attention.”

She shook her head as her eyes watered up. “It's not your fault,” she replied. “Let's just get you patched up and back to the farm so you can recover.”

“We'll see,” he replied with a little smirk. “Yew did promise me a homemade lunch an' Ah won' say tha date's over 'til yew make good on it.” Pinkie gave a choked up laugh at that and smiled. “There we go... There's a smile. Bein' sad really doesn't suit ya, Pinkie.”

“That's what everypony always tells me when I get down,” she replied with a little sigh.

“Well, it's tha truth,” he replied with a grin. “It's kinda like when yew smile, tha world gets a tiny bit brighter when Ah'm near.”

Pinkie flushed at that and ducked behind him, pushing his rear with the top of her head. “Okay, mister,” she said with a bit of mirth in her voice. “The blood loss might be starting to get to you, so let's get your arm taken care of before you lose any more.”

“Psh,” he hissed disdainfully. “Ah've 'ad worse. Almost died from a pack o' wolves once upon a time. Got me some souvenirs Ah bring with me everywhere Ah go. If Ah gotta take mah shirt off, yew'll get ta see some o' them.”

Even though he couldn't see her, Pinkie still blushed a deep red as she giggled. “Okay, mister macho. Come on now, quite your yammering and put your rear in gear, mister.”

“Okay, okay,” he said with a chuckle as he picked up the pace on his own volition. “Somepony's impatient to see me without a shirt on.”

“Maybe~” she replied as she bounced and bounded ahead quickly so he couldn't see her blush. Galen just chuckled and continued on his way. When they entered the clinic, Galen and Pinkie were ushered into a sterile office that was reminiscent of any modern clinic on earth. Galen hopped up on the paper padded bench with a crinkling sound and promptly began twiddling his thumbs. Pinkie took a seat near the door on a minimally padded chair and waited patiently for the doctor to show up. Galen noticed her trying not to look at his wounded forearm and would turn slightly green whenever she did.

“Maybe yew should go wait outside,” he said after her most recent gaze at his wound.

“Sounds like a good idea,” she said quickly in a mild tone as she hopped off her seat and scampered off to wait outside somewhere. Not even a couple moments later, a unicorn doctor showed up with a practiced smile and made his introduction. He puttered around for a few moments as he pulled together all the things he'd need. Sutures, needle, disinfectant, salve, gauze and a roll of bandages. He asked if Galen wanted the area numbed but was told not to go out of his way. It wasn't the worst injury he'd suffered and to just get it over with. The doctor just chuckled and went to work.

All in all, it only took about ten minutes to clean, disinfect, stitch, salve and bandage his arm. The least of his gashes took five while the largest one took thirteen, with almost thirty in total. He flexed and rotated his hand and only felt a slight pulling sensation at the furthest range of motion and gave his approval to the quality of treatment. He was ushered out with a small jar of salve to reapply daily and instructions that the bandages could come off tomorrow so long as he kept the area relatively clean. He could come back in a week to get the stitches removed and was checked out. When he asked about payment, the doctor told him that the crown paid all expenses and that treatment was free of charge. Pinkie was waiting in the foyer when he got there and perked up with a smile when she saw him walking her way.

“Feeling any better?” she asked.

“No worse fer wear,” he replied with a grin. “So, what else do yew wanna do? Got some more time 'til lunch rolls 'round.”

“I'm okay,” she said with a wave of her hoof. “I just want to make sure you're not going to get hurt anymore today.”

“Ah'm fine, Pinkie,” he replied with half a grin. “Long as Ah'm not wrestlin' with a bear, yew got nothin' ta worry 'bout. 'Sides, this is yer day an' Ah'll be damned if it's gonna be cut short just 'cause o' some scratches.”

She couldn't help but give a half scandalized laugh. He was just so different from any stallion she'd ever taken out before. But his brand of different made her feel so special that she couldn't help feeling a little guilty. “How about we just take it easy and go for a walk through the park?”

“Sounds nice,” he answered with a smile. Pinkie smiled in return before turning around to lead the way. They took a left once they returned to the outskirts of town, taking the orbital road that one could use to bypass walking through the town in exchange for a slightly longer but much more scenic way. They made their way almost a third of the way around Ponyville before Pinkie led them down a little side road that led them to a tiny little out of the way park within the town, roughly the size of three housing plots. As they passed between the gateposts, it seemed as though it got a bit quieter as the foliage absorbed some of the towns ambient noise. There were a few decently sized trees that were just big enough that a group could easily sit underneath in case they wanted to have a picnic, several flowerbeds tended and shaped to provide both barriers and walkways between four different areas. As he looked around a bit more, he spotted a few benches for those who wanted a seat where they could take in the view and a small water fountain sculpted in a stylized tree shape, where the water that would rise out of the top would fall and patter onto a series of stone leaves which would let the water fall onto more leaves below them and so on.

Pinkie looked up and saw Galen smiling softly at the sights around him and she knew she'd picked a winner here. She giggled and cantered ahead a little, stopping and turning around with a bright smile when she was under the shade of a tree that had a spectacular view of everything around it. Galen smiled and picked up his pace to get there just a little bit sooner. They moved to the base of the tree and sat down together on the soft grass with only a little bit of space separating them. Galen noticed and blew out a little puff of air when he saw Pinkie stealing quick little glances at him as though she were trying to work up the courage to just lean into him. Opting to simply show that it was okay, he reached up and over her shoulders, grabbed her gently and pulled her to his side with a laugh as she let out a little squeak of surprise. He let her calm down for a few moments as he slowly rubbed his hand through the incredibly soft fur on the upper part of her foreleg and simply enjoyed the silence that passed between the two.

After Galen had pulled her to his side, Pinkie was just about certain she would be the first pony to know if their heart could literally leap out of their throat with how quickly it sped up. She froze up and was worried about doing something wrong, but then she noticed his hand running through her fur gently. She focused on the sensation and soon found herself quickly calming down. She couldn't help it as she let out a tiny little purr of delight as she felt his body heat seep into her fur through his clothes. His hand was just an added bonus as he would gently scratch her with his nails on occasion. She wasn't sure how long she was like this, but as all the tension that had been building up within her left, so did her hold on consciousness.

Galen noticed Pinkie's snuggling up to him, seemingly bonelessly as she tried to get the most contact out of what she was next to. Her breathing slowed more and more until he was surprised to realize that she had fallen asleep. Well, she clearly had the right idea as he felt that familiar nagging in the back of his mind to take a nap as well. He pondered about how he would rearrange their bodies without both waking her up and making it uncomfortable for the pair. Well, the area around them seemed to be just fine as long as he didn't find an exposed tree root to sleep on, so that should be fine. The trickiest part would be what came next. Opting for the simplest way to rearrange their seating, he moved the arm that had been around Pinkie and moved it underneath her flank while his other hooked itself under her forelegs. He gently shifted her weight off himself and scooted himself around so that he could lay down easily and brought Pinkie back to his chest.

He gently lay back as he kept her close, letting out a little sigh as he came to rest on the ground and looked up at their leafy canopy. The emerald green of the leaves and the gentle hissing of the wind as it blew through them seemed to lull him closer to the nap he craved so much now. The heat and warmth of the mare on his chest was better than any blanket on a chill night, and when she scooted herself up a bit more with her head coming to rest just under his jaw with a little coo and slight nuzzle in her sleep, he felt at peace and happy just like that. He closed his eyes and was asleep in seconds.


When he woke up an hour later, Galen couldn't help the incredulous expression on his face as it sounded like somepony was trying to saw through a knot of wood on his chest. Looking down slightly, he saw that Pinkie had crawled and sprawled herself on top of him in her sleep and her lower was half on its side while her upper half was on its back. Turns out, there was no woodworking going on when he saw Pinkie's mouth open almost comically wide and another massive snore ripped its way out. It was so absurd that he couldn't help a few quiet chuckles as a grin formed on his face. That grin widened as he brought both hands up and to the sides of her barrel, fingers forming claws as he bit back a snort of amusement for what was to come.

He gently set his fingertips to her ribs and began to lightly flick and flit them through her fur. Her response was immediate as she cut off mid snore and let out a little whine. She suddenly snorted and began wriggling slightly as she let out a few giggles in her sleep. He sped up his teasing digits and Pinkie finally let out full volume squeals of laughter and delight. Galen couldn't help it as he began laughing himself and finally let off after a little bit more. He raised his upper body up a bit as he rested on his elbows and looked down with a grin at the pink pony that was panting slightly on his torso.

Once she had recovered her breath a bit, she cracked an eye open and found Galen looking right back at her. She took another moment to take stock of the situation and felt a furious flush rising on her face. Galen almost would have missed catching her if he hadn't been looking for that shy side of hers to suddenly come out in this situation and moved to nip it off in the bud. Before she could even think about abashedly moving away, he moved an arm up and around to hold her gently around her barrel. She let out a little mewl, as though she were frightened about what was to come, letting out a squeak instead as Galen let himself flop back to the ground so that his other hand could come up and caress a cheek. She couldn't help it as all her self doubt and worry left as she nuzzled into his comforting hand.

Galen and Pinkie lay like that for an easy five minutes before Pinkie finally began shifting around, prompting him to let her get up. “What'd I do to get even a chance to date somepony as special as you?” she asked with a guilty expression as she turned herself around so that she was resting on her forelegs and looking down at him. “I mean, after so long, why now and why me of all ponies?”

“Do yew really 'ave ta ask tha'?” he rumbled with a little smile. “It's 'cause yer yew an' yew chose me. As fer all tha rest, Ah'd say us livin' in different worlds 'til a few months ago would be answer enough.”

Pinkie couldn't help but give a little snort of amusement at his remark. “I guess, but why?”

“Ah think it's cause it'd be a cryin' shame fer a mare like yew ta only smile fer others,” he replied. Pinkie took on a confused expression as she tilted her head. He returned his arms to the positions they had been, one over her shoulders this time and another cupping a blushing cheek. “Yew need ta learn ta smile fer yerself, Pinkie. Be happy fer yerself. Be a little greedy, guard what yew want an' make it yers. Yew can't make every pony, griffon, mule 'r zebra happy all tha time. So, tha' bein' said, yew need ta stop from time ta time an' live yer own life instead o' livin' it fer tha sake o' others. Find a happiness tha's only fer yew.”

She closed her eyes and let a shiver run through her body. “Itchy back,” she said in a slightly husky voice with a little smirk on her lips when she opened her eyes again. This time, they were half lidded and seemed to have a shine unlike Galen's ever seen in them before. She leaned forward and Galen couldn't help but smirk himself as he leaned up as well, their faces inching closer and closer together. Their warm breath mingled as they closed the final gap, Galen remembering to tilt his head further to the side at Lero's insistence, and their lips met. It was tame as far as kisses went, but the feeling Pinkie put behind it made it feel many times more intense than it was.

Galen couldn't help it as he pressed back into her with a warmth he felt rising in his chest while he brought his other hand to her other cheek, both gently holding her face as his thumbs gently caressed the ridges of her cheekbones. She cooed and moaned subtly as she felt his eagerness to reciprocate. She felt as though she was going to explode from the inside out as that fiery warmth nestled in her heart seemed to swell and swell beyond her comprehension, only to swell some more. She wasn't sure what that sensation was at first, but she soon realized that it was happiness. Her own happiness, found with his and Applejack's help. It had been brewing in her heart for weeks now, only to finally be released after not only one, not two, but so many successful dates in these past few months that the total eclipsed all of her failed ones.

So, it came as a surprise to her when Galen broke away with a look of slight worry. She felt his thumb push around a hot warmth just under her eye and she pulled back when she noticed how bright and distorted her vision was. She was crying from how happy she was and she couldn't help but give an incredulous little laugh. Galen was about to ask what was wrong, but Pinkie cut him off as she lunged back with a giggle and proceeded to kiss him again, her puckering lips doing nothing to hide the smile she had.

Galen couldn't help but feel a great sense of contentment wash over himself as he kissed Pinkie back the second time. That look of joy she had was just too much for him and he hoped that he could see her like that all the time if he could help it. Of course that would be impossible, but the times like this, these little slices of heaven that they carved out of everyday life just for themselves would live on in their hearts and minds as the most treasured of memories. Eventually, they had to breathe and broke off with a few shared laughs between the two.

“Feels good ta be a li'l greedy, huh?” he asked a bit breathlessly as Pinkie brought the top of her head underneath his jaw. He moved his arms around her shoulders and wrapped her up in a firm hug that she snuggled into eagerly.

“I think I can get used to it, croí milis,” she replied with a grin he couldn't see. Galen couldn't help the smile he felt come upon his face as Pinkie used some of the words he'd taught her to call him a sweet heart.

“Croí milis, huh?” he half rumbled in reply. “Ah think croí sona migh' be better ta describe me righ' now.”

She paused for a moment to sort through what he had taught her and giggled when she connected sona to happy. “Well, you may be coming a bit late to the game compared to Applejack, but you seem to be making up for lost time, huh?”

“Who's keepin' score?” he replied with a chuckle as he squeezed a little tighter, getting a little coo out of her. “Ah think we're all winners in this game.”

“I think I can agree with that,” she replied with a nuzzle.

“Awww, such a darling sight you two make!” called a sophisticated voice from nearby.

Pinkie jolted a little in Galen's embrace as she moved to see the owner of that familiar voice. Galen lifted his head as well and found Rarity a dozen or so paces away with a basket floating in her magic and a beaming Sweetie Belle by her side. Galen blew a raspberry that set Sweetie to giggling and made Rarity smirk as he set his head back on the grass, gently pulling a slightly embarrassed Pinkie back down with him to nestle her head back under his jaw.

“Don' mind us,” he said with a casual air. “Feel free ta join us in tha shade if yew 'ave a mind ta.” Even though he couldn't see her face, he could certainly feel Pinkie's blush warm his skin more than it already was.

“Oh, we couldn't possibly intrude on your date,” she demurred.

“Nonsense,” he replied with a grin. “Already had one o' our friends 'drop' in on us already.”

Pinkie couldn't help but give the most awkward combination of a snort, a laugh and a gasp all at once at his horrible word play. “Galen!” she chastised with her laughter barely held in check as she batted his chest with a lazy hoof. “That's absolutely horrible!”

“Oh my, did something happen?” Rarity inquired, eager for a few juicy details.

“Well, Alex crashed inta me if tha' counts,” he replied with a snort.

“Oh my, I do hope you two came out alright.”

“She came out a lot worse than Galen did,” Pinkie chipped in somberly. “She's over at the clinic with Rainbow waiting for her to wake up.”

“I'll have to send some fresh flowers and wish her a speedy recovery, then,” she replied earnestly.

“Ah'm sure she'll appreciate 'em,” Galen said with a smile.

“In any case, if you really don't mind, I do believe we might just take you up on your offer of joining you,” she said changing gears. “It's quite rare to see Pinkie groomed in such a stunning fashion. I always thought she would be quite the gorgeous mare if she ever would let the twins work their magic, since she's so cute anyway... I can see that I was quite right in my assessment...”

“Yew can say tha' again,” he replied with a chuckle as Pinkie nuzzled into the crook between his neck and shoulder in an attempt to escape their teasing. He ran a hand through her mane soothingly and said quietly enough for Rarity to not hear, “Yew know tha best part? Every word we've said is true, Pinkie. Yer as pretty on tha outside as yew are on tha inside.”

Pinkie couldn't help but squirm slightly in his arms, a smile hidden from the teasing pair. After that last bit of teasing, they left off on Pinkie and opted to hold a regular conversation about how their day has gone so far after the two other mares had their picnic set up a pace or two away. As they chatted, Pinkie actually fell asleep again to a delighted coo from Rarity and Sweetie at seeing the usually hyper mare napping so contentedly. As they talked, he gave them all the details involving his accident, both Rarity and Sweetie Belle taking on mildly queasy expressions when he told them the extent of Alex's injuries and showed off his own treated wounds. As for the rest, the two donned happy expressions and laughed at the appropriate parts just from hearing about it, Rarity even doing a spit take due to Galen timing a certain part just right. Everyone got a laugh out of that except for Rarity who grumbled lightheartedly about stains on her good picnic blanket which elicited a few more for good measure.

After a time, the two sisters finished their light lunch and drinks, taking their leave after a small pause. Galen bid them a farewell and a promise to Sweetie that he'd be more than well enough by Tuesday to do whatever she and her friends had in mind. She giggled and told him not to worry about it too much and that she was looking forward to it. Rarity just smiled between the two while her eyes promised her little sister a thorough interrogation when they got home. Galen chortled at Sweetie's expression as they left and finally he settled back down on the ground with a sigh, more than ready enough for another short nap.

One would think that one would get tired of napping all the time, but when one had a warm, fuzzy pink mare napping contentedly on top of oneself, there is no such thing as too many naps. Especially when there's a warm companion to share them with...


Once they woke up from their latest naps, Pinkie gave Galen a mock grumpy treatment for his teasing earlier, but she was so pleased with the open praises he gave her about her looks and personality that she kept it light enough to let him know she was teasing him. Galen played along and agreed to sit through however many courses she wanted to served him for lunch. To be honest, he was eagerly looking forward to this 'punishment' of hers, but he put on an expression of mock dread which made her laugh at him.

They made it back to Sugar Cube Corner just a bit after noon and the shop was bustling with patrons. A few of them called out to Pinkie and gave their complements on her new look while others made the obvious connection that she and Galen had been out on a date together and gave her little winks and whispered comments on what she should plan for their next time out. Galen, on the other hand was drawn to the side by a few giggling mares who kept glancing back at the obviously glowing Pinkie and interrogated him about the details of the date.

Of course, he knew how small towns worked and humored them. With the differences in culture, he was sure that they were simultaneously looking out for Pinkie as much as scoping out how high quality of a stallion he was likely to be if they ever approached Pinkie or Applejack about joining their circle. He didn't embellish their day together, nor did he downplay any of the events when asked about his little run in with Alex. He told them about their nap time together and they all cooed with comically dopey expressions that he simply couldn't help the snickers that rose up. Eventually, he found himself escorted to a booth and was left to his lonesome by Mrs. Cake who showed up and broke up the gaggle of mares so he could have some breathing room.

Of course, she asked him if he was alright since she had heard the rumors, only to be reassured that he was fine. She let him know that Pinkie had gone off to the kitchen and was busy whipping up something for them to eat. Of course, she couldn't give him much more than that as she was called away by another customer who needed something and left him with a glass of cherry soda from the tray balanced on her withers before moving off. After roughly thirty minutes, Pinkie reappeared suddenly from the crowd with a spectacular spread on a platter that she slid with practiced ease onto the table. She quickly hopped up to join him on the same bench with a smile and a faint flush as she so openly displayed her closeness with him in such a public setting.

He couldn't stop himself as he draped an arm across her shoulders, pulling her up against his side. “Looks like quite a spread,” he said with an eager smile.

“It's just what I could whip up on short notice,” she replied modestly as she leaned into him a bit more.

“Well, it looks delicious,” he said as a grin split his face. “Ah'd like ta see what yew can do when ya really put yer mind ta it.”

“Well, you'll have plenty of chances to see just what I can do when I pull out all the stops,” she replied with a slightly smoldering smile. “Anyway, you have a platter of tasty treats to eat.”

“Ah would comment on tha', but we're in public,” he replied with a shit eating grin that had Pinkie blushing and Galen chuckling.

Letting the conversation drop for now, he reached out and decided to start off with a bright pink cupcake that had a strawberry nestled in a fluffy bed of whipped icing. When he bit into it, an explosion of flavor flooded across his tongue. It was clearly a strawberry cupcake, its bouncy and energetic flavor dancing on his taste buds; but as he concentrated on the flavor, an undercurrent of sultry cherry came to light. That first bite was more than he ever imagined a simple cupcake would have had and it was just sweet enough that it left him wanting another bite just to keep the flavor fresh in both his body and his mind.

Pinkie couldn't help but giggle as Galen promptly destroyed that first cupcake, that first modest bite devolving into a voracious demolition of baked goods. Nothing before him stood a chance as his hands fell upon them, not the mighty muffins, nor the courageous cinnamon rolls... they all fell in time and he groaned and moaned over their crumbly remains that was left scattered upon the tabletop. There were plenty of valiant pastries willing to throw their bodies into danger to protect the lives of those they held dear and held the lines without flinching.

Suddenly, she snapped out of her silly little daydream when Galen turned partway toward her and held a cupcake in his hand for her to eat, freshly peeled from its wrapping. She gave a toothy smile as she opened her mouth wide and let him feed her. She hummed in delight as she bit into her own delectable confection, smiling as she pulled away while licking a little smear of icing from the corner of her mouth. Galen couldn't help but reflexively gulp as she tossed him a saucy little wink before she ate the rest of the cupcake in his hand since she took the tips of his index and middle fingers in her mouth and languidly swirled her tongue across the to get any crumbs off them.

This time it was Pinkie's turn to chuckle at him with the immensely conflicted expression she left him with. To be honest, her heart was beating furiously with the surge of adrenaline she got from her bold actions. She had never tried to be this flirtatious before, but if she was having this much of an effect on him, she must have been doing it right. Deciding to turn the tables, she took a cinnamon roll and offered it to him. He didn't waste much time as he leaned in and ate the whole thing in a few healthy bites, licking the smears of slightly warm icing from her hoof and frog in heavy licks that reached every nook and cranny it ran over. Eventually they finished the platter off, feeding each other while trading flirtatious gestures and looks, ignoring every other patron in the restaurant aside from each other.

“Tha' was an amazin' meal, Pinkie,” he said with a sigh as he settled into his seat a little more.

Pinkie scooched a little closer and hummed her agreement as she leaned up and nuzzled his jaw. “The company was what definitely made it memorable, though,” she murmured dreamily.

“Ah couldn't agree more,” he replied as his hand began running through her coat absentmindedly, getting a happy little hum out of Pinkie. “An' Ah can't wait ta do this again with ya...”

“Same here,” she said with a smile. “Although, Applejack's probably going to be with us as well.”

“All tha better then,” he said with a grin. “Yew two really do make a cute couple... Yew just... Compliment each other in a way tha's hard ta explain.”

“I kinda get what you're saying,” she replied with a little smile. “But at the same time I don't.”

“Well, yew always seem to bring out Jackie's playful side whenever yer around,” he supplied. “When she 'as a good day, yew jus' make it amazin' when yew come out an' jus' spend some time with 'er. Ta put it simply, yew make 'er happy jus' by bein' there.”

Pinkie couldn't help the little blush that came up on her at his words. To be honest, it was the same way for her whenever she went out to spend time with Applejack. Being around her marefriend always seemed to calm her down, like a post that a particularly energetic dog would find itself inexorably drawn back to when it ran around too much, only to repeat the same thing when it was untangled. Everything just seemed so calm and peaceful around her and Pinkie loved that feeling her marefriend brought by her simple presence as much as the mare herself.

“And she makes me happy too,” she said warmly after a brief moment. Then she gave a little sigh and a sad little smile. “Anyway, we should end our date soon... We've both had long nights and an exceptionally eventfully morning. Especially you, mister.”

“Already?” he asked as he looked up at the clock that showed it was about twenty to one. “As they say, time flies when yer 'avin' fun...”

Pinkie giggled at that. “Truer words have never been spoken, but seriously... You need to make sure you don't get an infection...”

“Okay...” he said as he stuck his tongue out playfully. “Ah'll take it easy...”

They spent a little bit more time just sitting there, enjoying each others company. When one o'clock finally rolled around, they gave a little sigh and smiled just a little sadly that their time together was over for now and looked forward to the next time they saw each other again. With his smile widening into half a grin, Galen leaned in close as he brought a hand up to cup one of her cheeks and tilted her head up. Their lips pursed at the last second and they shared a tender kiss that promised things to come and an eagerness for said things. They broke the kiss after only a few seconds and Pinkie hopped off the bench with a beaming smile, uncaring for the looks of others that they had drawn. Galen took the platter and returned it to the counter, giving Mrs. Cake a wide smile that was returned readily and crouched down to give Pinkie one last hug before making his farewells.

When he left Sugar Cube Corner, he had a liveliness to his step that nopony could miss and a subdued smile on his lips that seemed to infect any who saw it.

An Apple for the Day (Part One of Two)

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An Apple for the Day

After Galen left, Pinkie was promptly whisked off to a back room in the kitchen by an ecstatic looking Mrs. Cake and was promptly interrogated about the happenings of the date. Pinkie couldn't help the heat that rose on her face nor the floating feeling that rose up to accompany it either as she gave her all the details. Mrs. Cake nodded approvingly at the details with a warm smile that only grew as she heard more and more of what went on. She especially seemed to approve of Galen's actions regarding Alex's accident, putting her well being above a few relatively minor injuries he sustained in helping her. By the end of her retelling, Mrs Cake pulled her into a firm hug as she nuzzled the side of her face and told her that she was so happy that she finally found such a wonderful stallion to date. After she said that, she added with a chortle that she would still give Galen a hard time just to keep up appearances.

Pinkie protested this but gave way when she saw the expression on her face. If that look had anything to say about the hard time she'd be giving him, it would likely involve embarrassing ribbing and snarky comments thrown his way more often than anything. Pinkie giggled and agreed to her demands so long as she didn't make him too embarrassed in front of a crowd. Mrs. Cake simply said that she'd try, but no promises. Pinkie couldn't help but giggle in response as the elder mare turned back around and told her that Applejack was still waiting upstairs in her room to see how her date had gone. Pinkie thanked her for letting her know and hightailed it upstairs with a clatter of hooves while Mrs. Cake just chortled and settled herself back behind the register.

Applejack was napping when Pinkie came barging into her room and awoke with a startled snort and some owlish blinking. Pinkie didn't even giggle at the sight as she bounded into the air with a squee of pure joy and tackle hugged Applejack into the bed with an oompf and a bounce that sent her many pillows flying around the room in a multicolored spray. Applejack couldn't help a little squirm as their bodies and coats meshed together ticklishly, making her half giggle and half moan from the sensation.

“Somepony's in a good mood,” she finally said as Pinkie settled down with a forceful nuzzle to the side of her face. “Ah take it you had a good time?”

“You wouldn't believe everything that happened!” she replied as she launched herself from her embrace and onto her back with a pomf. “So much happened and I don't even know where to start!”

“Try from the beginning, sugar cube,” Applejack replied with a laugh as she moved to a sitting position and poked her marefriends tummy, making her giggle and squirm from the light touch.

“Okay,” she said as she flipped herself over onto her side with a slightly dreamy expression and began telling her everything that happened from when they first left the bakery. This retelling took a bit longer as she went into greater depth for the mare who shared her heart. She really couldn't help it when she went off on tangents about this or that thing that he did which made her feel so special. Eventually, she couldn't help herself as she wiggled around and pulled Applejack into a warm, fuzzy embrace as she gave a little sigh of contentment in the embrace of her lover.

“Sounds like you had a great time,” Applejack said with a happy grin plastered on her face.

“Oh, you better believe it,” Pinkie replied with a giggle. “I'm sure you're going to have just as much of a extra special time like I did.”

“We'll see,” she said with a hum as she ran a hoof through Pinkie's soft mane. “Sometimes, it's nice to take it nice and slow.” Pinkie couldn't help it as she started laughing with a faint blush. Applejack gave her a moderately annoyed look and asked, “What, if I may ask, is so funny?”

“That's exactly what I tried and we practically had a make-out session!” she managed between bouts of laughter. Applejack couldn't help but snicker at the irony of her statement and just kept quiet so Pinkie could get it out of her system. “But seriously...” she finally said once she had calmed down a bit. “Just have a good time, but not too good of a time if you know what I'm saying...” She couldn't help the leer she gave Applejack who flushed at what she was implying.

“Don't you worry about that,” she assured with a hug and nuzzle. “Ah want us both to be there when we get to that special kinda fun...”

Pinkie flushed as she pulled her into a deep kiss. It wasn't passionate, but it made sure to convey her love and appreciation for the mare in her embrace. “I know,” she said a bit breathlessly when she finally broke away. She turned a bit pensive as she blushed furiously and looked straight at Applejack. “But... I've... Never actually been with a stallion in that way before...”

“Ah'm sure Ah can teach you a thing or two before we get to that point,” she replied with a saucy wink and grin. “Until then, Ah'm afraid that you'll just have to make due with little ol' me to keep you satisfied.”

Pinkie's blush covered her whole face as she turned crimson as she processed that bit of information. “I think you'll keep me more than satisfied until then,” she meekly squeaked in reply, getting Applejack to chortle in amusement as she tried to hide behind her mane. She couldn't as Applejack cut her off as she swooped in with a fervent kiss to show just how right she was. They lost track of who was who in that brief moment and existed simply within each others hearts, surrounded by warmth and knowing that they were loved unconditionally.

They broke apart almost thirty seconds later, not with a gasp, but with a sigh as they simply cuddled and adjusted their positions so that they could spoon. Pinkie melted into Applejack as the tan mare took the position of the big spoon, shuddering slightly as her hooves wrapped possessively around Pinkie's waist. “Ah suppose Ah'll have to live up to expectations, then...” she whispered coarsely before firmly nibbling along the edge of a flighty ear.

Pinkie took in a shaky breath and let it out silently as she writhed against her lover. “Just be who you are and I'll be the happiest mare alive,” she whispered just loudly enough for Applejack to hear. She didn't reply with words, but if the tender kisses and licks on Pinkie's neck while her hoof traveled ever lower had anything to say about anything in particular, she had heard well enough...


Galen, when he got back to the farm, couldn't have been any happier. He had this little bounce to his step that carried through the rest of the day, even after going out to help Big Mac with his harvesting chores since Applejack hadn't been home yet. Apple Bloom tagged along since her friends had other plans for the day and she had been floating about the house doing whatever was needed or seemed like fun, mostly playing with Riley and Winona in the yard. She asked about how his date had been and he gave her the general idea of what he and Pinkie did as well as about their little detour to the clinic so she would have the right information if any of her friends or classmates asked. He brushed off her concerns easily enough as he pulled filled carts from the orchard, unloading them and returning to where Big Mac was working, showing her that they were nothing more than deep scratches.

The rest of the day passed by quickly as he worked with the two siblings. Despite the intensive labor, he never seemed to burn through all of his energy and the others seemed to notice it. That same energy carried him through all the way into the house where he promptly began cooking for everypony, automatically increasing the serving size so that Applejack would have something to eat when she would inevitably show up. The meal was prepared in good order and as reliably as clockwork, Applejack walked into the kitchen with a cheesy grin and flush that clearly showed what she had been up to that afternoon. Galen and the others kept silent on her activities, although they wore their own little grins that told her that they knew and she took her usual seat with a rising blush that set the others to chuckling.

As they ate, Galen was the center of the conversation as they asked him about the details of his date. Even Big Mac seemed interested in picking up a few pointers from his date, keeping an open ear but the crowd around the table preventing him from asking any questions lest he be teased by his siblings. The meal was finished with thanks to Galen for his efforts, Applejack and Bloom volunteering to clean the dishes since he'd both cooked it and had a long day on top of it. With them taking care of that, Granny, Big Mac and Galen retired to the living room to relax and make small talk in the little remaining time before they would turn in. Once finished, the two sisters joined the others for a bit of relaxation.

It didn't take long before most of them were fighting yawns, droopy eyelids and bobbing heads. So with yawning farewells and tired smiles, they bid each other a good night and made off to their own rooms for the night while Applejack and Galen hung back. Once the sound of hoof steps faded from hearing, Applejack turned to Galen with a warm smile and said quietly, “You really knew what to say today, Galen... Ah've never seen Pinkie so happy after a date with anypony aside from maself...”

“Ah didn't say anythin' other than what Ah wanted 'er ta know, Jack,” he replied with a smile of his own. “She found 'er own happiness. But she had ta accept tha' happiness too. It's like she's so used ta giving it ta others tha' she don' know 'ow ta be greedy anymore.”

Applejack couldn't help but laugh at that. “Ah'm sure if Rarity weren't the Element of Generosity, Ah'm sure Pinkie would be next in line. She really is a sweet mare, and Ah'm sure she'll want to snuggle up with you again sometime soon...”

Galen snorted with an amused grin at that. “Ah can't say Ah'd be 'gainst tha'. She's a great nap partner.”

“That she is,” Applejack replied with a grin of her own. “Anyway, you'd best get yourself to bed 'cause Ah got a heck of a day planned for us tomorrow.”

“Ah'm sure Ah can keep up,” he replied with an easy grin.

“In that case, Ah'm sure you won't mind eatin' those words when you can't even walk home tomorrow,” she said with a flick of her mane and a competitive smirk that looked more predatory with the look in her eyes.

Galen's grin widened in response, putting a hand in his pocket while the other scratched his bearded chin. “If yew can do tha', Ah'll put on yer maid outfit an' clean this house from top ta bottom.”

Applejack barely managed to choke back a laugh, but regained her composure quickly enough. “Ah'll hold ya to that bet,” she replied as she walked away with a sway to her hips that had Galen staring until she disappeared from sight. With nothing else delaying him, Galen made his way back to his room and turned in after quickly stripping down to his boxers and shoving Riley over to make room for himself.


The next morning found Galen waking up with prickling nerve endings as the silvery sunlight poured through his window to the point that it almost seemed excessive. Riley was already gone from his bed, so he made his way to the bathroom to freshen up with a quick washing before returning to his room and dressed himself up in a dark green tunic and brown leggings after changing his boxers. He wandered into the kitchen shortly after and found Applejack wearing her maids outfit and humming cheerfully as she went about her work. When she noticed that he had come in, she swung her hips a bit and flicked her tail just enough to tease him with a brief glance of her lacy black panties that gave him a case of burning ears. She chuckled at his reaction and gave him a wink before saying in a slightly husky tone, “Go ahead and take a seat, sugar.”

Galen couldn't say a word in reply as he did as instructed. Applejack kept up her teasing flashes and behavior until the sounds of the others waking up forced her to reel back her behavior. Galen couldn't hide the color of his ears, so when Apple Bloom came in and saw his state and her sister acting as if nothing was going on she put two and two together to figure out what had been going on. “You know, it's not good for you to raise his blood pressure like this unless you plan on helping him... unwind,” she said with a devilish grin as she watched the pair choke and splutter as their faces flushed brightly.

Their replies were cut off when Granny walked in and saw what was going on and an identical grin came across her face. “Ah don't have ta get out mah spray bottle an' spritz you two like a pair o' cats in season, do Ah? Ain't gonna be nothin' fer me ta slip in, now is there? A mare my age can't be too careful anymore...” To add a bit more to her teasing, Granny lowered her face close to the floor and made as if she were inspecting it for anything to be wary of.

Where they had been able to make some indignant noises at the least for Apple Bloom, it was as if they had been punched in their stomachs by the way it felt when Granny had said her piece. Their blushes turned from a vibrant red to a deep crimson and they let out a strangled gurgling. For Apple Bloom, it was too much and she broke out in laughter, falling on her side as it became too much for her. Granny just settled on a hearty chuckle as she moved to the table and took her seat. “You should keep an eye on yer cookin' or it might start burning, Applejack,” she said once she settled in her seat. Applejack gave a little jolt and quickly returned to her cooking while Galen's expression slowly turned rueful.

“Mornin', Granny,” Galen said once his flush had receded and he had found his voice again. “Ah see yer in a feisty mood this today.”

“What're you talkin' about, sonny? Ah'm always feisty,” she replied with a cackle. “Besides, It ain't everyday when Ah catch mah oldest granddaughter flirtin' with her stallion in the kitchen.” She ended this with a smirk and a wink. Galen couldn't help but glance over at Applejack and saw that her ears were still trying to match the shade of Big Mac's coat which gave him a few chuckles as well. Apple Bloom's laughter had finally petered out and she got up with a few residual laughs before wobbling over to her seat and pulled herself wearily into it.

“You going to finish those hash browns before they turn to char, sis?” Apple Bloom teased from her seat.

“They'll be ready when they're ready, Bloom,” Applejack replied in a slightly higher pitched voice than usual. That made all three of them chuckle in shared amusement until Big Mac strolled in through the doorway. He took note of the scene and chose not to comment unless he brought down the wrath of his oldest sister and moved to his seat.

“So, you ready for our day tomorrow?” Bloom asked with an eager bounce in her seat. “Me and the girls were planning everything all out yesterday morning and we're sure you'll have a great time!”

“Ah'm sure it'll be great,” he said with a wide grin. “So long as Ah'm not gonna be launched out of a catapult or somethin' similar, Ah'm all for it.”

Apple Bloom laughed and waved off his teasing comment. “No, no, nothing like that, but it'll definitely be something to remember.”

“Ah'm lookin' forward ta it then, Bloom,” he said as his grin turned into a warm smile.

“Breakfast's done,” Applejack chimed in a moment later, sliding the pile of golden brown hash browns onto a large plate before turning off the stove. She brought everything over quickly and made a special show of serving Galen his own meal, much to his embarrassment at being teased like this in front of her own family. The others though it was worth a few laughs as he tried to ignore her treatment, but his tense responses to questions and mechanical motions gave away exactly how much she was getting to him.

When Applejack finally took her seat, she served herself a healthy portion and everyone dug in with gusto. Their meal was demolished in less than fifteen minutes and the room deserted of all others aside from Applejack and Galen no less than five minutes later. Galen stood his ground in front of the sink and cleaned the dishes that Applejack had heaped by the side while she dried them as he passed them to her. Between the two of them, this chore was done in short order and they retired to the living room couch for a brief rest to go over the plans for the day.

“So, Ah was thinking about a nice walk through the Whitetail Woods to start and we'll see what happens from there,” Applejack said when Galen asked her. “We can probably drop by Sugar Cube Corner for lunch at the least and catch Pinkie up on what we've done so far.”

“Sounds reasonable ta me,” he said with a smile. “Anything special planned? Or are ya jus' gonna wing it?”

“Ah might have a thing or two planned,” she said with a slow smile and a wink. “But that's for later, sugar cube.”

“Ah'm ready an' rearin' ta go when yew are,” he said as he stood up with a stretch that strained the shoulders and sleeves of his tunic with his physique.

“Just let me get outta this get up and we can be on our way,” she said with a smirk as she got off her perch on the couch and sauntered to the base of the stairs. “Unless you'd care to help a mare out, that is.”

Galen watcher her through his stupor and saw Applejack teasingly twitch her hips, tail flicking here and there in invitation. Instead of answering, Galen stood up uncertainly and gave her a nervous smile. Applejack simply grinned widely and motioned for him to follow her up before she scampered up the stairs herself. He scurried after her and caught sight of her tail as it disappeared past the top step. He raced up the stairs and saw her saunter into her room with a wink and a smirk.

As she stepped into her room, Applejack felt as if her heart were about to beat through her chest. This was the most forward she had ever been with a stallion and she had been with a few in her younger years before they proved either unworthy of her attentions or would fall short of her standards. That wasn't to say that a romp in the hay wasn't worth a night of her attentions of course, but this was her first joint venture with another mare and it gave a whole new cast to her situation. Suddenly, a shadow fell across her and Applejack looked over her shoulder with a sultry smirk to see Galen standing there with a slightly uncertain cast to his expression.

“Well, what're ya waitin' for?” she asked as her expression turned to one of devious innocence. “A written invitation?”

Galen didn't reply as he walked in and knelt down by her side and trailed a gently curved fist across the side of her muzzle in a way that reflected Lero's demonstration to replicate a nuzzle. Applejack leaned into it and smiled at the gesture before lightly kissing the inside of his wrist. Galen couldn't help the jolt in his heart rate as he felt he lips make contact with his skin and smiled warmly despite the wealth of emotions flowing through him. She pulled back with a small smile and sat patiently, waiting for him to make the first move.

Seeing her obvious gesture, he reached up and gently took the bonnet from her head, deftly unpinning it when he noticed how it pulled her mane with it and set it to the side. She didn't break eye contact with him the entire time and smiled broader when he took off her head piece without a hitch. Her heart began racing as she realized that he was about to pull off her uniform next and couldn't help the flush that graced her cheeks as she sat back on her haunches, lifting her forelegs up with a slightly nervous smile that Galen reflected with an involuntary gulp. He reached forward and grasped around her surprisingly slender waist, feeling the swift movement of lean muscle underneath her coat and slowly lifted the uniform up and over her.

As Galen's hands came to rest around her waist, Applejack couldn't help the hitch in her breath as his hands gently grasped her and immediately began lifting her uniform over her body. His hands seemed to leave behind them a trail that smoldered until his progress stopped when her uniform was mostly off yet left her eyes and forelegs enshrouded in fabric, his hands tightening around her forelegs as she felt the heat of his body lean forward and radiate against her hesitantly. As if on queue, the moment broke and the rest of her uniform traveled the rest of the way off her body and landed in a wrinkled heap on top of her bonnet with Galen crouched noticeably closer to her as she opened her eyes.

Finally sitting there in nothing but her lacy panties, Applejack couldn't help but finally feel embarrassed at being seen in such a way. She couldn't explain why she felt this, but the sheepishness she felt was enough for Galen to pick up on, making him stand up and move outside until she was ready to go out. Applejack couldn't help but feel a surge of disappointment at the lack of something she couldn't adequately describe in their shared moment of intimacy, but she knew she was the one holding up their plans as she felt the elastic band of her panties shift amid her fur. Quickly stripping herself of them, she trotted up to him and rubbed her shoulder against his hip with an easy smile. “Thanks for the help, sugar cube,” she said with a mix of bashfulness and happiness that he had been so eager yet restrained, not pushing any boundaries she didn't say he could cross. In the past, most stallions would have had no problem pushing her offer to get the most out of it, but not Galen and his respectful treatment of her.

“No problem,” he rasped out in a slightly huskier voice than his usual tone.

Applejack couldn't stop the chuckle that passed her lips and sauntered to the stairs with an eager grin splitting her face. “You ready for some fun today?”

Galen shook the remainder of the fog from his mind and answered her grin with his own. “Yew bring it an' Ah can take it.”

“Well, come on then,” she half yelled with a laugh as she leaped down the stair case. “The day's burnin' away and we're just standin' about!” She finished with a clatter as she landed halfway down the stairs and clattered down them with a laugh of unrestrained joy. Galen only stood still for a couple moments until the mares words and actions connected with his mind, making him give a bark of laughter of his own as he launched himself after her and gave chase, barely making it through their storm door before it closed too much for him to slip past.

Applejack had slowed her pace for him to catch up, but when he came hurtling out of her house, she put on a turn of speed that would have left most in the dust. Galen let her build a lead for a few seconds as he stretched his legs on the run, slowly building his pace into his usual loping run that he poured himself into. Applejack laughed as Galen soon caught up with her and raced him down the old dirt road into Ponyville, drawing eyes and shocked looks as the two energetic lovebirds flitted and flirted with each other in a way that only two active beings could in their sudden race to the woods. They dodged, wove and jumped over any and every obstacle they came across, whether it be living or not.

They passed through the town in what seemed like a few stray moments and picked up their pace once they made it to the road leading to the woods. For being smaller than Luna and without the advantage of wings to aid in her running, Applejack put on a turn of speed that had Galen scrambling to use all his running techniques to keep abreast of her. The wind picked up and pushed at their backs as they raced, giving them a light feeling that only heightened the joy of their contest. Soon, the woods were a long throw away and they redoubled their efforts to beat the other. They hurtled down the path so fast that they left even the wind behind for a few brief moments and burst into the woods with a cry from each of their throats to give voice to their earnest desire to win.

They quickly slowed down, keeping to walking at a leisurely pace under the emerald tinted shade. “Hoo~” Applejack said in a voice that wavered slightly from the exertion she'd given in the race. “You really know how to put up a fight.”

“Ta be honest, Ah considered lettin' yew win,” he replied before he gave her a wink that said he would have still won for entirely different reasons and making her laugh. “But Ah can't pass up a challenge an' yew gave me one helluva run fer mah money.”

“Can't say as Ah've had such a fun race since Rainbow an' Ah competed in the Runnin' of the Leaves last year,” she said with an easy grin. “Ain't like the first time we ran it as a competition though. That was a real mess at the end.”

Galen gave a chuckle at that as he brought up a hand and wiped off a good amount of the sweat that had collected on his forehead. “Sounds like yew two go at it more often than not,” he replied with a smile that he knew what it was like to have a friend who pushed him to his limits.

“Every so often, yeah,” she said with smirk. “But we haven't really found out who's the best overall yet...”

“Maybe it's better tha' way,” he said as he leaned from side to side with his arms over his head as he stretched the muscles around his ribs so they wouldn't stitch up. “No hard feelin's at tha end.”

“That's what Ah thought,” she said with a rueful chuckle. “But Ah know she wouldn't settle for anythin' less than my best and Ah couldn't do any less than give it. Plus, it's always great when Ah can knock her down a peg or two.” She finished with a conspiratorial tone.

Galen couldn't help but give a hearty laugh at that. “Maybe she's rubbin' off on ya?”

“Ah knew Ah didn't sweat the small stuff so much until she started competing with me... but Ah gotta say that it does feel good ta win these little competitions that spring up with her...” she mused out loud.

“Nothin' wrong with tha', but yew should know when ta cut back a bit,” he replied in a decidedly somber tone. “Ah know how tha' sorta thing can sour a great friendship.”

“Ah'll keep that in mind,” she said with a consoling tone.

“So, what did yew 'ave in mind aside from tha run 'ere?” he asked with a smirk as he changed the topic.

“To be honest, the run was more for me than anythin',” she replied with a blush and a snort of amusement. “But a walk through the woods was mostly what Ah wanted ta do before we moved on...”

Galen chuckled at her blush, but didn't say anything about it. “A walk through tha woods with yew sounds wonderful, Jackie.”

Her blush deepened a couple shades at his alternate nickname for her, but neither made comment as they both opted to simply enjoy the moment of solitude with one another. The woods was alive with birdsong as well as the infinite amount of noise produced by nature and they could both feel it as they made their way down the trail. They weren't sure how long they were silent, but it was a silence that was more meaningful than any amount of words could convey.

An Apple for the Day (Part Two of Two)

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An Apple for the Day

After some time, they finally looped back around and were on their way out of the woods when Applejack finally broke the silence. “Say... Would you be interested in a game of hoofball?”

“Hoofball?” he asked with half smirk.

“Yeah,” she replied with a nod. “There's usually a few ponies in the park who're up for a game or two.”

“Ah'm good fer a game,” he replied with an easy grin. “Ah'm sure it can't be too hard ta pick up.”

Applejack grinned and picked up the pace. “Well, come on then,” she said happily. “If we're lucky, there might be a group lookin' for a few extras to round out their numbers.”

Galen couldn't help but grin at her excitement. He wasn't sure what to expect about his date with Applejack, but this was a pleasant turn of events. He had been yearning on a subconscious level for some form of physical exertion and Applejack was definitely fulfilling his need. They exited the woods and into the light, a pleasant burning sensation from the sun invigorating them after their time in the calming shade. They didn't run, but they certainly didn't walk either as they made their way to the park. Applejack explained the rules of the game. As she gave him the rundown, it sounded a lot like rugby by and large, which he was quite familiar with as he played quite a bit of it while growing up. The only major difference was that they generally had smaller team sizes which was made up for by the specialized roles fulfilled by the different types of ponies on each team. The only downside was that there was no real format where a team could be formed entirely out of one of the tribes since there would be such a disparity in strength between teams who had ponies with unique talents that would lend them an entirely unfair advantage.

When they made it to the outer fringes of the park, they quickly found that Lero and Rainbow had been moping around the main expanse of the playing area, tossing around a well used hoofball during some mutual time off and quickly homed in on the newcomers like a predator honing in on some unsuspecting prey.

“Hey guys,” Lero said as he greeted them with a grin that was equal parts enjoyment and barely contained excitement. “What brings you two here?”

“This an' tha',” Galen replied with a chuckle. “Figured we'd find a nice game o' hoofball ta keep tha lazies away.”

“You know about hoofball?” Rainbow asked with an expression of growing excitement that the new couple couldn't help but chuckle at seeing. “Then what are we waiting for?”

“A couple more bodies ta fill out the sides, maybe?” Galen replied with a snort of amusement.

“Gimme a moment,” Rainbow immediately responded with a determined grin. “I'll find us a couple interested in joining us in no time.” Without waiting for their replies, she took to the air with a gust of wind and a blur of color as she went off in search for their future teammates.

“So, what's up with yew two?” Galen asked to keep any awkward silences at bay.

“Not a whole lot,” Lero replied with a wave of his hand. “Lyra's checking up on Alex right now and Twilight's busy with perusing some of the city's records since she's been wanting to write a book about the history of the town for a while now. You'd swear she was a mare born and raised here by how much she loves this place.”

“It don't matter if you were born here or not,” Applejack replied with a warm smile. “Home is where your heart is and she loves her home dearly. To be honest, Ah'm surprised she took this long ta start shaking the rafters and dustin' out the basement for all the old stories about this place...”

Lero couldn't help but blush slightly on Twilight's behalf at the praise as he laughed at her words. “I guess you're right there,” he replied after a moment. “So what are you two up to today? If I had to guess, it seems as if you're out for a date~” He teased with a smirk.

“Well, yew wouldn't be wrong,” Galen replied with a smile as he looked down at Applejack. “This little filly knows how to start a day off... Raced me all tha from tha farm an' through town ta Whitetail Woods.”

“Who won?” he asked, genuinely curious.

“It was a tie,” Applejack answered with a prideful smile directed up at Galen.

Lero whistled and grinned. “That's no small feat there,” he said with a laugh. “She's one of the fastest ponies in town, next to Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie...”

Galen was about to tease Applejack a bit, but his attention was drawn away when he saw Rainbow trotting back to them with a pair of ponies in tow. One was a light gray pegasus mare with a straw blond mane, her eyes looking in completely different directions and tail while the other was a mocha coated stallion with a chestnut mane and tail. They soon came up to the others with easy smiles, Rainbow greeting them with an easy grin.

“Morning Derpy, Doctor Hooves,” Lero said with a bright smile. “So you two want to join us in our game of hoofball?”

“Yeah!” Derpy said enthusiastically. “Doc needs more exercise anyway and what better way than a little game of ball?” She finished by sticking her tongue out as she looked over at him.

Doctor flushed a bit at Derpy's teasing and chuckled. “Certainly,” he replied with a weak chuckle. “So what team will we be joining?”

“I was thinking Derpy could join Galen and Applejack's team while you could join ours since Lero and Galen can replace the unicorns on their teams,” Dash replied quickly.

“I'm not entirely sure about this,” he said quietly to Derpy who tossed him a sly little smile.

“Well, how about this...” she leaned in and whispered in his twitchy ear for a couple moments, causing Doc to blush from the base of his neck to the tips of his ears part way through her encouragement.

“I-” he cut off with a hoarse cough before continuing. “I'm perfectly fine with these arrangements...”

Dash cackled, Lero snickered and Applejack and Galen chuckled at the little show. “Seems like teams are settled,” Lero said as the two newcomers moved to stand with their respective teams. “What do you say we play to thirty points? No need for the bonus kicks since there's not many of us here, right?”

They looked between each other and either nodded or shrugged their approval before the all important question was asked by Derpy, “So who starts with the ball?”

Lero gave a cocky grin and tossed the oblong ball to Galen who casually grabbed it out of the air. “You guys can,” he answered as he started walking a bit away from them. Rainbow and Doc both moved to catch up with him in putting a bit of distance between the teams. Galen looked between Derpy and Applejack, getting confident smiles and nods from both before letting a wicked grin split his face. He tucked the ball into the crook of his left arm and took off in a crouched run while the two mares took off to keep pace. Derpy took off at an angle to put some distance between them, Rainbow Dash quickly taking to the air to keep her in check while Applejack put on a burst of speed to run interference with Doc. That just left Lero to deal with Galen which was fine by him.

Lero crouched down and lunged forward when he realized that Galen wasn't going to try to run around him and found the smaller mans shoulder slamming into his chest, knocking him back while he ducked and spun under Lero's right arm while backwards with a laugh, completing his spin half a pace away before darting off. Lero turned to try to tackle him, but slipped on his heel, letting Galen run off without so much as his tunic getting a tug. Rainbow Dash saw what happened and let off on her defense of Derpy in an attempt to halt Galen in his tracks. Galen saw her winging after him as he looked behind himself to see if any of the others were in pursuit. Just before Dash caught up with him, he hopped into the air, spinning himself as he let the ball loose just over the tips of her ears while bracing himself for her impact.

She had been distracted for a split second by his action and that let Galen have enough time to get his arm back in time for her to slam them both into the ground. They hit with a faint thud and quickly found their selves wrestling with one another, Rainbow to get free to chase the ball while Galen to keep her tangled up. Galen was surprised at just how strong she was and in the spur of the moment, he brought both hands up to either side of her barrel and began tickling her mercilessly. She let out an involuntary girlish shriek of mirth as his fingers danced up and down her sides, causing her struggles to lose some strength. He quickly wrested her into a headlock after a couple choice moments and pinned her to the ground with both back legs wrapped around one of her hind legs. She wriggled and squirmed, but couldn't get free.

From their spot, they saw Derpy (who had been very surprised to find the ball come sailing at her and almost letting it drop down on top of a Lero who was just getting up from his stumble) flew overhead with the ball clutched in her forelegs and landed in the goal area they had unofficially been assigned with a happy cheer. Everyone else except for Galen couldn't help but gawk as the usually clumsy mare scored the first points of the game.

“Tha's five fer us, right?” he asked the stunned pegasus in his grip. She could only scowl in reply as he let her get huffily to her hooves beside him.

“Yeah, but the game's far from over!” she said just before taking back to the skies. Galen got back to his feet with a wide grin at Derpy as she trotted over with the ball under a wing.

“That was amazing!” she said as he crouched down to take it from her grip. “I've never been great at sports, but it was like you just handed the ball to me and absolutely nothing went wrong!”

“Ah think we surprised 'em there, but Ah don' think Dash'll fall fer tha' again...” he said in reply, making Derpy's mood dampen slightly in exchange for a more serious one. “Think yew'd be willin' ta cover Leerah with me? Jackie's got some good legs on 'er, so Ah don' think Doc'll be too much trouble, but tha big guy'll give me some trouble if 'e gets by.”

“But you're so fast!” she replied as he stood up and started walking toward the opposite side of the area. They passed Lero and the Doc who gave the pair competitive stares that they completely ignored, much to their annoyance.

“Maybe, but 'e's bigger an' Ah don' fancy tacklin' 'im...” he said with a snort of amusement. “Ah may be fast an' agile, but Ah don' want a black eye on accident...”

“That would be pretty bad,” she agreed with a quick nod.

“So tha's what Ah'm thinkin' if yer game.”

“We can do it, no problem,” she said with an eager grin. He just gave her an equally eager grin and a nod. When AJ came over to the pair as they crossed the field, they gave her the run down on the game plan and she couldn't help but agree with his assessment. Dash was so fast that any ball given to her would be a sure way to score, so they should nip as many chances of that happening in the bud.

When they made it to the other side, Galen crouched down and held the ball upright in his hand about two feet from the ground and smiled at AJ. She shot him a cocky smirk as she sashayed her hips and tail as she got in position. She looked over her shoulder once to lock the balls position in her mind before bunching up and unleashing a full strength buck to the ball to return it across the field to the others. It rocketed so fast from his hand that Galen liked to entertain the thought that he heard a faint whistling noise. It crossed about a third of the field before the three of them were chasing after it while the others got into position as they tried to predict the high speed ball.

By a quick and unerring calculation, Doc shuffled himself to his right by a half step, held out his left forehoof and waited with a patient air. He watched, out of curiosity to see if Dash or Lero would manage to intercept the ball despite his best efforts. As it turned out, Dash was a few centimeters too high to grab it in a shallow swoop and Lero was a few too short when he jumped to snatch it out of the air. They turned to watch where the ball would end up and felt their mouths open with slack jawed astonishment as Doc seemed to casually grab the ball and tuck it to his chest in a perfect catch. “We had best get a move on,” he said with a competitive grin before matching his words to action with a spry gallop that sent a clod of earth sailing through the air behind him.

Dash and Lero quickly moved to action after him, moving slightly ahead to give him some cover. Then they made it to the halfway point and the aggressors suddenly found their selves with a conundrum as both Applejack and Galen focused on Doc while Derpy harried Lero to the best of her abilities. Rainbow, left completely open tried to double back, but Galen had anticipated as much and kept himself between her and any feasible passing angles Doc might have. After a half moment of indecision and confusion, Doc found himself on his back after a fiercely grinning Applejack shoulder tackled him.

“Ya got some fancy moves, catchin' mah return like that, but ya gotta be faster on yer hooves ta land some points...” she said with a chuckle as she moved off him and gave him a leg up.

“I must admit, your strategy proved far more effective than I imagined it would,” he replied. “I take it you gave up on guarding Miss Dash to provide a two person defense on whomever had the ball to prevent it being passed to her while the third plays interference on the other?”

“Tha' was mah idea,” Galen confirmed with a wry smirk. “If Dash gets tha ball, ain't nopony gonna stop 'er, but tha's only if she gets it...”

“Hey!” Dash half shouted as she pointed a hoof between the three of them. “What kind of game plan is that?!”

“The kind that works,” Derpy supplied with a grin and a giggle, making Dash flush and grumble at her sudden impotence.

“It's okay, love,” Lero said as he put a hand on her shoulder. “We'll find a way around it...”

Dash redoubled her spirit and nodded fiercely before growling, “Damn right we will...”

“Tha's tha spirit,” Galen said with a fierce grin of his own. “Wouldn't be any fun if ya jus' gave up like tha'...”

“Bring it on, buster,” Dash growled as her grin widened while a forehoof pawed at the ground. “We'll get the better of you before the end of this and make you eat some turf!”

Galen just laughed at that as he and the mares on his side got into position. He leaned down to AJ and whispered, “Try ta make 'im fumble or pass ta Dash... Ah'm sure we can get tha ball if 'e tries either. Derpy's good fer Lero, since it looks like she's a bit too unpredictable fer 'im...”

“Leave it ta me, sugar cube,” she said with a smirk that flashed sultry when she gave him a wink, making him chuckle and smile in return.

After resetting their positions, Lero crouched down with the ball held between his feet while both Derpy and Galen faced off against him as AJ took up a spot in front of Doctor Hooves. As quick as anything, Lero sprung up and backed off as he looked for an opening to pass. Lero, not one to be taken by surprise here, kept himself in a neutral position to see how their play would pan out. He noticed Turner give AJ the slip, but she quickly turned about and kept on him closely while Dash rushed ahead. His distraction proved to be his undoing as Lero pulled a deft rolling dodge between both Derpy and him, causing her to quickly turn to chase only to end up colliding with Galen hard enough for the two to land on the ground in an ungainly pile of limbs.

Galen tried to help Derpy get off of him, but by the time they'd separated from one another, Lero had caught up with Dash by the time AJ had caught up to him and passed the ball just as she lunged for a tackle. Dash, ready for his pass caught it without and problem and winged off to even the score. “Ha!” Dash cried from down the field. “How about them apples, huh?”

AJ only grumbled in response as she returned to her teammates and said, “Let's see if'n we can't make 'er choke on them apples o' hers...” From that point on, the fight got serious between the two teams as they fought each other for the lead. However, it was to be said for Lero's team that the familiarity between he and Dash was more than a match for anything Galen's team could fight against as they communicated with glances and slight gestures that gave nothing away, giving them the advantage to take the lead and the competition in the end. Twenty minutes after the start of their game saw a very sweaty and slightly winded group that settled down to cool off by the drinking fountain while they traded lighthearted jibes and taunts at each other for some blunder or compliments about a play they had done. By the time they finished cooling off, Derpy and Doc took their leave with her nibbling on his ear and him walking on stiff legs.

“So tha' was a heap o' fun,” Galen said as he lay propped up on the grass by his elbows while AJ lay sprawled on her side close by.

“That it was,” Lero said in reply as he took a lightly dozing Dash in his arms, smiling as he continued, “But it's time for this big baby's nap time.” Dash grumbled something unintelligible, making Lero and the others chuckle.

“Anyway, it's 'bout time fer us ta drop by Sugar Cube Corner fer lunch with Pinkie,” Galen said as he slowly got up and picked up his own pony partner, to her blushing embarrassment. Despite her protests, he settled her on his back as he held her in place by her flanks which sufficed to mute any further protests under an even deeper blush. “She's prob'ly wonderin' where we're at by now.”

Lero grinned at AJ's and Galen's modified mimicry and replied, “Wouldn't do to keep your other marefriend waiting, so I'll take my leave. Make sure to drop us a line and come over for supper sometime and we'll be sure to have something hearty grilled up for you. It's the least we could do for the excellent cookout you hosted the other day.”

“Ah'll be sure ta do tha',” Galen said with a smile and a nod. “Catch ya 'round town, mate...” With that, Galen made off for the heart of town while Lero took the long way around the edge of town back to his place. By the time they reached Sugar Cube Corner, the lunch rush was just finishing up and a certain perky pink pony popped up with a prodigious grin that only grew when she saw Applejack hitching a ride on his back. “Hey, Pinkie, how was work?”

“Pretty good,” she replied as peppy as ever while she reared up to give AJ a quick kiss on her snout and a warm nuzzle for Galen. As she pulled back, she caught a good whiff of Galen and he felt himself smirk a bit as he watched her eyes widen and dilate slightly at his scent. “Smells like you've been out having fun~” She finished with a wink that made his ears warm slightly.

“Had a game o' hoofball with Leerah and a couple others,” he explained while a crimson faced AJ nodded her confirmation from over his shoulder.

“I see...” she said with a smirk and a wink. “Well, in that case, feel free to go out and work up a sweat more often...”

Galen couldn't help but chuckle at that. “No need for all tha' when Ah got mah hands full helpin' AJ 'round tha farm an' even less after Ah'm open fer business. O' course, tha' don' mean gettin' clean can't be it's own special kind o' fun, right?”

Pinkie let out a slow giggle that had a sultry purr to it, her wide grin eager for when that time finally came about. She finally replied in a near whisper that had both Galen and AJ chortling, “As much as I'd like to keep this train of thought going, I don't think it would be a proper work ethic if I got so worked up that I were to tackle my stallion and beg him to ravage me in the middle of the store~”

“Save that fer his housewarming, Pinkie,” AJ replied out loud with a smirk as she took the edge of Galen's ear between her lips and ran the tip of her tongue across what she held. Please by the way he gave a little shudder, she let him go and gave him a little peck on his coarse cheek.

Pinkie's smile just widened with a twitch of her ears and a flip of her tail before she gave herself a shake. “Anyway, I'm sure you two could stand to rest for a bit and have something refreshing to perk you back up. Go ahead and find a spot and I'll be right back with something that'll set you right,” she said as she trotted off behind the counter and into the kitchen.

Suiting her words to action, Galen made his way over to a booth and carefully placed AJ down on one of the benches while he took the other. They didn't have much more time than for either of them to wipe some sweat from their brows than Pinkie had returned with a tray of turnovers and a trio of milkshakes. After passing around the shakes and setting the tray so they could all reach it easily, she slipped up beside AJ and gave her a brief hug before snagging a pastry and dipping it in her shake before downing the whole thing in one bite.

“So how's your day been, Pinkie?” AJ asked to start things off while Galen took a solid swig of his milkshake, eyes lighting up at the refreshing peppermint leaves that had been mixed in..

“Same old, same old,” she replied with an easy smile. “What about you two? Your day been going well?”

“Aside from gettin' trounced at hoofball, it's been pretty good,” AJ replied.

“Well, I'm sure Dashie wouldn't just roll over for either of you in any case,” Pinkie said with a giggle. “But you had fun at least, right?”

“Yeah,” Galen said with a smile directed at AJ as she grabbed a turnover from the plate and scarfed it down quickly. “It was a good bit o' fun. Now Ah'm lookin' forward ta seein' what AJ gets up to for a bit o' relaxin'...”

“Oh, it ain't nothin' special,” AJ replied with a wave of her hoof. “Ah normally just spend some time swimmin' or lazing by the shore of the pond in our orchard... Might bring a bottle o' hard cider or two along with me, but nothin' too crazy or fancy...”

“Sounds perfect ta me,” Galen said with an easy smile. “An' Ah'm sure we'll be there relaxin' fer a good while, so if Pinkie were to mosey on out there after she's done with work, Ah'm sure we'd be able ta accommodate her, wouldn't ya say?”

“Ah don't see why not,” AJ said with a smile and a nudge to Pinkie's shoulder.

“I don't think I'd be able to pass up an invitation like that, so I'll see you two there,” she said with a grin just before she slurped down a hearty swig of her shake. “I get off at four today, so I shouldn't keep you two waiting for long.”

“We'll be waitin',” Galen and AJ said in unison, expressions of surprise mirroring each other once again before all three of them burst out in laughter.


After finishing their late lunch, it was nearly two in the afternoon when AJ and Galen made it back to the farm. After talking about it on the way there, Galen went about hunting down a bucket to fill with ice and hard cider while AJ gathered a blanket and a few towels as well. After everything was gathered up, they slowly made their way through the orchard as a gentle wind blew across the treetops, scattering bright petals through the scented air. No words passed between the two as they made their way, instead enjoying the silence between them and the sounds of the orchard.

After a time, AJ led him off the path and through the trees and between a few hills until the small pond appeared suddenly, shining mirror bright in the afternoon sun. They made their way over to the big tree beside the pond and set up the blanket in the shade after Galen set the ciders by the base of it. After that was set up, Galen began kicking off his boots, letting them lay as they fell in the grass before pulling his tunic up and over his head, letting it fall beside his boots. AJ had only seen him shirtless from a distance and couldn't help herself as she bit her lower lip at the sight he made, darkly tanned skin and pale alike, taught over the bunches of muscles barely softened by a small layer of healthy fat. His shoulders, usually nothing to think about, rose up mightily when he stretched and shrugged them while his biceps looked like slabs of split wood stuffed under his skin. Both his front and back resembled nothing other than great slabs of living stone that glistened under the light coat of sweat on him.

“Appreciate tha view?” he asked with a chuckle while he struck a few cheesy poses that put his muscles on sharp display in the light. AJ's only reply was a nod as her face lit up in a blush which made Galen grin widely. Sitting down, he leaned back on his elbows and gave her a wink. “This ain't a museum, so ya can touch if ya want...” AJ couldn't help but give a little chuckle as she licked her lips before slowly walking over to him with an exaggerated sway to her hips. She turned around at the last moment and sat down on his lap with a little wiggle to make herself comfortable. She leaned back and put both her hooves up against his pectorals and kneaded against them gently, as she looked up at him from under the rim of her hat. Without warning, Galen relaxed and tensed his pectorals, causing her to experience a little jolt which made her eyes widen a bit and caused Galen to laugh. “Like what ya feel?”

“Sugar cube, by our standards, you are one fine stud and could have any number o' mares lined up fer foals when the season rolls 'round... Let's just say Ah'm glad ya didn't go off an' join a professional stable.”

“As much fun as that sounds, Ah'm pretty sure Ah'll be happier where Ah'm at,” he replied with a soft smile as he reached up and removed her hat while barely shifting his weight at all. Her hat landed without a sound in the grass and she felt her mane tie being fumbled with as he undid it, her hair finally cascading free down the side of her neck and lightly sticking to his torso. “Besides, an endless series of lifted tails seems a lot more work than spending at least ten hours a day in a forge...”

“Some would argue with that,” AJ replied with a little smirk.

“Well, if bits get tight, then you could negotiate my 'rental' rate,” he replied with a grin.

“Ah don't think so, hun,” she said with a possessive little growl in her tone as she nibbled along the edge of his jawline.

“So, Ah take it ya want a bit o' sugar from this block o' salt?” AJ let herself growl a little deeper as she looked up at him from where she lightly sucked at the corner of his jaw, reminding him of nothing more than a cat about to pounce on its prey. “Help yerself,” he said with a grin that dissolved into a small chuckle once she lunged up and locked her lips with his. The first thing he noticed about kissing AJ was that she was fierce, making no mistake about what she's after and he responded in kind to show he was no pushover. After a short time they broke apart with a huff, both licking their lips and tasting the flavor of the others lips while they maintained eye contact. This time it was Galen that let go a little growl as he reached behind AJ's head and pulled her in for another kiss, getting her to let go a little moan of pleasure as his fingers meshed and tugged through her mane.

This time, AJ opened her mouth wider than before and flicked her tongue over his lips which brought about his immediate retaliation as his tongue crashed into hers, causing her to moan deeply as their kiss deepened even further. After some time, they broke apart once again to pant for breath before colliding together once again. They continued to make out like this until they lost track of time, but when Galen felt AJ beginning to slightly grind her hips into him and that get a rise out of him, he decided to break things off.

“It's about time we cooled off,” he growled, voice low and gravelly from everything they'd been doing.

“No way, partner,” AJ replied as she nibbled along his sweaty collarbone. “Ah'm just waitin' 'til Pinkie gets here an' then we can all get down ta business...”

“What was all tha' 'bout testin' mah bed?” he asked with a smirk.

“Ah'm liable ta say buck yer bed an' ride ya into tha sunset today,” she replied with a grinding of her hips into his lap harder than before with a faint aroma beginning to make its presence known.

“Hey guys!” Pinkie called as she hopped out from behind the hill directly behind them. Galen looked over at Pinkie and gave her a bit of a bashful smile. “Did I come at a good time?”

“Well, that depends...” he started, but was put off when Pinkie started sniffing at the air after she came up next to the big tree.

“Uh oh...” she said with a slightly worried expression directed towards AJ.

“What d'ya mean, 'uh oh?'”

“Applejack's heat may be starting a bit sooner than we expected...”

“Right... Time for a dip, then...” he said as he picked up the increasingly affectionate mare in his arms and sprinted right to the pond without another word or even a chance for her to realize what was going on. Right when they were on the edge he turned, crouched and jumped so that he would hit the water first and fell under the water with a massive splash. They came up from the water spluttering and shaking water from their heads, Galen grinning while AJ was gasping for breath as her heated body cooled down. “Feelin' more like yerself, Jackie?”

“Lan' sakes! Warn a mare before ya go an' do somethin' like that!”

Pinkie laughter came rolling out to them from where she stood by the blanket. “It was for your own good, AJ!” she called after she got herself under control. “You just had your first heat flash of the season.”

At Pinkie's words, AJ flushed a bright crimson and buried her face in the crook of Galen's neck and shoulder. “It's okay, AJ,” Galen said as he gently rubbed her withers, causing her to shiver as her wet fur stuck up only to be smoothed down a second later. “Ah figured ya'd appreciate me givin' yew a dip rather than spoilin' your first time in a surge of hormones. That bein' said, Ah may have ta ask the fellas workin' on mah place ta put a fire under their tails an' push things ahead a bit unless ya want ta wake up yer family with a ruckus...” He finished with a joking half grin as he gently pulled her back so he could look her in the eye.

“Ah reckon you're right, but will ya be able ta cover tha overtime?”

“Remember tha' whole bit 'bout tha loans? Well, part o' tha' was to ensure Ah had enough ta get by on fer a year so Ah could build a customer base, but with a bit o' extra effort, Ah'm sure Ah can make up tha difference if we can get it up even a week sooner...”

“Ah'll chip in some ta help out too since it looks like Ah'll be spendin' a good share o' mah time there with ya...”

A sudden splash of water followed by a sudden bout of giggling announced the arrival of Pinkie to their conversation. “And I can help out too, since we're all in this together,” she said with an eager grin and a glowing blush. “Or well, Galen's gonna be in us as the case may be.” She amended with a giggle before sticking her tongue out.

“You two ain't gotta help me out like this,” he replied with a kiss to both their noses. “Ah appreciate the sentiment, Ah really do, but this is somethin' Ah gotta take care of... Just like Ah gotta take care o' tha two o' you...”

“Any reason why?” Pinkie asked as she tilted her head curiously...

“Just me bein' me, Ah guess yew could say...” he replied with a smile directed at her. “But if ya wanna make it up with some homemade sweets, Ah wouldn't be able ta say no ta tha'...” He ended that with a wink that got her giggling.

“I would say something about cooking for you in nothing but an apron, but we don't normally wear clothes anyway,” she replied with a giggle as she stuck out her tongue again.

“True... But Ah'm sure yew'll figure somethin' out ta knock me on mah can...” he said with a knowing smirk. “Hopefully somethin' with a bit less gunpowder an' confetti this time?”

“Oh, come on!” Pinkie mock groaned, “That was one time!”

AJ and Galen both burst out laughing with Pinkie joining in a moment later, splashing her two lovers in mild retaliation which quickly escalated into a full on splash fight. After some time, they were spent and waded back to the shore to dry off, Galen taking off his belt and pants to relax in nothing but his boxers. At both mares' blushing looks, he grinned and said, “Please, ladies, try ta hold yerselves back...”

They both mumbled something incoherent, but still sidled up to him before Pinkie slowly pushed him to the ground with a gentle kiss while AJ lightly traced a hoof along his muscles. Once he was prone, the two mares shared a kiss and draped themselves over a part of him. “Oh yeah, Galen?” Pinkie said in a light tone of voice, speaking of amusement at what she was about to say.

“What's tha'?” he asked as he fought off the drowsy mood that seemed to be taking them all.

“If AJ tries to get frisky with you again, I give you permission to goose her with an ice cube to her mare bits,” she replied, barely managing to hold back her laughter until the end which only redoubled when AJ gave an undignified squawk at her words. At that, they all laughed themselves out and dozed in the shade until the sun was nearly set before waking up to fold up the towels, blanket and a bucket full of mildly cool water and undrunk ciders. After walking Pinkie to the edge of the farm and parting with a kiss from both of them, AJ and Galen made it back to the farm without incident. After putting their supplies in their designated places, Galen left AJ at the top of the stairs with a slow but firm kiss that promised things to come if she could only wait. One thing that she knew for sure, being a farmer for all these years, was how to wait for something good and with that thought, she fell asleep with an eager smile on her face.