Fair Feather Friend
Notes: Thanks to everyone who's given me the encouraging reviews, help with betareading and just to anyone who read the fic. I apologize for this taking so long; it's been the subject of several rewrites.
Caramel sighed contentedly. The sun was out, the cider was crisp and he was with his best friends. Was there anything better in life? As he stood in front of a fence at Sweet Apple Acres swigging Big Macintosh's private reserve, he felt a feeling of complete rightness in the universe. It was this inexpressible... something. The stallion felt, as he often did, that feeling bubble up, searching for release. Finally, the tan pony could hold it in no longer. "Yup."
Next was Cherry Coke. "Yup."
Then Carrot Top, the only mare present. "Yup."
But as always, it ended with Big Macintosh's, "Eeyup."
Caramel loved these moments.
After a long moment of savoring the silence, Caramel decided to spoil it. "So Cherry Coke, how'd things go with Candy Mane?"
Cherry Coke paused, took another swig of cider and smirked. "Well, Candy Mane is a lady of good standing in the community, so I don't want to go into it too much..."
Carrot Top rolled her green eyes. "Quit the buildup, Coke. You always gotta pretty everything up, even when it doesn't make sense."
Cherry Coke scoffed and raised his nose haughtily. "Storytelling is a fine craft and I won't have you stifling me."
Big Macintosh said, "Yup, storytelling's a fine craft... for those ponies who do it right. Ah don't see no storyteller cutie mark on yer rear, though."
That earned a laugh from everypony present, Cherry Coke excluded. Coke sighed. "Fine. We had a good time at the carnival, and when I got her back home we... you know." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Caramel spat out some of the cider at that, earning him a subtle but stern look from Big Macintosh. "Sorry, Mac. But really, Coke? Are you saying she..."
Cherry Coke smirked. "Eeyup." Caramel noticed Big Macintosh's expression harden slightly at the theft of his catchphrase. Of course, he didn't say anything.
Carrot Top had a shocked look on her face. "Really? I didn't think she was that kind of mare."
Cherry Coke chuckled. "Yup, on the first date no less. Went all the way."
Carrot Top gave him a reproachful look. "Well, you better treat her right if you got a kiss on the lips on the first date. I don't want to hear she was a one night stand."
Cherry Coke said, "Pinkie Pie swear, I think she's the one. Cross my heart and hope to fly, etc etc." He started going through the motions, but gave up halfway through.
Carrot Top chuckled, dropping her grim expression. "You sly dog." The two exchanged a brohoof.
Big Macintosh's gaze wandered upwards. "Hm. We got company." Cherry Coke quickly checked out his expression in a nearby watering trough and straightened up his mane. Caramel rolled his eyes at his friend's vanity.
As Cherry Coke finished his ritual, Rainbow Dash landed in front of them and stretched out a booted hoof for Baron Awesome to land on. "Hey guys."
Big Macintosh nodded. "Mornin' Dash. What brings you out here?"
Dash said, "Well actually, I'm looking for Applejack. I wanna show her my awesome new falcon! His name's Baron Awesome." She puffed up with obvious pride. "You can touch him if you wanna."
Caramel went in closer to investigate. "Huh, I don't think I've ever seen one this close be..." He was cut off as Baron Awesome flared out his wings, shrieked and retreated to a nearby apple tree. Later, Caramel would refuse that he had screamed like a little girl. Clearly that sound was a previously unknown atmospheric phenomenon. And his friends all snickered for completely unrelated reasons.
Rainbow Dash looked at Caramel apologetically. "Um, sorry about that. I guess he isn't used to big groups of ponies. He's fine one on one or two on one."
Before Caramel could stop his breathing (he was learning yoga. Yup. Yoga. He wasn't catching his breath after a loud scream), Big Macintosh nodded laconically. As he shifted his piece of wheat to the other side of his mouth, he said, "Gotcha. Still a handsome critter." He pointed to the east. "Anyhow, if you're lookin' for mah sister, she's probably over feedin' the pigs 'bout now."
Rainbow Dash nodded and flashed him a smile. "Thanks, Big Mac! Anyway, I gotta fly. I have a bunch of places to show off the Baron today!" With a bit more authority in her voice, she said, "Baron Awesome, come!" The Baron, wary of the group, waited to obey until Dash was a healthy distance from them.
Cherry Coke rubbed his chin as she disappeared from sight. "Anypony else think she was lookin' better than normal? And smellin' better?" A slightly wolfish grin crossed his face.
Carrot Top shot Cherry an angry glare. "Cross your heart, huh?"
"I'm allowed to look, aren't I?" Cherry's eyes were pleading.
Caramel shook his head. "Nope."
Carrot Top never stopped her glare. "Nope."
Big Macintosh's eyes were flat and emotionless. "Eenope."
"Sooie! Here pig pig pig!" Applejack unhitched herself from a wagon loaded down with gear for a day's chores. She picked up a bucket of slops in her mouth and dumped it into a trough, and the waiting pigs squealed with joy. She spat to get rid of the taste of rust. "Ugh, some days ah'd kill to be a unicorn. Ah well. Time to go see about fixin' that fence." She began to wiggle back into the harness.
Applejack didn't look back immediately, being in mid hitch. "Oh, hey Dash. What's up?"
Rainbow Dash glowered and crossed her arms angrily. "I didn't even mention the sand worms!"
Applejack stopped cinching herself up and looked over her shoulder. "Who said anything about sand worms?"
Dash rubbed the back of her head and looked embarrassed. "Uh, never mind." Dash stopped hovering and came in for a landing in front of her. "What're you up to?"
Applejack said, "Work," in a flat tone. "Ah've got to go over to the outskirts an' see about fixin' the fence. Them Lemon folk keep lettin' their side of it go to pot, and ah know it's so they can wait until it's completely rotted and rebuild it further into mah land. So, ah figured ah'd do the job before they get the chance."
Rainbow Dash blinked. "Wow, being a farmer's a lot more political than I thought."
Applejack sighed. "Tell me about it." She rubbed her chin. "Anywho, ah don't think you ever said what you were here about."
Rainbow Dash smacked her forehead. "Duh, how could I forget? Get ready to see something amazing. Baron Awesome, come!"
Applejack instinctively jerked back when, with a loud squawk, a falcon flew from its hiding spot in a nearby apple tree right at them. Unfortunately, she jerked a little too hard and knocked herself and the wagon over. The sounds of rattling metal and wood confirmed that she'd managed to completely empty the cart.
At least Rainbow Dash wasn't laughing too hard. "Oh man, AJ, you should have seen the look on your face! I mean, you make silly faces all the time anyway, but this was one for the scrapbook!"
Applejack struggled to get up, but found that the angle of the harness prevented it. "Hardy har har." She thrashed about for another moment before giving up. She sighed deeply. She hated asking for help. "You wanna help me get up?"
Rainbow Dash trotted over as her giggle fit faded away. "Sure." She placed the Baron on the fence of the pig pen and hovered next to the overturned cart. "On three?"
Applejack nodded. "On three. One... two... three!" Applejack struggled as well as she could from her awkward angle, while Dash pumped her wings and shoved the top side of the cart. After a minute's work, Applejack and the cart were both upright. She looked over her shoulder to try and see how bad it was. The cart was almost empty. "Aw horseapples." She shot Dash a glare. "Dagnabbit Dash, this is gonna cost me ten minutes!" She bent down to undo the hitch.
Dash said, "No sweat. You just relax. I'll take care of it." She started picking up the planks, humming a happy tune.
Applejack blinked. "Awfully helpful of you." Her eyes narrowed. "Too helpful. What's yer angle?" Applejack's suspicion melted away as she turned around enough to see Dash smile, even as she started putting scattered nails into a bucket. That was too real to be guile.
Dash was almost smug as she pointed at the Baron, who was busy preening. "I guess when you have the most incredible pet ever, good moods just happen."
Applejack blinked. "Pet? Is this about Winona?"
Dash laughed smugly (no almost about it). "Oh Applejack. Who's a silly pony? You are! I don't need Winona anymore. I've got Baron Awesome!"
Applejack gave Dash a thoroughly confused look. "You named the bird... Baron Awesome."
Dash somehow managed to show her pride in the act of hauling a plank onto the cart. "Yup!"
"... Baron Awesome."
Dash's face fell slightly. "Yeah?"
Applejack giggled. "Wooee! That's a humdinger of a name."
Dash's brows furrowed. "That's cowpony for tubular, right?"
Applejack blinked. "Huh?"
Dash playfully stuck her tongue out. "If you can use made up words, so can I."
Applejack rolled her eyes just as playfully. As she did so, Dash finished loading up the cart. "Thank ya kindly. Nice ta see you're gettin' in the habit of cleaning up your messes."
Dash said, "Oh hah hah. Just for that, you don't get to pet Baron Awesome."
Applejack shrugged. "If that's the way ya want it." With a grunt of effort, she got the cart moving and starting trotting away. She could hear Dash sputtering in the background. It was hard to hide the goofy grin on her face. Three... two...
Applejack heard a resigned sigh from behind her. "Okay okay, stop, fine."
Sweet, predictable Dash. Applejack came to a halt. "You're gonna have to bring him closer. Ah can't exactly maneuver too good right now." Dash gestured for the Baron to hop onto her arm, and he did so. Soon, cowpony and falcon were face to face. "Are you sure it's alright if ah touch him? He's kinda givin' me the stinkeye."
Baron Awesome gave the big orange thing the stinkeye. For some reason, that brown thing on its head made him nervous. Plus, it didn't have wings. Things that were wingless were food or predators.
Dash nodded happily. "Sure! He loves being petted." Despite this vote of confidence, Applejack noticed that Dash held her breath as she touched the Baron. Dash relaxed when the Baron leaned into Applejack's hoof, presented his throat for more stroking.
Baron Awesome sighed contentedly. Okay, so hoofed things in general were nice. Good to know.
"So, where'd you get him? Ah didn't think that Pets and Coffee Mugs sold falcons."
Dash puffed up proudly. "I found him in the woods. He hit his head, so I took him home and tamed him in three days flat."
Applejack said, "Huh. Where'd you learn to tame falcons?"
Rainbow Dash looked like the cat that ate the canary. "I didn't. It's all instinct and natural skill."
Applejack frowned. "Ah don't think it works like that." Baron Awesome made a low caw that almost sounded like a purr and presented his throat for more scratching. Applejack's heart melted. "Then again, it looks like you did a good job, 'cause he's such a good widdle guy, yes he is!" Baron Awesome apparently had an aversion to baby talk, because he shot Applejack a glare and went back to his fencepost. "Can he do any tricks?"
Dash pointed to a nearby apple tree. "Just you watch! Baron Awesome, fetch!"
The Baron flew into action. He wasn't quite sure what the blue thing wanted, but there must be something up there to kill if she was being so insistent... aha, the red things! Like the bouncing red thing she made him practice on! He grabbed one in his talons and looped around. He saw the blue thing holding out its blunt secondary not-wing out, so he supposed he wouldn't be allowed to keep it. Ah well. It smelled like tree-junk anyway.
The Baron dropped the apple on Dash's waiting hoof and went back to his post. He opened his mouth expectantly, and Dash rewarded him by tossing him a chunk of soy jerky from her saddlebag. He gobbled it down greedily as Dash gave Applejack the Red Delicious apple, which had been perfectly sliced into several pieces.
Dash had a surprised look on her face, which Applejack caught before she suppressed it. She said, "See? He can fetch fruit and slice it for you! That's two tricks all rolled up into one awesome package. Just you wait until I've had more than three days!"
Applejack nodded. She sniffed the apple slices and resisted the urge to scrunch up her face at the overwhelming fishy smell the Baron's claws left behind. As soon as Dash was gone, the pigs would get some dessert. "Well, ah'm happy for ya, but it's time for me to get back to work."
Rainbow Dash took off, put her hoof in her mouth and whistled. Baron Awesome winced at the shrill noise, but grudgingly launched into the air as well. "Alright. I hope you don't take too long, 'cause tonight Pinkie Pie's holding me a 'Baron Awesome is Awesome Party!'"
Applejack asked, "Is it after the 'redundant words are redundant' party?"
Rainbow Dash shot her a glare. "Hah hah, AJ. You're a real comedian."
Applejack smirked. "Ah like to think ah have my moments." She frowned. "Wait, you ain't springin' this on Pinkie at the last minute, are you?"
Rainbow Dash folder her forelegs petulantly. "No! Well, a little. But it's Pinkie. She's probably celebrating Thursday or something."
The Ponyville library! Now with book readings for the little fillies and colts on Sundays! Ask the librarian about the Biblioteer rewards program!
"No, Pinkie, you can't hold your 'Today Ends in Y' party at the library." Twilight was buried in her book (Sunny Skies All Day Long: Celestia In Her Own Words)... or at least as buried as she could be while Pinkie Pie was around.
Pinkie Pie pouted. Twilight hated it when Pinkie pouted. How she could go from bubbly to devastated instantaneously was a mystery. "Aw, why not?"
Twilight Sparkle gave up trying to focus on the book and shut it with a deep sigh. "Well, for one thing, the fact that the day ends in 'y' isn't worth celebrating."
Pinkie's face became stern. Twilight had no way of knowing this, but it was in imitation of a rock farming patriarch. "Nicht wenn Sie Deutsch sprechen! Heute ist Donnerstag, und es hat kein y!"
Twilight blinked. "I... what?"
"Exactly, Twilight! We have to take advantage of our linguistic bounty! In some countries, they don't even have the letter y! Don't let those poor y-less fillies' sacrifice be in vain!" By the end of her impassioned plea, she had Twilight by the shoulders and was shaking her vigorously.
Twilight managed to wrestle Pinkie off. It took her a moment to stop vibrating. "If I let you have the party here, do you promise to start making sense?"
Pinkie blinked. "When do I ever not make sense?"
Twilight sighed and facehoofed. "Never mind. I don't see why you don't just hold it at Sugar Cube Corner."
Pinkie was about to explain when Spike ran in, acting like a cat about to hock up a hairball. From the puffs of green flame wafting past his gums, it was obvious that Celestia had sent a scroll, but for some reason, Spike was doing his best not to let it pass. Finally, he couldn't hold out any longer and a gout of green flame coalesced into a scroll. This was business as usual at the library. The loud clank the oddly shaped scroll made when it hit the ground wasn't.
Twilight's face was split by a goofy grin. She hadn't heard from Celestia in days! Then she realized what she'd heard. "Wait... clank?" She opened up the scroll and found that it contained a small bottle. "Cough syrup?" Spike was chewing his claws nervously as Twilight read the letter. She didn't notice that little detail until she was almost done.
Dear Twilight Sparkle,
I apologize for taking so long to get back to you, but I have been absolutely swamped all week, as I had to take care of both sun and moon (not that I haven't ever done it before, but I was finally getting used to having the nights off). While your gift of the white cake with lemon frosting was appreciated, Luna had too much and was ill for the last few days. I'm also not sure who told you that Luna was unwell, but they must have had faulty information. While we are grateful for this bottle of cough syrup, it will not be much good for a sore stomach, especially as she's already recovered. As such, I have returned it to you.
As she finished the royal missive, Twilight felt righteous fury burn in her heart. She spun around and glared daggers at an already cowering Spike. "Spike! 'They doubled the price of cough syrup,' huh? Care to explain this?" She telekinetically shoved the bottle in his face.
Spike stammered, "W-well, I had a coughing fit after I bought the first one and made it go poof, and I didn't want you to get mad..."
Twilight walked over to a bulletin board with a series of photos of Spike. "Spike, I am very disappointed. I don't mind losing ten bits on extra cough syrup, but I do mind being lied to. I'm afraid I have no choice but to make Owlowicious employee of the month." She punctuated this by pinning a photo of the owl to the board. She did it a little harder than she'd meant to, but it did make her point perfectly. It occurred to her that the owl, who was napping upstairs, would need a different bonus than Spike's normal bowl of jewels. She quickly wrote a note to herself to look into that.
The little dragon melodramatically threw his head back, shouting to the heavens, "!"
Pinkie Pie patted the despondent Spike on the shoulder. "There there. It'll be okay. Now you have something to shoot for next month!" She perked up. "I know, my Y-Day party can be a celebration party for Owlowicious!"
Before Spike could object, Rainbow Dash and Baron Awesome entered the library with a flourish of off key singing by Rainbow Dash. As near as Twilight could tell, it was Dash's attempt to sing a Sousa fanfare. Maybe she should suggest a book on pitch and harmonics to Dash after she was done with her recent checkouts? Or maybe she could find out if Lyra was taking students? Dash really could use the help and...
Pinkie Pie and Spike were at Dash's side in a moment. Spike said, "Whoa, cool bird!"
Oh. Right. Rainbow Dash did have a healthy looking example of Falco berigora with her, didn't she? That warranted explanation. Twilight trotted over. "Wow, I've never been this close to one before. He has such beautiful plumage!"
Rainbow Dash was clearly enjoying every second of it. "I know, right? His name's Baron Awesome. I tamed him myself. Did it in three days flat."
Pinkie Pie immediately started rubbing him with both hooves. It was a bit rougher than the Baron was used to, but he didn't struggle. "Ooooh, so that's why you kept dreaming about this little guy. He's so cute!"
Rainbow Dash blinked and silently mouthed the words, "dreaming?" She shook her head and said, "Pinkie Pie, you're so random." Twilight gave Dash a knowing look. Dash nodded. It was better not to ask.
Spike fumed as he realized that Dash wasn't going to bend down lower so he could join in. She barely even seemed to notice him, as she basked in the reflected adoration of Baron Awesome. Twilight Sparkle thought that he was about to complain... but seemed to think better of it when his eye caught the Employee of the Month board. Twilight heard him mutter something about stupid birds as he went elsewhere to take care of some chores.
Twilight, a little hesitantly, reached in for her own pet. The Baron flinched from her touch, took off and landed on a nearby bookshelf. The purple unicorn frowned. "He's a little skittish."
Dash laughed nervously. "Uh, yeah. He's not used to more than one other pony at a time."
Twilight Sparkle wasn't the best at reading her friends' emotions, but she could tell that Dash was being evasive. Then, in the back of her mind, something clicked. "So those books weren't random pleasure reading after all. It all fits together like a neat little puzzle! The book on raptors, the book on veterinary medicine, the book on... no wait, The Critique of Pure Reason doesn't fit at all. Why'd you get that?"
"It was a categorical imperative."
Twilight blinked. "Huh? What does that have to do with anything?"
Dash shrugged. "I was hoping you could tell me. I tried to read it but... words... so many words..." Dash shuddered at the memory.
Twilight didn't understand why something as simple as metaphysics got so many ponies out of sorts, but she decided not to push it. "If you think that's hard, you should try reading Gelding Hegel or Cutie Marx. And don't even get me started on Neighzsche." Twilight finally noticed that Pinkie Pie had commandeered one of the library's ladders to get up with Baron Awesome again. The falcon was hopping away from the overly enthusiastic Pinkie. Twilight figured that if he wasn't flying away, he must not be too anxious. Twilight let her magic flow, bringing a book from the shelf to hover in front of Rainbow Dash. "Well, if you want to teach him to be more comfortable with groups, you might consider this."
Dash squinted slightly. "A Beginner's Guide to Falconry?" She looked like she was about to refuse it, but then apparently thought better of it. "Sure, why not? That bird stuff book was helpful."
The retort, "No, it's ornithology, not bird stuff," wanted so badly to escape Twilight's lips. But, she remembered that constantly correcting her friends on relatively unimportant matters just lead to hurt feelings. It still took a lot of effort not to say anything.
Dash had moved on anyway. "Hey! Pinkie!"
Pinkie stopped halfway up the ladder, as she continued her efforts to play with the Baron. "Yeah Dashie?"
Dash said, "You up for hosting a Baron Awesome is Awesome Party?"
Pinkie Pie immediately stopped harassing the falcon and almost seemed to teleport right in front of Rainbow Dash. Twilight's eyes were fooling her again. She said that to herself a lot when it came to Pinkie Pie. Sometimes she even believed it.
Pinkie Pie, as always, seemed unaware of her casual dismissal of the laws of physics. She was bouncing excitedly. "Ooh ooh! It can be for Baron Awesome and Owlowicious! It'll be the most birdtastic bird party in ever! Be here at 7!"
"Righto! I'll go make sure everypony else knows." Rainbow Dash saluted smartly. The Baron swooped down on her bent arm, which seemed to catch Dash off guard. She quickly hid that surprise and, with a quick goodbye, was out the door.
Pinkie Pie scratched her chin thoughtfully. "What do birds like for parties?"
Twilight shrugged. "That's a good question. Maybe party hats with feathers?"
Pinkie Pie let out a horrified gasp. "Twilight, no! Just no. Or maybe the next time I throw Rarity a party, I should use her mane for decorations?"
Twilight sighed. "Then I don't have any ideas." She hated it when she said the wrong thing. It happened way more than she would have liked. "Just do what you think is best. I think I'm just going to go read for awhile."
Pinkie perked up immediately. "Okie dokie lokie! Well, I have a party to plan! Laters!" And with that, Pinkie Pie was gone. Just... gone. Twilight was alone again. Oh well. At least nopony would shake her faith in the laws of nature for the next few hours.
Wait, if the party was at the library...
"Spike! We have cleaning to do!"
The dragon groaned from the next room so loudly that it was obvious that he was putting on a show for Twilight.
Twilight barked, "Little dragons who want to be employee of the month again don't complain!"
End Part 5
To Be Concluded