An Honest Life

This story is a sequel to The Mess We're In Flim was never one to argue with Flam. In fact, if the situation had been any different, they might have been able to work it out. But, fate being the fickle thing that it is had other plans. After a heated fight, they split up. There was no going back, the bridge was burned and the damage done. It soon becomes apparent that things are never as easy as they seem. Several failed attempts later, Flim is out of energy and ideas. Just when he's about to give up, a chance encounter with Applejack changes everything. Working beside the Element of Honesty was the opportunity he needed. If he could prove his sincerity to her, then nopony would question his desire for an honest life. But, as the days drag on, he realizes a truth that may just jeopardize everything. How can he prove his sincerity when he must constantly hide the truth? http://www.fimfiction.net/story/228959/an-honest-life

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9. What Can't be Replaced

Waking up in a barn was one reality, but waking up in a room, his room was another one entirely. Flim yawned, climbing out the bed and starting towards the window. Sure enough, the farmyard was cast in a pre-dawn shadow. Up before the dawn again, huh Flim? If I don't watch it, I'll become an earth pony.

Snorting a laugh, he turned to the mirror above the dresser. His appearance startled even himself. After over a week on the farm, and resting all of the previous day, he had not found the chance to shave. He could not help but laugh at the red sideburns forming on his once clean shaven face. "Flam, check this out . . ."

Flim's heart lurched when he looked around at the empty room. Of course Flam would not answer. A knot formed in his throat as he stared at his reflection. All through the years, he had Flam's steady presence to fall back on. Now, it all came back on him. An icy chill filled his chest at another, more unnerving thought. Who did Flam have to fall back on? And what about their debt? Running around the country like Flam was, somepony from the group was bound to catch sight of him. That was more than a small sum of bits they owed. What if they threatened Flam like before?

A crazy part of him wanted to gallop off that instant to find Flam. But then again, the stallion was the very reason he could not gallop anywhere. It was his stupid gambling habit that brought him to the state he was forced to live in. Why should he bother to help Flam? No, whatever came to his brother, it was well deserved. Despite that, Flim could not help but worry about the idiot. More than likely, he was accruing new debt with each passing day.

"Flim?" A small voice from the door made Flim jump several feet in the air. Apple Bloom was leaning against the door frame, a cheesy grin on her face. "I came to wake you up, but yer already awake."

"That's right." Flim's voice shook a little more than he intended, and he cleared his throat. "I get up with the dawn, just like you now."

"That's good." Apple Bloom's eyes kept darting from Flim's sides to the floor and back again. She cuffed her hooves against the floorboards, mumbling, "So, are you feelin' better?"

Flim jerked a nod, walking over to the filly. He had not seen Apple Bloom since the night he dragged her from the creek. Applejack had mentioned Apple Bloom being sick, but Flim had been too embarrassed to go see her. After all, the last time they spoke, he had given a lecture his mother would have been proud of. He settled for a gentle pat on her forehead. "You look much better, Apple Bloom."

"Yeah, I feel better." Apple Bloom flushed a little, looking around at the room. "Thanks for savin' me."

"Think nothing of it." Flim winked, starting off down the hallway. "So, am I correct in assuming it's time to start breakfast?"

"Yer correct." Apple Bloom puffed out her chest, extending her little legs as far as she could to keep up with his strides. Then, she stopped cold, staring up at him as though just noticing he was there.

Flim raised an eyebrow, "Yes?"

"What's up with that?" She gestured grandly to encompass all of his face.

Seriously? "You'll have to be a touch more specific."

The filly's hooves leaned against his legs, as she stared into his eyes. "Since when do you have sideburns? I thought you were the non-mustache brother."

The non-mustache brother? Flim broke into a natural, soft laugh. "Apple Bloom, you really are something else." For a while, he could only laugh at the confused filly. Apparently, nopony bothered to tell her how facial hair worked. "Listen, kid. The fact is that most stallions can grow some kind of facial hair. Though it differs from stallion to stallion. Flam can grow a mustache, but I can grow sideburns. I just normally shave mine off."

"Wait a minute." Apple Bloom's eyes grew wide as saucers. "You mean you normally have sideburns?"

"Well yeah," Flim shrugged, not sure what was so earth shattering about that. "I just think it makes me look like a bum, so I don't keep them. But, since I'm staying here, I didn't see the point in shaving."

"Wow!" Apple Bloom continued to stare in shock, until she gasped loudly. "That means Big Mac can have some too!"

"I guess." Flim was starting to wonder just where their little conversation was headed. Before he could stop her, Apple Bloom galloped down the stairs and out of site. The door he was standing by swung open, and Applejack walked out. The mare's long blonde mane was lying flat against her neck, and Flim could not help but gape. It really suited her. "New look, Applejack?"

"Huh?" Applejack started, apparently just registering his presence. Her hoof went instinctively to her mane. "Uh, no. I didn't put it up yet."

Though she was addressing him, her eyes were focused on the stairs. "Am I imaginin' things, or was Apple Bloom here just a second ago?"

A part of him was half tempted to chide Applejack for not explaining the basic facts of life to her sister, but thought better of it. "She was a little surprised to see my sideburns."

Applejack stared blankly at him. "That's it?" The mare leaned in so close, he could smell her sweet breath mixing with his. A soft smile stretched across her face, and she nodded approval. "Nice, sort of reminds me of Dad's. You should keep them." With that, she walked towards the washroom, leaving Flim at a loss for words.

Dad's? It was the first time Flim had heard Applejack mention her father. Shaking it off, Flim started down the stairs. Granny would more than likely need help with breakfast. After the latest fiasco with his health, he was dying to prove himself useful to somepony.

By the time he entered the kitchen, Granny and Apple Bloom had made significant progress with breakfast. Flim started levitating some dishes onto the table, singing quietly to himself. He nearly dropped the stack of bowls when Apple Bloom grabbed his leg. "Yes?"

Her eyes bored into his as she continued to grip his leg with a force an anaconda would be proud of. "How come you sing so much? Does it make yer magic stronger or somethin'?"

What am I, an encyclopedia? Flim snorted, setting the bowls on the table. From Granny's attentive expression, he gathered she was every bit as curious. No getting around it. "No, it doesn't make my magic stronger. It's good practice. You can't be a decent salespony without being able to sing. Flam and I always practice in the morning."

The last words hit him like a punch to the gut. It was true. Each and every day, he and Flam would practice their show songs, make up new ones, or just sing for the heck of it. For the months he had been traveling alone, Flim had unconsciously been continuing their routine. A routine they would never do together again. The realization made him want to crawl into a dark hole. Apple Bloom said something else, but he did not care to listen. All he could think about now was the fact that his brother would never be coming back to him, and it was all his fault.

 

 

Big Mac was convinced that something was bothering Flim. He watched the unicorn settle another seedling with a practiced ease even he had to be impressed with. Flim was learning fast, and he could not have chosen a more attentive student if he tried. But that did little to change the fact that the stallion had been acting odd all day. Now that the sun was high in the sky, and they were drenched in sweat, maybe it was time to chat. "Want to take a break?"

Flim looked up, nodding agreement. Together they chose a suitable spot in the shade. He allowed Flim to take a long swig from his canteen before he tried any conversation. Satisfied he was through, Big Mac attempted his most would-be-casual tone. "So, how you like bein' a part of Sweet Apple Acres?"

"I love it!" Flim nodded a little too enthusiastically to be believable. Then, just like he had most of the day, he stared hard at the ground.

"Uh-huh." Big Mac wanted to slap himself. This is going nowhere. "So, Applejack been treatin' you right?"

"Of course." He looked up, staring questioningly back at him, "Why wouldn't she?"

"No reason." Though he tried to focus on the sun lit orchard, Big Mac's gaze fell on the younger stallion. He really has no idea, does he? He tried again for a better topic. "I've been wonderin' 'bout yer cutie mark."

"My cutie mark?" Flim glanced down at the apple slice on his flank. The mark was unusual for a unicorn, and Big Mac could not help but wonder where in Equestria he got it. To his surprise, Flim just laughed and laughed. "It's really stupid. You sure you want to hear it?"

"Eeyup." Big Mac listened as Flim told his story. It was more than a little ridiculous to think that two unicorns from the circus would end up spending an entire day helping an earth pony after they had pranked him. It sounded like something Rainbow Dash might get wrapped up in. "So you an Flam earned yer marks together? That's nice. I never heard of two ponies gettin' their marks for the same thing at the same time before."

"Yeah!" Flim's eyes sparkled with excitement, "My brother and I are a matching set. You can't have one without the other. It's only natural that we . . ." Flim never finished the sentence, choosing to stare hard at the ground instead. There was a near tangible gloom coming off of the unicorn.

He's really missin' his brother, isn’t he? Big Mac cleared his throat, getting to his hooves. "Say, you want to do somethin' different?"

Flim looked up at him, raising an eyebrow, "Different?"

"Yeah. Maybe somethin' fun." Big Mac had no idea what constituted fun for Flim, but he was sure it would not be too stressful.

"Something fun . . ." Flim stared hard at the grass for a bit, then leapt to his hooves. "I've got it! Let's make an invention for the farm."

"Come again?" Didn't he learn the last time? He sighed, following Flim as he walked towards the barn again. "What kind of invention?"

"Nothing too big, just a day project." Flim's nervous chuckle was far from comforting. "Well, it might be a touch dangerous, but that's all part of the fun, isn't it?"

Part of the fun? Big Mac could not think of anything less fun than building a dangerous machine in their barn. He could only hope Flim would give up before it got too out of control.

 

 

After years of living in Ponyville, Applejack thought she was prepared for the unexpected. But never in all her years would she have imagined that her big brother would be helping build an invention. When she questioned Flim, it became clear that they were doing it for brotherly bonding time. Though she wanted to be happy that Big Mac had finally managed to branch out, she was worried their little invention would leave a large mess to clean up later.

To distract her mind from the potential property damage, she took to the orchard with a determined frenzy she normally reserved for apple bucking season. It felt incredibly good to labor in the scorching sun, and even the sweat dripping down her legs was welcome. This was her home, and she would do her best to keep it in tip top shape.

After a hard hour of work, she lay down on one of the hills overlooking the low lying portion of the orchard. The entire place seemed closer to a postcard than reality. Applejack felt a surge of pride at the freshly mended fences, neatly trimmed trees, and the even rows of the fields. Sweet Apple Acres had not looked this good in years.

"Applejack! Hey, Applejack!"

Applejack turned towards the road where Twilight Sparkle was cantering over to her. She snorted a laugh at the sight of their resident alicorn princess running to her. Idly, she wondered if Twilight would ever learn that she had wings. "Howdy, Twilight. You need somethin'?"

"Yes, and no." Twilight panted for breath for a few moments before continuing, "I was hoping to get your honest opinion on something."

"Well, you've come to the right pony." Applejack patted the grass beside her, smiling at her friend.

"Thanks." Twilight settled down, but kept glancing nervously around. "The orchard looks nice."

She puffed out her chest, confident in that fact. "Yup. We've been workin' real hard this year. An with Flim around, well, there ain't no tellin' how much better Sweet Apple Acres will be." Applejack looked back at Twilight, surprised to see her looking almost troubled. "Say, Sugarcube, where's that student of yers?"

Twilight parted the blades of grass with a hoof, "With Cheese and Bulk. They're doing some kind of physical training." She gave a heavy sigh, "I didn't want to join them."

Her heart lurched uncomfortably. Was Twilight still bothered by her inability to teach Entropy? She rested a hoof on her friend's shoulder. "That don't sound like you, Sugarcube."

"Urgh. I haven't been acting like myself for days." Twilight buried her face between her hooves. "I don't know what's wrong with me."

Applejack rubbed Twilight's back gently. "You want to talk about it?"

Twilight nodded slowly. Sighing a little herself, Applejack prepared to listen to Twilight. Knowing her friend, she was in for a very long, and serious conversation.  

 

 

Flim grinned at the contraption with a fierce kind of pride. If there was one thing he was confident in, it was his ability to invent just about anything he put his mind to. Today's creation was admittedly a little easier than usual, but still worthy of admiration.

"How in tarnation is that an apple press?" Big Mac prodded the mechanical device resting on top of the bucket with a mixture of awe and trepidation.

"Ye of little faith." Flim stroked the sides of the bucket like a kitten. "This, brother of mine, is a fully functional miniature apple press. Behold." With a little flourish, he levitated an apple from a nearby crate and placed it onto the central spike of the apparatus. Using his mouth to demonstrate its earth pony friendly construction, Flim wound up the lever and stepped back. The gears spun underneath, turning the apple peeler and coring at the same time. A few seconds later, a steady stream of apple juice trickled into the bottom of the bucket while the scraps were tossed into another. Flim turned triumphantly back to Big Mac. "And there you have it!"

Big Mac opened and closed his mouth, staring wide eyed at the device. He looked around at the empty farmyard as though wanting to ask if the display had been a trick. Then, almost reluctantly, he patted Flim on the shoulder. "I didn't think you'd actually be able to do it, but you did."

Taking his words as a compliment, Flim puffed out his chest. "Of course I did! Flim Skim never fails to complete a project."

Big Mac stared back at him, as though registering the stallion for the first time. "Yer full name's Flim Skim?"

Flim felt his face heat up, and he pawed a little uncomfortably. Certainly there was nothing wrong with his full name, but he did not like giving it out. The last thing he wanted was his family being connected to his conman dealings. "Yeah, it is." He mumbled, more to himself than to Big Mac.

"Hmmm. Don't make a lot of sense, but I guess it rhymes." Big Mac gave a low laugh, clapping him on the back. "Flim Skim, what a name. What's yer brother's then, Flam Jam or somethin'?"

Flim snorted, looking incredulously back at Big Mac. "No! Celestia, that'd be lame."

Big Mac leaned closer, eyes looking expectantly into his, "Well what is it?"

"A secret." Flim winked, trotting off towards the water trough without another word. It felt good to tease somepony again, especially Big Mac. The stallion seemed frozen in a perpetually uptight state. He watched Big Mac drink thirstily from the trough, wondering. Why stop at inventions? "Say, how about we make some new products to sell? Maybe I can teach you how to do a few show routines to really pull it off. That'd be fun!"

To his surprise, Big Mac did not look at all pleased about something. He looked up, staring hard into his eyes. His voice was unusually stern, "Flim, I ain't Flam. So quit tryin' to make me him."

The words struck him like a punch to the gut. Unconsciously, he slunk back, ears folded submissively. "Sorry, I . . . I just thought . . ." For some stupid reason, his tongue felt tied, "I know you're not Flam!"

Big Mac sighed, placing a hoof on his back. "I know, Flim. I know. But, you got to stop tryin' to replace him."

"I'm not trying to replace him." Flim knew the instant he spoke the words that they were a downright lie. Replacing Flam was exactly his intention. But was that such a bad thing? He needed the support. It was only a matter of time before he lost it without Flam. What was the harm in allowing Big Mac to take his place? "You don't understand."

"I understand more than you think." Big Mac lifted Flim's chin with a hoof. "Listen, I've been in yer shoes before. Sometimes, tryin' to replace sompony is easier than facin' the truth."

"What do you know?" Flim's blood was up, and he knew he was being stubborn. Still, he could not shake off the anger building up inside him. Where did Big Mac get off preaching to him? "You've never had a twin! You don't know what it's like, having somepony by your side every minute of your life, then suddenly he's gone!" He knew immediately he had said too much as Big Mac's expression grew dark.

"Maybe I don't know much about havin' a twin. But, I know a lot more than you think!" The words were uncharacteristically harsh coming from him. Before Flim could react, Big Mac started to drag him across the field.

"Hey! What are you doing?" Though he made to struggle, it was clear that there was no point. Big Mac could out muscle him any day of the week.

Big Mac snorted, releasing him. "Goin' to show you something you need to see." Without another word, Big Mac led the way across the fields.

They walked for what must have been a good half hour, though field after field, orchard after orchard. Flim was vaguely aware that they were climbing up in elevation, but had no clue where to. All he could do, was absorb himself in his thoughts and the steady rhythm of his hooves against the dirt. Finally, they reached the foot of an incredibly tall, grassy hill. It was more than likely the highest point in Sweet Apple Acres, and they were going up it.

At the top, he expected to see some sort of apple orchard, maybe an old barn. What he did see made him gasp. There, on the grassy overlook was a small, well-kept cemetery. A few trees lined the edges, but none were placed where the graves overlooked the orchard. It was surreal, but, in some strange way, it the most beautiful place he had ever seen. "Wow."

Big Mac strode over to the two most recent looking markers, carved from identical slabs of granite. "Flim, this here's my parents. Mom, Dad, this here's Flim." The stallion spoke as casually to the graves as though he were addressing flesh and blood ponies. "He's our new help. Got a good work ethic you'd be proud of, Dad. I wanted him to meet you two so he could see."

Flim would have been lying if he said that did not creep him out, but he listened in respectful silence regardless. He walked over to stand by Big Mac, staring hard at the grass. He could feel his heart pounding uncontrollably fast in his chest. The words he said to Big Mac earlier kept ringing in his head. I'm such an idiot.

"Flim?" Big Mac jerked his head to a clear patch of grass a little ways off. "Let's go talk."

"Uh . . . okay." Cringing a little, he followed Big Mac, settling down beside him. For a long while, he could only stare at the beautiful scene before him. The now setting sun was bathing the entire farm in a warm glow. His eyes followed the creek line, glistening like a great, jewel encrusted serpent. There were no words to describe it, so simply took it all in.

Big Mac smirked a little, elbowing him in the ribs. "You like the view?"

"Do I ever!" Flim grinned back at Big Mac, then, remembering where they were, sobered. "Sorry. I . . . I shouldn't have spoke to you like that earlier. I'm the one who doesn't understand."

Big Mac snorted, "Nopony understands everything, Flim. An I don't rightly think I understand as much as I think I do. But," He jerked his head towards the gravestones, "I do know what it's like to lose somepony you care about. My parents died when I was just a colt."

"I'm sorry." Flim avoided Big Mac's gaze, looking hard at his hooves instead. "And I've been going on about my own parents so much."

"Don't be sorry! You ain't got nothin' to be sorry 'bout." Big Mac's voice took on a more gentle tone, "After they died, I did just about everything I could think of to replace them."

Flim raised an eyebrow, "You did?"

"Well yeah. Guess I was thinkin' along the same lines as you were. Thought, if I didn't have a parent figure, I was goin' to go crazy." He sighed, staring out at the farm below. "But then I realized somethin' I should've known from the start. You can't ever replace them, Flim. You just can't."

Flim gulped, keenly aware of how tight his throat felt. "But how am I supposed to move on?"

"Well, just because you can't replace yer twin, doesn't mean you don't have room to expand." His hoof gestured to the expansive orchard below. "It's like our farm, there's always room to build. You've got a chance to make new friendships; new family. Plus," He turned back to Flim with a longing look, "yer brother's still alive. You can still make amends. I'd really like that for you."

Amends? Not hardly. After what I've done, what Flam's done; that's impossible. Still, Flim would not argue with Big Mac, not today anyway. "Maybe someday. I'll . . . I'll think about it."

"That's all anypony can ask, Flim." With that, Big Mac got to his hooves and started back the way they came. "We'd best be goin', or we'll be late to dinner."

"Right." Flim took one last glance at the graveyard before trotting over to join Big Mac. He was right about one thing; there was no replacing Flam. That did little to stopper the loneliness he felt creeping up on him. Even after Big Mac's encouragement, Flim knew that his life would never go back to the way it had been. And, a small part of him was scared; scared that he would one day fall apart at the seams without Flam. That thought more than any other haunted his dreams.

 

 

Applejack lay on her quilt, savoring the cool night air that drifted lazily through the open window. It was easily approaching midnight, and, though she had tossed and turned for hours, sleep would not come. It was frustrating, and a part of her wanted to go back out to the fields to work; but that was just asking for trouble. Maybe just a glass of water then. She yawned, stretching her tired limbs and making her way across the cold floorboards.

Though she had grown up in the house, it still gave her chills to walk through its darkened interior alone. Darkness really did not scare her, not in the same way it scared her sister at least. But, with the echo of each hoof beat, she remembered back to a time the halls were this dark, even during the day. Applejack shivered at the memory, gritting her teeth and striding towards the stairway. Just as she was about to head down, she noticed a small sliver of light from under the nearby door. The attic?

Allowing her curiosity to get the better of her, she opened the door and stepped inside. The worn staircase leading up to the attic looked better suited to a haunted house than a family's storage space. It was a little disconcerting to see the oil lantern hanging on the hook, just like it had when her father came up on the roof to clear his head. An irrational, yet wonderful thought crossed her mind. What if he was here now? Trying to slow her pounding heart, she raced up the dusty steps into the expansive, if a little cluttered space. The only light here came from Luna's moon, bathing the floorboards in an almost unnatural glow. A brisk breeze blew the lacy curtain of the open window. Could it really be him?

Applejack cantered over to the window, and peered out expectantly. For a split instant, it looked as though she would be right. There in the moonlight was a figure reclining on the ridge of the roof, hooves dangling over the edge. Just as she was about to call out to him, her heart sank like a ton of bricks. It was Flim. Applejack wanted to slap herself for being so stupid. Of course it was him, that really was the only logical explanation. Still, a part of her could not help but be bitterly disappointed. Sighing, she made to turn back, but paused when she heard it; a soft clear voice singing into the night air.

As quietly as possible, she slid out on the shingles to get a better look. Flim was staring transfixed at the starry night, singing softly to himself in a voice she had never heard him use before. The song was slow, unfamiliar, and uncharacteristically sad for him. Though she knew it was rude, she could only stand and listen; enraptured by the performance.

"The stars cast their light upon this place

With the breeze comes a promise; a promise broken

The paths we chose drive us ever apart

My thoughts return to you, and the words that were spoken

The laughter we shared, the magic of working as one,

And the memories not soon forgotten

Will we walk together once more?

Will our songs forever remain in our hearts?

Or will our bond, like the snow fade away?"

Applejack began to feel as though she were interrupting something important. She started slowly back the way she came, only to slip on a loose shingle. It felt as though she were falling in slow motion, watching helplessly as she tumbled to her demise. She closed her eyes, praying it would be over quickly. Instead of the expected, painful splatter of her body against the dirt, she felt herself being held up in the air by some kind of force. Opening a cautious eye, she saw a panicked looking Flim holding her in his emerald magic.

The stallion set her carefully down beside him on the ridge, giving a relieved sigh. "Thank Celestia I caught you." He leaned in close enough to feel his warm breath against her coat. "You okay?"

"Fine, just fine, Flim." Applejack felt her face heating up despite the cold night. "Sorry, I didn't mean on spyin'."

Flim snorted, and gave one of his soft laughs. "Hardly. Though I can't imagine anypony who'd want to listen to my singing."

"I thought it was beautiful." The words tumbled out before she could catch herself. Applejack was certain her entire face was red now. There was no way any stallion wanted to hear that his singing was beautiful.

To her surprise, Flim just kept on laughing. "Beautiful? I've never heard that one." Then, he stopped smiling genuinely at her, "I'm glad to hear it." He raised a questioning eyebrow, "Why'd you come up here in the first place? I'm not taking you're thinking spot am I?"

"No, I . . . I couldn't sleep." Her eyes drifted to the attic, "I saw the lantern light, and I . . . I guess I was just imaginin' things."

"Imagining? Like what?" Flim stared expectantly back at her, in a pose that reminded her strongly of Winnona begging for attention.

"Uh . . ." Though she liked Flim just as well as a brother, she was not certain she wanted him discovering her ghost hunt. Still, Flim was not the type to complain; and he did have a psychic sister. Guess it wouldn't hurt to tell him. "I thought you were my Dad. He'd always come out to the roof to think." The next words came as a crescendo. "I know he's dead, and it's stupid, but I can't help it! Why do you got to have sideburns like him for anyway?"

Flim chuckled, then burst into his soft laughter. "Sideburns? You said you liked them this morning. What, I'm not allowed to have facial hair now?"

Applejack felt sorely tempted to push the snarky unicorn off the roof, but decided against it. "What about the ghost? You think that's stupid too?"

Flim immediately sobered, staring hard back at her. "No. No I don't. Seance says ghosts are real, and frankly, I trust her good judgement on that regard."

Applejack's heart leapt in her chest. "Really? Does that mean you can have her talk to them for me?" She hopped up and down like a little filly. "Please, Flim. Please." It was shameless begging, but if it meant she could speak with them one last time, she would do whatever he wanted.

"No, Applejack. I'm sorry, but it's not . . . it's not right." Flim's green eyes flashed pityingly, "Seance says they need to move on, that's why she speaks to them. Having you meet them, it will only make them want to stay. It would corrupt them, Applejack." He placed a hoof gently on her shoulder, "I don't want that for you."

"I . . . you . . . Why?" Applejack wanted to scream at him, demand he let her speak to them, but knew it would do little good. Instead she stood there in silence, allowing the calming breeze to steady her heartbeat.

"Applejack? Are you okay?" Flim leaned close, eyes meeting hers for a moment before looking down at her legs. "Are you cold?"

Cold? Applejack followed his gaze in confusion. It took her a moment to register that her limbs were quivering uncontrollably. Guess I'm more shaken up then I thought. She attempted a confident chuckle, which turned out fake and hollow. "Yeah, I guess it's a bit cold tonight."

"Really?" Flim looked up at the stars, then back at her. "Let's sit by the window then." He led the way back to the attic, lying down on ledge and allowing his legs to dangle.

Applejack joined him, mirroring the pose. It felt strange enough to be on the roof again, and stranger still to be beside Flim. She would have been lying if she said it was not at least a little awkward. He exuded the same calming, almost knowing presence as her brother, but in a way that was completely foreign to her. Perhaps it was the fact that he was a few years older, or that he was fundamentally different from her family. Whatever it was, she was grateful for it.

Flim eyed her with a concerned frown. Before Applejack could react, he pressed his side to hers, wrapping his striped tail around hers. Though she wanted to pull away, she could only stare. Flim chuckled again, "What? You're cold, aren't you?"

"Yeah." Cold was just about the opposite of how she felt at that moment. Her heart was beating stupidly fast, and she wondered if it was from shock or from his presence. There was no logical reason to be nervous; Flim was trying to be helpful after all. That did not stop the strange heat rising in her face at the thought of his body against hers. Speaking of. . . Her eyes fell to the stallion's sides, where most of his ribs were still visible. "Yer still skin an bones, Flim."

Flim shrugged, looking out towards the orchard. "You can't expect me to gain all the weight I lost traveling in a few days, Applejack."

She winked, nudging him playfully in the shoulder. "No, but I might make you eat more at dinner. You hardly touch yer food."

"Urgh." Flim looked as though he were going to laugh it off again, but seemed to deflate before her eyes. He looked down at his hooves. "Flam says the same thing."

Flam again? Ever since they met in the hallway that morning, Flim had been depressed. Even after Big Mac brought him home from bonding time, he still seemed lethargic. She supposed it could not be helped. "You miss him, huh?"

Flim looked up at the stars, and Applejack was surprised to see a few tears streaking his cheeks. "Every day."

"I uh . . ." She really did not know what to say. Of course he was not lying on their roof for the heck of it. "You know," Her voice was soft and cautious, "I miss my parents, a lot more than I care to admit. This wasn't the first time I imagined them back." Why am I tellin' him this?

"Really?" For a split second, she thought Flim might laugh that off too; but he only sighed, "I keep telling myself Flam will come running back to me anytime now; but he never does."

Applejack looked cautiously back at him, keenly aware of strained expression on his face. "Oh, sorry."

"Why are you sorry? Celestia, you're shy tonight." Flim sniggered into his hooves. "What are you, a school yard filly?"

"I am not! You take that back, Flim." Applejack tugged at his mane, sending him laughing again. "What's so funny?"

Flim shrugged, "Nothing. Just thinking how much you're like my own sisters." He stood slowly, "It's not a bad thing. Being shy is, well . . . cute."

"WHAT?" Applejack felt as though steam might come out of her ears. "You ain't hittin' on me, are you?"

"What? No, not intentionally." Flim got to his hooves, smirking in that knowing way of his. "But, you know, I'd have to blind not to notice how beautiful you look with your mane down like that. " With that, he walked towards the stairs and out of sight.

Applejack stared blankly after him, not sure how she should feel about their conversation. Why had she told him about the ghost? She moaned, burrowing her head into her hooves. Smooth sailin', Applejack. Now he thinks yer a nutjob. To add insult to injury, he had to rescue her from falling off her own roof. And then there was their conversation.

Flim was lonely without Flam, that was no secret, but she never imagined how lonely. Her heart ached to see her new friend hurting so badly. What could have caused him to break ties with Flam? It must have been something incredibly traumatic to break a bond like theirs. Applejack vowed to get to the bottom of it someday, but supposed it would take time before Flim was comfortable divulging the whole truth.

Applejack sighed heavily, staring up at the stars and allowing the sounds and smells of her orchard to drift towards her. It was incredibly peaceful, just what she needed after all that had happened. Absent-mindedly, she ran her hoof through her long mane. The strands were frayed at the end, and the hairs cried out for some conditioner. I'm nothin' special. What's he goin' on about me bein' beautiful for? Stupid stallion.

Author's Note:

Finally making some progress (and some new cover art). Hazzah! As promised, this chapter's much longer than the last one.

The song I wrote for Flim was inspired by one of my favorite instrumentals of all time, Ashokan Farewell by Jay Unger and the lyrics that were written for it. One of the most hauntingly beautiful melodies I've ever heard, and one that holds a special place in my heart. Then again, that might be my inner bluegrass/folk music fan coming out; you be the judge.

I purposely omitted the conversation between Twilight and Applejack as it relates directly to a future chapter of my story This Cruel and Random World, not to An Honest Life. Also, if you'd like the whole backstory behind Flim and Flam's cutie marks, I go into plenty of detail in my short Opportunity.

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