Applejack was at a loss for words. Never in all her life had she felt so betrayed. Her eyes bored into her brother's, backing him into the barn wall. "Are you tellin' me that you can't work on the farm at all today?"
Big Mac did just about everything but look at her. "Eeyup."
"But, WHY?" Her heart was pounding like a hammer in her chest. "There's work to be done!"
"Eeyup. But," His hoof struck the dirt, sending up a cloud of dust. "I've got to get these fields started."
"Fields?" Her green eyes rolled clean over. "Big Mac, those fields haven't been used in years. They can keep for another year."
Instead of the typical, stubborn denial, Big Mac merely looked out towards the direction of the fields. "Not since Dad was around."
Applejack took a step back, heart leaping in her throat. She pinned her ears, stamping a hoof hard enough to form a crater in the earth. "Well, it ain't like he's here to plow them for us."
"No, but I am." Big Mac sighed, patting Applejack gently on the head. "Come on, little sis. Isn't it about time we move on?"
"Urgh! Fine, do what you want." Applejack turned around, swishing her tail indigently. "I'm going to find me some real help."
Before Big Mac could get a word in edgewise, Applejack took off at a dead gallop. Stupid brother! Just 'cause you've got a marefriend, you think you can start actin' all independent. Some family you are!
After a while, she stood, breathing in deep gulps of morning air. If the sun creeping higher in the sky was any indicator, today would be unusually warm. Best get started early.
Work was Applejack's fail safe. Even if everything else went downhill in a hurry, it would always be there. A survey of the orchard would be just the thing to clear her head and June had always been the best time to check trees.
As she strode into the oldest section of the orchard, the temperature dropped significantly due to the thick curtain of branches blocking out the sun. Being perpetually quiet, it remained the best place on the farm to reflect. The familiar path followed a small creek bank, one of her favorite spots in all of Equestria. To Applejack it was a sacred place, where she could escape reality for a while.
For a time, she lost herself in thought until an unfamiliar noise broke the spell. Her ears shot up, and listened to a splashing sound coming from the creek. Something or somepony was making a racket. With a good deal of concentration, she snuck quietly over to the trees bordering the water and looked down. Well, look at that.
Under any normal circumstances, Flim would have preserved at least some of his dignity and drank from a cup or bowl. But not today. Today he forgot all trace of it and dunked his head completely in the stream. The waters lapping around him felt cool and refreshing, if a little dirty, easing the pain from his cuts and bruises. So much for my brilliant plan.
Breaking ties with Flam had been easy enough in the moment. But now he began to see the flaw in his strategy. Throughout his life, Flam had been his anchor, keeping his apt to wander mind on track. Now it was up to him to figure things out, and he was making a royal mess of it.
He lifted his head, looking around at the orchard. For some reason it looked familiar, though he could not place why. Before he could react, a palomino blur tackled him into the creek.
Her green eyes shone with intense loathing. "How dare you come here!"
"For the love of Celestia, mare! Get a grip." Flim grimaced as her hooves pressed mercilessly into his chest.
Applejack glowered down at him, sneering triumphantly. "We meet again."
Struggling only resulted in an increased amount of pressure from her hooves. He tried for the charming, diplomatic approach, "Applejack, it's been a while."
Clearly ignoring his attempt at flattery, she continued in a dangerous tone, "You'd best do some explainin', Flim. Before I turn you in for tresspassin'."
Trespassing? What is she on about? "I didn't know this was you're farm. Honest."
"Honest? HONEST?" Applejack snorted, "Don't you dare talk to me 'bout honesty, Flim! Not after what you've done."
"Yeah, well. I'm out of that business now."
"Oh? Moved on to bigger and better scams?" She leaned in close enough for Flim to smell the sweat off her coat. "Haven't you hurt enough ponies for one lifetime?"
"That's what I'm trying to say. I've turned around." The cool water had started sending chills through his body. "Let me up, Applejack."
"Get off me!" Flim winced as his back dug into the sharp rocks on the bottom of the creek. "It hurts."
Applejack was too preoccupied to notice. Her eyes were darting all around the surrounding orchard. "Where's that no good brother of yours?"
Flim snorted, "Don't know, and don't care. We split up two months ago."
"Split up? Do I look stupid to you?" She rounded on him, "There's no way in Equestria you split up. Where is he, Flim?" Her hooves pressed him deeper into the creek until he started spluttering. "Where?"
"We split up." Water started to fill his lungs. What's wrong with her? I'm telling the truth. His struggling did nothing, and he was beginning to think she might really drown him. Then, miraculously, he felt himself being tossed onto the grass.
Rather than speaking, Flim coughed, and coughed. His sides started to ache as the fit continued. It was at least five minutes before he managed to stop. The breaths came out as wheezes until they slowly returned to normal. He looked up at the mare, pinning his ears. "I didn't think you'd try to kill me."
Applejack's eyes were wide with shock. Apparently, she had not planned on causing so much damage. "Sorry . . ." The shock started to turn to panic. "I didn't mean to—are you all right?"
"As if you care." Flim blew a bit more water out of his nostrils. Trying to stand was stupid, his legs felt too weak and useless. So he continued to lie there, staring at the grass. "I told the truth you know."
"I doubt that." The anger had left Applejack for good now. She made a sweeping gesture over him, "What happened?"
He sneered, "You tried to drown me, remember?" Flim knew full well what she was getting at, but he was not about to humor her.
"Yer skin an bones."
Flim's eyes rolled sarcastically, "Well thanks for pointing that out. I never would have known without you!"
"I uh . . ." Applejack appeared not to know what to do with his sarcasm. "I thought you were supposed to be some kind of genius? What? You can't think of a way to earn bits without Flam?"
For a moment, he thought of denying it. But that would be pointless. "No, no I can't," his voice came out unusually subdued. "He figures out the important stuff. I'm just the one with the crazy schemes."
"Like that snake oil you were sellin'?"
He waved his hooves in denial. "No! That was Flam."
"Well, I don't care who's brilliant idea it was. You ought to try an make things right." Applejack huffed, looking out at the orchard. "You know, Big Mac's been real busy lately. I could use the extra hoof. If you want to make amends an all, this would be a mighty good place to start."
"What did you say?" Her mouth hung open, staring at Flim as though he were insane.
"I said okay. I'll do it. Celestia knows I need to start somewhere." The shock of pain upon standing nearly sent Flim to his knees. His attempt at his normal cocky grin more closely resembled a grimace. "I'm serious about this turning a new leaf thing. I'll prove it to you."
"Uh, all right." She gave a quick jerk of the head, then started to walk towards the trees. "But, if you so much as act like yer turning to the wrong, I'll throw you out. Got it?"
"Yeah." Flim followed her glumly down the path, head hung low. What have I gotten myself into now?
The sun had already started beating down on the farm when they arrived at the farmyard. From experience, Applejack knew that they needed to get started with work before the heat grew any worse. "Come on, Flim."
Flim merely nodded, trotting a little to keep up with Applejack's hurried strides.
As she walked, she watched Flim out of the corner of her eye. Most of the stallion's ribs were showing, and he seemed to wince with every step. To top it off, his cream coat was peppered with blood where she had pressed him into the creek bed. Stupid, Applejack. What were you thinking? You could've drowned him.
They arrived at the barn, and she trotted inside to get the tools. When she came out, Flim was taking huge gulps of water from the trough. He looked up at her, eyeing the implements suspiciously. "What are those for?"
"Seriously?" Flim leaned in close to examine the assortment of tools. "I guess that makes sense."
"Good, 'cause that'll be yer job. I've got to go check on the trees." She motioned to the fence line furthest from the barn. "You'll start there. If you get done, well then, start on the next one. I'll come an fetch you when it's time to quit."
"Okay, then." Flim levitated the tools, trotting out to the fence.
Applejack watched him for a second, then turned the other direction. There was a lot more to do today then keep track of some vagrant conman.
This had to be the best idea the Apple Bloom ever had. Well, maybe not the best, but close to it. A simple idea, at least in theory. Borrow some spare wood lying around and then take it to Cutie Mark Crusader headquarters. There they would work out a plan to build a slide from the top of the treehouse to the grass. It was brilliant, it was bold, and it just might get them a cutie mark.
But, much to her chagrin, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were too busy to help today, so the responsibility fell on her to procure the needed supplies. What could possibly go wrong?
Apparently a lot. Big Mac did not have any spare wood, so she spent most of the morning lugging the wagon from his house to the orchard, and now to the farmyard. It was already past noon anyway. A good time for a break.
The sight of the fence line brought a smile to her face. She trotted towards it, wagon bouncing behind her. Then she stopped so abruptly that the wagon hit her hocks. "Ouch!"
"Huh?" Flim wheeled around, looking directly at Apple Bloom.
He saw me! Apple Bloom slunk up to him, eyes darting over the stallion as though seeing a ghost. "Flim? What in Equestria are you doin' on our farm?"
Flim gave an 'Are you serious?' expression, holding up a hammer with his green magic. "Working, kiddo."
"Working? On our farm?" Apple Bloom opened and closed her mouth like some fish that jumped out of the creek. "WHY?"
"Making amends. At least, that's what Applejack says." Flim shrugged, returning to the board he was nailing into place. "Honestly, I don't care so long as she feeds me."
There were no words. It felt as though somepony had thrown a bucket of ice water on her. Her little hooves gesticulated wildly. "But we've got Big Mac."
He raised an eyebrow, "So? It doesn't mean you don't need help."
"But, but . . . Yer not family!"
Flim rolled his eyes, swishing his tail irritably. "Listen, kid. You can sit here and gripe to me all day about how unfair your life is, or you can take it up with Applejack." His focus returned to the boards.
"Fine! I will." Forgetting about the wagon, she set off at a dead gallop. Applejack had to be in the orchard somewhere. Apple Bloom wove her way down the familiar paths and found her sister in a matter of minutes. "Applejack!"
Applejack looked up just in time to come into contact with her bone crushing hug. "What in tarnation? Apple Bloom? What's wrong?"
"What's wrong?" She pounded a tattoo against her sister's sides. "That no good con artist on our farm's wrong."
"Oh, so you ran into Flim." Applejack scanned her as if expecting to find a huge gash across her side. "He didn't hurt you, did he?"
"Well, no . . . but, yer missin' the point." Apple Bloom backed up, glowering at her big sister. How could she be so dense? "Why's he here in the first place? An he said you were goin' to let him work here."
"That's right. I figured we needed the help. Plus," Her face broke into a wide smile. "He's free. That's got to count for somethin' right?"
"I guess." Apple Bloom felt more than a little put out. If there one pony in the world who would understand her, it would be Applejack. But, then again, her sister was just another adult. And adults never understood the really important stuff.
Flim never could stomach standing idle. Having a job, no matter how unimportant kept his mind working. A working mind was powerful, an idle one just filled up with cobwebs and dust bunnies. He had been so focused on the task at hand, that he failed to notice how much time had flown by. If nopony had stopped him, he probably would have worked till dark. But, thankfully for him, somepony did.
"Hey. You can quit now."
He looked up from the boards to see Applejack. To his surprise, she had a soft smile on her face. The sight made him drop the hammer to the dirt. "Uh, okay."
She rolled her eyes, motioning him to follow. Applejack's eyes focused intently on the house as she spoke, "Granny's been gracious enough to allow you to stay despite the foolhardy was you treated her last time."
"All right." Flim had fully expected to be scolded further for his actions, but the lecture did not come. Saving it for later, huh? They reached the farmyard, and Applejack directed him to an outdoor sink.
Together they washed away the caked dirt on their hooves. Flim could not help but glance at Applejack every so often. Earlier she had been so aggressive, now she seemed forcibly polite. The mare was a moody time bomb waiting to detonate.
"Here." She held out a towel for him, and started to walk towards the door. Flim followed until she stopped him with a hoof. "Listen close, 'cause I'm only goin' to say this once. You will be respectful. I mean, real respectful to my family. By the grace of Celestia, they have agreed to give you a chance to prove yerself. So don't blow it." Flicking her tail in his face, she strode into the kitchen.
Inside there was an all pervasive smell of casserole mingled with the sweet smell of apples. Flim's stomach growled loudly, it had been two days since he had anything substantial to eat. Looking up, he noted the three other members of the Apple clan seated around a square table. They looked less than enthused to see him. Grimacing a little, he took a seat beside Applejack. "Thanks for letting me work here. I really appreciate it."
"Eeyup." Though he did not glare at Flim, his distrust was evident.
Flim chuckled nervously, watching as Applejack, Granny, and Big Mac shoveled food on their plates. Though he was ravenous, he waited until Applejack motioned him to take some. He levitated some on his plate, feeling self-conscious at their intent focus on him. "Thank you."
Apple Bloom stared in wonder as he ate. He had no idea why. His and Flam's table manners had always been excellent, their mom had seen to that. Still, the filly kept staring at him. "Something wrong?"
"Why in tarnation are you using magic to eat?"
He coughed, taking a long swig of water. What's with this kid? "I'm a unicorn, in case you failed to notice." The burning glare Applejack shot him was enough to let him know he had stepped out of line. Rolling his eyes, he turned back to Apple Bloom. "It seems pointless to stick my face in food when I can just bring it to me. Would you be more comfortable if I did it your way?"
"No." Applebloom looked down at her plate, "Guess it's fine your way too."
Flim sighed and continued eating. Honestly, she's the weirdest filly I've met. Hasn't she seen a unicorn eat before? The rest of dinner was a silent affair broken by cautious glances at Flim. He felt like some kind of circus animal. And he would know, he had plenty of circus animals in his time. After they were done eating, Flim went to help Applejack with the dishes.
She gave him a sideways glance over the dishes. "I can do them."
"It's no problem." Flim carefully directed her away from the sink. "I'll wash, you can put them away."
They worked in silence for a while, both grateful they did not have to speak. Flim could not shake the feeling that Applejack wanted to say something, but he let it slide. It was enough of a miracle that she let him stay here in the first place. Still, it was terribly awkward for somepony who grew up with constant noise. "So, uh, how's things in Ponyville? Your friends doing all right?"
"Yeah. Real good." Applejack continued drying the dishes in a mechanical fashion. "No major calamities. And," She stacked the last dish with a loud chink, "Pinkie got married."
"What? That crazy friend of yours?"
Applejack pinned her ears, "She ain't crazy! Just a little excitable . . ." Stacking the dishes in the cupboard, she rounded on him. "Best pray Cheese don't here you callin' her that. He's a might protective."
Flim gulped, "Right. I'm sorry." Cheese? What kind of name is that? He had a fleeting image of a burly stallion flexing his muscles with a piece of cheese tattooed on each bicep. Somehow, he doubted that's what the pony looked like.
"Come on." Applejack motioned towards the door.
Flim trotted over and followed her outside. Now that the sun was set, the air was pleasantly cool. He looked up, admiring the stars. So peaceful . . . They strode into the barn and he glanced around at the darkened interior. "Another job?"
"Nope. Yer done for the night." She motioned to a pile of straw in the corner. "You sleep there."
Applejack nodded, turning back towards the door. "We get up with the roosters 'round here. Be ready to work."
"Okay." He watched her leave, then turned back to the darkened barn. Grateful for a warm place to sleep, he made his way to the straw. The fresh, clean smell it gave off was wonderful.
Yawning, he stretched out and closed his eyes. Today had been interesting to say the least. He never imagined he would be working for the same ponies who he had cheated. It was strange, and a little embarrassing. But for some inexplicable reason, he felt a certain comfort from the idea. Strange, isn't it, Flam? Guess this is what they call irony. Ah well, whatever it is, it's one step in the right direction.
There it is. The first of many I'm sure. This story has been in my head for months, and I'm finally able to start working on it. This chapter was a good deal of fun to write, and I just can't help but be excited for all the shenanigans to come. It's going to be a lot of fun, so look forward to it. Thanks for reading!