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Herd 09

By Hawkeye
Created: 18th December 2020 04:23:02 PM

  1. >The week finds you spending a lot of time in your apartment.
  2. >Not that you're being antisocial, but the preliminary documents for the gardens for the Academy have begun coming in, and you've taken to translating your vision into schematics.
  3. >You're so deep in your work you don't even leave the castle until Wednesday.
  4. >At which point something more exciting than the garden project compels you to leave your work.
  5. >You're standing in the entry hall of your  dilapidated fixer-upper.
  6. >On your right is Wally and his assistant, on your left is Jim and a handful of tradesponies.
  7. >The morning light illuminates the dusty rooms as you walk through the place, ticking off the work to be done from an extensive work prospectus.
  8. >It takes most of the morning, but Jim chose his subcontractors carefully and they didn't seem fazed in the least by the scope of work.
  9. >After the walk through, you paid for lunch (and a few beers).
  10. >Food, beer and rough talk flow freely as you sit back and enjoy some more masculine company for a change.
  11. >Nothing wrong with mares, but it's unlikely you'll ever hear Rarity and Fluttershy debating which princess has the best flank.
  12. >It's a change of pace you appreciate.
  13. >Slowly the various contractors peel off, eventually leaving just you, Walnut and Jim.
  14. >"How soon can we start?" Wally asks, slowly picking at his fries.
  15. "I've got the keys and the deed. Start as soon as you like."
  16. >"It's getting colder. The sooner we start the sooner we're finished." Jim adds.
  17. >"Yup. I'd like to start this week, assuming we can get materials in that soon."
  18. "Ponyville may be rural, but it's on a major route to Canterlot." you answer. "Shouldn't be too hard."
  19. >"The big one will be getting the foundation repairs underway. Those need to be done before anything else." Wally observes.
  20. >"Mhmm, and they'll be the first priority. After that, roofing and any repairs to the outer structure, including replacing that deck before it kills somepony."
  21. "It's really not that bad."
  22. >"It is, and you know it, Anonymous." a feminine voice with a particularly refined accent chides. "And I, for one, am glad to see it gone."
  23. >Rarity takes a seat across from you as a waiter clears the dishes from the others.
  24. >Gracious and sociable as always, your faithful friend slides easily into the conversation.
  25. >She quickly steers talk away from the deck, knowing the others already agree with her.
  26. >It's an art form, the way she socializes.
  27. >Being friends with her has always meant that you're well informed.
  28. >Though you know better than to think she doesn't filter that news through her own agendas.
  29. >A few drinks later Rarity's salad arrives as the others excuse themselves.
  30. >Lots to do to get the project rolling.
  31. >Waving as they leave, you take a sip of your bourbon.
  32. >"So how is your herd coming along, dear? Princess Cadence will expect results, after all."
  33. "Ugh, don't remind me. I'm busy enough between work, the house and trying to make sure I spend time with all four of the mares I have." you gripe, taking a deeper draw from your glass. "How the hell am I going to handle seven?"
  34. >"Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this supposed to be a vacation?"
  35. "It was. A leave of absence to relax." you nod sadly. "And this is fun and all, but it can be stressful."
  36. >"Well perhaps you shouldn't work so much then."
  37. "This lifestyle is going to be expensive, I've got to house and feed my mares. I dread the costs ahead if any of them want foals..."
  38. >"Hmmm, that /is/ quite a dilemma for future Anon."
  39. "I'm getting the impression you aren't entirely on my side here, Rares."
  40. >"You'd have plenty of time if you simply dropped one of your projects."
  41. "We aren't all going to fit in my Canterlot apartment." you counter. "You know this. You visited once."
  42. >"And what a telling visit it was." she rebukes. "From the dinner table covered in blueprints to the contracts sitting on your nightstand, it is abundantly clear that nopony in the history of Equestria so desperately needs a good mare in his life as you."
  43. "Oh that hurts from the mare that regularly works herself into exhaustion."
  44. >"Do not change the subject. I simply cannot believe nopony in Canterlot ever noticed. It is unacceptable! No wonder they decided you needed seven mares, those poor fillies are going to have their work cut out for them."
  45. "I think the four I have are enough trouble."
  46. >"I think you're the real trouble, Anonymous."
  47. "You aren't entirely wrong." you say as the waitress brings another bourbon.
  48. >Swirling the amber elixir briefly around the ice, you take a sip and grin at the grumpy marshmallow across the table.
  49. "But I do try my best."
  50.  
  51. >As the afternoon fades, you find yourself walking towards the outskirts of town with Rarity, she sighs and looks up at you.
  52. >"I do wish you'd focus on your herd rather than take on jobs in Canterlot."
  53. "And I wish I had the bits in the bank to focus on my herd and not have to take jobs in Canterlot." you reply. "But that simply isn't how things worked out."
  54. >"It's just that you have a tendency to develop a terrible case of tunnel vision when you're working."
  55. "Guilty as charged."
  56. >"Just try not to lose focus on your priorities."
  57. "Herd first. Then House. Then work."
  58. >"Your health and your friends should probably be on that list too."
  59. "Well, I'll see if I can squeeze them in." you chuckle.
  60. >Rarity just gives you a look.
  61. "Hey, I wasn't kidding about this whole herd thing taking up all of my time." you explain. "Rose's parents are in this weekend, and Lyra's concert is on Sunday. With my hoofball game, that means I'm booked until Monday or Tuesday."
  62. >"Oh, the concert! I had nearly forgotten! It really is lovely when Ponyville exudes enough culture to merit getting dressed up!"
  63. "Seriously? How fancy are we talking?"
  64. >"Well it's a concert, with a soloist all the way from Fillydelphia! Twilight commissioned a new dress for the occasion, and since I was already in my idea room, I started ones for myself and Fluttershy as well!"
  65. "Huh, I guess I could see that being more Fluttershy's pace." you muse.
  66. >"Let me guess. You were planning to wear one of your work suits."
  67. "Of course. My tailor is a genius, I think you'd really like her work."
  68. >"Flattery will only get you so far, Anonymous..."
  69. "But since you brought it up, I think I'll wear the black suit instead."
  70. >"That is a better idea." she hums agreeably. "Don't worry about the shirt and tie, just come by tomorrow and I'll have a new combination ready for you."
  71. >You know better than to argue, so you just nod in affirmation.
  72. >It's been a while since you wore that suit.
  73. >The Gala, probably.
  74. >It fit perfectly, like all of your suits, but this one really sharpened your silhouette.
  75. >A Rarity original, of course.
  76.  
  77. >Rarity turns off at Sweet Apple Acres, heading to pick up Sweetie Belle, while you continue on to your house.
  78. >There wasn't any good reason to be out here.
  79. >The work wouldn't start until Monday at the earliest.
  80. >You already knew the project inside and out.
  81. >Outside...
  82. >You hadn't given much thought to outside.
  83. >Admittedly, with Fall in full swing and Winter looming on the horizon, landscaping wasn't a huge priority.
  84. >But to have no plan at all... seems like a bad idea.
  85. >Particularly if the tendency of cutie marks to run in the family holds true.
  86. >You can only assume that Rose and her sisters were born to florists.
  87. >Walking through the tall grass, fallen leaves swishing around each stride, you inhale and savor the night air.
  88. >The earthy smell of the fallen leaves, the coming chill of the October night, and a hint of distant woodsmoke.
  89. >It will be easy enough to dismiss the current state of the place, you just bought it after all.
  90. >But if they ask what you had in mind, you'd like to have an answer.
  91. >Maybe you'll just say that initially you're going to restore it to how it was, and work from there.
  92. >Not a great plan, but not awful.
  93. >That would require you knowing what it used to look like though.
  94. >A clip-clopping of hooves returns your focus to the present.
  95. >Looking behind you, you can see the silhouettes of two ponies in the waning light.
  96. >One of them opens the gate as you turn around.
  97. >"I thought he walked this way with Rarity..."
  98. >"He is probably just around back."
  99. >A troublesome set of twins, it seems.
  100. "Trespassing is a crime you know." you call out, moving towards them.
  101. >They answer by shining a flashlight in your face.
  102. "Hey! With the light!"
  103. >"Sorry!" Aloe squeaks, lowering the beam.
  104. >So much for your night vision.
  105. >As you fumble forward, your foot catches on a root and sends you sprawling with an oath.
  106. >Rolling onto your back, you opt to simply lie there for a moment.
  107. >It really is peaceful out here.
  108. >"Anon? Are you okay?" Aloe asks as the girls reach you.
  109. "Yeah, I just decided that this grass is pretty comfortable." you answer. "I thought I'd lie down for a bit."
  110. >Lotus quickly drops down beside you, laying her head across your chest.
  111. >"Hmm, this /is/ pretty nice."
  112. >You just chuckle and wrap an arm around her.
  113. >Looking up expectantly at Aloe, she turns off the flashlight and curls up on your other side.
  114. "So why are you two out here so late?" you ask, pulling Aloe up against you.
  115. >"We were leaving the market and saw you and Rarity heading this way." Aloe says.
  116. >"And from how much she complains about it, we assumed you were coming out here to look at the house again." Lotus continues.
  117. >"And we were right!" Aloe adds. "Though I don't know where Rarity went..."
  118. "She went to Sweet Apple Acres to pick up her sister." you explain.
  119. >"So you came out here alone, to stare at an empty house?" Lotus prods.
  120. "Actually, I was staring at an unkempt yard."
  121. >"I thought maybe you were looking for Flitter." Aloe yawns.
  122. >"Why would she be here?" Lotus asks accusingly.
  123. >"Oh, I forget that she usually comes in on your days off." Aloe says. "She told me once that the little dock out here is where she goes to escape her sister."
  124. >"She just hides at someone's house?"
  125. "In her defense, no one has lived here in years."
  126. >"Mhm." Aloe nods. "She told me about the time you caught her out here though."
  127. "Did she tell you she was so surprised that she fell in the river?"
  128. >Aloe giggles.
  129. >"Yes, she mentioned that. She had quite a bit to say about you."
  130. >"You think she wants in?" Lotus asks.
  131. >The next thirty minutes are spent listening to the twins debate the merits of adding Flitter to your herd.
  132. >It's kind of amusing to listen to them.
  133. >Their methods were very different from yours.
  134. >While you cared about how well you got along with a pony and gave a little thought to how they might get along with the others, that was only the beginning for Aloe and Lotus.
  135. >They agreed that she was cute and quiet, but Aloe was quick to rebuff any comparison to herself.
  136. >You couldn't help but laugh with them when Aloe pointed out that she wasn't an awkward mess at all times like Flitter.
  137. >That's about when things digressed.
  138. >An analysis of her family, particularly Cloudchaser, was a bit uncomfortable.
  139. >Until recently, you hadn't given much thought to the fact that each mare brought in-laws with her.
  140. >It was a point to be considered, though it was far from a deciding factor.
  141. >As the two speculated about Flitter's finances, you felt a need to speak up.
  142. "You know that I intend to support all of you, right?"
  143. >"Of course, it's one of the many things Rarity vents to us about." Aloe chides.
  144. >"And Rose mentioned it after you took her to Canterlot." Lotus adds. "Not that I'm jealous or anything."
  145. >You turn to the blue pony and give her a quick peck on the lips.
  146. >"But I don't know where she'll get the bits for a dowry."
  147. >Seriously?
  148. >They do that still?
  149. >You're about to ask when Lotus chimes in, noting that Flitter does have a well paid job half the year.
  150. >When this weekend is over you really need to find a book (or four) about this whole herding thing.
  151. >...or you could ask Cadence when you see her.
  152. >Cadence would be faster, but you really are not looking forward to that.
  153.  
  154. >You spend a while just listening to the other two.
  155. >Eventually they quiet down.
  156. >The gentle rhythm of Aloe's breathing tells you she has fallen asleep.
  157. >Lotus, on the other hand, is slowly working her way on top of you.
  158. >She's trying to pretend she's asleep and just snuggling in.
  159. >But you're on to her games.
  160. >Scooping her up with your one arm, you push her all the way up until you're face to face with her.
  161. "Hey pretty pony." you whisper.
  162. >She nuzzles your cheek in response.
  163. "You know, if you really want to go to Canterlot, we can do that."
  164. >"I'm not really jealous." Lotus assures you. "Just don't forget about me, please?"
  165. "How could I ever forget about you?" you say, bringing your arm up to stroke her back.
  166. >"Promise?"
  167. >Your smile falters as you look into Lotus's eyes.
  168. >They're full of...concern?
  169. "I promise." you assure her.
  170.  
  171. >Later that night you head down the stairs after tucking Aloe into bed.
  172. >After carrying her all the way home.
  173. >She is an incredibly sound sleeper it seems.
  174. >Lotus is at the door, waiting for you.
  175. >Kneeling, you wrap her in a hug.
  176. "You know, Canterlot is kind of overdone. Why don't we check out some place else?"
  177. >"I hear that Vanhoover is beautiful in the Winter."
  178. "And cold."
  179. >"I think we'll be able to keep warm."
  180. >You just laugh.
  181. >This mare.
  182.  
  183. >Thursday morning dawns bright and clear, and you can smell something cooking downstairs.
  184. >Spike must want something.
  185. >Content to wait and see what it is, you hop in the shower.
  186. >Thinking over your meetings yesterday leaves you pretty confident that the house project is finally underway and on schedule.
  187. >Not that there's much of a schedule at this point.
  188. >But still.
  189. >It's moving along.
  190. >Humming a tune from Earth, you proceed to dry off, shave and dress yourself.
  191. >You're feeling pretty good about today.
  192. >With a little luck, you'll finish the load calculations for the first greenhouse today, and can get that sent to the Ironworkers.
  193. >And then maybe you could spin by the spa and pick up one of the twins to go to dinner tonight.
  194. >Seeing as Rose is going to monopolize a lot of this weekend with her parents visiting, and then Lyra's concert is coming up on Sunday, you feel it's only fair.
  195. >Taking a seat at your desk, you pull out your work and dive into those calculations.
  196. >Now if only Spike would hurry up and at least bring some coffee.
  197.  
  198. >About half an hour later, you hear the door open in the other room.
  199. "Morning, Spike." you call, not looking up. "What's up?"
  200. >"Does Spike usually make your breakfast?" a decidedly feminine voice responds.
  201. >Rose?
  202. >"Rose?" you ask, putting aside your work.
  203. >Your marefriend trots into the room with a tray full of breakfast precariously balanced on her back.
  204. >How these Earth ponies manage things like that is beyond science to explain.
  205. >Getting to your feet, you take the tray off of her, and usher her into the sitting room.
  206. >Syrup and blueprints don't mix.
  207. >You're embarrassed to admit that you learned that one the hard way.
  208. >Celestia just laughed when you explained why you needed new copies made of some of the MEP drawings.
  209. >Shaking the memory from your head, you find a pitcher of orange juice sitting on the coffee table next to some glasses.
  210. >Did she sneak in here earlier...?
  211. >These ponies baffle you sometimes.    
  212. >Especially morning times.
  213. >A lot of things baffle you in the morning.
  214. "So what's the occasion?" you ask, dropping into the loveseat.
  215. >Rose hops up into the spot next to you, and leans in.
  216. >Staring up at you, she places a playful kiss on your cheek.
  217. >"A mare can't make breakfast for her coltfriend?"
  218. >While you can't say you aren't enjoying this, something seems...off.
  219. >Rose isn't like this.
  220. >Lyra is like this.
  221. >Maybe even Lotus, if you threw in a dash more playfulness.
  222. >But Rose isn't.
  223. >Rose is calm and collected and sarcastic.
  224. "Well, I won't argue with that." you say, cutting into a stack of pancakes.
  225. >Mmm!
  226. "The pecans are a nice touch."
  227. >"It's my mom's recipe. She's an amazing cook."
  228. "Well it seems like she's rubbed off on somepony, and I have to say, I'm impressed."   
  229. >"I'm glad you think so. So what are you doing today?"
  230. "Well, I'm having breakfast with my marefriend, and then I was planning to get a small project finished so I'll be free to spend time with her and her parents tomorrow."
  231. >"What project?"
  232. "Oh, just some structural stuff for the botanical gardens."
  233. >"So not any sort of rush?"
  234. "Well, like I said, I'm planning to be a bit busy tomorrow and all weekend, but I guess it could wait until Monday." you say, mulling it over. "Why? Do you have something in mind?"
  235. >"My Mom called last night. She's coming in early."
  236. "Oh, hmmm. Well, how early?"
  237. >"She's in the kitchen right now."
  238. >Your chewing slowly comes to a halt.
  239. >Looking down at the pancakes, you start to understand.
  240. "You didn't cook these, did you?"
  241. >"It was her idea."
  242. "I have been betrayed." you moan dramatically, clutching your heart.
  243. >Slumping back against the loveseat, you look over at Roseluck, who stares back at you.
  244. "Well, invite her up! Or would you rather use the big table downstairs?"
  245. >"You aren't upset?"
  246. "Did you plan on her coming in early?"
  247. >"No. She just wanted to see me and my sisters."
  248. "If it isn't your fault, how can I possibly be mad?"
  249. >Rose's ears perk up adorably.
  250. >You hadn't even noticed that they were laid down.
  251. >But you think you understand why she seemed off today.
  252. >It's because she was nervous.
  253. >Roseluck, nervous!
  254. >Ridiculous.
  255. >You want to make a good impression, but her dad is the one you expect to be hard to win over.
  256. "Just your mom is down there? I thought your dad was coming this weekend too?"
  257. >"He still has his job, and couldn't get the time off. He'll be here tomorrow afternoon."
  258. "Sounds good."
  259. >"Are we eating downstairs or up here?"
  260. "This is a castle, and you're the princess, so you tell me."
  261. >Rose turns your head to face her.
  262. >Rubbing your cheek gently, she looks into your eyes.
  263. >"We're eating here." she says "And that joke was terrible."
  264.  
  265. >While Rose goes downstairs to grab her mother, you take a moment to straighten up the place.
  266. >And also add a splash to vodka to your OJ... just a little to calm the nerves.
  267. >Recently your work has spread itself all over your apartment.
  268. >Spec Docs, Bid Quotes, Permit Applications...
  269. >The mess made sense to you, but to an outsider it just looked cluttered.
  270. >So in a whirlwind of motion, you gather up two armfuls of scattered paperwork and transfer them to your office.
  271. >Dumping them without ceremony on your desk, you enter just as the two mares return.
  272. >"Anon? This is my mom, Lilac."
  273. >The lavender mare stares up at you for a second...
  274. >"He's so tall!" she squeals to Rose, who grins back at you sheepishly.
  275. "Nice to meet you?"
  276. >"Let's just eat." Rose says, pushing her mother towards the little table.
  277.  
  278. >"Sorry Anon, Rosey told me all about you already and even sent a picture, but, well, it just didn't do you justice!"
  279. "No worries. I've gotten used to it." you reassure her. "What else did Rose tell you?"
  280. >Architect. Canterlot. Romantic. Hoofball.
  281. >Yeah, that's a fair assessment assuming she didn't want to send her parents a hundred page dissertation.
  282. "I'd say she did a good job." you say. "Maybe a little overglorified."
  283. >"I just told the truth." Rose counters.
  284. >You plan to continue waving it off as what any good boyfriend, er, coltfriend, would do.
  285. >But pancakes first.
  286. >"Oh I remember the first time your father took me on a trip! I'm so happy it's finally happening for you Rosey!"
  287. >"What ever shall you do without nagging me about finding a nice colt?"
  288. >"I'll pester Lily and Daisy, of course!" Lilac smiles gleefully. "After the wedding, that is. I can't wait to help you two plan!"
  289. >A bit of pancake goes down the wrong pipe and you sputter for a moment.
  290. >Grabbing your juice you're able to recompose yourself as Rose gives your usual explanations.
  291. >"So it's going to be a long time?" Lilac asks sadly.
  292. "There's a lot to talk about, when it comes to the timing given the circumstances." you say, watching Rose out of the corner of your eye. "But don't worry. It'll happen."
  293. >Roseluck's head whips around at this, staring at you with the widest eyes you've ever seen.
  294. >You can't help but throw your head back and laugh at her reaction.
  295. >You wrap an arm around her and give her a quick squeeze.
  296. "More orange juice, Miss Lilac?"
  297.  
  298. >Not wanting to spend all day inside, your merry trio embarks on a walk around town.
  299. >"You're living in the castle?" Rose's mother asks. "Are you seeing the Princess as well?"
  300. >You knew she would ask.
  301. "Nope, we're just friends. I have a home I recently purchased, but it's set to undergo renovations starting this week."
  302. >"Is it a big place?"
  303. "Every mare will have her own room, and there will be land to allow for...additions."
  304. >Stopping at Bonbon's stall, Rose orders a few things.
  305. >"What's the catch?" the older mare asks, looking seriously up at you.
  306. "Well the catch is it needs a ton of work, like I said-"
  307. >"No, with you."
  308. >"Mom!"
  309. "No catch, once you get past the fact that I'm the only human in Equestria."
  310. >She looks at you, then the ground as she thinks, and then back at you.
  311. >"I want to be a grandmother, Anonymous."
  312. >Rose buries her face in the counter with a groan as Bonbon snickers from the register.
  313. "Celestia seems confident that modern medicine can make that happen. I asked the same question before I ever started building a herd."
  314. >Reaching into your bit purse, you lay a few coins on the counter.
  315. "Let's go check in on your sisters, eh?"
  316.  
  317. >Once at the house shared by the Flower Sisters, a lot of the pressure is taken off of Rose.
  318. >The two of you can just sit on the couch and let the other two take the brunt of Lilac's enthusiasm for a while.
  319. >Daisy, being next oldest, appears to be the next target.
  320. >Not that Lily is spared much.
  321. "So when do we tell her that the house will have an in-law suite?"
  322. >"I don't think she can handle that much excitement." Rose yawns, pushing herself up against you. "Let's wait until the place is finished. I didn't even know work had started."
  323. "It hasn't. We had the first meeting yesterday, they'll start work as soon as they can get materials."
  324. >"When will it be done?"
  325. "I'm hoping by Hearthswarming."
  326. >"That would be really nice."
  327. "You could fit a really big tree in that entry hall."
  328. >"I think just simple wreaths and bunting would work well on that house. Maybe some bows. Not anything flashy or showy, but simple."
  329. "Stately."
  330. >"Mhmm."
  331. "You're gonna be a great homemaker. I can tell."
  332. >"Now who's in a rush?" Rose smirks.
  333. "Your mother, clearly."
  334. >"Don't encourage her."
  335. "I think she's delightful."
  336. >"She seems to like you."
  337. "Do you like me?"
  338. >"Mhmm."
  339. "That's what counts." you say, wrapping an arm around her as the others return from the garden.
  340. >"Ugh, stop the cute couple act. Mom's here." Daisy groans, rolling her eyes.
  341. >"You're just grumpy because /you/ don't have a hot hoofball player coltfriend." Lily teases.
  342. "I could set you up with our tight end, I'm pretty sure Dusty's single."
  343. >Daisy throws herself into the other corner of the couch and attempts to smother herself with a pillow.
  344. >Rose just looks at her sister and laughs.
  345.  
  346. >It's long after dinner when you're finally able to excuse yourself and head home.
  347. >The Flower mares are certainly a lively bunch, and fun to be around.
  348. >And you were able to pick up a little bit about Rose's dad.
  349. >He owns a small landscaping company, big-hearted and gregarious, a guy's guy.
  350. >They assure you that you don't need to worry about him.
  351. >And Rose adds that if Mom likes you, Dad will like you.
  352. >When you lay down in bed, that knowledge helps you fall quickly asleep.
  353.  
  354. >You spend all morning Friday plowing through the calculations you had planned to finish Thursday.
  355. >Rose's father, Snap, wasn't due in until after one o'clock, and Rose had let you off the hook until then.
  356. >Straightening up at half past noon, work completed, you bundle the documents up and head out the door.
  357. >Another beautiful autumn day greets you, with sunshine, crisp air and a light breeze.
  358. >Perfect.
  359. >The weather was something that took some getting used to when you came to Equestria.
  360. >Severe weather was rare, and bad weather was contained to blocks of days and only used when needed.
  361. >So instead of the usual gloom of a Midwestern October, you got a month chock full of Autumn glory.
  362. >Breathing deep, you exhale and head into town with a smile.
  363. >You stop at the post office to ship your days work to the engineering firm in Canterlot, and then proceed to Phyllo's stall in the market.
  364. >A large, fresh quiche in hand, you acquire a few pastries from the only bakery worth stopping at and then make a bee line to the north side.
  365. >A soothing mix of herbal and floral scents greet you as the bell overhead announces your arrival.
  366. >Aloe looks up from her magazine and is around the counter a moment later.
  367. >"Anon! I haven't seen you in a while!"
  368. "It hasn't been that long, but I know. I missed you too."
  369. >"You brought lunch?"
  370. "I did."
  371. >"If you keep bringing me food, I'm going to get fat." she pouts, "Come on."
  372.  
  373. >Following Aloe into the back break room, you locate the necessary utensils to cut the quiche.
  374. >Aloe sets out three plates, and starts some tea.
  375. "I'm glad to see you back on your hooves."
  376. >Aloe offers a small smile as she lifts some food onto your plate.
  377. >"It was so nice of you to come by, sorry if I was kind of sleepy."
  378. "You had every right to be sleepy, and I needed to take care of my marefriend. That's what a gentlecolt does."
  379. >"Who was that mare I saw you and Rose with yesterday?"
  380. "Ah, that would be her mother. Her father is coming in later today."
  381. >"Mmm, that's a good idea." she muses. "I should write to mama and papa."
  382. "I regret saying anything."
  383. >"Our parents aren't that bad, Anon. They're just...different."
  384. "What does that even mean?"
  385. >"You know we moved here from Stalliongrad, it's just a different culture."
  386. "Hmm, right. Well, let's plan that out so you and Lotus can give me a crash course before I meet them, okay?"
  387. >"That's a good plan." Aloe says, taking a tiny bite of her lunch. "And it would be a great reason just to see you."
  388. "You don't need a reason to come by, Aloe."
  389. >She just offers a smile in response.
  390. >"Sounds like an invitation." a similar, yet faintly different, voice says from behind you.
  391. >A pair of blue hooves wrap around your neck as Lotus nuzzles the side of your head.
  392. "Hey pretty pony, I missed you too."
  393. >"I was starting to wonder. Or maybe you're just after my sister?"
  394. "You are the worst." you say, bending over to give her a quick peck on the lips. "And I am in your chair, here, let me-"
  395. >"No no. You just stay there." she says, hopping onto your lap.
  396. >What follows is a very awkward lunch.
  397. >Not conversationally, Aloe and Lotus are always a joy to be around.
  398. >It is just hard to eat with a mare in your lap.
  399.  
  400. >The time passes too quickly, as always these days, and you find yourself at the door.
  401. >Taking a knee, you wrap an arm around each of them and pull them into a quick hug.
  402. "I'll be around more after this weekend. Things have just been kind of hectic lately."
  403. >"We know." Aloe smiles.
  404. >"And now we know that your door is always open." Lotus adds with a wink.
  405. >You tousle her mane as you stand.
  406. "Alright. I'll see you two later."
  407. >Turning, you show yourself out.
  408.  
  409. >Striding down the street you check the time.
  410. >Fifteen minutes until Rose's father arrives, and the station is five minutes way.
  411. >Perfect.
  412. >Enough time to make it there without having to rush.
  413. >The short walk is quick and uneventful.
  414. >And when you make your way onto the platform, it is easy to spot Rose and Lilac.
  415. "Am I presentable?"
  416. >"You're fine." Rose assures you.
  417. >"Oh don't you worry." Lilac agrees. "Snap is harmless."
  418. "If you say so."
  419. >Moments later a whistle heralds the imminent arrival of the 1:30 from Fillydelphia.
  420. >As the cloud of steam disappates, the doors open and you immediately know which one is Roseluck's father.
  421. >Same shade of mane, slightly more golden coat, garden trowel cutie mark.
  422. >Rose runs up to the stallion and wraps him in a hug as Lilac joins them.
  423. >You rise to your feet, but do not join them in hugging Rose's dad.
  424. >What did they call him again?
  425. >Pretty sure Lilac called him Snap, but is that a nickname?
  426. >Hmmm.
  427. >Rose leads her parents over to you.
  428. >"So mom already met him, but dad, I think you can guess that this is Anon."
  429. >You extend a hand.
  430. "Anonymous. It's great to meet you."
  431. >"Snapdragon." he says, shaking your hand. "Rose has told us good things."
  432. >There's an awkward pause before Lilac jumps in.
  433. >"Well let's not stand around here all afternoon!"
  434. >"Back to the house then?" Rose offers.
  435. >Both you and Snap nod, and the party ventures forth.
  436.  
  437. >Back at the house, Rose makes some coffee and Daisy sets a pitcher of lemonade out.
  438. >Lily produces a plate of cookies from somewhere.
  439. >Lilac hands a cup of coffee to Snap and joins him on the loveseat.
  440. >After being told there's nothing you can help with, you take a seat on the couch.
  441. "So Lilac said you couldn't join us yesterday because of work?" you say, trying to strike up a conversation.
  442. >Snapdragon snorts into his coffee.
  443. >"My company has more business than I can handle sometimes."
  444. "Well that's a good thing, isn't it?"
  445. >"It's great! We're growing, hiring on more staff all the time, but it does make it hard to get away some times."
  446. "It's a landscaping company isn't it? So things will calm down soon?"
  447. >"Yeah, it'll slow down after the leaves fall, but we pick up a lot of snow removal jobs in the Winter so I don't have to lay anypony off."
  448. "But it gives you more time at home?"
  449. >"It does. And I'm looking forward to it." he says, leaning back into the cushions. "Now Rose told me you're an architect, right?"
  450. "That is correct."
  451. >"Is there a lot of work for that in Ponyville?"
  452. >"Dear, he hasn't done any work in Ponyville."
  453. >"But he lives in Ponyville."
  454. "I came here to get away from work for a while."
  455. >"So you're not staying here in Ponyville?"
  456. "No, I'm staying. I've recently bought a house here. I plan to stay."
  457. >"Okay. So do you think there will be work here for you? Ponyville is a pretty small place-"
  458. >"You're not wrong about that." you say, taking a drink.
  459. >Before you can continue Snap cuts back in.
  460. >"I mean, have you considered moving to a larger city?"
  461. >"Oh stop it, Snap!" Lilac chides.
  462. >"I just think he might find more work in FIllydelphia."
  463. >"What did I miss?" Rose asks, taking a seat next to you.
  464. "Your dad thinks we should move to Fillydelphia."
  465. >"Dad!"
  466. >"What? I know I'm not wrong, there's bound to be bigger and better clients in Fillydelphia!"
  467. "Yes and no. Bigger and better than Ponyville, yes. But I-"
  468. >"Anon is the fanciest architect in Canterlot!" Daisy butts in.
  469. >"He even knows the princesses!" Lily adds, taking the last seat on the couch.
  470. >You close your eyes and take a deep breath.
  471. "I don't know about fanciest, but yes, I do regularly work for the Crown."
  472. >"See Snappy? He's doing just fine right here."
  473. >"Okay okay, Filly can't compete with that." he concedes. "And don't call me that."
  474. "Of course, just because the most recent projects have all been in Canterlot doesn't mean they all will be." you offer. "I happen to know that the princesses are looking at projects in the Crystal Empire, Baltimare and, yes, in Fillydelphia."
  475. >"Well how does that work?" Daisy asks, pulling a chair into the room.
  476. >"Well you see Daisy, Celestia and Luna happen to rule /all/ of Equestria, not just Canterlot." Rose quips.
  477. >"No not that!" Daisy huffs over the laughter. "I mean, how can Anon work in all of those cities while living here with you?"
  478. >All eyes on you again.
  479. "It's a fair question." you reply, setting down your glass. "The house I've bought has a room I will use as a home office, and in time I may set up an office in town with a real staff and everything."
  480. >"But I read in the paper that you like to supervise hands on?" Lily pries.
  481. "It's true. I will probably have to travel quite a bit, and I suspect that's part of why the princesses assigned me such a large herd. So they could self-support while I'm away."
  482. >You can see that the answer has left something to be desired, and quickly move to spin it.
  483. "But as Rose can attest, I don't mind double-dipping business and pleasure. If I happen to be working in Fillydelphia, there's no reason I wouldn't bring her along."
  484. >It's an improvement, but you can tell that you traveling for work doesn't sit well with Snap and Lilac.
  485. >Ah well, it was better than lying to them.
  486. >There's a brief pause, and Snapdragon looks you in the eye.
  487. >"But you said you've got a house here? And you're going to do most of the work from home?"
  488. "Absolutely." you nod.
  489. >"Well, just keep your priorities straight and you'll be fine." he says, seeming content with your answer.
  490. >"You said you bought a house?" Lilac asks, eager to move off the subject.
  491. >"More like a haunted house." Daisy mumbles under her breath.
  492. >"What was that?" Snap asks, leaning forward.
  493. >"Nothing, nothing dad." Lily says through a giggle fit.
  494. >Rose rolls her eyes as her dad looks around.
  495. >"Anon /just/ bought it last week, and it needs work."
  496. "A big old place on the outskirts of town." you explain. "But it hasn't been occupied in a while, which is why Rose says it needs work and Daisy called it a haunted house."
  497. >"I don't know why you didn't get a place in town." Lily says.
  498. "I had several requirements but two of the most important were rooms for all of my mares, and also space so that...additional bedrooms can be added down the road."
  499. >"Such foresight!" Lilac bursts.
  500. >"Hopefully your coltfriend thinks that far ahead." Rose says, looking at Lily.
  501. >"You have a coltfriend?" Snap asks, head whipping around.
  502. >"No dad, no. Rose is just making fun of me." Lily says defensively. "Why don't we go see this ruin Anon bought."
  503.  
  504. >Leading the way down the road, Rose gives them the rundown on the house.
  505. >Which is good.
  506. >You get a little overenthusiastic about it.
  507. >Rose keeps expectations low.
  508. >Which is good.
  509. >Because the house is a husk of its former self still.
  510. >Dropping into step next to Snapdragon, you lean in.
  511. "I hope the girls aren't fighting because of me."
  512. >He lets out a hearty laugh and shakes his head.
  513. >"They just do that sometimes. Sisters, ya know? They're always going at each other, but it's harmless."
  514. >As you get closer, you can hear quite a bit of noise.
  515. >And as you round the bend and the house comes into view, you can see that preliminary demolition crews are starting.
  516. >Jim's guy moves fast.
  517. >You like that.
  518. >Opening the gate, you let your merry band into the yard.
  519. >Asking one of the workers, he points you to the foreman.
  520. >A quick conversation and he goes to tell all his workers to take fifteen.
  521. >Rose lets you walk the group through the house, explaining your vision.
  522. >Painting a Word Picture.
  523. >Totally redoing the kitchen.
  524. >A huge dining room.
  525. >Space to work from home.
  526. >Lot's of bedrooms with room to add more.
  527. >You carefully pick your words, playing on themes of family.
  528. >Running up against the clock, you make your way out the back doors into the yard.
  529. >When you admit that your only plan for the moment is to restore it, Lilac and her daughters immediately begin tittering with suggestions and ideas.
  530. >Such and such beds here, a something or other tree there...
  531. >You and Snapdragon stand under the shade of an oak tree and watch them go.
  532. >"So tell me Anon, how did you meet my Roseluck?"
  533. "Truthfully? I took a wrong turn in the forest and asked her for directions."
  534. >He chuckles.
  535. >"She's the best daughter I could have asked for. And I mean that. Smart, responsible... she never even made a fuss when she was a baby. The other two were little hellions when they were in diapers."
  536. >You look over to him, but he keeps watching the mares rush to and fro in the yard.
  537. >"I'm not worried. If she thinks you're worth it, well, I trust her judgment."
  538. "I won't disappoint you."
  539. >He meets your gaze and offers a small nod.
  540. >"You mentioned you were told to build a herd?"
  541. "Yes, I have my orders from Canterlot" you sigh.
  542. >"You don't sound happy about it." he comments.
  543. "What I wanted was a few months to recuperate."
  544. >"Ha! You'll get no rest with just one mare around, let alone a group of them!"
  545. "Don't I know it." you smile. "Between them and work I'm being run ragged."
  546. >"Don't be so down on the idea, lemme tell you, having multiple mares has its perks."
  547. "Mares are expensive though. That's why I'm working so much."
  548. >"Rose seems to think it's your fault that you're working so much."
  549. "She has floated a few ideas by me, but I feel that it's my job to be the breadwinner."
  550. >"I can appreciate that. It's old-fashioned and stallionly and I get it." he answers. "But that isn't all you've got going on."
  551. "That's true, I also play in a local hoofball league, and I'm very involved in this house project."
  552. >The two of you watch as the gaggle of mares explores the boathouse.
  553. "Hoofball season is over soon, and the house is slated to be finished by Hearthswarming."
  554. >"So a Spring wedding?"
  555. >You sigh and launch into a quick rendition of your pony-vs-human dating timeline spiel.
  556. >Snapdragon listens attentively.
  557. "But to answer your question, within the next year. I need to decide if I want to do a bunch of separate weddings or one giant wedding."
  558. >The stallion smirks.
  559. >"You think you're the one making that decision?"
  560. "Well..."
  561. >"Don't get me wrong, as the herd stallion, it technically /is/ your decision." he clarifies "But you're never going to hear the end of it if you go against your mares."
  562. "That... makes sense."
  563. >"Of course, you could always marry Roseluck and then add more as they come." He suggests. "I married Laurel five years after I married Lilac."
  564. "That's right...you've got another wife and two daughters with her, right?"
  565. >"Mhm. But those two are still school age, so they're at home with their mother."
  566. "I don't know anything about herding." you admit. "It just wasn't a thing where I come from."
  567. >"I don't want to influence how you run your family too much." Snap replies. "Every herd is different, different families have different traditions."
  568. "Huh, learn something new every day. So do a lot of families have traditions about herding?"
  569. >"You betcha. So I don't want to influence you too much -if Lilac found out I told you how to do things I'd never hear the end of it, from her AND Roseluck- but if you ever need advice, give us a call."
  570. "Thanks, Snap."
  571. >"But like I said, don't tell Lilac."
Herd Herding Hawkeye

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