Dinky slowly trotted down the steps after her bath, if what she'd just experienced could be called that. At this inn, a bathtub seemed to be a large metal tub usually used to hold fruit that had been filled with almost hot water. But it had been enough to get the grime out of her hair, and the light peach scent from the harvest gave her a pleasant enough scent to her hair, mane and tail.
Stretching her sore body slightly, the teen mare looked about the inn to see it had filled with some more guests. In the corner sat four griffons, their large bodies casting a shadow from the light of the setting sun as they played a round of cards. At a table next to the door, an elderly pair of pegasi sat nibbling on a salad together with a look of love for each other still shining in each other's eyes.
And by the bar, a colt no older than her sat with a lute tuning it likely in the hopes of earning a night's rest.
The older teen mare chuckled to herself, then paused in her tracks. A scent was wafting across a nose... A scent that seemed to her like home. Growing up, she'd smelled that scent every day when she came home from school. Every day her mother made one thing best of all, and that was the scent she could smell filling the inn now. The scent of muffins.
Dinky began to sniff the air deeper, a smile crossing her muzzle as she trotted up to the counter to look at Freestone Peach behind it. "Excuse me, Sir," she began in a nervous tone. "But, did you bake some muffins to go with dinner tonight?"
The orange colt looked at the unicorn patron and shook his head, his yellow mane falling down across his withers as a pleasant smile crossed his muzzle. "Why no miss, that's a kitchen helper I just hired a few days ago. He doesn't talk much, but he's a mite fine help in the kitchen."
Dinky's face paled in shock, the filly stumbling back a bit as her heart quickens its pace. 'It couldn't be...' she thought to herself. She then shook her head and smiled. "Well, they smell so good! Would you mind if I look in the kitchen to thank the cook for what is sure to be a wonderful meal?"
The earth pony shrugged his withers and nodded. "Well, it can't cause any harm. Just don't bug him too much, we got a lot more guests coming in, an' he's gotta finish gettin' dinner ready!"
Dinky nodded and smiled. "I will try, thank you!" A smile brightened on her muzzle as the thought her journey may soon be at an end. Ducking around the counter, the mare slipped into the back kitchen with a flick of her tail.
The small kitchen took the unicorn mare by surprise by how full it was of food and cooking implements. Yet, despite the large amount of things in the kitchen, everything seemed spotless and clean. She heard the sound of sizzling, and the scent of cooking spinach mingled and danced in her nostrils with the intensifying scent of muffins fresh from the oven. Creeping around a counter, she stopped in shock.
There, in front of the oven using magic to cook several dishes at once, was her father. He looked older, his mane and tail were a lot longer, and his body looked to be a bit scarred in places. But that muffin cutie mark on his golden-haired flank was a dead giveaway. Dinky couldn't hold back her excitement, and with a loud yell called out, "DADDY!"
Bran Muffin turned his head, his ears flicking in curiosity as he turned to see the young mare standing in the kitchen. He paused, tilting his head questioningly as his eyes took on a bewildered look.
Dinky stepped out of the shadows more, the light from Celestia's sunset passing through the window to illuminate her young form as a smile crossed her muzzle. Raising her forehooves, she began the final test to make for sure it was him. She began to speak with her hooves. 'Daddy, it's me! Dinky Doo! I searched so long to find you after all these years and bring you home!'
A look of recognition crossed the older stallion's muzzle as he read the hooves before galloping forward, the male catching his daughter up in the tightest of hugs as tears began streaming down his face in relief. Dinky felt tears filling her own eyes at the relief her journey was finally over. She'd found her father.
Freestone trotted into the kitchen, a worried look upon his muzzle as he rounded the counter's corner to see the two hugging and crying. "Is-is everything okay?"
Dinky looked up, a relieved smile on her muzzle as she nodded feverishly. "Yes, by Celestia, yes! Sir, this is my father whom I've spent the past few weeks looking for. He's been missing for so long, we feared he was dead." She turned back towards Bran and smiled. "But now I can take him home... Oh, Mom is going to be so happy!"
Freestone sighed softly and shook his head. "Aw, I can't keep a daughter from her father. Quiet, have the night off. I'll finish up dinner in here, you go catch up with y'er kin, all right?"
Bran Muffin nodded, standing up and nuzzling Dinky before making some quick motions with his forelegs.
Dinky nodded and turned to Freestone. "Um, Dad says his name's Bran Muffin, and he's thankful you let him work here."
The earth pony nodded and smiled at the pair. "Aw, that's all right. We Peaches help out travelers when we can. Now git on out of here... I'm sure you both gotta lot of catching up to do." The pair nodded and galloped out of the kitchen as the earth pony watched, then turned to the stove. "Hmmm, seems like Quiet-I mean Bran Muffin dang near finished dinner already. Nothing left to do but just watch and relax. Mmm, I love my life at times. Always a new story starting or ending at the Two Tree Inn..."
Dinky and Bran sat in the inn's main room across from each other, both too nervous to say anything. The mare had so much she had to do! She had to write her mother, she had to arrange transport home, and she had to find out the one question burning inside her heart still. Looking up with a nervous look in her eyes, her forehooves trembled as she tried several times to try to say something - only to realize she didn't even know where to begin.
Bran let out a heavy sigh, seeing his daughter so grown up and looking so confused. Raising his hooves, he began first. 'My word, Dinky. I haven't seen you since you were three years old. And look at you now. You look about to enter finishing school! But, how did you ever learn hoof language?'
Dinky blushed as her hooves responding in kind. 'Mom taught me every night after she told me about you. She told me when I was thirteen, and she spent the next two years teaching me as I prepared myself physically and mentally to come find you.'
Bran shook his head as a sad look crossed his eyes. 'Twelve years away from you and your mother, and not a day didn't go by that I didn't think on you both.'
Dinky leaned forward, an urgent look in her eyes as she slammed her left forehoof on the table. Blinking away tears, she motioned with her hooves again. 'Then where were you? Why didn't you come home!? Didn't you know how much you being gone hurt mom? Or hurt me? Every other filly and colt had two parents growing up. I just had mom, and half the time I felt like the parent. It wasn't fair!'
The older unicorn stallion slipped off his stool and trotted around, resting a forehoof on his daughter's left shoulder gently as he shook his head. 'No, it isn't fair,' his hooves began as they
danced their words in the air. 'Trust me, I tried so many times to get home. But I was being held against my will by a tribe of Diamond Dogs. They kept me for slave labor and to tend after the elderly. It was only after the tribe's mutiny against the males in change that I was finally released. After getting lost in the wilderness for a month, I came across the Two Tree Inn, and I started working here to save up enough to make the trip home to the family I missed with all my heart.'
The purple-grey unicorn sat there, reading her father's hooves as she shook her head. 'I have money, dad. If you want, we can continue on tomorrow to Fillydelphia, send a letter to mom that I found you, and then catch the next pegasus chariot home.'
Bran shook his head in disbelief. 'But, how can you afford to get a pegasus chariot? Those are so expensive!'
Dinky just smiled softly. 'I have a friend who is a retired Wonderbolts flier. I'm sure with her help I can bring the price down to something we can afford.'
Bran paused for a moment, then gave a nod. 'Well, then we better eat up and hit the sack early. It sounds like we're in for a long day tomorrow trotting towards Fillydelphia.'
Dinky suddenly lunged forward, her forehooves gripping her father's neck as she hugged him in relief. "Thank you for staying alive, dad. Thanks for staying around until I could get you home." Bran just hugged her back, tears brimming in his own eyes as he nodded silently. Sometimes words aren't needed, and this was just such an occasion. All that was needed was a silent hug back for a filly who just missed the dad she needed in her life for too long.
Ditzy Doo trotted back and forth in front of the Sugarcube Corner, the grey pegasus looking up into the sky every few seconds as she had since the day began. Mrs. Cup Cake and Hairspray both trotted out of the store, and Mrs. Cake laid a hoof onto Ditzy's withers gently. "Ditzy, please stop this pacing! We're all excited, but they'll be here soon. The chariot's supposed to arrive at noon, and it's never late!"
Hairspray nodded as she rested on Ditzy's other side. "Yeah sis, you need to calm down! Look, your hair's a mess, and I spent all yesterday on it to make it look so perfect for Dinky & Bran's return celebration!" The pink earth pony whipped out a comb as she tsked. "Hold still, let me fix your mane real quick..."
But Ditzy paid no mind, her face looking up to the sky as her eyes brightened with joy. Lifting a forehoof into the air, she suddenly screamed, "MY MUFFINS!!!" Mrs. Cake and Hairspray turned, looking up towards the sky as Quarterback and Mr. Carrot Cake spilled from the store to see what the ruckus was. As the group looked up into the sky, they could see the chariot spiraling slowly down towards the plaza before landing before them - kicking up a cloud of dust as it did so.
Leaping off the back of the chariot, Dinky Doo and Bran Muffin gave a wave. But before they made it more than a hoofstep forward, Ditzy Doo zipped through the air to tackle them both in a tight hug, tears streaming from her eyes as she nuzzled them both. "My muffins... Buth my muffins are home for good!"
Dinky and Bran's eyes began to spring tears, as well, as they hugged Ditzy back just as tightly. Mr. and Mrs. Cake held each other as their adopted son long thought dead was finally home, whilst Quarterback rested a foreleg around Hairspray's withers as the other couple watched.
Finally, Bran Muffin pulled back from the hug and began to move his hooves at Ditzy. 'There's something I've been waiting for twelve years to do, Ditzy.' Slipping forward, his hooves wrapped about the pegasus' neck in a hug as his muzzle met hers in a long, deep kiss. Ditzy kissed back just as hard for a bit before breaking the kiss. 'Muffin, little muffin here! Wait until tonight and we can kiss more! For now, party inside with muffins and hugs to celebrate family whole again!"
Dinky blushed, the young mare knowing what would likely happen at home that night. "Mom, I _think_ I'll stay here at the Sugarcube Corner tonight, all right? But for now, let's go in and party!" As the happy trio trotted towards the rest of the gathered ponies, the entire extended family all gathered around with happy smiles to hear what had happened, as well as to welcome home Bran Muffin.
As the group all walked into the store to celebrate, Dinky Doo paused for a moment outside to look over her shoulder towards Canterlot's mountain on the horizon. "Thank you, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. Thank you for helping me make my family whole again." Then, with a swish of her tail, the purplish-grey unicorn dashed inside to join the celebrations.