“...but ohmigawsh, that was the funniest thing I'd seen in, like, evar!”
“Heh. Yeah, yeah...it was pretty funny, wasn't it?"
If misery is your sense of humor.
“I never thought that, like, a tree could be funneh...but then you came in and just, like, made it work, lawl!”
“Yeah, I sure did...so what were you looking for, again?”
Besides an excuse to find Big Mac, I'm guessing?
“Wha? OH! Yeah yeah, I need to, like, find that Macintosh guy, and I heard you usually know where he is, so...?”
The gum chewing mare gave her best eyelash-flash to Caramel as he weighed his options. His decision? Lie.
“He's probably out in the fields right now. The Cup's over, so you could—”
“Okay, thanks much, buhbye!” She trotted off toward what she must have thought were the fields.
He never learned her name. He never wanted to learn her name, whatever variation of 'I'm a spoiled brat who doesn't care how Ponyville was flipped on its head' it was. Why did he seek her out? All he really wanted to do was to go inside and relax for the rest of the day.
A very tired Caramel looked around the ancient barn: the same musty, slightly decayed wood as it was before. He was grateful it was left alone amid all the changes. Ultimately, the Oranges allocated a few spaces to be set aside for...nothing, because they were “terminally unattractive.” It suited his mood if nothing else; he just wasn't up for attending the nighttime events, or any events for the next few days. Maybe not ever again; what was the point?
His limbs still sluggish and weak, the failed athlete made his way to a broken hay bale and collapsed on top of it. The evening sun cast rays inside, giving the hay an ethereal red shine against his beige hide. All he could do was stare at the ceiling in a haze, occasionally rolling over to count the rings in the wooden walls...again. Every now and then, he fumbled with the strands of his disgusting hair, trying to force them back into his usual hairstyle. He stank even worse than before, but there wasn't anything he could do about that.
He had absolutely no idea what to do now. None.
The defeated pony jumped at the sound of Big Macintosh knocking at the door. It must have been him because the force of the knocking made the barn shake, obviously despite the knocker's intentions. He put on the best smile he could muster and teetered his way to the barn doors. He made himself open them.
The monstrous, handsome, unpredictable, maddening, possibly evil farm pony looked...tired, oddly enough. He was in top form in the Cup, sweeping the games effortlessly, but now he had shadows under his eyes and something pink smeared on the right side of his face. When Caramel looked at it, Big Mac did the same and frowned. Perhaps he couldn't get it off: was it some super-thick cake frosting? Pinkie did like to experiment with that stuff...'always the best for a big party'. But all the same, he looked fantastic with the setting sun igniting golden highlights in that dirty blonde mane. Not a drop of sweat could be seen on him.
Whatever the reason for him to come, it didn't matter: he was exactly who Caramel never wanted to see again.
“Hey, Big Mac. Need something?”
“Does it have to do with the hay bales? Because I'm pretty sure the--”
“Okaaay, then is it the water bucket you let me borrow?”
Caramel took a deep breath. He suddenly noticed a glint from the farm pony's neck: two red-ribboned, silver medals were reflecting sunlight right into his eyes. They were his medals from the two events he eked out results.
“You want inside, don't you?”
Caramel let Big Mac in, despite wanting to hide in the barn by himself for...until he was ready to leave. He had plenty of hay in here, the rain allowed good water, the roof was still intact; it was a good place. He made an act of sorting the broken hay bale into a manageable pile while his guest stood completely still in the middle. It was a little creepy, all things considered. He kept his focus on the hay, ignoring the sweat beading on his forehead.
“You can just set those down and leave if you're busy. And I appreciate you bringing them by, of course. You must be busy with all the partying everypony's doing with ya,” he finished with a chuckle.
Interesting answer. Maybe they all finished early and started planning for tomorrow? Whatever the case, the athlete brought the medals but wasn't setting them down...was he...no, he couldn't be. He couldn't.
Caramel's hide bristled. That was unforgivable, greedy, abusive...but he remembered what his dad always told him and just smiled.
“...Or maybe you want to talk about how awesome you were. And you were awesome! The way you were in complete control of each event just blew me away, like the hurdling--”
“Are you okay?”
Caramel froze. This was absolutely the worst time, and speaking for himself was not something Big Mac did unless it was absolutely necessary. Evading this question was out of the question, even if he tried. And for that, he actually hated Big Mac a little bit. But at the same time, he couldn't help but like him a little more. He wanted to stop pretending and throw himself at the champion's hooves. Or into an earthquake. One or the other.
Smile, Caramel, just smile.
“Uhh...yeah! I'm fine! Why do you ask?”
Even if it was hopeless, he wasn't going to give it all away immediately. Why would he?
“Caramel, don't lie t'me. Ah saw you.”
As he heard the last sentence, the medal winner felt his rage release itself from his cage. It was taking a while to claw up to his brain, held back by his stretched lips struggling to keep him sane. Perhaps...perhaps smiling wasn't the answer here. Perhaps he had to beat the invulnerable by making himself vulnerable.
“...Oh yeah? When exactly did you see me? At the hurdling finish line? Or at the hoof wrestling matches? Or maybe when you--”
“You ran away while everypony was distracted.”
Oh. So you did see me. You weren't too busy egging on the crowds?
“You were cryin'.”
So, what's your point? For all you know, I'm just a sore loser.
“Ah've never seen you cry before. Ah...”
The rage stopped and waited.
“Ah need t'know whut happened. Then Ah'll leave well enough alone, if'n you want.”
Goosebumps broke out over his hide as the interrogator sat down right in front of him. Leaving well enough alone was not in the plans, it seemed...
“Eey--Yes, Caramel. What happened t'you? You...you can tell me, right? We're friends; you can trust me."
Caramel had to steady himself as he looked at his guest. Big Mac had never looked more pathetic to him in his life, eyes pleading with him for an answer. But some hours ago, the same pony was half-insane with pride and arrogance. Just what in the six hells happened to him after the Cup? And why did he bring up their friendship...if that was what it was?
He remained standing as he answered.
"I-I suppose we're friends, yeah. We don't really talk, but...I guess you don't really talk much to anypony, heh."
Big Mac chuckled, but it sounded weak. Caramel was expecting a 'Nnope', not a heartbreaking chuckle and heavy breathing. And this was the most that his 'friend' had talked to him for both of their lives. He felt itchy.
"Ah remember back when we were foals: you always tried t'do whut Ah did fer mah chores. You jus' couldn't manage it, but you smiled every time you failed an' jus' kept goin'. An' you refused t'let me help you. Stubborn as th' rest of us, Ah swear."
As much as he hated to admit it, Caramel's smile was a real one at that moment. He didn't like to think about his childhood, but Macintosh was certainly worth remembering. And now he knew that the farm pony considered them friends back then, too. It was when he pulled away from most ponies, including him, that he didn't feel he deserved the title anymore.
...What's happening? Is he...he's actually...
"Don'...don' do that this time. Ah wanna help you, if'n Ah can. It's..."
Macintosh inhaled sharply, grunting a little. Against his better judgment, Caramel sat opposite him.
"It's too important t'ignore. Fer both of us. Ah mean, look at you; you haven't even bathed after th' Cup. Yer hurtin', an' it's clear t'see. Please..."
Caramel hurriedly stood up and went back to "sort" the hay. He couldn't look at what was happening. Big Mac was always mighty and stoic and brave and huge...not raw. It wasn't him, not at all. Maybe Caramel passed out and started dreaming? But his dreams never had...
“Oh, Ah cain't keep this up...” Sniffle, sniffle.
As much as he dreaded it, he sat back down with the inexplicably sobbing Big Macintosh. He could see the tears already flowing down his face. What happened to him to make him like this?!
“C-Caramel...wuz it me? D-Did Ah do that t'you?!"
It was hard for Caramel to say exactly what bewildered him then. He didn't suppose Big Macintosh would be heartless, but this was not what he imagined the emotional core of the pony to be. He pictured a few hopes and fears about the perils of farming, maybe anxiety about starting a family...but not this. Macintosh was not supposed to cry. His mouth seemed to know what to say, even though his mind and heart were torn to shreds.
He most definitely was not smiling now.
“J-Jus' tell me, please. Ah need t'know. It wuz th' shoe throwin', wuzn't it? A-ah screwed up, Ah know that; that contest did a number on me. Ah was out o' control. Ah w-wanted t'ruffle yer feathers a bit, but...Ah never meant t'reduce you t'tears. Ah swear on mah mama's grave that Ah never meant t'hurt you, Mel. I am so, so sorry...!”
Caramel's rage was comically defeated. All the flashing images of the hypersmug Macintosh preening at him were fading in the whitewash of the same Macintosh's weepy apology. Now he was fighting what he tried to get past several times...but was beginning to feel would take him over again. But at the same time, a fearful revelation started to settle deep in his stomach.
Just who was this pony? Why was he crying over what was, admittedly, just a simple error in judgment for him? And why was this pony trying to fix his mane...?
Mere hours after the Cup, mere hours after he had to finally accept his lot...this couldn't have happened at a worse time.
“W-well...it's just...” His voice caught in his throat as a large hoof brushed a strand of his hair behind his left ear.
“Please. Ah'm not asking you t'forgive me. Just tell me so Ah can...so Ah can set things straight.”
Honesty. He just had to be honest. He had done nothing wrong; he had to forget the smiling and be blunt. He wished he didn't smell so bad...
“Yes. It was the shoe throwing."
Macintosh bowed his head and shut his eyes.
"You humiliated me. You made a mockery of my talent. You didn't mean it; I bet the crowd and everypony else didn't even notice. But you did. Even though you won fair and square.”
“B-but you know what? I can...get past that. Really, I can. The reason I was crying was...is...”
Macintosh brought his head back up, eyes swimming in those inexplicable tears.
As the words came to him, all of his inhibition died. Too much pain was keeping him from being sympathetic. He had to let this strange pony know just what he did...for better or for worse. After all, who else could he tell?
“Because I lost the one means I might have had to survive.”