As he knew Caramel would be, the pony was completely dumbfounded. And why wouldn't he be? It was an awful way to put it, dammit. He was always doing that.
“...What...What the hells does that mean?”
He just had to come clean. He was busted no matter what he did now.
“...Well...Ah guess there's no nice way t'say it. Ah wanted t'make you angry.”
Predictably, this seemed to make him...oh, still confused. Fair enough.
“You wanted...to make me angry. Explain that to me.”
The former swaggerer sighed.
“Remember how Ah said Ah fell in love with you when we were both young?”
“Yeah...I did, too. So?”
“Well," he began reluctantly, "waitin' fer all that time wuzn't easy. Ah distracted m'self with work an' sometimes watchin' you nudge trees or whutever. So when you made yerself scarce...”
“Uh-huh...” Caramel looked to the barn.
“It burned me up inside. Ah thought Ah could handle it, but Ah missed you too much. Th' most Ah felt Ah could do wuz tell mah family 'bout me. An' even then, Ah hated it. Then everythin' started changin'--”
He shook his head before continuing: “Sorry. Anyway, when th' Cup came 'round, AJ bugged me t'go compete, nevermind why. Ah wuzn't interested 'till Ah saw you of all ponies were part of it. An' that was when it hit me.”
The love of his life looked apprehensive.
“Ah had never seen you angry before, ever. You always smiled when you had trouble before, an' that wuz whut drew me t'you. But you never seemed t'be mad or frustrated as long as Ah had known you. Ah...Ah felt it, then.”
“Seein' as you were gonna go against athletes, Ah knew you were gonna hafta show yer anger. An' Ah wanted it. Ah entered t'make you mad...t'make you mad at me. Ah wuz greedy for it, t'be honest.” He was starting to feel that guilty happiness.
Caramel looked like he didn't believe a word of it. He looked ready to tear into the champion...but then smiled smugly.
“Well, I guess you were disappointed, then. I really wasn't that angry at all. Maybe a little confused, but--”
“Nnope,” Mac interrupted, feeling giddy. “Y'were redder that day than Ah am any day. You looked like Ah had stolen yer mare or somethin'.”
“No I didn't,” Mel denied a little too quickly.
“Yes you did, an' don' deny it. You were beside yerself, and heavens above it looked good on you...”
He felt himself smiling at the memory...but then saw his stallion wrestling with – and then realizing – the truth and remembered just how guilty he was. He couldn't smile this away like Caramel could.
“Ah just...wanted t'be with you. Ah wanted t-t'feel you mad at me, Ah-Ah was desperate. But then it turned out Ah liked competin', an' well, you know th' rest,” he finished as quickly as he could make it.
He felt his brain scraggling as they both stood there wordlessly. It was choking him. He felt himself getting ready to blurt out something.
Just how much had he changed?
“Ah-Ah liked it. Ah'm not proud of it, but seein' you fume 'n sneer...Ah enjoyed it. It wuz like Ah wuz seein' th' real you, an' Ah wanted that so bad. An-An' Ah'll say it again, Ah never meant t'break you. When Ah saw yer face after th' shoe throwin'...Ah hated mahself then. At least a little.”
The horrible memory sprung tears in his own eyes...but it felt so good to get it out. He felt he was deliberately making himself sad; maybe then, everything would be okay.
“You looked so small...so fragile. Ah respected you so much all this time, and t'see you so hurt...so hurt because o' me...it killed me. Ah jus' wanted t'hold you and tell you how sorry Ah am, oh, Mel, forgive me...!”
He had broken himself. All of his guilt, all of his grief was pouring out unabated, ignorant of his surroundings. The time he spent bawling was meaningless to him. He just reached out to touch Caramel, to be comforted...but found no hoof in return.
He struggled to be coherent: “M-Mel...please. Ah'm so sorry. Ah've wronged you, but Ah love you so much. Ah'll make it up t'you. Please forgive me...”
His teary eyes didn't tell him what his joy in life was doing. He just heard hoofsteps pacing around him aimlessly. He wanted to touch him, to reassure him if not himself. He wanted this to stop.
Caramel was silent until the sun blazed red. Or maybe it was the other way around. Those baby blue eyes shone against the searing red perfectly...why wasn't Caramel happy? Didn't he realize how fantastic he was?
“...Who are you?”
That threw him off. Already he felt his tears drying. 'Who are you?' What kind of question was that?
“Um...whaddya mean by that?”
“Who is this pony in front of me? He's not Big Macintosh, he can't be.”
Anxious Macintosh cleared his tight throat.
...Who was he?
“Don't be silly, babe. Ah'm me...Ah always have been!”
Caramel stopped pacing, blocking the sun behind him.
“I don't know anymore. I really don't.”
“Don't call me that right now; Big Macintosh called me that. But he wouldn't lie to me like this. He wouldn't manipulate me into throwing all my self-worth into a shoe throwing contest just to tear me down. He wouldn't threaten to kill my father, whether in the heat of passion or not. Whether he deserved it or not. And he certainly wouldn't deceive his own sister because he was afraid to tell everypony that he was...a little unconventional!”
Mac was completely speechless. He was so speechless because he was so thoughtless.
“So you wanted to make me angry. You wanted to see me get riled up so you could get your jollies. You know what?”
He was afraid to answer.
“I don't even mind that. In and of itself, it's...bizarre, sure, but I can...I can almost understand it. Almost. I don't know, maybe I'm the crazy one.”
You did nothing wrong, babe. If'n anypony's crazy, it's me.
Yer mane is so purdy in th' sunset. Fiery red like yer heart.
“But you know what does get me?”
He held his breath. It was all he had.
Please, no more.
“...And then what?”
“You get me angry and win the competition seeing my red hot face. And then what? You just trot away into the sunset? You go crash all the fancy new bars and pick up some mares for a forgettable night? What were you going to do...if you didn't see me die a little inside that day? You didn't seem to care about that at all! That's what gets me!”
Mac felt his brain suspend itself. It was a question for which he didn't have an answer. He was dry, he was stuck, he was alone. He was dangerously close to losing Caramel.
“...Ah...Ah didn't really think that far ahead--”
“Yes, you did.”
Mac's brain hurt. But then, he hurt all over. He hurt in places and levels he didn't know he had before he mated with this unhappy pony. He didn't know what had happened, let alone what was happening.
“You weren't born yesterday. You knew full well that another day was gonna come, and that you'd have to make your way through it. So what were you going to do?”
The sun blazed a deeper red. What his mare said was undeniable. As soon as he got what he wanted, he didn't feel the need to do anything else besides savor it. He must have planned to do something. If that were the case, there was only one thing he was ever going to do.
“...Ah would've worked.”
It was then Caramel made the face. Everypony knew that face. It was face parents made that made all children of all ages regret everything they had ever done up until that point.
It was the face of a broken heart.
“You would've worked.”
“You would've worked.”
Ah'm sorry...wait...why 'zat so bad? Ah always work. Why're you so jarred by that?
“Ah reckon so...”
The face grew more devastated. Were they even talking about the same thing?
“You 'reckon'. You...'suppose'. You didn't even have an agenda for that day. It was just: wake up, eat, work, eat, work some more, sup, and go to bed. That's it. That's what you're telling me.”
Caramel's neck now matched the red hue of his face. That wasn't good.
“...Unbelievable. Are you listening to yourself?”
It was getting to where he couldn't tell the sun and the mare apart. He had to calm her down.
“Babe, come on, think 'bout it,” he crooned with a smile. “It's no big deal.”
“Did you hear the latest, old chap?”
“I hope so! News around here make or break a pony.”
“DUDE. The match today was just UNREAL. That's one to tell the kids!”
“Oooh, pretty butterflies! What are they doing here?”
“Evidently, the new work pony is actually named Caramel. He's beige with a brown mane; most everyone hasn't seen him since the Cup, either!”
“Ah, that explains it. A pony who's light on his hooves isn't easy to miss—or so I've heard...”
“Have you looked around here lately? I bet at least half the ponies here now are just faking it.”
“What was that? Oh, never mind. But guess what else?”
“What, fellow, what?”
“He has a stallion friend. And said friend is local.”
“What?! That's just...wait. How local do you mean by local?”
“Has anypony – I mean, anyone seen Rainbow Dash? She just disappeared...”
“I'll give you a hint: he's living on the Apple-Orange Company Acreage.”
“...Well, only two males live there, and it certainly isn't old Mosely...dear Celestia, that could only mean...!”
“Oooh, what, what?”
“That Macintosh fellow! The Cup champion fancies his own?!”
“Huh? Whazat mean?”
“Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy are gone, too...what's going on?!”
“Don't be dumb; it means he's gay.”
“...WHAT?! BIG MACINTOSH IS GAY?!”
“YOU'RE JOKING! As if...as if things aren't bad enough!”
“As Gay Macintosh would say: NNOPE!”
"Great. Now WE have to deal with this!"
"I don't even...h-how dare he?! Just when I was ready to forget about all this new crud coming into town, THIS comes up!”
“WHERE ARE THEY?! I CAN'T FIND THEM ANYWHERE!”
“I can't BELIEVE he would do something that WEIRD. How does that make us look?!”