Habit forced Big Macintosh to wake before sun-up. Usually he would use this time to get a head start on his chores. However, his current status as an invalid meant this time became spent on cooking breakfast for the family. Or rather, helping the only member of the Apple family that woke up earlier than him cook breakfast.
So as he climbed down the steps with his saddlebag he wasn’t surprised to find Granny Smith already in the kitchen heating up a pat of butter on the cast iron skillet. He was surprised, however, to see a bowl of apple cinnamon batter already on the table. With his usual job of preparing the batter already done, he could only sigh as his relative uselessness became clear once again. He couldn’t even grab a ladle and spatula for her since the utensils were already well within her reach on the countertop.
“Oh now don’t fret, dear,” Granny Smith said. She clenched the ladle between her few remaining teeth to pour a few circles of batter onto the hot pan. Placing the ladle back into the bowl she spoke again, “I just figured you’d be sleepin’ in after staying up so late last night.”
Big Mac remained silent as he watched Granny pour and flip griddlecakes. Finally, he thought of something to do and began setting the table. But it only provided a moment’s distraction and soon the feelings of boredom encroached upon him yet again.
“Did I ever tell ya how I met your grandfather over a game of poker?” Granny asked.
He rolled his eyes. The story of his grandparents’ fated meeting always seemed to change every time Granny told it. That in itself wouldn’t be much of a concern, but strangely enough the circumstances always matched what Big Mac was experiencing at the time. Like the time Granny said she met her husband when he stumbled upon a family reunion, or when she said she met him when he and her brother were butting heads in a competition of strength and endurance.
“Ah’m just gonna grab an apple for breakfast, Granny,” he said as he walked out the door. The last thing he wanted to hear was yet another story that may or may not be true.
By the time he left the barn with an apple in his mouth the sun was just rising above the horizon. He quickly ate his breakfast before making his way into Ponyville to return the books he borrowed last week.
Going into town so early in the morning gave the work pony a comfort that he was not often able to indulge himself in. Most ponies were still sleeping soundly in their beds and those that were up were usually too busy working or doing errands to pay much attention to him. The relative emptiness of the town allowed him to truly admire the buildings in the light of the morning sun.
When he reached the library he found its interior lit up despite the early hour. Originally he had planned to admire the city a bit more until the library officially opened, but if Twilight Sparkle was already up then perhaps she wouldn’t mind him returning her books so early.
Remembering the librarian pony’s words he knocked gently on the door. Several seconds passed before the unicorn opened it. This time it was Big Macintosh who was taken aback by her appearance. Her mane looked a mess and her eyes were half-lidded with bags under them. Her whole body slumped with fatigue, but to her credit she managed to stand up straighter when she saw him looking at her.
“Ah’m sorry Miss Sparkle, Ah didn’t mean ta wake ya. Ah just saw the lights on and thought ya rose early.” Big Macintosh quickly said, regretting his mistake.
She looked confused for a moment until it seemed that something in her mind clicked, “Oh. No, you didn’t wake me up. I’ve just been up all night trying to figure something out.” She smiled, though the lack of sleep made it a bit crooked, “Please come in. I’m guessing you’re here to return those books, right?”
“Eeyup,” he said as he entered. He grabbed the books from his saddlebag and placed them on her desk. He couldn’t help but notice the mess of crumpled papers that littered its surface, not to mention the various books opened and strewn about.
“If ya don’t mind my asking, what exactly were ya tryin’ ta figure?”
Everyone, including Big Mac, knew the purple unicorn’s knack for knowledge. If she was struggling to solve something then the problem must have been great indeed.
“Zeno’s Paradoxes, I was trying to solve one of them logically and without the use of calculus.” There really was nothing in that sentence that Big Macintosh understood, at least not entirely. He knew calculus was one of those higher forms of mathematics much beyond his usual repertoire of balancing the farm’s budget.
An awkward silence filled the room until Twilight moved towards a set of bookshelves, “You see calculus is-”
“Ah know what calculus is, Miss Sparkle. Just not how ta do it.”
“Oh.” She stopped before walking to another set of shelves, “Well, Zeno’s Paradoxes are sort of like brainteasers. He made them hundreds of years ago to support a philosopher pony by the name of Parmenides and his assertions that change and motion are nothing but illusions. He’s known for his famous saying…” Big Macintosh tried to pay attention, he really did, but once she began talking of the different schools of philosophy his thoughts began to wander. He couldn’t help but think that Parmenides and Zeno sure were strange names for ponies, but he supposed that’s how names were back then.
“So anyway,” an hour later a book glowing with magic opened in front of his face and brought his mind back to the here and now. On the page was a black and white illustration of a pegasus in midflight between two clouds, “The paradox I was trying to solve was the dichotomy paradox. Zeno poses the situation of a pegasus flying from one cloud to another. In order for her to reach her destination she has to reach the halfway point between the two clouds. But before she can reach the halfway point she needs to reach the halfway point between the first halfway point and her starting point. But before she reaches that halfway point she needs to reach the halfway point between the second halfway point and her starting point. But before she reaches that point she needs to-“
“Miss Sparkle.” He needed to interrupt her lest she go on for another hour.
“Sorry. The gist of it is that there are an infinite number of points that have to be traversed before a destination can be reached. And because it is physically impossible to cross the infinite, motion itself must be impossible.”
Big Mac thought for a moment before taking a few steps towards Twilight.
“Very clever,” she chuckled, “but I’m trying to solve it with logic.” She tried to stifle a yawn but failed miserably.
“Results beat logic ev’rytime, Miss Sparkle,” he said while taking note of her yawn. “You feelin’ up to carin’ for the library after stayin’ up all night?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t mind a nap. But I open in a few minutes so…” she trailed off and shrugged, “it shouldn’t be too bad. It doesn’t get very busy in here.”
He nodded though a part of him worried that if he hadn’t intruded so early then perhaps she would have gotten some rest before opening the library.
“Say Miss Sparkle, if ya don’t mind Ah could take the reigns here while ya rest for a bit,” he said. He admitted to himself that his motivation for helping her lied mostly in curing his incessant boredom. And if he happened to help the purple mare, well, that would be a happy side effect.
“You’d do that? Well, I appreciate you offering but Spike can handle things here if I need to get some rest.” She yawned and Big Mac could see just how much effort she was putting in keeping her eyes open.
“Miss Sparkle Ah-“
Big Macintosh was interrupted by the sound of the library’s door opening and the yellow pegasus coming through it. She came in casually enough, but once her teal eyes saw the red stallion standing near the entrance she seemed to shrink behind her pink mane and crouched closer to the ground as if wishing to vanish into the floor.
“Hey Fluttershy,” Twilight said as she stepped closer to the nervous mare, “you know Big Macintosh. Big Macintosh this is Fluttershy.” Despite the introduction Fluttershy stayed in place. Twilight looked over at Big Mac and subtly tilted her head to the pegasus.
Taking her signal, Big Mac took a step forward only for Fluttershy to take a step back. Big Mac ignored her obvious anxiety and spoke, “It’s a pleasure ta finally meetcha Miss Shy, Applebloom’s told me so much about ya. She’s quite fond of ya.” It was true. If Applebloom wasn’t talking about her latest attempt at obtaining her cutie mark, she was talking about what amazing thing Fluttershy had done. Still, as he looked at the cowering pegasus he couldn’t help but wonder if Applebloom might have been exaggerating a bit.
Mentioning his sister seemed to make her feel more comfortable. She stood up straighter even though she still kept looking at the ground instead of directly at him. With a little nudge from Twilight the yellow mare took a step towards him, a small one, but a step nonetheless.
“H-hello,” she said. Even through the silence of the library in the early morning Big Mac had to strain his ears to hear her.
“So Fluttershy, do you need anything?” Twilight stepped in to intercept the awkward silence that was growing between them.
“Oh…um,” she turned to face her friend and her voice became a bit louder, “I was hoping you could…um, come with me to gather some herbs and plants from the Everfree Forest, if that’s okay with you.”
“I’d love to Fluttershy but I don’t think I’d be much use sleep-deprived as I am. Isn’t there someone else willing to go with you?” Twilight asked with a yawn.
“I’m sorry but Rainbow Dash is working until the afternoon and Applejack and Rarity are too, and Pinkie Pie’s planning a party for…well you know.” For the first time she looked directly at Big Mac, though once she realized that her gaze was more than obvious she quickly turned away with a blush.
“Well how about we wait until the afternoon and we can all go together?”
“Oh, I’m sorry but I need to gather them as soon as possible. They’re for a sick bird I’m nursing.”
All of a sudden Pinkie Pie’s words started playing at the back of Big Mac's mind. He quickly looked around the library for any sign of the pink pony. He found none, and so with a mental sigh stepped forward, “If Ah may interrupt,” he said, “Ah’d be more than happy to help ya, Miss Shy.”
Even though Big Mac had spoken directly at her, Fluttershy was absolutely incapable of looking at him face-to-face. Instead she preferred to gaze at the ground with her face obstructed by her pink mane. She kept this position as she spoke, “Oh I wouldn’t want to be a bother. Especially to someone I…don’t really know.”
“Never ya mind, any friend of my sister is a friend of mine,” he said with a small smile, hoping to put her at ease.
“I…I don’t know,” Fluttershy whispered. It seemed to be as loud as her voice got around him.
“Come on Fluttershy, he’s offering his time and assistance. It’d be rude to decline,” Twilight said, and Big Mac made a note to thank her sometime soon.
“I-I guess it would be okay. Um,” for the first time she consciously looked at him, or at least, in his general direction, “would it be okay if we left right now?”
Big Mac only nodded, sure that any verbalization would simply make her more uncomfortable. They said goodbye to Twilight Sparkle before leaving the library and walking toward the Everfree Forest.
The two walked side by side in complete silence, not even so much as looking at each other. The last thing he wanted was to force conversation on the only pony that was as silent as he was, if even more so. Instead he focused more on his thoughts and their ultimate destination.
Like most ponies in Ponyville, Big Macintosh was always wary of the Everfree Forest. But truth be told once Applejack started telling him of her adventures within those woods his willingness to go in only grew. He wasn’t about to let himself be outdone by his little sister, after all.
Still, saying that and actually doing it were two different beasts altogether. He didn’t like the forest and he had a feeling that it didn’t much care for him either. And that fact never became clearer than when they stood at the very edge of the forest. Big Macintosh hesitated at the tree line, but only for the time it took to see Fluttershy continue forward with less reluctance. Steeling himself and swallowing his fear he continued forward and caught up to the yellow pegasus.
Despite the brightness of the day the Everfree Forest seemed to reject most of the sunlight beaming down on it, more than could be explained by the shadows cast by the trees. Without really meaning to, Big Mac started walking a bit closer to Fluttershy. He told himself it was only to better protect her.
Fluttershy didn’t seem to mind the red colt being so close, quite the opposite as Big Mac felt her press against him as well. “Um so,” she began in her usual quiet manner, “I need three different plants. Um, Damselfly Wings, Red Madams, and Silver Hair.”
Big Macintosh nodded, happy that she was actually talking to him. “Do ya know where ta find ‘em? An' are ya sure those are all even plants?”
“Oh yes, they’re very abundant here. There’s some Silver Hair right there.” She gestured towards a nearby bush with small tufts of gray flowers that really did look like hair. Big Macintosh, ever the gentlecolt, went up to pick a few. He stuck his nose into the bush but a sudden hiss made him quickly step back, but not quick enough. In a lightning bolt of pain he suddenly found his muzzle clamped shut by the horrifyingly wide jaw of a snake as thick as one of his legs and three times as long. He could only let out a muffled shout of surprise through the serpent’s mouth, good thing too, otherwise he’d let out a sound quite unbecoming of a stallion.
Gripped by the overwhelming desire to get the snake off his only means of breathing, Big Mac thrashed his head back and forth and whipped the snake against the trees, the ground, and most anything he could find.
“Oh wait don’t do that,” Fluttershy said, though it was hard for Big Mac to hear her over the harsh thumps of the snake’s body slamming against the foliage.
“Please stop, you’ll hurt him.,” she said again, but still he ignored her.
“Big Mac, stop!” Her volume increased significantly and it was enough to freeze Big Mac where he stood.
Fluttershy trotted over to Big Mac and got on her hind legs to see the snake at a better angle while balancing herself against the draft pony, “There there now, I know your hungry but you’re wasting your time trying to eat a fully grown pony,” she said to the reptile. For a moment, Big Mac thought that she had gone insane. “So why don’t you just let go and look for something a bit smaller like an apple or carrot.”
Big Macintosh wondered if Fluttershy knew that snakes were carnivorous. But his thought was interrupted when he felt the snake’s grip loosen on his muzzle. If he thought it was possible for a snake to show any emotion he’d say that its slitted eyes softened before it released him. It fell to the ground with a soft thump and slithered away.
Big Mac rubbed his nose to find a bit of blood seeping out from a few of the tiny teeth marks. “Thanks,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” Fluttershy said, her voice down to its usual whisper. “But, uh, if you don’t mind me saying, that was a little, um…mean. You could have really hurt him.”
He was speechless, though not for long, “Miss Shy, when a snake takes my muzzle in its mouth Ah’m gonna do whatever it takes ta get it off.”
“You could have just asked it to let you go,” she said and once again her words rendered Big Macintosh without words for a few seconds.
“Ah…” his mind started whirring for the right thing to say, “Ah can’t speak ta animals like you can. It ain’t my special talent.”
Fluttershy shook her head, “That doesn’t matter. Anypony can communicate with animals if they try. It’s how ponies can keep pets. It's just easier for me.”
Big Macintosh sighed, “How ‘bout we keep goin’?”
The two continued on even more silent than before, if it were even possible. This silence he couldn’t stand, the kind coming from unresolved tension rather than just awkward non-acquaintance.
The uncomfortable stiffness remained between them as they made their way deeper into the forest. Despite himself, Big Mac couldn’t help but be a little ticked at the forest for getting darker with every step he took. It was as if the Everfree Forest was purposefully trying to get him scared and in front of a pretty, albeit strange, mare. Finally, the two came across a cave hidden behind a few low hanging branches. A few vines crawled up the rock face and from the stalks bloomed a few red flowers with petals that curled within themselves.
“Red Madams?” Big Mac asked as he pointed to the vines. To his dismay, Fluttershy nodded.
“Right in front of that ominous lookin’ cave with who-knows-what inside?” he said it a bit more sarcastically than he meant to.
“I’m sorry but it would seem so,” she said, almost as if it was her fault the flowers grew there. Big Mac sighed and approached one of the vines and plucked a few of the blossoms growing from it. He waited for a moment to see how the forest would decide to mess with him this time.
When nothing happened he made his way back to the waiting mare as he placed the flowers into his saddlebag. A sigh of relief escaped him, “Well that went off without a hit-“ he stopped as a loud roar and a harsh, smelly breeze blowing from behind him interrupted his small victory.
He only sighed as he turned around to face the lumbering mass of brown fur trudging out of the cave. The bear didn’t look too happy, which was fine by Big Mac. Neither was he.
“Stay back, Miss Shy,” he said, standing firm against the beast. However, a tap on his shoulder made him look at the mare.
“Try talking to him,” she said and Big Mac decided right then and there that she really was crazy. He sighed and looked at the beast before deciding to give it a shot.
“You best be movin’ along now or there’s gonna be trouble.” It was the only thing that came to the stallion’s mind. Just as he expected, his words had no effect other than causing the bear to roar louder at the pair.
“That was too mean. You have to be kindler and gentler, like this.” She stepped forward and, to his amazement, the mare showed absolutely no fear. Even more strangely she showed absolutely no courage. If anything she seemed at ease, like an earth pony on solid ground.
“Aw did he scare you?” she cooed to the bear. She approached it and placed a gentle hoof on its head. The bear responded instantly with a low grumble of appreciation, closing its eyes in bliss. Big Mac, meanwhile, could only fall to his flank and stare with his jaw practically on the ground.
“It’s okay, we didn’t mean to intrude. We’ll be on our way.” She gave the bear a final pat on the head before walking back towards a dumbfounded Big Mac.
“Are…are you feeling alright?” Fluttershy asked him.
He quickly closed his mouth and stood up, “Ah’m fine Miss Shy. Why don’t we go along?” he said, hoping to walk off his embarrassment. The pegasus was kind enough to grant him that dignity, and once again the two were off in search of the last plant.
“So,” Big Macintosh said, hoping to strike up a conversation, “did ya…” he had to search for the right word, “handle the cockatrice by talkin’ ta it?”
“Oh, you know about that?” she said behind her pink mane. There was something in her tone that bothered Big Mac. It was her usual shyness, but now with a touch of surprise and…guilt? Suddenly something clicked in the work pony's mind. Applebloom never really told him personally what had happened with the cockatrice. In fact the only reason he had known at all was because he had overheard his sisters talking about it. When they didn’t know he was there.
“Wassit s’possed ta be a secret?” he asked her in all seriousness.
“Um, well…” Big Mac didn’t think it was possible for her voice to become quieter, but that’s exactly what it did, “I’m sorry, but Applejack thought it might be best if-“
“If nopony told me that my baby sister almost died?” He really tried not to raise his voice to the sensitive pegasus, but as he talked about the danger his sister was in his anger got the best of him. As it did, Fluttershy started cowering away from him.
“I’m-I’m sorry,” she squeaked out, her whole body trembling.
Big Mac sighed as he took in the sight of the timid mare, “No, Ah’m sorry Miss Shy. Yer the last pony Ah should be angry at after what ya did.” He mentally cursed himself for letting his temper get the better of him. Especially since he showed it to one of the few mares, hell the few ponies outside his family, that he wanted to get to know.
Fluttershy stopped shaking before taking a few steps towards him, “It’s okay, I mean, it was the least I could do. Anypony would have done the same.”
Big Mac shook his head, “No, Ah don’t think anypony would. Heck, Ah don’t think anypony could. Ah owe ya everythin’ Miss Shy, from the bottom of my heart Ah do.” He had to clear his throat and continue walking down the path before the moment could get any more sentimental. Fluttershy, however, wasn’t done yet.
“It’s sweet how much you care about them,” she said, catching up to walk side by side with him again.
“They’re my family,” he said simply, making sure to avoid her gaze. “Ah’m s’possed to protect ‘em, but lately…” he didn’t know why that last bit got away from him so easily. Maybe it was because Fluttershy had finally started to get comfortable enough to speak and he wanted to keep the conversation going, or maybe he just couldn’t burden these thoughts for much longer.
For whatever the reason, Fluttershy picked up the conversational slack almost immediately. “Lately?” she asked the colt.
He sighed. “Applejack’s been spending more time with ya and the rest of 'er friends. And that’s fine, a mare her age ought ta have friends. And Ah’m glad she has such good ones ta look out for her. Same with my baby sister. But Applebloom’s still a li’l filly and, as much as she hates ta admit it, she still needs ‘er brother and sister. And the one time Ah was s’possed ta be there for her Ah…” he stopped, he had too. In one quick motion he raised his hind leg and drove it straight into the trunk of a nearby tree. Fluttershy flinched as a loud crack echoed through the forest.
“Sorry,” he said quietly as he lowered his hoof and looked at the splintered wood behind him.
“It’s okay,” she matched his whisper. “But there wasn’t anything you could do. You didn’t know she would be in trouble. All you knew was that she was spending the night at my house with her friends.”
He nodded. It felt good to let these thoughts out in the middle of the forest where no one but Fluttershy could hear him, “If ‘thank ya’ were enough Miss Shy Ah’d say it over and over. But it ain’t.”
“I know the feeling,” she said. For the first time Big Mac actually saw her smile, earning her a confused glance from the red stallion. “Last week,” Fluttershy explained and it was enough for Big Mac to realize what she meant.
“Then we understand each other,” he said and Fluttershy nodded.
The two continued on in silence, but this time with a comfortable air about them. Big Macintosh walked a bit quicker now, lighter, with the same feeling he had last night when walking with Pinkie Pie. It felt good, much better than the feeling of pulling a plow and he liked pulling a plow.
But soon the feeling washed away as Big Mac noticed just how deep they were in the Everfree Forest. Any deeper and he was sure they’d be halfway to Manehatten. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before Fluttershy pointed out a patch of ferns growing in the shade of a tree. Each of their leaves were translucent which allowed the dark green veins to stand out. Big Mac grabbed a mouthful and pocketed it along with the other plants before taking a quick look around.
“Is everything alright?” Fluttershy asked.
Big Mac nodded, “Just waitin’ to see what’s gonna pop out this time.”
After a few seconds, and when nothing emerged to bite or jump at Big Macintosh, the two simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief and began walking back towards home. But before he even took three steps Big Mac heard a loud and low whimper just past the trees, freezing him solid. He looked at Fluttershy and she nodded to signal that she heard it too.
Big Mac wanted to run, dear Celestia he wanted to run. But Fluttershy, whether from bravery, curiosity, or a third less polite trait, walked towards the sound.
“Miss Shy, Ah don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said as he followed her.
“But it could be a poor animal in need of help,” she said, and Big Mac could only roll his eyes. No animal that made a sound like that ever needed help.
Going deeper into the woods and away from the marked path revealed a sight that justified Big Mac’s caution. A large mass of transparent blue slept soundly in a wide clearing in the trees. Across its fur shone dull points of light in a familiar arrangement. He knew what it was, Applejack had told him the story of its rampage in Ponyville.
“Wow, an Ursa Minor,” Fluttershy said in awe. “I wonder what it’s doing out here. Twilight told me the one that was in Ponyville came from the woods near Canterlot.”
“That’s a mighty interestin’ question, Miss Shy. One that Ah’m sure ya can figure out somewhere a bit safer.” He moved in her way and began nudging her, gently, back the way they came.
“Oh wait, I’ve never seen one this close before,” she said while struggling against him and trying to go towards the bear.
“Me neither an’ Ah’m sorry it didn’t stay that way.” Soon the two were literally head to head trying to push one another in opposite directions. Big Mac was the obvious winner of the contest and soon Fluttershy’s hooves were sliding back along with the rest of her.
“Stop!” she yelled and Big Mac did, realizing the intensity her voice had. He looked behind him to find the bear shuffling and groaning out of its sleep. He turned back to the pegasus, or at least, where she was a moment ago. To his horror he saw her approaching the thing he so desperately wanted to get away from.
“Aww did we wake you?” she asked in a voice that Big Macintosh thought was most unfitting when directed at a creature that could eat her in one bite. The bear stood up and poised its eyes towards the comparatively miniscule pony.
“I know, why don’t I sing you a lullaby. Hu-“ she didn’t even have time to sing the first line before the Ursa belted out a deafening roar with all the strength of a terrifying tempest. But Fluttershy stood her ground and actually took another step forward, “Aww someone’s cranky. Don’t worry, once you get some more sleep you’ll feel much better.”
The Ursa primed itself for another boom of noise, but before it let it loose the ground beneath them began to shake. Not the continuous rattle of a quake but a start and stop accompanied by a loud crunch of earth, almost like steps. Specifically, steps coming towards them from the direction behind Big Macintosh. The farm pony could only heave a defeated sigh as he turned around. If the blue bear was an Ursa Minor then the towering monstrosity of purple translucence, sharpened teeth, and long claws was quite probably an Ursa Major.
Big Mac couldn’t think of a word that could accurately describe the Major’s size. It loomed high over the forest and he wondered how it went anywhere without drawing attention. There was no space for it to move between the trees, rather, it left a trail of fallen debris wherever it went. And right now where the mother went was to its cub and the ponies standing between them.
“Would ya like ta run now, Miss Shy, or would ya like to talk ta this’n too?” Big Mac said. His mind was in a strange place, as if it had delved so deep into fear and panic that it rolled over into the realm of not-giving-a-damn.
Fluttershy, however, didn’t seem to notice his sarcasm. She approached him and left the cub to bay at its mother. “Um, I’m sure we can clear up this misunderstanding,” she said, though her voice quivered just a bit.
She began to fly up to the approaching Ursa Major. He really didn’t understand what kind of a pony goes up to a monster like that and let alone to talk to it of all things. It was senseless and stupid, far better to just get a head start running for their lives. He wanted to tell her so but instead he just grabbed her pink tail between his teeth, not daring to let her go.
Fluttershy, still aloft in the air, looked back at him, “It’ll be okay.”
He didn’t want to believe her, but there was something in her teal eyes that made him do just that. His mouth moved of its own accord as it released her tail, and she gave him a smile before flying to the bigger Ursa.
From his vantage point he couldn’t hear what was happening above him, and the Ursa cub’s braying wasn’t helping matters much either. However, he did see the Major’s mouth open to roar a harsh bellow. The sheer power behind it sent Fluttershy barreling towards the ground.
Big Mac reacted immediately and moved to catch her on his back. The force of her landing managed to send a spike of pain throughout his body, focused around his chest. He ignored the pain and turned his neck to face the pegasus, “Any luck?” he asked her only half-sarcastically.
He received his answer in the form of another roar from the purple bear, though this time it raised a paw into the air before hurtling it towards the two ponies. Big Mac leapt out of the way just in time to avoid not only the paw but the shockwave traveling through the ground.
It was all the incentive he needed to run.
“Wait, I can still talk to her,” Fluttershy said, barely loud enough for Big Mac to hear over the thundering footsteps of the Ursa Major chasing after them. He didn’t answer her for a moment, busy as he was running for his life while trying to find the path they had strayed from. Finally, he found the trail of compacted dirt and picked up speed. But soon, the pain in his chest became almost unbearable and the Ursa Major had still not given up its pursuit.
“Miss Shy, Ah need ya ta fly outta here,” he said through his haggard breath.
“What about you?”
“Ain’t nothing good’ll come out of leading that thing ta Ponyville. Fly off with the plants while Ah lead it deeper inta the woods.” He couldn’t figure out why in the heck she was wasting time talking to him when she could be halfway to town by now.
“B-but,” she shook her head, “I can’t just leave you to face her by yourself. I can still reason with her, I know I can.”
He gave a frustrated growl, “Miss Shy, ya a’ready tried that and frankly ya ain’t got a choice,” he yelled. He grabbed hold of both Fluttershy’s tail and his saddlebag strap in his teeth. With a great pivot he heaved the yelling mare and his pack into the relative safety of the thick woods.
With Fluttershy out of harm’s way, he turned to face the rampaging beast. He dug his hooves into the dirt, ignored his pounding heart, swallowed the pain coursing through his body, and charged straight for the monster. He didn’t dare look up and just focused on the hallway-sized space between its stomach and the ground. The bear slammed its paws into the earth and created more quakes, but Big Mac managed to stay on his hooves. After his mad dash he found himself behind the creature and gave a shrill whistle to capture its attention. Once it fumbled to turned around and once he was satisfied that it was following him, and him alone, he sprinted off again.
He had no idea where the path led or even how he was going to get out of this. But none of that mattered right now. All he cared about was putting as much distance between his home and that thing as possible.
Deeper and deeper into the woods he ran, but neither he nor the Ursa showed any sign of stopping, at least at first. Too late did Big Mac realize that the path he had been following led to a sheer rock wall that curved out into a semi-circle that choked out any chance of escape. He was surrounded, and the Ursa Major was barreling down on him.
He’d be lying if he said he was fine with the way things turned out. Still, he had a good run and at least his affairs were in order. His family would be sad for a while and that couldn’t be helped but-
A small voice snapped him out of his thoughts. No, there couldn’t possibly be a pony in all of Equestria dumb enough to come back. But once he saw the yellow pegasus descend and land in front of him, he thought of a few choice words to tell her if they got out of this alive.
“Please listen,” she called to the Ursa Major, but Big Mac would be surprised if it could hear her over its own fevered grunts and snarls, “this is all just a big misunderstanding.” Fluttershy’s pleas did nothing to stop the beast and soon it stood over them. It raised a huge claw poised to crush them underneath. But before it came down on them Fluttershy’s expression changed into one of righteous indignation.
“That is it!” she said and her voice had a new quality to it: one of confidence. She flew up to the Ursa Major’s face and, this time, Big Mac could hear every word.
“You do not chase my friends halfway thr-“ Fluttershy’s rant was cut short by an ear-splitting shout from the Ursa Major and once again the force of its breath sent Fluttershy spiraling down for Big Mac to catch her.
“So much for kindler and gentler,” he said to her.
“I-but…that usually works.” Her voice was back to its original timidness. One look at the creature was enough for him to figure out what went wrong.
“Miss Shy, if that were directed at me Ah’d be scared witless. But Ah reckon it didn’t work because it couldn’t hear ya.”
Fluttershy flew back to the ground before speaking, “What do you mean?”
“Well just look at it. It’s huge, yer just an ant ta it. An’ even at yer loudest Ah bet yer voice didn’t carry the distance to its ears, and even if it did it probably just sounded like a squeak.”
“Oh,” Fluttershy said. Again the Major raised a paw to squish the two like bugs. To Big Mac it seemed a bit sudden and without much ceremony, not that he cared for a thing like protocol, but all in all it was pretty rude to kill a couple of ponies without at least giving them time to say their farewells.
“Now wait just a pony-pickin’ minute,” he bellowed at the top of his voice. Big Mac walked towards the creature and stood between it and Fluttershy. “Didn’t yer mother ever teach ya any manners? Give us a minute ta say our goodbye’s before ya rush ta do us in.” The Ursa Major lowered its paw with a small grumble and Big Macintosh, satisfied, turned to face Fluttershy. Her jaw was hanging limply, he didn’t know at what but that didn’t matter right now.
“Miss Shy, get outta here. Ain’t no sense for both of us ta go, ‘specially when ya can just fly home and forget all ‘bout this.”
She blinked a couple of times before closing her mouth, “Big Mac, didn’t you see what you did?”
He shook his head, honestly confused at what she was talking about.
“The Ursa Major listened to you. If you talk to her you could clear all this up.”
“Miss Shy, ya got it all wrong. Ah ain’t good with animals and Ah definitely ain’t as good with animals as you are.”
She shook her head with a smile, “All that matters is that you speak from the heart. I wasn’t loud enough, but you are.”
Big Macintosh sighed. Truth be told he wasn’t much for this speaking from the heart mush. But as he turned to face the bear he figured it was worth a shot. After all, at this point he didn’t have much left to lose. But he still had one problem.
“What should Ah say?”
“Just say what’s in your heart and try to make a connection with hers.”
He rolled his eyes. Of course he would get more sugar-coated mush from her. Say what was in his heart. What did that even mean? All he knew was that he was seconds from kicking the bucket and all because this damn bear was trying to protect…her family. Big Mac sighed and took a few steps forward.
“Hey,” he shouted to the mama bear, though he could only guess if she understood him at all, “Ah gotta family of my own and Ah know Ah’d do anything ta protect them. An’…well, Ah know that if Ah thought somepony was out ta hurt ‘em Ah’d do exactly what yer doing right now. But ya gotta believe me when Ah say that we didn’t mean no harm ta yer son, and this is all just one big mistake.”
The Ursa Major lowered her head down, her chin almost touching the dirt. Big Macintosh could swear her enormous gaze focused not on him but on something ethereal, perhaps even the very words hanging between them. With a final puff of hot air blown from her nose, she rose back up, turned around, and walked back towards her cub.
Big Mac could only sit down, completely exhausted from the immense trouble he managed to get himself into and out of. He looked up at the sky to see the sun hanging just above him. All this excitement and it was only around noon.
A soft and warm feeling on his neck made him look down to see Fluttershy nuzzling against him. When she noticed his gaze she backed away quickly to hide her blushing cheeks behind her pink mane.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that you really did it.” She smiled at him, a gesture he wasn’t able to return.
“Why’d ya come back Miss Shy?” he asked, trying to keep the anger out of his voice.
Fluttershy lowered her gaze to the ground and started tracing random patterns in the dirt with her hoof, “I’m sorry but everything turned out okay, right? And friends always help friends in trouble.”
“Friends also listen to what their friends say. ‘specially when those friends are tryin’ ta keep ‘em safe. What if things didn’t turn out a’right, Miss Shy? If anything woulda happened ta ya Ah’d…” Big Mac shook his head with a sigh. Nothing more was said between them for some time as he sat and stared at his hooves.
He felt a hoof on his shoulder and rose his head to see Fluttershy looking at him with a small smile. He didn’t know whether it was her touch or her smile that eased his tension and worries away. All he knew was that something about her made him feel much more relaxed.
“Everything’s okay. You did a great job protecting me.”
He smiled and without a word got up and began walking back home with Fluttershy walking beside him.
“Say,” he said, “ya don’t happen ta know where my saddlebag is, do ya?”
Flutterhsy blushed, “I’m sorry, but I left it back when…well, you know.”
He nodded, “Ah’m sure we’ll find it on the way back.”
They did. It was hidden in a few bushes that provided it and Fluttershy a soft landing. After slinging it across Big Mac’s back and making sure the plants were still in the pack they continued their way towards town. As they reached the outskirts of Ponyville, Big Mac turned to the mare.
“Listen Miss Shy, about all this Ursa business. Ah’d appreciate it if ya didn’t tell anypony ‘bout it.”
Fluttershy looked at him for a moment before speaking, “Why not?”
“Ya know why.”
And Big Mac believed her.