Staying in bed was all that Applejack allowed him, and it wore on his sanity like water on salt. To think that, had he not been injured a second time, he would be out working on the farm by now sent him deeper into his slump. He had thought that once out of the hospital he could at least wander around in the fresh air, but that wasn’t the case. He blamed the nurse who visited the Acres to talk to Mac about his condition. It really just meant she talked in-depth about what he could and couldn’t do. Which came down to nothing and everything, respectively. Unfortunately his family, mostly Applejack, completely threw out the concept of doctor-patient confidentiality and thought it a good idea to eavesdrop. It had been a week since then, and he hadn’t even been allowed to walk.
He hated it. Hated having his food brought to him. Hated Applejack’s insistence to escort him to and from the bathroom. Hated the inability to help his family run the farm. Hated feeling like a foal. No, at least foals could get up and walk around. He was a damn piece of glass.
One day he just couldn’t take it anymore. He had to feel useful, had to feel like he was actually doing something. He had to work. It didn’t matter how injured or how weak his body. So during the early hours of the morning, when even Granny Smith still slept, he got up from his bed. His legs wobbled a bit, but he soon found his footing. He opened his bedroom door, a tiny squeak from its hinges making him hesitate. Once he was certain the coast was clear, he crept out and down the steps in silence. He soon found himself outside in the cold pre-dawn. He took a deep breath, though quickly regretted it as pain shot him in the chest. He ignored it and made his way to the barn. He smiled softly as he kept a gentle walk towards the building, but his smile grew and his pace quickened the closer he approached.
He stopped in front of the shadowed structure for a moment as he remembered that the last time he had been inside was a whole week ago. After taking another deep breath and flinching from the resulting pain, he swung the barn doors open and allowed the warmer air inside to hit him full on. He walked in to the very back, towards a hidden corner where a pile of various chains, scrap wood, and chunks of broken iron lied. Applejack thought she had hidden it well, but if that was her best attempt then she must not know him as well as she thought. He carefully moved aside the debris to expose something covered in a white tarp. He removed the sheet to reveal an old friend: his plow.
Big Macintosh grabbed its handle with his teeth and began to lift only to quickly release it with a thud as a tendril of pain spiked up his neck. He shook his head before grabbing the handle yet again, clenching his teeth so hard he could feel the wood sinking to his bite. He lifted and ignored the pain in his neck, though it kept him from lifting the plow fully off the ground. The pain grew tremendous as he half-lifted-half-dragged his farm tool out of the barn, creating a shallow trench in the dirt as the blade grounded against the earth.
The southern field wasn’t too far off now. It had been the last field he had worked on before he became injured the first time. Coming back to it now, it made him feel like he was truly at home after being away for so long. A strange type of homesickness, to be sure, but one that hung around his neck tighter than his yolk.
The plow settled about midway through the first edge of the field, continuing the interrupted line that had stayed uncompleted for about a month now. He grabbed its rope and hitched it to his collar. Standing in front of the plow, he allowed the rope some slack as he tested his legs. He lifted each one slowly, picking up speed until he was trotting in place. Nothing felt off.
He took a step forward and soon the rope became taut and the weight of the plow held him back. He pulled as hard as he could until the gnawing pain in his chest and neck forced him to stop. But not for long. A few breaths later and he pulled once again, this time not stopping when the aches and stings became greater and more acute. Not even when they began to cloud his mind and his sight. He lost his senses to pain and it was all his mind could register. But even then he didn’t stop. Slowly he felt the plow inch forward and, with a triumphant grunt, took his first step towards true work.
“Big Macintosh!” The yell was so great he could swear he felt the ground shake. But as powerful the shout, he ignored it completely. All he heard was the sound of the plow carving the ground, all he saw was the unworked earth in front of him, all he smelled was the scent of his own sweat, and all he felt was the ground giving way beneath him.
He took another step and another and another, and with each one he felt more and more of his energy drain away. His body became enveloped in fire and he knew he was in danger of fainting. But he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t stop until the entire damn field was done, even if it killed him.
A loud thud sounded through the field, and Big Macintosh felt the weight of the plow increase. He struggled vainly to keep going, but he just wasn’t strong enough in his injured state. He finally stopped and the fatigue caught up with him. Exhausted, his legs shook until they finally gave up altogether. He collapsed, his legs folded underneath him.
“You brainless idiot.” He recognized the voice, and slowly he turned his head to face his sister. She looked none too happy. Her hard glare made it difficult for him to look her in the eyes, even worse that they were watering. She removed her back hoof from the flat of the plow’s blade and undid the ropes hitching it to him before circling around to stand in front of him. “Ya think Ah don’t know how much ya hate stayin’ outta work? Ah do, Ah honestly do. But if ya can’t wait two months then soon enough yer gonna have ta wait six.”
Big Macintosh just looked at the earth under him, idly scratching at it with a hoof. Soon he had dug a tiny hole in the ground, and he wondered whether he could plow a field like this. He felt his sister’s nose beneath his chin as she lifted up his head before she moved to lock eyes with him, forcing him to speak.
“Ah was so close. Now Ah can’t even do anythin’,” he said.
His sister gave him a soft smile and nuzzled his neck gently. “Ah know,” she said, “but ya gotta find something ta do ta take yer mind off of working.”
“How can Ah do anything when ya don’t even let me outta my room?” Big Macintosh said.
She paused for a moment before opening her mouth to argue. But after a few more seconds of thinking, she only heaved a sigh. “Yer right. Ah have been overreactin’. But that’s only ‘cause Ah worry about ya.” She stopped to wipe some nonexistent sweat out of her eyes. “Say, how ‘bout you go to the library and read something. That helped Rainbow Dash when she was holed up in the hospital, and we know how that ended,” she said with a small laugh.
He forced a smile. “Ya mean yer gonna let me walk around fer a change?”
“Only if ya promise not ta strain yerself, ya hear?”
He nodded slowly. Walking to the library wasn’t really what he had in mind, but at least it was a chance to stretch his legs. Still, the nagging feeling of uselessness never quite left him, and it darkened whatever shallow happiness he felt. But he wouldn’t dare show that to his sister, lest she just worry about him more. And that was something he’d never let himself do.
“Ya better get on yer way. Ah’m sure Twilight wouldn’t mind ya stoppin’ by a bit early. Knowing her she’s probably up already readin’ something or other.” She circled around again towards the back of the plow. “Don’t worry about this thing,” she said, “Ah’ll put it back in the barn.”
“No buts, now get on with ya.”
He nodded before walking towards Ponyville, taking a pause to give his sister one last look. But she just pointed a hoof towards the town as she struggled with the plow. He sighed and continued down the path.
The sun hadn’t yet risen though the eastern sky showed the faintest signs of day, so Ponyville was still cloaked in that strange shade of bluish-gray. Soon the sun would hover halfway in the horizon and bring with it a world of bright oranges and reds. Magic hour. He couldn’t wait for that time of golden brilliance. It always managed to cheer him up, and right now he sure could use some cheering up.
As he arrived at the library he made the same promise he always made to himself before an imminent encounter with Ponyville’s librarian. The last thing he wanted was to pester her with questions like he always seemed to do. Besides, he didn’t feel much like talking anyway.
He arrived a bit sooner than he had planned. Looking back towards the east, he wondered if he should perhaps take a seat outside to see the morning. He nodded to himself as he sat down by the library door, getting comfortable as he stared up at the sky. Though he didn’t stay there for long before the door carefully swung open. Twilight Sparkle peeked her head out and caught sight of the stallion looking back at her.
“Hey Big Macintosh,” Twilight said as she stepped completely out the door, “I know the library’s not open yet but that doesn’t mean you can’t come in if you want.” She smiled at him.
“Ah know, Miss Sparkle,” he said, remaining unmoved, “but Ah just wanted ta see the sun rise up before Ah went in.”
“Oh,” she said as she followed the colt’s gaze towards the sky. A hint of gold touched on the horizon. “Hey, I know. You can get a really great view upstairs on my little observatory. Well, it’s not really an observatory, I mean, it’s really not what you think of when you hear the word observatory, but I like to…” she trailed off her nervous rambling as she noticed him staring at her. She forced a smile, which was enough to get him on his hooves.
“Lead the way,” he said.
She nodded happily as she entered the library with Big Mac following her. The library, per usual, was spotless. Nothing but a few opened books on the table and on a few bookstands gave any indication that it was in use at all, and even then they felt more like mere props adding to the ambiance.
Twilight Sparkle led him up a couple of flights of stairs before they reached a door. On the other side was a small platform with a railing lining its edge. A rather large telescope was attached to a part of the railing, pointing towards the sky. The deck proved a bit on the small side, though there was plenty of room for the two of them.
Big Macintosh approached the edge of the deck, his chest leaning gently against the railing. Below him was the all-encompassing sight of Ponyville that only a view from above could ever present. The sun had risen higher and each building seemed split in half, one with the soft glow of orange and the other a cold darkened blue. Shadows grew to eerie lengths, so great in fact that they seemed like stripes on the ground. The alternating strips of light and dark made it seem as if night and day were competing for the world. It made him smile.
“Beautiful,” he whispered beneath his breath.
“Yeah,” she sighed next to him. “You know there are places in the world where it’s like this all day and night. Wouldn’t it be amazing to live somewhere like that?”
“Not really,” he said, his gaze still focused on the town below him. “Once ya get used ta something it doesn’t seem as special as it used ta be.” He bit his tongue as the final words left him, his promise still in the back of his mind. This time he made sure he would keep it.
She looked ready to respond, but before she could Big Macintosh turned around and headed through the door they came in. “Thanks for sharin’ this with me,” he allowed himself to say as he climbed down the stairs. She followed him, and soon the two were back on the main floor.
Big Macintosh wasted no time before perusing the shelves. Looking for anything that might catch his interest.
“So I heard about what happened. Are you feeling alright?” she asked as she followed him through the bookshelves.
“Well, do you… want to talk about it? It might make you feel better.”
“Do you want to talk at all?”
“Oh okay,” she said, her ears falling low. “Sorry for bothering you.” She walked away and left him to his own devices.
He really hated to be rude, especially to someone who’d always been so nice to him. But all the more reason he had to keep to his usual two-word vocabulary. The last thing he wanted was for the smartest pony in Ponyville to think any less of him. Though, if he thought about it, it wasn’t because she was so smart, but because she was such a good friend to his little sister.
With that thought he picked out a book that caught his eye, Color Theory in Mode and Style, and headed for the table where Twilight was busy with her nose in a book. She looked up with a smile as he approached and brought her ledger and quill to her. Big Mac, meanwhile, placed the little book on the table for her to see. Not a second passed before she was done writing and he was wedging the book beneath his collar while ignoring the pain from his bruised neck. He turned to leave but didn’t get far.
“You know,” Twilight Sparkle said, and he turned his head towards her, “you could stay here to read it. You usually return books a day or two after you check them out so it could save you a trip. Especially since you’re supposed to stay off your feet.”
Big Macintosh stayed silent and simply looked at her for a few moments. Until finally he said, “Did AJ tell ya that?”
“Uh,” she stuttered for a moment, “it came up in conversation.” The corner of her lips rose half-heartedly in a nervous smile.
He chuckled softly. “Ah believe it.” He grabbed the book and placed it on the table before opening it to the first page. He sat himself across from the librarian and began to read. From the corner of his eye he saw her smile, just a bit, before returning to her own reading.
They remained silent after that, simply engrossed in their books. He proved Twilight right as, about two hours later, Big Macintosh closed the book in front of him with a yawn. He didn’t have time to stand before his book was engulfed in magic and floated back to its place in the shelves. A moment later Twilight brought her ledger and quill and updated her records, all the while never looking up from her book.
The cycle repeated itself. He would take a seemingly random book from the shelves, read it, finish it, and put it back. This went on for much of the pre-noon day. It wasn’t until Twilight had finished her own book that he found himself unable to concentrate.
With seemingly nothing else to do, she paced back and forth through her library. Sometimes she would arbitrarily open a book before placing it back. Other times he would catch her looking at him with that same look Applejack had when she contemplated interrupting him while he was working. A look filled with held back eagerness. It wouldn’t be so bad if she weren’t so obvious about it.
It was during one of those times that he turned to look right back at her. They locked eyes for a moment and Twilight was forced to say something. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but nothing came out.
“Would,” she finally began only to hesitate after the first word, “would you like some tea?”
Big Mac’s eyelids fell lower than usual. “Got any coffee?” he said with a yawn.
“I…don’t, sorry,” she said sheepishly. He only nodded his response before rubbing his cramped neck. He tried to crack it, but only succeeded in sending waves of pain up his spine. His eyes shut and his teeth gritted against the stinging.
“You know, tea can help dull the pain,” Twilight said as she walked towards a doorway that presumably led to the kitchen. “Some alfalfa tea always helps when I have a headache from reading all day,” she called.
“No offense, Miss Sparkle, but Ah got a bit more than a headache,” he said. It didn’t take long for her to come back with two steaming mugs floating in front of her. She placed one in front of her place on the table and the other in front of Big Macintosh, who simply sniffed at the amber brown liquid.
“Trust me, it’ll help,” she said before taking a sip from her mug. Big Macintosh followed suit and allowed its slight bitterness and extreme heat to wash away the little aches, though a great many still remained. Still, it did help. If only a bit.
“Thanks,” he said, forcing himself to take another sip of tea.
“How’s your reading?” Twilight asked. It was the sort of question one asked to drive away awkward silences. It was strange, though, since there wasn’t an awkward silence to be driven away. At least, to him there wasn’t.
“Jus’ fine. But Ah gotta admit Ah ain’t much inta readin’.”
“Really?” Twilight said, giving him a questioning look. “You check out a lot of books for someone who’s not into reading.”
“Well,” Big Mac said, taking his time with a response, “Ah s’ppose Ah only like ta read books that can teach me somethin’ useful.”
“But Big Macintosh, there’s more to reading than just-“
The sound of the library door slamming open interrupted the mare. And the sound of tiny hooves and high-pitched grunts and yelps echoed throughout the library as two little ponies rolled over themselves in a ball of manes and tails. All the while a unicorn filly stood at the sidelines, a wagon full of sheets of paper behind her, trying in vain to calm the situation.
Without so much as a sound, Big Macintosh approached the twirling mass of filly. He lowered his head and grabbed a familiar yellow pony by the scruff of her neck. She flailed wildly with her eyes shut even as she dangled from her brother’s gentle grip of teeth. Her competitor, an orange pegasus with a purple mane, flailed around as well for a few moments before realizing she was simply fighting air.
Once the two had settled down a bit, the eldest Apple lowered his sister back onto the ground. “Ya’ll better have a good explanation for fightin’, and in a library of all places,” he said. He turned a scolding gaze towards Applebloom, who just looked down at the floor.
“She started it,” his little sister said as she pointed a hoof towards Scootaloo.
“Did not,” the other filly said. “You’re the one that said it’ll take me a hundred years for me to learn how to fly.”
“It was only a joke,” Applebloom cried. “You were the one that started the fight.”
“That’s enough you two,” Twilight said, appearing next to Big Macintosh.
The stallion nodded. “Now Applebloom, ya know how hurtful words can be. Even if ya think its just a joke. Say yer sorry.”
“Sorry,” Applebloom said in the usual tone children took when forced to apologize.
“You too, Scootaloo,” Twilight said, “its fine to be mad at a friend, but there are better ways to resolve arguments than fighting. Somepony could get really hurt.”
“Sorry,” Scootaloo said, matching her friend’s tone.
With the two fillies properly lectured, Big Macintosh turned towards the bookshelves with the hope of spending the rest of the day quietly reading. But Applebloom quickly got in his way.
“Hey, big brother, can ya make me a paper dart?”
He hummed in thought for a moment before speaking. “Didn’t Ah a’ready teach ya how ta make one?”
“Yeah,” she said, drawing out that one syllable for as long as she could. “But yours are always better than mine. Please.” She looked up at him with those big ol’ eyes and he just smiled.
“A’right sugarcube, fetch me a piece of paper.”
The young filly grinned from ear to ear before running off towards the wagon, grabbing a piece of paper, and running back to her older brother. He took it and placed it flat on the table. Carefully he folded, turned, and bent the paper until it finally looked like a thin, narrow triangle with a perpendicular base attaching underneath.
He took the base within his teeth, and with a turn of his neck propelled the paper dart into the air. It glided across the room, a giggling Applebloom chasing after it, until finally bumping into the wall and spiraling down to the floor.
“See, Ah told ya it would work.” Applebloom said with a grin as she picked up the paper dart and placed it in the wagon.
“So we have a proof of concept,” Scootaloo said with a dismissive wave of her hoof, “we still need tons of paper.”
“Well then let’s keep lookin’.”
“Uh, you know we’re in a library right?” Sweetie Belle piped up. “We could ask Twilight if she could let us borrow some.”
Without much warning Twilight was bombarded with three fillies at their cutest, each looking at her with a face that would have had Big Mac biting his hoof to keep himself from making any embarrassing noises. Twilight, fortunately, seemed to have a higher tolerance.
She looked at the three for a moment. “Yes, I have some parchment you can borrow,” she finally said with a hint of a chuckle. The fillies cheered as the unicorn magically grabbed a few sheets of paper, picked at random from throughout the library, and placed them neatly atop their wagon. The three quickly said their thanks before dashing out of the library in full excitement, the wagon bumping along behind them.
The two left in the library just watched them go for a moment before Twilight turned to the red pony next to her. “What are paper darts used for, anyway?”
He chuckled. “Used ta make ‘em all the time when Ah was in school. Drove the teacher crazy, and Ah don’t think Cheerilee is gonna be too pleased about it either.” He looked at her and saw a hint of interest in her eyes. “You want me ta show ya how ta make one?” he asked.
“Well,” she hesitated, “that’s alright. Actually, I was hoping we could talk some more.”
“Oh,” Big Macintosh said as his smile faded, “I was sorta hopin’ to read.”
“Yeah,” she said nervously, “I guess talking is pretty boring for you. Sorry about that.”
“Heck, that ain’t it at all,” he quickly said. “It’s jus’ that, well, ya gotta have better things ta do than talk to a farmpony who doesn’t know much about anything.”
“What are you talking about?” she said. “I like our conversations.”
Big Macintosh had to think about that for a moment. Quite honestly, it caught him by surprise. He pondered for a moment whether she was just patronizing him or, more likely, if she had gone a bit crazy. But whatever brought her to say such a thing, whether pity, sincerity, or instability, he couldn’t deny that he felt the same way. With that said, he still didn’t feel much like talking. He was about to tell her that when he caught sight of her smile. One day, he would find a way to become immune to cute. Until then, he had no choice but to oblige.
“So what were ya sayin’ about readin’?”
And they were off. Their first debate concerning whether knowledge should simply be a means to an end, or an end in and of itself. They must have talked for hours. Twilight would always cite names of ponies he never heard of, but by the tone of her voice seemed to be common knowledge. While he depended mostly on his own experiences, lacking the studious mare’s large reference pool.
Like always, their root of conversation grew out into secondary debates. Strange things such as whether there existed such a thing as true knowledge or if all knowledge was based upon extreme statistical probabilities (it wasn’t). Whether the senses could be trusted or if truth could only be found a priori (it couldn’t). And whether white chocolate should be classified as chocolate at all (it shouldn’t).
That last one was his. As much as Big Mac tried to steer the conversation towards more practical things, Twilight seemed just as determined to take the discussion to the most abstract contemplations possible. Subjects that, frankly, the workpony could not fathom. Though he honestly tried his best.
“Ah dunno, Miss Sparkle. Seems ta me that, for a pony that was so dang certain ‘bout how nothing could be certain to the point that he assumed his own thoughts might’ve been planted by some evil…thing, it was mighty easy of him to say that his own thoughts were in fact his own thoughts and not the thoughts of somethin’ else. Seems like he shoulda just said ‘Ah think therefore somethin’ is’.”
“That’s a good point, but I think-“
She was interrupted by the soft sound of flapping wings. The two turned to see Twilight’s pet owl land on his perch and turn his head to face a grandfather clock in a corner of the library. Twilight’s eyes grew wide as she followed her pet’s gaze.
“Oh wow, it’s getting pretty late,” she said. Big Macintosh took a look for himself and realized how much of an understatement it truly was. The clock face read half past four. He would usually be waking up right about now.
“Looks like Ah’ll be puttin’ in an all-nighter,” he mumbled to himself, though not quietly enough.
“Yeah, me too,” she said. What came next Macintosh would never have expected. “Say,” she began, “how about we have a slumber party.”
“E-excuse me, Miss Sparkle?” he stuttered.
“Well I guess it really wouldn’t be a slumber party since we probably won’t sleep much. But, you know, we could stay up and talk. Maybe play some board games and keep each other company.”
“Ah really don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to stay the night.”
Big Macintosh couldn’t believe that she was this socially inept. Of course, he could think of a very good reason why not. The only hard part was actually telling her, and as he saw her levitate a small box onto the table he pondered the best way to say why it would be inappropriate for a stallion and mare to have a slumber party where no one actually slept.
“Do you know how to play chess?” she asked. He couldn’t explain it but that one question seemed to put his mind at ease. Of course Twilight thought nothing wrong with two friends staying up to play a game of chess, he didn’t think the mare was even capable of thinking an inappropriate thought. And honestly, if she thought nothing of it then maybe he shouldn’t either.
“Eeyup,” he answered her as he positioned himself across the table from her, the black pieces closest to him. The chessboard and pieces seemed to be handcrafted from fine wood by a skilled artisan. He held the king in his hoof to feel its heft for a moment before putting it back, ready to begin.
“How good are you?” she asked. He knew the question. It was the kind of question someone asks so they know how easy to go on you. He hated questions like that. He couldn’t call her out on it since she would just deny it. There was really only one answer that truly obliterated any chance of her going easy on him.
“Better than you.”
She was taken aback at first before a smile formed on her lips. She made the first move in silence and the game began. Each of them took their time with their moves, sometimes just looking at the board for several minutes on end before moving a pawn. As the game went on, it seemed that it all came down to pawns. It was always close, but it was always Twilight who finished in victory. He wasn’t at all surprised at the outcome, quite the opposite, he practically predicted it. They only played around three games when they were interrupted by the sound of the library’s door opening, followed by the sound of two mares holding an argument between them.
“I’m telling you it’s violet. Honestly Rainbow, take it from someone who works with colors for a living.”
“No, its purple. And you can take it from someone who's had it on her butt all her life.”
“Hey girls,” Twilight said as she stifled a yawn. “What are you doing here so early?”
“Early?” Rarity questioned. She placed a hoof on her friend’s shoulder and looked her over in concern. “Twilight it’s already noon. Are you feeling alright?”
Big Macintosh looked over at the clock once again to find that it had indeed been seven and a half hours since he last looked at the time. A surprise, to say the least, especially since it only felt like a few minutes ago.
“Guess I lost track of time,” Twilight said. “Macintosh and I were staying up all night playing chess.”
“Playing chess, huh. Is that what they’re calling it now?” Rainbow Dash asked with a snicker.
“Uh, yeah. It’s been called that for hundreds of years,” Twilight said, confused.
“Right,” Rarity interjected before things could get awkward. “Twilight, we were having a bit of an argument and we were hoping you might settle it for us. Do you know whether the last color of a rainbow is purple or violet?”
Twilight yawned again before answering. “I don’t know off the top of my head, but I think one of these books might have-“
“Violet.” Macintosh said offhandedly as he placed the chess pieces into their proper positions.
“Hah, I knew it.” Rarity said, casting a smug smirk Rainbow’s way. “Looks like you owe me a trip to the spa.”
“Hold on, I want a second opinion. No offense, Mac, but you’re not known for pulling a plow with your incredible mind.”
“He’s right Rainbow,” Twilight said as she levitated an open book in front of the pegasus. “Violet has a shorter wavelength than blue, while purple is just red and blue mixed together. You can tell since when violet is held under a bright light it’ll take on a more bluish hue.”
Rainbow took a long look at the book before sighing in defeat. “Jeez, and out of Mac of all ponies.”
Rarity laughed haughtily. “Well I’m not surprised, he certainly is a stallion of unexpected depth. Speaking of which,” she said as she approached the farmpony still at the table, “how are you feeling, sweetie? I can’t imagine how it feels to become injured so close to a full recovery.”
“Quit bugging him,” Rainbow Dash said as she made her way to the other side of Mac. “He’s doing fine. He’s as tough as I am, after all.” She patted him on the back, hard. He tensed up and gritted his teeth as he looked over at Twilight, silently begging her to free him from the sudden onrush of attention.
She picked up on it immediately. “How about another game?” she asked as she rearranged her side of the pieces. He quickly nodded, and the two made their opening moves in a hurry.
“Chess, huh?” Rainbow said as she circled around the table to get a better view of both sides of the board. “Let me guess. Mac’s been losing, right?”
“It’s been pretty close, but yes.” Twilight said as she moved her king’s pawn a square forward.
“Yeah, I bet. He loses on purpose, you know.”
“Hoof wrasslin’ is a different game than chess,” he said dryly as he moved his queen’s knight to a3.
“Yes, Rainbow Dash,” Rarity chimed in, “I don’t think it’s even possible to lose a game of chess deliberately.”
“If you say so,” the pegasus said, unconvinced. “But if anyone can find out a way to lose, it’s Mac.”
“C’mon Dash, what would he accomplish by throwing the game? It’s just a friendly competition between friends,” Twilight said.
Big Macintosh had to admit that he was getting pretty annoyed from all these mares talking about him as if he wasn’t there. Even so, he decided to just stay out of this conversation. Last thing he wanted was to bring more attention to himself.
“If you say so,” Dash said in a dismissive tone. “Anyway, I better get going before I’m late for work.”
“Rainbow dear, I hope you didn’t forget our bet.” Rarity called to the pegasus heading for the exit, causing Rainbow to visibly shiver.
“Yeah, uh, I’ll get back to you on that,” she said, hurriedly making her way through the door.
Rarity turned to the two ponies at their game of chess. “Oh, I am going to have so much fun with this,” she said with a smirk. “Well, I better take my leave as well. It was wonderful seeing you again, Macintosh. And I do hope for a quick recovery.” She gave the injured pony’s neck a quick nuzzle, though he could have sworn she lingered just a bit, before she took her exit and left him and Twilight alone to finish their chess game.
“You’ve certainly become fast friends,” Twilight said as she made her next move. Big Macintosh only responded with an affirmative grunt, still recovering from Rarity’s sudden touch of affection.
“You’re really good at this. How did you learn?” she asked. He felt confident enough to speak only once he felt the heat from his face fade away.
“Ah used ta play all the time when Ah was a colt. Mostly against Granny Smith, AJ just didn’t have the patience for it,” he said as he moved a pawn to capture one of hers.
“Used to? Why did you stop?” She moved a bishop for a check.
“Ah,” he paused to move a pawn into the bishop’s path and to also think of what to say, “grew out of it. That’s all.”
She only nodded, and the two continued in silence. After a few moves Macintosh noticed something peculiar about Twilight’s plays. She was getting sloppy. She missed easy opportunities to whittle down his forces, and he could swear she was actively trying to leave her king open to a checkmate.
“You think Ah’m losin’ on purpose.” It wasn’t a question, simply a statement of fact. The game was coming to a close and the odds were in his favor for once.
“What? No, of course not.” Twilight said quickly. “If I’m playing weakly its because I’m tired.”
“So ya know yer makin’ bad moves.” Again, a statement of fact.
“Well, I mean… if you’re getting that impression then…” she trailed off, knowing full well that she had been caught. She thought as she focused her gaze on the chessboard. “Are you losing on purpose?” she finally asked.
“Miss Sparkle, it’s chess. If Ah ain’t good enough ta win against ya, what makes ya think Ah’m good enough to lose to ya on purpose. Seems like it’ll take more thought to lose on purpose than ta win in the first place.”
“That’s what I thought. But after what Rainbow Dash said I couldn’t help but notice that in every game it just seemed…” she stopped for a moment, seeming to try to find the right words. The longer she stayed silent the more Mac’s gaze was drawn to the door. “I can’t really explain it. It just feels like I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do. I’ve read extensively on chess strategy and in every game it felt like I was reliving every scenario from those books. Not exactly, of course, but you make a move and I know all the books say to make this countermove. And then you make the move you’re supposed to make, the move the books say you’re supposed to make, and the move that anyone would make in order to win. But then, there’s this part towards the end of the game where you start doing what you’re not supposed to do. It just feels…scripted.”
The two remained silent for a few moments before Macintosh moved his remaining bishop. “Checkmate,” he said. “Ah should get going. Applejack’s probably worried sick.” He stood up and rolled his shoulders to ease the stiffness in them.
“Yeah, she probably is.” Twilight said absently, her focus on her king as her hoof hovered over it as if trying to find an escape. But there was none. “You’ll be back right?”
“So long as we don’t play anymore chess,” he said before making his way to the library’s front door and passing through to the other side.
The next day found Macintosh in the early morning hours on his way to the library yet again. Applejack had made her suspicions quite clear the previous day, grilling her older brother nonstop about where he had spent the night. He had finally submitted, and when he finally told her the truth he had to swear up and down that nothing happened. He was a little disappointed in his little sister. Sure she might have had enough reason not to trust him, but he would have thought she would have placed more trust in one of her closest friends. But then again, maybe it was because Twilight was such a good friend that his sister was so protective of her.
But he had enough of trying to dissect his sister’s motivations by the time he reached Twilight’s home. It wasn’t as early as it had been during his visit yesterday, but it was still before the library’s usual hours so he expected to wait outside for a bit. However, that didn’t turn out to be the case as the door opened as he approached it. The purple unicorn gave him a rather too-optimistic smile for his comfort. He knew that smile, he’d seen it on Applejack at least hundreds of times and had even begun to recognize it on Rainbow Dash and Rarity. It was the smile of a mare with a scheme.
“Hey Macintosh. C’mon in, I brewed some tea,” she said as she walked into her home. If the statement had been meant to make him feel comfortable, it had the opposite effect. He pondered for a moment whether it would be rude to just turn around and act as if he hadn’t seen her before he finally decided to follow her in. The sweet smell of honey and tea filled the main floor of the library, the source coming from two steaming mugs on the table that had previously held their chess game.
Twilight took her same spot as yesterday, several pieces of wood in front of her. He hesitated at the door for a moment before walking to occupy his usual spot across from her. He examined the sixty-something pieces of wood more closely. They were small, probably about half as long as a quill, and each one was carved into a block. Some were shaped straight, others bent at a right angle, and still others were perfect cubes.
“I thought you might enjoy a brainteaser,” Twilight said with that same smile. “All you have to do is arrange these blocks to form a cube.”
“Sounds simple enough,” he said, though his suspicions were still at the forefront of his mind. “Anythin’ else, like a time limit or somethin’?”
“Nope. Take as long as you want.”
“Ah’m gonna take ya on that,” he said. And she only smiled back at him. He sincerely didn’t think she knew exactly what she was getting into.
Big Macintosh stared at the pieces of wood in front of him. And then he stared. And then he stared some more. Every once in a while he would move a piece out of his direct line of sight and into his peripheral vision, but for the most part he stayed still. His mind was whirring and thinking, slowly putting the pieces together within his mind’s eye.
As much as he was staring at the blocks, Twilight was staring at him. At first she would pass the time by sipping at her tea, but as time went on she decided to get some work done and organize some of the shelves. After a while the library opened and her patrons occupied most of her time.
The red pony didn’t know how much time had past before he had pushed every piece out of his line of sight. He nodded to himself before manipulating the pieces with both hooves. He stood several blocks on their ends and stacked them upon each other until he finally placed the last piece to create a perfect cube.
“Big Macintosh, that was amazing.” Twilight said as she walked over to him to examine the cube.
“What?” Mac exclaimed in genuine surprise. “What’s so amazin’ about puttin’ a bunch of blocks together in,” he took a quick look at the clock, “five hours?”
Twilight looked at him as if he had asked who raised the sun. “You’re kidding right? Almost every pony that tries can’t even solve this puzzle at all, and you did it in your first try.”
“So? All Ah did was just picture how the pieces fit together and get them outta my way once Ah was done with ‘em. It’s like doing math in my hea-”
“What’s four thousand six hundred and eighty three times five hundred forty?”
He rolled his eyes. “Miss Sparkle, do you know what that comes out to?”
“Uh…no,” she admitted with a sheepish smile. “Sorry. But, all modesty aside, you can’t possibly think that it’s normal to solve this puzzle by just visualizing the pieces fitting together.”
He shrugged. “Ah wouldn’t know.”
Twilight rubbed her head with a hoof as if trying to ease a headache. But suddenly her expression brightened and she made her way to one of the bookshelves surrounding them. She came back with a rather thick tome hovering above her. Carefully she placed the book in front of him. With a weary gaze he read the title: A Survey of Ancient and Contemporary Philosophy. He didn’t like where this was going at all.
“No,” he quickly said as he pushed the book away from him like a diseased rat.
“Please,” she said, “I really think it’ll help reveal your true potential.”
“My true potential?” he repeated in disbelief. “Miss Sparkle, Ah think yer takin’ all this a might too seriously.”
“And I think you’re not taking this seriously enough. You’re smart, Macintosh, incredibly so. Don’t you want to explore your intelligence?”
He actually had to turn away from the purple mare as he tried to stifle the laughter threatening to burst from him. “Smart?” he managed to say, “C’mon Miss Sparkle, now yer just pullin’ my leg. We play a couple of games of chess and Ah solve a puzzle and all of a sudden yer sayin’ Ah’m smart.”
Twilight, understandably, didn’t look too pleased with him. “It’s not just that. It’s also because of the talks we have. You have insights that really make me think.”
“Aw heck, that’s just arguin’. Ah do that all the time with Applejack. And it ain’t like Ah’m bringin’ in big names like you do. All Ah got ta go on is my own life and common sense,” he said with a shrug. “How ‘bout we talk about somethin’ else,” he added.
“Why are you so against this?” she asked as she stood and made her way around the table to sit directly in front of him. He could see that she wasn’t going to give up on this. And by the tone of her voice, this debate was about to get much more heated.
“The only thing Ah’m against is you tryin’ ta see somethin’ that ain’t there. Look, Miss Sparkle, Ah ain’t dumb enough ta tell ya Ah’m stupid, or that there ain’t some hidden side of me that Ah don’t show anypony. ‘cause honestly everypony’s got somethin’ like that. But sorry, Ah ain’t smart.” Big Mac’s voice matched her tone as the situation went from a funny misunderstanding into an annoying and privacy-invading discussion.
Twilight was silent for a moment. “How do you define ‘smart’?” she asked. “Better yet, how do you define a smart pony?”
“Somepony that knows more than me.”
The studious unicorn was not impressed, and just lowered her eyelids with a frown. “Macintosh, please.”
It was the farmpony’s turn to rub his temple to ease the dull pounding quickly gaining force. He didn’t know whether it was the pain from his injuries, or the effort it took to solve the puzzle, or even if she was just hitting a nerve, but his patience was wearing very thin. “Ah dunno. Ah guess somepony that ponies go to fer advice, that ponies go to when they want an answer to a hard question, and that ponies go to so they could learn somethin’. A smart pony’s a pony that knows what ta say, when ta say it, and knows what’s right.”
“That’s a wise pony, Macintosh. How do you define a smart one?”
He didn’t answer her.
The quiet between the two lasted for several minutes, and in that time Macintosh could feel the blistering heat that had welled in his throat subside. He took a couple of deep breaths, while trying his hardest to hide the resulting pain, and tried to relax. The silence was finally broken by the sound of leather sliding over wood as Twilight brought the displaced tome back towards him. “Just read the book, Macintosh, please.” Her voice was barely a whisper.
His eyes wandered from her to the book and then back to her. He knew he had no choice. Silently he turned to face the table and opened to the first page. Twilight smiled at him before settling down next to him and levitating a book towards her. The two read silently next to each other.
To read that damn book was like talking to Twilight at her most theoretical. His mind simply could not grasp at something that didn’t exist. And the words themselves were an entire beast in and of themselves. Long multisyllabic words that, while he could nail their pronunciation after a couple of tries, he could not even begin to guess at a definition. If this was what he was supposed to read in order to ‘reveal his true potential’ then quite honestly he would rather live the rest of his life as a dumb hick.
Finally, after a whole hour, he gave up.
He slid the book away from him, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. “It’s like a bunch of ponies tryin’ ta make rules for a game with no board, no dice, no pieces, nothin’. Just nothin’.”
“This is important,” Twilight said as she looked up from her book. “They’re trying to define what it means to be. How we obtain things like knowledge and meaning.”
“Ya say those words as if that’s all there is ta livin’. Ah rather not waste time thinkin’ ‘bout things that Ah can’t use.”
“It’s not a waste of time,” she said, her voice louder and much more tense as all the fire that had dulled roared back to life. “These things are important. The unexamined life isn’t worth living.”
“A life worth livin’ don’t need ta be examined. See, Miss Sparkle, Ah can say things that sound good too.” His voice matched hers in volume and frustration.
Twilight shook her head with an exasperated groan. “It’s a quote from a great philos-“
“Ah know what it is, Miss Sparkle,” he said, running a hoof through his mane. “Ya know why Ah don’t wanna be smart? It’s ‘cause it seems like all smart ponies do is repeat things other smart ponies said so they sound smarter fer sayin’ it. Smart doesn’t pull a plow, smart doesn’t fix a barn roof, smart doesn’t fight off pests from apple trees.”
“Neither do you,” Twilight snapped.
If she wanted to hurt him, she succeeded. All the feelings of being useless and worthless crushed him like a cold iron vice. The dull aches he had forgotten suddenly grew into dire wounds, and suddenly it became harder to swallow.
“Ah know,” he said quietly as he stood up. With as much dignity as he could muster he silently walked past her and towards the exit. Neither of them said a word as he left.
The rest of the afternoon was simply unbearable. He confined himself to his room, feeling completely and utterly forlorn. Worse yet, Applejack just wouldn’t stop her unrelenting barrage of questions of what happened in the library. It wasn’t until he finally snapped at her to leave him alone did she actually stop asking. He didn’t see much of her after that. He didn’t see much of anyone after that.
It wasn’t until the next morning that he finally had enough of wallowing in self-pity. With a grunt of effort he got up from his bed. He stretched out his legs and shook his head to properly wake up before putting on his harness, exiting his room, and descending the stairs to the main floor.
He could smell the sweet scent of apple-cinnamon pancakes get stronger as he descended. The smell hit him full force as he entered the kitchen where Granny Smith was busily bustling about preparing breakfast. She smiled as she saw him come in and quickly set a plate for him at the table.
“Mornin’ dear, Yer just in time for breakfast. Say, did I ever tell ya how I met yer grandfather in a fancy shmancy party in Canterlot?” she said.
“Little late on the draw there, Granny.” Big Mac replied as he took a quick glance of the plate stacked with pancakes. “Ah ain’t feelin’ too hungry. Ah think Ah’ll just grab an apple.” He said little else as he left the kitchen and went out of the farmhouse.
The sun had already risen above the horizon, so there wasn’t any pretty sunrise to cheer him up today. He aimlessly wandered around the fields and the rows of apple trees, hoping for an opportunity to do some actual work. But it never came. So with his head hung low he finally decided to just lie down on his side beneath a tree and just let the rest of the day pass him by. Slowly his eyelids began to fall as he gave up on trying to do anything useful. He didn’t know how long he had been asleep before he heard the voice.
“Macintosh?” He didn’t want to open his eyes, and he sure as hell didn’t want to see the purple unicorn right now. Even if he was wondering why she was even here in the first place. He shut his eyes tighter and rolled around to face away from her. The part of him still licking his wounds told him to dismiss her with silence, but the more rational part knew it wouldn’t do anyone any good to hold a grudge. Besides, he wasn’t smart enough to remember a grudge anyway.
“If ya want me ta say Ah’m sorry ‘bout making fun of smart ponies, then Ah’m sorry. And Ah’m sorry if Ah offended ya.” he said.
“No, it’s not that,” she whispered. “I know I went too far, and I’m sorry I said something that hurt you so much. But I still think your smart, even if you don’t think that’s a good thing. So I want to ask a favor.”
Big Macintosh ear quivered as he heard that last sentence leave her. All was forgiven as he got on all fours and stared at the unicorn. “A favor?”
She nodded. “I want to volunteer to do some work around Sweet Apple Acres.”
He gave her a soft smile. “You don’t got anything ta prove to me, Miss Sparkle.”
“I think I do. I want to show you that smart ponies can work hard too,” she said.
“Ah heck, Miss Sparkle, Ah didn’t really mean all that. Truth be told Ah know ya can work hard. Only thing is Ah never had any use fer bein’ smart. Ah ain’t much inta writin’ or readin’ or higher mathematics or anythin’ else like that anymore. Ah pull a plow, Ah don’t need any brains ta do that.”
Her eyes narrowed in thought as the two ponies locked gazes. “That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? You don’t have any use for abstract thought so you think it’s no use to you.”
“Kinda redundant, Miss Sparkle,” he said. He walked past her and towards the barn. Twilight walked alongside him, not willing to let go of the conversation.
“But that’s just not true, Big Macintosh.” She stopped for a moment and brought a hoof to her chin. Her eyes perked up before she ran up to catch up to the farmpony. “Okay, let’s take a hypothetical situation and say that there’s a pony who does the exact opposite and stays inside all day and does nothing but read and think.”
“That pony sounds awfully familiar,” Big Mac said with a smile.
“Hey I’ve been getting out more often since I’ve moved to Ponyville.” Twilight said quickly.
“Look, Ah know what yer tryin’ ta say. Yer gonna say somethin’ about balancing between bein’ smart and bein’ strong.” The two finally arrived at the barn and Big Macintosh hurriedly opened its doors. He led her inside and towards a shelf that held a saddlebag with a picture of a squash on its side. “But Ah don’t really believe that. Sure, ya gotta get out sometimes so ya don’t get fat an’ lazy and ya gotta think sometimes so you ain’t as dumb as dirt. But other that that, well, ain’t really a point ta do more than what ya need.”
“How do you now how much you need?” Twilight asked him.
“Ya feel it, Ah guess.” Big Mac said, though his voice gave away to his lack of conviction. “Ya still wanna volunteer yer time?” he asked her before she could notice.
She nodded. “Only if you promise to give that philosophy book another try.”
Big Mac was silent for a few moments. “Ah’ll think about it.” He grabbed the saddlebag and draped it across Twilight, her knees buckling slightly under the weight. “C’mon, we gotta plant those summer squash in the southern field.” He made his way out of the barn with Twilight struggling to keep up. Seeing her effort, he slowed down to walk beside her.
“Applejack wouldn’t let you plant seeds?” she asked.
“She thought they might be too much weight fer my back. Good thing Ah got yours,” he said. It didn’t take long for them to reach the field.
“Why is it only half plowed?”
Big Macintosh didn’t say anything for a minute as the memories crept into the forefront of his mind. He shook his head to push the thoughts away before he finally answered her. “Ah couldn’t finish it.”
“Oh,” was all she said. The two remained silent for a few minutes. He took the time to look up at the sun and realize that it was about a couple of hours after noon. After a while Twilight finally stepped onto the field, and began to plant the seeds with her magic. He stepped towards her and followed alongside her, grabbing a hoof-full of seeds and carefully scattering them. The pair worked without saying a word, and Big Mac couldn’t help but notice that Twilight kept looking over at the unplowed half of the field. They didn’t talk until the plowed half was completely seeded.
“You know,” Twilight began, “with a bit of magic I can have the rest of this field plowed in no time.”
He shook his head. “Plowin’ is my job, Miss Sparkle.”
“Look, I know how proud the Apple family can be. But there’s no shame in receiving help.”
He thought for a second. Truth be told pride had nothing to do with it. “Ah’ll tell ya what, if ya can pull that plow and do that unfinished row there, without magic, Ah’ll let ya do the rest with magic.” He knew she’d never be able to do it, they both knew. He hoped she would just drop the subject, but he had no such luck.
“Alright, it’s a deal,” she said with a smile. She began walking towards the barn, but Big Mac quickly stopped her with a hoof on her shoulder.
“Hold on. Yer gonna need this.” He slipped his harness off and held it out to her. Twilight carried it in her magic and looked at it for a several seconds before slipping it onto her own neck. As soon as her magic disappeared the collar plummeted to the ground, dragging her head along for the ride. She grunted as she tried her hardest to raise her head and the weight holding her down. Big Mac looked at her struggle for a while. He was actually impressed. The sort of determination she showed was something he expected from Rainbow Dash or his own sister, not from a bookworm who stayed inside most days.
After a few more moments he finally spoke. “Yer not gonna get anywhere if ya keep doin’ that. Roll it onto yer shoulders and lift with yer forelegs.”
Twilight stopped moving as she took in his instructions. She did as he said and with a grunt managed to stand up on bended knees. Big Mac approached her and removed the bag of seeds from her back, and instantly her legs straightened a bit more. He slung the bag onto his own back, wincing as he did, and stood next to her.
“Use some magic to take the weight off. Ah won’t hold it against ya,” he said as he started walking towards the barn.
She nodded and lifted the collar slightly with her magic so that it became centered around her neck. She caught up to Big Mac and the two entered the barn together. He placed the saddlebag back to its original place before going to the back corner where Applejack had placed his plow. But to his surprise, its handles were chained and padlocked to a pair of iron eyes bolted to a metal plate screwed onto one of the planks composing the barn’s wall.
“That’s new,” he muttered under his breath.
“Applejack sure is cautious,” Twilight said as she examined the pieces of metalwork.
“She just knows me.” Big Mac replied as he turned his back to the metal plate. With a well-aimed kick he bashed his back hoof through the wood, sending splinters and the metal assembly out of the barn. He pulled on the chain to bring the metal plate, now attached to nothing but a chunk of wood, back inside.
“Big Mac your… family’s barn,” Twilight said, her eyes glued to the gaping hole he made.
“It’s just a barn Miss Sparkle. Besides, it’ll give me somethin’ ta do once Ah’m all healed up.”
“Won’t Applejack be mad?” she asked.
“Eeyup, but she’s workin’ the apple stand so Ah figure Ah got a few hours ‘til then. Even more if she doesn’t notice the hole, she tends ta miss things when she’s tired,” he said before biting one of the handles of the plow. He braced himself for the pain sure to come and picked up the implement. Seeing his effort, Twilight quickly enveloped the plow in magic and carried it along with him. They navigated their way to the southern field, the long chain and ropes dragging behind them.
They finally set the plow on the unfinished trench and immediately Big Mac took the ropes and attached it to the harness. Once he was sure Twilight was properly equipped, he took a spot by the side of the turf and watched as her gaze shifted from Big Mac to the plow behind her.
“Uh,” she hesitated, “should I start now?”
“Now would be good,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady despite his growing amusement.
She nodded and began to pull against the floating collar around her neck, but as hard as she tried the plow stayed stubbornly in place. She didn’t give up, however, and continued to pull as hard as she could, her eyes shut tight from the strain. All the while Big Mac was watching her with an observant eye, and he smiled a little when he saw the plow move forward a tiny bit.
He quietly rose from his position and approached the plow from behind. He grabbed the looped chain in his teeth before stepping forward to stand next to Twilight. He dropped the chain and pulled against it as it fell to his chest, creating a makeshift harness rigged to the plow. The farm implement lurched forward, and Twilight opened her eyes in surprise.
“But you’re injured,” she said.
“Ah’m fine. Ah ain’t gotta put as much effort with ya helpin’.” It was true. Though Twilight by herself couldn’t pull the plow, she did contribute enough strength to significantly ease the burden. Even so, he made sure to keep the plow even between the two despite the growing pain in his chest.
The unicorn didn’t press the issue, and the two worked quietly to bring the plow to the other side of the field. Their slow pace delayed them a bit but they eventually reached their goal, worn but not exhausted.
“A deal’s a deal. Ya can do the rest with magic,” Big Mac said as he wiped the sweat off his head with a foreleg.
“Actually,” Twilight said slowly, “I wouldn’t mind doing the rest of the field like this. I… want to do everything that needs to be done.”
The farmpony could only stare at her until a smile formed. “If ya think yer up to it, sugarcube.”
The two slowly repositioned the plow and began a new row in the ground. They quietly shouldered their labor and didn’t stop until the job was done. For Big Mac it was absolutely euphoric to be working the field again after so long, even if the occasional ache stopped him from putting his all into it. He was happy all the same. By the time the rest of the field lied in neat rows the two ponies were drenched in sweat. But the job had yet to be finished.
The pair unhitched themselves from the plow and lifted the farm tool back into the barn before coming out with the saddlebag filled with squash seeds. They scattered them across the rest of the field, still working in silence all the while. It wasn’t until the last seed had been planted that everything that needed to be done was done.
“C’mon, there’s some cold apple juice waitin’ fer us inside,” Big Mac said as he placed the bag of seeds back on the shelf. Twilight nodded in agreement, too worn out and out of breath to actually form a coherent sentence. As he watched her gulp down air he couldn’t help but smile.
“Yeah, Ah remember my first time. Whole body feels numb, don’t it?” he said with a smile. The unicorn could only nod.
The pair trudged along towards the farmhouse as Big Mac took the time to look up at the sky again. Judging by the downward path of the sun they had been hard at work for at least a couple of hours. To him, it was a couple of hours well spent.
The two exhausted ponies entered the farmhouse and Big Mac quickly led the purple unicorn to the kitchen. He rummaged through the fridge for a moment before producing two bottles of apple juice. Twilight smiled as he placed a bottle in front of her, and gladly drank a sip from its straw. While Big Mac removed the straw on his, preferring to guzzle the whole thing down as quickly as possible. The drink brought back some energy into his tired frame.
“Seems like a lot ta do just ta get me ta read a book,” Big Mac said as Twilight sipped her drink. She wouldn’t meet his gaze, instead looking at the surface of the table. He could practically hear the gears whirling inside her head.
“I… wanted to prove to you that if I could work on a farm then you could read a philosophy book, and if I could embrace physical labor then you could embrace mental pursuits,” she said before returning to her drink.
“Lotta trouble even so,” Big Mac said. “But Ah s’ppose if ya could work a plow for an hour it seems kinda foolish of me ta quit on that book.” He hummed in thought as he turned his head towards the kitchen’s doorway and the farmhouse’s front door beyond. He quietly walked out, Twilight’s gaze following him as he left before she got up to catch up to him. It wasn’t long before the two found themselves on the path towards Ponyville.
“Where are we going?” Twilight asked though she knew the answer full well judging by her smile.
“To the library. And if Ah’m gonna do this, Miss Sparkle, yer gonna have ta stop grinnin’ like that.” She didn’t say anything though the grin remained, much to his annoyance.
The two entered the library in silence. While Twilight spoke to Spike, who was handling the front desk, Big Mac turned his attention to the table. He was surprised to find that the book of philosophy was still open to the last page he read, exactly where he had left it last. He slumped in front of the table before bringing the book towards him. Determined to power through the damn thing, he read and read and read. It didn’t take long for Twilight to sit next to him, her gaze focused on his face.
“You look like you’re in pain.” Twilight said with a chuckle. Big Mac ignored her, and instead simply placed a hoof on the open page.
“What’s this word mean?” he asked.
Twilight leaned her head in to read the word. “Metaphysics? It literally means ‘beyond physics’ and it’s the branch of philosophy that deals with questions like ‘What is’, and ‘what is it like’. Pretty much the study of the fundamentals of existence.”
“You- you can’t be serious.” Big Mac said, utterly dumbfounded. With a slight shake of his head, he continued reading. Every so often he would point to a word for Twilight to define and every time, without fail, the red stallion would be rendered speechless by its definition. By the time he was through with the whole book, a whole four hours later, he no longer felt the strength to keep his head up. With a quiet thud his head fell to the table. He took a deep breath as he felt a hoof run through his mane.
“Yeah, I remember my first time.” Twilight said. “Your mind feels pretty numb, doesn’t it?”
He could only nod. He lifted up his head with a quiet grunt before looking at the unicorn next to him. “There, Ah did it. Now if ya don’t mind Ah’d like ta go back ta not carin’ about this stuff.”
Twilight chuckled. “For now maybe, but only if I can get another favor.”
“What?” Big Mac asked, quietly dreading what she would ask of him.
“Can you teach me how to make a paper dart?”
He smiled in relief. “Of course Ah can.”
The two spent most of the afternoon and much of the night making paper darts. Twilight's first attempts turned out as crumpled mounds of paper, but as the day waned they became better and better. All the while the two talked, but amazingly not through their usual debate. It seemed that for the first time they actually just had a simple conversation about each other. She would tell him about life as a librarian, her favorite books, stories of her and her friends, and how different Ponyville was to Canterlot. He, in turn, would talk about work on the farm, his favorite kinds of apples, stories about his family, and how different Canterlot was from Ponyville. Big Mac had to admit, he liked this kind of talking a bit more. It was nice to just enjoy her company without having to devote so much energy into what to say. He didn’t have to impress her with these talks.
By the time the sun had set and the moon had risen, her paper darts were almost of the same quality as Big Mac’s…almost. Once she got the hang of actually throwing them with her magic, the two were completely surrounded by darts piled about half as tall as Big Macintosh.
“Need any help cleanin’ up?” Big Macintosh asked as he noticed the library’s floor completely covered in white.
“No, it’s fine.” Twilight said as she levitated every single one of the three hundred or so paper darts. “See? I’ll just throw these in the trash.”
He nodded as he turned his head to look at the clock. To his surprise they were well into the pre-dawn hours. It was hard to believe that he had spent an entire night doing nothing but fold paper.
“Actually, Miss Sparkle,” Big Mac said as an idea came into his sleep-deprived head, “Ah got a better idea. How ‘bout we go to that observatory of yers with them.”
She stared at him quizzically for a moment before she slowly broke into a smile as she realized his plan. He smiled back at her before they both walked towards the stairs and ascended them, the paper darts following them like a low-hanging cloud.
Once they stood upon Twilight’s observatory, the unicorn gently stacked the darts between them as neatly as she could. Big Mac, meanwhile, looked off into the still just-rising sun, it’s light only barely illuminating the very highest points of Ponyville. It wouldn’t be long now, maybe an hour or less, before the sun rose completely.
“How do you want to do it?” Twilight asked, “All at once or one at a time?”
“We got time ta spare, don’t we?” he said before grabbing a paper dart in his mouth. With a flick of his head he sent it flying off the deck. It managed to catch just a spark of golden light before it fell to hit the cold and blue-shaded ground below.
“Yeah. We do,” she said. One of the darts glowed with magic before being launched into the sky.
The two took their time and saved their words as they sent the folded papers flying throughout Ponyville. It wasn’t long before the sun had risen above the horizon and the streets below began to fill with ponies going about their business. When one of Twilight’s darts accidentally hit a pony on the street she hesitated to throw another one. She looked over at Big Mac, who only smiled at her before grabbing another dart and throwing it. She returned his smile before sending another paper flying. By the time they ran out, the streets and even some rooftops were littered with paper darts. And down below was a rather large group of ponies shouting at them.
“We’re in so much trouble.”