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“So what do we do now captain?” Dinky asked, saluting Pipsqueak. The two little ponies had decided to try and make a game and were now playing at being pirates in search of treasure. It made being lost, alone in the woods at night seem almost bearable. Almost.
“Well First Mate Dinky, we have to consult our treasure map!” Pipsqueak said proudly, strutting forth in front of Dinky with a captain’s pomp and swagger despite being about a head shorter than her. It was adorable.
“But we don’t HAVE a map.” Dinky felt obliged to point out.
“Never fear! I still have my compass!” Pip said gesturing to the compass he wore around his neck. “Now we can find which way’s north!”
“But what good does that do?” Dinky asked. “If we’re lost, we don’t know which direction the place we’re trying to get is in the first place.”
“…” Pip’s face fell. “Oh.”
“Plan B cap’n?”
“I don’t know…” Looking depressed, he cast his gaze around in all directions. “Everyplace looks the same. And when you’re lost I think you’re actually supposed to stay in one place to make it easier for the search ponies to find you.”
“Stay here?” Dinky looked around miserably. “But it’s the middle of nowhere! It’s dark and cold and wet!”
“It’ll be okay Dinky.” Pip reached up to give her an awkward hoof pat on the back. “We can tell stories and sing pirate songs until Rainbow Dash and Big Macinotsh or somepony finds us.”
“Well, that sounds nice.” With some effort, she managed a weak, shaky grin. Pip smiled encouragingly.
“Great! How about ‘Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum?’”
“Uh, what’s rum?” Dinky asked.
“I don’t know…my da’s friends back in Trottingham liked to drink it a lot. I think it’s like juice or something.”
“Sounds good! Let’s go!”
They started singing silly pirate songs and sea shanties. Dinky stopped after constantly tripping over the lyrics and instead settled for listening to Pip cheerfully bellowing out line after line in that adorable accent of his. “—and when you’re a professional piraaaate—you’re always in the best of compaaaaaanny!” He finished bawdily, bowing as he finished.
Dinky giggled and clopped her hooves together. “Hehee, hooray!”
He blushed, idly rubbing his mane with his hoof. “Thanks! Now you go!”
“Oh! All right…” Dinky cleared her throat and started to sing. “Do you know the muffin mare, the muffin mare, the muffin mare…”
Soon they came to stories. Pipsqueak told her about his old home in Trottingham and the adventures he used to get in at the docks, where he first acquired his love for pirates, the sea, and all things adventure-related. Dinky listened enrapt. He told her about the stories about what the colts at school got into (fillies and colts tended to keep to themselves at that age, as Miss Cheerilee had observed to Rainbow Dash earlier). Pipsqueak told her about how Rumble had helped create a tornado with all the other pegasi in town (she made a note to not mention this to Scootaloo) and how Truffles had been so happy to get a Hearts and Hooves Day card from Twist (this made Dinky d’aww).
Dinky didn’t really know these colts. Rumble, Truffles, Featherweight, Lickety Split, Snips and Snails…she’d notice them in class or out of the corner of her eye when she went walking through town but she’d never really taken the time to truly get to know them. She found out so much about them through Pip’s stories…about Rumble’s cute and lightly accented voice that belied a truly great flyer; Truffles’ rosy cheeks and great appetite that hid a deeper sophistication and depths; why Featherweight’s legs were so thin and dainty; how Lickety Split came from an old family; or how Snips and Snails got into as many madcap adventures as the Cutie Mark Crusaders, even if they weren’t as widely known.
Closing her eyes, Dinky could see their stories in her mind as Pip went on. Absently, she lay down and snuggled up close to Pip’s side as she listened. It was like listening to her mom telling her stories at night, but different. She could hear his heartbeat as her head rested against his warm side, gently heaving with his every breath. It was so soothing…Dinky soon found herself drifting off to sleep, feeling as safe as she had ever felt outside of her mother’s embrace.
& & &
Big Macintosh grunted. “Bein’ a mite rough there Rainbow.”
“Suddup.” Rainbow Dash grumbled, her mouth full. “Wussh.”
There was an obligatory eye roll and a sigh from the big farm pony as Rainbow Dash tugged the bandage—torn from strips of one the ruined tents—taut around his barrel. A matching bandage was already wound across Rainbow’s ribs in a similar manner. Rainbow Dash spat the tent strip out of her mouth. “Bleh. There, finished.”
Big Mac looked at his mummified middle and idly shifted where he stood. The bandages were firm, but not too tight to restrict his breathing or movement. He couldn’t see any blood seeping through either, so that was a good sign. The bear’s gash still hurt, though that was to be expected. “What do you think Rainbow?”
“Looking good.” Big Macintosh had expected her to praise her own hoofwork…what he hadn’t expected was to find her staring at his flank. Clearing his throat rather loudly startled the pegasus mare into blushing, aware that she’d been caught ogling his rump. Rather than twit her about it, he merely asked about the bandages he’d put on her. “They’re good.” Rainbow Dash said quickly, trying not to think about what it was like having Big Macintosh put his hooves all over her chest and belly as he wound the bandages around her. For a giant he had surprisingly gentle hooves…she shivered as she fought to keep her wings down.
“Okay!” She suddenly shook her head. “Time to find the foals! Now they ran in a hurry, so you can bet they left a trail we can follow. Think your mad Colt Scout skills can lead us to them?”
“Ah reckon so.” He gave her an approving nod. “That’s mighty clever Dash.”
“Are you kidding?” She beamed, buffing her hoof on her chest. “If I was being any more clever you could stick a horn on me and call me Twilight Sparkle.” Rainbow Dash grinned back.
“Modest too.” Big Mac said evenly.
“You bet! There’s no pony more modest than me, anywhere!” Rainbow said without a trace of irony. Then she blinked and realized what she had just said. “…aheh, or not.”
Macintosh chuckled. “You shore said it.” He leaned over and gently planted a kiss atop her head. Rainbow Dash bit down a giddy squeal as her wings buzzed like Scootaloo’s. She leaned her flank against his, sharing their warmth as she rested her head under his chin and nuzzled his neck.
They could’ve stayed that way forever, but they had foals to find. Both of them were too loyal to forget their mission.
Big Macintosh started poking around the bushes surrounding the campsite trying to find a trace of the wayward ponies. Sure enough, the stampeding herd of little ponies had left a trail of trampled and broken branches and grass to indicate which way they had headed. “They went this way Dash. Due west.”
“So let’s saddle up and corral those critters!” Rainbow Dash said in her best ‘cowpony’ accent. “Yeeehaw!”
Big Mac winced, his ear twitching as they started following the trail, side by side. “That was terrible, Dash.”
Rainbow got huffy. “Hey, I sounded like I was one of your relatives in Aaaaaappleloosa!” She reared and whinnied, giving little doubt as to which relative she was imitating. They both winced, Rainbow Dash for aggravating her ribs and Big Macintosh for aggravating his ears and family honor.
“That is NOT how we sound like.” Macintosh replied after quickly checking to make sure Rainbow Dash made her injuries worse, managing to sound a little put out at the horrible impression.
“Sure it was!” She protested.
“Uh, yeah! I mean, eeyup!”
“Eenope!” Big Macintosh said, starting to let his voice grow firmer in defense of his family’s beloved manner of speech—which was NOT an accent, thank you very much!
“Eeyup!” Rainbow Dash retorted defiantly, her eyes blazing and nostrils flaring—the way she did when she was digging in her hooves and getting stubborn.
“Ugh, then YOU try it if you’re so good at impressions!” Rainbow Dash finally exclaimed.
Big Macintosh cleared his throat. “Awww yeaAAah!” He came out with a higher, more feminine if sandy and somewhat squeaky voice with a hint of a rasp. Rainbow Dash’s jaw dropped. Big Mac kept going, allowing his voice to occasionally crack. “Ah’m the best there IS! Twenty percent cOOler in ten seconds flAt!”
“S-shut up! I do NOT sound like that!” She stomped her hoof angrily. Big Macintosh said nothing; he didn’t need to. The triumphant shaking of his mane said it all. Rainbow Dash’s cheeks flushed red as she refused to even look in his direction.
Sensing that he’d taken things too far, he started to rest his head atop hers, only to have her step aside. Distressed at her abrupt rejection he lowered his head. “Ah’m sorry Rainbow, really, I am. Ah didn’t know it bothered you.”
“…it’s no big thing.” Rainbow wing shrugged, in a flat tone that fooled no pony. Her voice, always somewhat rough and sandy, sounded lower and raspier than usual. “It’s just, you know. You think that your voice breaking is just something that comes and goes with puberty. With me—well, it’s just a little annoying when you’re in the middle of a sentence a squeak or crack pops up that makes you sound like a filly.”
Big Mac gave her a comforting nuzzle which he was happy to see that she accepted. “Ah think you sound amazing.”
“Re-ally?” She squeaked flushing as her voice cracked right in the middle. Big Macintosh nodded, a small smile crossing his face.
“Apple Family Honor.” He said solemnly.
Rainbow Dash couldn’t stop grinning, her eyes fluttered as she felt his muzzle rubbing her cheek. She shivered, hoping that by the time they got back they could save the mushy-gushy stuff for when they were alone. After all, she had a reputation to think of. But she couldn’t deny just how *right* this felt. For the first time since—she couldn’t even remember when!—she felt so perfectly happy and whole around another pony.
It was so strange. She felt like she wanted to be held and coddled and kept safe—despite the fact that she prided herself on her independence and her own abilities. But she also wanted Big Mac to hold her and to never let her go.
Dash eagerly leaned into his muzzle as if wanting to be enveloped by Big Mac. She stumbled as she tried to put her thoughts into words “Hey, Mac? I—” Her tongue suddenly felt itself being glued to the roof of her mouth.
Big Macintosh only nodded and gave a small smile. “Yeah.” He murmured in his usual reserved manner. “Me too.” The giant of an earth pony felt like his hooves were made of clouds and that any moment he would simply start to float away with all the happy thoughts building up in him. He had a marefriend! It was only through sheer force of will that he was prevented from letting out a Rarity-like squeal and bouncing on his hooves like a little colt. With Rainbow Dash everything seemed so…perfect. There was no other word for it.
Oh sure, other mares had noticed the big strapping stallion. He heard the hushed whispers and the sighs and occasional giggles that accompanied his walks through Ponyville—which was part of the reason why he made so few compared to the rest of his family. There was always somepony who was interested in Macintosh…but they weren’t interested in his family and their tight-knit manner. Macintosh and his family were a package deal: in for an apple, in for a bushel. And as good-looking as the mares (and a few stallions) might have found Big Macintosh, the prospect of dealing with his headstrong, stubborn, opinionated sisters and granny as well as the rest of the extended Apple family was more than a little off-putting, to say nothing of being wrapped up in the affairs of Sweet Apple Acres. And Big Mac would never abandon his family, so that seemed to be that.
But in Rainbow Dash he saw a mare who could handle her own without being intimidated by Mac’s sister and granny, who was great with little ponies and was Applejack’s equal, who could throw herself into any challenge with sheer grit and determination enough to match even Apple family stubbornness: the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.
It just seemed so *perfect*
Big Macintosh was a realist; he didn’t expect Rainbow Dash to put her dreams and ambitions aside just to buck apples for the rest of her life—far from it. But he knew that with her he would never be forced to choose between her or his family. Rainbow Dash understood the bonds that kept the Apples together and she herself was already closely tied to them. Beyond all that…she was lovely. From her rose-colored eyes to her one of a kind mane this trim, slip of a filly radiated life and energy in a way that neatly contrasted—and complimented—Big Macintosh’s own slow, reserved manner. What’s more he was enthralled by her bravery, her courage, her loyalty and the way she tried to make herself sound so ‘cool’ after she realized she’d done something sweet or goofy was, frankly, adorable. The way her cheeks would light up and her face would blush a color that matched his own coat was enough to make his big heart skip a few beats.
His attention was suddenly drawn back to the task at hoof when the trail suddenly changed. “Uh-oh.” Macintosh said suddenly. “Got ourselves a problem Dash.”
“Looks like they split up.” He pointed at the diverging tracts in the ground.
“Horseapples. What next?” That’s when it started to rain. Irritably, she blew her mane out of her face as Big Macintosh’s wheat sprig drooped. Rainbow Dash facehooved.
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